This article first appeared in the programme for Upstairs at the Western’s Autumn season, 2013. Upstairs at the Western’s next season begins 8th February 2014 – hopefully see you there!
Leicester oozes history and events of the past twelve months have brought the city’s past under fresh scrutiny. The debate concerning the burial of a medieval man called Richard rumbles on but Leicester’s story didn’t begin with a Plantagenet king.
Roughly 1,000 years before Richard’s unceremonious end in a hastily dug grave the Romans were the occupying force in Leicester. Under Roman law burials within the city walls were forbidden and took place in the suburbs. Roman jewellery, coins and pottery have since been excavated a bone’s throw from The Western and in what are now Roman and Saxon Streets. These artefacts are on display in Jewry Wall Museum.
The Western’s place in history began in 1895 as The Western Hotel, located on the fringe of the Great Central Railway (GCR) which had also started operations around the same time. The wagon repair shop still stands on Upperton Road and Bede Island was the goods yard.
As well as meeting the needs of the growing passenger travel market GCR also contributed to Leicester’s booming economy, providing a high speed link to the factories, warehouses and wharves of Leicester’s West End. It must have been a spectacular sight: come out of The Western after a quick pint and see The Flying Scotsman steaming past or, in Spring 1944, watch train after train go by, transporting Sherman tanks to Normandy’s beaches.
Upstairs at the Western is located in an area rich in social history. Many of the landmarks from The Western’s era are gone: the Bowstring Bridge, the art deco Kirby & West dairy building on Western Boulevard. Alice Hawkins, Leicester’s most well-known suffragette, worked at Equity Shoes on Western Road, her campaigning activities and the factory marked by a blue plaque.
But it is people who make history and by coming to Upstairs at the Western, you are part of the next chapter in the story of the West End.
Images courtesy of Everards Brewery (The Western, circa 1909) and Iain Baughan