This one weekend, I went to Leicester to visit Anne, a best friend from home, who also studies in the UK this year. It’s lovely to finally catch up and spend times with a familiar face.
Catching up: Leicester edition
Isn’t it wonderful to move as far away as the United Kingdom and someone familiar just stays a couple of hours away? My best friend from home is also here in Britain, studying for her Master’s in Museum Studies. Anne and I went quite far back; having graduated from the same Bachelor programme, we are also great friends on and off-campus. She chose Leicester as her new base camp, only a few hours away southerly from Sheffield by train.
A month after we left our country, we decided to meet again. This time I’ll be visiting her new home. It’s not a touristy trip that I planned. It was more of a get-together visit. Anne suggested that we should hang out with her new friends at their favourite pub, The Lansdowne. One month in Britain and Anne already has a favourite hangout place?! Yep, that’s the Anne I knew.
I arrived in the afternoon, Anne picked me up at the railway station, and we walked to her flat in Nixon Court. We spent most of the afternoon catching up and reminiscing our journeys and experiences moving to Britain: a whole new system, new places, new friends, and a new spirit. We went out to The Lansdowne at London Road to meet Anne’s friends later than evening. I do not recall much of that night; all I remember is waking up very late the next day. That’s a good sign, right? Meaning, I had a good time the night before. Anne’s new friends are also quite a fun bunch. I’m happy to see her settling in and adjusting well too.
The Leicester Story
Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England and therefore, bears a lot of history. But it is still a bit murky here and there, I would say—no offence to the hard-working Leicester’s archaeologists and historians out there. Two trenches were excavated in 2003 in Oxford Street, yielding evidence of Roman and medieval activities, also a ditch dating as far back as the Iron Age (Clarke,2003). Before the Romans arrived, the area of Leicester was home to the Corieltauvi tribe who also inhabited the area of Old Sleaford (de la Béyodère, 2013).
The Romans arrived in Leicester in 47 AD. They established a settlement in the area and gave it a name too. Leicester under the Romans is known as Ratae Corieltauvorum. For short, let’s just call it Ratae. Ratae enjoyed its heyday in the 3rd century, became one of the Roman capital in Britain and then Roman’s grip started to loosen at the beginning of the 4th century. As with other Roman settlements, they build and build and build infrastructures. Remains of roads, public bath, forum, basilica, temples, aqueduct, and cemeteries (?) were found in and around present-day Leicester—none of which that I bother visiting this time.
Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester
With the abundance of Roman remains in the region, I have the impression that this is only the beginning of the reconstruction of Roman Leicester’s puzzle. There are no historical records as to why and how the Romans retreated from Ratae. In Anglo-Saxon period, Ratae is known as Cair Lerion and was occupied by the Middle Angles. After a while, Cair Lerion was included as part of the kingdom of Mercia.
The Danes came and conquered Cair Lerion in 877 (Lambert, n.d.). In the early 10th century, the area is given an English name, Ligera ceaster (Sawyer, 1998). The history continues as Domesday book recorded the existence of a city called Ledecestre. It was recorded as a settlement located in the hundred of Guthlaxton with a population of 71 households in the year of 1086 (Powell-Smith, n.d.).
Recovering from last night’s event, Anne got the news that she needs to stop by at her campus. I went along and accompanied her because she suggested that we’d go to the City Centre afterwards. It was a calm autumn day: no rain, no sleet, but also no proper sun. Where do we go for sightseeing? A cemetery, of course. It’s on our way towards the City Centre, and actually, it wasn’t Anne’s idea. I take the responsibility to have this idea to get inside the cemetery. So, we make our way inside the gates of Welford Road Cemetery.
A public cemetery opened in 1849, Welford Road Cemetery is the oldest municipal cemetery in Leicester and is still in use today. I knew I did not make the wrong decision. The headstones of Welford Road Cemetery are amazing and there are so many of them to gawk at. We quite possibly took an hour touring amongst these headstones and took so many photographs. But then we were hungry, so we decided to continue the journey to the City Centre. I’ve stated before that this visit isn’t a touristy one. This time I stick to the urban feel of the city surrounded by shops and restaurants and entertainment.
I think this visit coincides with my need to get away from all thing archaeology for a while. Campus life is stressing me out—those bone quizzes! I did feel that Leicester’s City Centre is a bit more lively than Sheffield’s, but it’s no different. My visit ends as I need to return to the lab on Monday. Anne promised to visit me in Sheffield too. I am blessed that I have Anne nearby, a familiar face from home in this foreign land.
1. Clarke S. 2003. An archaeological evaluation of Land at 85-89 Oxford Street, Castle Ward, Leicester. Report No 03/145. University of Leicester Archaeological Services [assessment & evaluation reports].
2. de la Béyodère, Guy. 2013. Roman Britain: A New History (2nd ed.). Thames & Hudson: London. p. 223.
3. Lambert, Tim. A Brief History of Leicester, Leicestershire, England. Local Histories.
4. Powell-Smith, Anna. Domesday Book. Open Domesday.
5. Sawyer, P.H. 1998. From Roman Britain to Norman England. Routledge: London. p. 221
7. Roman Leicester: One of the First Roman Towns in Britain. History and Archaeology Online.