A history of Leicester in ten objects
They recently teamed up with their counterparts from the School of Museum Studies, The Attic, in a provocative talk on the ten objects that they think reveal most about Leicester’s history.
The discussion was informed by their PhD research projects but they also took on board the things and places we pass by every day.
Their 10 objects are not definitive. There are many others. Some lamented the absence of a packet of Walker’s Crisps and others called for Leicester’s first Indian restaurant to make an appearance. However, these ten objects gave them plenty to talk about:
1. Viking head decorations at 70-72 Granby Street
A subtle reminder of Leicester’s period under Danish Law in the 9th century and a good example of the Victorian myth making of ‘The Warrior Viking’.
2. Tigers head snuff box (1858, currently in Newarke Houses Museum)
A snuffbox made for the Officers of the 17th Leicestershire Regiment of the Foot, just after the Indian Mutiny: a reminder that Leicester has a longer and more complex role in the history of British colonialism than we may first expect.
3. Joseph Merrick ‘Commemorative Plaque’ (2004)
Popularly known as ‘The Elephant Man’ this plaque marks the site of the Hippodrome Theatre on Wharf Street where Merrick is thought to have been exhibited to the public after running out of other options to maintain his financial independence.
4. Wygston House, Applegate (c. 15th Century)
We included Wygston House because it holds fond memories for the people of Leicester as the ‘Costume Museum’. It has had a variety of uses in the past; what should it be in the future?
5. The Guildhall, Guildhall Lane (c.1390)
We’re just supremely happy it’s not closing! Please visit!
6. Welford Road Cemetery (est. 1849)
The city’s oldest municipal cemetery and key witness to the social history of Victorian and Edwardian Leicester in particular. Many famous citizens are buried here, and as the material reflection of their changing tastes and attitudes, the cemetery can be said to exist as a microcosm of the living city.
7. Changing Street Names
Street names are more than just labels stuck on walls. Understanding their history reveals the changing use of language and ways of life. Did you know that ‘Cank Street’ refers to ‘The Cank’, a medieval communal well, but ‘to cank’ also meant ‘to gossip’ as those waiting to draw water would use this as a place to catch up on the latest news.
8. County Folklore (printed copy from 1895) – Black Annis
We wouldn’t want to forget Black Annis, the blue-faced witch who haunts the Dane Hills. As well as gracing this printed copy, she’s been enshrined in the Turret Gateway on Castle View, and is an important part of Leicester story-telling. You can’t escape her!
9. Leicester Pageant Script (1932)
At first glance this Souvenir Script from the Leicester Pageant 1932 may not seem like the most valuable of historical evidence, but we love it because it provides a gateway into thinking about how the people of Leicester thought about their history at a particular time.
10. Monorail (planned 1964)
The monorail was never built but that is not to say it never happened. It was part of the Leicester Traffic Plan of 1964. The plans provide us with a fascinating insight into the energy and vision behind town planning in the 1960s, which still proves contentious today.