Leicester Introduction Walking Tour, Leicester

Leicester Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Leicester

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.

The settlement was first documented in the early 10th century, under the name Ligeraceaster. At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, the town, then known as Ledecestre, was quite thriving. William the Conqueror's Domesday Book recorded it as having 322 houses and six churches, with a population of between 1,500 and 2,000. Medieval Leicester lay within the old Roman walls which followed the lines of today's Soar Lane, Sanvey Gate, Church Gate, Gallowtree Gate, Horsefair Street and Bath Lane.

The name Leicester comes from Old English and derives from Latin “Legorensis civitatis”. The former word is the name of a people, the Ligore, who came from the river Ligor (now the River Soar). The second element of the name is the Old English word ceaster which means "fort, fortification, town" (borrowed from Latin castrum).

In the 12th-13th centuries Leicester underwent a development boom, and in the 14th century saw its prestige further enhanced. The timber-framed Leicester Guildhall (once acted as the town hall) dates from that period. At the end of the War of the Roses (mid-to-late 15th century), King Richard III met his end at the Battle of Bosworth Field near the town, and was buried in Leicester's Greyfriars Church. The burial site, demolished in 1538, was discovered in 2012 and is now covered by King Richard III Visitor Centre.

During the Industrial era, particularly throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, Leicester had prospered greatly. Between 1861 and 1901, its population had increased three-fold, to exceed 210,000, with the living conditions also generally improved.

Leicester was finally recognized as a city in 1919 for its contribution to the British WWI effort. In 1927, Leicester became a cathedral city upon the consecration of St Martin's Church as Leicester Cathedral. The years after WWII, particularly from the 1960s onwards, brought many social and economic challenges to the city, as well as further expansion.

To check out Leicester's major attractions worthy of attention, take this self-guided walk and learn more about the past and present of this city in its variety!
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Leicester Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Leicester Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » Leicester (See other walking tours in Leicester)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: Ella
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Town Hall Square
  • Gallowtree Gate
  • Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower
  • High Street
  • The Guildhall
  • Leicester Cathedral
  • King Richard III Visitor Centre
  • Leicester Market
Town Hall Square

1) Town Hall Square

Leicester Town Hall in the City centre of Leicester is a welcoming building set in a square which contains an impressive fountain. The building, which contains a Bike Park, is the main office of the City of Leicester. It is a Grade II* listed building.

Before the town hall was built, the Guildhall acted as the meeting place of the city council. After the civic leaders decided the guildhall was too small they selected the old cattle market as the site for the new building.

The foundation stone for the new building was laid on 3 August 1874. The new building was designed by Francis Hames in the Queen Anne style and was opened by the Mayor, Alderman William Barfoot, on 7 August 1876. The design, which made extensive use of Ketton stone, included a clock tower with cupola which is 44 metres (144 ft) high. The building was extended in 1910 and again in 1924.

A German bomb crashed through the town hall roof and fell through several floors to the basement without exploding on the night of 19/20 November 1940 during the Blitz.

The town hall was the headquarters of the county borough of Leicester until 1974 when, following local government reform, it became the meeting place of Leicester City Council.

Important works of art in the town hall include a painting by Charles James Adams depicting "The Ferry" and a painting by John Fulleylove depicting the "Interior of the Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem".

Leicester Town Council accepted on 29 October 1878, "a handsome ornamental fountain to be placed in the centre of the land fronting the Town Hall Buildings" which was a gift to the Borough from Sir Israel Hart, a former Mayor of Leicester. It is constructed of bronze-painted cast iron, Shap granite and Ross of Mull granite. Francis Hames, the architect of the town hall, also designed the layout of Town Hall Square and the fountain, which was unveiled by Sir Israel Hart on 24 September 1879.

It is said to be based on a similar fountain Hames saw in at Porto in Portugal, although this is unlikely, as the Town Hall Square fountain is the earlier work (1879, with the Porto one being accepted in 1885). There are very strong similarities, which suggests that the Val d’Osne foundry copied the Leicester fountain for the Porto installation.

