28 May 2024

How Princess Charlotte
was a music venue in
Leicester but is now
an oriental supermarket

The Charlotte or the Princess Charlotte seen through the arches of the Magazine Gateway in Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The Princess Charlotte was once a well-known pub in the centre of Leicester, on a busy corner of Oxford Street, Vaughan Way and Newarke Street, close to De Montfort University. Later, as the Charlotte, it was a popular live music venue. But today it is the Farmlands Oriental supermarket.

The Princess Charlotte was named after the only daughter of the future George IV who died in 1817 at the young age of 22. She was once seen as a sign of hope and an alternative to both her unpopular father and her mentally ill grandfather. Her death was a cause of deep, public mourning throughout Britain. In Ireland, she soon gave her name to Charlotte Street, Charlotte Row and Charlotte Quay in Dublin, Charlotte Street in Wexford, Carlow and Sligo, and Charlotte Quay in Limerick.

The former Princess Charlotte in Leicester dates from some time before the death of Princess Charlotte, and may have been built on the ruins of a Roman building. It stands at a busy junction, facing the Magazine Gateway, also known as Newarke Gateway, now a solitary landmark by the side of Leicester ring road.

The Magazine Gateway was originally the main gateway of a walled enclosure built ca 1400, giving access to the religious precinct of the Newarke. The vaulted archway was open to traffic until 1905. The gatehouse rooms have been used as a porter’s lodge, guest accommodation, prison, militia building, and regimental museum.

The pub music scene in Leicester before the 1980s has been described as ‘sparse.’ Most bands performed at working men’s clubs, dance halls and night clubs like the Nite Owl and Il Rondo.

For 20 years, the Charlotte was the go-to venue in Leicester for live music … today it is the Farmlands Oriental Supermarket (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Princess Charlotte took on a new role and identity in 1989, and a year later dropped the title ‘Princess’ from its name, becoming ‘The Charlotte.’

The fondly-remembered Oxford Street venue showcased the likes of Radiohead, Oasis and the Stone Roses in its heyday in the 1980s and in the early 1990s, and it was a must on the schedules of most touring bands.

The Charlotte became a nationally recognised ‘circuit venue’ on the live music scene, and found itself at the heart of a vibrant music scene of Madchester, Grune and Britpop. In 1998, the old bar was knocked through to double the capacity from 200 to 400.

For 20 years, the Charlotte was the go-to venue for live music. Under the ownership of Andy Wright, groups such as Oasis, Radiohead, the Arctic Monkeys, Snow Patrol and Kasabian played there. Other performers there included Blur, the Cranberries, Pulp, the Proclaimers, the Stone Roses, the Killers, Macavity’s Cat, the Buzzcocks and Primal Scream.

The venue had a number of house bands, including Armour, Gealic Bread, Mask and the Rise. These house bands often acted as warm-up for the main acts.

After the operating company behind the venue went into administration, it was announced on 15 January 2009 that the Charlotte was facing closure. And so began the slow process of an internationally-recognised music venue coming to an end.

Two months later, it was announced on 10 March 2009 that the Charlotte would remain closed for the foreseeable future. However, it reopened on 8 October 2009. It was then announced later that the last night would be on 13 March 2010 and that the site would be developed into student flats.

The venue closed, but on 11 April 2014 the Charlotte re-opened briefly as a pub hosting occasional live music sessions. The upstairs and rear was converted into flats, and in August 2015 the Charlotte was taken on by two real ale pub landlords from Leicester.

The Charlotte reopened as an independent real ale pub that October, serving microbrewery real ales from around the country seven days a week. But the Charlotte closed as a pub once again in February 2017, and its next role in Leicester was as the Farmlands Oriental Supermarket. Andy Wright continued to promote music in other venues across Leicester.

Today, the premises are owned by Ben Koa, who moved to Leicester from Malaysia. He told local newspapers: ‘I didn’t get the chance to see a band play there, but I know all about the Charlotte. I know it was an iconic music venue that showcased many bands, and some who went on to become household names.’

Meanwhile, the Magazine Gateway is closed and under lock and key. It is managed by the Leicester Museum Service, but is only open to the public by arrangement.

The Magazine Gateway is closed and under lock and key … it is open to the public only by arrangement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

On the other hand, Queen Charlotte – the other contender for giving her name to many streets in towns throughout these islands – originally gave her name to the New Walk in Leicester, which was first known as ‘Queen’s Walk.’

New Walk is a rare example of a Georgian pedestrian promenade. It was laid out by the Corporation of Leicester in 1785, and was intended to connect Welford Place with the racecourse, now Victoria Park. It is said to follow the line of a Roman pathway, the Via Devana.

It was first named ‘Queen’s Way’ after Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), the wife of George III and grandmother of Princess Charlotte. However, the popular name of ‘New Walk’ survived. New Walk is almost a mile walk, and has been a conservation area since 1969, ensuring its unique character is protected.

New Walk in Leicester was originally named ‘Queen’s Way’ after Queen Charlotte (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

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