Blood Brothers

27th October 2014

Blood Bothers. A musical.

Book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell.
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright.
De Montfort Hall, 27th October to 1st November.

Our rating: ****

Mrs Jonhston (Maureen Nolan) with her son Mickey (Sean Jones) Blood Bothers the Musical
Mrs Jonhston (Maureen Nolan) with her son Mickey (Sean Jones)
Blood Bothers the Musical

So, who is Willy Russell?

A British dramatist, composer and lyricist who you might remember for Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and Our Day Out. Born near Liverpool and educated at its University, we are told that Russell was ‘an only child of working-class parents with a troubled marriage.’ So, his musical Blood Brothers does seem to have a fair bit of biographical content. As a playwright, his first success was with John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert. Educating Rita came in 1980 and won him the Laurence Oliver award, coming out soon afterwards as a film starring Michael Cain and Julie Waters.

What about Blood Brothers?

Russell followed up his success with Educating Rita with Blood Brothers which, after opening in Liverpool, went to The Phoenix Theatre in London where it won another Olivier prize – for best new musical. Bill Kenwright’s production ran for 24 years and enjoyed sell-out successes in the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. The New York Times heralded it as the ‘most popular British musical of all time.’ Strange! They must have forgotten about about Oliver, The Sound of Music, Cats, Evita, The Boyfriend, The Rocky Horror Show, The Lion King, Les Misérables, Phantom…

So what is Blood Brothers about?

Set in Liverpool of the 1960s and 70s, it tells the tale of twin boys – Mickey and Edward – separated at birth, one growing up in a working-class family and other being brought up in an affluent home. Although the boys became childhood friends, they never knew of their kinship. As teenagers they both fell in love with the same girl, who Mickey eventually marries. The boy’s natural mother keeps secret the fact they she gave one of them away to her employer, a wealthy but childless lady, who employed her as a cleaner. The story portrays the class divide, the power of superstition, the impact of local authority housing policies, the twisting nature of fate, the up and downs of life…

Sounds complicated.

In fact it is a fairly simple tale that uses familiar scenarios that we have all seen before. The story line is helped along by the narrator (said and sung by Kristofer Harding). The plot is said to be loosely based on the novel The Corsican Brothers by Alexander Dumas, which has a somewhat similar plot and has been made into several plays and films. The first half of the show is jovial and amusing, an almost pantomime-ish comedy. The second act is a dark, disturbing tragedy that draws to a shattering dénouement, which I won’t spoil…

Any good songs in it?

None that I can remember. This is not a show I had seen before; and it didn’t leave me with any tunes that I could whilstle on the way home. But the score includes A Bright New Day, Marilyn Munroe and Tell Me It’s Not True, which are said to be ‘memorable.’ The cast at the dmh were fantastic, the singing was great, the orchestra was good and the dance routines were tolerable. The two leads roles, Mickey (Sean Jones) and Edward (Joel Benedict) were well casted and their performances and characterisations were convincing. Likewise, working class mum Mrs. Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) and posh lady Mrs. Lyons (Kate Jarman) were similarly well casted and their characters ably portrayed. The rest of the cast were somewhat cardboard cut-outs but that did not get in the way. Blood Brothers is a powerfully moving show, packed with compelling scenes and chortle inducing vignettes that take the audience on a roller coaster of farce, tragedy, comedy and catharsis. It’s stuff you can laugh at and cry with. The dmh audience gave the show its traditional standing ovation.

Sammy (Daniel Taylor) and Mickey (Sean Jones) in Blood Brothers
Sammy (Daniel Taylor) and Mickey (Sean Jones)
in Blood Brothers

It was a good production then?

It was. The set was well crafted, although the backdrop used in the first act showed a city scape that looked more like London than Liverpool and the second act’s backdrop was a decidedly unimpressive depiction of a rural landscape. But, these are minor details. The cast’s leading artists brought their characters to life and handled the tear-jerking moments with satisfying mastery. It was a well-crafted show that was strong on timing, professionally sung and orchestrated and its technical aspects…

Did you enjoy it?

I did. Even if the word ‘enjoy’ is possibly less than apt. This haunting, emotionally charged epic tale of love, family, fate and loyalty left me feeling somewhat sell-shocked and a little drained but then I prefer something that pulls at the heart-strings, lifts the spirits only to send them crashing into a harrowing darkness – not unlike the kind of stuff we will experience when La Traviata comes to Leicester and it’s certainly true that Blood Brothers has won critical acclaim from the provincial press during its tour of the local theatres. Sean Jones‘s portrayal of Mickey was impressive, particularly when he plays the adult character as a drug-addicted, unemployed, ex-prisoner – a real show-stopper. Joel Benedict‘s portrayal of posh twin Edward was astute and compelling. Pretty much Liverpool’s take on West Side Story, Blood Brothers is not a show you would easily forget.

Find out more from the De Montfort Hall website.

See also:

Abilgail’s Party (review)

Find Richard (film)

The musical Rent  (review)

 

 

PlaywritingCompetition

25th October 2014

Curve and The National Theatre launch playwriting programme

and competition for 15 to 19 year olds.

Leicester’s Curve theatre has announced it is working in association with the National Theatre for the second year running to deliver a playwriting programme and competition for 15 – 19 year olds.

New Views offers the opportunity for a new generation of playwrights to capture the feelings and write about issues which are important to them, exploring key contemporary questions and dilemmas.  In partnership with Curve, up to 10 young writers from Leicester and Leicestershire will receive eight intensive master-classes from some of the best writers in the UK, together with theatre trips and one on one support to create their own short play.

The plays created by young, local writers will be showcased at Curve as part of its Inside Out Festival in Spring 2015. In addition, all the plays written will be entered into a nationwide competition to be professionally staged at the National Theatre in London.  Jane Ball, Secondary & FE Programme Manager at the National Theatre commented:

“We are thrilled to be working in partnership with Curve for a second year, extending the reach of the New Views programme and competition.  Leicester is a city with both great cultural heritage and diversity, and we’re excited to be working with the city’s major theatre to recruit a group of local young writers to join us for the project.”

Suba Das, Curve’s Associate Director who is coordinating the programme added:

“After a brilliant first year of the scheme which saw young local playwright Ryan Pearson have his first ever play, Collison, performed at the National Theatre, we’re delighted to be running the New Views training programme for a second year. We’re looking for talented young people from all over the region to take part free training programme – and we can’t wait to see the stories the young people across our city and county want to share with us.”

To apply, young playwrights should email to newviews@curvetheatre.co.uk providing name, age, and a maximum of 200 words on “Why They Want To Write Plays” by Sunday 2 November.

Weekly sessions will then take place on Saturdays between 12 – 2pm from 8 November – 6 December and 17 – 31 January 2015 at Curve.

For more information visit Curve’s web page about this

See also:

Our review of Abigail’s Party at Curve

Shakespeare for the Facebook generation

 

LeicesterComedyFestival

25th October 2014

Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

This page forms part of our archives

We are still working our way through the hundreds of submissions we’ve received for our 2015 festival – the full programme will be announced on Monday 24th November so only a month or so to wait!  There are some incredible shows and events being planned so get ready to laugh loads next February.

Our 2015 Preview Show has been announced as taking place on Friday 9th January at De Montfort Hall.  The line-up is a closely guarded secret but expect the usual selection of big names and new acts, all gathered to give you a taste of what’s to come when the main festival rolls into town in February. Tickets are £25

Our friends at Leicester Theatre Group are producing their own version of hit musical Avenue Q just in time for Christmas.  This lough out loud, adult themed spoof on TV favourite Sesame Street, tells the stories of the neighbours who live on Avenue Q and contains loads of strong language and adult themes!  It runs from 2-6 December at the beautiful Hansom Hall in the middle of Leicester.  Tickets are available from just £15 so check out their website

TRY TUESDAYS – TUESDAY 18th NOVEMBER

We’re working with our friends at Leicester Tigers to present a great comedy show, taking place on 18th November.   Whether you’re a rugby fan or just enjoy an evening of excellent entertainment with your friends, family or work colleagues, ‘Try Comedy’ is a great night out guaranteed to be the highlight of your week. Held in conjunction with Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival, Try Comedy offers top-class comedy with Lloyd Griffith (“The next big thing” FHM) as compere plus Marcel Lucont (Russell Howard’s Good News), Kate Lucas (Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year 2014) and Johnny Pelham (BBC Radio New Comedy Awards finalist 2014).  Tickets are available now from the Welford Road ticket office, on 0116 319 8888. Tickets and information:

See also:

Our What’s on listings page

BandsAndSingers

23rd October 2014

10 Essays on Bands and Singers

Bands and Singers:  Ten essays on rock bands and singers.

By Trevor Locke.

Over the years, music journalist Trevor Locke has seen and listened to thousands of bands. Not just bands but singers, rappers and acoustic artists.

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.

Ten Essays on Bands and Singers is published by Arts in Leicester, in a digital format.

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

To order a copy, go to  our page on Arts in Leicester

Contents

  1. An X Factor for Bands? (revised and updated)

  2. Band Promotion. (New)

  3. Promoting Artists. (New)

  4. What do we learn from the obsUnplugged?  (revised and updated)

  5. The Economics of Live Music in Leicester.  (revised and updated)

  6. What Makes a Good Band?  (revised and updated)

  7. Entertainment. Should Bands be Entertaining? (New)

  8. Teamwork (New)

  9. Talent. Is Talent the Key to Everything? (New)

  10. Why do some venues make us pay to play there?  (revised and updated)

Originally published on 23rd October 2014 on Trevor’s Music Blog.

