|The Clock Tower with the former Eastgates Coffee House (see letter E) in the background.|
Anyone who lives in Leicester will know the Clock Tower or to give it its full title The Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower. It’s the place where you arrange to meet your mates, where street preachers proclaim the word and where they put the festive tree at Christmas. As I was taking some photographs of it – with no particular intention of posting them on my blog – it suddenly struck me as a very curious structure so I had to find out more.
In the nineteenth century Leicester like so many British cities was rapidly expanding and although it brought prosperity, it also brought over crowding and traffic congestion on the streets. The Clock Tower stands on the site of the old Assembly Rooms which by 1801 were no longer required for their original purpose and fell to other uses including a hay and straw market.
Half a century later things had only got worse. Increasingly run down and congested with traffic, local traders attempted to get the area improved and in 1862 the Corporation began clearing the site. In 1867 the hay and straw market was moved to neighbouring Humberstone Gate. Despite this, discontent continued to rise. The traffic, a chaotic mix of horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians, had reached crisis point.
In 1867 a rumour began to spread that there were plans to erect an illuminated clock on the London Road and a campaign was begun to have it erected in East Gates as a safe refuge for people trying to cross the road. Soon the Haymarket Structure Committee was formed to collect subscriptions.
The design of the structure was thrown open to competition and the commission was awarded to Joseph Goddard (see letter B). By the beginning of 1869 the Clock Tower was complete.
So there you have it, the Clock Tower is no more than an ornamental traffic island. That is to say it was, the area has been pedestrianised and now it’s just the place where you meet your mates.
|Details of the stonework, with sculptures by Samuel Barfield.|
Simon De Montfort (c1208-65) – brother-in-law to Henry III, he was made Earl of Leicester in 1239. De Montfort is credited with summoning what is now regarded as the first parliament in 1265 but apart from his title had little if anything to do with Leicester.
Alderman Gabriel Newton (1683-1762) – a wool comber, later landlord of the Horse and Trumpet Inn near the High Cross, he acquired most of his wealth through his three marriages. He was Mayor of Leicester in 1732 and founded a school for 35 boys of ‘indigent necessitous parents’.
William Wyggeston or William of Wigston (1456-1536) – a wool merchant, he was Mayor of Leicester in 1499 and 1500, and MP for Leicester in 1504. He is chiefly remembered for his charitable works, notably the Wyggeston’s Hospital which housed 12 poor men and 12 poor women.
Sir Thomas White (1492-1567) – Lord Mayor of London and founder of St John’s College, Oxford. He inaugurated an interest-free loan scheme in 1551 which was made available to certain midland towns (including Leicester) in rotation to assist young men in setting themselves up in business.