An insider’s guide to Leicester: if it’s good enough for Richard III …
Leicester has long been known as a place to go for a great curry, but the traditional curry house has somewhat fallen out of fashion. Like the Indian and Bangladeshi diaspora who run them, they are increasingly moving to the suburbs and are often merged into pubs.
In five words
A miniature version of London
Sound of the city
Leicester’s covered market is an institution with an 800-year history and it’s still the soul of the city. People from all backgrounds shop here, and you can even find native English speaking stall-keepers who can sell in Gujarati.
There are so many fantastic buildings to see, from the ancient Roman bath house to Saxon and Norman churches, and more recent additions such as mosques, mandirs and gurdwaras. Modern times have endowed Leicester with some great new architecture like the Curve Theatre and the National Space Centre.
The Guildhall is my favourite. It’s so hidden away that a lot of Leicestrians don’t know about it. It started life in 1390 as a meeting place for the Guild of Corpus Christi but has since been used as a town hall, a theatre, a police station and a school. It’s now a museum and event space. The building itself is a classic timber-framed medieval building with numerous secretive rooms off the main hall. It’s a perfect little oasis of medieval England right in the middle of the city.
And the worst
The 22-storey 1960s office block next to the railway station, known locally as the Blue Tower or the Connect-4 Building, was ugly when it was just a grey derelict skyscraper. Now, after a property developer painted it bright blue a few years back, it’s even uglier. It’s currently home to a hotel, a gym, an insurance company and a shisha lounge.
What does Leicester do better than anywhere else?
One thing that unites us is comedy. The Leicester Comedy Festival, which started as a student project in 1994, is now one of the big events on the UK comedy calendar. But it still has a home-grown, grassroots feel, with up-and-coming talent performing in pubs, clubs and venues across the city.
Most under-rated location?
Leicester Castle is an 11th-century Norman motte and bailey with a mound, a church and great hall. Nestled in an obscure part of the city centre, the castle precinct and the accompanying Castle Park make you feel like you’re in a completely different era.
The church, St Mary’s de Castro, was apparently the venue for the marriage of Geoffrey Chaucer and the knighting of Henry VI. The great hall was the venue for the infamous Parliament of Bats where quarrelling nobles, forbidden from carrying swords, turned to bats and cudgels.
Leicester, it’s not shit – the name is a classic example of the city’s self-deprecating mentality but a fantastic insight into all the great things going on.
The proliferation of city centre student accommodation blocks is an ongoing controversy. In the old days, students would do their time in shared red-brick terraced houses, but increasingly they live in accommodation more akin to mini hotel rooms with Wi-Fi, en-suite bathrooms etc. Many of these buildings are ugly, poorly built blocks, the construction of which can involve the loss of heritage buildings, as well as spoiling the skyline and ghettoising residential streets. Worse, these on-campus blocks, with their own shops and gyms, give students less reason to explore the rest of the city.
Moment(s) in history
It’s incredible that two of Leicester’s biggest moments in history have happened within the last four years, and both were astonishingly unlikely. Finding (or even looking for) the bones of Richard III would have seemed absurd 10 years ago, and winning the Premier League this year was unthinkable in previous times.
Leicester has long struggled to make a name for itself, famously described by Terry Wogan as “the lost city”, often mentioned in traffic reports “but otherwise, unknown to mankind”. Never again will Leicestrians have to explain where the city is or how to pronounce the name!
How green is your city?
Leicester has its fair share of congested major roads but it’s becoming increasingly pedestrian and cycle-friendly with much of the city centre now pedestrianised or heavily road-calmed. A recent Guardian article described Leicester as “the UK’s unlikely new poster city for cycling”.
Recent efforts to repave and spruce up the centre have made it a far nicer place to hang out, and the city is also blessed with lots of lovely parks and green corridors such as New Walk, Castle Park and the Grand Union Canal – you’re never more than a couple of minutes away from somewhere to relax or have a picnic.
Best local artist
Peter Clayton is a printmaker and stalwart of Leicester Print Workshop. Lancashire-born, he moved to the city in the 80s. His paintings, which are a mix of collage, print and paint have a particular charm to them, whether he’s painting architecture, woodlands or coasts. He has recently exhibited work at the city’s Attenborough Arts Centre.
Top insider’s tip
Leicester has long been known as a place to go for a great curry, but the traditional curry house has somewhat fallen out of fashion. Like the Indian and Bangladeshi diaspora who run them, they are increasingly moving to the suburbs and are often merged into pubs. Paddy’s Marten Inn is one such curry pub – it’s an absolute gem in what must be one of the most obscure side-streets in the city. The food is excellent, the crowd is very mixed and the ambience is Bollywood meets village pub.
Five to follow
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