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17 Friar Lane

A Grade II* Listed Building in Leicester, Leicester

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.6335 / 52°38'0"N

Longitude: -1.1357 / 1°8'8"W

OS Eastings: 458590

OS Northings: 304319

OS Grid: SK585043

Mapcode National: GBR FGK.7V

Mapcode Global: WHDJJ.J2DF

Plus Code: 9C4WJVM7+9P

Entry Name: 17 Friar Lane

Listing Date: 5 January 1950

Last Amended: 4 June 2019

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1183556

English Heritage Legacy ID: 188630

Location: Castle, Leicester, LE1

County: Leicester

Electoral Ward/Division: Castle

Built-Up Area: Leicester

Traditional County: Leicestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Leicestershire

Church of England Parish: Leicester St Martin

Church of England Diocese: Leicester

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Summary


Town house built in 1750 with rear C19 extensions.

Description

Town house built in 1750 with rear C19 extensions.
MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with brick and stone dressings and a slate roof covering.

PLAN: the building is located in a terrace facing south-east onto Friar Lane. It has a rectangular plan consisting of the C18 house, a rear (north-west) extension added around the turn of the C19, and a service extension at the north-east corner added in the second half of the C19.

EXTERIOR: the house is in the Georgian neoclassical style. It has a symmetrical façade of three storeys and five bays under a pitched roof with a moulded dentilled eaves cornice and brick chimney stacks at the gable ends. There are rusticated giant pilasters at the ends and at either side of the slightly projecting central pedimented bay which has a similar treatment to the eaves cornice. The fenestration consists of segmental headed six-over-six pane sash windows in moulded surrounds with gauged brick arches and moulded stone sills. The moulded stone bands dividing the storeys break forward to form the capping to the keystones of each window. The elaborate wooden Doric doorcase in the central bay has a modillion and dentilled pediment, an ornamented triglyph frieze and fluted pilasters resting on moulded stone bases. The front door is fielded and panelled. Above this is a Venetian window with fluted pilasters, console brackets to the sill, and entablatures over the side lights enriched with a key pattern in the frieze. The central semicircular light has a moulded surround and double keystone. Above this, on the second floor, is a Diocletian window in a moulded architrave with a double keystone and console brackets to the sill.

At the rear of the building the single-storey late C18/ early C19 extension has a hipped roof behind a plain parapet. It is lit by three tall six-over-six pane sash windows which have slender glazing bars and margin lights under gauged brick arches. A door to the left, replaced in the C20, would originally have led to the garden which is now a car park. To the left of this is a two-storey, red brick Victorian extension under a shallow pitched roof with decorated brick eaves. The irregular fenestration mostly consists of two-over-two pane sash windows under gauged brick arches or stone lintels.

INTERIOR: this is generally rather plain and much altered as a result of the building’s use as offices. The front door, now blocked up, gives access to a hall made smaller by a C20 partition. It originally had a reception room on each side but these have also been remodelled, although they retain panelled window shutters, lugged doorframes, picture rails and finely moulded cornices. An opening flanked by fluted columns supporting an entablature leads into the staircase hall. This has an open well, quarter turn stair with a panelled soffit, shaped open string course and stick balusters supporting a mahogany handrail which terminates in a scroll. In the under-stairs cupboard the diamond-laid stone floor is exposed indicating that it may also survive under the carpet in the hall. The rear reception room retains moulded window frames, panelled shutters and some etched glass in the margin lights. It has a delicately moulded cornice, a marble fireplace with corner rosettes and blocked grate, flanked by wide doors with an entablature and plain frieze. The rest of the house is plain and there are few surviving historic fixtures and fittings except for the service stair, two hob grates and some six panel doors in moulded surrounds on the first floor.

History

Leicester is one of the oldest settlements in England and its origins can be traced back at least to the Iron Age. There is significant remaining evidence of the Roman settlement particularly on the east bank of the River Soar where the bath house and palaestra at Jewry Wall represent the only standing remains of Ratae Corieltauvorum and one of the largest standing pieces of Roman civilian building in the country. However, there is little known of the settlement between the Roman departure and the medieval period.

In the Middle Ages, Leicester became an increasingly important urban centre. William the Conqueror ordered the construction of the first motte and bailey castle in the late C11. This was later rebuilt in stone and the great hall survives containing one of the finest medieval interiors in the country. The city became closely associated with Simon De Montfort who became the Lord of the Town in 1281, and one of the city’s two universities is named after him. The town also became closely linked to the royal family through the earldoms of Leicester and Lancaster, which were joined under one person, Robert Beaumont, in the late C14. This led to further expansion and prosperity in the late-middle and early-modern periods.

