Dating the past

Dating the past. When was 1066?

27th april 2017

The battle of Hastings took place on 14th October 1066. Just saying that seems to imbue the date with the quality of being an incontestable fact. I will go on to show that dating the past is not always as simple as it might seem.

But first. Let us recall some things that are known about the battle – which actually took place near to the bay of Pevensey, in what is today the county of East Sussex. The battle was fought between the king of England Harold Godwinson and William, Duke of Normandy. A few days earlier Harold had won a battle against invading Danes under the leadership of Harald Sigurdsson of Norway, known as Hardrada. This was the battle of Stamford Bridge. Harald was killed, along with Earl Tostig Godwinson, brother of the English king in a conflict that saw Harold Godwinson victorious.

William of Normandy’s fleet of ships landed at the bay of Pevensey, which is between the modern day towns of Eastbourne and Hastings. During the battle, Harold’s younger brother Gyrth Godwinson and his other brother Leofwine were killed. The battle was fought close to the place now called Battle – about eight miles from modern day Hastings; an abbey was erected to mark the conflict near to the site where it had traditionally been said to have been fought. The town of Hastings was first mentioned in the late 8th century when it was known as Hastingas. Clearly there was a settlement there during Anglo-Saxon times. Battle Abbey was built in 1095.

The earliest account of the battle is found in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, written in the 11th century. Only a copy of it, from the early 12th century, still survives.

Following the battle at Pevensey, where Harold Godwinson was killed, the English nobles surrendered to William at Berkhamstead in December, after which William rode into London and was crowned, at Westminster Abbey, on Christmas day.

My interest in this event was kindled by watching the series on BBC2 television: 1066 – a year to conquer England.

So how certain can we be that dates given in historical accounts are accurate? Clearly, medieval writers know dates and could record any date on which an event took place. Our problem is in counting backwards and saying that an event took place x or y hundred years ago.

This problem stems from changes to the calendar that has been used over time. The calendar we use today, at least in the West, is the Gregorian Calendar which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century, in October 1582. That calendar was introduced because errors were discovered in the previous calendar – the Julian – which was based on an even earlier one – the Roman calendar. The Julian calendar introduced a very small correction to the length of the year. Not all European countries adopted the Gregorian calendar straight away – Greece did not adopt it until 1923. The Gregorian calendar was used to calculate the date of Easter, a very important festival for the Christian church. According to Wikipedia, ‘Since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, the difference between Gregorian and Julian calendar dates has increased by three days every four centuries.’ This article goes on to explain variations between the two calendars in some detail. A table shows that the differences in days can vary between 10 and 14 days.

Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. The Wikipedia article (see below for references) provides an example of the problems that can occur when dating important events: ‘So, for example, the Parliamentary record lists the execution of Charles I on 30 January as occurring in 1648 (as the year did not end until 24 March), although later histories adjust the start of the year to 1 January and record the execution as occurring in 1649.

So, when the scribes – who wrote about the Battle that took place in Southern England – gave the date as 14th October 1066, they would have been using the Julian calender.

Even today, various other calendars exist. The Islamic faith has its own calendar, which differs from that of the Christian church. There is a calendar for the Chinese which is based astronomical observations of the sun’s longitude and the phases of the moon.

Going back to the Norman invasion, how long did it take them, to fully conquer the whole country? In particular, when did they take over Leicester? William died in 1087. That marked a milestone in Norman Britain. He was succeeded by his third son, William who was crowned William II in 1087. He has become known as ‘William Rufus.’ The years of William’s reign were marked by sporadic insurgencies and the odd rebellion and by threats of invasion from mainland Europe. There was an uprising by the Northumbrians who captured Durham and lay siege to York. The 21 years of William’s rule were peppered with revolts and uprisings. After conquering England, William ousted the old aristocracy replacing it with his system of Earls and nobles. Although the Normans introduced a powerful aristocracy to the country they preserved some of the established Anglo-Saxon posts and positions of the local administrations, much as the Roman had done several centuries earlier. Just as Roman rule did not extend fully into Scotland, so too the Normans failed to subdue the Scottish tribes.

When did the Normans take over Leicester?

Robert de Beaumont was created the 1st Earl of Leicester (born sometime between 1040 and 1050, died 5 June 1118). He was a close associate of William. He fought at Hastings. He had four descendants all of whom were called Robert and they all became Earl of Leicester. Leicester castle was built around 1070 under the governorship of Hugh de Grandmesnil. It was constructed on the site of a much earlier Roman fortification. The castle still exists today and the mound of the Motte can be visited. It had remained in continuous use since it began though for several years it fell into a state of poor repair. The great hall was given a brick frontage in the style of Queen Anne. Before the coming of the Normans, Leicester had been a thriving Anglo-Saxon town. The town was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, when it was called Ledecestre. It was described as a small walled town surrounded by farms, fields and agricultural plots. There were four gates in the walls. William’s army had taken over nearly the whole of England prior to his being crowed, in London, on Christmas day 1066. Before the times of the Anglo-Saxons, the town was an important centre for the Romans, when it was called Ratae Corieltauvorum.

References

Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest: the battle of Hastings and the fall of Anglo-Saxon England, 2012. Random House.

Difference between Gregorian and Julian calendar dates, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar#Difference_between_Gregorian_and_Julian_calendar_dates

Dating the past, article in Science Learning Hub, https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1478-dating-the-past-introduction

Dating the past, chapter 4, in Archaeology an introduction, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2002, https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/kevin.greene/wintro/chap4.htm

Chronological dating in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronological_dating

Dating the Past: An Introduction to Geochronology. FREDERICK E. ZEUNER. (xx, 495 pp.,
103 figures, 24 plates, $8.00. Third revised edition. Methuen & Co., Ltd., London
and Longmans, Green & Co., Inc., New York, 1952.)

Part 2 1990 to 2005

The History of Music in Leicester

Chapter 2 – Music and the rise of the Internet – 1990 to 2005

by Trevor Locke

This page was edited by Trevor Locke. Read more about Leicester on his blog.

See part 1 of this article

The 1990s

We start by looking at some of the key characteristics of Leicester’s music scene in the 1990s. In this section, reference back to earlier years is made in order to set the context for certain points. More detail will be provided in my next chapter which looks at the era of the radio and record player, starting in 1940 and ending with the start of the 1990s.

The 1990s on the Internet

It was during the decade of the 1990s that mass use of the Internet got going in the UK and Leicester and people went on-line in increasing numbers.

My first experience of going on the Internet, was when I worked for DeMontfort University in 1995 at the Scraptoft campus. The first pages I ever saw, from the Internet, were in monochrome (green text on a black background) and there were no graphics. That was probably because the only access the campus had at that time was through the specialised Universities system called ‘Superjanet’, which was mainly concerned with bibliographic references and research papers.

