In the 2011 census, the population of the Leicester unitary authority was 330,000, the highest in the region, whilst 509,000 people lived in the wider Leicester Urban Area, making Leicester the tenth largest city in the United Kingdom and England's eleventh largest urban area. It has the second largest urban area in the East Midlands region. Eurostat's Larger Urban Zone listed the population of Leicester LUZ at 806,100 people as of 2009. According to the 2011 census Leicester had the largest proportion of people aged 19-and-under in the East Midlands with 27 per cent.
"Unlike almost every other city in the UK, Leicester has retained a remarkable record of its past in buildings that still stand today". Ancient Roman pavements and baths remain in Leicester from its early settlement as Ratae Corieltauvorum, a Roman military outpost in a region inhabited by the Celtic Corieltauvi tribe. Following the demise of Roman society the early medieval Ratae Corieltauvorum is shrouded in obscurity, but when the settlement was captured by the Danes it became one of five fortified towns important to the Danelaw. The name "Leicester" is thought to derive from the words castra of the "Ligore", meaning camp of the dwellers on the (river) Legro. Leicester appears in the Domesday Book as "Ledecestre". Leicester continued to grow throughout the Early Modern period as a market town, although it was the Industrial Revolution that facilitated a process of rapid unplanned urbanisation in the area.
A newly constructed rail and canal network routed through the area stimulated industrial growth in the 19th century, and Leicester became a major economic centre with a variety of manufacturers engaged in engineering, shoemaking and hosiery production. The economic success of these industries, and businesses ancillary to them, resulted in significant urban expansion into the surrounding countryside. Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, it was the centre of the bishopric from around 670, endowing it with city status. However, it lost city status in the 11th century during a time of struggle between the church and the aristocracy. The boundaries of Leicester were extended several times in the 19th and 20th centuries; it became a county borough in 1889, and was re-granted city status in 1919.
Today, Leicester is located on the Midland Main Line and close to the M1 motorway. The city has the highest ethnic minority population in the United Kingdom in terms of its size, particularly of South Asian origin, a product of immigration to the United Kingdom since the Second World War. To cater for the South Asian community, there are many Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other places of worship and the Melton Road district serves as a focus, containing a large number of Asian restaurants and other small businesses. Leicester is a centre for higher education, with both the University of Leicester and De Montfort University being based in the city.
Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, with a history going back at least 2,000 years. The first recorded name of the city is the Roman label Ratae Corieltauvorum. (The name of this tribe was formerly thought to be "Coritani", so "Ratae Coritanorum" is used in older references to it.) Before being settled by Romans it was the capital of the Celtic Corieltauvi tribe ruling over roughly the same territory as what is now known as the East Midlands. It is believed that Romans arrived in the Leicester area around AD 47.
Ratae Corieltauvorum was founded around AD 50 as a military settlement along the Fosse Way, a Roman road between Exeter and Lincoln. After the military departure, Ratae Corieltauvorum grew into an important trading centre and one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. The remains of the baths of Roman Leicester can be seen at the Jewry Wall and other Roman artefacts are displayed in the Jewry Wall Museum adjacent to the site. In 2013, the discovery of a Roman cemetery found just outside the old city walls and dating back to 300 AD was announced.
Anglo-Saxon and Viking
Knowledge of the town in the 5th century is limited. Certainly there is some continuation of occupation of the town, though on a much reduced scale in the 5th and 6th centuries. The area was first settled by the Middle Angles and was subsequently included in the kingdom of Mercia. Leicester was chosen as the centre of a bishopric (and therefore a city) in 679/80 which survived until the 9th century, when 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.
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 Domesday Book later recorded it as Ledecestre.
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 became Leicester Cathedral in 1927.
A memorial slab to King Richard III was placed in the central nave of the cathedral in 1980, although he was not actually buried there but in the nearby Greyfriars Church in Leicester, under what is now a car park. There was a legend that his corpse was exhumed under orders from Henry VII and cast into the River Soar. Some historians believed that his tomb and bones were destroyed with the dissolution of the church. However, in September 2012, an archaeological investigation in the suspected location of the Greyfriars church uncovered a skeleton which appeared to be Richard III. This was subsequently verified by comparison of the DNA of the skeletal remains to two descendants of Richard III's sister.
