11 June 2024

Seven more churches
in Leicester that
might go on my
list of places to visit

Figures above the west door of the former Church of Saint John the Divine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Over the past few weeks, I have been posting about the many places of worship and associated with belief systems that I have visited or seen during my visits to Leicester last month.

They have included Leicester Cathedral, Church of England parish churches, churches in the Baptist, Congregational, Methodist and Orthodox traditions, Quaker meeting houses, synagogues, mosques, Hindu, Jain and Sikh places of worship, and the Secular Hall.

But my one-day visits to Leicester last wmon theek were fleeting and far too short to get to visit all the places I was interested in. Some I managed to photograph, and I have started to put together a list of churches and other places of worship I saw from the outside and that I may consider searching out on future visits.

Saint Nicholas Church is said to be the oldest place of worship in Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

1, Saint Nicholas Church, Saint Nicholas Circle:

Saint Nicholas Church, said to be the oldest place of worship in Leicester, is next to the Jewry Wall, a remnant of Roman masonry, to the east is the site of the Roman forum. Saint Nicholas Church is on Saint Nicholas Circle, just off Vaughan Way, part of the city’s inner ring road, and is the official church of the University of Leicester.

The church was built on a pre-Christian religious site. There are Roman tiles in the tower, and the Roman pillars in the churchyard came from the nearby Forum or Basilica. However, this does not mean it was a Roman church. Leicester was an important Roman town, and the tiles were taken from ruins there in Anglo-Saxon times, while the Roman pillars were used as grave markers before the advent of gravestones.

The Roman pillars in Saint Nicholas churchyard came from the nearby Forum or Basilica (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

It has been suggested that an Anglo-Saxon minster on the same site was the cathedral of the early Diocese of Leicester (679-874), and the current church may contain some material from this building.

The church was consecrated in 879, and parts of the church fabric date from ca 880 AD, with an architectural survey suggesting possible Roman building work. There are two Anglo-Saxon window openings inside the church. These were formerly outside windows, but the church was later extended. The church retains almost all of the original nave and crossing tower. The tower is Norman.

The church was in an extremely poor condition by 1825, and plans were made for its demolition. Instead, due to lack of funds to build the planned replacement church, it was extensively renovated in 1875-1884, including the building of a new north aisle.

Renovation continued into the 20th century. A 15th-century octagonal font from the redundant Church of Saint Michael the Greater, Stamford, was moved to Saint Nicholas. The porch was brought from the original Wyggeston’s Hospital, founded in the 16th century by William Wyggeston, who was Mayor of both Leicester and Calais.

Saint Nicholas was a city centre church without a large residential parish by the 1950s, when Saint Nicholas was allocated for the spiritual needs of local university students.

Saint Nicholas has become an Inclusive Church, with a mission to welcome people of diverse sexualities, identities, abilities, origins, and socioeconomic situations. Saint Nicholas is open for worship, and is normally open to visitors on Saturdays.

The site of the chapel of Saint Ursula’s Hospitalor Wyggeston’s Hospitalatf the Leicester Cathedral Gardens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

2, Saint Ursula’s Chapel, Wyggeston’s Hospital:

The chapel of Saint Ursula’s Hospital, commonly called Wigston’s Hospital, or Wyggeston’s Hospital, once stood on the site of the Leicester Cathedral Gardens. The hospital was founded by letters patent in 1513 and 1514. The chapel and the adjoining almshouse were demolished almost 150 years ago in 1875.

The site of the chapel and the hospital was revealed in 2013 and 2014 when archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) carried out a series of watching briefs while the Cathedral Gardens were being laid out as a new public open space to the south and west of Leicester Cathedral. As part of this development, ground-works were undertaken within both the graveyard of Leicester Cathedral and the Saint Martin’s House carpark.

The hospital was named after its main benefactor and founder, William Wyggeston (1472-1536), a wool merchant and three times mayor of Leicester and an MP for the Borough. The hospital facing Saint Martin’s Church and churchyard included an almshouse, a great hall, a chapel dedicated to Saint Ursula, and a master’s house.

