Abbey Park info panels draw on University’s archaeological research

Posted by mjs76 at Jan 30, 2012 02:10 PM |
A series of information panels, based on work carried out by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) have been installed around the remains of Leicester’s Medieval Abbey.

Visitors to Abbey Park, to the North of Leicester City Centre, might not realise that the park is so-named because it contains, alongside a boating lake, miniature railway, café, cricket pitch and pets corner, the remains of a Medieval abbey. On the other hand, those visitors who know about the Abbey remains might not realise that what they’re looking at isn’t actually, well, the Abbey remains.

All is explained on the five new information panels which have been installed, drawing on research conducted by our own ULAS archaeologists.

The Abbey of St Mary of the Meadows was founded in about 1143 and became one of the richest Augustinian abbeys in the country. Like many monasteries, it closed down permanently in 1538 on the orders of King Henry VIII. The monks left and the citizens of Leicester lost no time in putting all that stone to good use in their own buildings and walls.

Locations of the five information panels around the Abbey remains.

Only the gatehouse survived intact, subsequently incorporated into Cavendish House, a 16th century mansion which lasted about a hundred years before being destroyed by fire in 1645 during the English Civil War. The main part of Abbey Park, around the lake, was laid out in the 1880s, then between 1929 and 1930 the park was extended north of the river to include the few remaining ruins of Cavendish House and the site of the old Abbey.

The park extension was managed by Leicester architect Waller K Bedingfield* who oversaw research into the lay-out of the original building and had the current low walls built to indicate this. So what you see in Abbey Park is not the excavated remains of 12th century walls, it was actually constructed about 80 years ago. But it does accurately reflect the layout of the Abbey and, with the new information boards, allows visitors to understand the arrangement of buildings and hence the lives of the monks who lived there for 400 years.

The five illustrated panels, based on ULAS research and designed by graphic design company The Art Department, describe:

  • The Abbey church
  • The kitchen and refectory
  • The cloisters
  • The infirmary and guest hall
  • The Abbey gateway and Cavendish House
Abbey Park panel.jpg
One of the information panels in Abbey Park, based on University of Leicester research.

Since 2000, ULAS have been using the Abbey/Cavendish House ruins to train second-year students in our School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

Leicester City Council and English Heritage are currently developing a five year plan to survey all the ruins in Abbey Park as well as the historically important wall which surrounds the old Abbey grounds.

*Who is listed as ‘Walter’ in almost all the contemporary documents which mention him. He must have got so fed up...