The first castle at Leicester was probably built around 1070 either by William the Conqueror or by Hugh de Grandsmesnil, the first Norman lord or castellan of Leicester.
The Medieval Hall
The Great Hall and the Church of St. Mary de Castro were the largest buildings in the castle. The hall had stone walls and was originally open to the roof with no ceiling. Its roof was supported by great oak, aisle-posts with decorative carvings. Treering dating of the timbers shows that the roof was replaced in the early 1500s, but that the aisle-posts are original and date to about 1150. This suggests the hall was built by Robert le Bossu, the second earl of Leicester and founder of Leicester Abbey. Halls like this were heated by an open fire in the centre of the floor and would have been very smoky.
The lord's table was at the 'high' (north) end of the hall, and in later times was often raised upon a dais or platform. The medieval hall was used both for feasting and for business by the lord of the castle or his officers. In 1425-6, and possibly on other occasions, Parliament met in the Great Hall. The castle court was held in the hall and many criminals were sentenced there to hang on the Earl's gallows.
The castle fell into decay at the end of the middle Ages and many of its buildings were eventually demolished. However the Great Hall continued to be used as a court and thus survived destruction.
A fashionable brick front was added to the hall at the end of the 17th century. In 1821 the hall, still open to the rafters, was divided up into two separate court rooms and further alterations were made in 1858.
The famous Green Bicycle murder case was held in the criminal court in 1919. The other court was mainly used for civil cases. The courts moved to new premises in the city centre.
John of Gaunt's Cellar
This medieval vaulted cellar is all that remains of a stone kitchen or chamber block at the 'low' (south) end of the hall. Unfortunately the building above the cellar has totally disappeared. There is no evidence that it was a dungeon as was suggested in Victorian times. On the walls of the cellar are many masons' marks. These identified an individual's work so he could be paid the correct wage.
The Great Hall of Leicester Castle is open on event days only.
c/o The Guildhall
Tel: 0116 253 2569
Tel: 0116 253 2569
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