Leicester City FC won the league in 2015/16. But what do you know about the city and county which spawned them?
1. Leicestershire is the Spiritual Home of Rock Music. It started back in 1980 with the first Monsters of Rock at Donington Park. It continues today with its awesome successor Download, the second largest music festival in Europe.
2. From Monsters of Rock to Monster of Rock. Leicestershire has the oldest fossils and oldest rocks on Earth. Charnia Masoni, our oldest ancestor and the first multicellular organism, lived 540 million years ago in Charnwood Forest.
3. Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, was raised at Kirkby Mallory Hall in south Leicestershire. Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated each October. Ada predicted the capabilities of computers a century before computers existed.
4. A field at Lindley Hall Farm in Fenny Drayton, south west Leicestershire, marks the exact centre of England.
5. World religion – The Quakers, AKA the Religious Society of Friends – was started in Fenny Drayton by village native George Fox (Pictured), a person who didn’t like the dogma in Christianity.
6. Speaking of which, Lutterworth vicar John Wycliffe believed the word of God was for everyone, not just the rich – and was the first to translate the Bible from Latin to English.
7. Founder of Portugal, Phillippa of Lancaster (It’s a family name, not a location), was born and raised at Leicester Castle.
8. Lady Jane Grey, who was queen of England for nine days and executed at the age of 16, was born and raised in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire.
9. The brilliant Leicester Comedy Festival is the longest running comedy festival in the UK. In 2015 it had 780 events at 60 venues.
10. Elizabeth Woodville married Sir John Grey of Groby Hall. He died in battle and left her alone with their two sons at their home in Leicestershire. Not long after she married King Edward IV and became The White Queen. Her two sons by the king are largely believed to have been murdered by Richard III.
11. Stilton, the king of cheeses, originated in Wymondham, Leicestershire. The county is one of three allowed to make the blue cheese. The county is also known for Red Leicester, which was formerly known as Leicestershire Cheese.
12. Britain’s largest cheese fair, as you’d expect, takes place in Melton Mowbray, in north east Leicestershire.
13. Actor Richard Armitage, best known for playing Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit, heralds from Huncote in south west Leicestershire.
14. DNA fingerprinting, perhaps our greatest gift to humanity, was discovered at the University of Leicester by Sir Alec Jeffreys in 1984.
15. Raised on campus at the University of Leicester, the late Lord Richard Attenborough – filmmaker, actor, philanthropist, socialist – and his brother Sir David Attenborough, TV naturalist and zoologist.
16. Leicestershire’s biggest export is used by a quarter of the planet on a daily basis: The English language.
17. Speaking of exports, Britain’s largest motorcycle company – Triumph – make their beautiful machines at their headquarters in Hinckley, south west Leicestershire.
18. Leicester Tigers, the county’s rugby team, are among the most successful rugby teams in the world.
19. During the Second World War, the brains at Bletchley Park in Bucks were responsible for decoding German secret messages which led to the breaking of the enigma code. Bletchley wouldn’t have worked without its ears, a Y station – a listening post – at Beaumanor Hall, in north Leicestershire.
20. Speaking of the Enigma code, the Enigma machine’s charts and code books were dragged to the surface of a sinking German U-boat by a quiet lad called Tommy Brown. Tommy, who worked at Abbotts’, a shoe factory in Earl Shilton, south Leicestershire, but originally from North Shields, signed up when he was 16 and was a canteen boy on HMS Petard.
21. Leicestershire is the only place in the world where you can see steam trains pass each other, like they used to do in the old days. The Great Central Railway starts in Loughborough and travels to Birstall.
22. Belvoir Castle is in the Vale of Belvoir in Leicestershire and is the home of the Duke of Rutland.
23. Film director Stephen Frears – The Queen, High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons – was born in Leicester and grew up in Western Park Road.
24. Painting the Town Red – this popular saying comes from the activities of Henry de la Poer Beresford, third marquess of Waterford. The toff, in town for the hunting, thought it would be a hoot to steal a load of red paint from the Melton turnpike and coat half the town. And then fight with a few coppers.
25. Jewry Wall, what remains of a Roman bathhouse, is the tallest single piece of Roman masonry in the country. You’ll find it in Leicester. Next to St Nicholas’s Church, which is Saxon, and has segments of a Roman pillar lying about its graveyard.
26. The largest haul of Roman coins in Britain was found in Hallaton in south east Leicestershire. The stash belonged to the Corieltauvi, the tribe of British Celts which ruled from their capital in Leicester and had dominion over the East Midlands all the way to the coast of Lincolnshire.
