12 August 2019

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Let us hope that you never have an argument over the last parking space and get buried under a car park, because loosely speaking that is what happened to King Richard III. In the words of Joni Mitchell, "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot". He may not have argued over the last parking space, but it was an argument (called the Battle of Bosworth) over land he wanted (namely the kingdom of England) and he did end up buried under a car park in Leicester. Not the greatest way to end up, although now he has been excavated and given a resting place in Leicester Cathedral worthy of a King, albeit an unpopular one.

Richard III no longer under a car park

I have just spent four days this week in Leicester with my bestest friends in the whole world reliving the sights and sounds of a Leicester we first encountered 50 years ago. We met in the autumn of 1969 as fresh 18-year-olds away from home for the first time. My parents had taken me and my belongings up to Leicester and had just left for their return to London, leaving me there in my allocated Hall of Residence.  I was feeling pretty bereft, when I bumped into the girl from the room next door who was equally abandoned. We teamed up to go into supper together that evening and the rest is history. She was studying French and I was studying German. She also went on to make friends with another girl also studying French and the three of us became the intrepid Musketeers, whose lives intertwined for fifty years afterwards through boyfriends, marriages, children and life. We've stayed in touch as best we can and, although we live a good many miles apart - one in Hertfordshire, one in Sussex and me in London, we try to visit one another or meet in London as often as life allows.  As it was fifty years since we first met, I did not feel we could let this go uncelebrated so this  week we booked into a hotel in the town to revisit old haunts, albeit it with creaking joints and less of the elan of youth.

Some things had changed. Some things hadn't. The university campus largely looked the same with a few new buildings added on - a Computer Centre for a start (I don't think the university even boasted one computer back in 1969). It also now has a Medical School built on after we left. We caused some merriment (or maybe it was pity) when everyone we encountered was told we had been students there 50 years ago. We searched for the famous paternoster lifts we used to hop on and off to discover they had been decommissioned last year. Such a shame as I wanted to hurl myself into one of the compartments and ride up and across the top as the video shows. 

Much of the town was familiar, although we spotted building facades we swear weren't there 50 years ago, but must have been as they were Victorian or older. There were dragons all over the place (or heraldic wyverns, as we discovered they are called), that are symbolic of Leicester and found on weather vanes, carved into walls or decorating 
the fountain in the Town Hall square.

Wyverns in Town Hall Square

Some things looked like we had never left, although our memories let us down on how to get from A to B on many an occasion. The Richard III centre was of course new and well worth the visit documenting both the history, the man, the discovery of his whereabouts and the excavation.

Our hotel was situated on New Walk - a pedestrianised street which led us all the way into the town centre each day. It was lined with beautiful Georgian or Queen Anne houses that must have many a story to tell. The original gas street lamps are still there, although now electrified.

New Walk - a delightful way to get into the town centre

Complete with original gas lamps

The most poignant moment of our visit came when we revisited our old Hall of Residence. It is no longer a Hall but has been turned into a Conference Centre. With trepidation, we entered the site, imagining all sorts of ghastly changes, but found it much the same. We even managed to get inside the block where we had our rooms, although the rooms (more like cells) had been knocked into one another to make them larger and allow for en suite bathrooms, something we never had the luxury of. We went into the old Junior Common Room to find it was now a coffee bar, but had some old photos in picture frames on the walls of how it had once looked and how we had remembered it. We were part of its history!  This spiral staircase is still there - a cause of joy for us, as that is where one of us singed our hair holding a candle to provide light for the other two sitting on the step below playing guitars to a crowd below.


Anonymous said...

So pleased you enjoyed your visit Addy.

Not quite the "lost city" as described by the late Terry Wogan.

Willy Wombat

Linda said...

How great to stay in touch with friends for that long. The history is already populated, you get to be yourself, do some catching up and enjoy the memories.

Jim Simmonds said...

I was up the road at Warwick a few years after you but didn’t keep that network of friends that you have. Sounds great keeping in touch for so many years and your photos make Leicester look more inviting than I remember from the few times I visited. Must try visiting again.
Lovely post.

Flowerpot said...

What a brilliant thing to do! And well done for keeping in touch with your friends for so long - that's amazing. X

Yorkshire Pudding said...

How lovely to return with two women whose university years paralleled your own - but perhaps a little melancholy too. We can never truly go back in time. The past is another country.