• This 1905 building replaced an earlier municipal library and was funded by a donation of £12,000
  • The library was seen as better place for the public to spend their leisure hours, rather than ‘soak in a pub’ according to the local newspaper
  • There was a separate room for ladies on the 2nd floor when it opened

“An inspiration as well as a rich treasury”

The population of Leicester grew rapidly in the later 19th century as did the number of people able to read and write. The original municipal library was soon overcrowded and so the town was delighted when the Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated £12,000 towards the cost of a new one. It was intended to “be an inspiration as well as a rich treasury”.

What did the library provide?

Designed by Edward Burgess, the new library could accommodate 40,000 books and up to 100 readers in the ground floor Reading Room. A separate Ladies´ Room was provided on the first floor and a Juvenile Lending Library in the basement. Soon after it opened it introduced Library Lectures “to add a little to the literary culture of the town”. One of the speakers was J.Ramsay MacDonald, Labour MP for Leicester, who talked about “Sociology”.

The importance of libraries

The library was seen as a particular benefit to “the manual labourer – the working man, the poor man and his children”. On its opening in 1905 by Carnegie himself, the Leicester Daily Post wrote that it was better “that the average shoe operative, factory worker or shop assistant should spend his leisure hours with Dickens, Thackeray, Scott or George Elliot” rather than “soak in a pub” or “hang around street corners”.

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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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Leisure & Entertainment

Victorian Turkish Baths

Turkish baths were once very fashionable with more than 600 in Britain. There were two Victorian Turkish baths in the centre of Leicester during the late 1800’s, the one surviving at 40 Friar Lane and the other being at 9 New Street around the corner.

Victoria Park and Lutyens War Memorial

Victoria Park has formed a popular part of Leicester’s community and social landscape since its inception during the Victorian period. Originally part of the common land known as South Fields, the park was used as a racecourse from 1806 to 1883.

Guild Hall Colton Street

The Guild Hall was opened in 1909 by the Leicester Guild of the Crippled to provide a social centre for people with physical disabilities. As well as being “beautiful and commodious”, this Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau style building was very practical, being an early example of a structure that had been purposely designed to be fully accessible.

Athena - The Odeon Cinema

The Odeon was built during the “Golden Age of Hollywood” when actors like Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo were popular with cinema audiences. In the 1930s there were over 25 cinemas in Leicester and probably this one, built in 1938 by the Odeon organisation, was the grandest.

Cook’s Temperance Hall & Hotel

In 1853 Thomas Cook built an impressive Temperance Hall and adjoining Temperance Hotel on Granby Street. The Temperance Hall was demolished in 1961, but the Hotel frontage (now 121 Granby Street) has survived, the upper two storeys retaining much of their original appearance.

story of leicester
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