All of these local Leicestershire characters are featured in song on either “Legends of Leicester and Leicestershire -volumes 1 or 2 or will be appearing on volume 3 currently in production:-
The legendary “hag-witch”, Black Annis, was reputed to inhabit a cave in the Danehills area of Leicester (the cave definitely did exist – it’s on early OS maps!). Near the cave was an old gnarled oak tree. She would hide in the tree and pounce on any animals or children that came near the cave. She would devour them, suck the blood and wear the dried skins around her waist. She had sharp claws, mackerell blue skin and, according to some sources, just one eye. It is possible that the legend was used by parents to frighten naughty children into obedience. As late as 1942 some evacuee children recounted being told the tale of Annis. She could also appear as a cat, and, apparently was around in 1485 when her spirit entered the body of one ‘Meg’ who placed a curse on Richard lll as he crossed Bow Bridge before his final defeat in battle. Some sources suggest that Black Annis was, in fact, like King Lear, a manifestation of an ancient Celtic goddess called Danu.
The song “Black Annis’s Lair” is featured as the opening song on “Legends -2”
Buffalo Bill (William Frederick Cody)
In August, 1891, Leicester folk were entertained by a visit from ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show’. A large arena was set up to hold 15,000 people. An Indian village was built to accompany the show, which included actual members of the Sioux nation with names such as ‘Kicking Bear’ and ‘Short Bull’, alongside female sharpshooter, Annie Oakley, as well as numerous horses, mules and buffalos and the ‘Deadwood Coach’.
Much of the nature of the entertainment would, quite rightly, be disapproved of these days, but nonetheless it happened, and is part of Leicestershire’s history. Buffalo Bill was, in fact, a supporter of the rights of the Indian tribes, having detailed knowledge of their ways.
A song about Buffalo Bill’s visit to Leicester can be found on “Legends-2”
Tom Barclay was a small child when his family moved to Leicester in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine. The family were forced to live in a series of slum dwellings in the Wharf Street area of the town, his father scratching a living by collecting rags and bones. He was an intelligent child who somehow managed to learn to read and write and was able to describe his experiences in an autobiographical work “Memoirs and Medleys – the Autobiography of a Bottle Washer.” He describes the abject poverty of his early years and the hostility of the English inhabitants towards the Irish immigrants. He joined the growing socialist movement in Leicester, having abandoned the Roman Catholic faith of his parents, and for some years produced a newspaper the “Leicester Pioneer”. He was able to converse with many of the great thinkers of the day like George Bernard Shaw. He showed no bitterness over his early experiences becoming a great lover of humanity although at times despairing at the lack of political awareness among the working class. He died in 1933 never having achieved any real wealth, probably because he desired none.
The life of Tom Barclay is featured in song on Legends 3:-
James Cook was a bookbinder with a workshop in Wellington Street that he had just taken over from his father. He owed money to a Mr Paas of London, an instrument maker. When Paas came to London to collect the money owed a quarrel ensued resulting in Cook hitting him with a metal object causing his death.
Cook now decided to try to conceal his crime by burning the body of his victim, but underestimated the scale of the task. He worked through successive nights trying to complete the task using a stove and fireplace in his workshop, but suspicions of neighbours were aroused when the smell reached several streets away as he tried to incinerate the internal organs.
At first Cook tried to bluff, saying that the smell was a piece of horseflesh that he had bought for a dog he had intended to buy but then changed his mind.
In the end he panicked and caught a stage coach headed for Liverpool from where he intended to board a ship for North America, intending to start a new life there. However, a quick thinking Officer called Cummins managed to follow his trail and arrest him as he was about to board the ship.
James Cook was tried and found guilty to be hanged, and his body to be gibbeted at the Junction of Aylestone Road and Saffron Lane. In 1832 he became the last murderer in England to suffer this fate.
Only a matter of days after the gibbet was erected a petition to the Home Office by local residents resulted in its removal- the first recorded example of ‘nimbyism’ in Leicester?
There is a a rather gruesome song telling of the short life of James Cook on Legends -3:-
A full account of the story can be found in “18th Century Leicester” by James Thompson.
