Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, with a history going back 2000 years. The city of Leicester was first known as Ratae Coritanorum and was inhabited by the Corieltauvi tribe. The Corieltauvi were a Celtic tribe and Leicester was the capital of a territory of what is now known as the East Midlands.
The Roman city of Ratae Corieltauvorum was founded around AD 50 as a military settlement upon the Fosse Way Roman road. After the military departure, Ratae Corieltauvorum grew into an important trading and one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. The remains of the baths of Roman Leicester can be seen at the Jewry Wall and other Roman artefacts are displayed in the Jewry Wall Museum adjacent to the site.
Leicester’s history goes back to the Iron Age. The original inhabitants, the Corieltauvi tribe, gave their name to the settlement of the conquering Romans, Ratae Corieltauvorum which prospered as a trading centre on the Fosse Way. Evidence of the Roman past can still be found in the modern city. There are numerous mosaics gathered in the Jewry Wall Museum, built alongside a Roman wall and baths.
The Romans left in the fifth century but by the end of the ninth, Leicester was under Danish occupation. Street names provide a clue - Church Gate and Gallowtree Gate derive from gata, the Danish word for road.
Leicester city centre
The next cultural influence on the city came from the Normans who began work on a castle which must have dominated the 322 dwellings recorded in the Domesday Book. The castle motte still remains and Norman architecture can still be viewed at the neighbouring Church of Saint Mary de Castro, where, in the middle ages, Geoffrey Chaucer was married and the young King Henry VI was knighted.
There are other remains of mediaeval Leicester in the castle area too. The Turret Gateway is the most spectacular and marked the increasing importance of the city. The founder of the English parliament, Simon De Montfort came from here and has given his name to the city's concert hall and one of the universities. His likeness adorns the city's most famous landmark, the Clock Tower. Parliament was held in Leicester three times in the fifteenth century and it was here that Richard III spent the last night before his death at nearby Bosworth Battlefield. He is commemorated by a statue in Castle Gardens and a plaque at Bow Bridge, and the battle of Bosworth is re-enacted each summer by enthusiasts.
Richard was succeeded by the Tudor dynasty and Leicester has links with one of its most famous characters; Cardinal Wolsey who died in Leicester Abbey. The site of his memorial can be found in Abbey Park.
The Guildhall near Leicester Cathedral dates from the fourteenth century and by 1500 it was being used as the Town Hall.
It reflects the wealth and power of merchants like Roger Wygston who built the nearby house which is now a museum of costume. Wygston's huge fortune came from the wool trade and textile production which was to be the foundation of Leicester's prosperity over the next centuries. By 1714 there were five hundred knitting frames in use in the city and by the middle of the century communications had improved so much that you could reach London in only a day by coach. It now takes seventy minutes by train.
Many of Leicester's landmarks were established in the eighteenth century - New Walk, the canal, The Royal Infirmary - but it was the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century that had the greatest impact on the city. In one hundred years the population exploded from 17,000 to 200,000 and the city boundaries were pushed outwards. By 1900 four railways went through Leicester - the Great Northern, the Great Central, the Midland and the Leicester-Swannington Railway.
Hundreds of factories sprang up like the riverside Pex building soon to be converted as part of the major City Challenge regeneration project to the west of the city centre. The city's status was also marked by impressive civic buildings like the Town Hall with its square and fountain and opulent private constructions such as the Grand Hotel on Granby Street.
The profits from knitwear, hosiery and footwear manufacture were large enough for Leicester to be considered, in the 1930's, one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. One has only to drive around the Victorian and Edwardian suburbs of Stoneygate and Knighton to see how some of that money was spent.
During the Second World War, Leicester escaped much of the devastation suffered by neighbours like Coventry, allowing the gradual evolution of its fabric to continue without wholesale reconstruction. The boom years continued in the fifties and sixties, with workers being attracted from Commonwealth countries and the local economy was given a further boost with the arrival in the early 1970's of Asian families from East Africa. They brought industrial and commercial skills and the capital to set up new businesses.
Today there is a thriving Asian community which adds an extra dimension to the city's cultural heritage. The most striking architectural example is perhaps the beautiful marble carvings of the Jain Centre on Oxford Street, the only centre of its kind in the Western World.
A combination of Asian business acumen and Leicester's traditional commercial adaptability has helped the city through the difficult times of the 1980s. The textile industries have lost many jobs and the city might have lost its confidence, but instead it has developed new areas of expertise and emerged with a fresh vision for the twenty-first century.
Leicester though the lens
Leicester in the UK Google Map
Leicester Satellite Map