27. Hallaton Bottle Kicking. Before the Romans first crunched down on Kentish shingle, the neighbouring villages of Medbourne and Hallaton in south east Leicestershire had a sporting tradition which saw the winners rewarded with a hare pie. The task? To bustle three barrels (bottles) across the village boundary. The event takes place on Easter Monday.
28. The first British civilians to fight in the First World War were a group of 50 men, dubbed The Famous 50. They were mostly miners, from the north west Leicestershire town of Coalville.
29. Coalville factory Palitoy enhanced British playtimes from the 1960s to the 1980s. They gave Britain its Star Wars figures and accessories, Action Men, Tiny Tears and Girls’ World.
30. The longest running women’s football club in the league is Leicester Ladies FC. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2016.
31. Britain’s oldest basketball team – Leicester Riders – was founded in 1967.
32. Leicestershire is home to the world’s second oldest railway, the Leicester and Swannington Railway, established in 1832. The Great Central Railway, the National Railway Museum and Leicester City Council are creating a railway heritage museum at the GCR’s stop in Birstall.
33. Britain’s longest running vegetarian restaurant (Second oldest in Britain) – The Good Earth – turned 50 in December 2015.
34. Western veganism was launched in Leicester by Donald Simpson when he started The Vegan Society.
35. The charter to abolish slavery was drafted at Rothley Temple in Leicestershire, former home of the Knights Templar. Temple owner Thomas Babington was friends with William Wilberforce – the man who took it through Parliament.
36. The founding footsteps of western democracy were heard during parliaments at Leicester Castle in 1339, 1414 and 1426. In 1426, the king, Henry VI, was knighted at the castle church St Mary de Castro. The same church, reputedly, where Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English literature, got married.
37. Circa 1937 the League of Nations declared Leicester the second most prosperous city behind Frankfurt in the richest non capital cities in Europe.
38. Leicester has the most diverse shopping street in Britain – Narborough Road – with at least 23 different nationalities in the space of a mile.
39. The Battle of Bosworth took place outside the beautiful town of Market Bosworth, in south west Leicestershire, in August 1485. It was here Richard III became the last English king to die in battle. His body was brought back to Leicester and laid out in a church inside The Newarke’s ecclesiastical enclosure. The king was buried in the choir inside the church of the Grey Friars and rediscovered, to international acclaim, in 2012.
40. The Elephant Man, AKA Joseph Merrick, was a Leicester son, who first displayed his deformities to the public at the Gaiety Theatre in Leicester. The theatre in Wharf Street was demolished as recently as 2009.
41. Sue Townsend created The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4. It was set in Leicester and was the biggest selling British book of the 1980s.
42. The Siege of Leicester saw the town’s gutters gush thick with blood after its residents, refusing to capitulate to the forces of Prince Rupert, were put to the sword. The spirited defence given by the townsfolk in the face of overwhelming odds saw to it the Crown’s forces were heavily depleted at the Battle of Naseby, a fortnight later, changing the course of social history. The testimony of Leicester people saw to it that King Charles was tried and executed for mass murder.
43. Tanky Smith. Who? Francis “Tanky” Smith was the world’s first private detective and purportedly part inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Memorial to the sleuth can be found in Top Hat Terrace in Leicester’s London Road. Below are some of Tanky’s disguises.
44. Wilko’s – the best shop in the world – started out in 151 Charnwood Street, Leicester, back on November 8, 1930.
45. Leicester Secular Society is the oldest secular society in the world. We’ve always challenged dogma and promoted civil liberties.
46. Modern tourism started in Leicester. This was courtesy of travel pioneer Thomas Cook, who, on July 5, 1841, organised train travel for 500 people heading to a temperance rally in Loughborough. It was the dawn of the package holiday.
It was also Cook’s travel company who did the round the world ticket for record breaking journalist-adventurer Nellie Bly in 1889/90. She beat Phileas Fogg’s fictitious record of 80 days by coming in at a hugely impressive 72 days.
47. If you like the image behind me, a who’s who of Leicester and Leicestershire, there are still a handful available on firstname.lastname@example.org – they cost £30. The name of the piece is 99 Reasons To Love Leicestershire.
48. Ed Stafford, the first person to walk the length of the Amazon river, heralds from Mowsley, in Leicestershire.
49. One of the biggest scoops of the 20th century came when Leicester journalist Clare Hollingworth, sent by The Daily Telegraph to report on growing tensions in Europe, blew the whistle on the start of WW2, the German invasion of Poland.