NewFilms

New Films

Page last edited:  17th November 2015

This page forms part of our archives

Phoenix:

The Lady in the Van – 12A

Fri 20 Nov – Thu 3 Dec

This wonderful new comedy drama, starring Maggie Smith, tells the tale of a man who forms an unexpected bond with a transient woman living in her van parked in his driveway.

See the trailer and book tickets

The Flickering Darkness

Celebrate the launch of The Flickering Darkness (Revisited) by Juan del Gado, a Phoenix offsite exhibition at the LCB Depot’s Lightbox gallery.

The evening will include drinks and a preview of the exhibition, followed by an artist’s talk by Juan about the making of The Flickering Darkness (Revisited) and his time spent researching and filming in Colombia.

The Flickering Darkness (Revisited) is a film installation exploring the journey that food produce takes from its arrival before dawn at the Corabastos market in Bogotà, Colombia to its consumption across the social spectrum.

In this film, artist Juan delGado attempts to create sense out of the market’s chaos and order, while inviting wider reflections on society’s strata and how they interact.

The Flickering Darkness (Revisited) is supported by Unlimited; celebrating the work of disabled artists, using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and Spirit of 2012. Through this support the work is accompanied by an audio description (available through headsets at any time) and screened with captions at regular intervals.

Juan delGado works across a range of media including video installation and photography. His practice explores themes of trauma, landscape, disability, dislocation and gender. His work has been exhibited internationally including at the Budapest and Istanbul Biennales.

The exhibition runs at the LCB Depot, Rutland St, Leicester, from 12 – 27 Nov (not inc weekends).

Polish Films

The national UK tour for the national UK tour for Martin Scorsese’s Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, presented by Filmhouse Edinburgh, Kinoteka Polish Film Festival and the British Film Institute this is the first celebration of fully restored Polish cinema classics on such a large scale, screening in cities across the UK and Ireland, including screenings at the Leicester Phoenix Cinema from June -September.

The Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series brings together 24 masterpieces chosen by Scorsese himself, including many undiscovered gems, all brilliantly restored and digitally remastered.

The season includes classic works from some of Poland’s most accomplished and lauded filmmakers such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Wojciech J Has, Roman Polański, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland and others. Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, presented by Filmhouse Edinburgh, Kinoteka Polish Film Festival and the British Film Institute this is the first celebration of fully restored Polish cinema classics on such a large scale, screening in cities across the UK and Ireland, including screenings at the Leicester Phoenix Cinema from June -September. The Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series brings together 24 masterpieces chosen by Scorsese himself, including many undiscovered gems, all brilliantly restored and digitally remastered. The season includes classic works from some of Poland’s most accomplished and lauded filmmakers such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Wojciech J Has, Roman Polański, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland and others.

Details of local screenings

Phoenix Cinema, Leicester Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od aniolów) 06 June 2015
Knights of the Black Cross (Krzyzacy) 28 June 2015
Pharaoh (Faraon) 05 July 2015
Eroica 14 July 2015
Walkover (Walkower) 18 July 2015
Provincial Actors (Aktorzy prowincjonalni) 30 July 2015
Ashes and Diamonds (Popiól i diament) 06 August 2015
A Short Film About Killing (Krótki film o zabijaniu) 11 August 2015
The Saragossa Manuscript (Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie) 15 August 2015
The Hourglass Sanatorium (Sanatorium pod klepsydra) 23 August 2015
Blind Chance (Przypadek) 05 September 2015
The Illumination (Iluminacja) 08 September 2015
Knife in the Water (Nóz w wodzie) 17 September 2015
The Promised Land (Ziemia obiecana) 20 September 2015

For more information see the website

23rd October 2014

A Dozen Summers

Written and directed by Kenton Hall
Monkey Basket Films, the Leicester-based film production company are just beginning our promotion of the indie children’s comedy A Dozen Summers,  a comedy – from writer/director Kenton Hall.  A film for children of all ages (including adults who haven’t completely lost their way yet) it follows the lives of 12-year-old twins, Maisie and Daisy McCormack, who have just hijacked a children’s film in order to tell their own story.

Check the trailer out  and visit the movie’s website.

See also:

Finding Richard – Hive Films

Film Company Launch

Films at Phoenix

AbigailsParty

21st October 2014

Abigail’s Party

Curve – 17th October to 8th November 2014
by Mike Leigh
Director: Suba Das
Starring Natalie Thomas

Our rating:  ****

A successful first night for the iconic 70s theatre, film and TV classic Abigail’s Party saw every seat in the studio auditorium filled and a new theatre-in-the-round stage set up for tonight’s production, directed by Suba Das and starring Natalie Thomas in the role of Beverly.

The set of Abigail's Party Photo by Pamela Raith Photography
The set of Abigail’s Party
Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

Set in Walthamstow, London on Saturday 16th April 1977, the plot centres around a party which is taking place a few doors away from the house of Beverly and her husband Laurence. The party that gives the play its title is being run by the 15 year old daughter of Sue (played by Jackie Morrison)  who has been invited to join Beverly, Laurence and some other neighbours for an evening of drinks and nibbles. The blaring music from the party down the road can clearly be heard in the background.

New neighbours Angela and Tony join the evening and the Gin and Tonics start to flow, not to mention the cheese and pineapple pieces on tooth picks. On yes, some of us are old enough to remember putting on offerings like this, in the seventies! Smoking was acceptable, if not a requirement, in those far-off halcyon days. Guests were offered cigarettes and cigars and smoke filled the living room as they relaxed and listened to records on the gramophone player.

Natalie Thomas as Beverly Photo by Pamela Raith Photography
Natalie Thomas as Beverly
Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

Abigail’s Party is a very funny play – whether you are laughing with them or at them – the humour has not lost its edge and its sense of irony over the years. The play made its debut at the Hampstead Theatre in April 1977 and attracted plenty of reviews and comment. The play was screened on TV in November 1977. Described by one reviewer as ‘the most painful hundred minutes in British comedy-drama’ and placed 11th in the British Film Institutes’s 100 greatest British television programmes, this is a play that many will remember, not least for the accents used by the actors to portray the characters from London and the surgical precision of its script as it unravels the satire on the rise of the new middle classes.

Emily Head, Natalie Thomas and Jackie Morrison Photo by Pamela Raith Photography
Emily Head, Natalie Thomas and Jackie Morrison
Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

Tonight’s production saw the set placed in the middle of the auditorium with the audience seated on all four sides – something not seen before at Curve. This worked incredibly well.  The casting was spot on, all the actors fitting their parts likes gloves. Natalie Thomas gave a superb performance as Beverly, the host of the evening, wafting around the room in her full length pillar box red frock as she plied her guests with drinks, cigarettes, nibbles and large slabs of snobbery and one-upmanship. Her husband Laurence, played by Patrick Moy, rushes around at high speed, driven by nerves and a taught sense of exasperation at just about everything that is happening in the room. To say that Laurence is a ‘bag of nerves’ would be an understatement. He acts like a volcano about to erupt but firmly plugged with a weight of social decorum and fierce determination to appear refinely mannered.

Set designer David Woodhead has done an impressive job of gathering together the great period pieces of the time, from the open-out drinks cabinet (with its internal strip light so beloved by G-Plan) through to the ever-so-seventies fibre optic table lamp. The leather-look corner unit sofa with its white fur-effect cushions and the glass top coffee table have been lovingly collected to give the party its authentic 70s-chic ambience.

Emily Head and Cary Crankson Photo by Pamela Raith Photography
Emily Head and Cary Crankson
Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

The first night audience was clearly delighted with this production and with the play,  as the laughs poured forth, and people say with captivated expressions on their faces. Spending two hours with only one set, five characters and a plot that, superficially at least, is confined to one group of people talking in a  room, you would have thought that this piece of drama could never work. You would be wrong. The dialogue is the action, the conversation is the plot. The second half wends its way to the surprising denouement in a way that is surrealistic, leaving behind the genteel but ridiculous chatter and painful back-stabbing innuendos and thinly disguised personal slurs of the first half. It is a play that shares everything of the lively characterisation and scintillating wit of Noel Coward or Oscar Wild with the demonic satire of Shaw or Chekhov. As Mark Fisher comments in the programme notes it is ‘car-crash comedy’ but not comedy in the style of sitcom farce or American wise-cracking soaps, but in the more British tradition of insightful and invective social observation. What we see on stage is more like an episode in the Big Brother house, natural behaviour that displays who people really are and what they actually say – warts and all. The play shares a lot in common with TV’s Royle Family or even The Kumars in its ability to parody life from one particular social niche.

Patrick Moy as Laurance Photo by Pamela Raith Photography
Patrick Moy as Laurance
Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

I enjoyed Abigail’s Party at Curve; it was as spell-binding as it was funny; it was as acerbic as it was pathetic (in the sense of pathos.) Joyously well acted, engagingly designed and spell-bindingly delivered, this is a play that drama-lovers will not want to miss.

See also:

Shakespeare for the Facebook Generation (Romeo and Juliette)

Opera in Leicester

Upstairs at the Western’s autumn season

Rent, the musical

RomanFood

22nd October 2014

What did the Romans ever cook for us?

