Written by Anna Grimwood
We’re now over two weeks into our second lockdown of the year- many of us are stuck inside looking for something to do and are already bored of our daily walk. Luckily for us, Leicester is a city rich in history and because of this, there are some truly beautiful buildings right in the city centre – you just need to know where to look. To help you find some inspiration for your daily walking route and help you to see our city in a new light, here is a list of ten of the best buildings to see in Leicester (from the outside!).
Leicester Central Fire Station
Lancaster Road, LE1 7HB
When this fire station was built in 1927, it was one of the most advanced in the country and has recently been refurbished to bring it up to date. It was commissioned by Chief Officer Neal, the same man behind the Institution of Fire Engineers, which is today an international body that still has strong ties to the Leicester Fire Brigade.
47 Rutland Street, LE1 1SA
Built in 1897, Alexandra House was a warehouse for holding bootlaces produced by Faire Bros & Co., one of the largest shoes and boot lace manufacturers in the world. Two of the bootlace brands they produced were named ‘Elephant’ and ‘Jumbo’, and these are celebrated on the building through elephant head mouldings around the main entrance.
Athena Events Venue
Queen Street, LE1 1QD
Built in 1938, this former Odeon cinema could seat 2,000 audience members. In the 1960’s the Odeon branched out, showing concerts as well as films, with acts as famous as The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes all performing here. The Odeon closed in 1997 and stood empty for several years, before being turned into the Athena events venue we have today.
24 Granby Street, LE1 1DE
This art nouveau cafe, completed in 1901, was designed by a former Mayor of Leicester. It is built in the Victorian ‘Oriental’ style, inspired by design from Eastern Europe, The Middle East, and Eastern Asia. It is the ‘Turkey’ cafe in two ways: it is inspired by Turkish design and, at the very top of the building, stands a mosaic of a turkey. Now a cocktail bar, it was originally run as a family cafe where coffee was roasted and ground on site.
Thomas Cook Building
Opposite the clocktower on Gallowtree Gate
Built in 1894 to commemorate the life of Thomas Cook, the founder of modern tourism, as an extension of Thomas Cook and Sons Leicester offices. Thomas Cook’s first public excursion was from Leicester to Loughborough in 1841, and this is celebrated on one of four terracotta panels on the front of the building, showing a 3D train. The other panels celebrate other journeys taken by Thomas Cook in its early years and major advancements in rail technology, such as the Forth Bridge.
60 High Street
This shop building was originally home to Butler’s chemists, a family business. If you look up, you’ll see a tiled advert for Butler’s ‘Sea Breeze Saline’, a headache remedy which was produced in a factory nearby. It shows a ship at sea below a portrait of Thomas Butler himself dressed as a medieval alchemist.
Guildhall Lane, LE1 5FQ
The Guildhall was built in 1390 as a meeting place for the guild of Leicester: a group of rich powerful men in medieval Leicester. By 1563 it was owned by the town corporation and acted as Leicester’s first town hall, being used for meetings, dinners, concerts and theatre performances – it is even believed that Shakespeare once acted here. It was also used as an office during the English Civil War (1642-1651).
St Mary de Castro Church
Castle View, LE1 5WH
Founded in 1107, this church has been altered many times in its history. The original Norman doorways still stand, but the tower was added in the 13th Century and the spire in the 15th (although this was removed in 2014 for safety reasons). Richard Duke of York (who is one of the possible inspirations for the nursery rhyme) was knighted here, and it is believed that Richard III prayed here before leaving Leicester for the Battle of Bosworth.
32 Oxford Street, LE1 5XU
Built in 1893 this building was run as an independent church until the 1970s, after most of its congregation had moved into the suburbs. It became the Jain centre in 1988, the original brick exterior was clad in white marble, and it became the first Jain centre to be consecrated in the Western world. Jainism is one of the oldest religions, emphasising non-violence, care for the environment and tolerance towards others.
Richard III Visitor Centre
4A St Martins, LE1 5DB
Part of this exhibition is housed in an 1864 gothic revival building, built originally for the Alderman Newton’s school. The 1897 extension of this building can be seen to the left of the visitor centre and is home to most of the exhibition. The 1894 building is not visible from St Martins, but can be seen from just around the corner in New Street.
There you have it, ten of Leicester’s best buildings, all within a mile of the DMU campus. Of course, there are many more stunning, historical buildings in Leicester, so get out there, make the most of this lockdown, and see what you can find