The town is mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written around 1136. According to Monmouth's pseudohistorical work a mythical king of the Britons King Leir founded the city of Kaerleir ('Leir's chester' – i.e. fortified town). Today the name of the city in the Welsh language is Caerlŷr. Leir was supposedly buried by Queen Cordelia in a chamber beneath the River Soar near the city dedicated to the Roman god Janus, and every year people celebrated his feast-day near Leir's tomb. William Shakespeare's King Lear is loosely based on this story and there is a statue of Lear in Watermead Country Park.
On 4 November 1530, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was arrested on charges of treason and taken from York Place. On his way south to face dubious justice at the Tower of London, he fell ill. The group escorting him was 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.
Lady Jane Grey, (1536/7 – 12 February 1554), a great-granddaughter of Henry VII, was born at Bradgate Park near Leicester, and reigned as uncrowned Queen Regnant of England for nine days in July 1553, and for that reason is called "The Nine Days Queen".
Queen Elizabeth I's personal favoured courtier, Robert Dudley, who the Queen had one time thought of marrying, and who has been named and known as her possible lover for centuries, was given the Earldom of Leicester.
Leicester was a Parliamentarian stronghold during the English Civil War. In 1645, Prince Rupert decided to attack the city to draw the New Model Army away from the Royalist headquarters of Oxford. Royalist guns were set up on Raw Dykes and after an unsatisfactory response to a demand for surrender, the Newarke was stormed and the city was sacked on 30 May. Although hundreds of people were killed by Rupert's cavalry, reports of the severity of the sacking were exaggerated by the Parliamentary press in London.
18th and 19th centuries
The construction of the Grand Union Canal in the 1790s linked Leicester to London and Birmingham and by 1832 the railway had arrived in Leicester; the new Leicester and Swannington Railway providing a supply of coal to the town from nearby collieries. By 1840 the Midland Counties Railway had linked Leicester to the national railway network and by the 1860s, Leicester had gained a direct rail link to London (St Pancras) with the completion of the Midland Main Line.
These developments in transport encouraged and accompanied a process of industrialisation which intensified throughout the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). Factories began to appear, particularly along the canal and the River Soar, and districts such as Frog Island and Woodgate were the locations of numerous large mills. Between 1861 and 1901 Leicester's population increased from 68,000 to 212,000 and the proportion employed in trade, commerce, building and the city's new factories and workshops rose steadily. Hosiery, textiles and footwear became major industrial employers joined, in the latter part of the century, by engineering. At this time, manufacturers such as N. Corah & Sons and the Cooperative Boot and Shoe Company were opening some of the largest manufacturing premises in Europe.
During this period a number of what were to become substantial engineering business were established these included Taylor & Hubbard Ltd, Kent Street, Leicester (Crane Makers, Founders), William Gimson and Company, Vulcan Road (Steam Boilers, Founders), Richards & Co, Martin Street (Founders, Structural Steel workers).
Years of consistent economic growth meant that, for many, living standards increased. The second half of the 19th century also witnessed the creation of many public institutions such as the town council, the Royal Infirmary and the Leicester Constabulary and the acceptance that municipal organisations had a responsibility for water supply, drainage and sanitation.
The borough expanded throughout the 19th century, most notably in 1892 annexing Belgrave, Aylestone, North Evington, Knighton and the rapidly expanding residential suburb of Stoneygate, home to many of the city's wealthier manufacturers and much of its growing professional middle class. Leicester became a county borough in 1889, but, as with all county boroughs, was abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in 1974, becoming an ordinary district of Leicestershire. It regained its unitary status in 1997.
Early 20th century
Leicester was formally recognised as a city in 1919 and a cathedral city on the consecration of St Martin's in 1927. It obtained its current boundaries in 1935, with the annexation of the remainder of Evington, Humberstone, Beaumont Leys and part of Braunstone. In 1900 an important new transport link, the Great Central Railway provided a new goods and passenger route to London.