By Trevor Locke

Introduction

If you really want to understand a community, look at the food it eats. What people eat, how they eat and where they eat will tell you a lot about their culture and style of life. In order to eat, people had to produce food and that involves farming. The methods that people used to organise farms (or any kind of agriculture) tells us a lot about the social and economic organisation of the community, as well as the kind of lifestyle lived by common people (as opposed to high status individuals and soldiers.) How they cooked, the utensils and pots they used give us real insights to what life was like in the past.

Pottery is one of the key indicators to dating in many archaeological digs. Interesting though the accounts of the Roman invasion may be, we must not loose site of the fact that several thousand men would have had to eat whilst marching or manning forts. When they were camped awaiting a battle, the armies still had to attend to the basic need for food and as we know, well-fed soldiers make better fighters than half-starving ones.

Food and farming in the Iron age

What did the Roman do for us? Well, for one thing they introduced many new varieties of fruit, vegetables and grain crops and some new animals, such as the rabbit. They gave us wine to drink. They gave us roads so that supplies could be moved more easily and quickly. The invading legions needed a constant supply of food and were very good at organising supply chains and depots. The way that food production was organised in Britain changed during the time that the Romans were here but before they arrived farming was already well established.

Farming in the Iron age

When the Romans invaded, in the first century, they already knew that Britain was good at farming. In the early years of the invasion, the armies were dependent on fresh local meat and vegetables. As the Romans established themselves here, and more and civilians came over from mainland Europe, they started to grow the kind of vegetables they were used to. The vegetables introduced to Britain included garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. In the early years of Roman occupation, however, we have to understand Iron age food and farming to appreciate what the conquering soldiers initially had to sustain them.

During the pre-Roman period, food production was organised into many small farmsteads. Life in what we now call England revolved around farming and agriculture. These small communities were able to produce enough for their own subsistence and some for trade and exchange in good years. Crops such as barley, rye, oats and Emmer wheat (a variety that was common in the ancient world) would have been grown. Sheep and cattle were kept as well as pigs that had been domesticated from wild boar. Cattle were used to pull ploughs and provided manure and hide. Horses were also kept and used to pull wagons and carts and domesticated dogs were used to help herd animals. Cows could also provide milk at the time of calving. Cattle were not eaten until they had served their life as working farm animals.

Iron age houses often had garden plots in which vegetables were grown. These dwelling houses were largely round in shape and had conical roofs made of thatch. Inside the round house a fire would have burnt continuously providing heat for cooking and warmth for the occupants. Sometimes food was cooked in a cauldron suspended over the fire. Pots were made from clay or sometimes traded if people visited from communities where pot making was a specialist craft. Bread was made from wheat and barley and baked in an oven. Barley would have been made into a kind of porridge. It could also be fermented to make beer. In addition to vegetables grown in the round house garden, people would have gathered wild berries, nuts and roots.

In communities near to the sea or fresh water lakes or rivers, fish would be caught to add to the diet. Occasionally wild birds might have been caught for food. People at this time would have obtained honey from the nests of bees and they also used the wax for a variety of purposes. Beeswax was used in bronze casting. The archaeological evidence suggests that the Iron Age countryside was well stocked with animals, the rivers provided a plentiful supply of fish and, if the weather was good, the farmsteads and gardens produced more than enough for the local community. This abundance of food allowed people to build houses and other structures, such as barrows and hill forts.

Being well fed allowed the development of rituals and ceremonies. Having a sufficient and reliable source of food allowed people to engage in religious activities and hone their hunting or building skills. Some individuals became specialists in the working of wood or metal and could do this only if there was enough surplus food to sustain them. The ability to produce surplus food was an essential prerequisite to large-scale construction and the development of specialist crafts.  How food is grown, manufactured sold, prepared and consumed tells us a lot about the social organisation, economy and culture of any community of people. If we want to get inside the life of the iron ages, then we have to find out what people ate and drank. It was the Romans who introduced many new food stuffs into the British Isles.

The age of new food

The Romans brought many new herbs into Britain such rosemary, thyme, bay, basil, savoury and mint for cooking and some that were used in brewing or for medicinal purposes. Bear in mind however that native people who were poor and not Romanised would have seen comparatively little change to their eating habits – compared to the wealthier, more high-status individuals who would have mixed with the Romans and would have been invited to their dinner parties held at villas. The Romano-Britains would have eaten some of the new foodstuffs that had been introduced from Europe.

These were the people who would have drank imported wine. In the earlier part of the Roman period, most wine would have come from Spain but later on it was imported from France and the Moselle valley. There is evidence that vines were established in Britain, though we do not know for sure if they produced wine or if they did, in what quantities. We know that medieval monasteries had vines and were engaged in the production of wine. The Romans restricted the production of wine in this country until 277 when these restrictions were lifted. There is evidence of a villa vineyard at Boxmoor in Hertfordshire and grape pips have been found at a number of sites elsewhere. ‘Vines then were certainly grown in Britain, and there is no reason why wine should not have been produced from them’, writes Frere (1987.) Beer was also produced in Roman Britain and the size of some of the drinking vessels found in at some military sites suggests that it was consumed by the army. ‘This beer was priced at 4 denarii a pint in Diocletion’s price-edict’ (Frere, 1987.)

The Romans introduced many vegetables into Britain including garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. They also brought over new varieties of apples and better strains of wheat. Feeding the Roman armies required the supply of large amounts of food. Grain was an important commodity and bread was part of the staple diet of soldiers.

Cutlery, dishes and table manners

People ate with knives (the fork was not widely used in this country until much later on, in the 18th century.) Having said that, knives were not a normal part of Roman tableware. They preferred skewers for picking up small morsels or used spoons that had pointed handles. The Romans did have forks, they were used as cooking utensils rather than for eating. Spoons were widely used and a large collection of 4th century spoons were found in Thetford,  with another group being found at Hoxne – in a hoard that also included pepper pots and spice containers. The Romans spiced their food with black pepper, coriander, poppy, celery, dill, summer savoury, mustard and fennel. They had recipe books, although the most famous of these did not arrive until after the fourth century. The Romans ate, at formal meals, lying on couches arranged on three sides of a square, the fourth side being open to allow slaves to serve dishes on to a low table in the middle. Villas had their own dining rooms.

Wealthy Romans organised  elaborate banquets at which many courses of food were served. People were expected to dress correctly at dinner. A wide variety of  foods were eaten in pre-Roman Britain but both farming and cooking would have remained much the same,  after the first century,  for the poorer peoples who had less access to Roman wealth. If we can accept that the people who lived in Britain prior to the coming of the Romans were Celts, then the process of Romanisation would have affected such people in different ways, according to geography and to social and economic status. High-status individuals would have become roundly Romanised, adopting the manners and dress of the culture into which they were drawn.

The common people, on the other hand, would have clung on to their culture and would have had less access to the opportunities offered by the Romano-British economy. Most of what we know about the process of Romanisation comes from the archaeological evidence rather than from written records, certainly for the first four centuries of Roman occupation. The Romans had an early influence on dining and cooking, as we can see from the variety of plates, dishes, bowls and cooking vessels which have been found and a lot of these were being made by local craftsmen (Frere, 1987.) The Britons had developed a taste for Roman food even before the Claudian invasion. Kitchen pots were being made here in the first century. The quantity of amphorae found around the country indicates that large quantities of wine and olive oil were being imported, suggesting that its consumption was not limited to the aristocracy.

In the countryside the peasants were using Roman coins to buy pots and some of them were working on farms established by the Romans. Some peasants began building rectangular houses to replace their traditional round houses. The Romans ate from clay vessels – bowls mainly – but the wealthy also had glass goblets and wine jugs. Pottery-making centres flourished in  places where there was a  supply of suitable clay. ‘The more utilitarian domestic vessels were produced in a great number of local potteries, both large and small, all over the lowland zone and father north where clay and fuel were available’ (Frere, 1987). As the Roman army did not normally make their own pottery, they awarded contracts to local pot-makers, particularly those in the Midlands. Kilns in certain regions were producing pottery on a large-scale for both the military and civilian markets, from the time of Hadrian onwards. Finds at digs have used shards from such pottery to date the layers in which they were found. Replicas of such vessels have been constructed in order to show archaeological students how to identify such fragments.

Water supply

It is well known that the Romans were good at supplying water. Britain is always seen as being a wet country in whose countryside there is an abundance of water. In prehistoric times people tended to settle close to rivers and it is was no exception that Ratae (now called Leicester) was established on the banks of the river Soar. During the second century, the Romans built the famous baths in the centre of Ratae and these consumed considerable quantities of water which was supplied through leats – channels constructed and maintained to ensure was in constant supply. Running water was supplied to the baths and public lavatories. In Britain’s wet climate there was a plentiful supply of water through springs, streams and wells. People did not drink water as this would frequently be contaminated. Although water was required for cooking, washing and cleaning, people drank wine or beer, a practice that continued through to the middle ages. Wine was commonly mixed with water rather than being drunk ‘neat’.

The Romans also built canals such as the one we now call ‘Raw Dykes’, parts of which still exist here in Leicester. It was a channel that brought water into the town of Ratae and was constructed in the first century AD. It is not clear whether it was a canal or an aqueduct but it does seem to have played some part in bringing water into Ratae.

We now move on to looking at some of the food stuffs that would have been consumed in Britain between the Iron age and medieval times and during the Roman era.

