The medieval South Gate to the Castle Yard is one of Leicester's many historic gems. © Crown Copyright 2005.
A £100,000 project investigating archaeological and built evidence of Leicester’s historic past has begun in the city.
Funded by English Heritage and the Leicester Shire Economic Partnership (LSEP), the scheme will enable Leicester City Council to speed up regeneration and future development in the city.
The council has commissioned the University of Leicester to carry out the Urban Archaeological Database project, which will see the latest technology used to map and record all the known evidence of past human activity in the heart of the city above and beneath its streets.
Their work will provide an extensive and accessible database for information on all aspects of the historic environment.
"Our archaeological heritage is a crucial asset for all of us working for the city's regeneration," explained John Nicholls, Chief Executive of the Leicester Regeneration Company.
Grade I listed Church of St Nicholas - a Saxon, Norman and Medieval building. © Crown Copyright 2005.
"The database will not only be a tremendous source of information, but will save time and cost. By providing invaluable data on the location and extent of archaeology within the city, it will avoid each project starting from scratch in considering archaeology and will give developers an early idea of what their responsibilities are likely to be."
Like many of Britain’s ancient towns and cities, Leicester is littered with evidence of its past. Beneath today's streets, remains shows that Leicester was once a Roman administrative centre – as demonstrated by the Roman baths at Jewry Wall. But archaeological discoveries also show that it was settled before the great Roman conquerors arrived, with an Iron Age community on the River Soar's east bank.
However, the project is not only looking to map historical footprints that appear below the city streets. Above them, historic buildings will also be recorded.
Spanning a variety of periods and styles, from the Saxon and Norman Church of St Nicholas and the 14th century Guildhall to the flamboyant Turkey Cafe of 1900 to the Grade II* listed brick and glass Engineering Building at Leicester University (1959-63) Leicester boasts a vast array of historic architecture.
Remains of the Roman bath complex at Jewry Wall in Leicester and Grade I listed Church of St Nicholas. © Crown Copyright 2005.
Other examples include the refined Georgian City Rooms (1792-1800) and the bold exponents of the city’s industrial heritage such as the Wheatsheaf Works (1891), which at its time, was the largest shoe factory in Europe.
First developed in Cirencester, Durham and York during the late 1980s and early 1990s, there are currently 21 Urban Archaeological Databases already in place in England, with a further 13 planned for major towns and cities.
Leicester's database is expected to be complete by mid-2006 and once finished will be available for the public to view at the council offices.
"Leicester has a wonderfully rich heritage and is on the threshold of unprecedented planned regeneration," said Anthony Streeten, English Heritage Regional Director for the East Midlands.
"The Urban Archaeological Database will help all of us to understand and appreciate that heritage - the above and below ground. This important project will enable us to manage it as a resource for the benefit of the city and future generations."