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  • The Leicester YMCA provided amenities for over 1 million service men during WWI
  • Contains the oldest theatre in Leicester, now known as The Y Theatre
  • Designed by Albert Sawday who became Mayor of Leicester in 1903

A place for recreation and companionship

The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in 1844 in London to improve the living conditions for young working men, many of whom were living on the streets. The Leicester Association began with premises in Market Place in 1883 but it soon became clear that

“these premises were inadequate for the increasing number of young men employed in business houses in Leicester. Attractive facilities had to be made to counteract the temptations of life in a large town presented to men living away from home, with very few suitable places in which to spend their leisure hours, obtain recreation and form companionships”.

Work began on new premises on London Road in 1899. The architect, YMCA president Alderman Albert Sawday, became Mayor of Leicester in 1903. The main building had shops beneath and contained a hostel, gymnasium and billiard room.

The YMCA and the Great War

During World War I over one million service men benefitted from the refreshments, beds, entertainment and activities provided by the Leicester YMCA. Located close to the railway station, it became a place of rest and recreation for thousands in transit.

ymca theatre during war from ass echoes 1915
Interior of the YMCA during WWI, 1915

Leicester’s oldest surviving theatre

The YMCA’s Association Hall, with seating for 300, opened before the main building in 1900 and was used for drama productions, concerts and lectures. Known as The Playhouse from the 1930s, it is regarded as Leicester’s oldest surviving theatre. Today it is known as The Y Theatre. Leicester YMCA still owns these buildings, providing supported accommodation for young people alongside cultural activities at The Y Theatre.

Visit the Leicester YMCA website.

Visitor information
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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