The Roman menu

Milk

Milk was produced on farms and small-holdings. Cows had been domesticated for many centuries, as were goats. Those who kept milking cows also made butter, yogurt and cheese, as a way of preserving milk. Cows were rarely slaughtered  for meat (they were primarily working animals) as they provided milk which was a valued foodstuff for making cheese or curds and whey. Cheese had been available in Roman times. Because milk could not be kept fresh, its production and distribution was localised. The production of butter,  in some areas,  was for  use as a cosmetic rather than as a foodstuff.

Bread

Bread was made from flour that was milled either by wind or water power. In more ancient times grain was ground by hand using circular stones. Different qualities of bread were made, the coarser variety being consumed by poorer people and the finest white flour reserved for high-status individuals. White bread was made from wheat but only the wealthier farmers were able to grow the wheat need to make the finest quality of flour. Rye and barley were more commonly grown to make bread for the peasants, the farming people. If this was in short supply, beans, peas and acorns could be added to bulk it up.

Vegetables

It was common for small-holdings and farms to be situated outside of walled cities, such as Leicester, and the supply of food produced in the more remote rural areas depended on the quality of local roads and the speed with which perishable produce could be brought to the urban markets. Common vegetables included cabbage, root crops, some plants that grew wild in the countryside and some fungi, such as wild mushrooms. Potatoes did not arrive in Britain until after the discovery of the new world, several hundred years after the period being considered here. Beans and peas formed part of the staple diet of soldiers and peasants. In the towns, poorer people might well have bought the equivalent of ‘fast food’ and takeaways which were a feature of Roman life in urban areas. Pulses and root crops were common in the diets of the poorer classes. Peasants ate pottage – a kind of soup or stew made from oats or bran, to which beans or peas and other vegetables and herbs were sometimes added. In winter, turnips or parsnips would be added. Roman soldiers also ate a kind of porridge made from wheat, to which a variety of vegetables might have been added.

Fruit

Apples would be in supply in season and were crushed and the juice was drunk or made into cider. There is evidence that apples grew wild in Britain in the Neolithic period but it was the Romans who first introduced varieties with sweeter and greater taste. After the Roman occupation of Britain, many orchards were abandoned due to invasions by Jutes, Saxons and Danes. Fruit was often dried to increase its shelf life as a way of preserving fruit after its season had passed. Some dried fruit was imported from Europe, such as dates, figs and raisins. Most fruit was cooked, rather than eaten raw; people were discouraged from eating raw fruit and vegetables as these could carry pests and diseases.

Meat

Cattle were used to pull ploughs, carts or other movable objects. They would not be eaten until they died naturally or their useful working life had come to an end. Pigs could be killed and eaten for their meat. They were cheap because they lived in the woods and found their own food and, unlike cows, did not require to be fed with hay or straw. These were not domesticated pigs but wild boar. In some communities mutton would have been available. Meat was preserved by smoking it. In larger kitchens, joints of meat would have been hung in the chimney so that it would be smoked from the wood fire below. Horse meat would have been consumed in Roman times. Horses however were expensive animals to feed. The capture and slaughtering of animals for cookery and meat consumption depended heavily on the availability of wildlife. Birds, fresh water fish and four-legged wild animals (including Deer and Rabbits)  formed a large part of the meat diet of upper-class people. Alongside wild animals, there was husbandry of deer and pigs in the forests. Only wealthy Romans would have eaten venison and wild boar. The solders ate things like chickens, eggs, apples and olives. Archaeologists have found records of food supplies being ordered for the army. Bread formed part of the staple diet of the Roman soldier. Ovens have been found when excavating forts. Salted bacon was something that soldiers could take with them when going on long marches. Butchered cattle and sheep bones were also  found when excavating Roman forts.

It is believed that rabbits were introduced into Britain by the Romans. The remains of a two thousand year old rabbit were found at a dig in Norfolk. A mosaic was found at Chedworth in Gloucestershire that shows a man  holding a hare and wearing a hooded cloak, typical of those worm by the native British. On the same site a stone carving shows a hunter with a dog and a stag. British hunting dogs were known to the Romans and prized by them. The Vindolanda Tablets give information about the kind of food eaten by Roman armies. We find references to bread, meat, wine and olive oil. The Romans believed in a well-fed army. Amphorae were imported to supply olive oil, wine and fish sauce (garum.) The Vindolanda soldiers also enjoyed beer. Beer was being brewed over here as the Romans became established. We know this from the archaeological evidence.  The Vindolanda tablets, found in the excavations at Hadrians Wall, indicate that soldiers drank large quantities of beer. The bones of cows and sheep were found in the digs. They also needed pepper and salt and certainly the pepper would have been imported. Brown Samian pottery from France (then called Gaul) was also found, including bowls and cups, dishes and jars. Pottery was also made over here, including the black type that came from Dorset and fragments of this have been found in many parts of Britain. A wide variety of pottery fragments have been unearthed at Roman sites around Britain. Hunt cups have been found decorated with pictures of dogs chasing a hare. They had large cups for beer and small ones for wine. There is evidence that soldiers had to wear the right kind of dress when attending formal dinner parties.

Sausages were also available, particularly in the towns, where they were sold in the streets, either in shops or by street vendors. In the larger towns, many houses lacked facilities such as kitchens. Many of the urban inhabitants depended on food which they could buy at shops and bars which sold hot bread, pastries, pies and a product that resembled our modern day beefburger which was eaten with bread (Wilkinson, 2000.)

Game, birds and fish

The aristocracy – people of high status – would have dined on wild birds such as partridge or woodcock. Wild animals and game were hunted, as well a deer, and much of this atcivity was ritualised. Hawks were also used to hunt animals. Chickens have been domesticated since very early times and supplied eggs, alongside those collected from the nests of wildfowl. Records indicate that eggs were widely consumed. Pigeons and doves were domesticated and kept in cotes that were common in both monasteries and farms and sometimes in the larger halls (in the post-Roman period.) Both birds and their eggs were eaten in the middles ages. In settlements within reach of the sea, shell fish would have been eaten and it is thought that they were kept fresh, whilst being transported,  by being placed in boxes containing water.

Inland, fish would be caught in rivers. Oyster shells have been found at numerous Roman sites. It has been suggested that live oysters were transported in tanks of water (Frere, 1987.) Excavations of villas, towns and forts reveals shells of oysters, whelks, cockles, mussels and limpets. Oyster shells were found at the excavations in Bath Lane in Leicester – which is not exactly close to the sea. Fish ponds were constructed where fish could be kept. These could be expensive to maintain. Eels were the most common fresh water fish that was consumed, although other wild fish could also be caught in rivers and lakes. Some smoked or salted fish, from seaside areas, and some shellfish, were sold in inland towns that had good connections to the coast. In Leicester, shellfish remains have been found that originated in the coasts of Essex.

Pots and utensils

From the bronze age right through to the middle ages, most cooking was done in pots made from clay. These were made in specific parts of the country and then distributed by traders. Pottery fragments, found in archaeological digs, help to date the layer being excavated. Most cooking was done over an open fire. Roasting large amounts of meat on a spit was found only in the kitchens of rich people. In towns, houses did not have kitchens; those that had fireplaces would have had some method of heating pots, placed near to the fire. People in towns would obtain food from a market; there was little or no land in the town or city for them to grow their own produce.

People whose houses had no cooking facilities were dependent on buying hot food from specialist shops. In larger Roman towns, many of the poorer people lived in apartment blocks in which there were no kitchens. They had to get their food from shops and street vendors – they were dependent on takeaways. In some of the wealthier houses bronze cooking pots would have been used. The cauldron was used as a cooking put since the Iron age. A group of iron cauldrons was found in the UK in 2004. They could have been used for boiling meat or for heating beer or mead to drink at feasts. They were in use from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age (1200 BC – 600 BC). Glazed earthenware was common for items such as jugs and jars. Vessels made of leather, waterproofed with pitch or beeswax were also used and a few examples have survived.

Spices, Herbs and Sauces

Roman cooking used Garum – a kind of fermented fish sauce that might have been imported from mainland Europe. Spices were brought over from Europe – such as pepper, cinnamon and dried ginger. The invading Romans were not all from Italy. Only the upper echelons of the army, high status civilians and high ranking offices would have come from Rome itself or from other parts of Italy. The Roman armies included people from France, Spain, North Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the Roman Empire. The people of Roman Britain were a cosmopolitan lot. Like people today, these people would have yearned for the kind of food they were used to in their homelands. During the period of Roman occupation of Britain trade in spices developed.  In barracks, soldiers cooked for themselves. This created a demand for spices and herbs and in some of the military bases the local people were allowed to come in and sell food and produce.

Foods that we eat today and when they came on to our tables

Almonds (Grown by the Romans and imported into England by them.)

Apples (The Romans introduced new, sweeter varieties into Britain)

Asparagus (Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, cultivated by the Romans, it did not become popular in Europe until the 16th century.)

Blackberries (Gathered from wild bushes since pre-historic times. Since ancient times they were used as a medicine)

Broad beans (flava) (Known to the Greeks and eaten in Europe since ancient times)

Cabbage (Grown by the Romans)

Celery (Used by the Romans but not used widely in Britain until the 16th century.)

Cherries (Introduced into Britain by the Romans.)