Also located in the Town Hall Square is the Second Boer War Memorial which was sculpted by Joseph Crosland McClure and unveiled by Field Marshal Lord Grenfell on 1 July 1909.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Gallowtree Gate

2) Gallowtree Gate

Leicester boasts plenty of intriguing street names, each with its own story. One such is Gallowtree Gate, a busy pedestrian street in the heart of the city, running between Horsefair Street and the Clock Tower at Church Gate and Haymarket.

The streets in this area are commonly referred to as gates, which is due to the fortress-like gates that once offered entrance into the city through the Roman walls. The four gates were originally named after the cardinal directions but were later renamed to reflect their usage. The word "gate", from the Norse "gata", describes passages that were in use starting from the year 868 when Danish Vikings captured the Midlands, then known as the Mercia region of Britain.

Nowadays lined with shops, cafes and numerous businesses, the history of Gallowtree Gate is very different from the street's modern image. The origins of the name stem from its use as a path to the gallows where public executions were held. Condemned prisoners would have walked along Gallowtree Gate to the gallows in London Road, where today the Victoria Park gates are. There, they were hanged by the neck until death in front of a crowd of onlookers. Gruesome!!!
Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower

3) 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.
High Street

4) High Street

High Street is a main pedestrian street in the center of Leicester. It is lined with numerous shops and boutiques selling high-end jewelry, clothing, stationery and even groceries. There are also varied restaurants and cafes to be found here, whose patrons can enjoy anything from beer on tap to a kebab to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Though mostly known for shopping, High Street also has some entertainment venues and interesting architecture. The grand mansion known as Lord’s Place (43-51 High Street), nowadays a residential and office space with boutique shopping on the street level, was once home of Henry, Earl of Huntingdon, from 1569. It is also said that Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed there in 1586, followed by King James I in 1612 and Charles I in 1642. A plaque on No. 45 High Street records the site’s history.

High Street follows a route that existed in Roman times, connecting East Gate to the Forum and Basilica (now Jubilee Square). In medieval times it was known as Forum Porcorum (‘pig market’) or Swinesmarket, but was renamed High Street in 1524 to reflect its increased importance.

In 1899 the construction of the Great Central Railway further increased the importance of High Street, which linked the commercial heart of Leicester with the new station. The street had to be widened to accommodate Leicester’s new electric tram system and many of its buildings were demolished and replaced. Replacement buildings that have survived include No. 7, a classical style bank (1904), No. 40, Leicester’s first cinema, the Electric Theatre (1910), Nos. 58-60, Butler’s Chemist’s Shop and Nos. 76-88, the Coronation Buildings (1904).
The Guildhall

5) 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.
Leicester Cathedral

6) Leicester Cathedral (must see)

Leicester Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of Saint Martin is the fourth smallest Anglican cathedral in England. The remains of King Richard III were reburied in the cathedral in 2015 after being discovered nearby in the foundations of the lost Greyfriars chapel.

The church was built on the site of Roman ruins and is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a 4th century Roman officer who became a Bishop. It is almost certainly one of six churches referred to in the Domesday Book (1086) and portions of the current building can be traced to a 12th century Norman church which was rebuilt in the 13th and 15th centuries. In the Middle Ages, its site next to Leicester’s Guild Hall, ensured that Saint Martin’s became Leicester’s Civic Church with strong ties to the merchants and guilds of the town.

The building you see today is predominantly Victorian. The tower and 220 foot spire were designed by the architect Raphael Brandon and were rebuilt in the 1860s. In 1927 Saint Martin’s was dedicated as Leicester’s Cathedral when the diocese was re-created, over 1,000 years after the last Saxon Bishop of Leicester fled from the invading Danes.

