Leicester (pronounced ) is the largest city in the English East Midlands, on the River Soar. It is the traditional county town of Leicestershire (the administrative centre now being Glenfield). It lies on the edge of the National Forest. In 2002 the population of the city proper was estimated at 283,578, with 330,574 living in the urban area.
The urban area spreads outside the boundaries of the city proper, and includes Oadby, Wigston, Braunstone Town , Glenfield, Blaby, Thurmaston, Syston , and Leicester Forest East.
Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, and is now one of the most ethnically diverse.
The city is next to the M1 motorway, and is on the Midland Main Line between London and Sheffield. High-speed trains operated by Midland Mainline can reach London in just over an hour. It is also served by rail lines to Birmingham via Nuneaton, and by a line to Peterborough.
Major industries in Leicester today include food processing, hosiery, footwear, knitwear, engineering, electronics, printing and plastics.
Leicester is home to two universities, the University of Leicester (Royal Charter 1957) and De Montfort University (founded 1992 from Leicester Polytechnic), and has an Anglican cathedral of St Martin's.
It is also home to the National Space Centre due to becoming the UK's centre for space research and industry and having one of the few universities to specialise in space science.
The city centre is mainly Victorian with some later developments, which have usually been integrated in smoothly. The heart of the city centre is the Clock Tower, which is at the intersection of five routes into the city - High Street, Churchgate, Belgrave Gate, Humberstone Gate, and Gallowtree Gate. Today the latter two are pedestrianised, and vehicles restricted on the others.
The city centre is home to the Haymarket and the Shires shopping centres, both of which face the clock tower. Leicester Market, Europe's largest covered market, is nearby. The historic core of the City lies slightly to the west, monuments here include the Castle, Cathedral, church of St Mary de Castro, Guildhall and the Jewry Wall.
It is set to become a major city with many developments on the horizon implemented by the Leicester Regeneration Company including a major theatre designed by the famous Rafael Viñoly .
In 1990 Leicester was designated the UK's first Environment City , and won the European Sustainable City Award in 1996.
Leicester has 12 Hindu temples. Most were converted from existing buildings. The only Jain Temple in the western world has been built here (The Jain Centre) Leicester has a large multi-ethnic population, mainly from the Indian subcontinent. It is renowned for its authentic Indian Restaurants, and people come to the city especially to enjoy true Indian food, at one of the specialist Restaurants on the Belgrave Road (a long stretch of road known as the Golden Mile). The annual Diwali celebrations are also held here and are the biggest outside of India. There are also many of Afro-Caribbean descent and Leicester plays host to the second largest Caribbean Carnival in the UK after Notting Hill.
Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England with a history going back nearly 2000 years. Leicester was founded in AD 50 by the Romans, as a military settlement upon the Fosse Way Roman road. The Romans named it Ratae Coritanorum, named after the Corieltauvi, the Celtic tribe that dwelt in the area before they arrived.
Ratae Coritanorum grew into an important trading and military centre and one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. The 'Jewry Wall', still to be seen at Leicester, is basically the remaining wall of the baths of Roman Leicester along with foundations of the baths. It is quite large and impressive and has a visitors' centre attached.
The Roman town was largely abandoned when the Romans left Britain in the 5th century, but was later re-settled by Saxons. Some of the Roman street layout has survived to this day - Gallowtree Gate and Market Place run side-by-side, and are separated by where the eastern wall of the city used to be.
Geoffrey of Monmouth accounted the legendary king of the Britons King Leir, the legend upon William Shakespeare wrote King Lear, as having built the city of Kaerleir (Leicester). Queen Cordelia (the youngest daughter of King Leir is said to have buried him in an underground chamber beneath the River Soar near Leicester. It was dedicated to the Roman god Janus and every year people celebrated his feast-day near Leir's tomb.
It is believed the name "Leicester" is derived from the words castra (camp) of the Ligore, meaning dwellers on the 'River Legro' (an early name for the River Soar). In the early 10th century it was recorded as Ligeraceaster = "the town of the Ligor people". The Doomsday book later recorded it as Ledecestre.
In the 9th century, Leicester was captured by the Danes (Vikings) and became one of the five boroughs (fortified towns) of Danelaw although this position was short lived. The Saxon Bishop of Leicester fled to Dorchester-on-Thames and Leicester was not to become a bishopric again until the 20th century.
Leicester had become a town of considerable importance by Medieval times. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book as 'civitas' (city), but Leicester lost its city status in the 11th century owing to power struggles between the Church and the aristocracy. It was eventually re-made a city in 1919, and the Church of St Martin made Leicester Cathedral in 1927. The tomb of King Richard III is located in the central nave of the church although, according to local tradition, he is not actually buried there. He was originally buried in the Greyfriars Church in Leicester, but his corpse was exhumed under orders from Henry VII and cast into the River Soar.
