Entrance to the Newarke
The name Newarke means 'new works' and it was once a quiet religious precinct on the edge of medieval Leicester. It was founded by the earls of Lancaster in the 14th century. The stone walls of the Newarke enclosed the church of St. Mary of the Annunciation, Trinity Hospital and several priests' houses.
The Magazine Gateway was the main entrance into the Newarke precinct and was built around 1400. The gate has no portcullis (sliding iron door) and its main purpose was to impress visitors rather than be defensive. It is uncertain what use was made of the rooms inside the gateway during the Middle Ages. They may have been used to house visitors to the Newarke or have been rented to townspeople.
From Prison to Armoury
The church of St. Mary was closed by Edward VI in 1548 and demolished soon afterwards. The Newarke became an area where many of the richer citizens of Leicester lived to escape local taxes.
Several graffiti, one with a date of 1564, on the top floor of the Magazine suggest that it was used for a while as a prison.
In the 1600s the gateway was used to store the weapons and gunpowder of the town militia. It was its use as an armoury or 'magazine' that gave the gateway its name.
The Newarke was the scene of fierce fighting during the Civil War siege and capture of the town by King Charles in May 1645. However, the Magazine appears to have escaped serious damage.
During restoration work in the 1960s two human skulls were found wedged inside the garderobe (toilet) shaft. The date and origin of these skulls remain a mystery!
Rescued for the Future
The Magazine continued to be used as an armoury by the county militia after the Civil War. The first drawings of the Magazine to survive date from around 1790 and it has changed little in general appearance. However, in 1853 much of its outer stonework was replaced.
In the 1890s a barracks and a drill hall were built alongside the Magazine for the Leicestershire Militia. These buildings were demolished in the 1960s as a result of new road scheme. There were also plans to demolish the Magazine itself but fortunately protests saved the building for future generations.
The Magazine is open on event days only.
c/o The Guildhall
Tel: 0116 253 2569
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