It was not until 1997 that I got my own Internet connection at home; in those days we had to use a modem connected to the telephone line which dialled up the ISP and frequently dropped out.

Some international websites appeared in this period. The Internet Underground Music Archive Collection (IUMA) was started in 1993 by three students at the University of California at Santa Cruz. They worked together to create an online music archive that would help musicians and bands who weren’t signed by a major label. The site allowed these unsigned artists to upload files and send them to fans; it also gave artists the opportunity to talk with their fans. At first,  The IUMA was part of the Usenet newsgroups. In 1998, Emusic bought the Internet Underground Music Archive and changed the look and feel. Unsigned artists would sign up with the service and receive a website and URL devoted to their name [IUMA website]

In 1994, a number of key developments changed what the ‘Web could offer to the music industry. Music tracks started to be made available to fans on a global basis and technologies that allowed streaming were becoming increasingly powerful. One important consequence of this was that the record labels lost their strangle-hold on music; underground or alternative music could now be made available by the bands themselves. By 2001 the big five labels had begun to realise the importance of the Internet and to colonise and cash in the market for digital tracks. [Spellman, 2002]

America Online (AOL) began in 1983 but it was not until 1993 that it began to offer an all-purpose Internet service. AOL was, at one time, the UK’s largest Internet access provider. Not everyone liked it but it seemed that everyone was on it. As a multi-media platform, it catered for the musical interests of its users. I worked for AOL from around 1997 onwards, and I remember someone asking me (in a chat room) if I had ever heard of a band called Kasabian. I think this must have been the first I had ever heard of them. I continued working for AOL into the noughties. I remember chat rooms being provided, in which famous music celebrities held real-time, interactive conferences with subscribers from around the world.

Logo of America On Line
Logo of America On Line

In 1999 AOL cut its rates for Internet access; much of the company’s success was due to the way it distributed CDs that gave access and installed its interface client on to personal computers. People used these CDs as coasters and beer mats and some even used them to make art installations and sculptures. They were even given away free as inserts in magazines. In the early noughties and late 90s, AOL was competing with providers like Freeserve and Virgin and distribution of these installation CDs was a core part of their strategy.  Love them or loathe them, it is true that AOL gave many millions of people their first access to music over the Internet. The millions of CDs distributed by AOL led some to claim it was an environmental hazard because they were not biodegradable.

Bands too started to register domain names to provide them with tailor-made web addresses. The domain dead.net was registered on January 20, 1995 for the American rock band formed in 1965 – The Grateful Dead.  A British rock band –  Marillion –  formed in 1979, registered Marillion.com on December 19th, 1996, but this was not the first.

A band formed in 1990, appeared in an article about technology published on the BBC website. The article claims that an image of the band is thought to be one of the first ever upload to the World Wide Web.

An all-female doo-wop band whose image is believed to have been the first photo uploaded to the fledgling world wide web is to play its final gig. Les Horribles Cernettes take their swansong at the Hardronic Festival at the Cern laboratory in Geneva – the birthplace of the web. A picture of the women was uploaded to the web on 18 July, 1992, by web creator – and fan – Tim Berners-Lee. He wanted it to test out the version of the web he was working on at Cern. [BBC website]

The English rock band Muse is thought to be one of the first bands, in this country, to have a website. Queen, the English rock band formed in 1970,  registered its domain name queenonline.com in June 1999. In November 1998,  thebeatles.com was registered and is till online today. One of the very earliest domain names to be registered was music.com in 1993 and you can still view this today.

I myself started to register domain names for the websites I worked on; one of the first was blaby.net which I registered in 1997. It was not until the early noughties that Leicester bands began to make their own websites.

Bear in mind that it was not until 1993 that the first web browser appeared. Inventor of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee, started work at CERN in 1980 and began to develop software that would display the HTML pages he had invented. It was not until 1995 that web browsers became commercially available when Microsoft released Internet Explorer in 1995.  Netscape produced its own browser, Navigator, and by 1996 had won 86% of the market. Earlier people used Mosaic, a browser was that was developed from late 1992.  Web browsers continued to become more and more sophisticated and gradually developed the capacity to display complex images and multimedia components such as video and music.

The 1990s – venues

In Leicester, as in many other cities and towns, live music venues allowed bands and artists to put on their own gigs. This fuelled the growth in bands; it became unnecessary to be signed to a record label to achieve anything meaningful and, for thousands of young men and women in Leicester, producing music for their fans became a realistic possibility. In the 80s and 90s, Leicester saw the rise of permanent music venues that supplemented the well-established supply of opportunities provided by pubs and bars.

These small venues provided ‘amateur’ bands with an outlet for their music; they were amateur in the sense that they played music in their spare time, as opposed to being professional musicians. These venues were small – ranging between 50 to 200 in audience capacity. The venues were important to the development of music, both in Leicester and at a national level. As one report put it

These venues have played a crucial role in the development of British music over the last 40 years, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills. [The Music Venue Trust, 2015]

The rise of the small venues greatly increased the total volume of live music being performed in Leicester and provided music fans with a wider range of musical choice than was available in the pubs and bars. Venue managers were willing to book bands that played the kind of music not generally found on the commercial scene. These small venues provide Leicester with much of its musical heritage. Whilst larger theatres, mainly the DeMontfort Hall and the Granby Halls, and some of the big nightclubs, provided national touring acts, it was the little venues that were the lifeblood of the music scene. The advent of the Internet and the small venues gave ‘amateur’ music a huge boost.

The Granby Halls
The Granby Halls

In a recent article, Rhian Jones comments that

The biggest bands today started their careers playing to modest audiences in pubs and clubs; if the places available to do that diminish, where will the future festival headliners learn their performance skills? If there’s a dearth of fresh live talent, you get festivals that just book the same bands to headline again and again, without giving newcomers a chance. [Jones, 2015]

The age of the DIY music artists had begun. Hundreds of bedrooms became recording studios. Shops began to sell recording equipment; in Leicester, retail outlets like Maplins did a roaring trade in microphones, amps and mixing devices. As laptops became increasingly affordable, musicians could download software and begin to mix and master their own work in a way that was impossible before. All kinds of electrical equipment, for the recording of music, could be purchased on the Internet. This trend ended the reliance of musicians on third party publishers of music, such as the record labels.

Small music venues were (and still are) the lifeblood of local music; acts that performed in them were selected for festivals and many of the nation’s emerging super bands toured the  small venues in order to build up their fan bases. The Charlotte began in 1989, when it was known as The Princess Charlotte. It closed in 2009, although a couple of attempts were subsequently made to re-open it.

The Shed opened in 1994 and is still open today; this makes it the longest running venue in Leicester. On the other side of the city, The Donkey has been a venue for live music since 2005.  The year 2000 saw the start of The Musician. Many people still fondly remember The Attik which ran from 1985 to 2006. The De Montfort Hall also put on live music acts and was the destination for a large number of nationally famous bands and singers. Prior to its demolition in 2001, the Granby Halls served as a venue for music concerts, alongside its use as a sports centre. Several music shows were held there.

