Leicester Castle and the Magazine Gateway


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Leicester Castle and the Magazine Gateway
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Leicester (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SK5828404176, SK5844404123

Reasons for Designation

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte and bailey castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Leicester Castle is a good example of a major castle which has been adapted continuously in its role as a premier administrative centre over a period of some 900 years. The site occupies part of the Roman town and so will retain important information both for the understanding of the Roman town itself and how its remains were adapted for use as a castle in the 11th century. The remains of the motte and bailey castle are of great interest in illustrating how such a major castle was adapted to a changing role in the medieval and post-medieval periods, with major internal buildings being reconstructed in stone, and old defences being abandoned in favour of a newly built, but less well-defended core around the Castle Hall - the administrative centre for the county.

The addition of a large court to the south (The Newarke) is also of great interest, since, as far as is known, this court, though strongly defended, was used mostly as the home for newly founded and prestigious ecclesiastical institutions. This close association between the administrative focus of the county and major churches, first, St Mary de Castro, and then St Mary's College, is also of great interest.


The monument is located within Leicester city centre on the eastern bank of the canalised River Soar. It includes the earthwork and buried remains of a motte and bailey castle, the 12th century northern extension to the bailey, and the northern part of the fortified enclosure known as The Newarke, including the Turret Gateway and the Magazine Gateway. It is in two separate areas of protection.

Excavations in the vicinity of the castle have recovered evidence to indicate that Leicester Castle was originally inside the south west corner of the Roman town defences. The motte and bailey castle was constructed in c.1068 by order of William the Conqueror. It was handed over to Hugh de Grentmesnil and became headquarters of a feudal `honor' of Leicester, a term applied to a group of estates which came under a single administration. The motte is located in the south western part of the site. It is approximately 50m in diameter and 9m high. During the 19th century the motte was lowered and levelled and its summit used as a bowling green. The bailey lies to the north and north east of the motte and is approximately 6ha in area. Although no longer visible on the ground surface, the bailey ditch survives as a buried feature for much of its length and excavations have indicated that it was up to 12m wide and 5m deep. In the eastern part of the site, the ditch and the adjacent part of the bailey are intensively occupied by modern buildings. These structures are considered to have so modified the site in this area that this part is not included in the scheduling.

There is no surface evidence for the buildings which were located within the bailey during the earliest period in the castle's history but remains are thought to survive as buried features. St Mary de Castro Church, which stands within the bailey area, has 12th century masonry within its fabric. It is likely that the church originally served as the castle chapel and, when re- built in the mid-12th century, parts of the early Norman chapel were retained within its fabric. The church is Listed Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling. The churchyard, which is no longer used for burials, will retain important buried remains of the early buildings within the bailey and also underlying Roman archaeological deposits; it is therefore included in the scheduling.

In 1101 Ivo, son of Hugh de Grentmesnil, was involved in a rebellion against Henry I and Leicester Castle was subsequently severely damaged. During the mid-12th century the castle was rebuilt in stone by Robert de Beaumont, who was later to become the first Earl of Leicester. A masonry wall was added to the earthen defences and a barbican added to the northern side of the bailey. Two sections of the defensive wall remain visible, one 50m to the west of the motte and the second to the north; the northern section is Listed Grade II and both are included in the scheduling. A number of buildings were also constructed within the bailey during this period of reconstruction, including a great hall and domestic accommodation. The hall was built by Robert le Bossu, second Earl of Leicester, and is thought to be one of the earliest surviving timber aisled halls in Europe. Its outer walls were constructed of sandstone and the interior was originally divided into a nave and two aisles by enormous timber arcades. It has been in continuous use for over 800 years and has been much altered, particularly during its conversion to court rooms in the 19th century. The hall is Listed Grade I and is not included in the scheduling. Medieval service rooms were constructed between the hall and the motte, and one of these, known as John of Gaunt's cellar (added between 1400 and 1410) remains visible. It lies beneath the ground surface with entrances at either end and has a tunnel vaulted roof. The cellar, which is Listed Grade I, is included in the scheduling.

A large enclosure, known as The Newarke (New Work), was added to the south side of the motte and bailey castle by Henry, Duke of Lancaster in 1330. This enclosure was approximately rectangular in plan, extending some 200m southwards from the castle bailey, and some 300m westwards from the original line of Highcross Street, as far west as the river. This large enclosure was bounded by a major stone wall along its eastern and southern sides and supported by at least two towers along its south side.

