Rewording housing

Rewording housing

In this article I suggest that we should stop talking about ‘housing and starting using ‘homeing’ to describe how people live.

Housing. A word everyone uses. A familiar word. An everyday word. So familiar that we rarely stop to think about what it means. We all know what ‘housing’ is. But do we? Is it the right word for the modern world? The world of twenty-first century Britain.

My definition of housing is: accommodation in which people live. That does it for me. People live in accommodation, of various kinds. For a lot of people that means living in houses; but for an increasing number of people it does not. We all live in homes; some of those homes we make in houses. From that point of view, the whole idea is very simple. The problem I have with the word ‘housing’ is that it implies houses; living in properties that we think of as being houses. In fact, people live in all kinds of residential structures and units. Blocks of flats, caravans, boats, converted windmills, mobile homes, prefabs… there is a wide variety of things in which people have made their homes.

The word housing, to me, also implies status, ownership and tenure. Let’s stop, and  think what is known:

The property market is splitting Britain into two classes: Those rich enough to own their own homes, often outright; and those under 35, who pay twice the percentage of their incomes to rent in the private market. The split is new. Ten years ago, a majority of people under 35 owned homes, according to government data. Now, a majority under 35 rent. In fact, half of all renters in the UK are under 35.

Those are the words of journalist Jim Edwards, writing in The Guardian on 7th May this year. He talks about the ‘property market’ which is understandable and I have used to same term myself; it’s the collective known for man-made structures. Interesting to see his choice of words – that people who own their own homes are ‘rich.’ Not my choice of word. Wealthy or better-off perhaps, but rich? Behind the figures he refers to is the belief that rent forms a very high percentage of disposable incomes – for a lot of people.

More people than ever before are renting apartments from private landlords. In England we often call these ‘flats.’ Tenants tend to pay for a flat to live in on a monthly basis. A key datum is the ratio between rent and income; for some people, their rent takes up a high percentage of their monthly income.

‘…the average rental cost across the UK taking up 41 per cent of take-home pay, according to online letting agent Rentify.’

Reports the website This is money, in September 2015. Regional variations across the UK shows that the proportion of income swallowed up by rent varies between a third and a half. The proportion varies according to age group and to type of property; single people living in one-bedroom flats can pay a higher percentage and have to foot the rent bill alone.

There are an estimated 4.3 million tenants in the private rental market. Added to that there are people who live in what is called the ‘social’ market where their accommodation is owned by either the local authority or by a housing association.

For a high proportion of people the private rented sector is the default choice. These are people who cannot afford to buy their own houses. Statistics such as these obscure the diversity of the populating renting homes. Some of them are students. Some of them are transient migrants. Some of them are contractors who know they will need to move on after a few months. Some of them are young people who need to leave home and set up in a place of their own. A growing number of retired people are leaving their family houses and down-sizing to smaller units of accommodation but cannot obtained a mortgage because of their age.

The groups that concern me the most are those aged 25 to 35 who cannot afford a mortgage and older people, over retirement age, who cannot afford to keep a family home going just for themselves.

Figures like these get to the crux of the issue. People don’t live in houses any more. What people live in is a mixed economy of residential properties. This economy includes what has blandly become known as ‘social housing.’ I rejected this phrase when I said “All housing is social housing.” What I meant by that is that providing people with homes to live in is always a social function; not merely a commercial one. The distinction between private and social sectors is as artificial as it is obfuscation. Having a home to live in a social right and a social need. We don’t need to differentiate between the status of the property – by distinguishing between types of owners. A home is a home – who ever owns it and however they provide it to its occupants. If people live in it, then it is their home.

Almost half the adult in Britain these days live in rented apartments. And yet the government and politicians keep on talking about housing. Journalists keeping writing about the ‘housing crisis.’ We like to use words with which we are familiar; we like to think that familiar words will be understood by everyone.

The problem with the familiar word ‘housing’ is that it fixes our ideas; it formats our thinking in a certain way. It inhibits policymakers from thinking outside the box of everyday speech. We need to think differently about residential accommodation. The problem is: what word do we use that is short enough for everyday speech which means what we current mean by ‘housing’ but which does not just mean houses? Even in 2017, the kind of professionals who should know better, still see the private rented sector and its supply of apartments, as catering for temporary need. Just like the legislators of the 1980s did. But it’s not about short-term tenancies and temporary arrangements; it’s about permanent homes.

According to the website of lpcliving, in 2017,  just over half (51%) of private renters are under 35 years of age and 54% have no dependents, and so are unlikely to get social housing. Newspapers continue to wax lyrical about the increase in house prices – as though it was actually a good thing! In fact rising house prices is a two-edged sword – good for some but a disaster for others.

If we are to change the way that policies are made – about living accommodation – then the words used in those policies will have to change. The people who most need to start changing their choice of words, are politicians. They need to stop talking about housing as though it means only houses.

People in government, who control our lives, either limit or expand the choices we have available to us, permit or deny access to the resources we need to live ordered lives; they need to talk differently, change their dialogue, revise their mantras, re-gear their codes – about living. What people want these days are choices. They want to be able to choose where they live, what kind of property they live in, how they get access to that property, what they have to pay for it and how long it remains theirs to live in. They want to choose; to decide for themselves. They do not want to have choices forced on them by market circumstances.

People in government, policymakers, builders, landlords, local authorities – everyone needs to change the way they think about residential accommodation. The world is changing and our minds have to change to keep up with reality. In 1988 people talked about renting as being temporary. How times have changed! In the twenty-first century a large proportion of the British population has abandoned any hope of ever getting on the ladder of housing ownership. Renting a residential property is now the default for a substantial proportion of adults. This is why the law now needs to be updated. Politicians will be better able to deal with the current crisis in the provision of homes if they stop talking about ‘housing.’

More importantly, we must stop seeing the solution to the current crisis as lying with building. We cannot build our way out of this problem. Increasing the supply of newly built houses is not the way; too many people who need better homes simply cannot afford to buy them.

The sooner we stop talking about housing the sooner will be able to see solutions to the present problems. So what word should be using? It might be a neologism but my suggestion is to use the word ‘homeing’ – the supply of residential accommodation for people to live in. That changes the emphasis away from the type of property to the one things that all types have in common – being a home.

What people want is homes to live in; if they cannot afford to live in houses then they have to accept alternatives. If we start talking about homeing people then we can begin to think freely about the crisis that confronts us.

Trevor Locke, 12th May 2017.

Art Education

The History of Art Education in Leicester

by Trevor Locke
This article was first published in Arts in Leicester magazine in 2013.

The history of what we now know as De Montfort University revolves around art. It was in 1870 that the first students attended classes in a disused warehouse in Pocklingtons Walk. Neither they nor their tutors could have imaged the institution of today – one of the most prestigious centres of learning in the country with its campus of award winning architectural splendours. In the same year, the Reverend James Went began to teach a series of technical classes at the nearby Wyggeston Boys School. Demand for lessons was so high that the Leicester School of Technology was founded in 1882.
Funds were raised to construct a new building and The Hawthorn Building came into existence in 1897, this being extended in 1909 and a new west wing being added in 1927. A £4 million refurbishment was completed in the year 2000. The first headmaster of the Leicester School of Art, Wilmot Pilsbury (1840-1908.) He was a noted landscape artist who arrived in Leicester in 1870. Pilsbury studied at the South Kensington Schools and at the Birmingham School of Art and was headmaster of the school from 1870 to 1880.
By the 1930s, the schools had been renamed the Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology.

City crest over a doorway at De Montfort University.

The Leicester Pageant

Art students helped to create a fabulous event held in 1932 – The Pageant of Leicester. It was a celebration of the city’s history that saw a large procession snaking its way through the streets. Costumes were made to depict key scenes from the past up to the opening of Abbey Park in 1882.

Participants dressed as Roman Soldiers through to Victorians and an Ox Roast was held. The event lasted from 16th to 25th June. even Stephenson’s Rocket made an appearance. Decorated floats advertised local industries.

A silent, black and white film exists of the Pageant, which can be viewed over the Internet on the University of Leicester website My Leicestershire History.

This remarkable piece of archive film and reveals a great deal that is of interest from Leicester in the 1930s. It was a substantial event involving a large cast of characters dressed in period costumes. The film shows the Roman Army, complete with a large number of live horses, a battle with the Vikings and the visit by Cardinal Wolsey, whose memorial can still be seen in Abbey Park. There are also scenes showing the Ox Roast and those showing the procession of motorised vehicles and some horse drawn floats through the streets, one of which was entered by the Leicester Hosiery Union. It was a bright sunny day and large crowds had lined the roadside to see it.
From the Crusades to the Wars of the Roses, the Pageant marked the landmark events of the history of Leicester. The various scenes were filmed in the grounds of Abbey Park and later in Leicester as the parade went past.

DMU is now homes to a number of specialist centres. One of these is the Institute of Creative Technologies. Launched in 2006, the Institute has initiated hundreds of collaborative research projects.
Working across the whole of the University and across many disciplines, its main concern is with the practice, theory and history of creative technologies. These include creative computing, interactive arts and media and networks and collaboration. Of particular interest is the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre. Activities here are concerned with a range of artistic creation focused on innovative application of new technologies to music. There is an active agenda to do with electroacoustic music studies and sonic arts.

Music, Technology and Innovation Research Center.

The Institute of Creative Technologies

Boots and shoes

There was a time when Leicester was an important centre for the boot and shoe industries. Boot and shoe makers began to increase from about 1793, driven by the needs for foot ware for the army. In 1835 Thomas Crick and J. Dilkes entered the shoe trade in Leicester and became large-scale manufacturers. Stead & Simpson became well known in the shoe trade from the 1850s. By 1934 the firm had 186 retail shops in the British Isles. The shoe industry grew steadily throughout late Victorian times and into the middle of the twentieth century.
See Foot ware Manufacture (McKinley Ed.)

At its height, the Leicester boot and shoe industry manufactured more goods than were produced anywhere else in Britain.
By 1900, the firm had over 300 shops. The rapid development of shoemaking and distribution in Leicester attracted a variety of associated trades, so that Leicester became the main source of production of shoe machinery and materials. David Holmes has lived in Leicester since 1960 and spent all his working life in the boot and shoe industry, working for the British United Shoe Machinery Company. David Holmes (University of Leicester) has undertaken research into the development of Leicester’s shoe industry.

Lace making

Whilst the making of lace has never been a large segment of Leicester’s manufacturing economy, it has played a significant part in the life of the city and its outlying towns such as Loughborough. The East Midlands became a centre for textile production in the late eighteenth century. It has been argued that lace making was introduced into this country by the Flemands or Huguenots.

Education and the economy

As Linda Butt’s account reveals, the history of development of Art Education needs to be seen in the content of the various industries and trades that have been dominant in Leicester. Whilst there has always been education in fine art, courses have also been a conduit for employment and skills, channelling people into the local factories and manufacturers.

The early days of art education in Leicester

This article is based on an Interview we did with Linda Butt, the Archivist of De Montfort University, made on 5th April 2012. The pieces in [square brackets] have been included by the Editor, based on separate research.

The School of Art opened for lessons in 1870. The development before that was quite long. They had been trying to get an institute going for about ten years before that. It kicked off with the Mechanics Institute. As was the case in so many of the industrial cities, efforts had been made to get an art school going until finally various philanthropists in the city got involved. Plans were put in place and preparations were made throughout 1869; in April 1870 the first classes were held, at a disused warehouse in Pocklingtons Walk. I don’t know the precise location of that building.

The history of art education went back before that at a national level. The Great Exhibition of 1851 kicked off the interest in good design in industry, The London School of Art (or school of design), had started in the 1750s, somewhat as a result of the European Tours that great people undertook. They were bringing back influences from Europe – from painting sculpture and architecture – and thought that Britain needed to start its own cultural efforts in that direction. In London the School of Design became the Royal College of Art (founded in 1837.)

[The RCA was founded in 1837 as the Government School of Design. In 1853, it became the National Art Training School with the Female School of Art in separate buildings, and, in 1896, it received the name Royal College of Art. During the 19th century, it was often referred to as the South Kensington Schools. See Richard Burchett, an early Headmaster, for more details on this period. After 130 years in operation, the Royal College of Art was granted its Royal Charter in 1967, which gave it the status of an independent university with the power to grant its own degrees.]