The hospital was to be called ‘the Hospital of William Wigston, Junior’, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Katherine and Saint Ursula and her Companions. The chaplains were to be appointed by the founder or his brother Thomas, a canon of Newarke College who died in 1537, during their lives, and then by the Dean and Chapter of Newarke College, the Mayor and Justices, and the Abbot of Leicester.

The chapel had a considerable quantity of painted glass, most of which was removed at the beginning of the 19th century to Ockbrook parish church in Derbyshire. Some of the windows were blocked up at the same time. The chapel also contained the tombs and monuments of several of the masters and confraters, including the first master, William Fisher.

The old hospital was vacated in April 1868 but the building remained standing until 1875. However, the archaeological excavations found no evidence of the remains of Saint Ursula’s Chapel or the great hall that once fronted onto Peacock Lane and adjoined the main hospital building.

The former Church of Saint John the Divine was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1854-1855 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

3, Saint John’s Chambers, Ashwell Street:

Saint John’s Chambers facing onto Ashwell Street is the former Church of Saint John the Divine, a former parish church designed in 1854-1855 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and converted into apartments late 1980s. It is close Victoria Park and Leicester train station.

Saint John the Divine was a good example of his style and was one of the first Leicester churches to be built following what are known as ecclesiological principles. The interior was built with arcades of round piers and foliage capitals, and included stained glass windows by William Wailes and a wrought-iron screen made in 1903 by CH Lohr.

The west front of Saint John’s Chambers facing onto Ashwell Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The church was mainly in the style of ca 1300 that Scott favoured, although that character is now compromised by modern window frames and skylights in the steep roof. The church was redundant by the 1980s and was converted to apartments in the late 1980s.

The west front, facing Ashwell Street, has an elaborate doorway with nook shafts, below a band of five cusped lancets, and a rose window in the gable. The aisles have pointed windows with modern domestic window frames. The three-stage tower has angle buttresses and a north-east polygonal turret. The plain parapet was added in the 1950s when the spire was removed.

Saint James the Greater … Henry Langton Goddard was influenced by Torcello Cathedral and churches in Venice and Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

4, Saint James the Greater Church, London Road:

Saint James the Greater is a Grade II* listed church south of the city centre, on the London Road and opposite Victoria Park. The church was founded as a daughter church of Saint Peter’s Church, Leicester, in 1881, when a temporary wooden church was built. A decade later, the decision was made to build a permanent church due to the growth in the congregation.

The church was designed by the Leicester architect, Henry Langton Goddard. The Bishop of Peterborough, Mandell Creighton, wanted the new church to be impressive architecturally, reflecting its status in Leicester. On his advice, Goddard visited several churches in northern Italy.

Following that visit, Goddard’s external design for Saint James was influenced by Torcello Cathedral on the Venetian lagoon and its interior decor by churches in Venice and Florence. The foundation stone was laid on 28 October 1899, and the building was consecrated on 25 July 1901.

The interior of Saint James the Greater … an image on the noticeboard across the road from the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The west front of the church was completed between 1911 and 1914 and was dedicated by Creighton’s successor Edward Carr Glyn, Bishop of Peterborough, on 24 September 1914. Saint James the Greater became a parish in its own right on 25 June 1918.

The Diocese of Leicester considered closing the church in the 1950s due to falling numbers. However, the Revd Lawrence Jackson, who was appointed to the parisin 1959, managed to bring people back to the church through his remarkable ministry. The church had one of the largest congregations in the diocese by the time Lawrence moved to Coventry in 1965.

Saint James the Greater continues to have an active congregation. It hosts a variety of events, has two church halls and remains one of Leicester’s best-known churches.

Holy Cross Priory is a priory of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

5, Holy Cross Priory:

Holy Cross Priory is a Roman Catholic priory of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans. The Dominicans first came to Leicester in 1247, establishing a priory at Saint Clements Church in the north-west corner of the old city walls in the reign of Henry III. Blackfriars in Leicester was dissolved during the Tudor reformation in 1538, along with the other Dominican houses in England.

