A Walk round Leicester

As well as the art gallery, Leicester provides opportunity to walk around in a compact area and see Victorian architecture in Classical, Gothic and Queen Anne styles, and a fairly decent variety of sculpture on and off the buildings. Along the way can be seen work by Neatby, G. A. Lawson, and John Bacon the elder, and architecture by Hansom and various architects of local fame.

Here is a small map of the area covered by the walk.

From the Museum, come out and turn left (i.e. not the bridge across the big road), and go down pedestrianised New Walk. The Museum itself is the finest building on the way, a classical effort with four huge Tuscan pillars for the portico, built by Hansom (1834), first as school, but becoming a museum as early as 1847. The attractive pale brick Italianate wing facing to the side over the main road, dates from 1876. Some good Victorian houses along the Walk, also in brick, dating mainly from a little earlier (1850s), with those closest to the Museum by local architect William Flint and others.

At its lower end, New Walk crosses King Street and emerges on a small square at the junction of Welford Road and Belvoir Street, where there is our first statue - a standing bronze of John Biggs, by George A. Lawson (1871), from an original marble. Rather simple and plain.

Town Hall Square

Turn right down Belvoir Street, and left into Bowling Green Street. Note in passing the Gothic former Water Board Offices Gothic (later Juvenile courts) dating from 1865, by Shenton and Baker, before the road emerges into Town Hall Square, a first destination of the walk. The Town Hall itself is apparently one of the earliest municipal buildings in Queen Anne Revival style, put up in the 1870s by the architect F. J. Hames, who also designed the Lion Fountain in the centre of the square. Rather a flat-faced building with only minor decorative flourishes, fairly symmetrical around the central roof, except for the large clock tower at one end.

In Bishop Street, the side of the square at right angles to Bowling Green Street, by the Wesleyan chapel, note the municipal reference library, with a little cupola - an effort by E. Burgess, dating from 1904. And also in the square, but with the main entrance onto Horsefair, is Barclays - a building, I think, by James Goddard. Above the door, a pair of high relief clean-cut sandstone figures, male and female.

The Lion Fountain in the centre of the Square is made mainly from pinkish Shap granite, the local granite of the area, and bears an inscription noting it was presented to the Borough of Leicester by Israel Hart, High Bailiff, 1879. The four winged lions are appropriately fierce. The sculptural treat of the square is in one corner - the Boer War Memorial by Crosland McClure, a sculptor unfamiliar to me, working in splendid 'New Sculpture' style. A central bronze woman, excellently draped, with flanking allegorical groups of semiclad girls representing War and Grief, dramatically posed.

Market area

Leave the square again on the Bowling Green Street side via Horsefair street. The next road along parallel to Bowling Green Street is Market Street, where a brief diversion can be made to see no. 15, the former Natural Fur Company premises, with a modern limestone frieze, rather feeble, with cut-out silhouettes of fur-bearing animals, and opposite, the former Midland Auction Mart with carved floralities and a bust of Mercury. But then go back North crossing Millstone Lane (former Gas offices fairly impressive in brick and pale limestone), via Hotel Street to the attractively busy Market.

The corner of Hotel Street and Market Place South has the late 18th Century Georgian City Rooms, built as a hotel, but clearly later a place of entertainment - there are two full sized stone statues of girls in niches, one with a tambourine, the other with a harp. One has the name of the sculptor on the plinth - indistinctly, Rossi Single[n?] - perhaps it is 'Rossi sculpt., which is the early 19th Century J. C. F. Rossi who worked, inter alia, for Coade. Two small friezes of processional girls high up, perhaps of earlier date. And in front of the building, a modern statue of a medieval girl sewing, by the estimable James Butler, 1990, familiar from recent Royal Academy Exhibitions.

The market itself centres on the Corn Exchange, with a tower, and elegant detached double staircase outside in front (building, 1850 by William Flint, and stairs 1855 by F. Ordish). By it, a standing bronze of John Henry Duke of Rutland, by Edward Davis, London 1850, with unsympathetic patrician sneer. Strangely, the founders were Simonet et fille, Paris 1851.

Hotel Street swings to the left and becomes St Martins, and at the corner is the former National Westminster Bank, a grand affair in granite and light Portland stone, with Ionic pillars and a pair of cupolas. It is the work of Everard and Pick, and is dated on a drainpipe as 1900. Good though unfortunately anonymous sculpture, with two panels on the front, each with four elegant damsels and two children standing Roman style, and on the side, flanking slightly grotesqued girlish angels, and supporting cherubic ones for the principal window.

Cathedral and Guildhall

St Martins then brings us to the Cathedral and Guildhall, a second focus for the walk. The Cathedral was built as a modestly proportioned church in medieval times, but has had a Victorian makeover, including tower and much rebuilding in the 1840s-60s - a Mr R. Brandon was responsible. We start however with the porch, which is a later addition due to J. L. Pearson (1896). This has four figures of saints in niches - Dunstan, George, Martin and Katherine - and above, 7 smaller ones, with Wycliffe in the central position. Decent work in soft, yellow sandstone.

The most notable interior sculpture are the wooden figures at the bases of the main ribs to the ceiling - 19th C copies of apparently too much decayed medieval originals. Three original, distorted figures do survive by the wall near the entrance, supporting a bench or table. The memorial to John Jackson, architect, d. 1814, and his parents (d. 1776, 1780) is by John Bacon the elder - a standing woman, classical, with sword, good work as usual let down by the conventional pose for the time - she stands cross-legged, leaning on the funeral urn. The Regimental chapel has three small supporting niche angels in naïve style, by Lindley S Firn, 1854/6.

The Guildhall is a medieval building where one can wander around the dark oak interiors, with wooden chests and chairs, books and a few knick-knacks. Among the latter, an out of place portrait head of Alderman North, 1937, by Percy Brown, and three dark and characteristic portraits of local worthies from the 1600s.

Clock Tower, and Granby Street

Exiting, go north into High Street. Here there is a good building, no 76, which forms Commercial Union Buildings, originally the Coronation Building, with art nouveau stonework and small tiles on main range, tiles in the central range showing ships going out, and on the wings, Union Jacks with modelled animals symbolic of the different parts of the Empire. The cladding is blue-green Carraraware by Doulton's of Lambeth, and the architect is A. Wakerley, 1904. Going East, High Street joins Silver Street (to note the Silver Arcade, 1899, on several levels, but without much by way of décor bar the ironwork), and arrives at the main focus of Leicester, the Clock Tower. From here, Gallowtree Gate forms a main artery becoming Granby Street, taking us back past the Town Hall and through all the way to the station. This is the route which forms the third and last part of the walk.

The clock tower is another work by Joseph Goddard, erected by public subscription in the 1860s to four benefactors of Leicestershire, and comprises a Gothic shrinelike arrangement with the four benefactors as stone statues at the corners. They are Gabriel Newton, Sir Thomas White, William Wigston, Simon de Montfort. Decent though not outstanding work, and the name of the sculptor has been frustratingly scratched out.

Almost facing the clock tower on Humberside Gate is the Thomas Cook building, also by Joseph Goddard, dating from 1894, terra cotta, with four thin panels showing travel scenes with steam train and boat in high relief. Go down Gallowtree Gate, which becomes Granby Street, and leads all the way back to the station. On this street, we may note the Midland Bank, a Gothic effort in red brick with some polychromy, by Joseph Goddard dating from the early 1870s; the Turkey Café, a Doulton tile clad building by Arthur Wakerley from 1900 (the tiles are by W. J. Neatby of Harrods Food Hall fame), the Victoria Coffee House by Edward Burgess, 1887, and on the corner of Granby St and Belvoir Street, Goddard's Yorkshire Bank (1898), very Baroque, and on the opposite corner, the Grand Hotel, Baroque with tower, by C. Ogden from about the same date.

Also on that corner, partly facing on Belvoir Street, is the pale terracotta Newsroom, 1898, with much sculpture. On the Belvoir Street side, at 3rd floor level, allegorical female figures in niches, showing the Arts, Literature, Exploration, Navigation. Below, spandrels form bands of low relief sculpture, with six seated or kneeling girls in profile, slightly clad and good throughout. At first floor level, note two griffins at the pillar bases. And the side entrance has male and female figures and the name and date of the building. The Granby Street side is similar. The Penny Magazine of 1838 shows a Leicester Newsroom too, a classical building with ionic pillars, apparently containing library, newsroom, reading room for periodicals, and appartments for the librarian. Perhaps the current building replaced that one.

A brief walk brings us to the Station, close to where we started at the Museum. We end by noting the station itself, somewhat mauled, but still interesting brick and terracotta, with a turret, the work of a certain C. Trubshaw, and dating from 1892.

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