Sunday, 28 December 2014

Leicester - City of Bloodshed


The city of Leicester is today a busy, vibrant and thriving city. It is the largest city in the East Midlands, and the tenth largest in the UK as a whole. The city has a population of 330,000, but that goes up to over 700,000 if the suburbs are included.
The population of the city is young, with a third of the population aged under 25 - a much higher proportion than the national average. The large student population partly accounts for this, but a high birth rate also helps. The economy of the town traditionally relied on shoemaking and hosiery, but since the 1950s engineering has boomed in importance. Several large companies making heavy tools and machinery are based here, benefitting from the large engineering department at Leicester University and the nearby Loughborough University.
This is a busy, prosperous and modern city looking to a future of peace and plenty. But Leicester was not always like this. Three times war has come to Leicester in its most brutal and bloody form. War is never pretty, but siege warfare has a well deserved reputation for being particularly nasty with civilians routinely suffering as badly, if not worse than the combatants.
Three times Leicester has been put under siege, and three times Leicester has fallen to the attacking army. The worst bloodshed came in the wake of the second siege, fought in May 1645. Hundreds of civilians were put to the sword as the Royalist soldiers ran amok after storming the city defences. By comparison the sieges of 943 and June 1645 were almost gentle affairs, but they still caused significant damage.
Some of the marks left by the sieges can still be seen today. The great medieval Abbey lies in ruins, bullet marks can be seen on the remaining stretches of town wall and loopholes penetrate the medieval walls of the Newarke. But time is a great healer. Leicester came through its bloody sieges battered but still existing. For generations Leicester continued in its traditional role as a county town providing a market for local agricultural produce. Then in the early 19th century coal was found nearby, the railway arrived and the industrialization of the city began in earnest. It might almost be that bloody war never came here. Almost.

from "The Sieges of Leicester" by Rupert Matthews
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