Rich history of the campus and surrounding area

De Montfort University’s campus is located in an area of Leicester that is steeped in history.

An Iron Age ditch and pottery have been found in this area and it was known to be a suburb of the main Roman town, sitting just south of the city walls.

In 1239 Simon de Montfort became Earl of Leicester, based in the castle, which was situated just north of the Trinity Building. De Montfort is famous for summoning the first “House of Commons”, a parliament made up of representatives elected from each city – an act which Winston Churchill believed “lighted a fire never to be quenched in English history”.

Trinity Hospital and the Church of Annunciation

In 1330 Henry, 3rd Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, commissioned the construction of an almshouse and hospital to treat the poor and infirm of the city, to be built on land bordering the castle precinct. Originally called the Hospital of the Honour of God and the Glorious Virgin and All Saints, the institution became Trinity Hospital in 1614. Although the building was reconstructed in 1776 and again in 1901, the original medieval chapel can still be seen in Trinity House.

Henry’s son, also Henry, continued the work, expanding the hospital and founding the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, situated where the Hawthorn Building now stands. The area became known as the Newarke, a corruption of ‘new work’. 

The Church of the Annunciation had a chantry function, where priests would pray for the souls of the House of Lancaster. It also held a precious relic of a thorn from the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus at the Crucifixion, which was gifted to Henry by the King of France. No drawings of the church survive but it was described as beautiful by visitors.

Some chronicles state that in 1485 the body of King Richard III was displayed in the Newarke, probably inside the church, so that people could see for certain that he was dead. In 1548 the church was demolished during the religious upheavals of the Reformation and the area became a pleasant residential zone.

War and revolution

During the English Civil War the Newarke precinct was stormed by Prince Rupert, nephew of King Charles I. Two weeks later Parliamentary forces took back the town, bombarding the Newarke with artillery stationed on the site of the Royal Infirmary. Traces of defensive ramparts have been found underneath the Innovation Centre. The name of the Magazine Gateway dates to this time, when the building was used to store weapons.

In the nineteenth century during the Industrial Revolution the Newarke’s orchards and gardens were replaced with the buildings of industry. The Clephan Building was once a hosiery factory, the Campus Centre stands on the site of a worsted mill, and the Portland Building was a shoe factory. The Fletcher Building and Kimberlin Library stand on the site of rows of terraced housing.

Archaeological remains

It was in the Newarke that the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School was established, when the first wing of the Hawthorn Building was constructed in the gardens of a house which had been built on the site of the Church of the Annunciation. The School used the house for workshops until 1935 when it was demolished to make way for the final wing of the Hawthorn Building. During the works two arches from the Church of the Annunciation were found embedded into the walls of a cellar, as well as various finds like bones, a coffin, and architectural fragments. The arches were preserved and later incorporated into the Hawthorn Building where they can still be seen.

In the 1990s DMU acquired two more pieces of the history of this area with the purchase of the old Trinity Hospital buildings and of the Portland Shoe Factory, which came with the small Chantry Building. This unusual looking structure was built in around 1350 as a house for a dean or canon working in the Church of the Annunciation. After the church was closed it was used as the vicarage of Saint Mary de Castro for many years, before being sold to the Portland factory for use as a leather store. The upper storeys were found to be unsafe and removed, accounting for the appearance of the building today.

DMU archives

The Archives and Special Collections hold some resources relating to the history of the campus site, including books, journals, archaeological reports and press cuttings relating to the discovery of the arches. Please contact archives@dmu.ac.uk| for more information.

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