A Little Bit of Leicester History

Leicester storyLeicester is one of the oldest cities in England dating over 2000 years. There are very many things historians consider interesting in this city. The history of the origin of Leicester city is lost in time. However, there are two major theories explaining the origin of Leicester city.

The first theory is that the first name is from Celtic one, Coriletav. This theory is supported by the name given to the settlement by the Romans: Ratae Corieltauvorum. The other theory believes that there is a mythical British King who was called Leir.

Leir was the one who founded the settlement around the same time that the Celts were in the area. It is believed that King Leir was supposedly buried under River Soar.

Roman Leicester artists impressionWhat we sure of is the fact that the Romans built a fort there around 47 or 48 AD. By about 50 AD, a city had grown around the fort. Ratae Corieltauvorum was very important to the Romans as it was one of the key staging posts on a major Roman road, the Fosse Way which is linked what are now Exeter and Lincoln.

Rapidly becoming a market town for local people and their produce, the settlement thrived on the trade that Romans brought to the area.

After the Romans moved north to conquer more of England, the settlement was well established and could continue to prosper without the Romans. The Jewry Wall and its Bath house in Leicester is the main feature that is still visible showing that Romans were once there.

As with most of England, little is known of the history of Leicester during the Dark Ages following the Roman departure. The next important event was in 680 when Leicester is known to have been given a Bishop.

Settlements of LeicesterIt seems that life in Leicester was good as the settlement continued to prosper. Artifacts have been found showing that Leicester with its farming community had potters, cloth weavers, blacksmiths, and carpenters.

The ninth century saw a downturn in fortunes when the settlements fell to the Danish Viking invaders. Until the 20th century, Leicester had no bishop as the Bishop had run away.

The Norman Conquest sees Leicester mentioned in the Doomsday book as Ledcestre. The name is believed to have been derived from Ligeraceaster which is a combination of Castra-camp and Ligore-Legro an early name given to River Soar.

Old Leicester MapLeicester city had some importance in medieval times. The Normans saw the city as large enough to build a wooden fort since it had a population of about 1500. In the 12th century, the fort was rebuilt with stone.

Leicester was ruled by an Earl as was the custom during those days. Unfortunately, the Earl of Leicester rebelled in 1173 against King Henry II. This caused untold suffering to the citizens as many were killed by the King’s wrath with Robert.

During the middle Ages, Leicester was well known for its quality wool cloth and the hosiery made from the wool. It was around this time also when leather was considered an important industry in Leicester. This is what gave rise to its association with shoes and footwear. To find out more about Leicester in numbers, click here.

The trade was so strong in 1464 that the cities merchants were able to form a corporation. As a result, Leicester could elect its own mayor to run the town. The population had doubled to 3000 by 1500. It continued to rise despite the frequent outbreaks of plague which could decimate the town population.

Leicester coat of armsThe town was given a coat of arms in 1619. Leicester declared itself for the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War and was laid to siege by the Royalists in 1645. After breaching the town wall, the Royalists killed many of the inhabitants.

The population had doubled again to about 6000 at the beginning of the 18 century. Leicester’s population and prosperity would flourish thanks to the birth of the industrial revolution.

The opening of the Soar canal in 1974 literally fuelled the boom in the industry by providing quick and cheap methods of coal and iron transportation into Leicester. Next time you hear the name Leicester, you will understand where the name came from and how the city came into being. You can learn more about the location of Leicester in our other article.