Chickpeas (Eaten by the Romans and by people throughout Europe)

Grapes (Used by the Romans to make wine which was imported into England from European vineyards, in large quantities, in Amphorae)

Hazelnuts (Wild nuts were gathered from Neolithic times, although they were native to Asia, they seemed to have spread across northern Europe)

Herbs  (Plenty of wild plants grew in Britain and the Romans introduced some of their own that were not native species before they arrived)

Honey (Honey from wild hives would have been gathered in pre-historic times. In the middle ages monasteries had bee hives)

Leeks (Grown by the Romans who introduced them to England)

Lemons (Found in England from around 1494, they became popular in Europe and were used by the Romans)

Lentils (Eaten by the Romans)

Lettuce (Known since ancient times, it was eaten by the Romans)

Leeks (Eaten by the Romans)

Olives (Native to the Mediterranean, they were imported into England by the Romans and Olive oil would also have been imported in Amphorae)

Pears (Native to Europe, they were grown in the middles ages. Eaten by the Romans)

Plums (Grew wild in Europe and later cultivated by the Romans)

Raspberries (Cultivated by the Romans and grown in England from the middle ages)

Strawberries (A wild plant in Europe, used in Roman times as a medicine) Sugar (The Romans used sugar as a medicine)

Walnuts (First grown in Persia, they were cultivated by the Romans and spread throughout Europe, including Britain)

References

“A taste of history – 10,000 years of food in Britain” by Black.

“Overseas Trade” by H. S. Cobb

“English Trade” by L.F.Salzman “Agriculture and Prices, Vol 4. 1401-1582” by Thorold Rogers

“Eight recipes from Around the Roman Table – Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome” by Patrick Faas.

“Food and Cooking in Roman Britain: History and Recipes”, by Jane Renfrew, English Heritage, 1985

“Britannia – a history of Roman Britain (third edition), by Sheppard Frere, Routledge, 1987.

“What the Romans did for us”, by Philip Wilkinson, Boxtree, 2000.

See also:

History of Leicester Part 1 – The Romans in Leicester

Leicester Castle

Aethelflaed – queen of the Mercians

Find out more about the Story of Leicester

Food and cooking in Roman times

22nd October 2014

Food, cooking and farming in Roman occupied Britain

Today we publish our article on food in the time of Roman Britain. This accompanies the main article on the history of Leicester (part 2) on the Romans in Leicester.

Knowing what people ate, how they cooked and how they distributed food is important to our understanding of people in the past. Food in Roman Britain is an interesting topic because it saw substantial changes in what people ate and how food was produced.  England always was a good place for growing crops and for farming animals.  The natural landscape was rich in wild animals and native fauna offered many varieties of plants, herbs, fruit and berries. The creation of earthworks, stone monuments (including Stone Henge) and the development of religion and ritual was made possible by the abundance of food.

In the stone age, bronze and iron ages, food was in such plentiful supply that communities could devote labour to building and construction rather than solely to agriculture. A surplus of food is essential if large numbers of people are to be fed when engaging in building work. People had the time to develop rituals to do with the burial of the dead and the worship of their ancestors, as well as studying the stars, which would not have been possible if everyone spent all day engaged in subsistence farming.

The Roman empire saw Britain as a wild and untamed country but one that was rich in natural resources and that enjoyed a plentiful supply of food. Many Romans saw Britain as being the edge of the known world and myths surrounded it. This did not stop them from invading England and desiring it as part of their growing empire in the first and second centuries, AD.

We can work out what people in the early town of Leicester (then called Ratae) would have eaten from the evidence of food being supplied and consumed in the country as a whole. When 40,000 Roman soldiers landed here in 43 AD they would have brought food supplies with them. As they conquered the regions of England, they gradually organised their own systems of food supply.  They began to import food and wine from mainland Europe and, as they developed their own farms (or colonised those already established by the native communities),  they introduced new plants and animals to supply the tables of the occupying armies and the growing population of European civilians.

A lot of evidence from archaeology gives us a fairly detailed picture of what people ate, how food was produced and supplied and how food distribution was organised, over four centuries of Roman domination of Britain. This area of study gives us a lot of valuable insights into the way of life of both the aristocracy and of the common people in both military and civilian settings.

See also:

The history of Leicester part 2 – The Romans in Leicester

Food and cooking in Roman times

University of Leicester Exotic Food in Roman Leicester (requires PDF reader.)

RomanLeicester

20th October 2014

History of Leicester Part 2

The Romans in Leicester

By Trevor Locke

Introduction

It was after the Iron Age and the era of Roman settlement that we saw the earliest formation of Leicester as a place of continuous human settlement. Many experts believe that there was already a community in place, on the banks of the river Soar, by the time the first Roman legions arrived.
Roman contact with the early people living in the British Isles goes back long before the invasion of 43 AD. It was during the second century BC that Roman traders crossed the channel and began to trade with the people living in, what we now call, England. They traded commodities such as metals and grain, wine, jewellery and possibly weapons. Much of this would have been transported by boats using coastal routes and rivers that lead to major settlements. Before the Romans there were no made-up roads, only tracks that were rough and followed the routes made by herds of wild animals. Travel by water was often the easiest and quickest way to get around. The Romans cut canals and drainage ditches such as Fosse and Raw Dykes.) One of the oldest trackways known to exist in pre-historic Britain was The Ridge Way, which ran which ran from Wiltshire to the River Thames. About 87 miles in length, it is thought to have been used for some five thousands years. It had a series of Hill Forts, used to defend it. It was a trail that was not made up in any way or maintained. It often followed a route along high ground, on the ridges of hills. Similarly the Icknield Way, ran for about 100 miles from Buckinghamshire to Norfolk (in today’s language – such areas did not exist in pre-history.) The Sweet track in the Glastonbury fens, Somerset, is believed to be the oldest purpose built road in the world and has been dated to the 3800s BC. The Fosse Way was constructed by The Romans in the first century and it possible that they followed the routes of pre-historic trackways. The most important prehistoric route through the territory of the Coritani was the Jurassic Way.
People were mainly organised into tribes and the Romans would have visited them to negotiate diplomatic agreements well as to trade. There is evidence that the Romans visited Britain and had relationships with the Iron age tribes here, particularly in the south of the country. Even before the Romans came here, England was known for its rich farmland and agricultural produce – which might well have been one of the reasons why the Roman Empire wanted to overrun and rule it. Various areas of England also provided metal ores such as tin and iron. The East Midlands provided a good deal of minerals, including lead from Derbyshire and Iron, which had been mined before the Roman invasion particularly in Lincolnshire, Rutland  and adjacent parts of Leicestershire (Todd 1973). Iron production was a significant part of Roman industry in the East Midlands. A large number of sites have been discovered in the area. This included all stages of production, from ore extraction through to the making of iron implements [3]. The evidence shows the existence of mining, smelting and smithing. In fact the East Midlands was the third most important area for iron production in Britain. Much of the iron deposits occurred on the Jurassic Ridge (the Jurassic Limestone belt across the east Midlands.) Evidence of bronze and iron age metal working has been discovered at Beacon Hill. Metal working moulds were found at Breedon on the Hill and Ketton.
The quarrying of stone was another aspect of Roman industry, given the large amount of building construction that went on. The quarrying and working of stone flourished in the second century. Various types of stone found in Leicestershire provided building stones and even coffins in many parts of Britain. The Romans made good use of the limestone of the Jurassic Ridge and the volcanic rocks found in Charnwood. They quarried Granite at Enderby, Groby, Mount Sorrell and Markfield to provide stones for the buildings (Baths, Forum and walls) in Leicester. They also used slate from Swithland. Stone was also used by Cortianian craftsmen to fashion statues and carvings, probably at workshops in Leicester and Lincoln  (Todd, 1973). It is likely that stone would have been transported by water rather than by road ways, as far as possible.

Leicester before the Romans arrived.

Leicester was already settled in the Iron age. There were iron age hill forts at Beacon Hill, Burrough Hill, Breedon on the Hill and Ratby (Clay, 1988). Archaeological finds show that people were living on the banks of the Soar early in the first century AD. Todd (1973) argues that pre-Roman Ratae may presumably have been an extensive and disarticulated scatter of huts. Even so, it was an important centre within the territory of the Coritani.  The Settlement at Leicester probably evolved from a small site originating about 50 BC, which over the next hundred years, grew to an area of about forty acres along the eastern side of the River Soar (Clay, 1988). Other archaeological sites give us a clue as what the area was like around Ratae, prior to the Roman invasion.
In the year 2000, an open air ritual site was discovered in Hallaton in East Leicestershire. It was one of the most important discoveries in recent years from the Iron Age and Early Roman Britain. Over 5,000 Iron age and Roman coins were found on the site. Most were made locally and issued in about 20 to 50 AD. These coins were probably made by members of the Corieltavi tribe. The Hallaton Hoard included one of the oldest Roman coins to be found in Britain. It was dated to around 211 BC – long before the Roman invasion. The coin is thought to have been minted in Rome.
In 2014, a hoard of Roman and late Iron Age coins was found in Dovedale, in the Peak District, discovered in a cave where they had lain there for over two thousand years.  According to the BBC report, ‘Archaeologists discovered 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD43, and 20 other gold and silver pieces which are Late Iron Age and thought to belong to the Corieltavi tribe.’ In 2012 ten gold coins were discovered on farmland in Peatling Magna, near Market Harborough. They are thought to have been made in Europe between 60 and 50 BC. This suggests that there was contact between people in this area and those on the continent of Europe. When the Roman army arrived in Leicester, local people would already have been trading with people in Europe. People in Leicester were producing coins in the late Iron age; these were Corieltauvian coins (Clay, 1988).
The discovery of Roman coins in Leicester and Leicestershire, which pre-dates the invasion of AD 43, suggests that the area was important as a centre of trade between the British Isles and Europe. Local people would have been familiar with the Romans before the conquest of the country during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. Prior to the Roman invasion, Leicester had become one of the most important settlements in the Midlands.
Britain enjoyed diplomatic and trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar’s expeditions in 55 and 54 BC, and Roman economic and cultural influence was a significant part of the British late pre-Roman Iron Age [2].
Late Iron age life revolved around farming. The area around Leicester would have been divided into fields, for growing crops or providing pasture for animals. At this time we know that two types of wheat were grown: Emmer and Spelt. These varieties generated high yields from Iron age farming methods, so much so that some of it was exported to Europe. Iron age farmers had domesticated cattle, pigs and sheep. Leicester was also located near to woodlands that provided timber for building and branches for fuel. Clay maintains that up to 200 trees would have been needed for the construction of a single Iron age roundhouse. The most common type of building that would have been found in pre-Roman Leicester was the circular roundhouse, constructed from wood, with walls made of wattle and daub and a roof made of thatch (Clay, 1988). Apart from these dwelling houses, people also built structures to house their animals, barns for storage and sometimes separate cooking areas.