It always had an emphasis on design and applied rather than fine art. The Schools of art in the regional cities, were also set up primarily for design and there was a lot of pedantic teaching for shading, for drawing, from life or still life. The ultimate goal was to feed designers and artists in to industry, to whatever industry that city was supporting. In Leicester it was textiles, shoes, printing – Leicester was a very big centre for printing. They needed the kind of draughtsmen skills that could be taught at an institution.

So in 1870, the first classes were centred around art of various kinds. In the 1880s there were technical classes, starting at what was then the Wyggestons Boys School, organised by the Reverend James Went. Those carried on there and were augmented by the various engineering and draughtsmanship courses.

The Hawthorne building at De Montfort University

In 1890 the Hawthorn Building was built – although, at that time, is was known as the Leicester School of Art – it was named Hawthorn some time later. The building derives its name from John H. Hawthorn, the first headmaster of the newly established technical school. The technical classes then joined the art classes which had moved from Pocklingtons Walk up to a building that was on the side of the current New Walk Museum building, which was started as a school begun by non-conformists for their children. The art classes went into a wing on the side.

When the Hawthorn building opened in 1897, everything came on to our current site. The classes expanded to take in a lot more vocational education – architecture, building, food trades, textiles – art was very central to what was done and still is. The vocational courses that we teach now in textiles, shoe design, graphic design, interior design, still pull very much on that core of applied art.

A very good modern example of that would be the shoe that was designed for Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge. That is so close to the original purpose of this establishment. You can see the link between 1870 to 2012.

Early courses were qualified. They were validated by the South Kensington body which was tied to the Victoria and Albert Museum, when the whole of arts and technology education was based in South Kensington. I believe that a lot of the examination papers were sent down there to be marked. Prizes were awarded from that body and the various standards were decided by that body. Our courses always have been externally validated and nationally accredited.

Initially it was thought that part time courses would be better for people who were already in employment, or who had other commitments, although there were always full time courses available, a lot of courses at that time where in the evening or at the weekends, when working people could come.

The tutors on those courses were highly qualified people. The first headmaster was Wilmot Pilsbury who was a very talented water colourist. He specialised in landscape painting and particularly that which included water. He got the school up and running and off the ground.

Benjamin Fletcher was another pivotal character and Principal of the school from 1900 to 1920, had been and still was a very able artist. When Augustus Spencer was appointed headmaster here he brought Fletcher along with him as a teacher. So Fletcher began his career here in 1888, taking up the principalship in 1900. Fletcher was an able artist and designer and also a noted pedagogue, who wrote pamphlets on how art should be taught. He was very influenced by the arts and crafts movement. He was a great friend of William Lethaby (1857 – 1931) and was close friends with Harry Peach who set up the Dryad business. That started by making cane furniture but widened out to arts and crafts in general. At that time the two of them were very influential in furniture design and tied up with the arts and crafts movement. Fletcher was pivotal to art teaching within the institution.

Some of the milestones in the development of art education?

I think it is difficult to give artistic milestones. The education that was offered and is offered, was built, very much in those early days, around the needs of local industry. The institution of course has changed out of all recognition, in that we went from being The College of Art of Technology, to being Leicester Polytechnic, and then to becoming De Montfort University. The training in art history and fine art has always been there. What has been added on have been specific courses, in graphic design, interior design which are now strong courses, and are leading directly into industry, which is really what we are here for.

They now run very much in the way that they always have. The Institution has changed around the courses, rather than the courses having changed around the institution. So there are very strong threads, of fine art, of history of art, of applied arts, of various kinds. These have continued through the changes in the institution, and are continuing now.

We are still training artists and designers, to go out into industry, into fashion, in to architecture, into shoe design, interior design, graphic design, which of course are the new names for printing, dress making, all the things that we did back in the early days. The Scraptoft campus offered teacher training and health studies, and youth studies, and dance. Community dance developed there, one of the earliest in the country, that has been continued now here, and links very closely with the Foundation for Community Dance. Performing arts were at Scraptoft but Fine and Applied arts were always here on the City Campus. Performing arts are still very strong. The departments have branched out into media studies, theatre and film studies. All of the new media have been incorporated into that.

Music and computer gaming

We are also now strengthening our teaching into computer gaming, which is a new strand of art education, so the new technologies have been brought in. Music forms a part of performing arts, particularly cutting edge modern music in that we have the links with Gavin Briers, that kind of very forward looking minimalist music, which was carried on there and that links with the American minimalist music.
That has actually branched out now, and seems to be basing itself again in the Baltic countries. There are composers in the Baltic countries, who have taken on that minimalist aspects of music, and there is some phenomenal work coming out of there. People like Arvo Part is a slightly different aspect of it but the strands are still there.
Scraptoft was linked into that and that is being continued here on the City Campus within the Institute of Creative Technology, which is pioneering electronic forms of music. We have the link with the Curve Theatre. We are training students go into theatre.

Our Theatre Studies students do productions at Curve, they are looking at modern play writes, and producing extremely good theatre. We are becoming increasingly known for music technology.
DMU Institute of Creative Technologies | DMU Music, Technology and innovation research centre.

Shoes and fabrics, dresses and corsets

We began teaching dress making, tailoring and shoe design, from quite early days when the college came into the Hawthorn building in the late 1800s. That would have been for people who were already in the trade, who wanted to learn that kind of skill. Dress making, tailoring was taught as a formal subject. There were also general craft classes, where embroidery would have been done, certain types of lace were made, competitions were held to design lace. Lace making was taught to women from Ireland so that they could augment their family income.

I don’t know what kind of lace that was, but there are mentions in the Annual Report – that prizes were given to students for their designs. Unfortunately we don’t have those designs now. The dress making courses fed into the city industries, as did tailoring.

In 1946 we began corsetry classes which fed into what we now call ‘contour fashion’. As rationing came to an end, after the second world war, the materials for that kind of garment started to become available. The college decided that that was a good area to go into and to get into an an early stage. That has always been one of our most successful courses, within the textiles area. We are still the only full time degree course in the country in Contour Fashion.

Shoe design was done from quite early days, but in various guises. In the early days it would have been called ‘cobbling trades’. After the end of the second world war when soldiers were de-mobbed, and needed a trade, we held classes, to teach those soldiers, how to make and repair shoes, so they could then go into civilian life with a trade.
Our most recent success is the student who designed a pair of shoes for the Duchess of Cambridge on the recent Royal visit. That is really coming full circle from 1870 when we started teaching designers and artists to feed into city industries, we are still doing this now.

Lace making

Lace making was particularly interesting. I found a photograph that was taken in the 1930s, of a women’s craft class. Most of them are doing embroidery; some of the women are working on large embroidery frames, so I would assume they are working on quite complex pieces.

One girl, right at the front of the class, is working on a bobbin lace pillow. The photograph is quite clear but not clear enough for me to see what kind of lace she is making but she seems to be using East Midlands Bobbins with a continental pillow. Quite how that combination came about I am not certain. I am not sure what kind of lace was made then, East Midlands-type laces had not at that time been developed.

There is a large collection of East Midlands Bobbins in the Museum and I do know that there was bobbin lace making in Leicester as early as 1610.

I wonder whether that girl in the photograph had brought her skills with her. If you look very carefully at the photograph, the girl sitting next to her, who is working at an embroidery frame, is wearing very antiquated clothing, that you would almost associate with peasant garments: a long skirt, hair in a coil round her head, shawl, and a frilly blouse. This does not look like the kind of garment that a 1930s girl here, would be wearing. It looks Eastern European.

Those two girls – if you look very closely at their features – I have a feeling they are sisters or possibly cousins. Now, if those two girls are related, and they have those skills, the centres of bobbin lace making (apart from England and Northern Europe) were in the region of what became Eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia. I do wonder whether those girls came out of Eastern Europe, prior to the outbreak of the second world war, brought their skills with them, and then were honing their skills in order to fit themselves for employment. It is just a surmise, because I have not had time to research the registers, but they look very much as if they might be of Eastern European extraction.

The Midlands would have been known in Eastern Europe as a centre for lace making at that time. Nottingham was machine lace, which is a very different discipline to hand made lace. The machines were developed in Nottingham because the technology was already there. There is no tradition of hand made lace in Nottingham – that resided in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and in Devon. Those were the centres of hand made lace.

Nottingham started to make machine lace because the skills and the factories and the know-how about to the build and maintain them was already there. Machines were then taken to Northern France, so the industry spread out but I am not aware of machine lace being produced in Eastern Europe.

There is some bobbin made lace in Leicester from 1610 and there is a notice (at that date) of money being given by a particular charity to a lace maker in Leicester to employ girls to make bobbin lace. Leicester was right on the very periphery of the hand made lace area but I do know that one of the Ellis family was a very competent lace maker and her collection of bobbins and lace appears to have formed the foundation of the collection within the museum. Agnes Ellis may have known some of the girls who trained here in the very early days. I am not aware of bobbin lace being taught as a separate subject here, which me think that the girl in the photo probably brought her skills with her rather than having learnt them here.

Published on 13th October 2015.

See also:

The history of music technology.




31st July 2015

Waterside Regeneration

set to move forward

AN AMBITIOUS vision for the multi-million pound regeneration of Leicester’s Waterside is set to be taken forward by the city council.

The Leicester Waterside Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), which will help guide development and investment in the 60-hectare area around the River Soar and Soar Island over the next ten to 15 years, is due to be formally adopted.

The adoption of the new guidance will mean that Leicester City Council can submit an outline planning application which, if approved, will pave the way for a first £9.5milllion phase of regeneration in the area.

This will focus on land to the west of the A50, between the Grand Union Canal and Friars Mill, and including Soar Island.

Funding available for the first phase includes £7.5milllion of Government cash from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) Local Growth Fund, and £2milllion of council capital set aside for the Leicester Economic Action Plan.

This will enable the city council to acquire land and property in the area and prepare sites for development.

The city council is also proposing two new office buildings – providing around 1,000sqm of accommodation – at Friars Mill. The disused 18th century mill complex on the banks of the River Soar is undergoing a £6.3milllion redevelopment to bring it back into use as a base for growing local businesses.

The council plans to construct the new office buildings to support regeneration in the area and the intention would be to sell or lease them – on commercial terms – on their completion. Subject to planning permission, work on the scheme could get underway in the autumn.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This marks an important next step in kick-starting the much-needed regeneration of Waterside.

“The area has suffered badly in recent decades, with the closure of key industries leaving many sites derelict, unused and ugly.

“The adoption of this new planning guidance, and the award of cash from the Government’s Local Growth Fund, will allow us to bring key development land into public ownership and set out the type of development we want to see in these areas.

“This will remove a great deal of risk for potential investors. It will also help us to find development partners that share our vision for Waterside as a thriving neighbourhood with great places to live and space for businesses to flourish.

“It’s our role to provide a catalyst for transformation of the area. The restoration of Friars Mill will stand as a beacon for regeneration in this area.

“Waterside has the potential to be the most exciting development opportunity in the East Midlands and is a major opportunity for the city’s growth.”

Once adopted as local planning policy, the Waterside SPD will help the city council encourage new development and attract further investment into the area and support bringing unused buildings or land back into use.

It will also set new guidelines for development in the area. This includes setting limits on the height of new buildings and types of new development, protecting the area’s heritage, green space and bio-diversity, improving the routes between the city centre and the riverside, and ensuring high standards of design in all new building.

A draft of the Waterside SPD was launched for public consultation earlier this year, giving members of the public, businesses and other stakeholders in the area a chance to comment on the proposals.

In total, around £20milllion of Government cash from the LLEP Local Growth Fund has been earmarked to kick-start the regeneration of Waterside.

A formal decision on the adoption of the Waterside SPD, the release of funding and the submission of related planning applications, is due to be made on Monday 10 August.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

See also:

More news about developments in Leicester

News just in

News about arts and heritage

A look at our sizable in-tray of press releases and announcements.

