• It is known to be over 700 years old but is possibly even older
  • The area has a long history of hosting political rallies and public events stretching back hundreds of years
  • Leicester Market was mentioned by Elizabeth I in a 1589 royal charter

Over 700 years of hustle and bustle

Leicester Market has been a place of social and cultural importance since the 13th century when it became the centre for trade in the area. The first mention of it was in 1298 when 'a market took place bounded by the city walls and the corn wall’. (The corn wall was used by horse dealers to display the speed of their animals).  Although the first mention was in 1298, it’s possible the market is centuries older; the Domesday Book, published in 1086, names the marketplace as ‘Cheapside’. Cheapside is derived from the Danish word ‘chepe’, meaning sell: a legacy of language left over from the Norse occupants of Leicester.

In 1589 Queen Elizabeth I mentioned the market in a charter, referring to it as the ‘Saturday shambles.’ A Wednesday market was also held at the High Cross (on Highcross Street) selling dairy, produce, vegetables and fruit. In 1884 the Wednesday market was moved to the same location as the 'Saturday shambles' which is where Leicester Market is today. Gradually the market became busier and by the 1850s it was held on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It now operates six days a week, closing only on Sundays.

Huge crowds in Market Place celebrating the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary on 22 June 1911. Leicestershire Record Office

A social space and political arena

In the early 20th century the market was the largest public space in the city and naturally became a place where people gathered for parades, celebrations, speeches and protests.

Many important political rallies took place here, led by the likes of famous suffragettes Alice Hawkins and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as civic figure and unemployment rights activist Amos Sheriff. Both Hawkins and Sheriff are credited with playing major roles in the 100 mile march to London which raised awareness for the plight of the unemployed in 1905.

A paving stone is located in front of the Corn Exchange steps to commemorate this landmark event in Leicester’s history.

A statue of Alice Hawkins was unveiled in February 2018 to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, the act that gave all men and some women the right to vote.

Leicester Market Today

Leicester Market’s food hall opened in June 2014, replacing the old 1970s building, which had previously housed the indoor market and other dried goods traders. The light and airy food hall has won several awards including Britain’s Best Food Market 2015. Here you can find a hunk of Red Leicester cheese or a Melton Mowbray pork pie as well as a fine cut of beef or even a shark steak!

 

Produce on sale at Leicester Market

The closure of the old food hall led to the creation of New Market Square; an open plaza that hosts specialist markets and events throughout the year including a regular antiques market, a makers craft market and the annual Christmas Market.

Leicester Market is a must see for any visitor to the city and holds a special place in many locals’ hearts.

Find out about what’s on at Leicester Market at Visit Leicester.

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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