The origins of Roman Leicester.

Prior to the Roman Invasion of AD 43, the settlement on the banks of the Soar seems to have become an important centre for the Coritani tribe (Corieltavi or Corieltavauri).  They would have had trading connections with south east Britain and beyond, perhaps extending into other parts of Europe.

Excavations have revealed pottery from France, Italy and southern Spain in Iron age tribal settlements. The Coritani ranged across what is now Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and parts of South Yorkshire. They were a collection of like-minded people who shared the same outlook and social practices. Ratae was the capital  town (civitas) of the tribe; the Romans called it Ratae Coritanorum (in effect what we would today call the local authority.)  The name Ratae is though to be Celtic in origin. Excavations at the Jewry Wall site found pottery and some bronze objects from the Iron age and which are believed to have associated with the Coritani tribe, although this is far from certain (Todd, 1973). Discoveries of late Iron age pottery in Leicester indicates a considerable time-spread of occupation (Whitwell, 1982). There is archaeological evidence that the Roman town of Ratae was built on a site that had Iron age origins and which might well have been a regional centre for the Coritani tribe. The finds date from the first century. Todd refers to ‘Iron Age C’  pottery and to coins dating from this period. The picture that emerges is that there was a tribal settlement on the Soar in the late Iron age and that the Coritani was the principal people who administered the region surrounding the site of present-day Leicester. Todd (1973) argues that the boundaries of the Coritani tribe were not clearly defined.
Prior to the occupation of the Romans, there was little or no written accounts of the Coritani, other than inscriptions on coins and the evidence offered by other artefacts. The writer Claudius Ptolemy (circa AD 90 to circa 168) referred to them in his Geographia. In this he compiled all that was known about the world at the time of the Roman Empire. His work was often based on sources derived from earlier writers. He mentions the Coritani and believed them to be based at Lindon (Lincoln) and Rhage (Ratae.) A Roman source – the Antonine Itinerary –  contains reference to the region occupied by the Coritani and refers to Ratae as the tribal capital.

The Roman Invasion

Four legions of the Roman army probably landed in Kent in 43 AD (some people believe, or we might say the south coast if we do not want to be so specific.) Within a matter of weeks they had seized the important capital of Camulodunum (the place where Colchester now stands) and the legions founded their base there, in the 40s,  on the site of the Celtic stronghold.  During the year they rapidly overran the southern areas and the tribes put up little resistance. Legion XIV came from Colchester along the new roads arriving at the Fosse Way near to Ratae [1]. The Roman army reached the area of the Coritani in the years immediately after 43 AD (Liddle, 1982).

Todd (1973) argues that  the Coritani do not figure in the surviving Roman accounts of the occupation of Britain between AD 43 and about AD 70 (based on studies between 1965 and 1970.)  There is no evidence of how they reacted to the Roman invaders. Within one or two years of the invasion, most of the territory of the Coritani was under Roman rule. The Romans set up a network of forts based on the routes of Ermine Street and the Fosse Way. The eastern part of England was occupied by the ninth legion (Legio IX Hispana) together with their auxiliary troops. In the early phase of their campaign they established marching camps. The Legio IX Hispana was sent north towards Lincoln (Latin: Lindum Colonia) and within four years of the invasion it is likely that an area south of a line from the Humber to the Severn estuary was under Roman control. Legio XIV might have been joined by IX and the two legions might have worked together on the conquest of the Coritani (Whitwell 1982).

That this line is followed by the Roman road of the Fosse Way has led many historians to debate the route’s role as a convenient frontier during the early occupation. It is more likely that the border between Roman and Iron Age Britain was less direct and more mutable during this period however. [4] Forts were constructed to house troops during the winter or as temporary bases. These were often positioned at river crossings or road junctions and the general pattern that we see from where they are positioned suggests that one was constructed on the banks of the Soar where the road crossed the river from west to east. A forty foot ditch was found on land adjacent to the Soar, in which first century Samian pottery was found (Whitwell, 1982). At least two ditches of probably military origin have been found. A V-shaped ditch, steeper on the north face than the south, was discovered; pottery from the filling suggested that it was disused after about 65 AD. Metalwork from the town suggests both legionaries and auxiliaries were present (Liddle, 1982). There may be credible evidence that the Roman forts were sited away from the main part of the Coritani settlement.
Some kind of post, possibly a fort was established, at Ratae,  by Legion XIV (they were withdrawn in 66 or 67 but sent back in about 69). A second fort was constructed between 55 and 65 AD. The army was camped here during the Claudio-Neronian period and quite possible constructed a fort not long after their arrival. The Romans were aware of the tactical importance of Leicester. It was situated in the heart of the country where roads converged, and with an important river flowing through it. It is believed by archaeologists that a Roman military base (or fort) was established on the eastern bank of the Soar, just below the native Iron Age settlement, and became the new home of the conquering Legion XIV. The fort housed about 500 men and was surrounded by a ditch and earthen rampart. It was built to guard the intersection of two of Britain’s greatest Roman roads – Fosse Way and Gartree Road – at the river crossing. With the arrival of the Roman army, came money. Traders and other settlers gathered near the fort. A minor civilian settlement such as this was called a vicus. [1]
It seems likely that the Roman army conquered much of southern Britain and the Midlands within about 20 years. Major campaigns continued until around 83 AD, including responding to the revolt lead by Boudicca in 60 – 61.  The invasion of 43 was under the emperor Claudius who reigned from 41 – 54. The Romans’ main interest in the British Isles would have been, arguably, metals and grain. The Roman armies were under the rule of Governors.  Aulus Plautius was the first governor of Britannia from 43 to 47. Scapula disarmed the Britons in 47. Aulus Didius Gallus was governor from 52 to 57 and Quintus Veranius from 57 to his death in 58.
The military garrison is unlikely to have remained at Leicester for long after 70 AD, argued Todd (1873) and at around this time the civitas Coritanorum would have become an independent administrative unit.  The date at which the Roman armies left Rate is unclear; Whitwell (1982) believes that evidence from the excavation of forts suggests it would have been around 80 AD. Although the legions left, a civil administration was left in place. The civitas was somewhat similar to our present-day county council. The whole country was divided into civitates. Later the word civitas became synonymous with the word city.

Ratae as an important town

According to one source

Leicester was unaffected by the Boudicca uprising however, and between AD 71 and AD 85, the province more than doubled in size. But in AD 83, the Roman occupation began to evolve. The Roman army in Britain was considerably weakened by a sudden recall of men to the continent. By AD 92, Britain had lost its major Roman legions. The Leicester forts were evacuated and the town was no longer a military stronghold. But it remained under Roman rule. As the soldiers departed, the forts were dismantled and land handed over to civilian use. The vicus (the civilian settlement outside the walls of the fort)  of Leicester was granted the power of local legislation and became a civitas capital of Britain. That meant it was an administrative centre of a tribal territory – in effect, the capital of the East Midlands. [1]

If this account is credible it would suggest, I would argue, that there was little resistance to the Romans by the Coritani; in fact the development of Leicester as an important civic centre of government suggests that the people who were there when the Romans arrived decided to get on with them rather than fight them. It is possible that these members of the Coritani had already traded with the Romans. In other parts of Britain there was struggle against Roman rule and that would have taken many of the soldiers away from Ratae.

The Roman settlement at Leicester.

The very name Ratae Corieltauvorum gives us a clue to how people responded to Roman occupation.  Ratae means ‘ramparts’ and harks back to the Iron age fort that probably stood on the northern banks of the Soar. Corieltauvorum refers to the Coritani tribe for whom the settlement was their civitas or centre for government. A similar situation could be found in Colchester where an iron age fort became the base for the Roman army.