22nd January 2016

Moon Song at Curve

Leicester’s Curve theatre have partnered with Remploy to fund three performances of Bamboozle Theatre Company’s Moon Song, to be performed in its Studio at no cost to the audience on Mon 1 Feb. The intention behind these free performances is to offer assistance to young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who are making the often difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Moon Song is an enchanting, space themed Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) production telling the story of Megan, who falls asleep and dreams of travelling to the moon. This production is carefully designed to accommodate the wide range of abilities within the autistic spectrum, through Bamboozle’s trademark interactive style.

The performances are part of a series of activities hosted at Curve and leading up to the Local Offer Live event which takes place at Curve on Wed 3 Feb.

Curve’s Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, said:

“Following the success of our recent Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances of Oliver! our commitment to making theatre accessible to all is stronger than ever. We are thrilled to be working with Remploy to stage these performances of Bamboozle’s Moon Song for young people with SEND. It’s really important to us that Curve is renowned as a theatre where everyone can engage with the arts, and we look forward to welcoming special needs schools and SEND practitioners from across Leicester to these performances.

26th October


Organisers of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival are launching their search for the best Silver Stand Up Comedians. The Silver Stand Up Competition, organised in partnership with Silver Comedy and supported by Jasper Carrot, Arthur Smith and Sir Bruce Forsyth, will take place on Thursday 18th February as part of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival. Comedians aged over 55 are encouraged to enter for the chance to win the 2016 title. The deadline for the competition is Friday 8th January 2016 and further details are available by contacting
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival set up the competition in 2012 to provide a showcase for older comedians. The first competition was won by Shelley Bridgman who continues to gig regularly across the UK and has helped launch the BBC search for the best script that promotes a positive portrayal of transgender characters. The 2013 winner was Marc Lucero, who regularly gigs across London and has appeared on BBC Breakfast News. On winning the competition, Marc said “I want to change the perceptions people have of the elderly and by winning this award I have proved that humour transcends age. Now we need to convince audiences that silver comedy is just as edgy and exciting as seeing the young bucks. Winning the Silver Silver Stand Up Award also proves it is never too late to start a new career.” The 2014 competition was won by comedian Peter Callaghan, who recently returned from performing as part of Old Folks Telling Jokes at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in 2015 the competition was won by Ed de Cantor. Ed had given up performing stand up aged 40, thinking he was “too old”. On winning the competition in 2015, he said “I am completely over the moon. Winning this competition is a dream come true.”

17th September 2015

Proposals set to transform Leicester’s Market

LEICESTER’s outdoor market could be set for a stunning transformation if new proposals are given the go-ahead.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby is considering major investment in the 800 year-old market, to ensure it is fit for the future and to complement the ongoing redevelopment work in the area.

The improvements would follow the construction of a new public square on the site of the old indoor market, and the repaving of the roads surrounding it, but would take priority over an extension to the Corn Exchange building.

Initial proposals for the outdoor market are to give it a fresh new look, with improved stalls, better lighting and new signage.

The revamp could include changes to the roof to make it more transparent, and the installation of LED lighting, which would save energy and reduce costs.

Shoppers and traders will be consulted on the proposals as part of the detailed design process, and it’s expected that final designs will go to the City Mayor for approval early next year.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “It’s clear that the work we’ve already done at the market has made a huge difference, with the new food hall providing customers with the attractive shopping environment they want.

“The creation of a new public square and improvements to the roads and pavements around the market will really transform the area, but they will also highlight the poor quality of the outdoor market.

“I am therefore proposing that improvements to the market should take precedence over the Corn Exchange extension, which is something we could look at again in the future when we have seen how the new public square is being used.

“The market has been a significant feature of the city for hundreds of years, and we need to ensure it retains that position for many more years to come.”

Consultation on the proposals for the outdoor market will begin in the next few weeks.

Project manager Mike Dalzell said: “We have a lot of preparation work to do to move utilities and carry out necessary changes to the highways, but our aim is for construction of the new square to begin in the new year and finish by autumn 2016.”

The first phase of the market redevelopment was completed in May 2014, with the opening of the bright and airy new food hall.

The food hall has already won several awards, including Best Food Market from the National Markets Association (NABMA) and Best New Building from the Leicester Civic Society.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

28th August 2015

Everybody’s Reading

Everybody’s Reading- September 26th – October 4th

This annual festival is packed with over 140 events in 60 venues over nine days. Libraries around Leicester will be taking part, hosting numerous events – these include: local author Bali Rai will be at New Parks Library to talk about his passion for football and books; listen to scary stories and get creative with book illustration workshops at Fosse Library; at Beaumont Leys Library we have Toddler Tales with stories for younger library visitors all about Autumn Animals, and at Evington Library we have Under The Sea where fishy tales will come to life.  Watching the Detectives and John Martin (Leicester’s ‘Mr Crime’) are two of the events at Central and Hamilton Libraries for crime readers out there.

Booster Cushion Theatre for Children will also be at Fosse, Westcotes, Pork Pie and Brite Centre libraries with their show for young children and parents – Big Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

This year also sees the welcome return of BLAM!, our promotion of all things comic-related. The event at Central Library on Wednesday 30th September is a slight change to the one advertised in the brochure in that we are excited to be hosting a talk by comic-writer, Jamie Delano.

Jamie has written for 2000AD and DC Comics, as well as titles such as Dr Who, Captain Britain and Hellblazer. If you have an interest in comics, either as a reader or a writer then this event is for you.

For more events and details on how to book plus ticket prices pick up a festival guide or download it at

28th July 2015

New film about Children’s Comedy

Sceene from Kenton Hall's film A Dozen Summers
Scene from Kenton Hall’s film A Dozen Summers

Leicester’s writer and director Kenton Hall is behind a new film. As the website asks:

Are you 12 years old? Have you ever been 12 years old? Are you planning to be 12 years old at some point in the future? If so, then this is the film for you. “A Dozen Summers” is a comedy about what it’s really like to grow up in the 21st century. Get ready to enter the world of Maisie and Daisy McCormack, twin sisters who have just hijacked a children’s film in order to tell their own story. Or possibly one about a ghost girl who eats teachers. They haven’t decided yet.

See the website for A Dozen Summers

The film will be screened at Phoenix from 21st August

6th July 2015

Plans for riverside Development

PLANS for a major programme of work to improve access to Leicester’s riverside have been announced.

Leicester City Council has teamed up with the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to help enhance the river corridor through the city, as part of a wider programme of work to reduce flood risk.

The programme of improvements has been awarded up to £1.5million from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) Local Growth Fund, with £850,000 of this earmarked for a first phase of projects along the River Soar and Grand Union Canal due to begin over the next year.

The improvements are being match-funded by the Environment Agency, which has been awarded £33milllion of Government funding for a five-year programme of flood risk management in the city.

The Canal & River Trust has also allocated £500,000 towards the project, which will fund important maintenance, including ongoing dredging works, to help ensure the waterways are accessible, attractive and welcoming.

A new cycle link along the river between Loughborough Road and Thurcaston Road will be created, and plans are being drawn up to improve and extend the cycleway between the river and the Great Central Railway.

The Environment Agency will also undertake a five-year, £6million programme of flood relief in the Abbey Meadows area from next year. This will include culverts under Thurcaston Road and Loughborough Road, new cycle links, creation of new wetland and woodland areas, and other environmental improvements.

The Canal and River Trust will improve the existing towpath along the Grand Union Canal from the city centre to Watermead Park.

The programme also includes creating better access to the riverside at Sock Island, environmental improvements around Willow Brook, restoration of the old, redundant mill race at Frog Island, and new boat mooring alongside Friars Mill.

Read more about this

3rd July

Festival of Archaeology

Jewry Wall Museum will be hosting a series of special events as part of the city’s two-week Festival of Archaeology.

The museum will be helping to celebrate the city’s rich archaeological heritage with guided walks, talks, displays and family-friendly activities.

The 2015 Festival of Archaeology runs from 11-26 July, but kicks off with a preview event at the University of Leicester on Saturday (4 July). Staff from the city council’s museums service and volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum will be on hand at the event, offering activities including coin striking and marching drills with a Roman soldier.

On Sunday 12 July, visitors to Jewry Wall Museum can join in with a free ‘Romans and Barbarians’ day. It will include the chance to watch a Roman army on parade, see demonstrations of Roman arms and armour and strike your very own Roman coin.

There will also be craft activities, family games and an exciting finale to the event when a Barbarian warrior queen arrives on her war chariot to defy the might of Rome.

Daily from 12-26 July, the museum will run tours of Leicester’s Roman bath house, with replica objects to handle. Tours take place from 12-12.50pm each day.

On 18 July, at 2pm, there will be an illustrated talk and book-signing from Gareth Williams, curator at the British Museum, on the topic of Viking warfare in the light of new discoveries. Tickets are £5 and can be booked on 0116 225 4971.

And as a finale to the festival, the museum will host a Viking warfare day on Sunday 26 July. A full Viking encampment will be set up amidst the Roman ruins of Leicester, just as it might have looked in the 9th century, when these lands fell under Viking rule. Admission is £2 for adults, £1 for children.

Cllr Piara Singh Clair, assistant city mayor responsible for culture, heritage, leisure and sport, said: “I’m really pleased that our staff are able to work so closely with the dedicated volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum to put on so many great events for the Festival of Archaeology.

“These family-friendly events mean everyone can get involved in celebrating Leicester’s rich archaeological heritage.”

Find out more about the Festival of Archaeology 2015

Find out what to do at Leicester’s museums

1st July

St. Nicholas Circle gets revamp

improve pedestrian and cycling routes around Leicester’s St Nicholas Circle will enter its final phase next week.

The ambitious £1.7milllion scheme has already seen improvements completed on the south side of the busy junction. Wider pavements and a new cycleway have been constructed from Peacock Lane to St Augustine Road, where a lane of traffic has been removed.

A new cycle lane has also been created on the Southgates northbound slip road, and work to create a new entrance into the award-winning Castle Gardens is almost complete.

The project will now move on to the Jewry Wall side of St Nicholas Circle from Monday (6 July).

Existing footpaths will be widened and re-laid with high-quality block paving to create a joint-use footpath and cycleway. The number of traffic lanes will be unchanged on this side of the roundabout.
This stage of the project will also see the Harvey Walk footbridge, which spans the roundabout passing between the NCP car park and Holiday Inn, taken down. Work to create a new surface-level footpath in its place will take place next year.

The scheme is part of the Connecting Leicester programme and will create more attractive routes from the city centre to attractions like Castle Gardens, the Roman Jewry Wall and St Mary de Castro Church, which all lie outside the 1960s ring road.

22nd June

Reading for everyone

The programme for Everybody’s Reading festival is very, very close to being finalised. With a multitude of events taking place all over the city, there is definitely going to be something for everyone to enjoy. There are plenty of free events taking place in libraries, cafes, community centres and many more.

Highlights of this year’s festival include an exclusive schools only performance from Countryfile and Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton at one lucky school in Leicester, as well as children’s book-themed days at Gorse Hill City Farm, smelly perfume poetry workshop from the people who brought Lush to the High Street, crime writers, story tellers, poets and so many more workshops, exhibitions and readings.  There will be loads of opportunity to get involved with something to do with reading!

Everybody’s Reading 2015 runs from Saturday 26th September until Sunday 4th October 2015. Everybody’s Reading is a nine day festival taking place in over 80 venues across Leicester City including community centres, schools, cafes, bars, arts venues, libraries and museums.

The festival, now in its fifth year, is organised by the School Development Support Agency (SDSA) and is an off-shoot of the ‘Whatever it Takes’ initiative (see separate bullet point for more information on this initiative). The aim of the festival is to get Leicester reading by encouraging people to hear and attend spoken word, poets, authors and community writers.

Find out more from the Everybody’s Reading website

23rd June

The Damask Rose

A CENTURIES-old local tradition as kept alive when the Lord Mayor of Leicester attended the Damask Rose ceremony on 24th June.

The Lord Mayor, Cllr Ted Cassidy,  marked the annual custom when he received the symbolic peppercorn rent of a Damask Rose and four old pennies from the landlord of O’Neill’s, a pub in  in Loseby Lane.

The Lord Mayor said: “This is a local custom that dates back hundreds of years and I am delighted that we are continuing and protecting the tradition.”

Steve Thorn, landlord of O’Neill’s Leicester, said: “We here at O’Neill’s are happy to keep up this long-standing tradition and hope we can build on it in the future.”

