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The History of Leicester

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Leicester was an important Celtic settlement on the banks of the River Soar, thought to be the main defensive and administrative location of the local tribe the Coriletavi. The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and by 47 AD Leicester was firmly under their control. A fort at Leicester helped the settlement to evolve into an administrative and commercial hub. The Roman town flourished with many important buildings constructed in stone. Like many Roman towns, Leicester quickly fell into disrepair after the occupation ended in 407.

In Saxon times Leicester came back to life with the new Christian church helping the process. However , the stone-built grandeur of Roman Leicester wasnít matched by the Saxon timber-built town. Leicester was the centre of the bishopric from around 670, endowing it with city status. Danes invaded the England and captured Leicester in 877, the Saxons recaptured it in 918 and the bishop returned. By the Norman invasion Leicester was a small but flourishing city. The Domesday Book of 1086 records a population of around 1,500, quite substantial for the time. It also lists Leicester as a Ďcivitasí or city, confirming the importance of the settlement. It lost city status again in the 11th century during a time of struggle between the church and the aristocracy and did not regain it again until 1919.

Leicesterís early status is further evidenced by the events of 1265 , when Simon de Montfort forced King Henry III to hold the first Parliament of England there. This debut sitting of the fledgling English parliament was held in the hall of the now ruined Leicester Castle. Parliamentary meetings again took place in the Castle Great Hall in 1426 when the Parliament of Bats was held there. The sitting was so-called because members, being banned from carrying swords, nonetheless armed themselves with bats and clubs. The infant King Henry VI ís knighting took place during these sessions, across in the neighbouring St Mary de Castro church. The castle is of Norman origin and the castle complex includes the Great Hall, built around 1150 by Robert de Bossu, the second Earl of Leicester. Extensive remodelling of the hall took place in 1523 with a completely new roof and again in 1625 when a brick frontage was added. The church of St Mary de Castro dates from around the 12th century and is still in use as a parish church today.

Leicester Abbey, the Abbey of Saint Mary de Pratis, was founded by the second Earl of Leicester and lies just to the north of the modern city centre and the castle. The abbey grew to become one of the most influential land owners in the county, holding more land than any other single lord. In 1530, the Cardinal Thomas Wolsey , Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England stopped at the abbey on his way to London , where he had been summoned to answer charges of high treason. Wolsey, once the second most powerful man in England, never left the abbey. He died there on November 26, 1530 and was buried within the walls of the abbey church. Although Leicester Abbey offered no resistance to King Henry VIII ís Reformation, it failed to survive the tumultuous times anyway because it was at the time in serious debt. The abbey was sold off and the Earl of Huntingdon built a house there using the abbey stone. Only the gatehouse and some sections of the old
boundary wall survive today. The house and city also fell victim to the Civil War . The house was the headquarters of Charles I before the Battle of Naseby and was burnt down following his defeat at the battle and was never restored. The city suffered greatly as it swapped hands during the 17th century war between King and Parliament. The abbey grounds now form part of the Victorian Abbey Park.

The canals came in the 18th century and linked Leicester to London and Birmingham . By 1832 the railways had arrived and Leicesterís expansion into an industrial powerhouse was well underway. In the 40 years from 1861 to 1901 the population grew from 68,000 to 212,000 as factories opened across the city. Textiles, hosiery and footwear were the initial industries driving growth. Engineering soon became important to Leicester, benefiting from the nearby coal fields and the very good transport links. City status returned in 1919 and St Martinís was consecrated as a Cathedral in 1927. By 1936 Leicester had been identified as the second richest city in Europe. After the Second World War , Leicesterís traditional industries went into terminal decline. The extension of the M1 linked Leicester to the rest of the expanding motorway network and during the second half of the 20th century Leicesterís character changed dramatically. Leicester, once host to Englandís first parliamentary sitting, experienced large scale immigration and now has a vibrant multi-cultural feel.

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