John Cook was the son of a Leicestershire farmer born on his parents’ farm near Burbage. He studied law at Oxford and during the period leading up to the English Civil War became a radical lawyer. He found himself naturally drawn to the Parliamentary side in the English Civil War, and conducted the defence of John Lilburne, the future Leveller leader against Charles l’s government during the 1630s. He introduced new concepts such as the ‘right to silence’ and no imprisonment for debt. He sided with Oliver Cromwell and the army, who he thought were leading the country in the right direction, against the Rump Parliament. He was given appointments in Ireland and became Solicitor General which meant he was asked to lead the prosecution of Charles l at his trial. During the trial Charles struck Cook with his cane causing the metal ferrule at the end of the cane to fall off – Cook refused to pick it up forcing Charles to do so himself.
At the Restoration of Charles ll in 1660, Cook was exempted from the “Act of Indemnity” and was arrested in Ireland. Although he did not actually sign the death warrant of Charles l he was sentenced to death as a regicide and hanged, drawn and quartered in 1662.
There is a song on Legends 3 which tells the story of the life and tragic end of John Cook:-
George Davenport was a highwayman from Wigston, who deserted what he regarded as a boring life as a framework knitter to take to the road to rob rich travellers. He took to drinking and carousing early in his life and trying to keep up with the expense involved probably led him to his life of crime. He did, however, have a bit of the Robin Hood about him and was often generous to those of his neighbours in need.
One of his favourite tricks was to enlist in the army, take the “King’s shilling” and then desert, often getting the recruiting sergeant drunk in order to do this. He would then sell the uniform. He is reputed to have done this 40 times without being caught.
However, like many criminals he became overconfident and was eventually captured by one of his intended victims. He was hanged at Red Hill Circle in 1797
Two songs on the Legends CDs deal with slightly different aspects of George Davenport’s life:-
On Legends 1:-
On Legends 2:-
Sir Wolstan Dixie
Dixie had a daughter, Anna Dixie, who fell in love with a local farmer. Dixie was so enraged that he lay down a series of mantraps to catch the farmer. However, Anna crept from her bedroom one night for a secret tryst with her lover and was caught in one of the traps. A few days later she died from her wounds. To this day, her ghost is said to haunt the rooms of Bosworth Hall and a blood red stain appears appears on the night of her death down by the fireplace beneath her bedroom.
Dixie is described by all who met him as a vile, pugnacious bully. He had a battle with a local squire which he allegedly won and, when he met King George ll the King is alleged to have enquired “Big battle at Bosworth, wasn’t it?” (meaning the Battle of Bosworth in 1485). Dixie, oblivious to any other fight than his own replied “Yes, your Majesty, but I thrashed him!”
These events are commemorated by a song on ‘Legends – 1’ -“Lord Dixie’s Daughter:-
Ethelfleda of Mercia
Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, was the daughter of King Alfred of Wessex, and, by all accounts, a ‘chip off the old block’. She was therefore the sister of King Edward the Elder, who succeeded his father in 899AD. She married Ethelred, Earldoman of Mercia. Mercia had been reduced to a fraction of its former size since the great days of King Offa because of invasions by the Danes. In 878 the Treaty of Wedmore had divided England into the ‘English’ sphere and the ‘Danelaw’, roughly the area beyond Watling Street (the A5). Ethelfleda became a skilled warrior who, with her husband, managed to conquer back much of the lost Mercian territory and beyond. She carried on the fight after the death of her husband and managed to win back control of the ‘Five Boroughs’ – Leicester, Derby. Nottingham, Lincoln and Stamford – controlled by the Danes for forty years. She built a series of fortified ‘burghs’ to consolidate her gains and, just before she died, managed to win back the Danish capital of York (Yorvik). Ethelfleda is thought to be buried in Gloucester.
There is a song about Ethelfleda on the ‘Legends-2’ album:-
There is also a video of the Ethelfleda song:-
John Flower was the son of a Leicester woolcomber who developed skills for drawing and became a protege of local artist Mary Linwood. He left us a wealth of sketches which show us what pre-industrial Leicester looked like with its old buildings – his ‘Views of Ancient Buildings in the Town and County of Leicester’ give us a view of what was once an attractive mediaeval town.