Dating back to the 1600s, the Damask Rose ceremony survived until 2001 when the O’Neill’s chain took over the pub. The former Lord Mayor, Colin Hall, was instrumental in re-instating the ceremony in 2010.

In keeping with tradition, the Damask Rose ceremony takes place to coincide with the Feast of St John the Baptist and representatives from the Gild of Freemen of the City of Leicester will also be present.

11th June

Magna Carter celebrated

THE 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta was marked in Leicester with a packed programme of events. From Saturday, 13th June, people were able to find out how the medieval charter helped lay the foundations for the democracy we know today – and could learn how a baron with links to Leicester helped ensure the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215.

A an exhibition at the Guildhall – featuring a reproduction of the British Library’s copy of the Magna Carta – revealed the origins and impact of the charter, while an event at Leicester Market, on Saturday 13 June,  included medieval butter-making, traditional sweet-making and an appearance by the medieval rat-catcher.

The medieval Guildhall  – Leicester’s first town hall – hosted a Magna Carta day on Sunday, 14th June, when the Lord Mayor of Leicester talked to visitors about his role and local democracy, after musical performances from comedian Anthony King.

On Monday 15th June there was an opportunity to meet Baron Saer de Quincy – the rebel Leicester baron who helped ensure that King John accepted the terms of the Magna Carta. Baron de Quincy was joined by musicians from the Medieval Music Wagon at the special event at Leicester Market on Monday – the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

The event also celebrated the standardisation of weights and measures – enshrined in the Magna Carta – with a selection of old Leicester weights, measures and scales on display in the window of the market’s customer service centre.

“The Magna Carta enshrines many of the things we take for granted today, particularly the rule of law and the principle that nobody can act above the law,” said City Mayor Peter Soulsby.

More news updates will follow in due course.


House bricks part 1

House bricks

past, present and future

by Trevor Locke

Part 1 – Bricks and mortar as the basis of housing

In this series of articles (to be published in four parts), I will be using the word housing many times but often in the sense of accommodation of all kinds; rather than to refer only to house ownership.

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks. Photo Alamy.

What’s in a brick?

If you live in the United Kingdom,  you are sure to have seen house bricks.  You might live in a house that is made from them.  But have you ever stopped to think what bricks are made of?  Most people in this country will have picked up and held a house brick at some point in their lives.  Have you ever thought:  have bricks always been the same as this? We are all familiar with bricks – their size, shape, colour, texture and feel. But have you ever wondered whether they will always be the same, in the future, as they are now?

If you think that a brick is a brick – you might be surprised to know just how varied they are.  The common house brick is a solid block,  usually about 8.5 × 4 × 2.5 inches. Some bricks have 10 holes in them to decrease their weight, some are made in different sizes and and come in a variety of colours.  Most are newly made but there is a big market for reclaimed bricks. I am referring to British bricks because the size of bricks varies from one country to another. Bricks are made from a mixture clay and sand that has been heated in a kiln, to harden it and make it strong.  Bricks are coloured red because they are made from clays that contain iron. Bricks that have other colours are made from clays to which additional materials have been added, such as chalk.

At the present time (2015) the production of bricks in 2014 -15 is expected to reach £889.2 million. Standard clay bricks that is. It is said that the recession of 2008 resulted in a shortage of bricks. We can see that the construction industry went into sharp decline from 2008 onwards, not recovering until late 2009/10. This was due largely to the lack of finance for both building and the purchasing of new homes as the credit crunch bit into the availability of finance. It was not until 2014 that house building recovered to its pre-crash levels. We cannot attribute the slump in house building soley to shortages of materials (or the finance required to obtain them);  the depressed economy also led to a shortage of skilled labour, as companies laid off construction workers.

The use of bricks in house-building has been affected by the ‘breeze block’: hollow and cellular blocks made from concrete or some kind of aggregate. These are bigger than bricks and thus reduce the time in which internal walls can be completed. The standard concrete breeze block has always been made from the same material to a set of standardised sizes.  Most buildings in this country, these days, use these blocks for internal walls. They might be faced with bricks or other external walling materials but these blocks are the cheapest and quickest way of putting up walls.

How old is the brick?

Bricks have been around for a very long time.  They are thought to have been used for six thousand years, being found in the city of Babylon. The ancient Egyptians made bricks from dried mud, some of which have survived to the present day. In the British Isles, the Romans made bricks, firing them in kilns. In China, millions of workers had to make millions of bricks for the construction of the Great Wall. Bricks were rarely used in the UK before the fourteenth century. Flemish refugees brought brick-making to East Anglia. In the fifteenth century, many craftsmen from Holland and Belgium settled in the UK. After the great fire of London in 1666, people began to build houses with brick walls to replace the wooden ones that were susceptible to fire. The Tudors were keen on building with bricks and fine examples of Elizabethan brick-built houses are still standing today. During the industrial revolution, brick-making became industrialised in order to meet the huge demand for bricks, especially during the Victorian era.

Tudor bricks

Henry VIII took over Wolsey’s Hampton Court Palace in 1528. Much of Hampton Court is still standing today and visitors can see straight away that most of the facades are made from bricks, rather than stone blocks that would have been noticeable in many structures since Norman times. Between 1485 and 1603, brick-making and brick-laying merged as a specialised craft.

The times of the early Tudors and Elizabethans saw substantial increases in trade and prosperity. The rich and powerful no longer needed to build ‘castles’ that would withstand attack; in the relatively peaceful times of the The Renaissance, houses could be designed to look beautiful and to reflect the wealth of their owners. Stone continued to use used for things like windows, where ornamentation was required, but walls and chimneys would be made from bricks, which could be woven into patterns and decorative designs. The Tudor brick sizes were typically found to range from 210-250mm x 100-120mm x 40-50mm. [Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch]

Archaeologists know the sizes of bricks from different periods of history.  When they open a trench and find bricks, they can usually identify the period from the size and colour of any bricks found in them.

Is the house brick here to stay?

Wienerberger, a leading supplier of wall, roof and landscaping innovations, has launched its brand new Wienerberger e4 brick house™ concept. Using over 200 years of expertise and innovation, Wienerberger has analysed economic and social trends to unveil a unique archetype that directly addresses the UK market need. Wienerberger’s leading clay brick and wall technology provides the blueprint for the house of tomorrow – an aspirational living space that is practical, sustainable and innovative.

Graduate Henry Miller has devised a way to reuse waste plastic as an aggregate in cement, circumventing the energy-intensive process of plastic recycling. By grinding up landfill-bound plastic and mixing it with Portland cement, Miller was able to create a material just as strong as traditional concrete made with mined aggregate. The construction company made the EcoArk Pavilion in Taipei, reports Paul Mozur of The Wall Street Journal. The walls of the building are made solely of plastic bottles that fit together like Lego pieces. The polygonal bottles, called Polli-Bricks,  are made of plastic, recycled from items such as water bottles. Polli-Bricks make the building structurally sound enough to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, environmentally friendly, and are relatively cheap to build. The bricks can be blow-moulded out of shredded PETÂ bits at a construction site. They are then stacked into rectangular panels. Workers cover the bricks with a film similar to the coating found on smartphone screens. The coating makes the panels resistant to fire and water.

Experiments have commenced into using modular ecological bricks, as an alternative to the more common clay house bricks. Bricks are now being manufactured from re-cycled plastic waste.  European Union research network Eureka has helped create bricks with domestic waste polymers usually considered too varied or dirty to be recycled. Eureka has worked with the Latvian Technological Centre, the Institute of Polymer Mechanics, the University of Latvia, and Spanish company Hormigones Uniland to mix waste polymers with other materials to make construction products. The Latvian researchers have developed a technique to turn thermoplastic polymer waste into a binding substance which could be mixed with other materials such as sand to produce polymer concrete products, without using cement.

Peter Lewis has created an innovative machine that can transform discarded plastic – such as  bottles and bags – into building blocks. The rock-hard bricks could be used for garden retaining landscaping walls or other interesting features such as shock absorbers behind crash barriers.

Changing patterns of house construction

Given the development of technologies for the production of new building materials and the increasing demand for environmentally friendly products, it is likely that traditional materials will change in the future as house builders move away from the kind of natural materials that have been used for thousands of years.

From pre-history to relatively recent times, wood was the standard building material.  England was once covered in woods and forests. As the climate changed so did the landscape; more and more forests were cut down as demand for timber increased. Naturally occurring woodlands diminished so much that the government began to plant new forests on an industrial scale. More and more wood has been imported to make up for the shortages in British-sourced timber.


If we go back to medieval times, we see walls being constructed of wattle and daub, mud being used to seal the gaps in the wooden walls made from branches and twigs. It was not until brick manufacture developed (as the road infrastructure allowed for their transportation) that we saw bricks being used as a common material for the construction of walls in the fourteenth century. There were some experiments in the use of other kinds of materials for making walls (remember the ‘prefabs’?) but contemporary house building is widely oriented to the use of bricks because of their aesthetic appeal for external walls.


Medieval houses were roofed with thatch made from reeds, the most common form of material used to place a waterproof topping to a building. It would be several hundred years before clay tiles or slates were widely used as roofing materials in many parts of the UK. Some roofs were made from wood shingles but the frequency of fires led to the wider use of clay tiles. The use of steel sheets, such as corrugated iron, in roofing has not had much appeal in this country.


Even in stone-built castles, windows were small and often no more than holes in the wall.  Only in the very wealthiest of buildings, would glass be used in windows to keep out the cold and wet. It would be a long time before glass became a way of creating weatherproof windows in modest buildings. In modern times, we saw the introduction of plastics to replace the traditional wood frames of windows. More glass is used in houses these days than was ever the case in historical times.

Building design

In the middle ages houses were built largely without any plans; their construction was based on know-how handed down from one generation to another. Houses gradually became more elaborate in the way they were constructed and builders began to work from drawn architectural plans.  During the Victorian era there was a vast increase in the number of houses being built; as people began to live and work in cities they needed to live within walking distance of factories. The design of homes gradually became more and more standardised, driven by commercial house-building and the kind of prosperity that led to the home-owning classes. People who wanted to own houses became use to traditional designs. As prosperity increased, there was a demand for separate kitchens, indoor toilets, bathrooms and separate bedrooms for adults and children. The increasing sophistication of buildings led to the establishment of specialised professions of architecture and building design.

Future trends in house building

When we think of housing we inevitably think of bricks and mortar. I wish to argue that many other factors come into play when we begin to discuss housing – factors such as changing demography, patterns of employment, the need to integrate housing with communities and the options we want to make available for increasing the supply of housing. In fact, there are several factors which might see changes being made in the kind of building materials that we have been familiar with over many generations.

In Part 2, I will look at broader trends in house building, including the need for affordable homes, seeing how housing is the key to everything and how it sits within the relationship between housing and employment and employment and transport (as factors governing the demand for housing.)


Office of National Statistics, A century of home ownership and renting in England.

Guy Standing (May 24, 2011). “The Precariat – The new dangerous class”. Policy Network.

Planning Advisory Service. Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

This is money (website) Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch.

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Home building and renovating. The self build and custom house building bill.

See also:

The introductory article on Bricks and Mortar.

House bricks part 1

House bricks part 2

House bricks part 3

House bricks part 4




16th April 2015


history, policy and practice

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks
Photo Alamy

Our new section of the magazine looks at housing.  The kind of homes that people built, the materials they used and the way that houses changed over the course of history has been touched on in many of the article we have already published.

In a series of articles to be published over the next few days, we look at housing and the materials used to construct homes and move on to a discussion about the future of how we live and the kind of buildings we might be calling ‘home’ in the future.

Houses form a key part of our narrative about the history of Leicester.  We have argued already that the best way to understand any community – in history as well as in contemporary times – is to look at how people live, cook and entertain themselves.  In this context, considering how people live, the kind of homes they build and the materials they use to construct their houses is a key part of any historical account.  Water, supply, drainage, sanitation, cooking and waste-disposal are fundamental elements of understanding communities, cities, towns and villages.

In the forthcoming series of articles about bricks and mortar, we begin with a brief look at the basic units of construction,  before moving on to the wider policy implications for meeting the supply of housing.  This series of articles will deal mainly with the present and the future, whilst placing that focus in a historical perspective.

