A LOCALS GUIDE TO HISTORIC LEICESTER
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Welcome and thankyou for joining me on a historical guide around the Roman city of Leicester from the viewpoint of a local. My name is Bejal but you can call me Be and Yep, this one’s personal and aims to show you my perspective of the city that I was born and bred and am proud to call home. A city steeped in history, culture and heritage with a past literally fit for a king. Hold tight folks, for it’s time to throw away any misconceptions you ever had or heard about a Roman town once known as Ratae Corieltauvorum in the province of Brittania.
Leicester was the first Roman town and has been said to have been an important crossing along the Fosse Way. The Fosse Way was a major Roman road, which linked Lincoln to the North East of England with Exeter in the South West of England. Leicester City over the years has had many archaeological excavation projects including the artefacts found under the local shopping centre, The Highcross and The Jury Wall Museum.
THE JURY WALL
The Jewry Wall, Leicester, is one of the largest remaining Roman masonry structures in Britain and the only element of the Roman town of Ratae Coritanorum to be standing to this day. The wall was built around 160 AD and formed the entrance to the public baths. It later became the guarding wall of the Church of St Nicholas, which is located adjacent to the wall.
156-140 St Nicholas Walk Leicester LE1 4LB
ST NICHOLAS CHURCH
The oldest place of worship in Leicester, St Nicholas church dates back to the Saxon period. Walking around the churchyard you will see examples of Roman columns and Saxon brickwork. It is now a Serbian community church.
Leicester LE1 4LB
You can read more about English Heritage Sites in Leicester and the UK below
Find out more about English Heritage Properties in the UK & Membership
Probably my most favourite parts of Leicester are from this age and include the King Richard III story and the old streets around the medieval part of Leicester such as GreyFriars Friary, Leicester cathedral and The Guildhall. It was around the time of the Domesday book, 1068 when Leicester was thought to have had a population of between 1500 and 2000.
Situated in Leicester’s old town, Leicester Cathedral dedicated to a Roman Officer who became a Bishop in the 4th century and later a saint. The Church is one of six to be mentioned in the Doomsday book and was constructed mainly in Victorian times. The Church became Leicester Cathedral in 1927.
Today the remains of the Plantagenet King, Richard III are buried in a single slab of Swaledale fossil stone weighing in at three tonnes.
It’s free to visit the tomb and is open all year round however donations are advisable.
2 Peacock Lane Leicester LE1 5FQ
Located in the centre of the city, Leicester Castle is thought to be Britain’s oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain known as the Great Hall. Original timber posts date back to the 12th century.
If you’ve heard of The ‘Green Bicycle Murder’ trial in 1919, the Great Hall in Leicester Castle housed the criminal court for this.
7 Castle View, Leicester LE1 5WH
ST MARY DE CASTRO CHURCH
The church located in the heart of medieval Leicester and in the grounds of Leicester Castle, it was a place of great importance and wealth and it is thought that Richard III’s father Richard Duke of York was knighted here and Richard III himself attended mass at St Mary de Castro. The church was founded by the first Earl of Leicester, Robert de Beaumont and if you’re a fan of the Canterbury tales, it is thought Geoffrey Chaucer was married here.
Castle View Leicester LE1 5WH
The Guildhall is undoubtedly Leicester’s oldest civic building, dating back to the medieval times and served as the city’s first town hall. Today it has been given Grade I status and is one of Leicester’s most iconic buildings, holding craft fairs, weddings and can be visited by all. Do note the beautiful wooden panelling in the Mayor’s parlour.
Guildhall Lane Leicester LE1 5FQ
A beautiful space to relax in the middle of the city close to the Grand Union canal surrounded by the Great Hall of Leicester Castle and the Castle Motte, which can still be accessed via a staircase in the gardens.
20 The Newarke Leicester LE2 7BY
This is Leicester’s oldest house and houses timber dating back to 1490! The house used to be a costume museum for many years, which has now been turned into a bar and restaurant and still retains original features.
THE HIGH CROSS
The Jubilee Square area used to be the heart of Medieval Leicester and is marked by a pillar known as the High Cross. Now only one pillar remains however there were originally eight of these.
Jubilee Square Leicester LE1 5LB
TRINITY HOSPITAL & CHAPEL
Back in 1330, the hospital was founded by the Henry Plantagenet, the third Earl of Leicester and Lancaster. Behind Trinity House is what I call the secret herb garden where plants and herbs were grown for medicinal purposes to be consumed by patients. The building is now owned by De Montfort University and the chapel can be visited by the public.
