Historical Buildings, Leicester

Historical Buildings (Self Guided), Leicester

Leicester, a city in England's East Midlands, has a storied past that is vividly presented in its historical buildings. Valuable architectural monuments, they are the city's pride and as such enjoy special protection by the government.

Among such, Magazine Gateway stands as a testament to the city's medieval legacy. Originally part of its defensive walls, this structure now serves as a striking landmark.

Passing through this gateway you will find yourself at the Newarke Houses Museum, showcasing Leicester's architectural evolution along with insights into its daily life from medieval times to the present.

The Church of Mary de Castro is another noteworthy location. With its Norman architecture and historical significance, it encapsulates centuries of Leicester's yesteryear.

Leicester Castle, designed as part of the town's fortification system in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, it then served as a royal residence and courthouse, witnessing many momentous events such as the English Civil War.

The Jewry Wall Museum showcases Leicester's Roman period, featuring remnants of Roman baths and an extensive archaeological collection.

Saint Nicholas's Church and The Guildhall are emblematic of Leicester's religious and civic heritage, respectively. The former is the oldest place of worship in the city, while the latter is said to have seen William Shakespeare himself live on stage.

The Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower, Clarence House, Secular Hall, and Saint George's Church further enrich Leicester's architectural landscape, each contributing to the city's unique character and history.

Collectively, these sites are like a window into Leicester's past, looking through which you can feel as if taking a time journey. So, why not embark on this historical trip now and discover the stories etched within the walls of these iconic landmarks? Your Leicester's history adventure awaits.
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Historical Buildings Map

Guide Name: Historical Buildings
Guide Location: England » Leicester (See other walking tours in Leicester)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: Ella
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Magazine Gateway
  • Newarke Houses
  • Church of Mary de Castro
  • Leicester Castle and Castle Gardens
  • Jewry Wall Museum
  • St. Nicholas' Church
  • The Guildhall
  • Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower
  • Clarence House
  • Secular Hall
  • St. George's Church
Magazine Gateway

1) Magazine Gateway

The Magazine Gateway was built in 1410 and is one of Leicester's top attractions. It once served as an entrance to the Castle of Leicester, although it never had doors. The Gateway was principally ceremonial and was meant to impress visitors to the city. It also was the entrance to the Newark District, which was one of the best places in Leicester to live, as residents of this district could avoid taxes.

The original purpose of the gateway was to provide a grand imposing entrance into the religious collegiate precinct of The Newarke. In 1330 the Trinity Hospital had been established by Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster in an area along the south side the castle wall. His son rose to be Duke of Lancaster and further aggrandised the area by founding a new collegiate Church of the Annunciation of St. Mary which housed a holy relic claimed to be a thorn from Christ's Crown of thorns.

The Gateway was completed soon after 1400, at the same time as substantial walls which enclosed the college precinct. In 1967 The area was built over by the James Went building, and photographs suggest that until then, some of the walls remained up to a height of 3 metres (9.8 ft).

The 1960s inner ring road scheme resulted in the Magazine being stranded with busy carriageways running both sides of it, with the only access being via pedestrian underpasses. In 1969 it was made available to the Royal Leicestershire Regiment for use as the regimental museum. It continued in this purpose until 1996 when repair work and the limited accessibility of the three-story building brought that use to an end. The Regimental museum subsequently re-opened on the upper floor of the Newarke Houses Museum.

The unsatisfactory treatment of a grade I listed medieval building, set below the road level with traffic pounding past both sides, was finally addressed in 2007 with the filling in of the underpass. This allowed the street level on the west side to be brought back down to the same as the Magazine. The road was also shifted entirely to the east side of the gateway, and the area to the west pedestrianised, reuniting the gateway with the Newarke and creating a new open space for students at De Montfort University alongside the nearby Business and Law School.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Newarke Houses

2) Newarke Houses

The Newarke Houses are located next to Leicester Castle in the historic part of the city. These two buildings are of different styles and ages, but together they help illustrate the development of the city. Wygston Chantry House was built by William Wiggston, who was the mayor of Leicester in the 16th century. It served as lodging for priests. Built in 1547, this is the only remaining Elizabethan-era house in the city. The other house dates back to the 17th century and is known as Skeffington House. It once served as the Skeffington family home. On the first floor are exhibits that teach about the development of Leicester over the past 300 years.

The Newarke Houses Museum incorporates the museum of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, and has a range of exhibits illustrating post-medieval and contemporary Leicester. The museum stands in the middle of the De Montfort University campus.

The museum occupies two buildings: Wyggeston's Chantry House (built circa 1511), and Thomas Skeffington's Skeffington House (built in the seventeenth century). The houses were used during the Siege of Leicester in 1645 as part of the English Civil War. The two properties were sold in 1908 and, while Chantry House remained a private residence, Skeffington House became a school for boys. Both properties were acquired and converted for museum use in 1953 as part of the celebrations surrounding the coronation of the Queen. One room on the ground floor of the museum represents the buildings' 17th Century interior.

Amongst the items on display are various possessions of Daniel Lambert, an 18th-century resident of Leicester who weighed over 50 stone (320 kg) and became famous in his lifetime as Britain's largest man, and remains one of the city's famous icons. Possessions on display include items of clothing and his chair.

The museum also houses a 1950s Leicester street scene modelled in Wharf Street with a number of model shops, as well as an exhibition of toys from Tudor times to the present.

Other collections relate to Leicester's industrial and hosiery industry, such as Corah's and Wolsey, major clothing firms in Leicester. The museum has an exhibit with a particularly focus on the more recent history of Leicester, from the 19th century onward.

The museum also includes a display about the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, a large collection of items relating to life during the wars, a large collection of medals, with records regarding the involvement of people within the Leicester Regiment, which can be accessed via a computer.

The gardens of the museum are laid out on separate sides of the main building which has an extension into the garden. These are laid to box hedges in medieval style maze-like geometric patterns. The garden was stocked in Victorian times with a variety of exotic trees and other plants, several of which survive to the present day. The end wall of the garden has gun loops, cut in it by Cromwell's troops, the Round-heads, in 1645 during the English Civil War when the Cavalier Prince Rupert was besieging the town.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Church of Mary de Castro

3) Church of Mary de Castro

Saint Mary de Castro (meaning Saint Mary of the Castle) is an ancient church located near Leicester Castle. Today it acts as a parish church in the Church of England's diocese of Leicester. It dates its founding to 1107 when Henry I of England took the lands and castle from a rebellious owner and granted them instead to Robert de Beaumont, although some legends say that a Saxon church of Saint Mary had existed before the Norman Conquest. The collegiate nature of the church lasted until the college was disbanded in 1548 by Henry VIII.

The early-12th-century church had no aisles, and various parts of these walls survive. It underwent a major expansion in the 1160, with a north aisle, doorways to north and west, and an extension to the chancel. The two doorways provide striking external Norman zigzag decoration, but it is the Sedilia and Piscina in the Chancel extension that Pevsner describes as "the finest piece of Norman decoration in the county". Thirteenth-century alterations culminated in a major reworking of transepts and south aisle, to create an aisle wider than the nave, providing much more space for local parishioners. Also the huge east window of the south aisle, with ingenious tracery, was created around 1300.

The tower was built inside the south aisle, apparently as an afterthought, rising to a quatrefoil frieze, four decorated pinnacles, and the needlelike spire rising from the battlements. The spire was completely rebuilt in 1783, but retained its crockets and three tiers of lucarnes. The interior was worked on by George Gilbert Scott throughout the 1860s.

The church was closed when the spire was found to be unsafe. The 14th-century octagonal spire, having been rebuilt in 1783, had developed six-metre-long cracks in four of its faces in September 2013. After inspections by structural engineers, it was deemed at risk of collapse. The severe condition of the spire meant it had to be demolished, at an estimated cost of £200,000, in 2014. Over £358,000 has been raised since 2011; however, there are currently insufficient funds to rebuild the spire and repair the tower.

The church contains a three manual pipe organ which was originally installed in 1860 by Forster and Andrews. It has been the subject of modifications and restorations in 1880 by Joshua Porritt, and R. J. Winn in 1960. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Leicester Castle and Castle Gardens

4) Leicester Castle and Castle Gardens

Leicester Castle is situated west of the city center, between Saint Nicholas Circle to the north and De Montfort University to the south. Leicester Castle was part of the medieval town defences, built over the Roman town walls. The castle was probably built around 1070 (soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066). A large motte and the Great Hall are the two substantial remains of what was once a large defensive structure. The hall is now encased in a Queen Anne style frontage.

In 1173, Henry II's three eldest sons led a rebelled against him with support from several magnates, including Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester. During the conflict, Henry's forces laid siege to Leicester and burnt most of the town. The castle was then slighted (partially demolished) and parts of the ditches filled. According to historian Sidney Painter, it was one of at least 21 castles demolished on Henry II's instructions

Kings sometimes stayed at the castle (Edward I in 1300, and Edward II in 1310 and 1311), and John of Gaunt and his second wife Constance of Castile both died here in 1399 and 1394 respectively.

It became an official royal residence during the reigns of Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI and Edward IV, but by the middle of the 15th century, it was no longer considered suitable and was used mainly as a courthouse; with sessions being held in the Great Hall. Apart from being used for Assize Courts, the Great Hall was also used for sessions of the Parliament of England most notably the Parliament of Bats in 1426, when the conditions in London were not suitable.

A section of the castle wall adjacent to the Turret Gateway has gun loops that were poked through the medieval wall to use as firing ports by the city's residents when parliamentarian Leicester was besieged, captured, and ransacked by the royalist army in the 1640s during the English civil war.

The Castle Gardens are located along the bank of the canal.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Jewry Wall Museum

5) Jewry Wall Museum

The Jewry Wall is believed to be the remaining wall of the public baths of Roman Leicester along with foundations of the baths, which are laid out in front of the wall. The wall is nearly 2,000 years old and is a rare example of Roman walling. It is the second largest piece of surviving civil Roman building in Britain. The Jewry Wall would have been the wall separating the gymnasium from the cold room.

The remains of the baths were excavated in the 1930s by Dame Kathleen Kenyon and date from approximately 160 A.D. The wall and baths are adjoined by the Jewry Wall Museum, which contains excellent local examples of Roman mosaics and wall plaster. The name of the wall is unlikely to relate to Leicester's Jewish community, which was never large, and which was expelled from the town by Simon de Montfort in 1231.

The Jewry Wall Museum was built in the 1960s, facing the Jewry Wall ruins in a building shared with Vaughan College. It housed artefacts from Iron Age, Roman, and medieval Leicester. With the ending of Vaughan College's use of the building in 2013, the whole site was acquired by the city council, and expansion and improvement plans were put in place.

The building, completed in 1962, is Grade II listed and until 2013 the museum was located below Vaughan College, part of Leicester University's Institute for Lifelong-Learning. Construction began in 1960 and finished two years later; the building was designed by Trevor Dannatt. The museum is run by Leicester City Council and is free to enter.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. Nicholas' Church

6) St. Nicholas' Church

St Nicholas' Church is an Anglican parish church and the oldest place of worship in Leicester. It is situated next to the Jewry Wall, the remnant of the city's Roman baths. Parts of the church date back to 880 A.D., and a recent architectural survey suggested possible Roman building work.

The tower is Norman. By 1825, the church was in an extremely poor condition, and plans were made for its demolition. Instead, due to lack of funds for the construction of the planned replacement church, it was extensively renovated between 1875 and 1884, including the building of a new north aisle.

Renovation continued into the 20th century. A 15th-century octagonal font from the redundant Church of Saint Michael the Greater, Stamford was transferred to Saint Nicholas.

In the 1950s, Saint Nicholas was directed to the spiritual needs of local university students. In recent times, as a city centre church without a large residential parish, Saint Nicholas became an Inclusive Church, with a mission to welcome people of diverse sexualities, identities, disabilities, origins, and socioeconomic situations. As a result, it has acquired a significant LGBTQ worshipper population and displays pride flags.

Today, the church lies just outside the city's inner ring road. Despite being some distance from the campus, it is the official church of the University of Leicester.

The organ was built in 1890 by the local firm of J. Porritt and incorporates pipework from an earlier organ by an unknown builder dating from the 1830s. The church has three bells, dated 1617, 1656 and 1710, that were taken down from the tower in 1949 and replaced with one large bell. Because the tower is not very strong, they were re-hung for stationery chiming. They were returned to the church in July 2002 and were rung to welcome Queen Elizabeth II on her Jubilee Visit to Leicester.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
The Guildhall

7) The Guildhall (must see)

The Guildhall in Leicester is a Grade I listed timber framed building, with the earliest part dating from circa 1390. The Guildhall once acted as the town hall for the city until the current one was commissioned in 1876. Although some parts are earlier, the majority of the building dates from the 15th century.

It is located in the old walled city, on a street now known as Guildhall Lane. It is a Grade I listed building, and the surrounding area, also including the Cathedral of St Martin's, is a conservation area, one of three in Leicester.