A debate about housing is very apposite to the current time, as political parties launch their manifestos in the run up to the general election. Housing in a subject that all parties will want to say something about.  We hope that our series of features on bricks and mortar will lend something to those debates – as we consider the future of housing and its historical perspectives.

Later in the year, we will place the themes of these article in a Leicester context as look at the history of housing in our city and what might lie ahead for the new political policy-makers.

Trevor Locke

Trevor Locke has a masters degree in Urban Policy

See also:

House bricks part 1

House bricks part 2

House bricks part 3

House bricks part 4



20th October 2014

History of Leicester Part 2

The Romans in Leicester

By Trevor Locke


It was after the Iron Age and the era of Roman settlement that we saw the earliest formation of Leicester as a place of continuous human settlement. Many experts believe that there was already a community in place, on the banks of the river Soar, by the time the first Roman legions arrived.
Roman contact with the early people living in the British Isles goes back long before the invasion of 43 AD. It was during the second century BC that Roman traders crossed the channel and began to trade with the people living in, what we now call, England. They traded commodities such as metals and grain, wine, jewellery and possibly weapons. Much of this would have been transported by boats using coastal routes and rivers that lead to major settlements. Before the Romans there were no made-up roads, only tracks that were rough and followed the routes made by herds of wild animals. Travel by water was often the easiest and quickest way to get around. The Romans cut canals and drainage ditches such as Fosse and Raw Dykes.) One of the oldest trackways known to exist in pre-historic Britain was The Ridge Way, which ran which ran from Wiltshire to the River Thames. About 87 miles in length, it is thought to have been used for some five thousands years. It had a series of Hill Forts, used to defend it. It was a trail that was not made up in any way or maintained. It often followed a route along high ground, on the ridges of hills. Similarly the Icknield Way, ran for about 100 miles from Buckinghamshire to Norfolk (in today’s language – such areas did not exist in pre-history.) The Sweet track in the Glastonbury fens, Somerset, is believed to be the oldest purpose built road in the world and has been dated to the 3800s BC. The Fosse Way was constructed by The Romans in the first century and it possible that they followed the routes of pre-historic trackways. The most important prehistoric route through the territory of the Coritani was the Jurassic Way.
People were mainly organised into tribes and the Romans would have visited them to negotiate diplomatic agreements well as to trade. There is evidence that the Romans visited Britain and had relationships with the Iron age tribes here, particularly in the south of the country. Even before the Romans came here, England was known for its rich farmland and agricultural produce – which might well have been one of the reasons why the Roman Empire wanted to overrun and rule it. Various areas of England also provided metal ores such as tin and iron. The East Midlands provided a good deal of minerals, including lead from Derbyshire and Iron, which had been mined before the Roman invasion particularly in Lincolnshire, Rutland  and adjacent parts of Leicestershire (Todd 1973). Iron production was a significant part of Roman industry in the East Midlands. A large number of sites have been discovered in the area. This included all stages of production, from ore extraction through to the making of iron implements [3]. The evidence shows the existence of mining, smelting and smithing. In fact the East Midlands was the third most important area for iron production in Britain. Much of the iron deposits occurred on the Jurassic Ridge (the Jurassic Limestone belt across the east Midlands.) Evidence of bronze and iron age metal working has been discovered at Beacon Hill. Metal working moulds were found at Breedon on the Hill and Ketton.
The quarrying of stone was another aspect of Roman industry, given the large amount of building construction that went on. The quarrying and working of stone flourished in the second century. Various types of stone found in Leicestershire provided building stones and even coffins in many parts of Britain. The Romans made good use of the limestone of the Jurassic Ridge and the volcanic rocks found in Charnwood. They quarried Granite at Enderby, Groby, Mount Sorrell and Markfield to provide stones for the buildings (Baths, Forum and walls) in Leicester. They also used slate from Swithland. Stone was also used by Cortianian craftsmen to fashion statues and carvings, probably at workshops in Leicester and Lincoln  (Todd, 1973). It is likely that stone would have been transported by water rather than by road ways, as far as possible.

Leicester before the Romans arrived.

Leicester was already settled in the Iron age. There were iron age hill forts at Beacon Hill, Burrough Hill, Breedon on the Hill and Ratby (Clay, 1988). Archaeological finds show that people were living on the banks of the Soar early in the first century AD. Todd (1973) argues that pre-Roman Ratae may presumably have been an extensive and disarticulated scatter of huts. Even so, it was an important centre within the territory of the Coritani.  The Settlement at Leicester probably evolved from a small site originating about 50 BC, which over the next hundred years, grew to an area of about forty acres along the eastern side of the River Soar (Clay, 1988). Other archaeological sites give us a clue as what the area was like around Ratae, prior to the Roman invasion.
In the year 2000, an open air ritual site was discovered in Hallaton in East Leicestershire. It was one of the most important discoveries in recent years from the Iron Age and Early Roman Britain. Over 5,000 Iron age and Roman coins were found on the site. Most were made locally and issued in about 20 to 50 AD. These coins were probably made by members of the Corieltavi tribe. The Hallaton Hoard included one of the oldest Roman coins to be found in Britain. It was dated to around 211 BC – long before the Roman invasion. The coin is thought to have been minted in Rome.
In 2014, a hoard of Roman and late Iron Age coins was found in Dovedale, in the Peak District, discovered in a cave where they had lain there for over two thousand years.  According to the BBC report, ‘Archaeologists discovered 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD43, and 20 other gold and silver pieces which are Late Iron Age and thought to belong to the Corieltavi tribe.’ In 2012 ten gold coins were discovered on farmland in Peatling Magna, near Market Harborough. They are thought to have been made in Europe between 60 and 50 BC. This suggests that there was contact between people in this area and those on the continent of Europe. When the Roman army arrived in Leicester, local people would already have been trading with people in Europe. People in Leicester were producing coins in the late Iron age; these were Corieltauvian coins (Clay, 1988).
The discovery of Roman coins in Leicester and Leicestershire, which pre-dates the invasion of AD 43, suggests that the area was important as a centre of trade between the British Isles and Europe. Local people would have been familiar with the Romans before the conquest of the country during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. Prior to the Roman invasion, Leicester had become one of the most important settlements in the Midlands.
Britain enjoyed diplomatic and trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar’s expeditions in 55 and 54 BC, and Roman economic and cultural influence was a significant part of the British late pre-Roman Iron Age [2].
Late Iron age life revolved around farming. The area around Leicester would have been divided into fields, for growing crops or providing pasture for animals. At this time we know that two types of wheat were grown: Emmer and Spelt. These varieties generated high yields from Iron age farming methods, so much so that some of it was exported to Europe. Iron age farmers had domesticated cattle, pigs and sheep. Leicester was also located near to woodlands that provided timber for building and branches for fuel. Clay maintains that up to 200 trees would have been needed for the construction of a single Iron age roundhouse. The most common type of building that would have been found in pre-Roman Leicester was the circular roundhouse, constructed from wood, with walls made of wattle and daub and a roof made of thatch (Clay, 1988). Apart from these dwelling houses, people also built structures to house their animals, barns for storage and sometimes separate cooking areas.

The origins of Roman Leicester.

Prior to the Roman Invasion of AD 43, the settlement on the banks of the Soar seems to have become an important centre for the Coritani tribe (Corieltavi or Corieltavauri).  They would have had trading connections with south east Britain and beyond, perhaps extending into other parts of Europe.

Excavations have revealed pottery from France, Italy and southern Spain in Iron age tribal settlements. The Coritani ranged across what is now Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and parts of South Yorkshire. They were a collection of like-minded people who shared the same outlook and social practices. Ratae was the capital  town (civitas) of the tribe; the Romans called it Ratae Coritanorum (in effect what we would today call the local authority.)  The name Ratae is though to be Celtic in origin. Excavations at the Jewry Wall site found pottery and some bronze objects from the Iron age and which are believed to have associated with the Coritani tribe, although this is far from certain (Todd, 1973). Discoveries of late Iron age pottery in Leicester indicates a considerable time-spread of occupation (Whitwell, 1982). There is archaeological evidence that the Roman town of Ratae was built on a site that had Iron age origins and which might well have been a regional centre for the Coritani tribe. The finds date from the first century. Todd refers to ‘Iron Age C’  pottery and to coins dating from this period. The picture that emerges is that there was a tribal settlement on the Soar in the late Iron age and that the Coritani was the principal people who administered the region surrounding the site of present-day Leicester. Todd (1973) argues that the boundaries of the Coritani tribe were not clearly defined.
Prior to the occupation of the Romans, there was little or no written accounts of the Coritani, other than inscriptions on coins and the evidence offered by other artefacts. The writer Claudius Ptolemy (circa AD 90 to circa 168) referred to them in his Geographia. In this he compiled all that was known about the world at the time of the Roman Empire. His work was often based on sources derived from earlier writers. He mentions the Coritani and believed them to be based at Lindon (Lincoln) and Rhage (Ratae.) A Roman source – the Antonine Itinerary –  contains reference to the region occupied by the Coritani and refers to Ratae as the tribal capital.

The Roman Invasion

Four legions of the Roman army probably landed in Kent in 43 AD (some people believe, or we might say the south coast if we do not want to be so specific.) Within a matter of weeks they had seized the important capital of Camulodunum (the place where Colchester now stands) and the legions founded their base there, in the 40s,  on the site of the Celtic stronghold.  During the year they rapidly overran the southern areas and the tribes put up little resistance. Legion XIV came from Colchester along the new roads arriving at the Fosse Way near to Ratae [1]. The Roman army reached the area of the Coritani in the years immediately after 43 AD (Liddle, 1982).

Todd (1973) argues that  the Coritani do not figure in the surviving Roman accounts of the occupation of Britain between AD 43 and about AD 70 (based on studies between 1965 and 1970.)  There is no evidence of how they reacted to the Roman invaders. Within one or two years of the invasion, most of the territory of the Coritani was under Roman rule. The Romans set up a network of forts based on the routes of Ermine Street and the Fosse Way. The eastern part of England was occupied by the ninth legion (Legio IX Hispana) together with their auxiliary troops. In the early phase of their campaign they established marching camps. The Legio IX Hispana was sent north towards Lincoln (Latin: Lindum Colonia) and within four years of the invasion it is likely that an area south of a line from the Humber to the Severn estuary was under Roman control. Legio XIV might have been joined by IX and the two legions might have worked together on the conquest of the Coritani (Whitwell 1982).

That this line is followed by the Roman road of the Fosse Way has led many historians to debate the route’s role as a convenient frontier during the early occupation. It is more likely that the border between Roman and Iron Age Britain was less direct and more mutable during this period however. [4] Forts were constructed to house troops during the winter or as temporary bases. These were often positioned at river crossings or road junctions and the general pattern that we see from where they are positioned suggests that one was constructed on the banks of the Soar where the road crossed the river from west to east. A forty foot ditch was found on land adjacent to the Soar, in which first century Samian pottery was found (Whitwell, 1982). At least two ditches of probably military origin have been found. A V-shaped ditch, steeper on the north face than the south, was discovered; pottery from the filling suggested that it was disused after about 65 AD. Metalwork from the town suggests both legionaries and auxiliaries were present (Liddle, 1982). There may be credible evidence that the Roman forts were sited away from the main part of the Coritani settlement.
Some kind of post, possibly a fort was established, at Ratae,  by Legion XIV (they were withdrawn in 66 or 67 but sent back in about 69). A second fort was constructed between 55 and 65 AD. The army was camped here during the Claudio-Neronian period and quite possible constructed a fort not long after their arrival. The Romans were aware of the tactical importance of Leicester. It was situated in the heart of the country where roads converged, and with an important river flowing through it. It is believed by archaeologists that a Roman military base (or fort) was established on the eastern bank of the Soar, just below the native Iron Age settlement, and became the new home of the conquering Legion XIV. The fort housed about 500 men and was surrounded by a ditch and earthen rampart. It was built to guard the intersection of two of Britain’s greatest Roman roads – Fosse Way and Gartree Road – at the river crossing. With the arrival of the Roman army, came money. Traders and other settlers gathered near the fort. A minor civilian settlement such as this was called a vicus. [1]
It seems likely that the Roman army conquered much of southern Britain and the Midlands within about 20 years. Major campaigns continued until around 83 AD, including responding to the revolt lead by Boudicca in 60 – 61.  The invasion of 43 was under the emperor Claudius who reigned from 41 – 54. The Romans’ main interest in the British Isles would have been, arguably, metals and grain. The Roman armies were under the rule of Governors.  Aulus Plautius was the first governor of Britannia from 43 to 47. Scapula disarmed the Britons in 47. Aulus Didius Gallus was governor from 52 to 57 and Quintus Veranius from 57 to his death in 58.
The military garrison is unlikely to have remained at Leicester for long after 70 AD, argued Todd (1873) and at around this time the civitas Coritanorum would have become an independent administrative unit.  The date at which the Roman armies left Rate is unclear; Whitwell (1982) believes that evidence from the excavation of forts suggests it would have been around 80 AD. Although the legions left, a civil administration was left in place. The civitas was somewhat similar to our present-day county council. The whole country was divided into civitates. Later the word civitas became synonymous with the word city.