50 Western Blvd, Leicester LE2 7BU
The 15th century gateway was used during the reign of Elizabeth I for imprisoning Catholics in the building based on their religious beliefs. The name magazine is because munitions were stored in the building in the 17th century, during the English Civil war. It is now classified a Grade I listed building.
Newarke Street Leicester LE1
THE CITY ROOMS
This building built in 1800 was intended to be the city’s first hotel as it is located on Hotel Street. There is a stunning ballroom on the first floor where myself and Dr C hosted our civil wedding ceremony and is also used for banquets, balls, meetings and auctions. The City Rooms were once also a house for Barristers. Thankfully it is now used as a venue and hosts a very small boutique hotel.
Hotel Street, Leicester LE1 5AW
Leicester has many fine examples to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria, not just architecture but a very special lady, that Leicester folk hold very dear to them…
THE CLOCK TOWER
This iconic City Centre landmark was built to control traffic congestion and was the first traffic island in Britain. It was built in 1868 on the city’s former hay and straw market. The clock Tower is a memorial to four of Leicester’s benefactors, which have been carved from stone and feature on the tower itself, Simon De Montfort, William Wigston, Sir Thomas White and Alderman Gabriel Newton.
3 East Gates, Leicester LE1 5YA
LEICESTER RAILWAY STATION
The original station known as Leicester Campbell Street Station, was built in 1840 and Thomas Cook organised his first railway excursions from the station a year later in 1841. His statue still stands outside the station complex. The station was named London Road Railway station in later years and the ‘Arrivals’ and ‘Departure’ arches were built to accommodate horse drawn cabs in Victorian times
This is the local lady that I call a hero! She was the leader of the Suffragette movement in Leicester until her death in 1940. A statue of her was erected in 2018 to commemorate her efforts to give women the the one human right to vote and be considered as equals to men. She also worked at Equity shoes, a Leicester based shoes firm. Alice’s grand-daughters remember so vividly their grandmother saying to them, ‘You must use your vote, we suffered for it’.
Market Place Leicester LE1 5GG
TOWN HALL SQUARE
The Town Hall Square, once held the headquarters for the Borough Police Headquarters and to this day there are police cells in the basement. Now days it houses the Lord Mayors office and the Leicester Register Office, in front of which, you will see many a photoshoot outside in the lion fountain gardens.
7-9 Every Street Leicester LE1 6AG
Now a long stretch of conservation walkway, this was once called ‘Queen’s Walk’ after Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. It once led to the horse racecourse, which has now been replaced by Victoria Park in 1882. During the Victorian times, the public baths on New Walk were fed by a fresh water spring that is said to have been 90 feet below the surface.
New Walk Leicester
LEICESTER PRISON (CITY GAOL)
Leicester Prison opened in 1828 and was designed by county Surveyor, William Parsons to resemble a castle. It is worth a visit to see the castle-like turret structure, which has been well-maintained externally over the years.
116 Welford Road Leicester LE2 7AJ
THE CULTURAL QUARTER
Aptly named as this is Leicester’s hub for culture and the arts. The world renowned Curve Theatre is located here, as well as the LCB depot, Makers Yard, Pheonix theatre and many more small art and design start-up companies, as well as being home to yours truly of course!
In my opinion, Leicester’s answer to the Flat iron building in New York, is a Grade II listed building situated in the very swanky Cultural Quarter in Leicester City Centre. It was built in 1888 by Stockdale Harrison of Leicester. Today it houses a couple of bars and hair salon on the ground floor and apartments on the other levels.
50 Rutland Street Leicester LE1 1RD
This building was built in 1897 to mark the jubilee of Queen Victoria and is Grade II listed featuring Baroque styling. After being used for several purposes over the years, it’s now home to the The Queen Victoria Arts Club, a restaurant and bar, which also has a private members club.
41 Rutland Street Leicester LE1 1RD
THE PFISTER & VOGEL WAREHOUSE
The building was constructed in 1923 as a leather warehouse and offices for the American based Pfister & Vogel. The four storey building has recently undergone a £1.2 million award winning restoration and is now home to some exclusive serviced apartments.
78-80 Rutland Street Leicester LE1 1SS
ST GEORGES CHURCH
This beautiful church accessed through the gates in the middle of Orton Square had undergone restoration inside and in its grounds of the churchyard. It is now a Serbian community church but worth a peek through it’s tree lined entrance.
