Leicester's historic past
Leicester is the biggest free-standing city in
the UK. Free-standing, because it is surrounded on all sides by open
country side. Whilst other cities blend into each other or merge
into other urban areas, Leicester floats like an island in a rural
The river Soar runs through Leicester - a small
river by many standards, at some stretches, hardly wider than the
Grand Union Canal, which connects London with Manchester, via Leicester.
Leicester came late to the industrial revolution
and yet many of the key technologies and innovations of Victorian
times where either tried first in Leicester or developed here. Much
of late Victorian Leicester still survives. Unlike Coventry, Leicester
escaped heavy bombing during the second world war.
Much of the Victorian inner city dates from the
1890s. Unlike Nottingham or Birmingham, Leicester did not have a
huge problem of inner city poverty and slums. Neither did it have
a legacy of collapsing heavy industry, leaving dereliction in its
wake. For the most part, Leicester had clean industries, such as
spinning and weaving.
Many of the large, old factory buildings and mills
are still in use; some are being recycled by being converted into
Leicester is surrounded by housing estates, some
established during the boom in Council house building in the 1930s.
North Braunstone, for example, was seen as being a garden town, modeled
on the idea of a bright new future for working people. However, the
planners forgot to introduce community services and facilities and
there are still relatively few shops on the estate.
Although Leicester is a free-standing city, it
is ringed with sub-urban towns, such as Braunstone, Ansty, Groby,
Glenfield and Birstall.
In more recent times, outer-urban estates have
been developed, such as Hamilton and Beaumont Leys.
In the 1960s there was another surge of public
housing, with council estates such as New Parks being built, again
on the so-called garden city model.
The opening of the M1 motorway put Leicester on
the backbone of the new transport system. Leicester also became connected
to Coventry and Birmingham via the M69.
Modern Leicester is characterised by its multi-cultural
and socially mixed population. Immigration into the city began in
the 1930s with the arrival of jewish communities. African and Caribbean
peoples settled here during the late 1950s and 60s and later, peoples
from the Indian sub-continent moved into Leicester. Other communities,
such as the Poles, Latvians and Estonians have also made their home
here. In the last few years, the UK Government has settled a large
number of mid-European asylum seekers in the city. One of the biggest
influxes was that of the Ugandan Asians and others from East Africa.
Many of these were traders and business people
who brought wealth to the area. They acquired many of the lower-valued
commercial and domestic properties, which is why there is was so
little run-down or derelict property in the inner city, compared
to other urban areas.
Certain areas of the city tended to become to various
ethnic groups. Caribbean people congregated in Highfields and Asian
peoples gathered in houses along the Belgrave and Melton Roads.
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