Saturday, November 18, 2017

From Jack the Ripper to a lost Leicester cricket ground

I could not sleep the other night, so in the small hours I found myself looking at a discussion forum about the Jack the Ripper murders.

Someone had posted a link to my post about Robert Lees, and that led me to the website devoted to him. (Lees was a Leicestershire spiritualist whose name crops up in some of the more creative conspiracy theories about the Ripper murders.)

There I found this paragraph:
Wharf Street, Leicester is a street with a rich history. This curious building (27a and 27b) served as the area's pawn shop under proprietor Harry Leif, and for some time as a brothel, and most recently as the base for a removal business where a number of Lees family documents and scrapbooks were discovered. The left-hand section of the building was built across the entrance to the original Leicester Cricket Club pitch, hence it's numbering as 27a and b.
First the pawn shop. In my post on Lees I wrote that Lees papers could be bought at “a vanished Leicester shop called Curiotique”.

Could Leif’s shop in Wharf Street be Cutiotique? No, a 1992 guide book to be found on Google Books says it was on the Narborough Road.

More importantly, is there really a lost cricket ground in the centre of Leicester?

There is, and it has an entry on Wikipedia as Barker’s Ground:
Barker's Ground was a cricket ground in Leicester, Leicestershire. The first recorded match on the ground was in 1825, when Leicester played Sheffield. The first first-class match came in 1836, when the North played the South; the South won by 218 runs … 
The North used the ground for 4 further first-class matches up to 1846, including the ground's final first-class match between the North and the Marylebone Cricket Club.  
Midland Counties played a single first-class match at Barker's Ground against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1843. The final recorded match on the ground saw Leicestershire play an All-England Eleven in 1860. 
The ground stood to the east of Wharf Street and immediately to the north of the properties on Humberstone Road.

There is more about it in the local history book Wharf Street Revisited which tells us the ground was also the site of brass band concerts, hot air balloon ascents and a public dinner to celebrate the election of two Liberals for the city at the 1831 general election.

I found 27a and 27b Wharf Street today – you can see them in the photograph above. They have been converted into flats, but you can see what they looked like as a shop on the Robert Lees site.

It's not clear they are old enough to be connected with the cricket ground, but old maps do mark an isolated building beside the cricket ground at more or less this point.

At the end of 1860 the ground was sold as housing land and was to become part of Leicester’s most notorious slum district, which was cleared after the second world war.

Below are some photographs of what you will find where Barker’s Ground was today. The Musician claims to be the Midlands’ “premier independent music venue” and it stands in a sort of inner-city edgeland.

Having cleared the slums decades ago, Leicester has found nothing to do with the area since.

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