For interactive historical maps of Leicester, click the Roman, Saxon and medieval links to the right.
A large part of the historic core of Leicester as defined by the line of the walls of the Roman and medieval town is currently undergoing a renaissance. Many industrial buildings of the 1960s and 1970s have been demolished, and the sites are being redeveloped for commercial and residential uses. Much of the new development is a result of the vision of the Leicester Regeneration Company which has produced a masterplan examining the long-term needs of Leicester and the physical changes necessary to meet them.
Construction of course has the potential to affect buried archaeological remains in a town which has been occupied for over 2000 years, and the first step is to make an assessment of how much damage new foundations are likely to cause. A combination of documentary research and trial trenching on accessible sites enables us to build up a picture of the depth and significance of surviving archaeological deposits and to identify any areas of previous disturbance. Sometimes, deeply buried archaeology which can be as much as 4.5m below present street level may be unaffected by the proposals and no further work is necessary. Elsewhere, remains may be shallow or will be affected by deep structures such as basements, so a programme of excavation before development is needed to ensure that deposits are adequately investigated and recorded for the benefit of future generations.
Over the past five years, ULAS has undertaken some of the largest excavations the city has seen. Apartment blocks have been constructed on Bath Lane and Sanvey Gate resulting in two large projects which have provided new evidence for Leicester’s Roman and medieval town defences. Student accommodation at 72 St Nicholas Circle has shed light on the nature of Roman buildings fronting on to one of the principal streets of the town. Excavations before the construction of the BBC building at 9 St Nicholas Place revealed evidence for a well preserved medieval undercroft, medieval back yards and more deeply-buried Roman buildings and streets which have been preserved beneath the new building.
By far the biggest single development in the Highcross Quarter has been the extension to the Shires shopping centre by its joint owners, Hammerson and Hermes, which occupies an area of around 4.7 hectares, or about 9.6% of the walled part of the Roman and medieval town. After an extensive programme of trial trenching as sites became available, it was clear that the archaeology over a large proportion of the area could be left where it was, buried beneath the new buildings, with some limited damage from pile foundations. On four large sites, however, excavation proved necessary to ensure that the more vulnerable deposits could be adequately recorded before construction started. Excavations on Vaughan Way revealed the ‘lost’ church of St. Peter and a graveyard of over 1300 burials. On Vine Street, a vast Roman town house, a possible Roman public building and the graveyard of another lost medieval church, St. Michael, were investigated. The Highcross Street site revealed a series of medieval and post-medieval properties, together with evidence for the town in the Anglo-Saxon period and the surprise discovery of the collapsed wall of what is believed to be the Roman macellum or market hall. Also during the Highcross Quarter project, the sites of four 19th-century non-conformist chapels which had been built over in the 1960s were investigated, two of which were on the East Bond Street site.
Regeneration in the City has also included restoration and conversion to new uses of historic buildings, many of which have been subject to programmes of assessment and recording by ULAS. One example is the Free Grammar School, part of the Highcross Quarter project, which has now been restored. The archaeological recording works revealed materials salvaged from the demolished church of St Peter, including the nave tie beams.