The Newarke enclosure was not densely packed with buildings during the medieval period. The central part was occupied by the major collegiate Church of St Mary of the Assumption, of which a small reconstructed arch within the basement of the De Montfort University is the only known surviving fragment. This masonry is ex situ and is not included in the scheduling. In addition to the collegiate buildings, The Newarke also contained the important Hospital of the Holy Trinity. This institution was sited along the northern side of the enclosure and part of its hall and chapel, along with the remains of other buildings incorporated into later houses, still survive. The most impressive of these domestic buildings is the Chantry House, which is thought to date from about 1511 (sited to the north east of Trinity Hospital). Several of the hospital buildings, including the hall and chapel, are still in use as almshouses. The area of The Newarke to the south and south east of the Turret Gateway occupied by Trinity Hospital, Chantry House, modern buildings over basements, such as those of De Montfort University, factories and new road systems, is not included in the scheduling.

The enclosure was entered from the east via a large gatehouse situated at the bottom of Newarke Street, near the centre of the eastern wall. It is known as the magazine by virtue of its use as such during the Civil War. This gatehouse, Listed Grade I, survives intact and is a three-storeyed structure, built of sandstone ashlar, with the gate passage offset to the north side. The vaulted gate hall was entered through one of two arches, one for pedestrians, and a larger one for wheeled vehicles. There is, however, only a single archway towards the enclosure itself. A porter's lodge occupied the ground floor chamber south of the gate passage and above were two pairs of fine chambers reached from the porter's lodge by means of a spiral staircase near the centre of the west wall. The chamber on the second floor has a passage in the thickness of the south wall which originally gave access to The Newarke curtain wall. Small garderobe chambers survive in the thickness of the wall in the south west corner on both upper floors.

The gatehouse is now completely isolated from its surroundings, being sited on a traffic island within the modern road layout. It is surrounded on all sides by pedestrian underpasses and all traces of associated structures have been removed. It has been quite heavily restored externally but internally it retains many of its medieval features and has not been extensively modernised. It is now used as a museum and storeroom and is included within the scheduling in a second protected area, detached from the remainder of the castle.

A third major period of construction at Leicester Castle occurred during the 15th century when the entire castle was remodelled. In 1399, Henry, Duke of Lancaster and Earl of Leicester became King of England and Leicester Castle assumed new importance. The line of the enclosure walls was altered, the new enclosure around the castle hall being much smaller in area than that preceding it. New gates were constructed to the north and south. The new northern gateway was constructed to the north west of St Mary de Castro Church, indicating that the northern bailey ditch had been abandoned by that time. This new northern gateway was burnt down in 1444-5 and was subsequently rebuilt as a timber-framed gatehouse. It is an inhabited Listed Building Grade II*, and is excluded from the scheduling, however the ground beneath it is included. The southern gateway, built in 1422-3, known as the `turret gateway' (a Grade II Listed Building, included in the scheduling) is situated 35m east of the motte. It was erected as the main gate from the castle to The Newarke. The gateway survives as a two storey stone building with an arched gate passage and a portcullis chamber above. A third storey was destroyed in an election riot in 1832. Two lengths of 15th century wall run from the gate towards St Mary de Castro Church, and along the south side of the churchyard. The latter stands to a height of approximately 5m and contains many put-log holes, used in the construction of the wall which were later used as musket holes during the Civil War when this part of the town came under severe attack. The wall along Castle View is Listed Grade II and both sections of wall are included in the scheduling. A length of wall dividing the motte and Trinity Hospital dates from this period and is also included in the scheduling.

A number of features within the two areas are excluded from the scheduling; these are the castle hall (Listed Grade I), St Mary de Castro Church, which remains in ecclesiastical use, the inhabited northern gatehouse (Listed Grade II*), the houses and associated buildings of Nos.5-12 Castle View, Castle House and its cellar (Listed Grade II), Nos. 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 20, 22, 24 and 45 Castle Street, that part of the 20th century warehouse building to the north of Castle Street which falls within protected area, the Iron Gates which are Listed Grade II* and the Leicester High Cross, Listed Grade II, the buildings to the rear of the Newarke Houses which lie in the protected area, all garden furniture, display boards, street lights, modern walling, litter bins, the surfaces of all paths and driveways and the statue of Richard III in Castle Gardens; the ground beneath all these features, however, is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Chinnery, G A, Leicester Castle and the Newarke, (1981)
'Transactions of the Leicesteshire Archaeological Society' in The Great Gateway of the Newarke, Leicester, , Vol. 7, (1893), 150-52


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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