At first glance, LEICESTER, some 25 miles south of Nottingham, seems a resolutely modern city, but further inspection reveals traces of its medieval and Roman past, situated immediately to the west of the downtown shopping area near the River Soar.
It’s probably fair to say that Leicester has a reputation for looking rather glum, but the centre is very much on the move, with the addition of Highcross, a brand new shopping centre, and the creation of a Cultural Quarter equipped with a flashy performance venue, Curve Theatre. The star turn, however, is the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, which includes an exemplary collection of German Expressionist paintings. About a third of Leicester’s population is Asian – the city elected England’s first Asian MP, Keith Vaz, in 1987. The focus of the Asian community is the Belgrave Road and its environs, an area of terraced houses about a mile to the northeast of the city centre beyond the flyover, where people come from miles around to eat at the splendid Indian restaurants.
The Romans chose this site to keep an eye on the rebellious Corieltauvi, constructing a fortified town beside the Fosse Way (now the A46), the military road running from Lincoln to Cirencester. Later, the Emperor Hadrian kitted the place out with huge public buildings, though the Danes, who overran the area in the eighth century, were not overly impressed and didn’t even bother to pilfer much of the stone. Later still, the town’s medieval castle became the base of the earls of Leicester, the most distinguished of whom was Simon de Montfort, who forced Henry III to convene the first English Parliament in 1265. Since the late seventeenth century, Leicester has been a centre of the hosiery trade and it was this industry that attracted hundreds of Asian immigrants to settle here in the 1950s and 1960s.