What singles out Leicester, as a music city, was that it never got chosen as a place where national companies wanted to open branches.  Chains such as Barfly, never came here.  It was not until much later that big name companies like The Academy Music Group (with its chain of O2 Academies) and Sub91 in 2010.

Alongside the live music venues were the night clubs. Mosh, at the top of the High Street, opened in 2003. From 1971 to 1981, Baileys, near to the clock tower, provided live music and some big named bands played there. Helsinki club opened in 1983 and many of the city’s top DJs played there including the now internationally renown Lisa Lashes. In the High Street The Bear Cage opened in 1987. The old Palais de Dance, in Humberstone Gate, had been a venue for dancing and music since the 1930s and provided the venue for Ritz’s Club in 1987. The club was substantially enlarged in 1971. The Palais played an important role in the social life of Leicester for many years. The property had a chequered history and its ownership and management changed many times. It was recently called Sosho which launched in 2012. It is now closed. So, the 1980s was the golden age of night clubs;  today (2015) almost half of the nation’s discos and clubs have closed. Club Republic, in Sandacre Street, opposite St. Margaret’s bus station, had a number of names over the years, including Zanzibar. Close by, another of Leicester’s long-running and popular clubs which is now called Liquid and Envy. In 2012 it was called Krystals.  In Wellington Street, The Basement bar served as a bar, nightclub and live music took place there over a number of years. Quebec was, in its time a large and popular nightclub in Belgrave Gate; it opened as a gay club and was once a very popular venue providing DJs and very occasionally live acts.  Not far from there was Streetlife, which also started as a gay club. Both of these venues were taking over as general nightclubs. Although not open for very long, Harveys, a small bar in Belgrave Gate, had an iconic reputation. In the cultural quarter a club called Soho stood on the site now occupied by an Indian restaurant and in its day was popular with people who liked underground and alternative sounds.

If we look at 2009, we see a number of venues in operation, according to information annotated at the time by Alan Freeman [Freeman, 2009]. In his article he mentions the Criterion pub in Millstone Lane, the Firebug previously known as The Firefly (also in Millstone Lane) and the Y Theatre in East Street as being places where music was performed. He also mentions De Montfort University (previously known as Leicester Polytechnic) and we know that live music would have been performed there in the student’s union. It is said that Bob Marley performed at one of its shows in the 1990s. Leicester University’s Queens Hall would also have seen a programme of important bands visiting the room that is now in use as O2 Academy 2). I was involved in putting on gigs at The Pavilion, the cafe that sits on the London Road side of Victoria Park. I also ran gigs at the Sun Bar, in Church Gate.

In fact it is not difficult to identify a large number of buildings that were used to mount live music events during this period. Outside of Leicester, in the county, music was largely confined to pubs. The Three Nuns, in Loughborough, for example, put on bands at the weekend. The rise of local festivals has already been covered in Chapter 1.

The 1990s – Types of music

Ska and reggae are two musical genres that have been important in the musical life of Leicester, just as they still are today. In fact a film about Black Music in Leicester has documented the important contribution made by local artists and musicians to the national music scene. The Spectrum project tracked the city’s history of soul, disco, reggae, R&B, gospel, drum ‘n’ bass, hip hop and ‘urban’ music over the last 40 years. It covered singers, bands, DJs, sound systems, dancers, musicians and record labels, across music of Black origin. [Arts in Leicester, 2014]

The 1990s – Bands

1991 saw the formation of the band Cornershop, formed by Tjinder Singh, his brother Avtar, (both of whom lived in Leicester at the time), David Chambers and Ben Ayres. Their music was a fusion of Indian music, Britpop and electronic dance music. Cornershop was  an Anglo-Asian agit pop band, that became famous for the 1998 Number 1 single Brimful of Asha Perfume and Delicatessen both also rose to critical acclaim.

Wikipedia states that ‘The band Prolapse, was formed by a group of Leicester University and Polytechnic students in 1992. The band rose in popularity, and quickly gained a record deal with Cherry Red Records, recorded a number of John Peel sessions for Radio 1, and toured with Sonic Youth, Stereolab and Pulp.  Leicester is home of the influential Rave – Drum & Bass Formation Records label and associated 5HQ Record Shop, which was reopened in 2012 as an active recording studio.’ [Wikipedia] Prolapse has recently reformed.

Gaye Bikers on Acid band
Gaye Bikers on Acid band

Gaye Bykers on Acid  was formed in late 1984 by Ian Reynolds (Robber) and Ian Hoxley (Mary). They were later joined by guitarist and art student Tony Horsfall and drummer Kevin Hyde. Their first gig was at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester in mid-1985.[Wikipedia]

The formation of Kasabian (previously known as Saracuse) happened in 1997. The band, as Saracuse, played their first gig at The Shed in 1999. The original band members were from the Leicestershire villages of Blaby and Countesthorpe. Kasabian have won eight major music awards and have been nominated 27 times for major awards .They are one of the biggest indie bands ever to have originated in Leicestershire. Kasabian went on to become a world-class band, the biggest music act to have come out of Leicester since Englebert Humperdinck.

The Young Knives formed in 1998 in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in North West Leicestershire. The band was known for its energetic live performances and trendy tweed outfits. They broke into the music industry in 2002.

Ska band Kingsize formed in 1999 and is still going strong. The band played its first gig at the Royal Mail pub in the city centre.
Several Leicester bands from the 1990s are mentioned by Alan Freeman on his web page [Freeman, 2009]

I plan to cover Leicester bands of the 90s in more detail when I write the chapter on this period in my forthcoming book.

The 1990s – Rehearsal rooms, recording studios and record labels

Pink Box Records opened in 1994. Pink Box was set up as a hobby business by record collecting fans Sue and Chris Garland in 1994, not as a record label but to sell rock and indie records at record fairs around Central England. The name Pink Box came from the record storage boxes they used. Frustrated by the lack of national coverage to bands from the East Midlands they decided to release a record on their own label – Pink Box Records.

Stayfree (founded in 1992) opened in Conduit Street in 1995. Before that they were housed in Friday Street.  The Conduit Street premises offered rehearsal rooms and a variety of other services. Stayfree Music still exists today (2015) at its present location on Frog Island but started in 1992 in Friday Street, moving to Lillie House in Conduit Street in 1995 before moving to its current location in Frog Island in June 2009. Stayfree is known for proving rehearsal rooms but a number of other activities and projects have taken place in its premises over the years. There were rehearsal facilities dotted around the city and the suburbs.