Ratae as an important town

According to one source

Leicester was unaffected by the Boudicca uprising however, and between AD 71 and AD 85, the province more than doubled in size. But in AD 83, the Roman occupation began to evolve. The Roman army in Britain was considerably weakened by a sudden recall of men to the continent. By AD 92, Britain had lost its major Roman legions. The Leicester forts were evacuated and the town was no longer a military stronghold. But it remained under Roman rule. As the soldiers departed, the forts were dismantled and land handed over to civilian use. The vicus (the civilian settlement outside the walls of the fort)  of Leicester was granted the power of local legislation and became a civitas capital of Britain. That meant it was an administrative centre of a tribal territory – in effect, the capital of the East Midlands. [1]

If this account is credible it would suggest, I would argue, that there was little resistance to the Romans by the Coritani; in fact the development of Leicester as an important civic centre of government suggests that the people who were there when the Romans arrived decided to get on with them rather than fight them. It is possible that these members of the Coritani had already traded with the Romans. In other parts of Britain there was struggle against Roman rule and that would have taken many of the soldiers away from Ratae.

The Roman settlement at Leicester.

The very name Ratae Corieltauvorum gives us a clue to how people responded to Roman occupation.  Ratae means ‘ramparts’ and harks back to the Iron age fort that probably stood on the northern banks of the Soar. Corieltauvorum refers to the Coritani tribe for whom the settlement was their civitas or centre for government. A similar situation could be found in Colchester where an iron age fort became the base for the Roman army.

Todd (1973) argues that the withdrawal of military garrisons from the tribal territory in the last first century implies that government of the region was now formally handed over to tribal authority of the municipal civitas.  In the last years of the first century, Leicester (or Ratae) became the hub or the tribal organisation, its principal meeting place and where its records were kept.  The more wealthy and influential members of the Coritani lived there. Later in the Roman period, the town appears to have been granted the status of a municipia. This indicates that the inhabitants had become thoroughly Romanised and some of its residents would have become Roman citizens.
The Roman settlement is thought to have been a rectangular area, surrounded with perimeter fortifications, in which there were four gates. There is doubt about whether the river side of the enclosure was walled, like the rest. Because the river itself offered a natural barrier, it is thought that the walls on this side were not as extensive as the rest. The surrounding walls began to be demolished in the fifteenth century as suburbs grew up.
The Fosse Way was an important Roman Road linking the fortresses of Exeter and Lincoln. This passed near to Ratae Corieltauvorum. Following the Roman invasion, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of the Roman territory. The current A46 follows the path of the Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester. Nearing the city, it’s route is now marked by Melton Road and Belgrave Road. It would have terminated roughly at the position of Clock Tower and continued along the line of the present Narborough Road.

As the invading legions pushed northwards, it is thought they would have crossed the Soar near to the present West Bridge. This is likely because that was the point at which prehistoric routes would have crossed over the river, at a point which would have offered a suitable crossing, based on the shallowness of the water and the lie of its banks.
Early in the second century, the town was built up using a grid pattern. The streets defining the insula appear to have been laid out at the end of the first century (Whitwell, 1982). The square blocks resulting from the grid pattern were known as insulae.   It was around 130 to 140 AD that the forum was constructed (Whitwell, 1982). The basilica and baths were constructed between 150 and 160 (around 145 according to Liddle), the ruins of which can now been seen at the ‘Jewry Wall’ site.  Substantial town houses were also built, having central heating, floors of fine mosaics and painted walls.  There was also a temple dedicated to the god Mithras (there were other temples.)

This signifies that Ratae was an important seat of government and continued to be so right into the fourth century by which time many of the local inhabitants had become Romanised. It is likely that the civitas Coritanorum was recognised by the late first century with Ratae as its administrative capital (Whitwell, 1982). A Forum was constructed, from around 120,  immediately east of the public baths. The Forum had a central courtyard surrounded by rooms and on the northern side there was a Basilica. There were shops and a great Hall. The whole structure might have been completed by 130 to 140 (Todd, 1973.) There was a commercial area known as the marcellum (built in around 180 AD) which would have been a feature of many Roman towns of this time. It is thought likely that the market accommodated a variety of markets and trades with goods being traded from many parts of Europe. In Vine Street there were villas that had central heating system called hypocausts. One fine villa started life as a row of houses that fronted on to the junction of two streets.  These were then linked together and extended and had corridors that surrounded a central court yard.
The surviving remains (still above ground) is known as the Jewry Wall  part of the baths complex constructed by the Romans.  The complex includes a large basilica an exercise hall and the bath houses. The remains that can be seen today were the dividing wall between these two. It contains two entrances between the baths and the exercise hall.  There was rooms for cold bathing and possibly containing plunge pools. There were warmer rooms and rooms for hot bathing.  Much of what we know about the plan of the structure is derived from similar sites, many of which have been excavated in other parts of the country, particular at Bath. The site was extensively robbed of its stone, some of which was used to build the nearby church of St. Nicholas and some taken by incoming Saxons for the construction of their buildings.
After the end of Roman occupation, as the great Roman buildings fell into ruin, their stone was used to build new structures, such as the church of St. Nicholas. The regular pattern of the Roman streets began to be overlaid by the buildings of later centuries as ground level rose several feet above what would have the level of the original Roman town. I recently looked at research into the Roman settlement of Ratae on the banks of the river Soar. The researchers drew a cross section showing how the level of occupation in Roman times was very substantially lower than the current surface. The Roman surface was several metres below the current day surface. This begins to explain why archaeologists have to dig down to find earlier remains of settlements. In their report the researchers put forward a number of reasons why the level has increased. They postulated that generations of building was one of the factors why deposition raised the level.  Many other factors can be guessed. Whilst the course of the river has not changed that much in 2000 years (at this particular location) its contours have. The flow of the river changed a lot over that time. Flooding might also have deposited some layers, although Ratae was sited on a ridge over looking the river, so alluvial deposits cannot be a major factor. Deposition of waste and rubbish over centuries of occupation might well have contribution to the changes we see in surface level.

The decline of the Roman period.

Roman influence began to decline in the late fourth and fifth centuries. Alterations were made to the defences of Roman towns, including the construction of towers and ditches. This was probably in response to increasing raids by tribes from Europe.

Defended towns were more able to withstand attack but the open settlements were far more vulnerable and many of them declined. The production of pottery continued even after 400, as did metal working, which had become well established during the Romano-British period. There was a large cemetery at Thurmaston with graves dating from the middle of the fifth century. The positioning of Anglo-Saxon burials close to those of Romans is evidence for foederati. (Whitwell, 1982).  Foederati were nations or tribes that provided Rome with military service in exchange for various benefits.
These were cremation burials, indicating Anglo-Saxon influences. The Saxon-type burials might have been those of the soldiers that were brought to the country as part of the army in the last fourth century. These people came from communities in Europe that had been federated to the Empire. The Roman villas began to be disused after the 4th c. Anglo-Saxon pottery has been found at some villa sites but this might indicate that the buildings were used only temporarily and were not maintained once their Roman occupants had left. The incoming Anglo-Saxons took over the farms but built their own residences on new sites rather than using the villas left behind by the Romans. It is likely that the land that used to belong to the villas continued to be farmed. Despite increasing archaeological evidence of early Anglo-Saxon farming, the relationship between the old Roman farms and those of the incoming Saxons is far from clear.

Leicester as a microcosm of England.

Many historians have viewed Leicester as being a microcosm of England – throughout its history. There is much about the place that reflects and echoes what was happening in the rest of the country. Leicester is in the centre of England and in its way of life, it activities and people, it is typical of middle England. The things that happened in the rest of England also happened in Leicester. The history of Leicester reflects and contains pretty much everything that happened in the rest of the country. This is a justification (if any were needed) for the study of Leicester’s past. Of course the same could be said for many other long-established English towns but Leicester’s position in the centre of the country and its two thousands years of human habitation make it a mirror of English life.
Next:  Coming up – Leicester and the Anglo-Saxons.


[1] The website
[2] Wikipedia.
[3] Roman iron production in Britain:: technological and socio-economic landscape development along the Jurassic Ridge, British Archaeological Reports,  380, 2004.

Clay, Patrick, 1985, Excavations in Bath Lane, Leicester, Leicestershire Museums, Arts Galleries and Records Service, Archaeological reports series No.10.
Clay, Patrick, 1988, Leicester Before The Romans, Leicestershire Museums Service.
Clay, Patrick, 2002, The Prehistory of the East Midlands Claylands – aspects of settlement and land-use from the Mesolithic to the Iron age in central England, University of Leicester.
Frere, Sheppard, 1978, Britainnia -a history of Roman Britain (third edition, extensively revised), Routledge & Kegan Paul
Henig, Martin, 1995, The Art of Roman Britain, BT Batsford Ltd
Jarvis, Paul 1986 `The early pits of the Jewry Wall site, Leicester’, Trans Leicestershire Archaeol Hist Soc 60, 1986 7-15
Liddle, Peter, 1982, Leicestershire Archaeology – the present state of knowledge, Volume 1 To the end of the Roman period, Archaeological Reports Series Number 4, Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service
Todd, Malcolm, 1973, The Coritani, Duckworth.
Whitwell, J B, 1982, The Coritani – some aspects of the Iron age tribe and the Roman Civitas, BAR99
Wilkinson, Philip, 2000, What the Roman did for us, Boxtree

Watch documentaries about the Roman invasion of 43 AD On Youtube

See also:

The History of Leicester, Part 1

Leicester Castle

Queen Aethelaed

Heritage news

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News about buildings and building projects in Leicester

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26th April 2016

New bus station to open in Charles Street

Artist's impression of the interior of the new bus station in Charles Street. Courtesy of Leicester City Council.
Artist’s impression of the interior of the new bus station in Charles Street.
Courtesy of Leicester City Council.

Leicester City Council has confirmed that bus services will begin to operate from the revamped station from Sunday, May 8, but people will get a first chance to see inside the new building at an opening event planned for Saturday, May 7.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “The new Haymarket Bus Station will help dramatically improve services for bus passengers. I am delighted that passengers now have just a few days to wait until they can see the benefits for themselves.

“The new building and the improvements made to the surrounding street scene have provided a tremendous lift to what was becoming a rather rundown-looking part of the city centre.

“This ambitious redevelopment has provided the city with a new bus station that is fit for the 21st century. It will make a huge difference to the journeys of thousands of people who travel into the city centre by bus every day, and I am grateful for the patience they have shown during this challenging project.”

Built on the same site as the old 1990s facility, the new bus station will offer almost double the number of departure bays – increasing from 12 to 23 – providing capacity for over 100 buses per hour.

As a result, a number of bus shelters have been removed from Charles Street, between Belgrave Gate and Humberstone Gate, where pavements have also been widened and re-built in high quality block paving to provide a safer and more attractive route for shoppers and other visitors.

The new bus station building – which has replaced a collection of old, run-down bus shelters – will provide comfortable waiting facilities, real-time bus information displays and a passenger information point in its modern concourse. There will also be a kiosk and public toilets, including baby changing facilities and a new Changing Places toilet for people with profound disabilities and their carers.