There is a video of “John Flower’s Lament” on “YouTube:-
Larry Gains was a Canadian born boxer who started out washing dishes for a living and running bootleg liquor to Chicago. After meeting world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson he decided to take up boxing becoming heavyweight champion of Ontario. He then crossed the Atlantic to fight in France and Germany eventually settling in Leicester. It was when he was living and training in the Wharf Street area in the 1930s he won the British Empire title resulting in an open top bus tour round the city. Although he achieved a degree of fame and wealth, counting Paul Robeson, Cab Calloway and Coleman Hawkins among his acquaintenances, the colour bar in force in boxing meant that he was not allowed to fight for the world title. This was in spite of victories over both world champions Max Schmeling and ‘the great white hope’ Primo Carnera. Unfortunately in his later life he got into financial difficulties and had to take low paid jobs to get by. His life is described in his autobiography ‘The Impossible Dream’
There is now a song “Clean Break” on Legends -3:-
Ivo de Grandmesnil
Hugh de Grandmesnil was one of the Norman barons who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066, and was rewarded by a lot of territory in the East Midlands. His son inherited his lands but made some wrong decisions which ultimately led to him losing all his inheritance. William had 3 sons, William ‘Rufus’ who followed the conqueror as King of England, Robert ‘Curthose’ who inherited William’s main kingdom of Normandy, and Henry. who would eventually become Henry l of England. The 3 sons were always quarreling and Ivo had the knack of choosing the losing side.
In the end he decided to try to reinstate his reputation by going on the First Crusade which began in 1096. However his reputation suffered a final blow at the siege of Acre, where he ignominiously slid down a rope from one of the ramparts earning the nickname “Ivo the Ropedancer”. He then decided to redeem himself by going on a pilgrimage, but had mortgaged his estates to pay for this and the family vanished from history.
There is now a song about Ivo the Ropedancer on “Legends-3”:-
The Grey Sisters
The story of Lady Jane Grey is well known – the victim of political machinations by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland by which she became the “Nine Day Queen” who was subsequently executed by Mary l as a result of Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1564.
Less well known are the stories of the two younger sisters which were equally tragic. The fortunes of the Grey family should have been restored when Elizabeth l, a protestant like the Greys, became Queen. However, Catherine let her heart rule her head and began an affair with Edward Seymour, son of the Duke of Somerset, Protector during the reign of Edward Vl. The two married without consent from the Queen. Elizabeth was furious as the Greys had a possible claim to the throne and her marriage would be of concern to the monarch who had no children , and imprisoned the two in the Tower of London. However, their jailers facilitated illicit liaisons bewteen the two and eventually two sons were born. Elizabeth now separated the couple permanently and Catherine died soon after this, aged only 27.
Mary Grey, the younger sister, was an equally tragic tale. Mary was diminutive in size, some said a dwarf. She saw what happened to her sister so decided she would try to keep out of trouble by marrying someone of lowly status so that she would not be regarded as a threat to the throne. She married Thomas Keyes who was a royal porter and extremely tall in contrast to her small stature. However, Elizabeth was still not happy with this and Keyes was cruelly imprisoned in a cell too small for his large size, which undermined his health and, though later released, led to his early death. Mary was kept under house arrest at first but later partially restored to favour and became a lady in waiting to the Queen.
There is a song about Lady Jane on ‘Legends -1’ :-
There is now a song about the Grey Sisters on “Legends-3”:-
George Friedrich Handel
So what is the great composer’s connection to Leicestershire? This goes back to the year 1741 when the great man visited the village of Shackerstone as a result of an initation by Charles Jennessen. He stayed at the Rising Sun Inn and apparently brought several musicians with him. Jennessen had a temple in a glade which he made available to the composer to work and it was here that he worked on his famous “Messiah” for which Jennensen had written the libretto. In the year that Handel died (1759) the first local performance of the work was given at Church Langton, sponsored by the Rev. William Hanbury, but it is thought much of the work for the oratorio was completed in the earlier stays at Shackerstone.