1990s – Broadcast media

1996 saw the start of Takeover Radio. This radio station was set up to provide children and young people with opportunities to learn radio broadcasting. It provided an outlet for local music and many new bands and artists received airplay from the station.
Mention was made in my last article to BBC Radio Leicester, Demon FM, Radio 2Funky and other stations. These are played a role in broadcasting tracks by local artists, along side other music. Leicester Sound was one of the commercial stations that played music, sometimes broadcasting tracks by local bands and artists; it was once based in a building opposite Victoria park.

1990s – Festivals

Small venues were often places where local bands were discovered and invited to play at the increasing number of music festivals that were starting up in Leicestershire.

The Abbey Park Show was axed in 1995, nearly 50 years after its inception. The annual Abbey Park Festival event provided a key launch pad for many new bands. It’s importance to live music in the 90s cannot be understated.

Moving back

This chapter has sketched a period in the development of Leicester’s music to provide a very partial picture of what it was like between 1990 and 2005. As with all of these chapters, a more substantial account is envisaged for the book when it comes out.

In my next chapter I will move on to consider the era of radio and records –  from 1940 to 1990.

Trevor Locke

References

Reference to all these articles are given on a separate page

See also:

Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester

Chapter 1 – Music in modern times

Related article: Music and technology

 

King laid to rest

Thursday 26th March 2015

The king is laid to rest

Trevor Locke

watched the reinterment service at Leicester Cathedral

Dramatis Personae

Benedict Cumberbatch, Actor, Born: July 19 (age 38)

Birgitte, Duchess of Gloucester, wife of the Duke of Gloucester, first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II

Bishop of Leicester, The Right Reverend Tim Stevens

Dame Carol Ann Duffy. The Poet Laureate, a member of the royal household, composes poems for state occasions. Carol Ann Duffy became the first woman in the position’s 341-year history when chosen for the post in 2009

Edward Stanley, 19th Earl of Derby

Jon Snow, Journalist

Peter Snow, television presenter

Professor Gordon Campbell, Fellow in Renaissance Studies and University Public Orator, University of Leicester

John Ashdown-Hill, historian, born 1949

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Michael Ibsen, descendant of Richard III

Philippa Langley, is the secretary of the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society.

Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II

Professor Kevin Schürer, University of Leicester

Robert Lindsay, Actor born December 13, 1949 (age 65)

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, GCVO is the wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex

Wendy Duldig, descendent of Richard III

The live broadcast on Channel four started at 10 am and was presented by Jon Snow.

The burial

The body of the dead king was buried in the Choir of the Priory church of the Gray Friars in 1485. This was done in a hurry as the victor, king Henry, was anxious to leave Leicester and be on his way to London as quickly as possible. The king would have had a simple but brief ceremony of rights for the burial of the dead but that would have not been different from anyone else who was being laid to rest.  There was no elaborate service for the burial of a king there in Leicester in 1485. Today’s event was a way of rectifying the short-comings of the medieval interment by finally laying his remains to rest with honour and dignity.  Because Richard was a catholic, a rosary was placed in his coffin by historian John Ashdown-Hill.

The re-interment service

Many of those who attended the service at the cathedral commented that it was emotionally moving and very beautiful. Several comments were made about the dual involvement of the Anglican and Catholic traditions in the conduct of the service. There was, however, no mention of purgatory in the service, one commentor pointed out. Purgatory was, in medieval times, a central tenet of the Catholic faith and Richard paid for one hundred priests to pray for him, hoping that the time he spent in purgatory would be shortened as a result. As a Christian service, this was a moment to dwell on life and death and of belief in resurrection. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, as he threw the last handful of earth on to the coffin “Lord raise me up at the last day.”

Today’s guests reflected the complex protocols of status and hierarchy that are used to decide who should be invited to either attend or take part in a church service of this kind. The reinterment of a monarch has not taken place in living memory and the last royal public funeral was that of the Queen Mother in 2002.  The funeral of Diana, the Princess of Wales, took place in 1997 but that was not a state funeral. It was a royal ceremonial funeral.

Faith and diversity

Leaders from many of the faiths represented in Leicester’s diverse community were present in the congregation. The service represented a confluence of the mediaeval and the modern. I noticed the new Cathedra – the throne of the Bishop of Leicester.  The multi-coloured chair – looking like something that had just been delivered from Ikea –  contrasted sharply with the more traditional wooden seats occupied by other members of the clergy.

The grave

The Archbishop of Canterbury at the grave Photo Diocese of Leicester
The Archbishop of Canterbury at the grave
Photo Diocese of Leicester

Richard’s coffin was lowered into a tomb in the choir of the cathedral, to the left of the high alter.  The king was placed in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars priory in 1485 during his hasty burial. The choir is one of the holiest and most scared parts of both Anglican and Catholic churches.  In the churches and monasteries of mediaeval times, burial in the choir would have been reserved only for those of the high rank and status. Later today, the grave will be sealed with the tombstone made from Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in North Yorkshire. It was chosen not only because it will polish to a fine finish, but also because the fossils within it are long dead creatures immortalised now in stone. It will sit on a plinth of dark Kilkenny marble on which the king’s name is carved.  King Richard III’s tomb has been designed by the architects van Heningen and Haward.

The coffin is lowered into the grave Photo Diocese of Leicester
The coffin is lowered into the grave
Photo Diocese of Leicester

The Public

Over twenty thousand people came to see the king’s coffin while it lay in repose at the Cathedral. Many of those involved in the discovery of the king’s remains and in the research carried out on them were surprised at the size of the public response. People had journeyed to Leicester from all parts of the globe to be present in the city and to witness this internationally reported event.

The royals

The Countess of Wessex with the Bishop of Leicester Photo Diocese of Leicester
The Countess of Wessex with the Bishop of Leicester
Photo Diocese of Leicester

Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex (who today represented our current Queen) were the principal royal family guests at the ceremony in Leicester cathedral. Also in the congregation was the Earl of Derby, who also appeared in the Channel 4 programme broadcast live as the service happened. The Queen was presented by her relative the Countess of Wessex  but protocol did not allow her to attend in person. The guest list would have been governed by traditions going back a long way in time.

The relatives

Scene at Leicester University with the descendants of Richard Photo Diocese of Leicester
Scene at Leicester University with the descendants of Richard
Photo Diocese of Leicester

Even though Richard’s death took place 500 years ago, his descendants were present at his reinterment. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig were descended from Richard’s sister, Anne; their blood line was researched by the team at the University of Leicester in order to match their mitochondrial DNA with that taken from the bones of the king. They will meet, with members of the families directly related to Richard (the Somersets, Ibsens and Wendy Duldig) and many are distant cousins, separated by generations.

