30th September 2014

Bands and Singers

is the title of a publication, out today, by Trevor Locke, who is the editor of Arts in Leicester magazine and Music in Leicester magazine.

2014, 30 pages, provided in a PDF format, sent by email, price £2.50

The new publication consists of 10 essays that discuss different aspects of bands and singers. Over the years, music journalist Trevor Locke has seen and listened to thousands of bands. Not just bands but singers, rappers and acoustic artists. Scroll down to purchase a copy now.

In these ten essays he looks at some of the fundamental elements of being a successful music act and what is needed to be a good band or singer.

He also looks at the business of live music; however good an act is at performing music, they have to make it in the real world of venues where music provided.

Some of the essays are published in this document for the first time;  others have been re-edited from articles he has previously published on his blog. These have been updated for this publication.

This publication is no longer available.

Look instead at our publication about The Heroes… the story of a band.


29th September 2014

Rocktober time again

It’s not October – it’s Rocktober!

Time in the year again to celebrate rock music in Leicester.  In previous years, Arts in has championed bigging up our local rock scene from 1/10 to 31/10.

Rocktober is all about the people who make live rock music happen – celebrating them and getting them to celebrate themselves.

Here are some press quotes from previous year:

But did you know that Leicester currently has hundreds of local bands and acts hoping to fill those venues? Well, local Arts magazine, Arts in Leicestershire (AiL) plan to shout about this at a national level all month-long. They’re calling it ‘Rocktober’ and every day during October, AiL will promote one of Leicester’s up and coming rock bands. 30 bands have been selected out of 200+ that play their own original rock music and each one will be promoted through the AiL magazine and its national outlets. – 69 degrees magazine, 2010

and from the Leicester Mercury in 2010:

But did you know that Leicester currently has hundreds of local bands and acts hoping to fill those venues? Well, local Arts magazine, Arts in Leicestershire (AiL) plan to shout about this at a national level all month-long. They’re calling it ‘Rocktober’ and every day during October, AiL will promote one of Leicester’s up and coming rock bands. 30 bands have been selected out of 200+ that play their own original rock music and each one will be promoted through the AiL magazine and its national outlets.

Arts in Leicester and Music in Leicester will be promoting Rocktober for Leicester again this year.

See also:

Rocktober in previous years (in Music in Leicester)

Leicester Castle

Leicester Castle

The story of Leicester castle
Part of our of series on Leicester’s history

28th September 2014

The current frontage of Leicester Castle
The current frontage of Leicester Castle

We visit Leicester Castle

By Trevor Locke

The first thing you notice about Leicester Castle is that it does not look anything like a castle. There used to be a castle on the site, adjacent to the banks of the River Soar, but very little of it remains visible. The castle occupied the south-west corner of the town that still had a similar layout to when the Romans left in the fourth century and commanded a position overlooking the River Soar, which would have been an important transportation route in medieval times and earlier.

The rear view of Leicester Castle
The rear view of Leicester Castle

It is possible that there has been a castle or fortification on the site since at least Roman times, in all probability even earlier. It is known that the Romans erected their forts on sites that had been used earlier by Bronze-age or Iron-age peoples.

The original castle was constructed by the Normans as  a motte and bailey (around 1070.) The motte was mound of earth below which there was a bailey (a kind of keep.) The motte is now about ten metres high but would originally have been much higher. About five metres were removed to make way for a bowling green, in 1840.

View of the flattened top of the motte
View of the flattened top of the motte

Surrounding this was a moat filled with water over which ran a bridge, leading to the main entrance of the Bailey. The original mott and bailey would have had a stockade made of wood. Within the Bailey the church of St, Mary was built (now called St. Mary de Castro, meaning Saint Mary of the Castle.) The Church dates from around 1107.1

Steps leading to the top of the motte
Steps leading to the top of the motte

In 920, Queen Aethelflaed liberated Leicester from the occupying Danes; her fame was such that when she arrived at the gates of the town, the Vikings capitulated without a fight. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles it says

This year Ethelfleda got into her power, with God’s assistance, in the early part of the year, without loss, the town of Leicester; and the greater part of the army that belonged thereto submitted to her.