By the time of Queen Victoria's death in 1901 the rapid population growth of the previous decades had already began to slow and the Great War of 1914–18 and its aftermath had a marked social and economic impact. Leicester's diversified economic base and lack of dependence on primary industries meant that it was much better placed than many other cities to weather the severe economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. The Bureau of Statistics of the newly formed League of Nations identified Leicester in 1936 as the second richest city in Europe and it became an attractive destination for refugees fleeing persecution and political turmoil in continental Europe. Firms such as Corah and Liberty Shoes used their reputation for producing high-quality products to expand their businesses.
These years witnessed the growth in the city of trade unionism and particularly the co-operative movement. The Co-op became an important employer and landowner and when Leicester played host to the Jarrow March on its way to London in 1936, the Co-op provided the marchers with a change of boots. In 1938 Leicester was given the first A.D.C.C (Air Defence Cadet Corp) or known as today The Air Training Corps. The Squadron Number is 1F.
Post World War II
The years after World War II, particularly from the 1960s onwards, brought many social and economic challenges. There was a steady and irreversible decline in Leicester's traditional manufacturing industries and in the city centre working factories and light industrial premises have now been almost entirely displaced by new businesses. Many of these factories, such as those on Frog Island and at Donisthorpe Mill, have been badly damaged by fire. The 1960s and 1970s saw the movement of passengers and freight by rail and barge eclipsed by the growth of road transport. The Great Central Railway and the Leicester and Swannington Railway both closed and the northward extension of the M1 motorway linked Leicester into a growing motorway network. By the 1990s Leicester's central position and its good road transport links to the rest of the country had given it a new strategic importance as a distribution centre and the south western boundaries of the city have attracted many new businesses in both service and manufacturing sectors.
Mass housebuilding continued across Leicester for some 30 years after 1945. Existing housing estates such as Braunstone were expanded, while several completely new estates – of both private and council tenure – were built. The last major development of this era was Beaumont Leys in the north of the city, which was developed in the 1970s as a mix of private and council housing. With the loss of much of the city's industry during the 1970s and 1980s, some of the old industrial jobs were replaced by new jobs in the service sector, particularly in retail. The opening of the Haymarket Shopping Centre in 1971 was followed by a number of new shopping centres in the city, including St Martin's Shopping Centre in 1984 and the Shire Shopping Centre in 1992. The Shires was subsequently expanded in September 2008 and rebranded as Highcross.
In 1972, Idi Amin announced that the entire Asian community in Uganda had 90 days to leave the country. Shortly thereafter, the Leicester city council launched a campaign aimed at dissuading Ugandan Asians from migrating to the city. The ads did not have their intended effect, instead making more migrants aware of the possibility of settling in Leicester. Nearly a quarter of initial Ugandan refugees (around 5000 to 6000) settled in Leicester, and by the end of the 1970s around another quarter of the initially dispersed refugees had made their way to Leicester. The initial advertisement was widely condemned, and taken as a marker of anti-Asian sentiment throughout Britain as a whole, although the attitudes that resulted in the initial advertisement were changed significantly in subsequent decades. Recent Leicester councilmen have expressed significant regret for the council having run the advertisement. Officially, the adverts were taken out for fear that immigrants to Leicester would place pressure on city services, but at least one person who was a city councillor at the time says that he believes they were placed for racist reasons.
In the 1990s, apparently drawn by the city's free and easy atmosphere and by the number of mosques, a group of Dutch citizens of Somali origin settled in the city. Since the 2004 enlargement of the European Union a significant number of East European migrants have settled in the city. While some wards in the northeast of the city are more than 70% Asian, wards in the west and south are all over 70% white. The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) had estimated that by 2011 Leicester would have approximately a 50% ethnic minority population, making it the first city in Britain not to have a white British majority.
This prediction was based on the growth of the ethnic minority populations between 1991 (Census 1991 28% ethnic minority) and 2001 (Census 2001 – 36% ethnic minority). However Professor Ludi Simpson at the University of Manchester School of Social Sciences said in September 2007 that the CRE had "made unsubstantiated claims and ignored government statistics" and that Leicester's immigrant and minority communities disperse to other places. The Leicester Multicultural Advisory Group is a forum, set up in 2001 by the editor of the Leicester Mercury, to co-ordinate community relations with members representing the council, police, schools, community and faith groups, and the media.