The Descendants

Direct descendants of Richard III attended the service.  Descendants of others who fought at the battle of Bosworth were also there, including some of those who trace their ancestry back to the key leaders of Richard’s allies and also to those from the Lancastrian camp.  Those who can trace their ancestry back to Richard and people alive in his time included TV presenters Jon Snow and Peter Snow and actor Dominic Cumberbatch. It was pointed out, during the TV broadcast that the Plantaganets married English people rather than continental royals.  For this reason, many people alive today can trace their ancestors back to his period of the middle ages.

The king's coffin at Bosworth field Photo Diocese of Leicester
The king’s coffin at Bosworth field
Photo Diocese of Leicester

The Crown

The crown placed on the coffin of the king was commissioned by John Ashdown-Hill. It was a replica of the crown that Richard wore at the Battle of Bosworth, which was, after his death, placed on the head of the victor Henry Tudor as he was proclaimed king,  at Bosworth Field.

The Play

According to the Royal Shakespeare Company, we owe it to Shakespeare for writing the play about Richard III.  Had he not done this, the king might have been forgotten and might not be here today.  Historians argued over the pros and cons of the Tudor representation of Richard and the extent to which the recent discoveries had changed the history books.

Reburials

The reinterment of monarchs was common in mediaeval times. Today’s service was based on a document, found in the British Library, of a service carried out at the time of Richard III.

Nobility

The Earl of Derby was interviewed by Jon Snow.

Celebrities

Dominic Cumberbatch Photo Diocese of Leicester
Dominic Cumberbatch
Photo Diocese of Leicester

Actor Dominic Cumberbatch (38) read a poem written by poet laureate Carol Anne Duffy, as part of the service. Three actors, who had taken on the role of the king in plays,  were present including Robert Lindsay. Asked if he would play Richard again, Lindsay replied that he was now old to do it (he is 65 and Richard was 33 when he was killed.) The Actor will be playing Richard lll in the BBC series The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses.

The coffin

The coffin in which the king was interred was made by his descendant Michael Ibsen, a Canadian-born cabinet maker now living in London. Researchers at the University of Leicester traced his ancestry back to the sister of Richard III, Anne of York and mitochondrial DNA from Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig was used to confirm that the bones found in the car park were in fact those of the king. Wood used by Ibsen to make the coffin was sourced from the Duchy of Cornwall. Ibsen designed the coffin to be very plain in style because, he thought, had Richard been placed in one in 1485, it would have been a very plain construction.

The Pall covering the coffin with its creator
The Pall covering the coffin with its creator

The soils

Michael Ibsen also designed and made the box in which three samples of soil were placed, from three key places of the king’s life – Fotheringhey, where he was born, Middleham, where Richard met his future wife Anne and Bosworth where he was killed. The soils were scattered onto the coffin by the Archbishop of Canterbury, once it had been lowered into the tomb.

The faiths

The preparation of the service and the way in which it was conducted, represented a collaboration between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.  Some commentators went so far as to suggest that the service represented in part  a reconciliation of the Churches of England and Rome. Leaders of Leicester’s many faith communities were present at the service.

The knights

Knights head the cortege procession at Bosworth Photo Diocese of Leicester
Knights head the cortege procession at Bosworth
Photo Diocese of Leicester

During the delivery of Richard’s coffin to the Cathedral, the procession was led by two horses mounted by knights in full mediaeval armour. In an earlier channel 4 programme about Richard, Dominic Smee, who also had the spinal condition adolescent-onset scoliosis which was indicated in the king’s skeletal remains. The programme, broadcast in August 2014, showed Smee being fitted with a tailor-made suit of armour.  He took part in a series of exercises on horse back, including a cavalry charge.  This suggested that the king’s condition would have been well hidden by his armour and that it need not have had any great effect on his ability to fight in battle.

The financial value

The financial value from the discovery and interment of King Richard was estimated to be some £50 million to the city and county between his remains being discovered in 2012 up to the present re-interment at Leicester Cathedral. In 2013, the City of Leicester failed in its big to become the City of Culture 2017, a prize that would have been worth £15 to £18 million. According to the BBC, Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture boosted the regional economy by £800m, attracting millions of new visitors to the city, figures showed.

What was the impact of the service?

Philippa Langley said, towards the end of the channel 4 broadcast, that the service had been emotional. “It represented the end of a journey”, she told Krishnan Guru-Murphie. Asked if the crowds would keep coming back to Leicester, Philippa believed that they would.   Both the discovery of the bones and now their reinterment had stimulated public interest in Richard and in the history of the middle ages. John Ashdown-Hill complained, in his interview, that the Eulogy had got the wrong month for Richard’s birth; it was October, not May, he claimed.

KR3 March 22 for magazine 17

Richard the person

One thing that stood out in the service was that we were witnessing the re-burial of a human being, a person, an individual and the prayers were for his soul as a man, as much as for him as a king of England. During Jon Snow’s presentation, from the commentary box overlooking the Cathedral’s south courtyard, the reconstructed head of the dead king was placed on the table in front of the chairs where the interviewees were seated. The whole period, between the discovery of his body and his laying to rest today, has brought him into peoples’ consciousness as a man; we have got to know him, more so than with any other monarch from the middle ages with the possible exception of Henry VIII. TV has played a key role in bringing history to life in the popular imagination, through programmes such as The Tudors and Wolfe Hall. There have been many reconstructions of heads and faces from skulls that have been dug up and a bevy of scientists have emerged, skilled in this kind of procedure. Facial reconstructions have been seen before on programmes such as Time Team.

What has the week been like?

As a resident of Leicester,  I have followed the events closely, either being present at some of them myself or watching as they were broadcast on the television news programmes and reported in the press. I decided today to watch the whole of the live broadcast, by Channel 4,  of the service at the cathedral (I did not get a ticket in the public ballot) rather than going there to cover the event from outside with the general public. Seeing Leicester become the focus of the world media this week gave me a sense of pride both as a resident of the city and as a journalist.  Yesterday and today, the world news was somewhat eclipsed by the tragic crash of the Germanwings plane in the French Alps. All the media was a captivated by the re-interment just as the public were. My week was dominated by attending events and press conferences, writing new stories and articles and by delving deeper into the history of the king and his times. Being someone who has a passion for both history and for news, this was an exciting and commanding week.

I kept hearing references to Richard III being “England’s most controversial King.” This annoyed me; all of the mediaeval monarchs were controversial, for one reason or another. In fact, I cannot think  of an English monarch at any time in history around whom controversy has not been waged, right up the present day. At the time of the death and funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, there was controversy about the present Queen and her failure to respond to what was happening in London. If we consider Henry VIII’s activities, whilst king of England, there is surely more there than we could lay at Richard’s feet.  It is a question of degree; it is all relative. Channel 4 often referred to the death of the princes in the tower, during the programme today and during previous broadcasts, as though this was the defining issue that sticks to Richard.  Admittedly, they also pulled in pro-Richard comments about his good and positive achievements, from commentators who offered a balanced viewpoint.  Seeking to highlight the many myths surrounding Richard is as much modern media spin as that pumped out by the Tudor propagandists.