Read more about Queen Aethelflaed in our article about her.

The castle in Norman times

In 1068, The Normans built a castle in Leicester, soon after their conquest of the country in 1066. They built over the Roman remains of the original south wall. It was the centre of power for the first Norman overlord of the town, Hugh de Grentnesnil (1032 to 1094.) Robert de Beaumont, first Earl of Leicester, rebuilt the castle’s defensive walls in 1107.

Leicester appears in the Domesday Book; the entry (in 1086) states that it was a large town with 71 households, consisting of 3 villagers. 12 smallholders. 1 priest. 17 burgesses. At that time it had two churches. The lord was Hugh of Grandmesnil (sic) who died in Leicester but was buried in France. Robert de Beaumont, third earl of Leicester (to 1190),  in 1173 attempted to relieve the siege of Leicester Castle, then in the hands of the king (Henry II) but was defeated at the battle of Fornham, and was taken prisoner. He was restored to favour by Richard I.

We will be looking at the earles of Leicester ina  forthcoming article (currently in preparation.) In the meantime you can find more about them on Wikipedia.

The castle in medieval times.

It is said that the castle was once under the ownership of Henry Bolinbroke, 1366 to 1413. (later Henry IV from 1399). Several other castles were built on the sites of ancient forts, such as motte and bailey castle in Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire.

In medieval times Leicester was a walled city, the castle forming the south-west corner of the walls. The castle’s timber structure began to be replaced by stone in the early twelfth century. Castles were hubs of activity in medieval times, with an important impact on the surrounding area, and acted as a spur to the local economy. The construction and maintenance of the building would have provided employment for local craftsmen, masons, carpenters and blacksmiths.

Timbers in the roof of the court room
Timbers in the roof of the court room

Leicester Castle was formerly a royal castle and the residence of the head of the house of Lancaster. It has been visited by several monarchs and parliaments have been there. It is a place of national significance and interest. Its great hall has been described as second only in importance to Westminster Hall, in the Houses of Parliament.

Timbers from the great hall
Timbers from the great hall

It was the hall of a Norman baron and would have seen many royal festivities and assemblies, including those of the English parliament. The kitchens would have required a frequent supply of food for feasts and often very large numbers of people would have stayed there when very important people visited, with their often considerable retinues.

View of the court room showing the judge's chair
View of the court room showing the judge’s chair

What we see today is the much later exterior of a building that once served as a courthouse, and was in use right up to 1990. The front of the building was constructed in 1790. During the 19th century, the Great Hall of the castle was divided into separate court rooms, in which now can be seen the wood work of the Victorian courts.

Judge's chair with coat of arms above it
Judge’s chair with coat of arms above it

The castle is now a Grade I listed building. The building was used as the Assize Courts. In Victorian times when the castle was held by the Crown and placed under the control of a constable. Below the court rooms are the police  cells that once held the prisoners awaiting their trials.

The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room
The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room

Below the courts there are many cells and rooms for the police whose job it was to hold prisoners before their trials in the criminal court above.

Corridor in the cells
Corridor in the cells

The cells were added in 1858, after the great hall was converted to accommodate the court rooms,  in the  early 1820s.

Door to police room in the cells
Door to police room in the cells

The Great Hall

Robert de Beaumont (sometimes referred to as Robert leBossu), built a great hall within the Bailey of the castle. Robert was the second Earl of Leicester from 1118 and died in that year. He was of Norman-French ancestry and was brother to Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester, 1104–1168 (distinguishing between the various members of the Beaumont family becomes difficult. Four generations were all called Robert and were all earls of Leicester.) It was Robert, the second earl who built the great hall in 1150.