Todd (1973) argues that the withdrawal of military garrisons from the tribal territory in the last first century implies that government of the region was now formally handed over to tribal authority of the municipal civitas.  In the last years of the first century, Leicester (or Ratae) became the hub or the tribal organisation, its principal meeting place and where its records were kept.  The more wealthy and influential members of the Coritani lived there. Later in the Roman period, the town appears to have been granted the status of a municipia. This indicates that the inhabitants had become thoroughly Romanised and some of its residents would have become Roman citizens.
The Roman settlement is thought to have been a rectangular area, surrounded with perimeter fortifications, in which there were four gates. There is doubt about whether the river side of the enclosure was walled, like the rest. Because the river itself offered a natural barrier, it is thought that the walls on this side were not as extensive as the rest. The surrounding walls began to be demolished in the fifteenth century as suburbs grew up.
The Fosse Way was an important Roman Road linking the fortresses of Exeter and Lincoln. This passed near to Ratae Corieltauvorum. Following the Roman invasion, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of the Roman territory. The current A46 follows the path of the Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester. Nearing the city, it’s route is now marked by Melton Road and Belgrave Road. It would have terminated roughly at the position of Clock Tower and continued along the line of the present Narborough Road.

As the invading legions pushed northwards, it is thought they would have crossed the Soar near to the present West Bridge. This is likely because that was the point at which prehistoric routes would have crossed over the river, at a point which would have offered a suitable crossing, based on the shallowness of the water and the lie of its banks.
Early in the second century, the town was built up using a grid pattern. The streets defining the insula appear to have been laid out at the end of the first century (Whitwell, 1982). The square blocks resulting from the grid pattern were known as insulae.   It was around 130 to 140 AD that the forum was constructed (Whitwell, 1982). The basilica and baths were constructed between 150 and 160 (around 145 according to Liddle), the ruins of which can now been seen at the ‘Jewry Wall’ site.  Substantial town houses were also built, having central heating, floors of fine mosaics and painted walls.  There was also a temple dedicated to the god Mithras (there were other temples.)

This signifies that Ratae was an important seat of government and continued to be so right into the fourth century by which time many of the local inhabitants had become Romanised. It is likely that the civitas Coritanorum was recognised by the late first century with Ratae as its administrative capital (Whitwell, 1982). A Forum was constructed, from around 120,  immediately east of the public baths. The Forum had a central courtyard surrounded by rooms and on the northern side there was a Basilica. There were shops and a great Hall. The whole structure might have been completed by 130 to 140 (Todd, 1973.) There was a commercial area known as the marcellum (built in around 180 AD) which would have been a feature of many Roman towns of this time. It is thought likely that the market accommodated a variety of markets and trades with goods being traded from many parts of Europe. In Vine Street there were villas that had central heating system called hypocausts. One fine villa started life as a row of houses that fronted on to the junction of two streets.  These were then linked together and extended and had corridors that surrounded a central court yard.
The surviving remains (still above ground) is known as the Jewry Wall  part of the baths complex constructed by the Romans.  The complex includes a large basilica an exercise hall and the bath houses. The remains that can be seen today were the dividing wall between these two. It contains two entrances between the baths and the exercise hall.  There was rooms for cold bathing and possibly containing plunge pools. There were warmer rooms and rooms for hot bathing.  Much of what we know about the plan of the structure is derived from similar sites, many of which have been excavated in other parts of the country, particular at Bath. The site was extensively robbed of its stone, some of which was used to build the nearby church of St. Nicholas and some taken by incoming Saxons for the construction of their buildings.
After the end of Roman occupation, as the great Roman buildings fell into ruin, their stone was used to build new structures, such as the church of St. Nicholas. The regular pattern of the Roman streets began to be overlaid by the buildings of later centuries as ground level rose several feet above what would have the level of the original Roman town. I recently looked at research into the Roman settlement of Ratae on the banks of the river Soar. The researchers drew a cross section showing how the level of occupation in Roman times was very substantially lower than the current surface. The Roman surface was several metres below the current day surface. This begins to explain why archaeologists have to dig down to find earlier remains of settlements. In their report the researchers put forward a number of reasons why the level has increased. They postulated that generations of building was one of the factors why deposition raised the level.  Many other factors can be guessed. Whilst the course of the river has not changed that much in 2000 years (at this particular location) its contours have. The flow of the river changed a lot over that time. Flooding might also have deposited some layers, although Ratae was sited on a ridge over looking the river, so alluvial deposits cannot be a major factor. Deposition of waste and rubbish over centuries of occupation might well have contribution to the changes we see in surface level.

The decline of the Roman period.

Roman influence began to decline in the late fourth and fifth centuries. Alterations were made to the defences of Roman towns, including the construction of towers and ditches. This was probably in response to increasing raids by tribes from Europe.

Defended towns were more able to withstand attack but the open settlements were far more vulnerable and many of them declined. The production of pottery continued even after 400, as did metal working, which had become well established during the Romano-British period. There was a large cemetery at Thurmaston with graves dating from the middle of the fifth century. The positioning of Anglo-Saxon burials close to those of Romans is evidence for foederati. (Whitwell, 1982).  Foederati were nations or tribes that provided Rome with military service in exchange for various benefits.
These were cremation burials, indicating Anglo-Saxon influences. The Saxon-type burials might have been those of the soldiers that were brought to the country as part of the army in the last fourth century. These people came from communities in Europe that had been federated to the Empire. The Roman villas began to be disused after the 4th c. Anglo-Saxon pottery has been found at some villa sites but this might indicate that the buildings were used only temporarily and were not maintained once their Roman occupants had left. The incoming Anglo-Saxons took over the farms but built their own residences on new sites rather than using the villas left behind by the Romans. It is likely that the land that used to belong to the villas continued to be farmed. Despite increasing archaeological evidence of early Anglo-Saxon farming, the relationship between the old Roman farms and those of the incoming Saxons is far from clear.

Leicester as a microcosm of England.

Many historians have viewed Leicester as being a microcosm of England – throughout its history. There is much about the place that reflects and echoes what was happening in the rest of the country. Leicester is in the centre of England and in its way of life, it activities and people, it is typical of middle England. The things that happened in the rest of England also happened in Leicester. The history of Leicester reflects and contains pretty much everything that happened in the rest of the country. This is a justification (if any were needed) for the study of Leicester’s past. Of course the same could be said for many other long-established English towns but Leicester’s position in the centre of the country and its two thousands years of human habitation make it a mirror of English life.
Next:  Coming up – Leicester and the Anglo-Saxons.

References

[1] The website http://www.thiswasleicestershire.co.uk/2012/11/roman-leicester.html
[2] Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratae_Corieltauvorum
[3] Roman iron production in Britain:: technological and socio-economic landscape development along the Jurassic Ridge, British Archaeological Reports,  380, 2004.
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_conquest_of_Britain#Crossing_and_landing

Clay, Patrick, 1985, Excavations in Bath Lane, Leicester, Leicestershire Museums, Arts Galleries and Records Service, Archaeological reports series No.10.
Clay, Patrick, 1988, Leicester Before The Romans, Leicestershire Museums Service.
Clay, Patrick, 2002, The Prehistory of the East Midlands Claylands – aspects of settlement and land-use from the Mesolithic to the Iron age in central England, University of Leicester.
Frere, Sheppard, 1978, Britainnia -a history of Roman Britain (third edition, extensively revised), Routledge & Kegan Paul
Henig, Martin, 1995, The Art of Roman Britain, BT Batsford Ltd
Jarvis, Paul 1986 `The early pits of the Jewry Wall site, Leicester’, Trans Leicestershire Archaeol Hist Soc 60, 1986 7-15
Liddle, Peter, 1982, Leicestershire Archaeology – the present state of knowledge, Volume 1 To the end of the Roman period, Archaeological Reports Series Number 4, Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service
Todd, Malcolm, 1973, The Coritani, Duckworth.
Whitwell, J B, 1982, The Coritani – some aspects of the Iron age tribe and the Roman Civitas, BAR99
Wilkinson, Philip, 2000, What the Roman did for us, Boxtree

Watch documentaries about the Roman invasion of 43 AD On Youtube

See also:

The History of Leicester, Part 1

Leicester Castle

Queen Aethelaed

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26th April 2016

New bus station to open in Charles Street

Artist's impression of the interior of the new bus station in Charles Street. Courtesy of Leicester City Council.
Artist’s impression of the interior of the new bus station in Charles Street.
Courtesy of Leicester City Council.

Leicester City Council has confirmed that bus services will begin to operate from the revamped station from Sunday, May 8, but people will get a first chance to see inside the new building at an opening event planned for Saturday, May 7.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “The new Haymarket Bus Station will help dramatically improve services for bus passengers. I am delighted that passengers now have just a few days to wait until they can see the benefits for themselves.

“The new building and the improvements made to the surrounding street scene have provided a tremendous lift to what was becoming a rather rundown-looking part of the city centre.

“This ambitious redevelopment has provided the city with a new bus station that is fit for the 21st century. It will make a huge difference to the journeys of thousands of people who travel into the city centre by bus every day, and I am grateful for the patience they have shown during this challenging project.”

Built on the same site as the old 1990s facility, the new bus station will offer almost double the number of departure bays – increasing from 12 to 23 – providing capacity for over 100 buses per hour.

As a result, a number of bus shelters have been removed from Charles Street, between Belgrave Gate and Humberstone Gate, where pavements have also been widened and re-built in high quality block paving to provide a safer and more attractive route for shoppers and other visitors.

The new bus station building – which has replaced a collection of old, run-down bus shelters – will provide comfortable waiting facilities, real-time bus information displays and a passenger information point in its modern concourse. There will also be a kiosk and public toilets, including baby changing facilities and a new Changing Places toilet for people with profound disabilities and their carers.

People visiting the new bus station during the opening event on Saturday, May 7, will have the chance to explore bus travel through the ages with examples of vintage vehicles and the bus operators’ latest fleet vehicles on show. There will also a range of information stalls and other activities on offer. The open event will run from 11am until 5pm.