People visiting the new bus station during the opening event on Saturday, May 7, will have the chance to explore bus travel through the ages with examples of vintage vehicles and the bus operators’ latest fleet vehicles on show. There will also a range of information stalls and other activities on offer. The open event will run from 11am until 5pm.

18th February

Old bank given new lease of life

PLANS to convert a disused 19th century bank and bring it back into use as a new delicatessen have been backed with a city council heritage grant.

The former Bank of Ireland Savings Bank, at 4 St Martins, is one of the first buildings to be awarded a grant from the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI).

The city council-run scheme, which is backed by £1.1milllion of Heritage Lottery Fund cash, will help drive the restoration and regeneration of at least 20 of the most historically important buildings in the Greyfriars conservation area, to the south of Leicester Cathedral.

A grant of up to £200,000 has been awarded to Nottingham-based Delilah Fine Foods who plan to revamp the Grade II-listed Victorian bank building and bring it back into use.

The company has secured planning and listed building consent to convert the old bank into a delicatessen and café, with three apartments on the upper floors. Delilah Fine Foods has won awards for a similar deli, which it opened in a converted Grade II-listed former bank building in Nottingham’s Victoria Street.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This is an absolutely smashing building, right on the gateway into Cathedral Gardens.

“I am thrilled with the plans to bring it back into use as a deli, which will see it reopened as a place for people to enjoy, after years of it being boarded-up.

“The award of this THI grant means that we can help to bring a fantastic piece of our architectural heritage back into use, and also attract a new, independent business into Leicester.

“Delilah Fine Foods have an excellent record of sensitively converting heritage buildings. We simply wouldn’t have seen this level of interest in this part of the city centre two years ago.”

[Source: Leicester City Council]

15th October

Granby Halls site development

The Granby Halls
The Granby Halls

PLANS for the proposed sale of land on the site of the former Granby Halls have been announced by Leicester City Council.

The 1.66 acres (0.67 hectares) of land, located next to the Leicester Tigers Stadium at the junction of Welford and Aylestone Road, will be marketed for sale from Friday (16 Oct).

Prospective buyers will have to provide an outline of their proposed future use of the site when submitting their offer for the land.

The city council has put in place a site development brief which provides guidance on the type and size of development that will be permitted on the site.

This gives a variety of potential uses, including offices, hotel use, student accommodation, or community facilities, in a building of between five and eight storeys. Apartments could also be included as part of a mixed-use scheme.

Open space must be maintained between the Granby Halls site and the Tigers ground, to provide a public concourse.

The city council, which owns the land, currently leases it to NCP and Leicester Tigers for car parking.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This is a major city centre location. Now that work on the new car park at Leicester Royal Infirmary is nearing completion, we can begin to think about how this important site can be put to the best possible use in the future.

“We want to see something of high quality being developed here. It’s important that any building on this site should be of architectural merit and that future use is not at odds with people who live in the area, or with the neighbouring prison, hospital or sports stadium.

“That’s why we’ve chosen to implement a development brief on the site, and will not sell until we have assurance that the proposed development is the right one for this part of the city.”

[Source: Leicester City Council]

24th September 2015

Waterside development

AN INDUSTRIAL building on a main route into the proposed Waterside regeneration area is set to be bought by the city council.

The property, at 65 Great Central Street, is to be bought with vacant possession. The proposed purchase is part of the city council’s wider plans for the regeneration of Waterside. It will be paid for with Government cash awarded for regeneration in the area.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “The acquisition of properties like this will help move forward our plans for the wider regeneration of Waterside over the coming years.

“This is a rather unattractive industrial building located on an important route into the Waterside.

“Improving the gateways into the area, and reconnecting the city centre with its riverside, is a key part of our vision for the regeneration of this part of the city over the next ten to 15 years.”

17th August 2015

New Walk Centre

One of the UK’s leading financial advice firms has been confirmed as the first tenant of a new development at the site of the former New Walk Centre.

Wealth management and employee benefits business, Mattioli Woods plc, has announced it will move into offices at the planned new development on the site of the former council offices.

The firm, which has been based at Grove Park in Enderby since 2005, advises over 6,000 clients with assets under management, administration and advice in excess of £5 billion.  The company employs over 300 staff in Leicester, and the move will allow it to expand and create in excess of 150 new job opportunities.

Earlier this year, Leicester City Council announced that local developer Ingleby, part of the Sowden Group, had been appointed to regenerate the site, which is currently in the process of being cleared following the demolition of New Walk Centre in February 2015.

Plans for the site include two buildings based around a central public open area on New Walk, combining office space, apartments and ground-floor retail.  If planning permission is granted, work is expected to start on site before the end of 2015, with the development being completed and new tenants in place towards the beginning of 2017.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This is a real vote of confidence in the city centre that a firm with the calibre of Mattioli Woods will be setting up its office at this key development site.  It is a local firm with a proven track record, which was originally based in the city until it moved out in 1998.

“Developments such as this are creating valuable business space, and I hope this will be the first of many firms realising the benefits of being based in the heart of a thriving city centre.”

Mattioli Woods Chief Executive Officer, Ian Mattioli, added: “We are really excited about our move, which for me is a move back home.  The Mattioli family are proud of our Leicester roots, which go back hundreds of years.”

Commenting on the new office, he said: “We are a fast-growing local business with ambitious expansion plans over the next few years, which is a key driver for the move.  The new city centre office will provide us with an ultra-modern working space with great transport links, giving us the opportunity to service both existing and future recruitment needs even more efficiently.”

Roy Coley, Managing Director of the Sowden Group, said: “We are thrilled that our scheme was chosen to redevelop the site of the former New Walk Centre.  We would like to thank our team of architects and support professionals, all of whom are based in the East Midlands, for all their hard work on what is a very exciting mixed-use scheme.

“We are a local developer and to have attracted a company of the quality and calibre of Mattioli Woods cannot be under estimated.  We hope the success of this scheme will encourage more high quality companies to locate to Leicester city centre.”

Leading multi-professional consultancy practice Pick Everard, which is based in Charles Street, has been chosen to provide professional Independent Project Monitoring and Advisory Services for the flagship project.  The company was chosen due to its vision, the high standards of its work and the ability to cope with a project of this size within a fast-track timescale.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

20th April 2015

Soar Island competition attracts worldwide talent

AN INTERNATIONAL architecture competition to find a winning vision for the future of Leicester’s Soar Island has attracted entries from across the globe.

Over 80 entries – including ideas from as far afield as Japan, Spain, Hong Kong, Italy and America – have been submitted.

The competition has been organised by Leicester City Council and RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and invited architects to submit ideas for the potential future use of the two-acre Soar Island, at the heart of Leicester’s Waterside. Members of the public will be able to comment on the initial designs submitted by the five shortlisted entrants at a public exhibition due to take place in Leicester in early summer.

Glenn Howells, acting as RIBA advisor for the competition, said: “The range and type of proposals we saw was impressive. The competition entries showed how a wide variety of activities and environments could potentially be created on the island.

“It prompted much discussion amongst the judges as to what form of development would best deliver the maximum benefit for this exciting, emerging quarter of Leicester.”

Andrew Smith, director of regeneration at Leicester City Council, said: “Soar Island is a unique part of the city and has the potential to be an interesting focal point in the Waterside development area.

“We’ve been really pleased with the level of interest shown in the competition and the range of visionary ideas submitted which we are using to help us shape our thinking on how to make the most of this potential development site.

“This process has already captured the imagination of the architectural community and we are looking forward to hearing what local people think of the ideas. Ultimately, this competition will help to build developer interest and confidence in our plans for the regeneration of the Waterside area.”

[Source: City Council}

2nd September 2014

New Walk centre demolition

THE crumbling office blocks at New Walk Centre are due to be brought down in a controlled initiated collapse early next year.  Leicester City Council has today announced the method to be used to demolish its former headquarters, following 10 weeks of investigations and preparatory work by demolition contractors on the site.

The offices were handed over in July to demolition firm DSM, who have since been carrying out preparatory works and enabling work to help establish the safest and quickest method of taking down the buildings. The chosen method – known as a controlled initiated collapse – will bring the two tower blocks down into their own footprint in a matter of seconds.

It is widely used in the industry, as a quick and safe method of demolition. It will be subject to stringent safety conditions and overseen by the Health and Safety Executive and police. Following the demolition, teams of specialist cleaners will move in immediately afterwards to clean up the resulting dust so that roads, homes, and businesses near to the demolition site can return to normal that same day.

Further details will now be drawn up on exactly when the process will take place, along with arrangements for road closures and vacating businesses and homes nearest the site. Further testing on the site over the last few weeks has revealed that the other possible methods of demolition – including gradual dismantling by ultra-high reach machine – would be impractical due to the decaying state of the building.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “Contractors have spent the last 10 weeks gradually stripping the building of fixtures and fittings and carrying out numerous investigations and testing work to see how the building can be brought down safely. “Given the very poor condition of the building, they felt that slowly dismantling it would be too risky for the contractors working on it, and that bringing it down very quickly would be far safer.

“This method means the buildings can be demolished, the surrounding area cleaned and the roads and businesses re-opened all within the same day. “We’ll now be in further discussions with DSM to set a date for the demolition and make the necessary arrangements.

“We’ll also be working closely with residents and businesses to ensure they know in plenty of time how it will affect them, and how we will be helping them.” As part of the agreement with contractors, the site will be leveled and left as a vacant brownfield plot for future development.

The New Walk Centre plot is considered to be a prime city-centre development site easily accessible from Leicester Station, New Walk and the heart of the city’s shopping area.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

See also:

Our feature article on housing

More about buildings

Leicester Castle

Leicester Castle

The story of Leicester castle
Part of our of series on Leicester’s history

28th September 2014

The current frontage of Leicester Castle
The current frontage of Leicester Castle

We visit Leicester Castle

By Trevor Locke

The first thing you notice about Leicester Castle is that it does not look anything like a castle. There used to be a castle on the site, adjacent to the banks of the River Soar, but very little of it remains visible. The castle occupied the south-west corner of the town that still had a similar layout to when the Romans left in the fourth century and commanded a position overlooking the River Soar, which would have been an important transportation route in medieval times and earlier.

The rear view of Leicester Castle
The rear view of Leicester Castle

It is possible that there has been a castle or fortification on the site since at least Roman times, in all probability even earlier. It is known that the Romans erected their forts on sites that had been used earlier by Bronze-age or Iron-age peoples.

The original castle was constructed by the Normans as  a motte and bailey (around 1070.) The motte was mound of earth below which there was a bailey (a kind of keep.) The motte is now about ten metres high but would originally have been much higher. About five metres were removed to make way for a bowling green, in 1840.

View of the flattened top of the motte
View of the flattened top of the motte

Surrounding this was a moat filled with water over which ran a bridge, leading to the main entrance of the Bailey. The original mott and bailey would have had a stockade made of wood. Within the Bailey the church of St, Mary was built (now called St. Mary de Castro, meaning Saint Mary of the Castle.) The Church dates from around 1107.1

Steps leading to the top of the motte
Steps leading to the top of the motte

In 920, Queen Aethelflaed liberated Leicester from the occupying Danes; her fame was such that when she arrived at the gates of the town, the Vikings capitulated without a fight. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles it says

This year Ethelfleda got into her power, with God’s assistance, in the early part of the year, without loss, the town of Leicester; and the greater part of the army that belonged thereto submitted to her.

Read more about Queen Aethelflaed in our article about her.

The castle in Norman times

In 1068, The Normans built a castle in Leicester, soon after their conquest of the country in 1066. They built over the Roman remains of the original south wall. It was the centre of power for the first Norman overlord of the town, Hugh de Grentnesnil (1032 to 1094.) Robert de Beaumont, first Earl of Leicester, rebuilt the castle’s defensive walls in 1107.

Leicester appears in the Domesday Book; the entry (in 1086) states that it was a large town with 71 households, consisting of 3 villagers. 12 smallholders. 1 priest. 17 burgesses. At that time it had two churches. The lord was Hugh of Grandmesnil (sic) who died in Leicester but was buried in France. Robert de Beaumont, third earl of Leicester (to 1190),  in 1173 attempted to relieve the siege of Leicester Castle, then in the hands of the king (Henry II) but was defeated at the battle of Fornham, and was taken prisoner. He was restored to favour by Richard I.