The town also became a focus for religious devotion, with an area next to the Castle known as the Newarke being the location for a collegiate church as well as other religious centres. After his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the body of King Richard III was brought to the town and buried in the church of the Greyfriars, a Franciscan abbey which tradition has it had been founded by De Montfort in the late C13. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey died at Leicester Abbey in 1530 on his way to face trial in London and was buried there. Other major individuals to be associated with the city include Robert Dudley, who was made Earl of Leicester by Elizabeth I.

The church of Greyfriars was destroyed in 1538, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The site was sold and a manor house built with an associated estate. Both the monastic buildings and the location of Richard’s tomb were lost by the late C17. The manor belonged to Alderman Robert Herrick and remained in the family until the early C18 when it was sold to Thomas Pares. The former Greyfriars precinct was then divided with a new thoroughfare, called New Street, laid north to south across it. The street plan more generally continues to resemble that of the medieval borough, although street names have changed, with the boundaries of the precinct on the whole respected.

Throughout the early C18 the two parts of the estate were gradually parcelled and sold for development. It was in the Georgian period that the wider Greyfriars estate was developed, primarily as residences for the professional and polite classes. Many of the remaining buildings date to that period and are domestic in both scale and character. Industry did encroach at the fringes and commercial activities and industry such as hosiery appear on the 1888 map of the area. Latterly the area became the legal centre for Leicester and many of the buildings were converted into offices. The manor house was demolished in 1872 although its garden remained unencumbered of development, as did that of 17 Friar Lane. Both became car parks in the C20.

Leicester itself became an industrial centre following the construction of the Grand Union Canal, which linked the town to London and Birmingham at the end of the C18. By 1800 the population had reached over 17,000 and continued to grow throughout the C19. The first railway arrived in the 1830s and Leicester was linked to the mainline network by the 1840s, which allowed for significant industrial expansion. The major industries were textiles, hosiery and footwear. The size of Leicester increased dramatically at this time and many surviving medieval and early-modern buildings in the Greyfriars area were either replaced or refaced in brick. The C19 also saw the construction of several large schools in the area.

Although the city faced significant economic and social challenges in the C20 it remains a vibrant urban centre and is now known as one of the most culturally diverse cities in Britain. The Greyfriars area has been the focus of international attention and economic investment since the remarkable discovery of the remains of Richard III under a council car park in 2012 and his re-burial in the Cathedral in 2015. Resultant extensive research and archaeological investigation led to the Scheduling of the former monastic site in December 2017 (Schedule entry 1442955) and the renaming of the Guildhall/Cathedral Conservation Area to Greyfriars.

17 Friar Lane is one of the most important houses in the area surviving from the C18. It was built in 1750 for the banker William Bentley. In the late C18 or early C19 a single-storey rear extension was built to provide an additional reception room. It is likely that around the same time the staircase was replaced as its simple yet elegant design is typical of this period. In 1852 the house was leased to Dr Benfield, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, who used it as his family home and surgery. A rear extension was built in the second half of the C19, at some point before 1888 when it is shown on the first edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map. The OS maps of 1930 and 1954 show that between these dates part of the extension was removed. After the death of Dr Benfield, 17 Friar Lane was used by Wyggeston Girls’ Junior School until 1914 when it was sold to the County Council. The County Health Department then operated from the building, using a servant’s second-floor bedroom as a Public Health Laboratory. In 1958 it was described as ‘the handsomest Georgian house now left in the old town’. The County Council left 17 Friar Lane in 1968 and it became the property of Leicester City Council who used it as part of a complex of offices which occupied the site of 1-3, 5 and 7 Greyfriars. 17 Friar Lane currently has internal access to 1-3 Greyfriars but there are plans to re-establish it as a private dwelling or to convert it into flats (2019).

Reasons for Listing

17 Friar Lane, a town house built in 1750 with rear C19 extensions, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* it is an excellent example of a mid C18 townhouse of considerable status and distinction with a perfectly proportioned and architecturally refined facade enriched with classical mouldings;

* the sophisticated treatment is especially notable for the positioning of the Venetian and Diocletian windows above the pedimented doorcase which, along with the rusticated bay divisions, creates a beautifully balanced composition of considerable aesthetic quality;

* although the interior is much less opulent than appears to be promised by the façade and has regrettably been much altered during its conversion into offices in the C20, it does retain a number of features, notably the simple yet elegant staircase and a marble fireplace, which give some indication of the original decorative scheme.

Historic interest:

* it is located within a significant historic townscape, developed along the south-eastern edge of the precinct to the C13 Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars and making a notable contribution to its rich architectural character and historic evolution.

Group value:

* it is surrounded by many designated assets with which it has strong group value, especially the scheduled Greyfriars to the west; and 18-28 Friar Lane, an early C19 terrace, to the south, and 19-23 Friar Lane, an C18 building (now offices) to the west, both listed at Grade II.

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