Leicester is privileged to have one of the best-preserved timber-framed halls in the country, dating back to the 14th century. It is a historic building of national importance and is the city's oldest building still in use. Today the Guildhall is best known as an excellent venue, attracting performances from local and national groups. This historic building also provides the backdrop for a range of bookings from weddings to commercial conferences.
The Guildhall and its contents can be used to support the history curriculum, in particular crime and punishment in Tudor and Victorian times, as the building has been used as law courts and was home to Leicester's first police force and cells. It also illustrates the fabric of historic buildings and their different uses over time.
History of the Building
The Guildhall has seen many phases of building from the Medieval, Tudor, Jacobean and Victorian periods through to a renovation programme in the 20th century. The main stages of construction are:
c1390 The original three eastern bays in the Great Hall.
c1450 The original Hall was extended westwards with two extra bays.
c1490 The west and east wings were added.
c1563 West wing converted into a three-story building.
c1632 East wing was remodelled as the Town Library.
c1637 Ground floor of the west wing became the Mayor's Parlour.
c1836 Kitchens on the south side of the courtyard were demolished to build the new Chief Constable's cottage. Police cells were developed under the Town Library.
c1922 Major renovation project stripped the plaster of renderings. The timberwork was renovated and new fireplaces installed.
1991 Major conservation project on the timbers and roofing. Murals in the Great Hall were restored, and the walls treated with traditional lime wash.
2001 New visitor centre built in partnership with the adjacent Leicester Cathedral.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall has been used as a meeting place, law courts and as a banqueting and performance space over the centuries and Parliament even convened here. It is believed that Shakespeare performed here during Tudor times. Features to look at include the timber beams, the lime wash plaster, the sunken medieval fireplace (found during renovation) and painted murals... (Click here to read more).
The Mayor's Parlour
By the end of the 14th century, the Corporation of Leicester (the town's civil body) had bought the Guildhall. The Mayor's Parlour was built as the room where the Mayor conducted his civic duties. It is grandly decorated with ornate oak panels. Symbols of civic pride in the room include the Mayoral chair, portraits of members of the Corporation whilst two civic maces stand on the wall. The windows contain pieces of medieval stained glass. Fragments include the pictures of the Host Chalice (symbol of the Corpus Christi Gild) and the Tudor Rose.
The Recorder's Bedroom
The Recorder for court sessions travelled the country to the various courts. While he was in Leicester he slept at the Guildhall in the Recorder's Bedroom.
The Jury Room
The Jury Room is above the Mayor's Parlour and can be viewed on special request. It was used as a retiring room during court sessions and concealed the Grand Jury during important trials. The jury could view proceedings in the Great Hall through an opening in the wooden panelling.