Quiet campaigners defend our city's Victorian heritage
Though it might not always be immediately apparent, Leicester is a Victorian city. The Victorians made Leicester, from the grand parades of shops in the city centre to the swathes of terraced housing and the smart properties in the suburbs.
The Victorians designed the city's streets, railways and canals. They brought great industry, with its accompanying employment and wealth.
They also provided open spaces and parks. We have a lot to thank them for.
In the past century, their legacy, particularly their fine built heritage, has been threatened.
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However, many Victorian jewels have been saved – thanks largely to quiet campaigning by the volunteers of the Leicester group of the Victorian Society.
Chairman Jon Goodall says: "This year sees the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Leicester group of the national Victorian Society.
"Our main purpose is to campaign for the conservation of the Victorian and Edwardian built environment – buildings which add so much character to our towns and cities.
"Additionally, we aim to encourage interest in all aspects of the history of this period.
"The national Victorian Society dates from 1959, when some eminent historians and architects became very concerned about plans to demolish many fine structures, one of the best known being St Pancras hotel and station.
"Similar situations existed throughout the country and hence, as membership expanded, local groups were established, with Leicester's in 1977.
"There is a greater appreciation of older buildings nowadays, but in the 1950s and 60s, many councils seemed to think much Victorian architecture – which made up the bulk of many city centres – should be swept away in favour of shopping centres, tower blocks and ring roads.
"They believed this would demonstrate to the world how modern a town or city was.
"In Leicester, evidence of this can be seen in such architectural 'gems' as the Holiday Inn and Haymarket Centre. There has been some change in thinking, but there are still battles to be won.
"How do we conserve our built environment? We prefer to liaise with the council and make use of statutory measures, where possible.
"The best way is to have a building listed by English Heritage, which protects both the interior and exterior.
"If the owner wishes to make significant alterations, they must have very strong justification and seek permission.
"For various reasons, Leicester has relatively few listed buildings compared with other cities and it is not easy to persuade English Heritage a building merits such distinction.
"However, our group has achieved listing for more than 60 buildings.
"Examples include the Turkey Cafe, the YMCA, in Granby Street and, fairly recently, the former East Gates Coffee House by the Clock Tower.
"Another building worth mentioning is Makers Yard, in Rutland Street, currently being converted by the council into business start-up units.
"This looked a fairly nondescript building, but research by one of our members established it had been Leicester's earliest hosiery factory and, as a result, it was listed.
"If a building is not listed, the next best option is for it to be in a conservation area, but then only the exterior is protected.
"Again, we have advised the council on setting up conservation areas and we are represented on the council's conservation advisory panel and the mayor's heritage partnership.
"New members are welcome. Be assured that our group is not full of academics, just those enthusiastic to maintain the best of our city.
"We organise monthly talks from October to April and, during the summer, coach trips, guided walks and so on.
"Feel free to attend our Christmas meeting at 7.15pm, next Tuesday, at the Adult Education College, in Wellington Street, Leicester, when local historian Cynthia Brown will talk on Victorian missionaries abroad.
Admission is £2 and there might just be the odd mince pie.
"If you join our group, you will receive our newsletter.
"If you join the national Victorian Society, you will also receive its magazine and other publications."
For information on the Leicester group and the national Victorian Society, see: