The ancient borough: Castle View

Pages 344-345

A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.

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Castle View was a liberty consisting of the precincts of Leicester castle. The exclusion of the borough's authority from the castle no doubt originated in the fact that it was the seat of the town's overlords, the earls of Leicester and later the earls and dukes of Lancaster. The existence of this franchise, near the centre of the town but yet outside the borough boundary, became in time a source of grievance to the corporation. Castle View is not mentioned in Elizabeth I's charter of 1599, by which other liberties near the town were, subject to some reservations, placed under the borough's control, (fn. 1) but during the 18th century the borough authorities made attempts to bring Castle View under their jurisdiction. (fn. 2) During the struggle for control the borough authorities refused in 1766 and 1767 to have the mace lowered in salute within the castle precincts when the mayor went to take the oath of allegiance on appointment. In 1767 the Duchy of Lancaster's steward refused to allow the mayor to enter the castle unless the mace was lowered, on the grounds that the castle was outside the borough's jurisdiction. Subsequently it was agreed that the oath should be sworn privately. (fn. 3) Castle View was finally brought within the borough under the Municipal Corporations Act. (fn. 4)

Leicester castle stands on a slight hill overlooking the river, west of the castle church of St. Mary. (fn. 5) Three parts only of the medieval structure remain— the mound, the hall and some cellars, with gateways and some fragments of the enclosure wall. The mound of the Norman castle, which was probably thrown up in 1068, stands rather to the south of the present hall and slightly nearer to the Newarke. It is now about 30 ft. high and about 100 ft. across at the top, and was lowered about 1840 by 12 or 15 ft. The Norman castle was of the motte and bailey type, and the first buildings which stood upon the motte were certainly of wood, although these were replaced by others of lead and stone, probably by Robert de Beaumont at the beginning of the 12th century. At the same time some domestic buildings were probably erected in the bailey, which extended northwards from the motte. The building of the stone hall in the bailey is generally attributed to Robert le Bossu, son of Robert de Beaumont, who suc ceeded his father in 1118. On stylistic grounds the hall can probably be assigned to the middle of the 12th century. It now consists of a nave and aisles of six bays, with thick walls of Dane Hills sandstone. The building was divided by timber arcades, some of which survive, although obscured by modern alterations. The original entrance was probably in the southern bay of the east wall, which has now been removed. The original south gable remains, with two round-headed windows resting on a string-course.

In 1173 the castle was held against royal forces by the Earl of Leicester's vassals in the revolt against Henry II which broke out in that year and in which the earl played a leading part. The castle was surrendered to the king in 1174 and was ordered to be dismantled. (fn. 6) It seems probable that the buildings within the fortifications were not destroyed as the great hall seems to date from a period earlier than 1174. The castle continued to be used as a residence by the earls of Leicester. In 1265 it was granted to Edmund, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester. Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries the earls and dukes of Lancaster continued to use Leicester castle as a residence and as one of their chief administrative centres. After 1399 the castle was used less as a house than as an estate office. (fn. 7) The Earl of Lancaster's prison in the castle is first mentioned in 1298. (fn. 8) It was used for the detention of prisoners taken on the earl's lands. (fn. 9) The castle prison is last mentioned in 1323. (fn. 10)

Of the other domestic buildings known to have existed, nothing remains except the cellar known as John of Gaunt's cellar, dating from the 14th century, but there were other buildings, including a great chamber, a dancing room and a chapel to the north of the hall, and a kitchen block to the south between the hall and the existing cellars. This was converted to a coach-house in 1715. (fn. 11) The sites of other buildings, including the treasury and other official rooms and the extensive stables, are unknown. The Castle Mill stood on the river to the north-west of the castle. (fn. 12)

The enclosure wall, part of which still stands, was built in the early 15th century. St. Mary's Church had been included in the original bailey, but the new wall ran between the church and the castle to the turret gateway and then westwards to the river. Some fragments of the wall survive to the north of the castle but its exact course is hard to determine because of the lack of remains on the north-east side.

