Guest article by Ben Farmer for KM Architects
Leicester is one of the oldest cities in the UK, with earliest references from 2,000 year ago. A city with so much history will naturally have its share of spooky tales to tell. Anyone who has an interest in architecture loves buildings not only for their beauty but also because of the stories they keep, and so, with Halloween so close, we thought it would be fun to explore three of Leicester’s reputedly haunted buildings.
Grace Dieu Priory
The ruins of Grace Dieu Priory used to house Augustinian nuns, founded circa 1240 and working as an active nunnery for 300 years. When the Dissolution of the Monasteries was ordered, the building was allowed to fall into disrepair, until only the ruins still stand today. These ruins are cared for by the Friends of Grace Dieu Priory, who started their work in 2005 with funds of £500,000 donated by the National Lottery, local councils and local businesses.
The Priory’s ruins are allegedly haunted by the ghost of the Priory’s founding nun, Roesia de Verdun, whose remains were disturbed in the early 1800s. This ghost’s most famous haunting involves a faceless, floating white shape moving towards a bus stop opposite the ruins – at least two bus drivers have stopped to let a white figure on, which subsequently disappeared completely. This happened most recently in 2002.
Apparently the Guildhall is Leicester’s most haunted building, but its most famous spectre is known as the White Lady. The White Lady haunts the halls library, and repeatedly turns the Bible held within to Deuteronomy 18:10, which deals with witchcraft. Other ghosts seen in the Guildhall include a phantom dog and cat, as well as the spirit of a policeman.
The Guildhall is, according to the local council, one of the finest preserved timber-framed halls in the entire UK, dating from 1390 where it was built as a meeting place for local businessmen. Since then, the building has seen use as a school and as a police headquarters, but serves as a museum in the present day.
No tour of Leicestershire’s haunted places would be complete without mention of Bradgate House. The supposed birthplace of the Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey, the ruins are also supposed to house her restless spirit.
Lady Jane Grey’s life was brief and tragic: she took the throne as Queen for only nine days, before being deposed and executed for political reasons. She faced her execution bravely, but struggled to find the beheading block as she was blindfolded, crying, “What shall I do? Where is it?” She was 17.
Local stories claim that Lady Grey’s carriage rides between the ruins of Bradgate House and the local church, especially around Christmas. Some stories include the grotesque detail that the horses that pull Lady Grey’s carriage are headless.
The ruin was once a magnificent house, built circa 1520, is thought to be one of the earliest post-Roman use of brick building in the UK. A year after Lady Grey’s execution, her father was also executed, and the House passed into the possession of the Crown – it was bought and sold many times, until finally it was allowed to crumble into disrepair from 1739 onwards. The ruin is currently maintained by the National Trust.
Whether these stories have any basis in fact is open to discussion, and only you can decide if you believe them. But what we can be sure of is that our beautiful city has some of the UK’s most stunning architecture – each with a fantastic story to tell.