A walk around St Margaret's Church, Leicester

St Margaret's Church in Leicester is located in one of the busiest parts of the city. It stands close to the intersection between St Margaret's Way, Burley's Way, Vaughan Way and Church Gate (which leads into the city centre), the traffic thundering past and surrounded by modern office buildings and the bus station. For ages I have walked past the church, meaning to go and explore its ample graveyard but only got round to it recently. If you enjoy looking round graveyards I thoroughly recommend having a look because there are some fantastic examples of 17th and 18th graves with their lurid depictions of skulls, memento mori, weeping women and cherubs, which came before everything got too maudlin in the Victorian age. Most of the gravestones are carved into slate rather than softer sandstone, meaning that their inscriptions have survived the dirt and destruction of years of industry and general erosion better than most.

Take this cheery little skeleton offering what looks like a globe to the dying person in bed. I marvelled at how well the skeleton was carved, he has ribs and everything. And rather a jaunty pose don't you think? Sadly the quality of carving on tombstones is very rarely considered as part of the amazing public art that exists in the streets and shady nooks of cities and towns in the UK.

Towards the back of the church the graveyard is dominated by a massive tomb to Andrew, 5th Lord Rollo, a Scottish Army commander who fought for the British in the Seven Years War in the Americas, serving in Canada and Dominica. Born in 1703, he died in Leicester in 1765 and this grand confection in stone and iron was erected in his memory. The friezes around the sides convey the fall of a great man, a skull surrounded by the carnage of a civilisation collapsing and on the other side a roman breastplate lying amongst the paraphernalia of warfare. There is a useful description of the man's great deeds towards the front (which you can see in the picture below), however it does not explain why he died in Leicester.

These cherubs were particularly noticeable for not being very attractive or babylike, rather ugly and fearsome looking. They both blow trumpets and I imagine if the sound was to be replicated it would be rather discordant from the baleful looks they are giving. Still the gravestone is very arresting with its double inscription and very careful carving.

No graveyard is complete without a weeping woman somewhere and here is one from St Margaret's; it has been stacked against the wall with a number of gravestones, suggesting that it might have been bigger at one point and these were causalities of needing more building space. Or they might just have decided to clear the graveyard a bit to make it more open, anyway it is sad that these memorials have become disconnected from the people they commemorate. Still at least they didn't get ground down into gravel for a path like in Sheffield Cemetery.

It was not possible to find out much information about St Margaret's Church from the Internet, but it is apparently one of the oldest churches in Leicester, built before 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England. It stood outside the city walls in the Middle Ages and one of its most famous clergymen was the fabulously named Robert Grosseteste, famous Bishop of Lincoln from 1235-1253 and the first chancellor of Oxford University. He was a famous scholar too in his day.


Mike Simpson said…
According to this Facebook page by a member of the Rollo clan, Andrew, 5th Lord Rollo contracted fever at the Siege of Martinique and was on his way back to the family home in Perthshire but didn't make it. He was just passing through Leicester on the way North when the fever finally took him.

J said…
I think the skeleton is offering a skull.
Ceri said…
Mike - thank you for that snippet of information, it seems odd that they didn't send his body home to be buried but maybe because it was fever they wanted to contain it and kept him in Leicester!

J - it might be a skull but it just looks like a ball to me!

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