Leicester’s Guildhall has a vibrant and varied history, dating all the back to 1390 when its great hall was first built as a meeting place for the Guild of Corpus Christi – a group of wealthy local businessmen who had strong religious beliefs and were revered throughout Medieval Leicester.
Now a Grade I listed building, it’s the oldest building in the city and one of the last remaining timber-framed buildings in England.
Given its local importance and tendency to put on extravagant banquets and celebrations, it would be safe to assume that King Richard III would have been hosted here. In fact, his remains were discovered underneath a carpark just a short walk away.
Used as a theatre, history tells us that William Shakespeare performed here, and it may have been the inspiration for his creation of the play King Leir.
During the English Civil War, the guildhall would have been an important meeting point for the town’s decision makers at the time. Here, the Mayor of Leicester received word of an impending attack from Prince Rupert and his Royalist Army.
Prince Rupert made a demand of £2000 to the Mayor and Leicester. However, the Mayor appealed to King Charles and offered just £500 to leave the town.
However, On 30th May 1645, the King’s Army captured and sacked the city, entering the guildhall and looting the town’s archives, mace, and seal.
The third oldest library in the country was also established here in 1632 when the town library was relocated to the east wing of the building.
The first police station in Leicester was also opened here in 1836, with police cells being constructed on the ground floor of the east wing.
It would also serve as a school later, and by the 1920s, it was fast becoming unfit for purpose, with plans developed to demolish the building due to its poor state.
However, plans were stopped by the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, and the restoration work began and was completed by 1926 when the guildhall reopened as a museum.