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New heritage panels give final touch to park’s ‘Centenary Walk’

Published on Friday, June 23, 2017

FINAL touches are being made to a new processional route leading to Leicester’s main war memorial in one of the city’s most popular parks.

A new tree-lined avenue, flanked with London planes and fastigiated oaks, has been created on Victoria Park to restore the lost link between the city’s Arch of Remembrance and the park’s historic gates on London Road.

To mark the completion of the new walkway, new heritage information panels have been installed at both ends to help bring to life the stories of two of the city’s most important architectural treasures.

The Arch of Remembrance was designed by renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, and unveiled in 1925. It is one of seven grade-1 listed war memorials designed by Lutyens, including the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Lutyens also designed the park lodge buildings and ornate, wrought iron gates on London Road, along with the matching gates at the entrance to Peace Walk.

The gates were given to the city by Sir Jonathan North, who was mayor of Leicester during the First World War, and dedicated in memory of his wife Kate Eliza North, who died in 1930. Her wartime efforts and work for wounded soldiers during the war earned her the title ‘Leicester’s Florence Nightingale’.

Both sets of gates have been painstakingly repaired and restored as part of a £295,000 project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The new panel telling the story of the historic gates will be unveiled by the Norths’ great grandson Nick Brankin-Frisby and City Mayor Peter Soulsby.

“I did meet Sir Jonathan North once, or so I am told as I was only a few months old,” said Mr Brankin-Frisby.

“He was a remarkable man, mayor for the entire 1914-18 war the driving force behind many Leicester institutions. But his main achievement must have been in realising that not only physical but mental problems would be faced by troops returning home. So he raised funds to build a Neurological Hospital.

“As wartime Mayoress, Lady North was a great support to him despite suffering indifferent health. She started a group in the Mayor’s parlour knitting socks and scarves for the troops. This grew until she had 4,000 ladies knitting for her.  She also realised that the soldiers’ wives were lonely and she arranged tea parties which were a great success. 

“But the strain affected her and she died in 1930. The gates were erected in her memory.

“The family would like to thank Sir Peter Soulsby and his team for the wonderful restoration of the gates and for their drive and imagination in making this part of Victoria Park an area that everyone in Leicester can be proud of.”

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “These new heritage panels are a fitting final touch to our work to restore the lost link between the North memorial gates on London Road and the city’s magnificent Arch of Remembrance.

“There is no doubt that these important, historic buildings are among the city’s finest architectural treasures, and something the whole city can be proud of.

“The new processional route provides a very fitting approach to the city's main war memorial and will helps ensure that future generations continue to cherish this important part of the city’s history.

“But there is also a very human story behind these buildings and we hope that the new heritage panels help to bring that to life.”

The creation of the new processional route was the impetus behind the £2milllion Victoria Park improvement project. This has also seen the construction of a new toilet block, remodelling and improving the existing car park facilities close to De Montfort Hall, and all of the parks sports courts completely overhauled.

Along with a new skate park, Victoria Park now boasts four flood-lit tennis courts supported with funding from the Lawn Tennis Association.

A new basketball court will be completed this summer.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby added: “Creating a new processional route as a lasting part of the city’s commemorations of the centenary of the Great War was always at the heart of this ambitious project.

“It has, however, provided an opportunity to overhaul the existing facilities and make some much-needed improvements to car parking. The new landscaping will also ensure that this award-winning park continues to offer an attractive, green and leafy oasis on the very edge of our busy city centre.”