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Leicester Special Collections

The Changing Face of Leicester

Map of Leicester c.1938

Map of Leicester c.1938

As this map of Leicester shows, the city in the 1940s was quite different from the city we know today. The post-war housing estates that ring the city had barely started, there were multiple train stations and no ring roads. Clicking on the map takes you to its own page where you can click on it again to enlarge it.

By 1962 most, but not all, of the housing estates we know today had been started. The new road building programme had commenced in the 1950s with the Vaughan Way section of the central ring road and multi-storey car parks were just starting to appear in the city, with Lee Circle as the first. The M1 motorway didn't open in Leicestershire until 1966.

In 1945 villages like Oadby, Wisgton, Thurmaston etc. still felt separate from Leicester. For Trevor Peake, growing up on Catherine Street, the rest of Leicester felt a long way away:

"You must remember, there weren't the estates then, you know, there was no Stocking Farm. If you lived in Saffron Lane - where's that, that's a long way to go? When we were kids we used to go to Barkby. Catch the Catherine Street bus and get off and walk to Barkby with our bottles of water and whatever, well, it was like the equivalent of going to Africa, I'm sure it was! We were more parochial than we knew."

For many people on the new estates the countryside was only a short distance away. The outer housing estates were being built on fields that gave children healthy fresh air - a contrast to the inner city smog and pollution.

Looking at the photos below, the main difference in the look of the city centre between 1945 and 1962 was the end of the trams in 1949 and the removal of the tram tracks in the early 1950s. The designs of the cars and the fashions of the people in the photos changed too, but the pedestrianisation of the streets and the modern look of central Leicester was still in the future.

View of Gallowtree Gate, 1945

Gallowtree Gate, 1945

Vaughan Way being built

Vaughan Way being built, 1958

It is tempting to think of the photo above as capturing a pivotal moment in the post-war history of Leicester. A succession of planning initiatives from before and during the Second World War had culminated in the 1952 Development Plan for Leicester. This document planned for multiple bus stations and three ring roads to manage the movement of people and traffic in and out of the city. The bus stations were soon replaced by multi-storey car parks, and the ring roads were never totally completed, but the central ring road  - of which Vaughan Way was the start - was finally finished in the 1980s. This photo shows the first part of a huge scheme to cope with the influence of the motor car. It marks a moment of modernity that - for better or worse - we are still dealing with today.

The video below is a talk by Elain Harwood about the changing architecture of Leicester after 1945.

Link to 'Leicester’s Changing Landscape: the city and modern architecture since 1945' -