Tales of Britain

By Jem Roberts

The finest, funniest stories of England, Scotland & Wales, refreshed for the 21st century. By Brother Bernard, as told to Jem Roberts.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

The Wild King of Leicester

A wild Folklore Thursday to you all!

We are heading north from Londinium for this year's Scottish TOB show at the Edinburgh Fringe, this Saturday at 5pm! We have absolutely no permission to perform folktales in the park, so come along and see if Brother Bernard gets arrested! And guess where we've stopped off...?

Where else could we choose to stop awhile than Caer Leir, the City founded by the WILD MAN Leir, Iron Age chieftain and rubbish father to three daughters? Did these grey and miserable urban streets once reverberate to the howls and cries of one of Britain's greatest pre-Roman rulers? Were these car parks the original wild wnd windy heaths where the naked deposed King wandered...? Go with it.

This is the bit where we admit once again that we haven't personally visited every single one of the 77 story locations in our book, and Leicester is a very different bit of England to our usual stamping ground, so this was a first visit! And we have an apology to make to Leicestrians everywhere...

As the video above may suggest, we had mixed feelings about the city at first. We're actually here also to research the next book, FAB FOOLS at the Joe Orton collection at the University of Leicester Library (and were very pleased that the librarian recalled our Cerys Matthews BBC 6music appearance from March when we mentioned Tales of Britain!), and the bit of the city we encountered from the University to the Jewry Wall reminded us of Coventry in its concrete horror. Add to that a hot and sticky day, many miles of yomping and nothing to eat, and you get a rather moody video out of it. Indeed, you could almost call Brother Bernard a WILD MAN after all that. Wild with hunger and wild with heat and surrounded by unhappy faces.

This here is the River Soar, under whose banks Queen Cordelia was said to have buried her father all those years ago. But back then the river would not have been the carefully controlled canal-like tributary we see here, it would surely have stretched widely, all the way up to the site where the Romans would decide to build their bathhouses, circa 200AD... now known as 'The Jewry Wall'.

It's tragic to see a site like Leicester's Jewry Wall so unloved, locked up, graffiti-scarred and abandoned – it said 'until further notice', but clearly it had been abandoned for a considerable time. Admittedly the discovery of Richard III's remains about a third of a mile away must have meant a considerable diversion of funds, but the legendary site of the Temple of Janus which housed the bones of King Leir is surely ten times' more exciting? As it is, surrounded by a dowdy grey office building, our much-imagined journey to this ancient site was extremely disappointing, having promised in our book that it would be a hair-raising place to visit for Shakespeare fans, and lovers of Roman and Pre-Roman history alike. 

But then, a little like the Coventry ruins which do their best to make up for the hideousness of the rest of the city, I discovered more of 'the crumbly bits' not far from the River Soar, and felt rather bad for the earlier grumpiness, Leicester is definitely worth the visit when you see this place, not to mention the brand new Richard III centre! Admittedly, there were plenty of really quite dazed youths wandering around and much detritus around the castle remains, and it was anything but a fluffy, cosy place to hang out, but I'm sure when Leir established the city, he wasn't to know that it would become a sprawling urban centre like this. If you approach the city from the Cathedral side, it’s a particularly handsome place – it just goes to show how different a place can seem depending on how you discover it, and I feel very silly for moaning before I had fully explored.

Some in the local community are clearly doing their best to make up for the urban decay here in the park where once Leicester Castle stood, they even have this glorious storytelling maypole! I suppose it's too late to take back all that bad-mouthing of the modern city and beg for Brother Bernard to do a show there some day...? Ah well, we've shot the video now. No doubt too late.

HOWL HOWL HOWL HOWL! As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods... and so on.

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