One factor that contributed to the public attendance was the weather. On Sunday, the sun was shining all day and the brilliance of a spring day helped to bring people into the streets in their thousands, all over the city and county. Today, the guests arrived at the Cathedral on an overcast morning, slight rain bringing out umbrellas but towards the conclusion of the event, the sun came out and the sky cleared.

As Richard’s coffin was lowered into his tomb, it felt like the wars of the roses has finally come to an end. Historically the wars ended at the conclusion of the battle of Bosworth, but their echoes have carried on to the present time. In a way what we also buried today was the remains of the conflict between the houses of York and Lancaster. It made me smile to hear Richard referred to as the “people’s Plantagenet.”

A Yeoman of the Guard at the Cathedral Photo Diocese of Leicester
A Yeoman of the Guard at the Cathedral
Photo Diocese of Leicester

 

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

Heritage news

Find out more about the Story of Leicester

 

Leicester Castle

Leicester Castle

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

28th September 2014

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

We visit Leicester Castle

By Trevor Locke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about Queen Aethelflaed in our article about her.

The castle in Norman times

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

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

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

The castle in medieval times.

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

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

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

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

Timbers from the great hall
Timbers from the great hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corridor in the cells
Corridor in the cells

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

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

The Great Hall

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

Stonework incorporated into later walls
Stonework incorporated into later walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leicester as the birth place of ‘parliament.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal visits

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

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

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

The Castle as a court-house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiles on the ground floor
Tiles on the ground floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes added later

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

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

3 See our article on Richard III

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

See also:

Article on the early history of Leicester

Leicester in the times of the Romans

Background to Richard III

MusicHistory

29th August 2014

The History of Music in Leicester

For most of this year I have been writing a book that is about music in Leicester; the first volume of this covers the years 2006 to 2013.  So far I have made first drafts of the chapters on the years 2006 to 2011. I am now working on the chapter for 2012.

The material for these chapters is being drawn from the articles and reviews of bands, singers, festivals and music events that took place in Leicester and Leicestershire and which were published in the Arts in Leicester magazine.  When Arts in Leicester website was revamped, pretty much all the music content was taken off-line and stored in an archive. It is that archive material that I am now editing into a book, which I hope to publish next year.

When it becomes available, the book will offer a detailed day by day account of live music and the happenings on the Leicester music scene.

The book, which has the working title – The History of Music in Leicester – will also have a volume that covers the music history of the city from Roman times up to the present day.

See also:

My post about local music

Æthelflæd

21st August 2014

Æthelflæd

A poorly honoured woman

Leicester has many women who have left their mark on its history: Sue Townsend, Beryl Markham, Rosemary Conley, Lady Jane Grey, Alice Hawkins, Lilian Lenton…

There is one woman whose contribution to Leicester has so far gone almost uncelebrated and whose impact on the town is known only to a very few people. She was a woman who liberated Leicester from its occupation by an army that had overtaken it.

Her name was Æthelflæd and she was queen of the Mercians and one of a number of royal persons whose names have gone down in the history of our town and city.

It was in the year 918 AD that Æthelflæd led an army which liberated the town from the occupation of the Vikings. The Danish invaders had subjugated great swathes of what we now call England beneath the yoke of their Danelaw.

She has been called The Lady of the Mercians, and she ruled the Kingdom of Mercia from 911 to her death in 918. She was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, king of the Anglo-Saxons. She gained the throne when her husband Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, died in 911.

Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians. Statue in the Guildhall courtyard.
Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians.
Statue in the Guildhall courtyard.

Now a petition has been launched to put up a statue of this great woman and monarch to properly honour her life and what she did for the people of Leicester back in those far-off days. In the so-called ‘dark ages’ of the ninth and tenth centuries, women were largely ignored by the male monks who write the history books of their times. Even those who were royalty were often mentioned only in passing; the largely male writers of the time gave women only a scant mention as they chronicled the lives of the great men of their times.

In 917, Æthelflæd liberated Derby from the Vikings. Her fame as a great military leader spread like a fire through the land. So much so, that when she and her army arrived at the gates of Leicester (then a walled city) the occupying Danes capitulated without a fight. She was referred to at the time as ‘a very famous queen of the Saxons.’ With her brother Edward she drove the Vikings out of central and southern parts of what we know call England (in those days the country was divided into a variety of Kingdoms and had not yet become known by the name to which we refer to it today – England.)

In the courtyard of Leicester’s ancient medieval Guildhall there is a small status of Queen Æthelflæd. The statue had been commissioned by Leicester City Council in the late 1970s. It was made by the local painter and sculptor Jack Newport who is experienced in bronze casting. It is very much smaller than the one that was made to honour Richard III.

Now a petition has been launched to get a bigger, more fitting statue of the Saxon Queen set up in Leicester.

See also

Richard III

 

History of Leicester part 1

20th June 2014

Part 1 of our series of articles on the history of Leicester

The History of Leicester

2000 years of continuous habitation

Leicester’s pre-history

By Trevor Locke

The relationship between people and the buildings they occupy has always been a fascinating topic of research and debate. From the time when men ‘lived in caves’, to the times when they built their homes from mud and dung through to today’s gleaming spires of steel and glass, buildings have shaped the lives of the people who lived and worked in them.

Humans have lived and died in Leicestershire for many thousands of years. More and more evidence is coming to light about the pre-history of our local area. Humans have left traces of their existence in the area we now call Leicestershire, since they first arrived in the area, probably after the end of the last ice age.

Before and after the Ice Ages

Evidence of man’s presence in our country can be dated back to before the Anglian ice age, around 500,000 years BC. Our knowledge of pre-historic Britain has developed considerably in recent years with new finds from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods being unearthed.

Hundreds of artefacts have been gathered from sites around Leicestershire, giving us some insights into the life of people before they began to construct buildings, when they were primarily hunter-gatherers, living off what the land could provide for them.

The start of houses

After the end of the ice age, around 10,000 to 8,000 BC, humans began to form settlements. It was in the Mesolithic era that permanent dwellings began to be erected.

In the bronze age, people began to build homes, plant crops and tend cattle, sheep and pigs. They built round houses that were constructed from local materials.

One of the first homes to be discovered in the UK was built in the Bronze age, in 4,000 BC. The round house was made of wood and probably had a roof made of thatch or turf. It was discovered in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, at Flag Fen, by the television archaeological programme Time Team (Series 7, Episode 9). It was set in a landscape of fields and track ways. Based on what the dig discovered, a re-construction of the roundhouse was made. It was a significant find; it suggested that people were beginning to form a settled way of live, based on farming. This was around 1,500 BC. They established fields with boundaries and kept animals to provide them with meat. Settling in one place allowed people to spend more time on the creation of artefacts, including jewellery and tools and many of these have been discovered in burials. The dead were buried close to the places where people lived.

