Leicester’s Newarke – Through the Ages

The Medieval Newarke Precinct in 1485, St Mary De Castro and the Leicester Castle Great Hall are on the Left, the Motte Mound of Leicester Castle in the middle and the now lost Collegiate Church of St Mary of Annunciation in the Newarke is on the right. The River Soar is in the foreground.

Digital reconstruction the Medieval Newarke precinct in 1485. The church of St Mary De Castro and the Leicester Castle Great Hall are on the Left, the motte mound of Leicester Castle are in the middle and the now lost Collegiate Church of St Mary of the Annunciation in the Newarke is on the right. The River Soar is in the foreground.

The Newarke precinct in Leicester is where De Montfort University has its campus. Its history goes back to the Roman period where there is evidence of farm and other buildings, culverts, agriculture, burials and roads, in a low density settlement outside the south gate of Leicester when it was the Roman city of Ratae Corieltauvorum.

The area outside the Roman city walls of Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum) which in the 14th century was to become The Newarke.

Digital Reconstruction of the area outside the Roman city walls of Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum) which in the 14th century was to become The Newarke.

The liberty of the Newarke as this area became known was a small rectangular district lying on the east bank of the Soar, to the south of the old walled area of the borough. In 1330 Henry, Earl of Lancaster founded a hospital on this site immediately to the south of the castle just outside the borough walls. This was substantially enlarged by his son, Henry, Duke of Lancaster who increased the size of the hospital and added to it a large and richly endowed chantry college to form the hospital and College of the Annunciation of St Mary in the Newarke. The dean and canons of the college claimed exemption from the borough jurisdiction, and in 1360 the king confirmed that the college and its precincts were so exempt and formed a small liberty. The college was known as St. Mary’s of the New Work, or Newarke, to distinguish it from the older college of St. Mary de Castro inside the borough, next to the castle’s great hall (see above). We have blogged about the history of the hospital and St Mary of the Annunciation here https://wp.me/p2eM6I-av and other visualisation projects related to this chapel, including 3D printing here https://wp.me/p2eM6I-rv

Reconstructed interior of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Royal Chantry Chapel of the Dukes of Lancaster in the The Chantry College of the Annunciation of St Mary in the Newarke, Leicester, founded 1353.

Digitally reconstructed interior of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was the royal chantry chapel of the Dukes of Lancaster in the the Chantry College of the Annunciation of St Mary in the Newarke, Leicester, founded in 1353.

Overview of the Medieval Newarke in Leicester in 1485. It was surrounded by a perimeter wall in which there were five gate-houses, there were hoses for the canons, vicars and the dean of the college and to the north was the castle and St Mary de Castro.

Digital reconstruction overview of the Medieval Newarke in Leicester in 1485. It was surrounded by a perimeter wall in which there were five gate-houses, there were houses for the canons, vicars and the dean of the college as well as other collegiate buildings and to the north was the castle precinct and St Mary de Castro, the castle’s church.

This college survived until the Edwardine dissolution of the Chantry Colleges when in 1548 its site and buildings were granted to John Beaumont, of Grace Dieu, and William Gies who sold off the cannons houses and other buildings and demolished the college and collegiate chapel for the value of the materials. Subsequently the properties became divided amongst various owners, the area was involved the siege of Leicester during the English Civil War with the Newarke gatehouse being used as a magazine for storing arms for the trained bands. From the 17th century until well into the 19th, the Newarke was the residence of some of Leicester’s wealthiest inhabitants. By the middle of the 19th century the County had made a number of purchases of land within the Newarke and to provide buildings for the militia, and later for the volunteer and Territorial forces of Leicestershire.

The Newarke in 1905, was, like most of Leicester a mixed residential and industrial area. Hosiery and boot factories were served by workers housed in rows of back-to-back houses on long streets.

A digital reconstruction overview of Leicester’s Newarke in 1905. It was, like most of Leicester a mixed residential and industrial area. Hosiery and boot factories were served by workers housed in rows of back-to-back houses on long streets.

It was in the late 19th century, after having rented several of the buildings in the Newarke for teaching such as the “old House” and the “Women’s Asylum” that the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School built the Hawthorne building on the old College site to house its growing number of students.

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The Hawthorn building in Leicester as it would have appeared in 1905. Built in 1897 on the site of the old Collegiate Church of St Mary of the Annunciation this building housed a range of courses such art, design and architecture which are still taught by De Montfort University today.

The Digital Building heritage Group was commissioned to produce a series of reconstructions of this part of Leicester at three periods of its history, Roman, Medieval and Edwardian and combine them together in an animated fly-through sequence for explaining the historical development of De Montfort University’s campus which now occupies the Newarke precinct. This has been a challenging project, with many different buildings involved in each of the periods. It involved making three separate urban models each with their own buildings and slightly varying topography coving an area of about half a square mile. It was felt important to look at some buildings in more detail than others, a process of selection which proved difficult in some cases where there was equally good evidence for form, structure and materiality of the buildings but insufficient time to treat all of the buildings having this level of evidence to the same level of rendered detail. In the end executive decisions were made based on the narrative arc that was intended. Other buildings posed less of a dilemma where they were less well documented but rather than doing what we usually do of indicating these as white un-textured block models Steffan, who did most of the 3D on the project with some assistance from Jonathan and Romylos did give them indicative textures to maintain the overall visual “feel” of the recreation which is what was required for the intended audience. This was an aesthetic decision which non-the-less has scholarly implications and has prompted considerable discussion within the DBHG about audience expectations, aesthetics and authenticity. These are subjects which we have long been involved with and we’re pretty sure these debates will continue for the foreseeable future beyond this particular project. The resulting video fly-through which is just over 8 minutes duration will be on show at De Montfort University’s Heritage Centre in the Hawthorn Building.

About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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