Leicester’s newest cultural and heritage venue, All Saints Church, is currently hosting a Heritage Research Volunteer project. Thanks to the The National Heritage Lottery Fund, the volunteers will research the history of the building to create an illuminating booklet for visitors. But read more about this project from Frankie Maguire, a Heritage Research Specialist leading the team of volunteers.

As part of the project ’Making Medieval Heritage Visible’, I am working with a group of volunteers to research All Saints Church. Whilst the church is not in operation today, it dates back to the Norman period and has a rich and interesting past that this project seeks to discover. We are focusing on some key themes including the building and fabric of the church, its place within medieval Leicester as well as religious life at the time to shed new light on one of the city’s oldest buildings. 

We hope that by exploring these areas our understanding of the church and medieval Leicester more broadly will grow. Today the church is surrounded by modern development, including the Highcross shopping centre, but it was once at the heart of medieval Leicester and played a central role in the life of the city. Most notably, the church held the trial of Margery Kempe in 1417, who is today recognised as the author of the first autobiography in English The Book of Margery Kempe, dictated around 1430. Kempe was a mystic put on trial accused, and subsequently acquitted of being a Lollard (dissenting from traditional church beliefs) by the Mayor of Leicester. It is intriguing episodes in the church’s history like this, that the project seeks to uncover and explore further. 

The research carried out by the volunteers over the course of the project will be used to create a booklet and exhibition boards for the church. These will enable visitors to the church to learn more about its rich history and understand more about the unique features of the building. This work will also complement other activities that ArtReach are curating in the church in the coming months, including a play about the trial of Margery Kempe.

We hope the project will also be an equally rewarding experience for the volunteers involved, giving an exciting opportunity to work together and discover more about the local area and its fascinating history. To help us bring this history to life we will be having talks and guided tours from local heritage experts and archivists. It promises to be a really lively project and already our volunteers have brought their own skills and insights to develop ideas and outputs for the work. I am looking forward to seeing how this is all brought together and presented in the finished booklet and exhibition boards.  

The project has sparked my own curiosity in this building, which might at first look like a rather ordinary church, but once inside unveils pristine examples of medieval architecture and fabric. I am excited about what else we will discover about the church and the surrounding area over the course of the project. By bringing together original drawings, archival research, archaeological sources and historical literature we hope to make a valuable contribution to understanding more about All Saints Church and producing something for the local community to enjoy. It is really important for cities like Leicester to explore their heritage and recognise culture from the past to help inform our comprehension of the city today.