Artist turns the clock back over 600 years and explores medieval Harborough

The historical and architectural illustrator has dug into a whole seam of local historic, archive and archaeological material and sources to embark on an intrepid tour of Market Harborough deep in the Middle Ages

Pete Urmston has dug into a whole seam of local historic, archive and archaeological material and sources to embark on an intrepid tour of Market Harborough deep in the Middle Ages.
Pete Urmston has dug into a whole seam of local historic, archive and archaeological material and sources to embark on an intrepid tour of Market Harborough deep in the Middle Ages.

Fancy turning the clock back over 600 years and exploring medieval Market Harborough?

Pete Urmston has done just that as he’s taken an eye-opening trip through the town in the summer of 1400.

The historical and architectural illustrator has dug into a whole seam of local historic, archive and archaeological material and sources to embark on an intrepid tour of Market Harborough deep in the Middle Ages.

And you can join Pete, 63, on his thought-provoking ramble around the town as he takes us back over six centuries in time in his new booklet.

“It’s been a lockdown project really – and I’ve loved it.

“I’ve been meaning to do it for some time but never been able to find the time,” said Pete, of Market Harborough.

“It’s taken me about 18 months to write and illustrate my new booklet.

“And it’s been a genuine labour of love.

“I want to bring the Market Harborough of 1400 and its people back to life – and to give people some insight into what it was like to be alive then.”

He said the town was still feeling the devastating impact of the Black Death or bubonic plague – which killed up to 45 per cent of England’s population in the 14th century.

“The plague killed so many people that there was a shortage of labour and manpower.

“So the peasant was starting to assert his power,” said Pete.

“I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to live in those far-off days.

“There were no antibiotics, no vaccinations, no anaesthetics.

“And, of course, you couldn’t just pop down to the doctor’s, dentist’s or local hospital – because there weren’t any.

“There was very little law and order either, people had to defend themselves and often took matters into their own hands,” stressed Pete.

“We have no concept of the sheer amount of hard labour that people had to put in to survive.

“They had to work incredibly hard in the fields – although the soil around here wasn’t very good.

“Every year families relied on the harvest to eat and to live.

“And if that failed through bad weather or what ever then they starved.

“Life was brutal with a high rate of infant mortality.

“If you survived childhood you had a fair chance of making it to your mid-40s,” added Pete.

“But 1400 was also a time of exciting change and Market Harborough, although it was poor, was becoming more entrepreneurial as our town’s market flourished.

“Most people would have worked out in the fields and it would have been weirdly silent compared to today with no cars, trains, aircraft or TV and radio.

“There was very little colour around and it would have been a brown and grey world – especially in the dark cold winters.

“The tower of St Dionysius Church on our High Street was built between 1300 and 1330 so that stood proudly there then.

“People would have lived in thatched tents – and often had an animal, a cow or pig, living in with them.

Religion was a lot stronger then that it is now with many more people going to church,” said Pete.

“But life was full of pain and hardship and there is no way that I’d have wanted to live in Market Harborough in those tough far-off days!

“Despite all of our usual daily challenges there has never been a better time to live than today.

“And I want to stress as well that we cannot judge the people of those times or of any other age by the standards and beliefs of today.”

You can snap up a copy of Pete’s intriguing and fascinating trek around Market Harborough in the summer of 1400 at Quinns Bookshop on Three Crowns Yard off the High Street and Harborough Museum bookshop in the Symington Building on Adam and Eve Street.

This little treasure, ideal for the local history buff’s Christmas stocking, costs £7.99.