Two of the castle gates still stand. The turret gate was built in 1422–3 and connected the castle enclosure with the Newarke. It was of two stories, with an entrance and lodge below and a portcullis chamber and other rooms in the upper story. This gateway was partially destroyed in an election riot in 1832. The other gateway stands close to the north door of St. Mary's Church, to which it was joined by houses until these were demolished in 1848. (fn. 13) It is probably the structure which was repaired and virtually rebuilt in 1446–7 after a fire had badly damaged the former building. (fn. 14) This gatehouse is a timbered building of three stories with a slate roof. The archway itself is of moulded wood. The approach to the entrance was probably once narrowed by a barbican. The Castle House stands close to the entrance. It is an early-19th-century house of red brick, with a Tuscan porch in stucco, behind which is a dignified entrance surmounted by a fanlight.

After the end of the 15th century the castle fell into decay, and surveys made during the 16th and 17th centuries speak of ruined and derelict buildings. In 1650 the castle was put up for sale, but returned to the Crown at the Restoration. About 1690 the east wall of the hall was taken down and rebuilt in brick, and although the other surviving buildings were leased privately from 1660 onwards, the hall remained in Crown hands and was used as an assize court, a practice dating from at least 1273. (fn. 15) About 1821 the hall was divided into two courts and various other rooms, (fn. 16) so that its original internal structure is now almost wholly obscured. In 1875 the castle site, excluding the buildings but including the mound, was purchased by the county, and in 1888 the county justices bought the hall and the neighbouring houses, which had been the subject of negotiations with the Crown since about 1803. (fn. 17) Most of the other buildings were destroyed in the 18th century. The interior of the hall was again altered in 1856, under the supervision of William Parsons, the county surveyor. (fn. 18) The castle remained in 1956 the property of the county and was still used as a court of law. In 1926 the area between the castle and the river was opened as a garden, thus making possible the preservation of fragments of the boundary wall and enhancing the interest of the castle site. This area had formerly been used as a corporation rubbish dump. (fn. 19)

Besides the castle itself, the liberty of Castle View included a few houses built round the castle to the north and north-east. In 1801 the population of the liberty was 52. By 1831 it had risen to 127 and in 1891, the last year in which a separate census figure for Castle View was returned in the census, the population was 136. (fn. 20) Castle View ceased to exist as an administrative unit in 1896. (fn. 21)


  • 1. Leic. Boro. Rec. 1509–1603, 363–4.
  • 2. See above, pp. 129–30.
  • 3. R. W. Greaves, Corp. of Leic. 37–38.
  • 4. 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 76; Rep. Com. on Boundaries and Wards of Certain Boros. Pt. 2, H.C. 238 (1837), xxvii.
  • 5. The hist. of Leic. castle is largely based upon 'Leic. Castle', by L. Fox, in T.L.A.S. xxii. 125–70. For illustrations of the castle see above, plates facing pp. 57, 191, 278.
  • 6. T.L.A.S. xxii. 136–7; V.C.H. Leics. ii. 81–82.
  • 7. T.L.A.S. xxii. 138, 149–53, 157.
  • 8. Leic. Boro. Rec. 1103–1327, 361–2; L. Fox, Leic. Castle, 21–22, 25; C. J. Billson, Medieval Leic. 41–42.
  • 9. Leic. Bor. Rec. 1103–1327, 361–2, 373.
  • 10. Ibid. 377; Fox, Leic. Castle, 22.
  • 11. Cf. T.L.A.S. xxii. 160, and The Builder, xxv. 488.
  • 12. See below, p. 395.
  • 13. 35th Annual Rep. Leic. and Leics. Soc. of Architects, frontispiece. See above, plate facing p. 57.
  • 14. T.L.A.S. xxii. 155.
  • 15. Ibid. 138, 158–61; Leic. Boro. Rec. 1103–1327, 114.
  • 16. J. Thompson, Leic. Castle, 32.
  • 17. L.R.O. Leic. Castle Conveyances.
  • 18. L.R.O., Letters and accounts relating to the alterations.
  • 19. Leic. Mercury, 10 May 1926.
  • 20. V.C.H. Leics. iii. 179, 185.
  • 21. See above, p. 288.