There is now a song about Handel’s Leicestershire connection on “Legends 3”:-
James Hawker was, first and foremost, a man of the people. He poached because, like most of his class at the time in merry old England, he had no choice – ie: eat or starve. His early life was spent in the ‘hungry forties’ but later in life he continued to poach on principle due to his experiences of the class system. He took a pride in being able to evade the gamekeepers. He became interested in politics due to the work of the radical MP Charles Bradlaugh. Later on he was able to rub shoulders with the rich and mighty, many of whom allowed him to poach on their land without prosecution. However he never compromised his integrity nor subjugated himself to their assumed seniority.
There are 3 CD tracks which deal with the life of James Hawker on the Legends CDs. There is a tune on ‘Legends -1’:-
…and two tracks dealing with his life on ‘Legends -2’:-
A picture of Alice Hawkins’s statue in Leicester market appears on the front cover of the ‘Legends-2’ CD. Born in 1863, Alice spent most of her life working at Equity Shoes, Leicester, as a machinist. The factory was set up as a co-operative venture with good working conditions and reasonable wages. Alice was to become Leicester’s most famous suffragette, being partly motivated by the pay differential between male and female workers. The fact that she worked for Equity meant that took a sympathetic attitude to her campaigning and allowed her time off work.
She was thus rather unusual being from a working class background in a movement mainly of middle class women led by the Pankhursts. Alice joined the WSPU in 1907 after hearing a speech by Christabel in Leicester. Alice was jailed five times for her protests and spent time in both Holloway and Leicester gaols. She became involved in activities like window breaking and building bonfires on golf greens. At that stage she was apparently the only Leicester suffragette confident enough to deliver public speeches.
Winston Churchill was once reputed to have said that the only time in his life he was frightened was by the Leicester suffragettes. He was a particular target of the movement alongside Asquith, Lloyd-George and even Labour’s Ramsay McDonald. Until recently Alice remained in an unmarked grave, but a campaign by her descendants has led to a headstone being erected as well as a lifesize statue in Leicester market where Alice delivered many of her impassioned speeches.
There is a song on ‘Legends-2’ which celebrates Alice’s life – It is an alternative version of an old English folk tune:-
“The abolitionists have shown a great deal too much politeness and accommodation to these gentlemen.”
Elizabeth Heyrick has very little recogniton in Leicestershire, even though she campaigned bravely and tirelessly for the poor, the needy, for prison reform and, of course for the abolition of slavery. For much of her time she worked in close collaboration with Susanna Watts, who is also featured in the Legends project.
As a woman, she was denied access to the corridors of power, but all her life she spoke out against tyranny and hypocrisy wherever she found it. She was particularly scathing about the slave trade and all those who ran it. Her pamphlets filtered into Parliament where they were read and used as evidence, but it was never considered possible that they were the work of a woman.
As can be seen from the quote above, she battled even with the abolitionists whom she considered far too tardy and accommodating. Together with Susannah Watts she organised a sugar boycott and, with the help of the Quaker movement and the huge influence of her writing, she hastened the demise of slavery. It is to the eternal shame of Parliament that they compensated the slave traders for the loss of their livelihood.
A song about the life and work of Elizabeth Heyrick can be found on ‘Legends -1’:-
Not many songs have been dedicated to professors of history. W.G.Hoskins was appointed as the first Professor of Local History at Leicester University in 1965. He had achieved his first ‘hit’ with his ‘Making of the English Landscape’ (1955) which showed how our countryside had evolved over the centuries. In ‘The Midland Peasant’ (1957) he traced the history of the village of Wigston from pre-Roman to Victorian times and, using sources like wills and inventories, gave us a glimpse into the lives ordinary Midland folk across the centuries.
With his emphasis on economic and social history he was a pioneer in showing that history is more than about dates, kings an queens.
W.G.Hoskins is celebrated in song on the ‘Legends-2’ CD:-
There is also a YouTube video to accompany the song:-
Born in 1619 in Oakham, Jeffrey Hudson was a dwarf, very unusual in the fact that he was ‘proportionate’, a mere 18 inches tall but with all his body parts to scale. His novelty led to him being ‘adopted’ by the unpopular George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, ‘favourite’ of King Charles l. He was then give as a kind of ‘pet’ to Queen Henrietta Maria, reputedly having been hidden by Buckingham in a venison pie, to emerge in a full miniature set of armour. He became an excellent horseman and a captain in the royalist army. He was, however, disgraced when, while in France, he killed one of the royal ministers in an illegal duel. He was captured by Barbary pirates soon after this and spent several years in captivity. When he either escaped or was released he claimed to have doubled his height to 45 inches. He never regained royal favour and was imprisoned as a result of the scare around the ‘Popish Plot’ of the late 1670s, being a catholic. He was buried in a pauper’s grave around 1682 but is commemorated in JHB bitter, brewed in his home town of Oakham.