50. England’s first professional champion cyclist was a Leicester bookie’s son called Bert “The Kid” Harris. He died in 1897 aged 24 after falling from his bike at about 27mph without a helmet. He fatally struck his head on the concrete of a racetrack in Aston and died four days later.
51. The BBC’s first regional radio station, the first one outside of London, started in Leicester half a century ago in 1967.
52. The song The Laughing Policeman was based on Tubby Stephens, all 24 stone of him, who in his day was Britain’s fattest copper. Tubby was also known to be good natured and quick to laughter, and for many years his beat was the Clock Tower. It was here he was known to bounce loiterers on their way with his belly. When he died in 1908, aged 48, it’s thought 10,000 people lined the streets of Leicester for his funeral.
53. Rock music isn’t known for its use of bells (Mike Oldfield doesn’t count). However, the biggest bell sounded in rock – a portentous, mournful toll that stiffens hairs on the back of the neck – heralds the start of AC/DC’s 1980 album Back In Black. On the opening track Hells Bells you can hear a death knell from a 2000lb bronze cast bell at Taylor’s Bell Foundry in Loughborough, the largest bell foundry in the world. The guy who cast the bell was the one who struck the instrument. The sound recording was then slowed down four times to make it more dramatic.
54. Ladybird Books. Straight out of Loughborough. Home of The Enormous Turnip and other classics, such as The Princess and The Pea and The Little Gingerbread Man.
55. The UK’s comprehensive education system was first trialled as The Leicestershire Experiment and Plan, back in 1964.
56. Loughborough University is the home of UK Sport.
57. The world’s first self help book – The Anatomy of Melancholy – was written by Robert Burton of Seagrave in Leicestershire and published in 1621. Robert was a scholar at Oxford. The book’s full title was The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members and Subsections, Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up.
58. Legend has it the last wolf to be killed in England was shot in a forest near Anstey.
59. Bottesford, Leicestershire’s most northerly settlement, was the last place in England to be attacked by the Luftwaffe during World War Two. It’s also the only known place in England where a headstone lists the cause of death as witchcraft.
60. The city is pretty green, with 21% of land in Leicester classed as green urban – which includes parks, golf courses and sports pitches – compared with just 3% average green coverage in cities across the UK.
61. The first historical mention of sign language in Britain – perhaps even the world – is in the record of a wedding ceremony in Leicester in 1576. That’s right, 1576. It took place at St Martin’s Church AKA ‘Leicester Cathedral’ during the reign of Elizabeth I. The wedding was between Ursula Russel and her groom Thomas Tillseye. Thomas was deaf and mute, but he was a quite remarkable communicator. The parish record reads: “The sayde Thomas, for the expression of his minde instead of words, of his own accorde used these signs…First he embraced her with his armes, and took her by the hande, putt a ring upon her finger and layde his hande upon her harte, and held his hands towards heaven; and to show his continuance to dwell with her to his lyves ende he did it by closing of his eyes with his hands and digging out of the earthe with his foote, and pulling as though he would ring a bell with divers other signs approved.” Who else thinks that is incredibly romantic?
62. Cataract pioneer Sir Harold Ridley has saved the sight of more than 200 million people after inventing the intraocular lens and pioneered intraocular lens surgery for cataract patients. He was born at Leicester Road, Kibworth Harcourt, and died in 2001.
63. Virtual reality gaming was pioneered in a windowless prefab box on a Leicester industrial estate. Dr Jonathan D Waldern had read design engineering at Leicester Polytechnic, now De Montfort University and he’d done his PhD in interactive graphics at Loughborough University. He created Virtuality in 1987, developing many of the technology’s principal components: VR headsets, graphics subsystems, 3D trackers, exoskeleton data gloves and other enclosure designs. If you’d like to see an original Virtuality arcade set today, head to the Retro Computer Museum, at Troon Way Business Centre, Humberstone Lane, Thurmaston, in Leicester. The museum opens on Sundays.
64. Leicestershire is the birth place of the Tudor Dynasty. Yes, Elizabeth 1, Henry VIII, the lot of them. After killing Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485, in the Leicestershire village of Upton, the victorious Henry Tudor was crowned at Crown Hill or King Harry’s Hill, just outside the village of Stoke Golding.
65. Leicester is also where the War of the Roses began, when John of Gaunt, incumbent of Leicester Castle, became the first Duke of Lancaster.