The (known) history of St Martin’s Square
Being slap bang in the middle of Leicester city, the site of St Martin’s Square has seen it all. Romans, Saxons, Normans, Tudors, Edwardian, Victorians have all made their mark on the area and make it difficult for historians to tell exactly what has happened here.
The Romans built a prosperous town in Leicester and St Martin’s was in the middle of it. Various Roman mosaics have been found and even an altar stone found under the ‘Frog & Mouse’ gallery by The Square’s entrance!
After the Roman‘s left, Leicester fell in to disrepair but remained inhabited. First with simple wooden Saxon buildings then later with sturdier Norman stone buildings. St Nicholas’s Church near the Holiday Inn roundabout was built by the Saxon’s in 650ad. Later The Normans added the stone tower to the church, which would have been a landmark visible from St Martin’s Square.
Around 1086 St Martin’s Church was constructed and the grounds of St Martin’s Square was probably used as orchards, gardens, pig pens and stabling for the new church.
The Cank well at the Peacock Lane/Cank Street entrance to The Square was built sometime in the middle ages and indicates how important this area was to the town’s people.
From as far back as the 1800s we know that St Martin’s Square did have a walk way in to it off Silver Walk but it certainly wasn’t a retail square. Most likely the buildings were factories producing hosiery or individual workshops.
Most of these buildings have long since been demolished, replaced with the new shopping centre that dominates the area built in 1984.
Along Loseby Lane there used to be a pub called ‘Crown and Thistle ’ which paid a Damask Rose and four pennies it paid as annual rent! This tradition started in 17th Century and was still carried out by the Lord mayor until 2001! More recently the pub was renamed ‘The Firkin and Fourpence’ before being absorbed in to the O’Neils chain.
Who was St Martin?
Martin was born in in 316AD, the son of a senior Roman army officer.
When he was fifteen he joined a cavalry unit and was stationed in France.
One day while riding through the city of Amiens he spotted a scantily clad beggar, perishing on the street. Martin was appalled by the sight. Taking pity on the beggar he cut his own clock in half with his Spatha long sword and handed it to the beggar.
Later that night Martin dreamt the beggar came to him wearing his half-cloak. Only when the beggar came closer he realised the beggar was actually Jesus who exclaimed to the angels ‘Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized he has clad me.’
Soon after, Martin was baptised and lived a long live as a key religious figure.
The beautiful painting opposite is from the Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy in New York City. The image was provided by Monk James Silver.
Thanks to Guy Raynor-Edwards from The Jewry Wall Museum the and Ben Ennis from The Guildhall. Please visit them and the other museums to learn more about Leicester’s rich history.