The new discoveries at Star Carr in Yorkshire threw new light some of the very earliest evidence of buildings. Hunter-gatherers are believed to have created permanent settlements in which ceremonial and economic activities took place.

As the ice melted, sea levels rose and the low-lying bridge of land that connected ‘Britain’ to the European continent was flood and created the islands we know as the British Isles, around about 6,500 BC (or BCE – before the common era.)

Man was active here at a time when our country was still connected to the mainland of continental Europe. The first humans arrived here about 25,000 years ago. In that time, between ice ages, Britain was connected to Europe by an area called Doggerland. People were able to walk here from Europe, prior to the time when the land became an Island separated by the English Channel.

The very first buildings

The people who lived after the end of the Ice Age were predominantly hunter-gatherers who lived a largely nomadic life-style. People chose the sites for their settlements carefully, based on the needs of the community – for access to water for drinking, washing and fishing – to avoid water (by choosing higher ground that would not get flooded) and where they could grow crops and tend animals.

Being on higher ground they could also command a view of the surrounding land, enabling them to keep an eye out for intruders or groups that might attack their settlements.

New discoveries have overturned the belief that the construction of domestic buildings in Britain did not begin until around the time of the Iron age, 5,000 years ago.  It was common for people to build round houses in this country; in other parts of Iron Age Europe, people lived in rectangular houses [British Museum.]

In fact one structure was discovered in North Yorkshire that dates back to the Stone Age, 8,500 years BC (the Star Carr site.) Archaeologists believe that they might have found one of the first ‘houses’ to have been constructed in the British Isles.

The Star Carr site

Tombs (barrows) were constructed in the Megalithic period; the burial of the dead preceded the wide-scale construction of permanent domestic structures.

Stone Henge, in Wiltshire, is thought to have been constructed about 2400 and 2200 BC. A roundhouse was discovered in Orkney that is thought to have been constructed about 700 BC. There is some evidence that suggests that the earliest prehistoric groups lived a nomadic existence, sheltering in tents made from animal skins. In Neolithic times people began to erect long houses as early as 5,000 to 6,000 BC (on mainland Europe.)

It was during the Bronze age that pottery began to appear. Vessels have been found that were decorated with distinctive groove patterns dating back to 3000 BC. This beaker period goes back to the end of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods. The first figurative art appeared in the late Neolithic period.

In the bronze and iron ages, people built their houses from the materials they found around them – trees, straw or reeds or turf for roofing, mud or clay to fill in the holes and cracks.
Apart from houses for people to live in, enclosures were also constructed for animals, such as cows and sheep, and these could have formed an integral part of the early settlements.
When these buildings were abandoned, they rotted back into the earth, leaving only tell-tales signs (such as post-holes) as to how they had been constructed.

There were no sewers; people dug pits into which they put their refuse and broken pots and other unwanted materials.  Archaeologists discovered a lot about the life-styled of Iron and Bronze age people from the rubbish they left behind.

The dead were often buried close to human habitations (indeed, sometimes even inside them.) How people dealt with the dead changed over time, customs changing from burial to cremation but other practices have also been discovered.

It was not until the (much later Roman times) that people began to use stone in construction. Early houses were invariably round; it was the Romans who brought the idea of square or rectangular buildings to this part of the country. There is evidence that some rectangular houses were built before the Romans but it  is the round floor plan that is the most common.

Early houses were built without plans being drawn. There were no architects, quantity surveyors and probably no people who specialised as builders. Knowledge of how to construct buildings was handed down from one generation to another. What materials to use and how to put them together was part of a group’s traditions. People would probably have known how to fell trees, which trees to cut, what materials were available in the woods or from the swamp areas or from river banks.

Tools were relatively primitive; saws and hammers were rare but some kinds of tools must have been used to shape wood or to cut reeds to the desired length. Examples of bronze age axes have been found – the adze was used to work wood and had a bronze head attached to a handle made of wood. Ditches were often dug around the outskirts of houses or settlements and implements must have been used for this.

Tools used by farmers have been found, dating to the iron age. These were used to harvest crops. Axes have been found dating to this period. ‘The main frame of roundhouse would have been made of upright timbers, which were interwoven with coppiced wood – usually hazel, oak, ash or pollarded willow – to make wattle walls. This was then covered with a daub made from clay, soil, straw and animal manure that would weatherproof the house. The roof was constructed from large timbers and densely thatched’ [BBC history.]

Buildings and art

For centuries buildings have reflected the cultural and artistic values of each generation. We see the ornate carvings and elaborate stonework of the Gothic era, the middle ages and the Victorians and marvel at the embellishments that adorn some of our notable public buildings and monuments. How do we recognise and appreciate the message that modern and contemporary buildings gives us? Today’s architects look for beauty in simplicity. Buildings are designed to be machines for living and working. Functionality determines their layout and external appearance. There is no evidence that Bronze or Iron age huts were decorated in any way; the ornamentation of buildings probably did not start until the Romans radically changed the way buildings were constructed.

When we look back at the Leicester of our forebears, much of which we can still see on our streets, we can glimpse the lives they used to lead. Buildings in our city centre suggest a past of wealth and prosperity, economic and commercial success and the desire of the powerful and successful to aggrandize their social status.
Leicester is a place that has seen human habitation since before the Romans arrived and has always been a major point on cross-country routes. There are indications of settlements on the banks of the Soar in the Iron age. If this is correct then Leicester is a place that has seen over two thousand years of continuous human habitation.

As we look through the buildings that stand as milestones in the history of Leicester/shire, we can see them telling us about the history of England. From the Roman invasion, through to the Wars of the Roses, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, The Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the rise of Modernism, these epochs reflect changing attitudes to art and culture as well as being a testament to the political and social currents of their times.

We can tell a lot from the rubbish tips and cess pits of our ancestors. One wonders if future archaeologists will be digging in the land-fill sites of today’s world for clues to the life of everyday people.
The excavation of the past is often about buildings and artefacts – the things that people have left behind them in the earth. A lot is also learned from the burial of the dead; if you want to understand the life of people in the past, grave yards are a good place to start.
If we want to understand the artistry of the past, we have to understand the social context in which artisans worked and in which people consumed and used their products and creations. It is only through painstakingly collating and piecing together a mass of evidence, that we can develop a picture of the earliest inhabitants of the area we now know as Leicester.

Prior to the Iron Age, humans were largely nomadic hunter gatherers. The only evidence we can find are their stone tools, left behind as they moved from place to place, together with indications of how they disposed of their dead.