His story is told in a song on the ‘Legends -2’ CD:-
Johannes Matthaeus Koelz
The connection of Koelz to Leicester is that a reconstruction of his anti-war triptych “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was displayed in an exhibition at the New Walk Museum. Koelz, as a German soldier in the Great War won the Iron Cross for bravery after saving the life of a fellow soldier who had been buried alive after shellfire.
However, after his wartime experiences he became a peace campaigner and used his artistic skills to paint the huge triptych graphically illustrating the horrors of war.
This led him into trouble in the 1930s under the Third Reich – he was asked to paint a portrait of Hitler, but after refusing to wear the brown shirt of the Nazis he fled the country – as the Nazis took over neighbouring European countries he found himself in England, where he was detained as an alien and sent to Australia narrowly missing being sunk by a U-boat.
Before he had left Germany he sawed the triptych up into small pieces so that it could at least be preserved, and the fact that a postcard had been made of it enabled the reconstruction from the pieces that had survived
The full incredible story of Koelz’s life can be read in Simon Lake’s book “The Painter’s Hidden Masterpice” shown above.
A song celebrating his life will be appearing on ‘Legends – 3’ but it can be heard here:-
Danile Lambert was over 50 stone in weight and measured over 10 feet round his girth. He was alleged to be a gentle and loveable man who was a relatively normal size until he reached his early 20s.
He was the Leicester gaoler for some time following in the footsteps of his father. This was when the gaol was in Highcross Street. However, as his size grew and grew he eventually toured as a freak of nature in order to make a living. He died in the Waggon and Horses in Stamford, probably due to cardiac arrest, and the wall of the pub hadto be taken out to remove his body. It is said that twenty men had to act as pall bearers to lower his coffin into the grave. He is buried in a double ended grave in St Martin’s Church, Stamford.
He was also known as a fine breeder of hunting dogs.
His story can be heard in this song from ‘Legends – 1’:-
The main source for the story of King Lear is the 12th centuiry Chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth, although he may have relied on eralier and now vanished acounts, which were perhaps somewhat embellished. Some people even think he made the whole thing up! He tells of how the legendary King founded the town of Leicester in around 800BC. Shakespeare may have possibly picked up the story when he visited Leicester around 1595 as part of Robert Dudley’s group of strolling players. The main plot of Shakespeare’s drama closely follows the plot of Geoffrey’s original. It is said that Lear’s youngest and favourite daughter, Cordelia, buried her father in a tomb under the River Soar after he died. There is an argument that Lear did not exist at all as a real figure but was a personification of an old celtic water god ‘Leir’, an oldname for the River Soar.
You can hear all about King Lear by listening to this track on ‘Legends -2’:-
The Leicestershire Miner
The coalmining industry in Leicestershire was destroyed by the Thatcher government in the wake of the 1984/5 miners’ strike. The landscape once dotted with the familiar slag heaps and winding gear is now populated by quiet rural villages, though many of the ex-miners are still alive to recount the tales of these times. The final insult came when Leicestershire County Council decided to close the Snibston colliery museum due to financial restraints, almost as if trying to airbrush out the industrial history of the Coalville area. At least the introduction of the National Forest is making a picturesque and environmentally friendly landscape for north west Leicestershire. This song is in tribute to those ex-Leicestershire miners, some ofwhom are friends of ours on the folk scene:-
Squire de Lisle
This song refers to an incident some years ago when a local bigwig, Squire de Lisle blocked off a public footpath across his land so that ramblers could no longer walk across it, saying that they were causing damage. At the same time he was allowing it’s use to the local foxhunt, and also for a quarrying operation. You can hear the song on ‘Legends -2’:-
Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron and lived for a brief time at Kirby Mallory Hall. Her mother encouraged her daughter to study maths and science so that she would not follow the wayward path of her father. She was a close associate of Charles Babbage who laid the foundation for the first computer. Ada realised that Babbage’s “calculating engine” had far reaching implications and is often hailed as the founder of computer programing. She has a computer language named after her.
