• The name comes from the original medieval bridge having large arches similar to the shape of bow
  • The remains of Richard III were not thrown off Bow Bridge in 1538, as popular legend suggested, but remained buried in the city until their discovery in 2012
  • The medieval Bow Bridge was demolished in 1861. The present bridge, built in 1863, was designed by the city as a memorial to Richard III

An important crossing place

Two bridges originally crossed the western arm of the River Soar where the present Bow Bridge stands. Bow Bridge carried the road from Leicester to Hinckley, whilst nearby the smaller Little Bow Bridge, which belonged to the neighbouring Augustinian friary, gave the friars access across the river to a close containing St Augustine’s Well.

The two bridges both probably take their name from the Little Bow Bridge, which was described as ‘one large arch like a bow’. The Little Bow Bridge was swept away in a flood in 1791. Bow Bridge was built of stone with five semi-circular arches, piers with cut-waters, and niches at intervals along both sides in which pedestrians could stand to allow vehicles to pass – this was because the bridge was 21m long but only 1.8m wide, leaving enough space for only a single waggon to cross at once. The bridge was repaired in 1666, and again in 1784 when it was widened with brickwork, but was eventually demolished in 1861 and replaced with a wider iron bridge.

A photograph of the medieval Bow Bridge taken c.1860. Leicestershire Record Office

‘King Richard’s Bridge’

Two of Leicester’s best-known legends about Richard III are linked with Bow Bridge. Both were first published by the antiquarian John Speed in 1611. One tells of Richard III striking his spur against the bridge on the way to Bosworth and the resulting prophecy of a wise/old/mad woman (stories vary) that his head would strike the same spot on the way back.

The other, now disproved, was that Richard III’s remains were thrown off the bridge by a jeering mob during the destruction of the friary in the mid-16th century. This legend was very popular in the Victorian period and in 1856 a local builder, Benjamin Broadbent, erected a memorial plaque by the Bow Bridge. The plaque – which still survives today remounted next to the Victorian bridge – reads ‘Near this spot lie the remains of Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, 1485’.

It is difficult to track down where these stories originated, but they may be narrative devices created by Speed to help establish that Richard III, the ’ill-fated’ and ‘evil’ usurper, was doomed to fail. Historians in the 16th and 17th centuries often followed the Renaissance tradition of using history to teach moral lessons.

Richard III’s remains passing over the Bow Bridge with large crowds watching, 2015

Bow Bridge today

The present Bow Bridge, built in 1863, was designed by the city as a memorial to Richard III. Its decorative ironwork bears the town’s coat-of-arms (a white cinquefoil on a red shield) interspersed with roses and the coats-of-arms of Richard III and Henry VIII.

Richard III’s remains travelled over the Bow Bridge in 2015 on the way to his final resting place in Leicester Cathedral.

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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