Today over one hundred thousand people visit Leicester Cathedral every year, primarily to see the tomb of King Richard III, the last English monarch to die in battle. King Richard’s mortal remains were interred by the Archbishop of Canterbury in March 2015 after five days of commemoration events and activities around the city and county of Leicester. A magnificent tomb cut of a single piece of Swaledale fossil stone weighing 3 tonnes now covers his grave. Inside, on permanent exhibition, is the Pall, a decorative cloth which covered King Richard’s coffin during his reinterment. It was designed and created by artist Jacquie Binns. The embroidery tells the story of King Richard’s life and the discovery of his body in a car park very near to the Cathedral.

Other items that can be seen inside the Cathedral include 14th century wooden carved figures, each “afflicted” with some kind of illness. One has a medieval hearing aid, while another is suffering from sore shoulders.

Leicester Cathedral is a Grade II* listed building comprising a large nave and chancel with two chancel chapels, along with a 220-foot-tall spire which was added in 1862. The building has undergone various restoration projects over the centuries, including work by the Victorian architect Raphael Brandon, and the building appears largely Gothic in style today. Inside the cathedral, the large wooden screen separating the nave from the chancel was designed by Charles Nicholson and carved by Bowman of Stamford. In 2015 the screen was moved eastward to stand in front of the tomb of Richard III, as part of the reordering of the Chancel by van Heyningen and Haward Architects.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
King Richard III Visitor Centre

7) King Richard III Visitor Centre (must see)

King Richard III Visitor Centre is an establishment that showcases the life of King Richard III and the story of how his remains were discovered in 2012. The centre opened in 2014 on the site of Greyfriars, the medieval friary where the King was originally buried.

The visitor centre occupies a former school (Alderman Newton's School) next to the car park where King Richard's remains were found during excavations in 2012/2013. Because of worldwide interest in the discovery, Leicester City Council quickly decided to convert the Victorian school building into a visitor centre. The project includes a covered area over the grave site, which was in the church of the friary. The centre cost £4 million and was designed by Paul East (Maber Architects).

The burial site is part of a scheduled monument. In December 2017 Historic England scheduled a significant part of the site of the former friary. While the buildings in question have long been demolished, the site has been assessed as having archaeological potential.

In October 2018, the Visitor Centre was awarded Best Museum in the Group Leisure and Travel Awards, after being nominated in the same category as the British Museum and the National Railway Museum.

The visitor centre is open daily.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Leicester Market

8) Leicester Market

Leicester Market is a market in The City of Leicester, England, on Market Place just south of the clock tower. It is around 800 years old and was moved to the current site around 700 years ago. It is the largest outdoor covered market in Europe.

It is open Monday to Saturday 7am - 6pm and has over 270 stalls. The outdoor market sells a wide variety of goods, particularly fruit and vegetables, but also flowers, clothes, second-hand-books, bric-a-brac and jewellery. It also has a number of permanent units, containing clothes, cosmetics, fabrics, greetings cards, a cafe and pet products.

The former indoor market, built in 1973, was a multi-level building containing the fish market and delicatessen, as well as stalls selling clothes, haberdashery, footwear, jewellery, gemstones, and confectionery. It was demolished between December 2014 /June 2015 and the levelled site turned into New Market Square. The traders who were based there either moved to the new Food Hall - built adjacent to The Corn Exchange as a partial replacement and opened in April 2014 - or to stalls on the Outdoor Market.

In the centre of the market stands the Leicester Corn Exchange (1850), originally built as a trading centre, but now serving as a bar and restaurant. A statue of John Manners, 5th Duke of Rutland stands close to the Corn Exchange.

The market is protected by a Royal Charter that goes back to its origin over 700 years ago. This prohibits other markets from operating within a specified distance (62⁄3 miles) of the Leicester market.

In recent years the City Council which holds the Royal Charter has begun to allow some other markets within the City. In 2009 the City Council proposed to grant a licence to a private market promoter to operate a Sunday Market at the Walkers Stadium
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Leicester, England

Create Your Own Walk in Leicester

Create Your Own Walk in Leicester

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.
Historical Buildings

Historical Buildings

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...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles