The Guildhall once acted as the town hall for the City of Leicester until the current one was commissioned in 1876. The Great Hall was built around 1390 as the meeting place of the Guild of Corpus Christi; the guild was a group of businessmen and gentry who had religious connections. The Guildhall was used for banquets, festivals, and as a home for a priest who prayed for the souls of Guild members in the nearby St Martin's Church. The Corporation of Leicester bought the Guildhall by the end of the 14th century. During the English Civil War the Mayor and corporation received a demand from Prince Rupert for £2000. The decision was made at the Guildhall to offer a loan of £500 and made an appeal to King Charles I. In May 1645 the King, in an attempt to divert attention away from Oxford, positioned an army of 6,000 men outside the city walls. Again important decisions regarding the fate of the city were to be decided in the Guildhall. On 30 May 1645 the Royalist Army made demand after demand to the city, who played for time. In the end Prince Rupert attacked at 3:00 pm. The City walls were breached, and the last stand made by the defenders outside the Guildhall and St Martins. The Royalists then entered the Guildhall looting the town's archives, and mace and seal. The Royalist victory was reversed a couple of weeks later with the defeat at Naseby.
Records also show that entertainment expenses were paid for such items as wine and beer for Oliver Cromwell. Although this does not prove Oliver Cromwell stayed at the Guildhall, it is highly probable that he visited several times. The coat of arms of King Charles I can be seen today inside the Mayor's Parlour. It is reputed that William Shakespeare appeared here. In recognition of this, the television company, Maya Vision, brought the Royal Shakespeare Company to perform at the Guildhall as part of its 2003 series for the BBC, In Search of Shakespeare, written and narrated by the historian, Michael Wood. Part of the Shakespeare legend is that Shakespeare first came across the tale of King Leir whilst appearing at the Guildhall and this inspired him to write his own play King Lear. There is, however, no actual evidence to support this, although the legend of King Leir is associated with Leicester.
The Guildhall was the place of the third oldest public library in England. It was established in 1632, when the town library was moved into the east wing of the building. The books in the collection include a New Testament in Greek from the 15th century. Most books are on display in the present time. Leicester's first police force had its station in the Guildhall from 1836. There were police cells on the ground floor of the east wing. The Guildhall was retained in use until quite late. It was not until 1876 that the Corporation moved to the new Leicester Town Hall. Apart from the police station, it was later used as a school. However, the building was becoming increasingly dilapidated, and by the 1920s there were plans to demolish the building. After the intervention of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, the council began restoration work on the building, finishing it in 1926, when the Guildhall was opened as a museum.
The Guildhall is accessible on the ground floor only for wheelchair users. The entrance leading to the Museum is cobbled. The entrance doors are automatic and the Medieval exhibition is situated in the modern Visitor Centre on the ground floor, easily accessible for wheelchair users. The Guildhall has one accessible toilet and male and female toilets are all situated on the ground floor next to the reception area. The accessible toilet does not require a lock it has a twist lock, a grab rail and an emergency alarm. The sink in the accessible toilet is fitted with a lever tap, mirror and hand drier. Assistance dogs are welcome and water can be provided upon request. They have a wheelchair available for use. The museum is close to Jewry Wall Museum, 5 minutes walk away.
Location : The Guildhall, Guildhall Lane, Leicester,LE1 5FQ
Transport: Leicester (National Rail) 10 minutes. Bus Routes : 103, 104, 203 and UHL stop close by.
Opening Times : Daily 11:00 to 16:30.
Tickets : Free
Tel: 0116 2532569