• Thomas Cook ran his first railway excursions from Campbell Street in 1841
  • London Road Railway Station replaced Campbell Street which was described as ‘cramped and dingy’
  • The large ‘Arrivals’ and ‘Departure’ arches on London Road were originally for horse-drawn cabs

The coming of the railways

The Midland Counties Railway Act (1836) led to the building in 1840 of Leicester’s first mainline railway station, Leicester Campbell Street, on land behind London Road. In 1844 the Midland Counties Railway Company merged with two other companies to form the Midland Railway. The line connected Leicester to Derby and Nottingham, and Rugby to the south, enabling Leicester to capitalise on its central location, and eventually providing direct access to London.

Thomas Cook and Campbell Street Station

It was from Campbell Street Station that Thomas Cook ran his first railway excursion in 1841, to a temperance (anti-alcohol) meeting in Loughborough. This event is commemorated by a statue of Thomas Cook outside this station. Excursions to Scotland, Europe and further afield soon followed, including the first round-the-world tour in 1872-73.

The columned frontage of Campbell Street Station. Leicestershire Record Office

Famous visitors to Campbell Street Station

Famous people who used Campbell Street Station included Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1843 on their way back from Belvoir Castle, Charles Dickens in the 1850s and 60s when he came to Leicester to give public readings of his works and “Buffalo Bill” (alias Col. W.F. Cody) who brought his “Wild West” show to Leicester in 1891.

Campbell Street Station was later replaced by London Road Station which opened in 1892. All that now remains of Campbell Street Station are two stone pillars marking the entrance to Campbell Yard on Station Street.

A new station for the “prosperous borough of Leicester”

By the late 1880s the Campbell Street station was no longer adequate for the ever-increasing volume of passenger and parcel traffic. It was described as “cramped and dingy a reproach to the large and prosperous borough of Leicester” and so a new one, with a frontage to London Road, was designed by the Midland Railway architect Charles Trubshaw.

London Road Station, 1892. Leicestershire Record Office

“One of the finest booking halls in the kingdom”

New booking and parcel offices opened in June 1892 and the entire ticket operation was transferred from Campbell Street between the arrival of the train from Scotland to London at 5.25 am and bookings for the 8.15am to Market Harborough. There was no official opening of the station, but the Mayor, Alderman Thomas Wright, was invited to attend, and was issued with the first ticket from the new booking hall which he regarded as “one of the finest in the kingdom”. The station was not fully completed until 1895.

The station buildings

The frontage on Leicester London Road Station (now known as Leicester Railway Station) features four entrance archways; two for “Arrivals” and two for “Departures”. These dramatic arches make little sense now but originally assisted horse-drawn cab drivers when dropping passengers off to catch their trains or looking for business from passengers who had just arrived. Beneath the “Departure” lettering are “IN” and “OUT” panels, one featuring a cherub holding a globe and the other with a cherub sitting by a steam train.

Find out about visiting Leicester Rail Station.

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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