A creative refuge in the heart of the city – All Saints Church

Leicester is a city that’s rife with hidden, historical gems. All Saints Church has been sitting on Highcross Street for over 800 years. Back then it was a major landmark on Leicester’s busiest thoroughfare but today that’s become a little side street, tucked next to the city’s busy central ring road.

In 2019, ArtReach, in partnership with the Churches Conservation Trust, began to think about how the church could best be opened up for the local community to discover. Projects with local volunteers, heritage experts and local arts organisations followed, resulting in community plays, installations, concerts and now a touring exhibition and booklet about this ancient building. 

Originally listed in the Domesday Book, All Saints spent its Medieval life dominated by Christian mysticism, reform and industry against the backdrop of a wealthy religious establishment. Many characters that have shaped Leicester today, including Alderman Newton and John Wycliffe, had connections to the church. The Christian mystic Margery Kempe travelled through the city, causing great upheaval as she did, while connections with the infamous Leicester Lollards brought the church into ill repute.

The building itself is a melting pot of architectural features. Grotesquely faced Medieval carvings sit alongside a typical Norman arch. A 15th century clock accompanies stained glass windows which by comparison, are relatively new. These different styles give us clues about how life in Leicester has changed over hundreds of years in a building that itself has outlived generations of residents. Of course, the best way to really discover All Saints is to visit it for yourself. We hope you’ll uncover the interesting stories and people that make up a part of Leicester’s rich history, along with your place in it too.

Making Medieval Leicester Heritage Visible: A Research Project

All Saints Church lies at the heart of Leicester’s rich and fascinating Medieval history. From the interesting characters that have crossed its threshold to some unusual architectural features, the church reveals much about Leicester’s history and how life has changed today.

All Saints dates from Norman times and was listed in the Domesday Book. At the time it would have been an important and prominent place but is now tucked away in the centre of the city not far from the Highcross shopping centre.

This booklet brings the old and new together. Researched by a group of local volunteers with a passion for history, it gives us modern-day insights into the changing fabric of the church, its place within history and what life was like hundreds of years ago.

The volunteers chose topics that sparked their interest and took part in project sessions with The University of Leicester and Leicestershire Record Office to explore original drawings, archival research, archaeological sources and historical literature.

Sanctuaries: Looking for Safe Spaces

Maddie Smart, Executive Producer for ArtReach explained the first project in All Saints Church.

“Working in collaboration with the Y-Theatre, and thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the first project in the church, Sanctuaries, worked with a group of young people to explore local historical sites of sanctuary. Then, with professional artists, they developed their findings into performances, installations and exhibitions all led and created by the young participants. We also had National Lottery Heritage Fund resources to further explore the history of the church and to create a sound installation reflecting that history as part of Journeys Festival International in August 2019.”.

Sanctuaries: Looking for Safe Spaces was funded by Y Heritage through the national Kick The Dust programme.