The Dominicans were absent from Leicester for more than 280 years, but returned to the city in 1819. The first public building on New Walk was a Roman Catholic chapel built in 1819 on the site of what is now Holy Cross Priory. However, Holy Cross was not established as a Dominican priory until 1882.

The west door of Holy Cross Priory … the foundation stone was laid in 1929 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

By 1929, the church had become too small and Father Vincent McNabb began to raise money for a new, larger church. The foundation stone was laid in 1929, the choir and transepts of the church were completed by 1931, and the High Altar was consecrated in 1931. The church was finally completed and formally consecrated in 1958.

The friars have ministries in the University of Leicester, De Montfort University and Leicester Royal Infirmary and also at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Saint Stephen’s Church was moved stone-by-stone to New Walk in 1891 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

6, Saint Stephen’s United Reformed Church:

Saint Stephen’s Church is a 19th century church in New Walk, on the corner of De Montfort Street and overlooking De Montfort Square. It is notable as ‘the church that moved.’ It was originally built where Leicester Railway Station now stands, but when the present building replaced the earlier Campbell Street Station in 1891, the church was moved stone by stone to its present New Walk location.

The architect James Tait (1834-1915) also built a Sunday School centenary building, now a bar, in New Walk. He also designed nearby Clarendon Park Congregational Church.

Saint Stephen’s was first built as a Presbyterian church, and became a United Reformed church when the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists came together to form the United Reformed Church.

The spire of Saint Stephen’s, together with the trees in De Montfort Square and Robert Hall’s Statue, make a fine contribution to Leicester’s streetscape.

Clarendon Park Congregational Church decided to remain outside the United Reformed Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

7, Clarendon Park Congregational Church, London Road:

The Clarendon Park Congregational Church is on London Road in the Stoneygate area, near Clarendon Park. The Bond Street chapel once shared by Congregationalists and Presbyterians became a Unitarian chapel in the late 18th century. After that, the first Congregational church in Leicester was built in 1801, and many others were built in the 19th century, including the church on Oxford Street, which is now a Jain Temple.

The Clarendon Park Congregational Church was also designed by James Tait and built in 1886. It is built of granite rubble with ashlar dressings and a roof of red tiles, and is a designated Grade II listed building.

The church is part of the Congregational Federation, formed in 1972 by Congregational churches that did not enter the union of the Presbyterian Church of England with the Congregational Church in England and Wales to form the United Reformed Church.

The west door of Clarendon Park Congregational Church, London Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Other churches in this series:

Church of England:

1, Leicester Cathedral (22 May 2024)

2, Saint Mary de Castro (26 May 2024)

3, Saint George’s Church, former Church of England, now Serbian Orthodox (2 June 2024)


4, Central Baptist Church, Charles Street (8 June 2024)


5, (Former) Congregationalist Church, Oxford Street (23 May 2024)


6, Bishop Street Methodist Church (6 June 2024)

Society of Friends (Quakers):

7, (Former) Quaker Meeting House, Prebend Street (25 May 2024)

8, Quaker Meeting House and Drayton House, Queen’s Road (25 May 2024)


9, Great Meeting Place, Broad Street (1 June 2024)

Jewish synagogues:

10, Leicester Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, Highfield Street (24 May 2024)

11, Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation, Avenue Road (31 May 2024)


12, Masjid Umar mosque (1 April 2011)


13, Iskcon (‘Hare Kishna’) temple, Granby Street (5 June 2024)

14, Shree Geeta Bhavan Temple and Hindu Community Centre, Clarendon Park Road (5 June 2024)

15, Shree Sanatan Mandir, Weymouth Street (2 March 2011)

16, Shirdi Sai Baba Temple, Colton Street (5 June 2024)


17, Jain Temple (former Congregational Church), Oxford Street (23 May 2024)


18, Sant Nirankari Mandal, Prebend Street (25 May 2024)


19, Leicester Secular Hall (4 June 2024)

The 18th century sundial over the porch of Saint Nicholas Church, Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

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