The hall was used for many purposes, including council meetings, feasts, as a courtroom, and for theatrical performances. The Guildhall was also used for banquets, festivals, and as a home for a priest who prayed for the souls of Guild members in the nearby St Martin's Church. The Guildhall was retained in use until quite late. It was not until 1876 that the Corporation moved to the new Leicester Town Hall. It was later used as a police station and school, before becoming a museum.

It is reputed that William Shakespeare appeared here in the late 16th century. In recognition of this, the television company, Maya Vision, brought the Royal Shakespeare Company to perform at the Guildhall as part of its 2003 series for the BBC, In Search of Shakespeare, written and narrated by the historian, Michael Wood. Part of the Shakespeare legend is that Shakespeare first came across the tale of King Leir whilst appearing at the Guildhall and this inspired him to write his own play King Lear. There is, however, no actual evidence to support this, although the legend of King Leir is associated with Leicester.

With five reported ghosts, the Guildhall is reputedly Leicester's most haunted building. Because of its reported hauntings, it has appeared on various TV programmes, including being investigated on the television show Most Haunted.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower

8) Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower

The Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower is a major landmark and popular meeting point in Leicester. It is located roughly in the middle of the area inside the ring-road, and is at the point where five major streets (Gallowtree Gate, Humberstone Gate, Belgrave Gate, Church Gate and Eastgates) meet, and also close by to the junction with Cheapside. The Clock Tower is the de rigueur meeting place in the city centre.

Before the construction of the Clock Tower the site had been used for an Assembly Room building, built in 1750, which was re-used and divided as shops in 1805. The building came to be considered "the Haymarket Obstruction" and after a campaign by local property-owners it was demolished in 1862. The hay market on the site remained, however, until it was relocated to Humberstone Gate.

The removal of the Assembly Rooms and the hay market left a wide area which pedestrians struggled to cross due to the busy traffic there, and with rumours of an illuminated clock planned for the junction of London Road and Belvoir Street, local businesses began a petition to erect "a clock with a cluster of lamps and a fine colossal statue of that unparalleled benefactor Sir Thomas White" in the area.

The Clock Tower was constructed in 1868. It was built mostly in Ketton stone with a base of Mountsorrel granite, and incorporates column shafts made of polished Peterhead granite and serpentine. The statues were made from Portland stone. The site was directly above the junction of two of the city's main sewers which were modified prior to the tower's construction.

Officially a memorial, the Clock Tower has four statues of sons of Leicester, one at each corner. The figures are Simon de Montfort, William Wyggeston (spelt 'William Wigston' on the tower itself), Thomas White and Gabriel Newton.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Clarence House

9) Clarence House

Clarence House was designed by architect Edward Burgess in 1877 and initially served as the Wyggeston Girls‘ School. It later became part of Charles Keene College. Today it is the headquarters of the Age Concern of Leicester. This three-story building was designed in the Victorian architectural style. Due to its historical importance, it is under the protection of the local government.
Secular Hall

10) Secular Hall

Secular Hall was designed by W. Larner Sugden of Leek in 1881 for the Secular Society. Made of red brick, the building is famous as the residence of one of the country's oldest secular societies, which was founded in 1851. The facade of the building is decorated with the busts of five world-famous thinkers - Socrates, Jesus, Voltaire, Thomas Paine and Robert Owen. The walls also sport Masonic symbols.

The building of the hall was proposed in 1872 after George Holyoake, who coined the word "secularism", was refused the use of a public room for a lecture. George Bernard Shaw and William Morris are among the many radical thinkers who have spoken there.

The building is under the protection of the government, as it is an important historical landmark.
St. George's Church

11) St. George's Church

The churchyard of Saint George's Church, located between Colton and Queen Streets, is a green island in the city center. The former Anglican Church was built in 1826 and was recently transformed into a Greek Orthodox Church. Today it serves as a place of worship for the Orthodox community of Serbia. It was reconstructed after a fire in 1911. The solid building resembles a medieval castle and has elegant towers. Its green yard is an oasis of tranquility in the busy heart of Leicester.

Walking Tours in Leicester, England

Create Your Own Walk in Leicester

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Creating your own self-guided walk in Leicester is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Leicester Introduction Walking Tour

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Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, whose history goes back almost two millennia. The Romans arrived in the area around 47 AD, during their conquest of southern Britain. Following the Saxon invasion, Leicester was then captured by Danish Vikings, in the 9th century.

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles