The ancient borough: Roman Catholicism

A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.

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'The ancient borough: Roman Catholicism', in A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, ed. R A McKinley( London, 1958), British History Online [accessed 19 July 2024].

'The ancient borough: Roman Catholicism', in A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Edited by R A McKinley( London, 1958), British History Online, accessed July 19, 2024,

"The ancient borough: Roman Catholicism". A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Ed. R A McKinley(London, 1958), , British History Online. Web. 19 July 2024.


The very small Roman Catholic congregation at Leicester in the early 17th century was probably served by a Franciscan priest from the Byerley family's chapel at Belgrave Hall. (fn. 1) Until the establishment of the priory of Holy Cross in 1817, there were very few Roman Catholics in the town. Only four members of the church were reported to be living in the town at the end of the 17th century, though it seems probable that the figures for the late 18th century (24 in 1767 and 37 in 1780) are not very reliable. (fn. 2)

The Dominican mission in Leicester has an almost unbroken record from 1777, when the first mass centre was established in Causeway Lane. (fn. 3) It seems likely that no regular services were held there until 1785, and the chapel was abandoned periodically as the main centre of the Dominican mission for the county was still at Hinckley, and no resident priest was available for the borough itself. (fn. 4)

In 1798, under Father Francis Xavier Chappell O.P., the first permanent chapel, dedicated to St. Michael, was established on the upper floor of a building in an entry off Causeway Lane. (fn. 5) Considerable secrecy was always preserved about its exact whereabouts. Services were held there until 1850. (fn. 6) The building remained in existence until 1939, as part of a factory. Early in the 19th century masses were said in a warehouse belonging to Richard Raby, a prominent Leicester Roman Catholic, near the old Vauxhall gardens; it seems that the Causeway Lane chapel had become too small to house the growing Roman Catholic population which sprang up probably as the result of the establishment of the permanent chapel. (fn. 7)

In 1815 Father Benedict Caestryck O.P. came to Leicester as head of the Dominican mission and during his period of office the first church of Holy Cross was built. The land was given by Richard Raby, and lay between New Walk and Wellington Street. The red brick church was begun in 1817 to the designs of Joseph Ireland. (fn. 8) It was very small, having neither chancel nor Lady chapel, and no priory buildings were erected until 1824, when Father Caestryck built a house for the priest to the south-east. (fn. 9) The chancel and Lady chapel were built in 1848. In 1861 the quadrangle formed by the church and the priory buildings was completed in its present form. (fn. 10)

The present church of Holy Cross was begun on a site slightly to the north of the old church in 1928 and the first part was completed in 1931. (fn. 11) No further building has since taken place and the church now (1955) consists of choir, Lady chapel, and transepts. The old church is now known as Blackfriars Hall. The architects of the new church, which was completed while Father Fabian Dix O.P. was prior, were Arthur Young and Allan D. Reid of London. Holy Cross School was established in 1824. (fn. 12)

Many of the other churches in and near Leicester owe their foundation to the Dominican community. The first to be built was St. Patrick's, Royal East Street, which served a large settlement of Irish immigrants who had come to Leicester during the famine. (fn. 13) It was established as a school-chapel in 1854 by Father Thomas Nickolds O.P. for the infants' school which had been opened in Belgrave Gate in 1824. (fn. 14) The parish of St. Patrick was created in 1873, when a new church was built. (fn. 15) In 1940 the church was closed; the new parish church was the former chapel of ease of Our Lady at Belgrave. (fn. 16)

The church of the Sacred Heart in Mere Road was established in 1882 by a missioner sent by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham. Before the church was built, services took place in the school, which was built in 1884. The temporary church was built in 1890, and the present building in 1924. The school has been staffed since 1934 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, Newark, whose convent is also in Mere Road. (fn. 17)

On the west side of the city is the church of St. Peter, on the corner of Leamington Street and King Richard's Road. The present church was begun in 1905 and completed with the building of the north aisle in 1918–19. The mission had been established in 1896 and had had various homes, the last in Noble Street. The parish hall next to the church was built in 1935–7. (fn. 18)

The Dane Hills Home for Incurables is in the parish of St. Peter and was opened in 1906. It is run by Dominican nuns, who first came to Leicester in 1875 to teach in the St. Patrick's and Holy Cross schools and later at the Sacred Heart School. (fn. 19)

St. Theresa's Convent of the Daughters of Divine Charity, in Fosse Road North, was opened in 1949. (fn. 20)


  • 1. V.C.H. Leics. ii. 61–62.
  • 2. Ibid. 69.
  • 3. Ibid. 62.
  • 4. On the early history of Roman Catholicism in Leic. see also A. H. Kimberlin, Return of Catholicism to Leic. 1746–1946 (1946, priv. print. Hinckley), from which much material in this account is taken.
  • 5. Kimberlin, op. cit. 16.
  • 6. Ibid. 19; the chapel in Causeway Lane is not mentioned in the early directories of Leic. and is not marked on Spencer's map of 1867.
  • 7. There were over 400 Roman Catholics in 1829: L.R.O., Return of Places of Worship, 1829; Kimberlin, op. cit. 17.
  • 8. Kimberlin, op. cit. 17–18; H. M. Colvin, Biog. Dict. Eng. Architects, 308.
  • 9. Kimberlin, Return of Catholicism, 19.
  • 10. Kimberlin, op. cit. 22; White, Dir. Leics. (1877), 306.
  • 11. For the new ch. see Kimberlin, op. cit. 38 sqq.
  • 12. Ibid. 19. In 1887 a new school was built in New Walk: see p. 337.
  • 13. On the Irish immigrants in and after 1848, see above, p. 263.
  • 14. Kimberlin, Return of Catholicism, 22–23, 19.
  • 15. Ibid. 23.
  • 16. Ibid. 53; Leic. Mercury, 4 Sept. 1940; see also below, p. 427.
  • 17. Kimberlin, Return of Catholicism, 53–54.
  • 18. Ibid. 54–55.
  • 19. Ibid. 58–59.
  • 20. Cath. Dir. (1950), 277; cf. ibid. (1949).