I was also in Leicester for the beginning of the reburial week. It is a very historic city with, like Colchester, pre-Conquest, Mediaeval and Civil War history. I studied at the Polytechnic, now de Montfort University, for three years a quarter of a century ago.
Most of my academic time then was spent in the Fletcher building, ten storeys or more of concrete and glass, but visited the adjacent Hawthorn Building on occasion, over the Newarke (“New Work”) church that was Richard’s “chapel of rest” for three days. I remember visiting the Castle and passing the Holiday Inn in Jewry Walk then, in which the Society’s Monday buffet took place, but was oblivious both to St. Martin’s Cathedral and to St. Nicholas’ Church, the site of a Cathedral in Saxon times. I watched the procession highlights in “The Last Plantagenet” near the station and was able to find Mrs. Bridges’ Tea Rooms, my old favourite lunch site, near the Cathedrals. The Adult Education College, in Wellington Street near the New Walk, survives as the building in which I first attended Society meetings.
Sadly, two of the bookshops I visited regularly (Silver Street and Sherratt & Hughes) have gone as has the Southgates subway with a door into the Magazine Museum. Although Richard would scarcely have recognised Leicester 530 years later and a hundred times larger, with a little cannon damage from the 17th century, it has changed relatively little since summer 1991 – a flat and compact city centre with a lot of surprises such as Town Hall Square with the lion statues. Even St. Martin’s has eight miniature statues on the front and Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and Richard’s great-great-great-nephew is one of them, in the hose.
The week of the reinterment of our king, Richard lll was well attended by Society members and the public alike. In fact, the world and his cat turned up to mark the momentous occasion!
I was fortunate enough to be successful in the ballot for tickets to the Society memorial service in Leicester Cathedral on 23rd March and so booked myself into a hotel for a couple of nights to better experience the amazing things unfolding.
And amazing they really were. Richard’s simple oak coffin was transported from Fenn Lane Farm to the battlefield at Bosworth and then along public roads to Leicester city centre and the cathedral.
Luckily, I managed to bag myself a good vantage point right opposite BHS and by the time the cortege passed (within touching distance, I might add!) the crowd was a good four to five deep behind me.
The reverence paid was amazing. After all, many of these people were not Ricardians and had simply come to see the procession and satisfy their curiosity. There was a air of respect throughout which was compounded by the huge queue of people outside the cathedral waiting to pay their respects once Richard had completed his last journey and was in repose within the cathedral walls.
Aside from the official happenings this was a great opportunity to meet up with fellow Ricardians who had travelled from all over the world to be present in Leicester and pay respects to Richard. Part of the Guildhall was taken over by the Society as a hospitality area for members to link up and also buy the lovely funerary badge.
The Memorial Service itself was beautiful. We filed slowly into the cathedral to take our seats, passing the coffin where Richard lay under the beautifully embroidered pall. And so the service began, simple, dignified and with input from Society members including Philippa Langley, John Saunders and Don Jennings who gave readings from contemporary sources.
I have to applaud John Saunders here, who gave a passionate address taken from Thomas Langton and delivered it completely without notes!
Society Chairman, Phil Stone, gave a reflection on King Richard lll’s prayer which ended with those beautiful words taken from Hamlet, ‘Goodnight, sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’. This brought tears to my eyes and those of many others too, I am sure. There was a hearty and spontaneous round of applause to accompany Phil back to his seat.
And so my Leicester experience ended and I headed for home the next morning to watch the rest of what is a historical and poignant week unfold on television.
After all the criticism of recent months, Leicester really came up trumps and opened its arms to we Ricardians. OK, there were some moments of tackiness here and there, but the overall impression to me was one of respect and I, for one, am grateful and honoured to be able to witness such a momentous occasion.