21 Queen Street Leicester LE1 1QD
Built in the golden age of Hollywood, 1938, the art-deco style is quite the iconic architectural statement in the city. It started life as an Odeon cinema designed by Harry Weedon and its main auditorium could comfortably seat 2000 people. It actually hosted the European premiere of local man, Sir Richard Attenborough’s biopic of Charlie Chaplin. Today it is named Athena and is a banqueting hall and events venue and has also hosted the like of Dionne Warwick
Queen Street Leicester LE1 1QD
This Grade II listed building was once considered one of the finest warehouses in the country and contributed to making Leicester the second richest city in Europe during the 1930s. There are two elephant heads carved on Alexandra House and represent ‘Jumbo’ bootlace brand, which is known globally. The factory was damaged during World War II. My dad actually worked at this factory known as The Faire Bros (founded by Watkin-Lewis Faire in 1890) when he first came to the UK.
47 Rutland Street Leicester LE1 1SS
Another Grade II listed building, which used to be a warehouse and used during the rag trade years and features some of my favourite doorways and gates in Leicester.
OTHER HISTORIC AREAS OF INTEREST
The city’s local market is known to be over 700 years old and has a long history of hosting political rallies and public events around the Corn Exchange at it’s heart. It was even mentioned by Elizabeth 1 in a 1589 Royal Charter. Nowadays its one of Europe’s largest covered markets selling local fresh produce. In fact, Gary Linekar worked on his parents stall here and my family bought a lot of their veg when I was a child from his parents stall!
Market Place, Leicester LE1 5GG
Read more on Leicester Market below:
ABBEY PARK & RUINS
Abbey Park was known as Abbey of St Mary de Pratis, which translates to Abbey of St Mary of the Meadows. The red brick wall ruins, which are still present in the park are a reminder that this Abbey was once one of the wealthiest in the country. It is also famously known as the resting place of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey.
Abbey Park Road Leicester LE4 5AQ
THE GOLDEN MILE
The Golden Mile also known as Belgrave and Melton Road runs along the line of an ancient Roman road linking Leicester to Lincoln. The areas history is that of being a hub for manufacturing of footwear, knitwear and heavy machinery and played a great role in the Industrial revolution. Today, The Golden Mile is famously known for Indian fashion, spice bazaars, jewellery shops and of course for hosting the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India.
Belgrave Road Leicester LE4 5AT
Once a medieval deer park, Bradgate Park also houses Bradgate House, once the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey in the early 1500’s and beyond. Today it’s a 30 minutes drive out of Leicester city and a popular spot for walks and picnics in a vast area of bracken filled land. Many deer can still be seen in remote areas of the park along with the occasional peacock.
Main Park Entrance at Newtown Linford Car Park Leicestershire LE6 OHB
KING RICHARD III VISITOR CENTRE
Across the road from Leicester Cathedral is the King Richard III Visitor Centre. Learn all about the last Plantagenet king of Leicester and how he came to his grisly death at The Battle Bosworth in 1485. It’s quite an interactive experience and a great day out for children. You can also see where they dug out the Kings remains from Greyfriars Friary as this area has been preserved under a glass floor.
They also have all the details about his re internment on the Streets of Leicester and Leicester Cathedral, which I was lucky to be a part of and witness first hand back in March 2015.
4A St Martins Leicester LE1 5DB
NEW WALK MUSEUM
Designed in 1836 by Joseph Hansom, inventor of the horse-drawn cab. One of my favourite museums in Leicester since I was a child, is located on New Walk and has been running for over 170 years with artefacts of art, history and science. This was the museum that inspired the local boy, Sir David Attenborough to pursue his love of nature and the outdoors.
Today it houses impressive collections of the minerals of Leicestershire, a Cetiosaur (Cetisaurus Oxoniensis, one of the most complete sauropod skeletons of the world) found in Rutland and a Plesiosaur from Barrow upon Soar as well as art collections and many Egyptian artefacts.
53 New Walk Leicester LE1 7EA
This Grade II listed building, dates back to six hundred years and incorporates the Museum of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment. It’s made up of two historic houses and tells the story of the regiment as well as contemporary Leicester. Some of the displays here includes a cinema experience, toys from the Tudor times and a children’s play area.
20 The Newarke Leicester LE2 7BY
ABBEY PUMPING STATION
Opened in 1891 pumping sewage from Leicester to Beaumont leys treatment centre. It was called ‘City Farms’ when it was first built to disguise its real job as a sewage farm for Leicester. Its building was prompted by the Public Health Act of 1884. Abbey pumping station is the only engine house in the world where you can see four working examples of the Woolf compound rotative beam engine contained in one building.
Corporation Road Leicester LE4 5PX
Well thankyou folks for joining me on this whistle stop tour around the historic sights of Leicester. If you wish to find out more on this city oozing in heritage please head over to https://www.storyofleicester.info/
Tell me, have you ever visited Leicester? How do you feel about your home town?