• Contained ornate painted glass that is now on display at Newarke Houses Museum
  • Ownership of the house can be traced back to 1557 with a gap
  • It was a costume museum for a number of years and is now a bar and restaurant

The oldest house in Leicester

Wygston’s House is the oldest house in Leicester. It has been here since medieval times and the road it stood on, High Street, was the widest and busiest thoroughfare in the town.

We don’t know why this house survives when others, which may have been significantly grander, have not. It would have been close to the meeting houses of two powerful medieval guilds, Corpus Christi and St. George, and the house may have had a religious role.

The House

The house comprises a timber hall of around 1490; a brick block of 1796 which replaced an earlier timber shop and chamber; and a Victorian (1800s) wing standing on the site of the medieval kitchen.

The oldest part of Wygston’s House, the timber-framed part, comprises a ground floor hall (living space) and upper chambers for sleeping and storage. Originally it had a shop at the front and kitchens at the rear. The upper floor of this part projects out over the ground floor, known as a jetty. At intervals there are ornamental brackets.

The front of the timber hall has a range of windows which were once filled with panels of painted glass, facing onto a courtyard. You can see a number of these glass panels dated to 1495-1500 at Newarke Houses Museum.

Glass panels in the ground floor room, indicates the hall was the most important room, but at the end of the 1700s this room had come down in the world and was divided with one of the halves being a kitchen. Glaziers’ engravings in the glass tell us it was re-leaded in 1764 and 1796. The date and style of the glass is very similar to the fragments of glass in the Mayor’s Parlour at the Guildhall close by.

The painted glass from the windows was removed by Rev. Richard Stephens who sold the house and moved the glass to his new house in Belgrave around 1824.

The upper room of the half-timbered section of the house was divided by four main upright timbers into three bays, each about 5 metres. When the house was reconstructed in the early 1970s, a tie beam was revealed. This was finished internally with laths which were plastered over with mud mixed with grit, hair and feathers. Large flat stones were wedged into slots in the sides of the vertical timbers as infilling on the outer surface, so it was probably an outside wall at one end of the building.

In the roof, rafters from either side met at the top. Each main beam across the room has two uprights or Queen posts supporting the collar beams above. Diagonal braces lie flat against the underside of the roof keeping the structure square. There was wall painting on the plaster of the north and south walls of this upper room but it is now too faint to make out.

Roger Wygston

The house may have belonged to Roger Wygston, a member of the rich and important local family who were part of Leicester’s highest faith and corporation circles in the later 1400s and early 1500s.

Roger Wygston was born about 1430. His father, William, made the family fortune from the wool trade in the first half of the 1400s. Roger was elected chamberlain in 1459 and mayor of Leicester in 1465, 1471 and 1487. He was Member of Parliament for Leicester in 1473 and 1488. He died at Whitsun 1507 and was buried in the Lady Chapel in St. Martin’s church. Roger’s nephew, William is better known to later generations of Leicester citizens. He founded Wygston’s Hospital in 1513 and his money was later used to found the Wyggeston Schools.

The initials RW intertwined appear many times in the panels of painted glass that were in the house – the W more prominent than the R - which could belong to Roger Wygston or to another rich merchant of the period, but the nature of the glass suggests association with the highest levels of Leicester’s society, which was certainly true of the Wygston family.

Ownership of Wygston’s House can be traced without a break from 1557 when Richard Chettle, constable of Leicester, owned it. It passed to his son Rafe, who became mayor of Leicester. Both men were members of St. Martin’s church. A lawyer, William Topp lived in the house in 1708, but paid rent to the Corporation and it is recorded that John Stephens was living there in 1750 and 1813, followed by the Rev. Richard Stephens.

In 1796 the east front of the building in the former High Street was taken down and a fashionable Georgian brick front added instead with an elegant doorway. After the Rev. Richard Stephens, a number of surgeons lived in the house in Victorian times: Robert Wingate, William Ashley Cox-Hippisley and William Pemberton Peake. It then became the antiques emporium of R. B. Renals & Sons. There are objects in the museum collection acquired from the emporium including a parasol and a barometer.

After restoration, Wygston’s House opened as a museum of costume in 1974. It is currently a bar and restaurant.

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Gallery

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.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

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.

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.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

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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