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Episode 30: Leicestershire

Where is Leicestershire? In our thirtieth episode we mentioned lots of interesting places and things in Leicestershire, so here are some pictures and links if you'd like to find out more!

Leicester Cathedral

The Normans began the construction of the original St Martin's church of around 900 years ago. It was rebuilt and enlarged between the 13th and 15th centuries and became the 'Civic Church', with strong links with the merchants and guilds (with the Guildhall being located nearby).

Just over 100 years ago the Victorian Architect, Raphael Brandon, magnificently restored and, in places, rebuilt the church, including the addition of a 220ft spire. When the Diocese of Leicester was re-established in 1927, the church was hallowed as Leicester Cathedral. In 2015 King Richard III was reinterred in the Cathedral. In 2024 the Cathedral reopened after 22 months of redevelopment.

Grace Dieu Priory

Although the area around Grace Dieu has historical connections dating back to the Romans and beyond,  the Priory came into being around 1235-1241 as a house for Augustinian canonesses, and was dedicated to God, the Holy Trinity and St Mary and was founded by Rohese de Verdon. 

The first prioress was Agnes de Gresley, who was replaced in 1243 by Mary de Stretton. There was some concern about the spiritual state and the material welfare of the house in its early days.

John Comyn, Earl of Buchan and the Lord of Whitwick added more land to the priory estates in 1306. This comprised 100 acres of waste (newly cleared land from the forest) at Whitwick and Shepshed, probably equivalent to the current park at Grace Dieu.

In 1536-37 because of the lower valuation the priory was a candidate for suppression as a lesser monastery but it was reprieved, however the reprieve was short lived and in 1538 the priory was dissolved.

Leicester Abbey

The Abbey of Saint Mary de Pratis, more commonly known as Leicester Abbey, was an Augustinian religious house in the city of Leicester, in the East Midlands of England. The abbey was founded in the 12th century by the Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester, and grew to become the wealthiest religious establishment within Leicestershire. Through patronage and donations the abbey gained the advowsons of countless churches throughout England, and acquired a considerable amount of land, and several manorial lordships. Leicester Abbey also maintained a cell (a small dependent daughter house) at Cockerham Priory, in Lancashire.

Despite its privileges and sizeable landed estates, from the late 14th century the abbey began to suffer financially and was forced to lease out its estates. The worsening financial situation was exacerbated throughout the 15th century and early 16th century by a series of incompetent, corrupt and extravagant abbots. By 1535 the abbey's considerable income was exceeded by even more considerable debts.

The abbey provided a home to an average of 30 to 40 canons, sometimes known as Black Canons, because of their dress (a white habit and black cloak). One of these canons, Henry Knighton, is notable for his Chronicle, which was written during his time at the abbey in the 14th century. In 1530 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey died at the abbey, whilst travelling south to face trial for treason.

A few years later, in 1538, the abbey was dissolved, and was quickly demolished, with the building materials reused in various structures across Leicester, including a mansion which was built on the site.

Ulverscroft Priory

Ulverscroft Priory is located on the relatively high ground of the Charnwood granite upland region of Leicestershire and includes the ruined priory buildings, three arms of a moat and three fishponds.

The priory of St Mary was founded in 1134 by Robert Earl of Leicester and was taken over by the Augustinians in 1174. The visible ruins date from the 13th century with the greater part dating from the 14th-15th centuries. The east range of the cloister was demolished at the Dissolution in 1539. Following the Dissolution the priory was granted to Thomas the 1st Earl of Rutland.

Melton Mowbray Pork Pies

Mary Dickinson (Grandmother of John Dickinson), a noted pork pie maker, is credited with using the first wooden dolly to raise the pastry case: she is considered as the originator of the hand raised Melton Mowbray pork pie. John Dickinson opened his bakery in Nottingham Street, Melton Mowbray in 1851.

The Melton Mowbray Pork Pie now has a PGI Status, granted in 2009. This means it has to be made within a certain geographical location.

Red Leicester Cheese

Red Leicester, formerly known as Leicester or Leicestershire cheese is a traditional hard English cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk. The history of cheese dates back to the 17th century when farmers recognized the need to make and look at their cheeses apart from cheese made in other parts of the country. They decided that the colour of the cheese should denote its richness and creaminess. To set it apart from cheddar and highlight the quality of cheese, Leicester is coloured with a vegetable dye called annatto. The rind is reddish-orange with a powdery mould on it. The colour indicates that the milk used has a high cream content. Today, only a couple of farms in Leicestershire make the cheese using the traditional method and raw milk.

Red Leicester is a hard cheese, similar to cheddar but much moister, crumblier with a milder flavour. It matures faster than cheddar and can be sold as young as two months. A good Leicester cheese can be identified by a firm body and a close, flaky texture. Though the cheese can be consumed young, to reach its optimum flavour, it should be allowed to mature for six to nine months. A good cheese tastes slightly sweet with an almost caramel flavour and builds up a more robust taste as it ages. The cheese suits a full-bodied white wine such as Muscadet, SancerreChenin Blanc and Vouvray.

