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Leicester History, United Kingdom

Leicester is one of the oldest settlements in the UK and most likely started as a Celtic community.  Until the Romans invaded the area in 47 A.D. and captured the settlement, it was the “capital city” for Coriletavi, one of the Celtic tribes.  A year after its capture, the Romans built a fort near the settlement.  This provided a marketplace for the goods that the villagers had to offer and built up the economy there.  Even after the Roman army left in 80 A.D. the town continued to grow.

About 20 years later, Romans gave the town a more modern touch and called it Ratae.  At this time, many stone and tile homes sprung up and archaic sewers were built along with a market square called a Forum.  The Romans also built quite a few temples in the town.

Over the next 300 years the town continued to grow in population and in economic strength. During the mid to late 4th century, though, the Roman civilization began to decline and they left Britain in 407 A.D.  At this point, Leicester was most likely abandoned by most of its residents although some farming may have still taken place.

In the late 600’s, the Saxon’s settled in the area and Leicester received a bishop.  In less than 200 years, the town was flourishing once again although it was unsophisticated in comparison to the Roman settlement that had graced the same location centuries earlier.  Between 877 and 918 A.D. the town received some Danish influence since the Danes captured and ruled the settlement during this time.

At the beginning of the Middle Ages a wooden castle was built by the Normans within the town’s walls.  In the early 1100’s the castle was rebuilt using stone.  Leicester Abbey was erected in 1143 along with several “hospitals.” 

During this time Leicester also had an Earl.  He was somewhat of a tyrant towards his people and in 1173, he rebelled against the king causing the king’s army to burn a section of the town down.  In 1231, he banished all people with Jewish descent from the town.  Leicester did prosper, though, due to the wool and leather industries and eventually the merchants took over some of the Earl’s control.

Residents of Leicester suffered ten outbreaks of plague between 1564 and 1638.  Also during this same time, King Henry VIII shut down the abbey and the “hospitals.”  In 1645, Leicester was sacked and put under siege by the Royalist armies of the English Civil War.  After the Parliamentary armies regained the town, the castle was burned in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the Royalist armies again.

Leicester did bounce back from these many devastations and was slowly modernized until the late 1700’s when the Industrial Revolution hit and completely transformed the town.  In 1835 the town’s boundaries were lengthened and it reached the River Soar.  A cholera epidemic in 1849 did not stop the town from being almost completely modernized for this time by the turn of the century. 

In 1919, Leicester was finally named a city and in 1926 a cathedral was built there.  Leicester escaped the heavy bombings suffered by many English cities; however, one bombing campaign did hit the city on November 19, 1940.  During the following years, the population growth took on great diversity including Jewish, Asian, Latvian, and Polish people.

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