18th February

Old bank given new lease of life

PLANS to convert a disused 19th century bank and bring it back into use as a new delicatessen have been backed with a city council heritage grant.

The former Bank of Ireland Savings Bank, at 4 St Martins, is one of the first buildings to be awarded a grant from the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI).

The city council-run scheme, which is backed by £1.1milllion of Heritage Lottery Fund cash, will help drive the restoration and regeneration of at least 20 of the most historically important buildings in the Greyfriars conservation area, to the south of Leicester Cathedral.

A grant of up to £200,000 has been awarded to Nottingham-based Delilah Fine Foods who plan to revamp the Grade II-listed Victorian bank building and bring it back into use.

The company has secured planning and listed building consent to convert the old bank into a delicatessen and café, with three apartments on the upper floors. Delilah Fine Foods has won awards for a similar deli, which it opened in a converted Grade II-listed former bank building in Nottingham’s Victoria Street.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This is an absolutely smashing building, right on the gateway into Cathedral Gardens.

“I am thrilled with the plans to bring it back into use as a deli, which will see it reopened as a place for people to enjoy, after years of it being boarded-up.

“The award of this THI grant means that we can help to bring a fantastic piece of our architectural heritage back into use, and also attract a new, independent business into Leicester.

“Delilah Fine Foods have an excellent record of sensitively converting heritage buildings. We simply wouldn’t have seen this level of interest in this part of the city centre two years ago.”

[Source: Leicester City Council]

15th October

Granby Halls site development

The Granby Halls
The Granby Halls

PLANS for the proposed sale of land on the site of the former Granby Halls have been announced by Leicester City Council.

The 1.66 acres (0.67 hectares) of land, located next to the Leicester Tigers Stadium at the junction of Welford and Aylestone Road, will be marketed for sale from Friday (16 Oct).

Prospective buyers will have to provide an outline of their proposed future use of the site when submitting their offer for the land.

The city council has put in place a site development brief which provides guidance on the type and size of development that will be permitted on the site.

This gives a variety of potential uses, including offices, hotel use, student accommodation, or community facilities, in a building of between five and eight storeys. Apartments could also be included as part of a mixed-use scheme.

Open space must be maintained between the Granby Halls site and the Tigers ground, to provide a public concourse.

The city council, which owns the land, currently leases it to NCP and Leicester Tigers for car parking.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This is a major city centre location. Now that work on the new car park at Leicester Royal Infirmary is nearing completion, we can begin to think about how this important site can be put to the best possible use in the future.

“We want to see something of high quality being developed here. It’s important that any building on this site should be of architectural merit and that future use is not at odds with people who live in the area, or with the neighbouring prison, hospital or sports stadium.

“That’s why we’ve chosen to implement a development brief on the site, and will not sell until we have assurance that the proposed development is the right one for this part of the city.”

[Source: Leicester City Council]

24th September 2015

Waterside development

AN INDUSTRIAL building on a main route into the proposed Waterside regeneration area is set to be bought by the city council.

The property, at 65 Great Central Street, is to be bought with vacant possession. The proposed purchase is part of the city council’s wider plans for the regeneration of Waterside. It will be paid for with Government cash awarded for regeneration in the area.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “The acquisition of properties like this will help move forward our plans for the wider regeneration of Waterside over the coming years.

“This is a rather unattractive industrial building located on an important route into the Waterside.

“Improving the gateways into the area, and reconnecting the city centre with its riverside, is a key part of our vision for the regeneration of this part of the city over the next ten to 15 years.”

17th August 2015

New Walk Centre

One of the UK’s leading financial advice firms has been confirmed as the first tenant of a new development at the site of the former New Walk Centre.

Wealth management and employee benefits business, Mattioli Woods plc, has announced it will move into offices at the planned new development on the site of the former council offices.

The firm, which has been based at Grove Park in Enderby since 2005, advises over 6,000 clients with assets under management, administration and advice in excess of £5 billion.  The company employs over 300 staff in Leicester, and the move will allow it to expand and create in excess of 150 new job opportunities.

Earlier this year, Leicester City Council announced that local developer Ingleby, part of the Sowden Group, had been appointed to regenerate the site, which is currently in the process of being cleared following the demolition of New Walk Centre in February 2015.

Plans for the site include two buildings based around a central public open area on New Walk, combining office space, apartments and ground-floor retail.  If planning permission is granted, work is expected to start on site before the end of 2015, with the development being completed and new tenants in place towards the beginning of 2017.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This is a real vote of confidence in the city centre that a firm with the calibre of Mattioli Woods will be setting up its office at this key development site.  It is a local firm with a proven track record, which was originally based in the city until it moved out in 1998.

“Developments such as this are creating valuable business space, and I hope this will be the first of many firms realising the benefits of being based in the heart of a thriving city centre.”

Mattioli Woods Chief Executive Officer, Ian Mattioli, added: “We are really excited about our move, which for me is a move back home.  The Mattioli family are proud of our Leicester roots, which go back hundreds of years.”

Commenting on the new office, he said: “We are a fast-growing local business with ambitious expansion plans over the next few years, which is a key driver for the move.  The new city centre office will provide us with an ultra-modern working space with great transport links, giving us the opportunity to service both existing and future recruitment needs even more efficiently.”

Roy Coley, Managing Director of the Sowden Group, said: “We are thrilled that our scheme was chosen to redevelop the site of the former New Walk Centre.  We would like to thank our team of architects and support professionals, all of whom are based in the East Midlands, for all their hard work on what is a very exciting mixed-use scheme.

“We are a local developer and to have attracted a company of the quality and calibre of Mattioli Woods cannot be under estimated.  We hope the success of this scheme will encourage more high quality companies to locate to Leicester city centre.”

Leading multi-professional consultancy practice Pick Everard, which is based in Charles Street, has been chosen to provide professional Independent Project Monitoring and Advisory Services for the flagship project.  The company was chosen due to its vision, the high standards of its work and the ability to cope with a project of this size within a fast-track timescale.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

20th April 2015

Soar Island competition attracts worldwide talent

AN INTERNATIONAL architecture competition to find a winning vision for the future of Leicester’s Soar Island has attracted entries from across the globe.

Over 80 entries – including ideas from as far afield as Japan, Spain, Hong Kong, Italy and America – have been submitted.

The competition has been organised by Leicester City Council and RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and invited architects to submit ideas for the potential future use of the two-acre Soar Island, at the heart of Leicester’s Waterside. Members of the public will be able to comment on the initial designs submitted by the five shortlisted entrants at a public exhibition due to take place in Leicester in early summer.

Glenn Howells, acting as RIBA advisor for the competition, said: “The range and type of proposals we saw was impressive. The competition entries showed how a wide variety of activities and environments could potentially be created on the island.

“It prompted much discussion amongst the judges as to what form of development would best deliver the maximum benefit for this exciting, emerging quarter of Leicester.”

Andrew Smith, director of regeneration at Leicester City Council, said: “Soar Island is a unique part of the city and has the potential to be an interesting focal point in the Waterside development area.

“We’ve been really pleased with the level of interest shown in the competition and the range of visionary ideas submitted which we are using to help us shape our thinking on how to make the most of this potential development site.

“This process has already captured the imagination of the architectural community and we are looking forward to hearing what local people think of the ideas. Ultimately, this competition will help to build developer interest and confidence in our plans for the regeneration of the Waterside area.”

[Source: City Council}

2nd September 2014

New Walk centre demolition

THE crumbling office blocks at New Walk Centre are due to be brought down in a controlled initiated collapse early next year.  Leicester City Council has today announced the method to be used to demolish its former headquarters, following 10 weeks of investigations and preparatory work by demolition contractors on the site.

The offices were handed over in July to demolition firm DSM, who have since been carrying out preparatory works and enabling work to help establish the safest and quickest method of taking down the buildings. The chosen method – known as a controlled initiated collapse – will bring the two tower blocks down into their own footprint in a matter of seconds.

It is widely used in the industry, as a quick and safe method of demolition. It will be subject to stringent safety conditions and overseen by the Health and Safety Executive and police. Following the demolition, teams of specialist cleaners will move in immediately afterwards to clean up the resulting dust so that roads, homes, and businesses near to the demolition site can return to normal that same day.

Further details will now be drawn up on exactly when the process will take place, along with arrangements for road closures and vacating businesses and homes nearest the site. Further testing on the site over the last few weeks has revealed that the other possible methods of demolition – including gradual dismantling by ultra-high reach machine – would be impractical due to the decaying state of the building.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “Contractors have spent the last 10 weeks gradually stripping the building of fixtures and fittings and carrying out numerous investigations and testing work to see how the building can be brought down safely. “Given the very poor condition of the building, they felt that slowly dismantling it would be too risky for the contractors working on it, and that bringing it down very quickly would be far safer.

“This method means the buildings can be demolished, the surrounding area cleaned and the roads and businesses re-opened all within the same day. “We’ll now be in further discussions with DSM to set a date for the demolition and make the necessary arrangements.

“We’ll also be working closely with residents and businesses to ensure they know in plenty of time how it will affect them, and how we will be helping them.” As part of the agreement with contractors, the site will be leveled and left as a vacant brownfield plot for future development.

The New Walk Centre plot is considered to be a prime city-centre development site easily accessible from Leicester Station, New Walk and the heart of the city’s shopping area.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

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