From around 50 B.C. a settlement developed along the east bank of the Soar and this can be seen as the origin of modern Leicester, argues Malcolm Elliot. The Iron Age and the era of Roman settlement saw the earliest formation of Leicester. 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 Romans in Leicester

Prior to the Roman Invasion of A.D. 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 extended into other parts of Europe. Excavations have revealed pottery from France, Italy and southern Spain. 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.

Whilst it is likely that they had a settlement on the banks of the Soar, this was not their principal centre. Ratae Coritanorum was the capital town(civitas) of the tribe, lying on the route from London to Lincoln.
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. The Romans frequently established their forts on (then) pre-existing Iron age or Bronze age sites. Beneath the remains of Roman forts is it common to find much earlier  archaeology.

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 area. The current A46 follows the path of the Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester. Nearing the city its 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.  Early in the second century, the town was being built up using a grid pattern. It was around 125 to 130 A.D. that the forum, basilica and baths were constructed, 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. This signifies that Ratae was an important seat of government and continued to be so right into the fourth century.

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.

Leicester – 2000 years of diversity

Discovery of pagan burials from Roman times in Leicester
A fascinating documentary on Channel Four TV tonight (1st May 2013) throws new light on Roman life in fourth century Britain. In the series Stories from the Dark Earth, archaeologist Julian Richards looked at the pagans of Roman Britain. What stood out for me was his depiction of Romano-British society as being ethnically and culturally diverse. He looked in particular at two burials: a wealthy man from Roman Winchester and a lavishly appointed grave of a woman in the heart of London. The Winchester man had received a pagan burial. He was someone who had been born and bred locally. The wealthy woman found in London, however, had come to this country from Rome itself. Artefacts found in the grave site suggest that she might have been a follower of the cult of Bacchus.
In his narrative to the programme, Richards suggests that those who inhabited major Roman towns, such as Venta Belgarum (Winchester) and Londinium (London), were not just a mixture of indigenous peoples and Romans from Italy, but a much more ethnically diverse community of people who had arrived in this country from a very wide range of European origins and, in all likely, from other parts of the Roman Empire including the Middle East and North Africa.
By the time of the decline of the Roman Empire in Britain, from the fourth century onwards, many indigenous inhabitants had become Romanised, so that their way of life, religious beliefs and culture characterised them as Roman.

If this was the case in towns like Winchester and London, then we might surmise that this would also have been the case in Leicester. There is evidence that suggests that larger Roman towns and settlements were cosmopolitan places in which we would have found people from all over the empire.

The presence of people from North Africa in British Towns is well documented. Dr Simon James has commented: Before Roman times ‘Britain’ was just a geographical entity, and had no political meaning, and no single cultural identity. [The Peoples of Britain]
Arguably this remained generally true until the 17th century, when James I of England and VI of Scotland sought to establish a pan-British monarchy.

The British Isles have always been the home to people who have moved here from other parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle and Far East, ever since the time when the first settlers walked into our land when it was still joined to the European landmass, prior to the formation of the English Channel.

From the decline of the Roman empire to the Norman invasion of 1066, the area was dominated by the Anglo-Saxons, people descended from the Germanic tribes of Europe.  Evidence from the archaeology of the rest of the UK suggests that the Roman army was made up of people from many areas of Europe, North Africa and Middle and Far Eastern places, such as Syria and parts of what is now Turkey.

Walking around what we now call Leicester (back in the times of the Romans), you would have seen a variety of faces: white, brown and black skins and witnessed an astonishing melting pot of ethnic and cultural mixes.

The Dark Ages

After the Romans had gone, The Saxons came. 1,400 years ago the country was invaded by people from the area of Europe now called Germany. This period is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages. So little is known about this period that it appears to be a dark hole in the history of the British Isles. The archaeology is so frustratingly difficult that you might as well call it The Dark Stainages; The Saxons left so little behind, that much of the evidence comes from stains in the earth. Painstakingly scraping through layers of soil, dark patches appear where post holes were made, or red patches where fires once burned. There was however, pottery. One of the most important excavations took place in Leicestershire in 2008 when Time Team came to Knave Hill and Tony Robinson lead the team in digging up part of a hill South West of Leicester.

People walking in the fields found pieces of pottery and noted down exactly where they had been found. This gave the diggers a clue to where they should put in their trenches – where there was the highest concentration of pottery finds.

This is what modern archaeology is all about – taking a systematic approach and using well established techniques; It’s not about luck, it’s about methods. Digs are frequently about finding tell-tale traces in the soil – pits and ditches – that tell us that there was human settlement there once and if we are lucky we find pottery shards in them to give us dating evidence.

At Knave Hill there was excitement when archaeologist Matt Williams found several large pieces of pottery from the late Iron age – the period before the Romans arrived. Both the Romans and the Saxons often settled on sites previously occupied in earlier times, from the Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age.

Most Saxon buildings were built from timber, they had wooden walls and the roof consisted of thatch. All that rots away after the buildings have been abandoned, leaving only faint traces from which the type and extent of the buildings can be analysed, using a great deal of evidence gathered from many sites across the country.

Humans settled in certain places according to the nature of the local countryside. These people began to mingle with the people who were already here – the Celts. The very earliest people to colonise our land – after the end of the last ice age – were people who wandered across from the European continent at a time before the British Isles were separated by what is now the Channel. Between around 45 AD and 412 AD, there were the Romans. It was not surprising therefore that evidence of Roman occupation was found on the same site. The Romans often took over Iron Age settlements and the finds helped to prove this.

Working with the Time Team crew was archaeologist Peter Liddle and a team of volunteers from The Langtons. The Saxons established administrative areas called hundreds. The boundaries of these areas often follow natural contours such as rivers, hills and roads. A study of the local landscape enabled the team to predict where settlements might have been. Rivers were important as a source of water and fish, while higher ridges and hills offered a good place to live to avoid the flooding in the lower-lying river valleys.

The Romans built roads but these would have often followed earlier courses that had been established in the stone age. Those tracks could have been laid down by the migration of herds of animals.
The excavations at Knave Hill suggest that  there had been around a 100 people living and farming in a settlement of huts surrounding a central Hall.

Scientists have plotted the migration of Peoples from Europe, using analysis of DNA. It was suggested that about ten percent of the population were of Saxon and Viking origin. Waves of invaders did not obliterate the indigenous Celtic population but integrated with them. Astonishingly, their DNA can still be found in the people of the 21st century. So, the Dark Ages is perhaps a misnomer. A growing amount of evidence has been dug up to throw light on the people of this time and of course there is the poetry.

About this article

This text is taken from the old Arts in Leicestershire web site. It originally formed the commentary to the pages in the Architecture section. The text on this page had been edited a little from the original. We plan to republished the whole of the old magazine’s Architecture Section, as part of the heritage section of our new Arts in Leicester website.

See also:

Part 2 – The #Romans in Leicester

The history of the #Arts in Leicester Magazine

News about #RichardIII

Find out more about the Story of Leicester