The covers are off! £200,000 works on 15th Century Magazine Gateway are completed by city council


A six-month project to carry out much-needed repairs and restoration work at one of Leicester’s finest medieval buildings, that sits as a dramatic landmark entrance to the De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) campus, has been completed.

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The Magazine Gateway with the covers off, taken at the weekend

The 15th century Magazine Gateway, that stands at the top of Magazine Square adjacent to DMU’s Hugh Aston Building, has undergone a series of works including repointing and repairs to stonework, drainage improvements and removal of vegetation and accumulated bird droppings.

The £200,000 programme of work, which began in October 2020, was done in conjunction with Historic England, who in 2019 produced a detailed condition report on the building.

It means the scaffolding and covers are finally off the historic city landmark which generations of DMU staff and students know as a gateway to campus.

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The Magazine as it looks today at the city centre entrance to DMU

Dating from around 1400, the Magazine is an important landmark and was originally the main gateway of a much bigger walled enclosure, which enabled access to the historic part of the DMU campus, along The Newarke.

In its time the building has served as accommodation, a prison, a military building, gunpowder store and regimental museum, and even stood adjacent to a bus depot, although it is now only opened to the public on special occasions organised by Leicester Museum Service.

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The Magazine Gateway in the 1960s looking towards the city with a bus depot where the Hugh Aston stands. Newarke Houses museum is on the left

It is a Grade I-listed building and a Scheduled Monument.

Leicester Deputy City Mayor for Environment and Transportation, Coun Adam Clarke, is also the city’s heritage champion.

He said: “The damage caused by hundreds of years-worth of weather, pollution and general wear and tear meant this work needed to be carried out to safeguard the future of what is one of the finest medieval buildings in Leicester.

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The Magazine once stood as a traffic island in the ring road

“It has involved repairing or replacing parts of the stonework, and in some places repointing the stonework using mortar that is made of similar material to that used originally back in the 15th century.

“The project has also given us the chance to get up close and investigate it further while that work is underway, to determine what other remedial work might be needed in future.

“It has been careful and painstaking work, but it is vital to ensure future generations will be able to enjoy this important historical landmark.”

A spokesman for DMU said: “It is great news that the City Council has invested in repairs to this magnificent and historic building”.

The gateway was originally constructed as a monumental entrance from Leicester's south suburb into the religious precinct of the College of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, popularly known as ‘The Newarke’ (New Work). It was built to impress visitors and house the porter’s lodge and guest rooms.

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An aerial view of the Magazine (left) and DMU (right) in the early 1970s

The gateway is built of local sandstone, and has three floors. The large and small arches would have allowed separate vehicle and pedestrian access into the Newarke, whilst the ground floor room would have been the lodge for the porter and his family.

After the Newarke was demolished in 1548, the gateway had many other uses. In the late 16th century it was used to hold Catholics, imprisoned for their religious beliefs during the reign of Elizabeth I. Two, John Lowdham and Edmund Smith, both left messages on the walls that are still visible today.

In the 17th century the gateway was used to store arms and munitions during the English Civil War. Later, it was part of a militia barracks, and it was also used as a World War I recruiting station.

In 1967-68 the Magazine Gateway was saved from demolition during construction of the Newarke Underpass but left as an island in the middle of the road. In 2007, the underpass was filled in, returning the gateway to its original street-side position and sits as a dramatic entrance to De Montfort University’s city-centre campus.

Posted on Monday 26th April 2021

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