Nestled between fashionable St Martin’s Square and the tourist hotspot of the Cathedral district is The Lanes. A stone’s throw from the Clock Tower, yet a world away from the commercial lure of the Highcross, this quietly characterful part of Leicester has been at the heart of the city for centuries. The area centres on the crossroads where Loseby Lane, Guildhall Lane, Silver Street and Carts Lane meet, and it punches well above its weight in terms of variety and personality.

Its bijoux size, and its position amidst more high-profile places of interest, means that The Lanes is often overlooked as a destination in its own right. But there are many reasons to linger in this part of town. From Leicester’s oldest pub to the best Moroccan breakfast this side of Marrakesh, the area has a long-standing reputation as a magnet for offbeat indie retailers.

Business with personality

Photography by David Wilson Clarke

“The Lanes is the independent shopping and eatery hub of Leicester,” says Jo Purtill, “I wouldn’t want to be located anywhere else in the city.” Jo is owner and director of Pomponette, an interiors shop on Loseby Lane that sells vintage furniture and continental fabrics, as well as hosting workshops teaching crafts such as découpage and stencilling. Jo has no doubt that the success of the business is enhanced by the distinctive atmosphere of the area. “It has a warm, community feel to it,” she tells me. “People shop here because the businesses have personality and offer a personal shopping experience.”

The area has certainly come a long way since medieval times, when a stinking pig market occupied the site. Later on, in the 18th century, the town gaol was located nearby and prostitutes plied their trade up and down The Lanes. It was around this time that The Globe pub, said to be Leicester’s oldest, opened in a building previously used as a temporary lock-up for women waiting to be executed at nearby Gallowtree Gate.

Old meets new

Photography by David Wilson Clarke

Time has stood still inside the reputedly haunted pub, where you can drink locally-brewed fine ales and eat classics such as slow-cooked  beef brisket by the light of the same gas lamps that have been illuminating the building for the last 300 years. One of only a handful of public houses in the country to have retained its original gas lighting, The Globe piles on the olde worlde charm while offering a number of more modern amenities including a range of private function rooms and an extensive children’s menu.

While you’re wandering the Lanes, you can find out more about the rich history of the area by reading the recently installed heritage panels outside The Globe and on nearby Silver Street. Silver Street has a colourful history of its own, being one of the oldest thoroughfares in Leicester and following the route of the original Roman road from the city’s west gate. Unsurprisingly, its name comes from the silver goods which were once made and repaired here. It’s a tradition that continues, with a number of jewellery shops still based in the area.

Bling and strings

Photography by David Wilson Clarke

“One of the best things about The Lanes is that all the shops and cafés are independent,” says Carli Onguc, director of Lanes Fine Jewellery on Loseby Lane. “Items on sale are unique or bespoke and can’t be found in shopping centres,” Carli continues, “the service provided is also superb as you are often served by the business owner.” Lanes Fine Jewellery is a diamond specialist and a favourite of Leicester City’s players. Carli adds, “We have really benefited from being in The Lanes as we find couples really enjoy browsing in all the boutiques in the area and they seem to love our bespoke service and collections.”

It’s not all luxury homewares and glittering gemstones. There are also a number of quirky niche retailers that call the area home. The Very Bazaar on Silver Street leads the way for eccentric gifts and accessories with an eastern twist, as well as offering acupressure back massages and chakra cleansing sessions. Meanwhile, Withers Sports on Carts Lane is one of the few independent sports equipment shops in the city centre, specialising in racket sports and serving up a personalised restringing service.

A Leicester institution

Photography by David Wilson Clarke

Those wanting to grab a bite to eat are well catered for in The Lanes, with a medley of eating places packed into the small area. Café Dido on Loseby Lane delivers great value lunchtime fare such as toasties, fresh soup and smoothies. A few doors down, Piero’s Snack Bar is famous for its delicious Moroccan-style breakfasts, complete with mint tea. Meanwhile, a short walk away on Carts Lane, Café Mbriki has a Mediterranean vibe and a reputation for the best waffles in town.

Without doubt, The Lanes’ most famous eatery is the inimitable Mrs Bridges Tearooms. This gentile establishment has been serving traditional cream teas to the people of Leicester for decades and childhood visits to its quaint and cosy rooms are a fond memory for many people who grew up in the city. “Our relationship with The Lanes is quite unique,” agrees chef and owner Kristian Stafford. Kristian’s family have been trading in the area for over forty years and he goes on to praise the unique atmosphere of the Lanes, saying, “There is a general feeling of family attributed to the area, with people looking out for each other.”

Out of the shadows

The Lanes boasts a long and vibrant history, hosts an eclectic medley of shops and is home to some of the city’s best-loved independent eateries. It’s also an area of Leicester that’s rapidly emerging from the shadows to take its rightful place as a must-visit shopping and eating destination. Get ahead of the game and pay it a visit to experience its considerable charms for yourself.

Ruth is a communications professional and freelance writer. Her writing reflects her adventures as a foodie, travel addict and arts festival aficionado. She’s traversed Leicestershire and Rutland reviewing restaurants for Food & Drink Guides and writes uber-local blog Clarendon Spark.

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