Stonework incorporated into later walls
Stonework incorporated into later walls

The Great Hall was enlarged with an aisle and bays. The walls were constructed of sandstone and its central nave had two aisles, each of which  was divided into arcades made of timber. Oak columns supported the roof. The hall was the third biggest aisle-and-bay hall in the country (the other two being Westminster Hall in London and the the so called ‘Pilgrims’ Hall’ at Winchester, built around 1380.)

A cap of the of the Great Hall's oak pillars
A cap of the of the Great Hall’s oak pillars

Each column had a scalloped capital, one of which is exhibited in the castle building, close to the lobby. A new roof was added after 1523. The timbers of the roof have been dated to around 1500 and are thought to be similar to their Norman originals.

Leading from the Hall was a building that served as the kitchens. At the north end of the hall was a large window with its norman-style curved arch.

Windows in the front of the castle
Windows in the front of the castle

Below this was the raised dias on which was set the Lord’s table. The earl would have sat here and dispensed justice.  In the nave there was an open fire,  the smoke from which escaped through louvres set in the roof.

It was in the Great Hall that the Earls of Leicester sat in judgement. It was also used for feasting. In the 16th to 18th centuries The Hall was used by the Mayors of Leicester.

Leicester as the birth place of ‘parliament.’

The Earls of Leicester used the castle as their headquarters. From there they administered thier lands, which were quite considerable. Courts were held here and human remains have been unearthed, in the area of the castle motte,  which could be those of convicts that were executed after being tried in the court.

Remains of the early castle seen in the walls of the later building
Remains of the early castle seen in the walls of the later building

The Barons and nobles met in the castle in 1349, 1414 and 1425 and these gatherings became known as the first parliaments. Parliament met in Leicester on three occasions – 1414, 1426 and 1450. The session of 1414 was held in the hall of the Grey Friars priory and was known as the ‘fire and faggot’ parliament because Beaufort delivered a sermon at this session which was about the rise of heresy.

The Parliament of Bats was held in the Great Hall at the castle in 1426. It was so-called because members were not allowed to wear swords and hence armed themselves with clubs and bats (bludgeons.) Parliament was called in Leicester because it was though to be unsafe to hold it at Westminster, owing to feuds taking place between Beaufort and Gloucester. This was during the reign of Henry IV; Beaufort, as chancellor, opened the session in the great hall of Leicester castle in the presence of the four-year-old king. The origins of the term are explained by history writer Mrs Fielding Johnson:

“In consequence of the angry feud then existing between the Duke of Gloucester, younger brother of King Henry V and the fiery-tempered Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, the wearing of weapons by the members was strictly forbidden as likely to lead to bloodshed. To carry clubs or ‘bats’, however, and to load their hanging, pouch-like sleeves with stones and lead, appeared to the partisan barons to be an honest and suitable evasion of the letter of this prohibition; and serious mischief was averted only by the strenuous efforts of the neutral members, who succeeded in arranging the quarrel before a general melee took place.”

The parliament assembled in February and disbanded in June. No actual violence took place during this session of  parliament. During the session, the infant king (Henry VI) was knighted in the nearby church of St. Mary de Castro. 2

Royal visits

John of Gaunt visited the castle in 1313 and spent large amounts of money entertaining his substantial retinue. John of Gaunt, who died at the castle in 1394, has a cellar in the castle named after him. King Edward I stayed there in 1300 and Edward II in 1310 and 1311. He died at the castle in 1399. Many of the kings of the middle ages would have visited the church of St. Mary de Castro.

Richard III stayed at the castle in 1483 and wrote to the King of France, signing the letter ‘from my castle of Leicester.’  3 Richard arrived in Leicester two days before the battle of Bosworth and it is said that he stayed at an Inn, then called The White Boar Inn. Richard’s battle emblem was a white boar and it might have been that he thought that staying at an Inn called The White Boar would give him good luck. In any case, Leicester Castle was then in a poor state of repair, even more so than on his last visit there. In previous visits to Leicester, in 1483, two years before his death, Richard had stayed at Leicester Castle but, even then, the building had not been in a good state of repair. We know that Richard stayed there (on his journey between London and York) because he wrote letters with the Castle’s address at the top. Richard stayed at Leicester Castle again on the return journey to London in August. Richard would have feasted in the great hall or at least held court there.

