In the late 15th century, Leicester still retained most of its original Roman walls, which were built of strongly mortared granite and about 2.5m thick. Archaeological evidence suggests partial destruction of the town defences after the rebellion of 1173 and sections of the wall seem to have been pulled down or ‘slighted’, but were later rebuilt. Suburbs existed outside of the walls to the north, east and south, with the River Soar to the west.
Although the walls were in poor repair by Richard’s day with numerous breaches as stone was carried away to be reused, there remained only five routes into the city. The North, South and East Gates each had a small bridge across the moat which surrounded the walls, while the West Gate provided access across the Soar via the West Bridge and the Bow Bridge. The town could also be entered through the walled religious precinct of the Newarke, which was joined to the Castle precinct by the small Turret Gateway.
The North Gate led to Leicester Abbey and beyond to Nottingham and York. Richard would have entered the town through this gate on 20 August 1485, first passing through the North Suburb (largely occupied by dyers and fullers) and then proceeding along the High Street (now Highcross Street) to the Blue Boar Inn. His journey to Bosworth and his posthumous return would both have been through the West Gate and across the river.
After several days of public display in the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, within the Newarke, Richard’s final journey to his grave in Greyfriars would probably have been by the most direct route: out through the Newarke Gateway (still standing, now called the Magazine) and back into the town through the South Gate.
The last parts of the town walls were finally removed in the late 16th century. Blue plaques now mark the locations of the four town gates.