The wonder of the new. Modern architecture in Leicester 1901 to 1990

The Turkey Cafe, Granby Street, City of Leicester

An unusual example of Victorian architecture in the centre of the city, The Turkey Cafe was designed by Arthur Wakerly and constructed in 1901.

John Winn was the restaurateur who commissioned the building, opting for a Turkish theme which contrasted with his other restaurants. A grade II listed ironed-framed building, the cafe exterior is coated with matt-faced carraware tiles that were specially produced by Royal Doulton.

The original tiles can be found throughout the building, with beautiful mosaics, sculptures and murals of the early Art Nouveau style being the main features of the building.

Having served as an ice-cream parlor, cafe, nightclub and optician building, it is said that James I once visited the ‘cockpit’ that apparently stood on the site, which later became the ‘The Jolly Miller’ inn.



The Trades Hall, St. James Street

Ned Newitt included this building in his book A People’s History of Leicester. He refers to it as The Shoe Trade Hall and notes that it was completed in 1903. The building housed the offices of the Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Secretaries of the two Leicester branches of NUBSO (The National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives). At that time the shoe trade was a major part of the Leicester economy.

When it was built, there was a strong trade union movement in Leicester and at around this time the Labour Party was being founded and used this building in its formative years. [Newitt.]

A large Assembly Hall was also built at the back of the main building. This could hold between 600 and 700 people and is believed to be still intact at the time of writing.

The building served as the headquarters of the Trades Council and was also known as The Trades Hall.

Currently in use as a Hindu Mission and Temple, the building has a For Sale sign attached to its frontage. The doors are the original ones shown in the 1903 photo.

The Leicester and District Trades Union Council is still in existence.



The Commercial Union Building

Standing at 76 High Street, the Commercial Union Building was formerly known as the Coronation building and was designed by Wakerley.

Characterised by its art nouveau stonework and tiles showing ships and union jacks depicting aspects of the empire. It is clad blue-green Carraraware manufactured by Doultons of Lambeth.

It now houses the bar called Cafe Bruxelles.



De Montfort Hall

Leicester’s best known entertainment venue since 1913, the building’s title honours Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Built by the corporation of Leicester and costing around £21.000, the great performers who have walked its stage include: The Beatles, The Clash, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Jethro Tull, Englebert Humperdink, Deep Purple, Genesis, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd, The Police, U2, David Essex among others.

Wikipedia: The De Montfort Hall



Lutyens War Memorial, Victoria Park

Standing at the end of Peace Walk in the grounds of Leicester’s Victoria Park, the Lutyens Memorial as it is known was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (described as the greatest British architect by some) and built in 1923.

The arch commemorates those who lost their lives in the First World War and is the centre of Remembrance Day ceremonies in Leicester.

The structure is a grade I listed quadrifrons arch, comprising of Portland stone with a stepped top and crowning dome. The memorial also includes the surrounding rusticated railings and gate piers, with a circle of urns that contribute to the image of respect and honour.

Lutyens was also responsible for the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall and the Thiepval Memorial, which stands close to the village of Thiepval in Northern France and is dedicated to the missing soldiers of the Somme.


Clock Tower War Memorial, Coalville

Standing 68 feet above the town centre, this magnificent monument was designed by Henry Collings and built by W. Moss Ltd in 1925. The tower commemorates the residents of Coalville who gave their lives during the World Wars, with a separate stone to the north side that commemorates the end of WW II.

It is difficult to acknowledge the sheer height and effect of this monument unless it is viewed first-hand, making it more than worth a visit for anyone passing through the area. The tower is a Grade II listed monument made from Staffordshire brick, Stone and Granite.

It is approachable from all sides by a set of granite steps, with a four-sided clock that is controlled by a radio. The main inscription on the tower reads: ‘This Clock was erected by the inhabitants of the district in the memory of the men who went from the Coalville urban area’, with various other inscriptions that remember the brave people of this town.



Superfly (General Accident Building), corner of King Street and Wellington Street.

This building was designed by architect G. P. K. Young and constructed in 1930. Originally built to serve as an insurance office for General Accident, it has now been converted into a bar and nightclub under the name of Superfly (prior to that it housed a similar club called Original 4.)

The building was constructed in a neo-Tudor style and is often thought to be of that era, with its angled tiled roofs, four-light lattice windows, authentic exterior beams and lower stone base.

It is often credited as one of Leicester’s most interesting pieces of architecture, even though it stands rather hidden away and lacks the history its misleading appearance seems to offer.

It may be that the building was influenced by a similar one in Cheshire, Little Moreton Hall, although there is no evidence to suggest this, the resemblance is striking.



The Odeon Cinema, now Athena Theatre

Opened in July 1938, this landmark building was design as a cinema by Architect Harry Weedon, assisted by Robert Arthur Bullivant.

The building is noted for the basketweave pattern of its brickwork on the side wall. It was built at a cost of £46,800 and is situated between Queen Street and Southampton Street, facing into what is now called Orton Square, originally Rutland Street. Originally one of the biggest cinemas in Leicester, having an original capacity of 2,182 seats, when later expanded it could hold up to 3,000 people. It was modernised in 1960 and was divided into multi-screen halls in 1974, a fourth screen being added in the late 1980s. The building originally was decorated with parallel bands of neon lighting set into channels in the brickwork of the frontage.


It was made a Grade II listed building. After being closed in 1997, the Odeon Cinema was relocated to new premises in Freemans Common.

The building was purchased by a private company and restored in its original Art Deco style, reopening in 2005.

Cream coloured tiles were placed at various positions on the frontage of the building; this was a characteristic feature of the Odeon Cinema chain.

It stands opposite CURVE, in Leicester’s cultural quarter. The Athena, as it is now known, hosts corporate events and many weddings for the Indian community.

Leicester Athena.

The Cardinal Building, Telephone Exchange, 34 Humberstone Road.


Leicester’s tallest building, with 17 floors, is 64 metres high.

In 1881, the corner of Rutland Street and Granby Street was the location of Leicester’s first telephone exchange.