There is a song celebrating Ada’s achievements on ‘Legends – 2’ :-
John Massey (‘Rum Weather’)
John Massey was a tramp. He was a familiar figure in the Uppingham Road area of Leicester during the 1950s. He was known as ‘Rum Weather’, which was his catchphrase when someone spoke to him.
‘Rum Weather’ is celebrated in song on ‘Legends -2’:-
Joseph Merrick(‘the Elephant Man’)
Joseph Merrick had an appalling life due the extremity of his condition. His mother, who loved him dearly, died early in his life and when his father remarried his life became considerably more difficult. Emma Antill, the new wife, felt nothing but revulsion for him and he was forced into the workhouse on Sparkenhoe Street. His only way to make a living was to sell matches and bootlaces on the streets of Leicester. However, Joseph was essentially a very sensitive person and could not cope with the cut and thrust necessary to survive as a street vendor. He eventually had to join a travelling circus touring on the continent and exhibit himself as a freak to try to earn a living.
He was eventually rescued by the sugeon, Mr Treves and removed to the London hospital where he lived the rest of his short life. The film ‘The Elephant Man’ starring John Hurt, gives a rare insight into Joseph’s character showing him to be a man of considerable intellect and courage.
‘Legends -1’ contains a song about the life of Joseph Merrick:-
The Miller of Bradgate Park
In 1786, the coming of age of the future 6th Earl of Stamford was celebrated at Bradgate Park by a bonfire on the highest point of the patk, in a hill which was already known as ‘Old John’ on a map of 1754. There had been a windmill on the site in the 1740s. It may have been a post mil, the oldest windmill design, in which the complete mill and its machinery rest on a single post, so that it can turn, with the sails, to face the wind. No trace remains of the mill.
The well known legend of Old John is that, at the celebratory bonfire, a central pole in the bonfire burnt through and fell, killing the popular (but possibly drunk?) miller, who has become associated with the name ‘Old John’. To commemorte the old miller, and his weakness for booze, the story goes that a hunting tower was built shaped like a beer mug. The truth is more confusing. Estate records record that Old John was built in the autumn of 1784, two years before the bonfire, with additions some years later. The ‘handle’ would also appear to be a later addition.
So there are doubts about the story, but it is a good story and worthy of the celebration in song on ‘Legends -1’:-
From the Leics and Rutland Record offfice: ‘
George ‘Muggy’ Measures was born in 1833, one of six children. He earnt a living as a baker, and could usually be spotted selling his wares in the Cheapside area of Leicester. Walking around with his tray full of warm, tasty buns hanging from his shoulders he was a much loved character, his cry of “Muggy’s buns, four ‘a penny!” a familiar sound to hungry locals. He would also regularly walk to the village of Sileby (a round trip of about 14 miles!) to sell his wares, the village children delighting in the visit from ‘the Bun Man’! George passed away in 1901, but his memory certainly lives on. We had numerous people comment on how their grandparents told them stories of Muggy, and we have quite a few photographs of him in our archives- he was a popular subject for the city’s photographers! He even has his own Facebook page!
‘Legends -3’ will feature a guest appearance from Kenny Wilson singing the song her wrote about Muggy – here it is on YouTube sung by Mick Smith and Steve Cartwright:-
And the Bandcamp audio track:-
Rasselas was freed from slavery by the Palmer family of Wanlip Hall. He was closely associated with William Wilberforce and the abolition movement. He may have had a romance with the daughter of the Palmer family, but died of unknown causes when just 19. Rasselas was a name often given at the time to feed slaves.
His short life is commemorated in a song on ‘Legends – 2’ :-
“Swift Nick” Nevinson
At 4am on a summer’s morning in 1696, John Nevison robbed a traveller at Gad’s Hill in Kent near Rochester. In order to establish an alibi he decided to ride to York, a journey of well over 200 miles, thereby placing himself well out of the threat of any suspicion.