We will be looking at the earles of Leicester ina  forthcoming article (currently in preparation.) In the meantime you can find more about them on Wikipedia.

The castle in medieval times.

It is said that the castle was once under the ownership of Henry Bolinbroke, 1366 to 1413. (later Henry IV from 1399). Several other castles were built on the sites of ancient forts, such as motte and bailey castle in Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire.

In medieval times Leicester was a walled city, the castle forming the south-west corner of the walls. The castle’s timber structure began to be replaced by stone in the early twelfth century. Castles were hubs of activity in medieval times, with an important impact on the surrounding area, and acted as a spur to the local economy. The construction and maintenance of the building would have provided employment for local craftsmen, masons, carpenters and blacksmiths.

Timbers in the roof of the court room
Timbers in the roof of the court room

Leicester Castle was formerly a royal castle and the residence of the head of the house of Lancaster. It has been visited by several monarchs and parliaments have been there. It is a place of national significance and interest. Its great hall has been described as second only in importance to Westminster Hall, in the Houses of Parliament.

Timbers from the great hall
Timbers from the great hall

It was the hall of a Norman baron and would have seen many royal festivities and assemblies, including those of the English parliament. The kitchens would have required a frequent supply of food for feasts and often very large numbers of people would have stayed there when very important people visited, with their often considerable retinues.

View of the court room showing the judge's chair
View of the court room showing the judge’s chair

What we see today is the much later exterior of a building that once served as a courthouse, and was in use right up to 1990. The front of the building was constructed in 1790. During the 19th century, the Great Hall of the castle was divided into separate court rooms, in which now can be seen the wood work of the Victorian courts.

Judge's chair with coat of arms above it
Judge’s chair with coat of arms above it

The castle is now a Grade I listed building. The building was used as the Assize Courts. In Victorian times when the castle was held by the Crown and placed under the control of a constable. Below the court rooms are the police  cells that once held the prisoners awaiting their trials.

The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room
The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room

Below the courts there are many cells and rooms for the police whose job it was to hold prisoners before their trials in the criminal court above.

Corridor in the cells
Corridor in the cells

The cells were added in 1858, after the great hall was converted to accommodate the court rooms,  in the  early 1820s.

Door to police room in the cells
Door to police room in the cells

The Great Hall

Robert de Beaumont (sometimes referred to as Robert leBossu), built a great hall within the Bailey of the castle. Robert was the second Earl of Leicester from 1118 and died in that year. He was of Norman-French ancestry and was brother to Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester, 1104–1168 (distinguishing between the various members of the Beaumont family becomes difficult. Four generations were all called Robert and were all earls of Leicester.) It was Robert, the second earl who built the great hall in 1150.

Stonework incorporated into later walls
Stonework incorporated into later walls

The Great Hall was enlarged with an aisle and bays. The walls were constructed of sandstone and its central nave had two aisles, each of which  was divided into arcades made of timber. Oak columns supported the roof. The hall was the third biggest aisle-and-bay hall in the country (the other two being Westminster Hall in London and the the so called ‘Pilgrims’ Hall’ at Winchester, built around 1380.)

A cap of the of the Great Hall's oak pillars
A cap of the of the Great Hall’s oak pillars

Each column had a scalloped capital, one of which is exhibited in the castle building, close to the lobby. A new roof was added after 1523. The timbers of the roof have been dated to around 1500 and are thought to be similar to their Norman originals.

Leading from the Hall was a building that served as the kitchens. At the north end of the hall was a large window with its norman-style curved arch.

Windows in the front of the castle
Windows in the front of the castle

Below this was the raised dias on which was set the Lord’s table. The earl would have sat here and dispensed justice.  In the nave there was an open fire,  the smoke from which escaped through louvres set in the roof.

It was in the Great Hall that the Earls of Leicester sat in judgement. It was also used for feasting. In the 16th to 18th centuries The Hall was used by the Mayors of Leicester.

Leicester as the birth place of ‘parliament.’

The Earls of Leicester used the castle as their headquarters. From there they administered thier lands, which were quite considerable. Courts were held here and human remains have been unearthed, in the area of the castle motte,  which could be those of convicts that were executed after being tried in the court.

Remains of the early castle seen in the walls of the later building
Remains of the early castle seen in the walls of the later building

The Barons and nobles met in the castle in 1349, 1414 and 1425 and these gatherings became known as the first parliaments. Parliament met in Leicester on three occasions – 1414, 1426 and 1450. The session of 1414 was held in the hall of the Grey Friars priory and was known as the ‘fire and faggot’ parliament because Beaufort delivered a sermon at this session which was about the rise of heresy.

The Parliament of Bats was held in the Great Hall at the castle in 1426. It was so-called because members were not allowed to wear swords and hence armed themselves with clubs and bats (bludgeons.) Parliament was called in Leicester because it was though to be unsafe to hold it at Westminster, owing to feuds taking place between Beaufort and Gloucester. This was during the reign of Henry IV; Beaufort, as chancellor, opened the session in the great hall of Leicester castle in the presence of the four-year-old king. The origins of the term are explained by history writer Mrs Fielding Johnson:

“In consequence of the angry feud then existing between the Duke of Gloucester, younger brother of King Henry V and the fiery-tempered Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, the wearing of weapons by the members was strictly forbidden as likely to lead to bloodshed. To carry clubs or ‘bats’, however, and to load their hanging, pouch-like sleeves with stones and lead, appeared to the partisan barons to be an honest and suitable evasion of the letter of this prohibition; and serious mischief was averted only by the strenuous efforts of the neutral members, who succeeded in arranging the quarrel before a general melee took place.”

The parliament assembled in February and disbanded in June. No actual violence took place during this session of  parliament. During the session, the infant king (Henry VI) was knighted in the nearby church of St. Mary de Castro. 2

Royal visits

John of Gaunt visited the castle in 1313 and spent large amounts of money entertaining his substantial retinue. John of Gaunt, who died at the castle in 1394, has a cellar in the castle named after him. King Edward I stayed there in 1300 and Edward II in 1310 and 1311. He died at the castle in 1399. Many of the kings of the middle ages would have visited the church of St. Mary de Castro.

Richard III stayed at the castle in 1483 and wrote to the King of France, signing the letter ‘from my castle of Leicester.’  3 Richard arrived in Leicester two days before the battle of Bosworth and it is said that he stayed at an Inn, then called The White Boar Inn. Richard’s battle emblem was a white boar and it might have been that he thought that staying at an Inn called The White Boar would give him good luck. In any case, Leicester Castle was then in a poor state of repair, even more so than on his last visit there. In previous visits to Leicester, in 1483, two years before his death, Richard had stayed at Leicester Castle but, even then, the building had not been in a good state of repair. We know that Richard stayed there (on his journey between London and York) because he wrote letters with the Castle’s address at the top. Richard stayed at Leicester Castle again on the return journey to London in August. Richard would have feasted in the great hall or at least held court there.

In 1523 a survey of the buildings found much decay and disrepair and a new roof was installed. The royal connections of the castle came to an end in 1888 when the Leicestershire county justices purchased the building from the Crown Estates.

The Castle as a court-house.

The great hall of the castle was converted into law courts  in 1821.

An ink well in one of the court rooms
An ink well in one of the court rooms

When the Great Hall was divided into separate courtrooms, in 1821, Assizes were held and criminal courts continued to held until 1972. The Great Hall was partitioned into the two courts in 1830. The Crown Court continued to sit there until 1992. A cell block was added in 1858. Cells below the court have a staircase leading up to the dock in which prisoners sat during their trial.  Part of the police cells is underground, but because of the slope of the land, the rest is actually above ground level. One of the courts was a criminal court and the other tried civil cases.

The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room
The entry to the cells from the dock in the court room

On the upper floor there was a jury room. Judges had a retiring rooms behind each court and there were rooms for barristers. The fittings that we can see today in the court rooms are Victorian. The judges sat under a wooden canopy displaying the royal coat of arms.

The royal coat of arms above the judge's chair
The royal coat of arms above the judge’s chair

In the Castle’s entrance lobby there  is a tiled floor.

Tiles on the ground floor
Tiles on the ground floor

I do not know the date of these tiles but  they are likely to  be Victorian; they are similar in design to tiles typical of medieval times.

Tling in the entrance on the ground floor
Tling in the entrance on the ground floor

Several features from the Victorian period are still on display in the lobby.

The poor box in the entrance hall
The poor box in the entrance hall

This article is the first draft of a chapter from my forthcoming  book The History of Leicester.

Tours of Leicester Castle take place on the last Sunday of each month. They are given by the Blue Badge guides who share their details knowledge of the buildings and sometimes take visitors into parts of the Castle that are normally restricted to public access. Find out more from Go Leicestershire.

Notes added later

1 The Norman south entrance to St. Mary de Casto can be seen today. It had a typically Norman arch with zig-zag mouldings. The ground level in those days was much lower than it is today.

2 For more information about the parliament of bats see the Wikipedia entry.

3 See our article on Richard III

See also my article on the Earls of Leicester (coming soon)

See also:

Article on the early history of Leicester

Leicester in the times of the Romans

Background to Richard III

This page was editoed by Trevor Locke. Read more about Leicester on his blog.

Friars Mill

10th September 2014

Friars Mill redevelopment begins

WORK to rebuild and develop a disused and fire damaged 18th century mill complex in Leicester is set to begin.

Friars Mill (artist's impression) 2014
Friars Mill (artist’s impression) 2014

Leicester City Council is investing £6.3milllion in an ambitious project to redevelop the derelict Friars Mill complex, on the banks of the River Soar, and bring it back into use as a base for local businesses.

The site includes Leicester’s oldest surviving factory building – the former Donisthorpe Factory – which was badly damaged in a fire in 2012.

Leicester City Council bought the factory, and other buildings in the grade II-listed mill complex for £550,000, and has worked with Levitate Architecture and Design Studio to develop plans to create 2,300sqm of new, managed workspaces.

The project has been awarded up to £3.9milllion from the European Development Fund. The city council will contribute £2.4million from capital set aside to deliver the Leicester Economic Action Plan.

The city council has now awarded the construction contract to William Anelay Limited following a competitive tendering exercise.

Founded in 1747, the company is one of the UK’s longest established construction firms and specialises in the conservation and restoration of listed and historic buildings. It has worked on major restoration and redevelopment projects across the UK including recent schemes at Sheffield Cathedral, The Florence Institute in Liverpool, Althorpe House in Warwickshire and Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate.

Work will start on site at Friars Mill from Monday, 15 September, and is expected to take around 13 months to complete.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “I am really pleased that we are now beginning work on the restoration and redevelopment of Friars Mill.

“By bringing new life to these buildings as much-needed workspaces, we can help preserve an important part of the city’s industrial and architectural heritage.

“Alongside that, we have an opportunity to provide larger workspaces in a really attractive environment, which will appeal to companies to looking to grow and develop. We already know there is an appetite for these sorts of units from businesses that are enjoying success at LCB Depot, Phoenix and our other workspaces across the city.

“I have always seen Friars Mill as a beacon for the wider development of the Waterside area. Our ambitions for this are already moving forward following the award of £5.5milllion from the Government’s Local Growth Fund for regeneration in this area.

“Friars Mill is the first exciting stage in an ambitious, longer term vision to bring new prosperity to Waterside.”

Tony Townend, Managing Director of Willaim Anelay Limited, said: “We are delighted to be involved in carrying out these specialist works to Friars Mill.  Being able to develop a building of such local importance to provide alternative uses and extend its life span for future generations is always a pleasure”

The main factory building will be restored and an extension built to house a new staircase and lift. The fire damaged roof, along with its original cupola and weathervane, will be completely rebuilt.

An extension will also be built to the rear of the former workers’ cottages, which will house work units. The former Bath Lane Mill will also be developed to provide work units and shared meeting rooms.

In a change to original plans, a new building will be built alongside the Pump House. This will house photovoltaic panels and an air source heat pump large enough to heat the entire complex, along with other required utilities.

When complete, Friars Mill will offer 14 work units, of 70sqm and above, along with a main reception area, meeting rooms and other shared facilities.

The former factory Mill chimney will also be completely restored and carry bold Friars Mill signage.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

See also:

Heritage News