In 2010 Leicester was named the UK’s second most sustainable city by the Forum for the Future. Alongside its Cultural Quarter and Transition Town status this proposal fits naturally with Leicester’s vision for the future.

Leicester Waterside is nestled into a meander of the Grand Union Canal, where it meets the River Soar, and in a strategic location close to the city centre. This area is one of the city’s significant hidden assets. Largely home to wholesale trading and warehousing, the area declined rapidly with the loss of Leicester’s industrial base since the 1970s. It has subsequently been earmarked for a series of masterplanning exercises, none yet carried out.

Currently it is underappreciated, its land considered to have little or no value at all, yet not to us. We see an opportunity for Leicester Waterside to adapt itself incrementally in response to changing economic and cultural scenarios. This project could finally act as an inspiring model for swathes of brownfield regeneration around the UK.



There are some areas that identify Leicester Waterside and shape its unique character. The river Soar and the Grand Union Canal create a unique condition of

The Wild Edge

→  The Grand Union Canal discharges into the meandering River Soar > a geographical event.

→  A slice of rural tranquillity in the heart of the city > the sister to the urban tranquillity of the New Walk.

→  A place animated by the sound of water and the seasonal swings in vegetation.

→  The surreal and too often unappreciated beauty of industrial space and its abstract geometries.

→  Often dramatic under different lighting effects, the unfolding vistas > good stretch of river walk in the city.



Northgate Street

→  A50 major trunk road connecting Leicester’s inner ring road to the M1 going north and then Warrington in Cheshire, via Stoke-on-Trent.

→  An urban highway with an edge of city feel  > Waterside defined as on the wrong side ring and this arterial road.

→  Not an easy place to cross the road, not a fun place to walk at all.

→  Some flanking landmark moments created by signage, a set back, or string of trees, and the odd building > acute corner building strong  end to axis.

→  Northgate Street offers Waterside a captured audience of small business commuters that need to be wooed.


Grand Union Canal

→  In contrast to the breathing space surrounding the River Soar, the Grand Union Canal is brutally carved into the earth and the solid walls of industrial buildings appear to grow directly out of the water

→  The regular positioning of bulky locks along straight vistas, revealing the still water as a piece of machinery

→  The hustle and bustle of industrial days gone by hums like a nagging ghost in the quiet air of today’s abandoned canal

→  The materials of the canal and warehouses are alive with weathering and dignified decay but clearly tough enough for a second life


1950s – 70s small factories

→  When first built these buildings clearly had more pride in themselves and the business activities they shelter, the neglect of manufacturing industry since the 1980’s > orphaned building stock

→  To admire> the modest games in variation played with brickwork and window reveals the head and tail massing, and the graphic moments at entrances

→  Barricaded by blinds, boards and shutters these buildings have lost their eyes on the street and power to attract interest > a change of group culture would allow more openness at street level and between businesses

→  The density of these plots between Northgate, Pingle Street and Swan Street could be dramatically increased to make for a greater intensity of use > a community living and working on the site with sophisticated programming to offer flexible lengths of tenure and investment.


Strong neighbours

the North Viaduct

→  A great example of Victorian railway engineering with red and black brickwork, buttressed walls and sweeping arches

→  An entirely manmade landscape, having been cut > hilltop promontory looking out over the Soar Lane the old Roman road and Waterside

→  A surreal moment but with a trajectory that can be traced with a pier in the river and tracks half buried in the park

→  Opportunity to work with large community of businesses working on top of the viaduct in the ‘hill town’ and within the arches

Frog Island

→  A wealth of beautiful industrial architecture

→  Clues to how a series of walkable public open spaces might strengthen the area as a destination differentiated from the cultural quarter or city shopping centres acting as the open door “Makerhood” of Leicester




Roman Leicester

Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, with a history going back at least 2,000 years. The first recorded name of the city is the Roman label “Ratae Corieltauvorum”. Before being settled by Romans it was the capital of the Celtic Corieltauvi tribe ruling over roughly the same territory as what is now known as the East Midlands. ”Ratae Corieltauvorum” was founded around AD 50 as a military settlement along the Fosse Way, a Roman road between Exeter and Lincoln. After the military departure, Ratae Corieltauvorum grew into an important trading centre and one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. The remains of the baths of Roman Leicester can be seen at the Jewry Wall and other Roman artefacts are displayed in the Jewry Wall Museum adjacent to the site.

Medieval Leicester

Leicester became a town of considerable importance by Medieval times. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book as ‘civitas’ (city), but Leicester lost its city status in the 11th century owing to power struggles between the Church and the aristocracy. It was eventually re-made a city in 1919, and the Church of St Martin became Leicester Cathedral in 1927. The town is also mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, written around 1136. According to Monmouth’s pseudohistorical work a mythical king of the Britons King Leir founded the city of Kaerleir (‘Leir’s chester’   i.e. fortified town). Today the name of the city in the Welsh language is Caerlwr. Leir was supposedly buried by Queen Cordelia in a chamber beneath the River Soar near the city dedicated to the Roman god Janus, and every year people celebrated his feast-day near Leir’s tomb. William Shakespeare’s King Lear is loosely based on this story and there is a statue of Lear in Watermead Country Park.

Leicester played a significant role in the history of England, when, in 1265, Simon de Montfort forced King Henry III to hold the first Parliament of England at the now-ruined Leicester Castle.

Victorian Leicester

The construction of the Grand Union Canal in the 1790s linked Leicester to London and Birmingham and by 1832 the railway had arrived in Leicester; the new Leicester and Swannington Railway providing a supply of coal to the town from nearby collieries. By 1840 the Midland Counties Railway had linked Leicester to the national railway network and by the 1860s, Leicester had gained a direct rail link to London (St Pancras) with the completion of the Midland Main Line.
These developments in transport encouraged and accompanied a process of industrialisation which intensified throughout the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). Factories began to appear, particularly along the canal and the River Soar. Between 1861 and 1901 Leicester’s population increased from 68,000 to 212,000 and the proportion employed in trade, commerce, building and the city’s new factories and workshops rose steadily. Hosiery, textiles and footwear became major industrial employers joined, in the latter part of the century, by engineering. During this period a number of what were to become substantial Engineering business were established.
Years of consistent economic growth meant that, for many, living standards increased. The second half of the 19th century also witnessed the creation of many public institutions that we now take for granted such as the town council, the Royal Infirmary and the Leicester Constabulary and the acceptance that municipal organisations had a responsibility for water supply, drainage and sanitation.
The borough expanded throughout the 19th century, most notably in 1892 annexing Belgrave, Aylestone, North Evington, Knighton and the rapidly expanding residential suburb of Stoneygate, home to many of the city’s wealthier families and some of its growing middle class. Leicester became a county borough in 1889, but, as with all county boroughs, was abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in 1974, becoming an ordinary district of Leicestershire. It regained its unitary status in 1997.

Leicester today




Aerial view of the site as it is today

Listed and valuable heritage buildings

Recently demolished buildings

Vacant Buildings & Plots

Current land uses

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