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  • Built for the infamous detective ‘Tanky Smith’
  • The 16 stone heads represent Tanky Smith in his various disguises
  • Tanky solved the disappearance of the High Sheriff of Leicestershire

Home of Francis ‘Tanky’ Smith

Top Hat Terrace was originally known as Victoria Terrace. It was built in 1864 for Francis ‘Tanky’ Smith, a former Detective Inspector in the Leicester Borough Police who had a reputation as a master of disguise. With his colleague Tommy Haynes, he infiltrated criminal gangs and gathered evidence to convict them. Francis Smith was said to be one of the people on whom Arthur Conan Doyle based his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

What do the heads on the building represent?

The sixteen heads above the first floor windows represent some of Francis Smith’s disguises. They include a bishop, two jockeys and the top-hatted figure that gave the terrace its popular name. The origins of his nickname ‘Tanky’ are not known but it is suggested it refers to “tanking” or tapping disorderly people on the head with a cane.

top hat figure close up
A bust of Tanky Smith wearing a disguise

How could he afford such a grand property?

Smith resigned from the police in the early 1860s after a dispute with the Head Constable. In 1862 he was hired by the Winstanley family of Braunstone Hall to investigate the mysterious disappearance of James Beaumont Winstanley, High Sherriff of Leicestershire. A drowned body found in the Moselle river in Germany was identified as Winstanley’s later that year, and Smith was generously rewarded by the family for his efforts. This enabled him to build Victoria Terrace, designed by his architect son James Smith.

Top Hat Terrace today

This building now belongs to Crane And Walton LLP, a long established firm of Leicestershire solicitors. They recently undertook its refurbishment as part of their centenary celebrations to commemorate the founding of the firm in 1910.

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Can be seen from the street


Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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