Discover Local History With Leicester's Archive Collections

By Corinne Field | 13 September 2004
Shows a 1920s, black and white photograph of Leicester's Grand Central Station. There is a double decker bus passing the front entrance and lots of people milling about in the street.

Great Central Station, Leicester, 1920s © Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Did you know that Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, lived in Leicester? Or that Richard III left for the Battle of Bosworth Field, the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, via Leicester and never came back? Or that Thomas Cook, the travel firm, began with a train excursion from Leicester to Loughborough?

You can find out all about the Elephant Man, Richard III and Thomas Cook at the The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland on Long Street in Wigston Magna. It is the main centre for research into the history of the local area.

There are manuscripts, local government, institution and family archives, maps and photographs in the collection. The record office also houses the local studies collection, which includes local newspapers, periodicals, writings by local authors and sound recordings including the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA).

Established to bring together the first large-scale collection of oral history recordings for Leicestershire and Rutland, the archive covers many topics including working lives, social history and migration.

Shows a photograph of the Record Office. It is a converted Victorian red brick school. There is a shrub border and a black fence running in front of the building.

The Record Office is housed in a converted Victorian school © Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Visitors to the record office can listen to the archive or arrange to get a listening copy. Chief Archivist at the Record Office, Carl Harrison, recommends that visitors check the online catalogue before visiting to be sure that what they want to listen to is available.

The Leicester Record Office also puts on exhibitions. Running from September 13 to 25 is Forgotten Wigston via the Paintbrush, an exhibition of pictures of Wigston through the ages by local artists, accompanied by objects associated with the places they portrayed.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Crimean War the record office is staging a new exhibition called The Russian War, which includes local collections relating to the Crimean War running from October 11 until November 18.

Shows a black and white photograph of the camp of the 4th Dragoon Guards. There are six men dressed in period military uniform, some holding guns. In the foreground is a woman holding a bowl in her hand.

Camp of the 4th Dragoon Guards during the siege of Sebastapol, spring 1854. Photograph by Roger Fenton © Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Another interesting archive based in the city are the special collections at the Leicester University Library. Housing such treasures as the Gorrie Collection, covering labour history c.1889 to 1909 and the Higson Collection of Children’s Books from the 18th to early 20th centuries - collected by a lecturer at the university from 1949 – 1973. They also boast the Robjohns Collection of medieval manuscripts and early printed bibles and the Joe Orton Collection comprising some of the authors original manuscripts and books.

Visitors need to apply for a reader’s ticket and make an advance appointment to view the archives. To find out more about the collections and how you can access them visit the University’s special collections pages

The University’s English Local History Department also has an archive collection worth visiting. Click here to find out more.

Shows a photograph of the staff at the Record Office. They are all sat around a table with lots of books laid out in front of them.

The staff at the Record Office © Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Other more specialised archives can be found in Leicester. Based in nearby Ashby de la Zouch is the Leonard Cheshire Library and Archive.

One of the most decorated RAF pilots of the Second World War, Leonard Cheshire founded a charity in to help disabled people live independently in 1948 after learning that a friend of his was terminally ill. Anyone who has a research interest in disability care or Leonard Cheshire himself and who would like to view the archive should contact the Library and Archive on 01332 863 660.

Another local celebrity archive is based in nearby Rearsby. Francis Clare Cusak (1829-1891) was the founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Peace. Only bone fide researchers will be allowed to view this archive however and they will need a letter of introduction and to book in advance.

Shows a sepia photograph of Leicester High Street as it looking in about 1900. There are buildings on either side of the street, some with awings above the ground floor. There are lots of people in the street and a there is a lamp post in the foreground.

High Street, Leicester c.1900 © Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

If you want to find out more about any of these collections or search for other archive collections in Leicester visit the National Archives ARCHON directory and click on East Midlands.

This section of the Leicester City Guide is devoted to local history. If you’ve got a story to tell we’d love to hear from you.

Maybe you’ve got some special memories of life as a child growing up in Leicester. Perhaps you’re a member of a local history group with some interesting information about the area. Maybe you live in a house with an interesting history. You might have some great old photographs, which tell a story themselves.

If so we’d really like to hear from you. Just drop Editor Richard Moss a line by email at or by post to: Culture24, 28 Kensington Street, Brighton BN1 4AJ.

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