Simon de Montfort

Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester (c. 1208 – 4 August 1265), later sometimes referred to as Simon V de Montfort to distinguish him from his namesake relatives, was a nobleman of Anglo-Norman/French origin and a member of the English peerage, who led the baronial opposition to the rule of King Henry III of England, culminating in the Second Barons' War. Following his initial victories over royal forces, he became de facto ruler of the country, and played a major role in the constitutional development of England.

During his rule, Montfort called two famous parliaments: the Oxford Parliament stripped Henry of his unlimited authority, while the second included ordinary citizens from the towns. For this reason, Montfort is regarded today as one of the progenitors of modern parliamentary democracy. As Earl of Leicester he expelled Jews from that city; as he became ruler of England he also cancelled debts owed to Jews through violent seizures of records. Montfort's party massacred the Jews of London, Worcester and Derby, killing scores of Jews from Winchester to Lincoln.After a rule of just over a year, Montfort was killed by forces loyal to the king in the Battle of Evesham.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle

The property began as a manor house in the 12th century and reached castle status in the 15th century. Come and find out about the castle’s colourful history with our lively audio tour. Hear how Edward IV’s Chamberlain Lord Hastings added the chapel and the impressive keep-like Hastings Tower – a castle within a castle.

Visitors can still climb the tower today despite it suffering massive damage during the Civil War. There are great views from the top! Then make sure you discover the underground passage from the kitchen to the tower, probably created during this war, which can still be explored today.

Belvoir Castle

Belvoir Castle’s history dates back to the eleventh century. It is the ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland, where the family have lived in an unbroken line for almost a thousand years.

Crowning a hill, the Castle’s turrets and towers rise over the Vale of Belvoir like an illustration in a romantic fairy-tale. The name Belvoir – meaning ‘beautiful view’ in French, and pronounced today as ‘beaver’ – dates back to Norman times.

Four castles have stood on this spot since 1067, and it’s a pretty perfect location for a fortified castle. Looking over the battlements from the North Terrace of the current Castle, you can see for miles over the counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. And on a clear day, you can even see Lincoln Cathedral, some 30 miles to the North East.

Kirby Muxloe Castle

This picturesque fortified mansion was built for Lord Hastings, who was dramatically seized and executed by Richard III in 1483. Hastings’ descendants still believe they have a direct line to the throne of England.

Explore the atmospheric moated remains, the fine gatehouse, and complete corner tower of this brick-built mansion, which have been extensively conserved by English Heritage.

The Humber Stone

The Humber Stone is a gigantic rock that sits with most of its mass under the earth, like a stone iceberg. It is probably a glacial erratic – a boulder picked up by the passing of a glacier and deposited again far from its origin – but according to early antiquarians it was used by some of the ancient inhabitants of the area as an altar. The stone has gone by other names – Hell Stone, Holy Stone, all tenuously suggesting that some kind of ritual may have gone on here. The nearby area of Humberstone is definitely linked as it appears in the Domesday book as “Humerstan”, probably meaning “Humer's or Humma's Stone”.

The whole of the Humber Stone used to be on display but various attempts have been made through history to bury and even break it.

Belgrave Hall

Built from blue and red brick between 1709 and 1713, Belgrave Hall was commissioned for hosiery merchant Edmund Craddock and his wife Anne. Later it became the home of William Vann, High Sheriff of Leicestershire (c.1767) and John Ellis, businessman and Leicester MP, who was instrumental in introducing the railway to Leicester in 1833. 

The tranquil walled gardens, surrounding the Hall, include plants and trees introduced by the Hall’s many owners, including yew trees and wisteria planted by the Ellis family in the mid-1800s.

Beaumanor Hall

Beaumanor Hall has a rich and varied history.  Built between 1842 and 1854 by architect William Railton for the Herrick family, it remained in their possession until World War II when the estate was requisitioned by the War Office. Throughout the war the Hall was used as a secret listening station to intercept encrypted enemy signals. The Hall was bought by Leicestershire County Council in 1974 for use as an education and conference centre.

Newarke Houses Museum

Wygston's Chantry House and Skeffington House were both built around 1511 in the area of Leicester which is now at the heart of De Montfort University campus in the city. Newarke Houses holds the collections of the Leicestershire Regiment in dedicated galleries. These two houses, owned by William Wygston and Thomas Skeffington respectively, will take you on a historical journey with objects dating from Tudor times.

Since 1953 the Museum has brought together a collection of the things which make up people’s everyday lives. Collections of toys from the beginning of the 1500s to the present day, a thought-provoking regimental collection and a recreated First World War trench. We also have a 1950s street scene with its shops and pub where you can hear the stories of people who call Leicester their home.

After browsing the collections, you can relax in the Museum’s beautiful public gardens, flanked by walls marked by the English Civil War; an oasis in the middle of the surrounding hubbub and the perfect place for a few moments of peace. Next to Newarke Houses is the 15th Century Magazine Gateway, part of Leicester Castle which is available for booked tours.

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