• The building, intended to be a hotel, is what gave ‘Hotel Street’ its name
  • The first floor ballroom was originally used for banquets, balls, meetings and auctions
  • After spending many years under different owners it is now used for its original intention; as a social space and boutique hotel

The hotel that never was

This elegant Georgian building, completed in 1800, was originally intended to be Leicester´s first hotel, which is how Hotel Street got its name. The developer ran out of money and so the building was completed by public subscription by a group of gentlemen (including the Duke of Rutland) and local businessmen. It was opened as the Assembly Rooms in time for the annual gathering of aristocracy and gentry at Leicester Races in September 1800.  According to a local newspaper:

‘Our Races were attended by a greater number of Noblemen and Gentleman than has been known for several years back. The Assemblies at the New Hotel Assembly Room (which was opened for the first time) boasted an abundance of beauty and fashion…’.

“The first modern ornament of the town”

Designed by local architect John Johnson, the Assembly Rooms included a  ballroom of ‘spacious dimensions’ - 75’ long, 33’ wide and 30’ high that ran the whole length of the first floor, with large windows to admit the light, and wall and ceiling paintings by the artist Ramsay Richard Reinagle. This was reached by a single staircase from the ground floor, dividing into two on a landing. Susannah Watts, describing the building in A Walk Through Leicester in 1804, wrote that:

‘It may, from the grandeur of its windows, its statues, bassi relievi, and other decorations, be justly considered as the first modern architectural ornament of the town… Uniting under the same roof, every convenience for the gratification of taste, and the amusement of the mind, a coffee room handsomely furnished and supplied with all the London papers, affords the gentlemen of the town and country as well as the stranger, to whom its door is open, an agreeable and commodious resort, while on the opposite side a spacious bookseller’s shop furnishes the literary enquirer with a series of all the new publications’.

The ballroom was used for banquets, balls, meetings and auctions. The ground floor was used as a coffee room “supplied with all the London papers” and “handsomely furnished”. The figures of the Comic and Lyric Muses on the exterior, along with the carved friezes above them, were the work of John Charles Felix Rossi and John Bingley.

Detail of one of the 'Muses' on the front of the City Rooms

Judges' Lodgings and a repository for public records

In 1817 the Assembly Rooms were sold to the county Justices of the Peace for use as Judges’ Lodgings during the Court Assizes. The petition for an Act of Parliament to raise money for the purpose also referred to a need for a place for the ‘safe deposit of public records’. There seems to be no record of the purchase price itself, but it was agreed at the Quarter Sessions of Easter 1818 to spend up to £1500 on repairs and alterations to make the premises suitable for these purposes. A similar sum was agreed for furniture for the Judges. The refurbishment work was completed by 1819, including an extension towards the Market Place, in a similar classical style but built of brick covered in stucco to give it a smooth surface. This later housed the County Fire Office.

From Assembly Rooms to County Rooms

The word ‘Hotel’ was removed from above the porch at this time, and the stones at the top inscribed ‘Assembly Rooms’ were reversed, remaining visible only from the inside of the parapet. However, local newspapers and other documents still referred to the building as either the Assembly Rooms or the County Assembly Rooms for years to come, until it eventually became simply the ‘County Rooms’, continuing to host the annual Race Balls and similar social events.  

The Race Ball of September 1841 was said to be ‘fashionably and numerously attended… and dancing was kept up to a late hour’. For the same event four years later the local band of Nicholson and Weston, which played at many such events, was joined by musicians from London venues including Vauxhall Gardens and the Haymarket Theatre.

A return to the days of Georgian splendour

From the late 1880s ownership of the building passed to the new Leicestershire County Council and in 1986 transferred to the City Council, then acquiring its current name of the City Rooms. In 2006, following a two year restoration project by a private developer, the City Rooms reopened once again for the purposes for which they were originally intended – social functions, and as a boutique hotel.

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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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