As I am focusing my project on architecture in Leicester, I felt that it would be appropriate to do some research in the history of Leicester and see why certain decisions were made and have continued to be made through the production of modern architectural elements in the city. I have looked at a range of websites and books to ensure that my research is correct. I found it interesting to learn more about Leicester even though I’ve lived here my whole life as it opens to my eyes to what people went through in the past.
History of Leicester:
“Leicester is an ancient Iron Age settlement that was held as a high status tribal centre near the east bank of the River Soar just over 2,000 years ago. It quickly turned into a significant capital city at the time of the Roman Conquest of Britain around AD43. Through the centuries the city’s population grew, exploding with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s.
Much of the Leicester was re-built and old buildings swept away for new terraced houses built to accommodate the workers, which gave rise to a strong community spirit in many areas of the city.
After World War II more new communities came to Leicester, from Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent. Today Leicester is one of the most diverse cities to live in and is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK in terms of population.”
Industrial history of Leicester:
From the early 19th century to the end of the 20th century, Leicester had a big industrial sector being engineering, hosiery (in many forms) and footwear. A lot (or most) of the companies from then have since gone out of business and been taken over by other brands.
Although industry hasn’t left Leicester completely, it isn’t what it used to be. This has left a lot of buildings which have industrial history, with some needing to be repurposed for things such as restaurants, offices, bars and flats.
The Victorian era involved constructing new buildings as well as pulling old ones down. This is the reason that there isn’t much if any industrial history of Leicester that goes before the 19th century. There were only a couple of buildings which were refurbished but a majority of the others were repurposed into offices and residential units. Some have even been made into artist galleries and studios. Larger buildings were turned into temples, gurdwaras, mosques and madrassas as the culture and diversity in Leicester grew.
A lot of the factories were based in the city centre in the past. After World war 2, companies started to move into more industrial areas outside of the city centre. The former Imperial Typewriters building on East Park Road is a good example of an industrial building that is still used for making things. Nowadays the building is split into smaller industrial units.
As there were so many different industries in Leicester, there was work for both men and women which increased its popularity. There was a lot of information about poor working conditions that people faced. The introduction of paid holidays, pensions and shorter working days led to a better work life. The factories being in operation meant that there was a lot of sound and smell, pollution increased and sirens were rang to announce the start/end of shifts.
From the mid-19th century, housing was built to accommodate the workers from outside the city and communities of people who lived in terraced housing near places of work formed. These communities were self-contained and comprised houses, schools, shops, religious buildings, factories and parks.Though work offered people the chance to earn money, it also allowed them to build a social life through social clubs and events.
Today, there are still a small amount of hosiery companies in Leicester but certainly not as much as there used to be. Factories are based in areas outside of the city centre and a lot of old factories are serving new purposes.
Examples of popular buildings in Leicester:
The architecture in Leicester has a variety of styles and is very diverse. The city grew in popularity during the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 which is why there is a lot of Victorian architecture in the city. A lot of the buildings original purposes have since changed and are used for different things as the city and people living here have developed.
Some well known buildings in Leicester:
This building was made in 1894 after the death of Thomas Cook. It was intended to be an office building and was built in the Victorian style.
This building was designed in 1877 by Edward Burgess. It was originally the Wyggeston Girls school, later becoming a part of Charles Keene College and now is the Headquarters of the Age of Concern of Leicester. This Victorian style building has a lot of historical importance and is under the protection of the local government.
This is another building which has a lot of historical importance and is protected by the local government. The Secular Hall was designed in 1881 by W. Larner Sugden for residence of one of the oldest societies in the UK which was founded in 1851.
This hotel was built from 1897 to 1898 by Amos Hall and Cecil Ogden. At the time this had a reputation as one of the most stylish hotels in Leicester. In recent years it has lost its uniqueness but is still considered a good hotel.
Joseph Goddard designed this Venetian Gothic style building which was built in 1874. A lot of detail was added to the facade including stained glass windows and small statues. The building is known for having a lot of detail on the inside.
Leicester Town Hall is located in the City centre of Leicester which contains an impressive fountain. The town hall was built on the former cattle market between 1874 and 1876 in the Queen Anne Style by Francis Hames.
The City Rooms is a Georgian building constructed in 1800. It would have become Leicester’s first hotel but was not completed and the building was sold in 1799 with £3,300 still needed to complete it, and opened as the Leicester Assembly Rooms in 1800. In 1817 it was adapted to become the Judges Lodgings when it passed into the hands of the County Justices, then becoming known as the County Rooms. When it passed into the ownership of Leicester City Council it was renamed again, to The City Rooms. The building has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.
