The city of Leicester boasts a treasure trove of cultural landmarks, locations and historic events that have taken place across the region. From Roman ruins to stunning Tudor buildings such as the Guild Hall and Wygston’s House, Leicester is a smorgasbord of different architecture. Iconic locations like the clocktower, Highcross, and of course, the Golden Mile (Belgrave Road) are well known amongst locals and those further afield. But how does a seemingly simple road gain so much cultural recognition?
Belgrave Road has been a hugely significant area over the past couple of centuries. The road was dominated by two major clothing companies, Wolsey and British United Shoe Machinery (BUSM). Orbiting these two powerhouses were many smaller, thriving businesses and workshops, all contributing to the hustle and bustle of the road. The popularity of the area grew exponentially, drawing in workers from far and wide. In its prime, BUSM employed around 4000 people, providing a great deal of opportunity for residents and boosting the local economy. To manage the huge amount of workers, a new railway station was constructed in 1882, providing a much needed link to other areas in the city, county and country. This station was mainly used for families to travel to British coastal towns like Skegness for their holidays.
As is the way with many industrial era locations, Belgrave Road saw a decline in popularity as businesses closed, and workers moved away to greener pastures. The station was ultimately closed down in 1962 and the place was swiftly losing importance. Across the city, Victorian terraced houses had been constructed to make space for the influx of workers, and this road was no exception to this. Now, many of these houses were empty, as the population declined over the years. Belgrave Road was now a vacuum, waiting to be filled.
It was in the early 70’s that the place began to fill up again. Migrants from India and Pakistan flocked to buy affordable housing, and asylum seekers put down roots in this land of opportunity.
One particular group was those Asians that were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972. This new Asian community set up businesses and began bringing prosperity back to the Belgrave Road. Due to previous experience as traders and business owners, along with their trade networks in Asia, this road became a hotspot for exotic foods, clothes and jewellery, many of which locals had limited/no access to initially. Indian gold was brought into Leicester to supply numerous jewellers, ultimately leading to it becoming known as The Golden Mile.
To this day, the Golden Mile is renowned for its fantastic cultural foods, clothing, and jewellery. The name of this area has become synonymous with culture and diversity which Leicester, as a whole, is famous for.
Shining a light on the importance of this renowned road and area to both Leicester and the council itself, a representative of Leicester City Council said: “The Golden Mile is a hugely important part of Leicester’s past, present and future – a symbol of our cosmopolitan, welcoming and inclusive city. As well as being home to many important local businesses, it is of course regularly in the international spotlight for hosting our famous Diwali celebrations.”
Diwali time, pre-pandemic of course, brings thousands of locals and visitors to the streets to indulge in cultural foods and celebrations. Whilst being an Indian celebration, predominantly celebrated by those of Hindu, Sikh, and Jain faiths, the event brings people of all different backgrounds to celebrate together. Leicester’s Golden Mile Diwali celebration is considered to be one of the biggest outside of India.
“We’ve invested heavily in street improvements along Belgrave Road,” the representative said. “This demonstrates our commitment to the area and helps to link it to Leicester city centre through our Connecting Leicester programme. This saw the demolition of the outdated Belgrave flyover, replacing it with improved walking and cycling routes to open up a new and welcoming gateway to the Golden Mile.
“From Belgrave’s origins as one of the ‘old villages’ of Leicester to today, it is an area with a fascinating heritage and history, and a Leicester landmark of which we can all be proud.”
There is no doubt that this fantastic area will continue to bolster Leicester’s multi-cultural reputation for years to come. With humble beginnings to a place rich in culture and commerce, we are excited to see what’s next in store for the glittering Golden Mile.