In 1523 a survey of the buildings found much decay and disrepair and a new roof was installed. The royal connections of the castle came to an end in 1888 when the Leicestershire county justices purchased the building from the Crown Estates.

The Castle as a court-house.

The great hall of the castle was converted into law courts  in 1821.

An ink well in one of the court rooms
An ink well in one of the court rooms

When the Great Hall was divided into separate courtrooms, in 1821, Assizes were held and criminal courts continued to held until 1972. The Great Hall was partitioned into the two courts in 1830. The Crown Court continued to sit there until 1992. A cell block was added in 1858. Cells below the court have a staircase leading up to the dock in which prisoners sat during their trial.  Part of the police cells is underground, but because of the slope of the land, the rest is actually above ground level. One of the courts was a criminal court and the other tried civil cases.

The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room
The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room

On the upper floor there was a jury room. Judges had a retiring rooms behind each court and there were rooms for barristers. The fittings that we can see today in the court rooms are Victorian. The judges sat under a wooden canopy displaying the royal coat of arms.

The royal coat of arms above the judge's chair
The royal coat of arms above the judge’s chair

In the Castle’s entrance lobby there  is a tiled floor.

Tiles on the ground floor
Tiles on the ground floor

I do not know the date of these tiles but  they are likely to  be Victorian; they are similar in design to tiles typical of medieval times.

Tling in the entrance on the ground floor
Tling in the entrance on the ground floor

Several features from the Victorian period are still on display in the lobby.

The poor box in the entrance hall
The poor box in the entrance hall

This article is the first draft of a chapter from my forthcoming  book The History of Leicester.

Tours of Leicester Castle take place on the last Sunday of each month. They are given by the Blue Badge guides who share their details knowledge of the buildings and sometimes take visitors into parts of the Castle that are normally restricted to public access. Find out more from Go Leicestershire.

Notes added later

1 The Norman south entrance to St. Mary de Casto can be seen today. It had a typically Norman arch with zig-zag mouldings. The ground level in those days was much lower than it is today.

2 For more information about the parliament of bats see the Wikipedia entry.

3 See our article on Richard III

See also my article on the Earls of Leicester (coming soon)

See also:

Article on the early history of Leicester

Leicester in the times of the Romans

Background to Richard III

Friars Mill

10th September 2014

Friars Mill redevelopment begins

WORK to rebuild and develop a disused and fire damaged 18th century mill complex in Leicester is set to begin.

Friars Mill (artist's impression) 2014
Friars Mill (artist’s impression) 2014

Leicester City Council is investing £6.3milllion in an ambitious project to redevelop the derelict Friars Mill complex, on the banks of the River Soar, and bring it back into use as a base for local businesses.

The site includes Leicester’s oldest surviving factory building – the former Donisthorpe Factory – which was badly damaged in a fire in 2012.

Leicester City Council bought the factory, and other buildings in the grade II-listed mill complex for £550,000, and has worked with Levitate Architecture and Design Studio to develop plans to create 2,300sqm of new, managed workspaces.

The project has been awarded up to £3.9milllion from the European Development Fund. The city council will contribute £2.4million from capital set aside to deliver the Leicester Economic Action Plan.

The city council has now awarded the construction contract to William Anelay Limited following a competitive tendering exercise.

Founded in 1747, the company is one of the UK’s longest established construction firms and specialises in the conservation and restoration of listed and historic buildings. It has worked on major restoration and redevelopment projects across the UK including recent schemes at Sheffield Cathedral, The Florence Institute in Liverpool, Althorpe House in Warwickshire and Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate.

Work will start on site at Friars Mill from Monday, 15 September, and is expected to take around 13 months to complete.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “I am really pleased that we are now beginning work on the restoration and redevelopment of Friars Mill.