Leicester played a significant role in the history of England, when in 1265 Simon de Montfort forced King Henry III to hold the first parliament of England at the now ruined Leicester Castle .
On 4 November 1530, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey was arrested on charges of treason and taken from York Palace . On his way south to face dubious justice at the Tower of London, he grew ill. The group escorting him were concerned enough to stop at Leicester. There, Wolsey's condition quickly worsened and he died on 29 November 1530 and was buried at Leicester Abbey now Abbey Park.
With the construction of the Grand Union Canal in the 1790s which linked Leicester to London and Birmingham, Leicester began rapid industrialisation. The main industries being hosiery, footwear and, especially in the 20th century engineering. All are however in decline now.
By 1832 railways had arrived in Leicester with the opening of the Leicester and Swannington Railway which provided a supply of coal to the town from nearby collieries. By 1840 the Midland Counties Railway had linked Leicester to the national railway network which further boosted industrial growth. The Great Central Railway arrived in 1900 providing an alternative route to London. However this closed in 1966.
The borough expanded throughout the 19th century, most notably in 1892 annexing Belgrave, Aylestone and North Evington . It became a county borough when these were established, but as with all county boroughs was abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in 1974, becoming a district. It regained its unitary status in 1997.
In the decades after World War II Leicester gained a large population of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, and from Uganda in the early 1970s. These immigrant groups make up around 40% of Leicester's population, making Leicester one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United Kingdom. Among the more recent arrivals are a group of Dutch citizens of Somali origin, apparently drawn by its free and easy atmosphere and by the number of mosques. In the U.K., Leicester today is widely regarded as a model of inter-communal tolerance, however for a short period in the 1970s, the neo-fascist National Front recorded high votes in the city. Leicester is expected by 2012 to become the first major city in Britain in which the non-white population will form a majority.
Leicester's Coat of Arms
The City of Leicester's coat of arms was first granted to the city at the Heraldic Visitation of 1619, and is based on the arms of the First Earl of Leicester, Robert Beaumont.
After Leicester became a city in 1919, the city council applied to add to the arms, permission for which was granted in 1929, when the supporting lions, from the Lancastrian Earls of Leicester, were added.
The motto "Semper Eadem" was the Motto of Queen Elizabeth I who granted a royal charter to the city. It means "always the same". The crest on top of the arms is a white or silver legless wyvern with red and white wounds showing, on a wreath of red and white. The supporting Lions are wearing coronets in the form of collars, with the white cinquefoil hanging from them.
Politics in Leicester
On April 1, 1997, Leicester was removed from Leicestershire and made into an independent unitary authority.
Leicester is divided into three Parliamentary constituencies. Leicester East and Leicester West are represented by Keith Vaz and Patricia Hewitt respectively - both members of the Labour Party. The third seat, Leicester South, was left vacant in May 2004, following the untimely death of Labour politician Jim Marshall - the Leicester South by-election was held on July 15, and was won by Parmjit Singh Gill of the Liberal Democrats with a 21% swing. This by-election saw almost 4,000 votes go a radical left wing candidate who opposed the Iraq war.
After a long period of Labour administration (since 1979), the city council from May 2003 was run by a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition, which collapsed in November 2004, and is now being governed by a minority Labour group.
The arts in Leicester
Arts venues include:
Sport in Leicester
The Sports Statue on Gallowtree Gate
Sports teams include Leicester City F.C. (football), Leicester Tigers (rugby union), Leicester Riders (basketball), and the Leicestershire County Cricket Club. The city has also hosted British and World track cycling championships at its Saffron Lane velodrome. Leicester is now sometimes regarded (by its inhabitants at least) as the sporting capital of the UK.
Recent titles won by local teams
To celeberate the successes of 1997-98, the Leicester Mercury organised the placement of a statue portraying a cricketer, a footballer, and a rugby-player on Gallowtree Gate, not far from the Clock Tower at the heart of the city.
Towns, villages and places of interest
Aylestone, Braunstone , Evington, Knighton, Humberstone, Stoneygate
Parks: Leicester Botanic Gardens , Abbey Park, Victoria Park, Gorse Hill City Farm
Industry: Abbey Pumping Station, National Space Centre
Places of Worship: Leicester Cathedral
Historical Buildings: Belgrave Hall , Jewry Wall
Famous people from Leicester
Note: This includes all those who spent at least part of their lives here. Not all were born or have spent their entire life there.
Leicester is twinned with:
Leicester is home to the Leicester Mercury newspaper, and the MATV (Midlands Asian Televison) cable channel.
Analog radio stations are:
The local DAB multiplex has the following stations: