STORIES from the Leicester street that dates from Roman times and is now one of the most ethnically-diverse roads in the country will be told in two exhibitions later this month.
Popping to the Shops shines a spotlight on Narborough Road, looking back at its past and talking to some of the people who live and work in the area today.
At Newarke Houses Museum, the exhibition will focus on the history of the area, featuring panoramic photos taken by local photographer Paul James and interviews with people whose memories go back to the early 1960s.
Michael John Malloy, whose family business at 188-190 Narborough Road has been trading since 1964, is one of those sharing their memories.
“When we started, we were selling everything,” he said.
“We used to be Michael John for carpets, Michael John for shoes, Michael John for suits. We used to sell more Timex watches than Lewis’s!
“In 1964, the main trading area was from the railway bridge to Imperial Avenue – there were five butcher shops along that stretch, banks, furniture shops, a ladies’ clothing shop and shoe shops.
“The main difference now is the people – there are a lot more nationalities here today, and fewer students, who now all live in purpose-built apartments.”
While Michael John Flooring has been trading in the area since the 1960s, Igor Muzica from Boon Boon – a bakery specialising in Eastern European baked goods that opened in 2023 – is one of the newest arrivals on the street.
“We opened the shop here because Narborough Road is one of Leicester’s busiest streets,” said Igor, who’s from Moldova.
“I like the street because here you can meet people from other countries – like Bulgaria and Slovakia – and ask them about their culture and about the cakes in their country.
“We’re happy and the customers are happy!”
Other interviews featured in the exhibition reflect the changing make-up of the Narborough Road population. Kate Malloy works at Westcotes Library, which has been part of the Narborough Road street scene since 1889.
“While the types of businesses on Narborough Road haven’t changed much over the years, the people who run them and the products they’re selling are noticeably different,” said neighbourhood services assistant Kate.
“Ten years ago, for example, the international supermarket across the road was very much geared towards Asian customers. Today, there’s also a Turkish bakery in there, as well as foods we wouldn’t have seen five years ago.”
The library has adapted to new audiences too. “When a new member joins the library, we always ask what their preferred reading language is,” said Kate.
“As a result, we now have a much bigger Polish section, as well as a small – but quite popular – selection of Russian language books.”
Objects and memorabilia from past and present shops, including a teaching keyboard used at IntaSound (70 Narborough Road) and a pricing gun from Wilko – which opened on Narborough Road in 1949 but closed in April 2022 – will also be on display at Newarke Houses Museum.
A second exhibition at Westcotes Library will use archive photographs of the area, together with a brief history of the shops shown in the images.
Deputy city mayor and Westcotes ward councillor Adam Clarke said: “This project, led by our museums’ service, shines a light on some of the people who help make Narborough Road the vibrant area it is today.
“Their stories, together with some great photos from the archives, combine to make two very interesting exhibitions.”
Assistant city mayor for education, libraries and community centres Cllr Vi Dempster said: “Westcotes Library has been at the heart of the Narborough Road community for more than 130 years, so it’s the perfect place for an exhibition that looks back at the area’s past.
“If you’re interested in local history, have a look at the exhibition next time you pop in to Westcotes library, where you’ll find information and resources that will help you discover even more about your local area.
“And if you’re not already a library member, it’s easy to join. Just bring along a form of ID and we can register you as a member, free of charge.”
Popping to the Shops is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
The exhibitions open at Westcotes Library and Newarke Houses Museum on Friday 26 January and continue until 28 April 2024.
The Super-Diverse Streets project was an academic research project led by the London School of Economics and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council between 2015 and 2017. The first phase of the project focused on four super-diverse high streets in the UK, including Leicester’s Narborough Road. Researchers found that amongst those running the shops and businesses on Narborough Road were people who had migrated from 22 different countries, making it one of the most ethnically-diverse streets in the country.
Narborough Road was part of the ancient Fosse Way – the Roman road that linked Exeter to Lincoln via Leicester.