It’s a curious fact of modern life that the British cities that are best known internationally aren’t always the major ones. Everyone knows London, and most people who aren’t experts on the UK could identify Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, because of their football teams or pop stars. Despite its size and importance, Birmingham, England’s second city, remains lesser-known, largely because Birmingham City FC and Aston Villa FC aren’t successful enough to play in European competitions. Yet the international profile of Leicester (population 330,000), one of the more unfashionable, even self-deprecating of English cities, has suddenly risen due to two factors; the rediscovery of Indian business communities expelled from Kenya and Uganda settled in Leicester, which for a time led to a degree of racial tension. Today the city has one of Britain’s largest Asian communities, but peaceful co-existence is the norm, and tourist guidebooks list Hindu, Sikh and Jain temples and Indian restaurants among the city’s attractions.
In fact, there are quite a few things to see for visitors interested in history, because, despite its reputation as an unglamorous, industrial Midlands city, Leicester can date its origins back to Roman times, or even to prehistory. It was an important city in medieval England (which explains why Richard III was buried there) and during the Tudor and Stuart periods. It was a Roundhead stronghold during the English Civil War and was sacked by the Royalists in 1645, with hundreds of people being killed. After that, Leicester played a less significant role in English political life, until the industrial era. Even then, the course of its history was less dramatic than the changes undergone by some other new industrial towns. Even bombing during World War Two did not lead to a “rebirth” of the city, as in its neighbour Coventry; Leicester was less seriously damaged, and after the war just carried on as before. In later decades, it weathered the changes in the British economy, from manufacturing to the service industries, fairly well. It has a respected university and is the home of Britain’s National Space Centre. Yet although Leicester has produced a fair number of people who have made an impact on modern British culture, among them travel agent Thomas Cook, BBC broadcaster David Attenborough, pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck (real name Gerry Dorsey), authors C.P. Snow, Anne Fine and Sue Townsend (creator of the Adrian Mole books) it’s somehow never been a fashionable place. Its most famous product today is Walkers potato crisps, the subject of jokey TV ads featuring former footballer Gary Lineker. Perhaps it’s not a big enough city, too provincial, workaday and “middle-England” to be a seat of wealth and power – although the county of Leicestershire contains attractive market towns and grand country houses. Still, Leicester and its surrounding area have plenty to offer for sports fans and history buffs alike, and, like the city’s football team, may surprise visitors.
For more please see:
“The ten ages of Leicester buildings”
http://www.storyofleicester.info/storyofleicester.aspx – Includes a link to the Visit Leicester website.