He rode through Chelmsford, Cambridge, and Huntingdon, picked up the Great North Road and rode onto York where he met the mayor playing bowls. So that the nayor would remember him, he placed a bet on the game. At his trial, the mayor was called and Nevinson escaped justice on the basis that he was in York on the day specified and could not have been in Rochester. (Incidently, this episode is wrongly credited to a fellow highwayman, Dick Turpin who appeared on the scene in 1705.)
He was also committed to Leicester gaol for a series of robberies and this time he escaped justice by feigning the plague. An artist and a doctor attended him and the artist painted the tell tale signs of the plague upon his person. The doctor then anaesthetised him for a couple of hours and the gaoler, fearing contagion, released him for burial and he escaped. Nevinson was popular with Charles ll but it is alleged that he was aware of some secret that would have questioned Charles ll’s legitimacy to the throne of England. He therefore fell from grace and he was executed at York castle in May 1684 hoping to the very end that the King would intervene and pardon him.
The story of ‘Swift Nick’ is told on ‘Legends- 1’ :-
Offa ruled the kingdom of Mercia during the latter half of the 8th century AD, when that kingdom reached the zenith of its power in Anglo-Saxon England. He extended the borders of the kingdom by defeating his fellow monarchs in battle so that the kingdom covered a vast area well outside of the Midlands area.
He was able to deal on equal terms with the great emperor Charlemagne who was his contemporary. He is, of course most famously remembered for ‘Offa’s Dyke’, which was probably intended as some kind of barrier against incursions by the Welsh tribes, but he also introduced the silver penny into circulation.
Offa is the subject of a song on Legends-3:-
John Reynolds (‘Captain Pouch’)
In 1607, during the reign of James l, the villages of Newton (Northants) and Cotesbach (Leics) staged a rebellion against the enclosure of common land in their villages for sheep farming. This was a bit of a knock-on effect from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 as the catholic Tresham family were fined heavily for their involvement. Lord Tresham decided to try to recoup his losses through enclosing his land for profitable sheep farming, ignoring the villagers’ common rights.
This led to a rebellion involving a number of villages, the leading figure being a John Reynolds – ‘Captain Pouch’, who maintained in messianic fashion that the contents of his pouch would protect the rebels from all harm. Several of the rebels were cut down by Lord Montague, acting on the King’s instruction, and the leaders were hanged, drawn and quartered. Captain Pouch was among those and it was found that the contents of his pouch was just a piece of mouldy cheese.
The revolt was also significant in that it would seem to be the first time that the terms ‘Levellers’ and ‘Diggers’ were heard in England.
The events of 1607 are remembered in a song on ‘Legends -2’ :-
King Richard lll
Richard, who probably needs no introduction, was King of England from 1483-1485 and he was the last King of the House of York. He was defeated by Henry Tudor’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22nd 1485. The Battle effectively ended the Wars of the Roses and also the Plantaganet dynasty. Thus began the reign of the Tudors.
When his brother, Edward lV died, Richard became Protector to his brother’s children, particularly his sons, Edward and Richard. However, Richard declared his brother’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, thereby denying Edward V (due to be crowned on 22nd June 1483) and his brother their legitimacy to the throne of England. There is much speculation regarding their disappearance and untimely end. Richard was crowned on 6th July 1483.
Two tracks on ‘Legends-1’ deal with this episode of local history:-
He also appears on ‘Legends – 2’ :-
Francis ‘Tanky’ Smith joined the new Leicester Borough Police Force soon after it was created in 1836 beginning as a police constable, but soon established a reputation for smartness and thoroughness. By 1853 he had risen to the rank of Inspector.
Tanky and his colleague ‘Black Tommy’ Haines did a lot to clean up the town which had become notorious as a den of crime and violence. He was a master of disguise and would dress up as anything from a a Quaker to a jockey, and would often slip incognito into inns and taverns.
He once traced the path of a missing member of the Winstanley family to Koblenz on the Rhine, where unfortunatly he learned that the poor man had drowned, but he was able to restore the body to the family.
He became rich and bought a plot of land on London Road where he built 4 houses later called ‘Top Hat Terrace’. When he retired from the police he gained a reputation as a private detective.
