Part 3: Trials and tribulations

By August 1483 when Richard III visited and stayed in the castle it was already beginning to crumble, and later Richard famously stayed at the Blue Boar Inn before the Battle of Bosworth. In the 16th and 17th century, visitors noted that the buildings were ruined and derelict. During the Civil War the area saw fighting as Prince Rupert, nephew of King Charles I, stormed the walls of the Newarke and took the city. However, only two weeks later the town was retaken for Parliament by Sir Thomas Fairfax. Under Cromwell the land was put up for sale, but was reclaimed by the Crown on the Restoration of King Charles II.

Most of the castle buildings were leased out or demolished, although the hall remained in royal hands. The brick frontage was added in 1695. In keeping with the court function the area outside, known as Castle Yard, held a gallows for executions. In 1770 preacher John Wesley addressed a large crowd of people there. Special functions such as balls and concerts were sometimes held in the hall.

In 1821 the hall was divided into two courts, one for criminal cases and one for civil cases, with a grand jury room upstairs. A cell block was added in 1858 and further adjustments included offices and barristers’ rooms. In 1875 the site (excluding the buildings) was purchased by the county and in 1888 county justices bought the hall from the Crown, finally ending the royal connection to the castle. The area between the castle and the river was used as a rubbish dump until 1926 when it was converted into Castle Gardens.

Writer James M Barrie, author of Peter Pan, worked for the Nottingham Journal from 1883-84 and was known to spend many hours at Leicester Castle reporting on trials. In 1919 the famous Green Bicycle murder case was heard in the criminal court. The victim was a young woman called Bella Wright who was shot. Witnesses saw her with a man on a green bicycle. Ronald Light was tried but acquitted. The courts were in use until 1992.

Today the Great Hall is to be restored to its former glory as the base for Leicester Castle Business School, creating a unique learning environment for the leaders of tomorrow.

For more information about the history of the castle and DMU in general, click here.