HM Prison Leicester was designed by William Parsons to resemble a castle. The oldest part dates from 1825, and it was opened in 1828. The gatehouse including the adjoining building to north and south and the perimeter wall are grade II listed. In 2001 Leicester hit headlines as a “failing prison” and David Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, declared that it should be shut down.
The Church Building Act of 1818 provided funds for two new Leicester parishes, one of which was Holy Trinity. The church was built in 1838 in accordance with classical design as the city expanded, and formed part of a new suburb. In 1872, Holy Trinity was completely redesigned in a High Gothic style, with spire and side turrets in red-purple brick with limestone decoration. . A significant building project was undertaken in the late 1980s, and there is now a single balcony at the rear of the church.
I found this journal in the library which went into detail about how migration in Leicester’s history has affected its architecture and the ways it is viewed by others in society. I found this read very interesting as it is something I haven’t thought much about before and it allowed me to get a better understanding of the place I live.
“The current multicultural nature of the town is one of the elements that have gradually contributed to redefining its urban landscape, enriching the lexicon of shapes forms and signs of a built environment traditionally associated with its industries and manufacturing plants. Two main events have been crucial for the development of this process: the first one was the arrival, in the 50s of the Caribbean population from Antigua and Jamaica. the second was the migratory phenomenon of the late 1960s and early 70s which involved Asian families fleeing from Kenya Uganda and Malawi. in the following years diversity and openness progressively became a distinctive sign of the city image often defined as one of the capitals of Asia and Britain by local stakeholders.”
I found it interesting to see the ways that there were clear differences between the architecture of each picture, even if they were quite subtle. The different businesses and restaurants demonstrate how there is a lot of different ethnicities in Leicester which will impact upon the different types of architecture needed.
These statistics made it clear as to why there are a range of different religious buildings in Leicester, a lot of different needs had to be met to ensure everyone was happy.
As I read more about migration and the history of Leicester, it made sense as to why certain areas of Leicester such as Narborough Road and Belgrave Gate are filled with people of similar religions and ethnicities. The different amounts of churches and mosques are all impacted by the amount of people with those religions living near them. These areas also had a lot of specific shops and restaurants suited to their religion or lifestyle including Sari shops and jewellers which made Leicester well known for it’s inclusivity and Belgrave Gate was named ‘the Golden Mile.’
“The consequence of this process of adaptation is evident in the coloured building facades in shop signs and in the architectural elements used to redefine their language of old houses or former industrial buildings.” This shows the impact of these communities making changes yet it allowed those buildings to have a better purpose.
Diwali became the biggest celebration outside of India in Leicester with people coming to last door purely for the two week celebrations. All these elements all the reasons why Leicester has been branded as a multicultural city. Although a lot of the buildings have changed, they have still retained some of their original characteristics.
Narborough road is another place which has a diverse amount of cultures which is “evident in the shop signs, bright and vivacious and often in contrast to one another which generates a peculiar landscape at the street levels in which brands and logos are proportion to the dimension of the retail unit. the same diversity of language is present outside can be found in the different informal arrangement of the interior and the outside area characterised by household products foods and second hand items often displayed in the internal part of the sidewalk.”
“The highest representation of countries of birth amongst the landlords includes the UK, India, and Turkey, although European, African and Middle Eastern countries are also present. As in the other parts of the city, long-established retailers are the migrants from Uganda, Malawi and Kenya who fled from the “Africanisation” policies of eastern African countries.”
Why I decided to research the architectural history of Leicester:
Although I researched the general history of architectural styles and how it has changed, as my project is focused on Leicester I felt that the architectural history of Leicester was important for me to understand. Although I have grown up in Leicester, and my grandparents did, I have heard lots of stories about it from their experiences which has allowed me to envision what it was like. Seeing how Leicester has developed is very interesting as it explains the reasons for the building of certain historical buildings which have been in Leicester longer than I’ve been alive. I also find it interesting to see how the fact Leicester was an industrial city in the past led to the construction of housing and flats for factory workers. Without the history and how things have changed, Leicester wouldn’t look like it does today. I also felt it was relevant to look into the cultural side of Leicester and how that rapidly developed over the years. Without all this history, my project would look very different than it does now and I love seeing how things have changed and finding the reasons for these changes in the first place.