|Area: 73.32 kmē|
Leicester (pronounced ['l?st?]) is a large city in the East Midlands of England. It is the traditional county town of Leicestershire, and, since 1997, has been a self-governing unitary authority. It lies on the River Soar and at the edge of the English National Forest. In 2004, the population of the city proper was estimated at 285,100, with 441,213 living in the urban area. It is currently, by population, the 10th largest city in England and the 13th largest in the UK. It is also the 96th largest in Europe.
The urban area extends beyond the boundaries of the city proper to include the satellite towns of Oadby, Wigston, Braunstone Town, Birstall, Glenfield, Blaby, Thurmaston, Syston and Leicester Forest East. A number of these towns are in fact closely integrated suburbs of the city itself, especially Glenfield and Braunstone. For areas within the city, see Areas of Leicester. In terms of population within the city limits it is the largest in the East Midlands.
Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, having been founded by the Romans.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the mythical king of the Britons King Leir founded the city of Kaerleir (Leicester). He was supposedly buried by Queen Cordelia in a chamber beneath the River Soar near the city dedicated to the Roman god Janus, and every year people celebrated his feast-day near Leir's tomb. William Shakespeare's King Lear is loosely based on this story.
Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, with a history going back nearly 2000 years. The Roman city of Ratae Coritanorum was founded in AD 50 as a military settlement upon the Fosse Way Roman road. The city was named after the Corieltauvi, the Celtic tribe that dwelt in the area before the Romans arrived.
Ratae Coritanorum grew into an important trading and military centre and one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. The remains of the baths of Roman Leicester can be seen at the Jewry Wall, and other Roman artefacts are displayed in the Jewry Wall museum adjacent to the site.
According to the Venerable Bede, Roman Leicester may have been the site of several early Christian Martyrdoms in Britain, at the same time as that of St. Alban the first English martyr, who was killed in the Roman city of Verulamium (beside modern-day St Albans. He writes:
Passi sunt ea tempestate Aaron et Iulius Legionum urbis ciues, aliique utriusque sexus diuersis in locis perplures, qui diuersis cruciatibus torti, et inaudita membrorum discerptione lacerati, animas ad supernae ciuitatis gaudia perfecto agone miserunt.
"At the same time suffered Aaron and Julius, inhabitants of the city of the legions, and many others of both sexes, in other places; who, having been tormented on the rack till their members were dislocated, and having endured various other unheard-of cruelties, yielded their souls, after the conflict was over, to the joys of the city above." - Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. Book One, Chapter Seven This 'city of the legions' may be identified with Chester, Caerleon, or Leicester.
Saxon and Viking
The Roman town was largely abandoned when the Romans left Britain in the 5th century, but was later re-settled by Saxons. In the 9th century, Leicester was captured by the Danes (Vikings) and became one of the five boroughs (fortified towns) of Danelaw, although this position was short lived. The Saxon Bishop of Leicester fled to Dorchester-on-Thames and Leicester was not to become a bishopric again until the twentieth century.
It is believed the name "Leicester" is derived from the words castra (camp) of the Ligore, meaning dwellers on the 'River Legro' (an early name for the River Soar). In the early tenth century it was recorded as Ligeraceaster = "the town of the Ligor people". The Domesday book later recorded it as Ledecestre.
Leicester had become a town of considerable importance by Medieval times. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book as 'civitas' (city), but Leicester lost its city status in the eleventh century owing to power struggles between the Church and the aristocracy. It was eventually re-made a city in 1919, and the Church of St Martin became Leicester Cathedral in 1927. The tomb of King Richard III is located in the central nave of the church although, according to local tradition, he is not actually buried there. He was originally buried in the Greyfriars Church in Leicester, but his corpse was exhumed under orders from Henry VII and cast into the River Soar.
Leicester played a significant role in the history of England, when, in 1265, Simon de Montfort forced King Henry III to hold the first parliament of England at the now-ruined Leicester Castle.
On 4 November 1530, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey was arrested on charges of treason and taken from York Palace. On his way south to face dubious justice at the Tower of London, he fell ill. The group escorting him were concerned enough to stop at Leicester. There, Wolsey's condition quickly worsened and he died on 29 November 1530 and was buried at Leicester Abbey, now Abbey Park.
With the construction of the Grand Union Canal in the 1790s linking Leicester to London and Birmingham, Leicester began rapid industrialisation. The main industries being hosiery, footwear and, especially in the twentieth century, engineering. All are, however, in decline now.
By 1832, railways had arrived in Leicester with the opening of the Leicester and Swannington Railway, which provided a supply of coal to the town from nearby collieries. By 1840 the Midland Counties Railway had linked Leicester to the national railway network, which further boosted industrial growth. By the 1860s Leicester had gained a direct rail link to London (St Pancras) with the completion of the Midland Main Line. The Great Central Railway arrived in 1900, providing an alternative route to London. However, this closed in 1966.
The borough expanded throughout the nineteenth century, most notably in 1892 annexing Belgrave, Aylestone, Knighton and North Evington. The city obtained its current boundaries in 1935, with the annexation of the remainder of Evington, Humberstone, Beaumont Leys, along with part of Braunstone. It became a county borough when these were established in 1889, but, as with all county boroughs, was abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in 1974, becoming an ordinary district of Leicestershire. It regained its unitary status in 1997.