He was called ‘Tanky’ because he carried a blackthorn stick which he could use as a weapon – hitting people over the head before arresting them was often called ‘tanking’.
There is now a song about Tanky Smith on “Legends-3”:-
John William ‘Tubby’ Stephens was on record, at the start of the 20th century as being England’s heaviest policemen at 24st 3lb.
His cheery disposition made him very popular and he is rumoured to have inspired the famous song ‘The Laughing Policeman’ .
He was born in South Africa and had joined the army in 1879 in the artillery, fighting in the Zulu War and joining the police force when he left in 1886. His most common location was directing traffic at the Clock Tower.
When he died in 1908 it took 8 burly policemen to carry his coffin and a downstairs window had to be removed to extract the coffin. An estimated 10,000 people turned out to pay their last respects.
There is a song to commemorate Tanky on ‘Legends – 1’:-
In an age where billionaire businessmen are giving themselves a bad name, Vichai stood out like a beacon of light. He purchased Leicester City Football Club in 2010 and renamed the stadium after his duty free business in Thailand ‘King Power’. Vichai was a Buddhist and a strong believer in ‘karma’ and it was not long before this began to work at the club with promotioons from League 1 and the Championship and a ‘great escape’ to Premier League survival in 2015. Incredibly Leicester City won the Premier League title in 2016 having defied the bookies odds of 5000/1. They followed this up with reaching the semi-final of the Champions League the following season.
With all his success Vichai was keen to stress the ethos of Leicester as a ‘family club’ and always expressed his gratitude to the fans for their support of the team, donating generously to local charities. He was such a contrast to the many club owners who seem remote and unconcerned about the fans.
Ex-Arsenal striker and pundit, Ian Wright, described Vichai as the ‘benchmark’ of what a club owner should be. The whole of the city was in shock when he was tragically killed along with the helicopter pilot and his girlfriend and members of Vichai’s staff in October 2018. Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt (‘Top’) is, at this time, continuing his father’s legacy and the ‘karma’ is still good.
There is a tribute to Kun Vichai on the ‘Legends -2’ CD:-
Dick Turpin lived for a time in Fenny Drayton on the outskirts of Leicestershire.
It is alleged that he kept his horse, Black Bess, at the Cock Inn, Sibson on what is now the A444 to Burton-on-Trent. He is probably the most famous and romanticised highwayman of them all but he, in fact, committed several murders, robberies and rapes in his short life and the accolade of being a sort of Robin Hood (robbing the rich to help the poor) runs counter to the real events. As already noted, the ride from Rochester to York was actually undertaken by ‘Swift Nick’ (William Nevison) although it is in the annals of folklore as being undertaken by Turpin.
‘The Ballad of Dick Turpin appears on ‘Legends -1’ :-
Susanna Watts found herself in reduced circumstances when her father died, having to move from the former family home at Dannet’s Hall. She was forced to earn a living by writing which was very hard when it was not the done thing for a woman to do this. She produced the first guide to Leicester in 1804 but was forced to do this anonymously. She also did translations to and from Italian.
She also worked with Elizabeth Heyrick in her campaign against slavery, taking on the politicians and also the anti-slavery campaigners like Wilberforce, who she thought were making too many compromises.
She co-operated with Elizabeth with the organisation of a sugar boycott to support the campaign.
There is a song about Susannah Watts on “Legends-3”:-
Jamie Vardy was originally told that his small stature would mean that he would never become a top footballer, and he took up work in a factory in his home town of Sheffield, just playing at weekends. He played for Stocksbridge Steels, and then Fleetwood Town where he caught the eye of scouts from Leicester City and their then manger, Nigel Pearson. He was bought for the incredibly low price of £1 million in what many thought was a huge gamble.
He went on to become a top striker in the ‘great escape’ season and in the 2016 season when Leicester lifted the Premier League trophy. He scored in 11 consecutive Premier League games setting one of many records that he was to hold. He won the ‘Golden Boot’ title in the 2019/20 season.
He is now recognised as one of the greatest players ever to wear the Leicester City shirt.
There is a song about Jamie Vardy on Legends-3:-