“By bringing new life to these buildings as much-needed workspaces, we can help preserve an important part of the city’s industrial and architectural heritage.

“Alongside that, we have an opportunity to provide larger workspaces in a really attractive environment, which will appeal to companies to looking to grow and develop. We already know there is an appetite for these sorts of units from businesses that are enjoying success at LCB Depot, Phoenix and our other workspaces across the city.

“I have always seen Friars Mill as a beacon for the wider development of the Waterside area. Our ambitions for this are already moving forward following the award of £5.5milllion from the Government’s Local Growth Fund for regeneration in this area.

“Friars Mill is the first exciting stage in an ambitious, longer term vision to bring new prosperity to Waterside.”

Tony Townend, Managing Director of Willaim Anelay Limited, said: “We are delighted to be involved in carrying out these specialist works to Friars Mill.  Being able to develop a building of such local importance to provide alternative uses and extend its life span for future generations is always a pleasure”

The main factory building will be restored and an extension built to house a new staircase and lift. The fire damaged roof, along with its original cupola and weathervane, will be completely rebuilt.

An extension will also be built to the rear of the former workers’ cottages, which will house work units. The former Bath Lane Mill will also be developed to provide work units and shared meeting rooms.

In a change to original plans, a new building will be built alongside the Pump House. This will house photovoltaic panels and an air source heat pump large enough to heat the entire complex, along with other required utilities.

When complete, Friars Mill will offer 14 work units, of 70sqm and above, along with a main reception area, meeting rooms and other shared facilities.

The former factory Mill chimney will also be completely restored and carry bold Friars Mill signage.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

See also:

Heritage News

Upstairs at the Western’s Autumn Season

Upstairs at the Western’s Autumn Season

begins 11 September and features another bumper crop of touring and locally-based theatre, comedy and spoken word performances as well as events from two local festivals.

Rob Gee Forget Me Not
Rob Gee Forget Me Not

Three performances from Everybody’s Reading feature, including a WORD! poetry reading by Maria and The Mullet (3 October) and a performance of Forget Me Not – An Alzheimer’s Whodunit (2 October) by legendary Leicester poet Rob Gee. When asked how he feels about performing at Upstairs at the Western in Leicester he said:
“It feels like coming home because although I live here the vast majority of work I do is outside of Leicester, quite a lot of it outside the UK. I’ve participated in Everybody’s Reading on and off since the late 90s and over the last few years it’s grown at a steady and healthy pace. I love the diversity of work that’s showcased and this year looks healthier than ever. And also performing at Upstairs at the Western? I’m really looking forward to it! I saw Find the Right Words there (Jess Green’s poetry open mic residence) and immediately knew it would be perfect for the Alzheimer’s Whodunit.”

And for those who have always wanted to try their hand at performing their own work Off the Fence Theatre Company will be hosting free Writing for Performance workshops (21 September and 4 October), culminating in a Celebration of Spoken Word Open Mic Night on 5 October to round off Everybody’s Reading 2014.
UK Young Artists Festival 2014 is also coming to Leicester in November and free performances featuring shortlisted performers will be showcased at Upstairs at the Western on 8 and 9 November, full details to follow.

George Chuter
George Chuter

Other highlights include Leicester Tigers legend George Chuter who will be appearing at the venue on 16 September as the next guest in the Upstairs and Intimate series, a great opportunity to hear this colourful character, both on and off the pitch, in conversation.

Meet the Real Maggie Thatcher (1 November) coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike and provides an engaging insight into one of the most notorious political leaders of our era. Fancy a bit of Die Hard meets the Naked Gun?  Bane (12 October) shakes action, comedy, music and drama together for this one-man-one-musician shape-shifting show.

These are just a few of the performances in a great season of comedy, theatre and spoken word all in Leicester’s very own West End. Tickets and further information available at

See also:

Our guide to What’s On in the arts in Leicester