• A grand mansion known as 'Lord’s Place' was on High Street and is said to have hosted Mary, Queen of Scots in 1586
  • High Street was widened in the early 1900s to accommodate the new electric trams
  • In medieval times the road was known as Forum Porcorum (‘pig market’) or Swinesmarket

The street that sold pigs and accommodated royalty

High Street follows a route that existed in Roman times, connecting East Gate to the Forum and Basilica (now Jubilee Square). In medieval times it was known as Forum Porcorum (‘pig market’) or Swinesmarket, but by 1524 had been renamed High Street to reflect its increased importance. By 1569 Henry, Earl of Huntingdon, was living here in a grand mansion known as Lord’s Place (now 43-51 High Street). It is said Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed there in 1586 followed by King James I in 1612 and Charles I in 1642. A plaque on No. 45 High Street records the site’s history.

A Victorian shopping street

In 1885 the Co-operative Society built a large new store on High Street, accommodating the various services the Co-op provided. It traded until 1985 and was demolished four years later when The Shires shopping centre (now Highcross Leicester) was constructed. However, its façade, as well as the frontages of other Victorian and Edwardian buildings, was incorporated into the complex as 53-71 High Street.

Looking up High Street from the Clock Tower with electric trams in the foreground c.1930

The arrival of the trams

In 1899 the construction of the Great Central Railway further increased the importance of High Street, which linked the commercial heart of Leicester with the new station. The street had to be widened to accommodate Leicester’s new electric tram system and many of its buildings were demolished and replaced. Replacement buildings that have survived include No. 7, a classical style bank (1904), No. 40, Leicester’s first cinema, the Electric Theatre (1910), Nos. 58-60, Butler’s Chemist’s Shop and Nos. 76-88, the Coronation Buildings (1904).

The Butler's Chemist building, seen here in 2017

Butler's Chemists, 58-60 High Street

The building on the west corner of High Street was designed in a classical style but with distinctive art nouveau features by Albert Edwin Sawday and built in 1902 for Thomas Edward Butler, who had previously dispensed from premises in Sanvey Gate. His family's business had been founded in 1840 and was styled as 'wholesale druggists'.  Butler also owned a factory in Town Hall Lane where he produced his 'Sea Breeze Saline', a headache remedy which was advertised in the façade of his High Street shop.  This, with an image of a full-rigged sailing vessel, together with the likeness of the proprietor in the guise of a medieval alchemist with pestle and mortar and carboys, were made from Royal Doulton tiles, and were a familiar landmark in High Street for many years.  At the back of the building, the original wrought iron gate still stands with the words 'Butler’s Goods Entrance'.

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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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