• A competition was held to design the building in the early 1870s and was won by a local architect, Frances J. Hames
  • The Borough Police headquarters used to be based at the Town Hall, and there are still prison cells in the basement
  • Built in the ‘Queen Anne style’ which was a Victorian revival of the English Baroque architectural style, popular during the reign of Queen Anne (reigned 1702–1714)

Guildhall to Town Hall

Leicester was still using the medieval Guildhall as its Town Hall right up until the mid-19th century. By the 1870s however it was no longer adequate to support a rapidly growing industrial town. The old cattle market site was chosen for a new Town Hall and a competition held to design it. Leicester born architect Frances J. Hames won the commission with his modern Queen Anne style design. The new Town Hall housed the Council offices and Council Chamber, law courts, Sanitary Department, School Board and 30 lamplighters. The Borough Police moved into the basement (where there were 13 cells) whilst the Fire Brigade had a station behind the building.

 

The opening ceremony of the Town Hall, August 7 1876

The opening ceremony was performed on 7 August 1876 by the Mayor, Alderman William Barfoot, beginning with the Borough Magistrates and members of the Council ‘taking a regretful leave of their ancient and time-honoured place of meeting at The Guildhall’. The proceedings were followed by a banquet at the Corn Exchange for around 400 of ‘the principal gentlemen connected with the borough and the county’. It was a Bank Holiday, chosen to allow as many people as possible to attend the ceremony, and then enjoy the entertainment provided by bands on the Racecourse and a ‘grand display’ of fireworks in the evening. 

What is unusual about the Town Hall?

Look carefully and you can see it has been built on a sloping site with an extra storey levelling it up at the Horsefair Street end. The construction period is reflected in the different dates on the front gable (1875, the intended date of opening) and wrought iron gates at the main entrance (1876).

A modest but elegant square

Frances J. Hames also designed Town Hall Square with its fountain, the gift of Alderman Israel Hart, the first Jewish Mayor of Leicester. Alderman Hart was a pioneer manufacturer of ready-made men’s suits. There is an identical fountain in Oporto, Portugal.

 

Town Hall Square, c1920s showing the temporary war memorial

Two war memorials were placed in the Square in the early 20th century; one at the corner of Horsefair Street commemorating those who served in the South African War of 1899-1902, and the other a temporary memorial to the dead of the First World War that later became the permanent ‘Arch of Remembrance’ memorial was built in Victoria Park. Town Hall Square has always been more than an ornamental space, however. Over the years it has seen many public events and gatherings, from the proclamation of monarchs to parades of mourning on their death, commemorations of war and armistice, celebrations of festivals, sporting victories, and political demonstrations.

Free Town Hall tours take place on the first Wednesday of every month starting at 2pm.

Visitor information
Public access inside on special event days

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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