Architecture of the Great Hall
The Great Hall was built by the Guild of Corpus Christi, with the three eastern bays of the hall being built around 1400. The Guild then increased its membership and wealth, resulting in the hall being extended westwards in 1489. Having the resources to do this shows how important the Guild was.
The hall would have had an earth floor when it was built. Originally, there would have been an open hearth and the smoke would have been let out through an opening in the roof. The hearth has been preserved, and can still be seen today.
Uses of the Great Hall
The Great Hall has been employed for many different uses. Parliament came from London to Leicester three times, including the 1426 Parliament of Bats.
From 1495 the Great Hall was used regularly for the main meetings of the Borough Council and also for municipal feasts and the entertainment of official visitors. It was even used to celebrate military victories such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Early in the 16th century, Leicester was visited by wandering dramatics companies, who usually performed in the Great Hall.
The era of feasting and celebration in the Great Hall came to an end entirely with the Municipal Reform Act of 1836. The last meeting of the Corporation was held here on August 7th 1876. After this date the Guildhall fell into a state of disrepair.
In 1922, a restoration programme has begun and on May 19th 1926, the Guildhall was reopened as a museum.
The Recorders room housed the Recorder, a local judicial officer who read the records of the town. He came to Leicester four times a year to preside over the Borough Court of Quarter Sessions which heard local criminal offences. The original furniture for this room has not survived, but furniture of the period is on display to give a feel for how it would have looked.
The Earl of Huntingdon had established a collection of books in St Martin’s Church. In 1632, the collection of books was transferred from St Martin’s to the Guildhall. The library replaced the bedrooms of the Chantry priests. The library fell into decline after the 17th century, with few additions and some books being stolen or damaged. Some of the rarest books are now stored in the Leicestershire Record Office for safekeeping.
One of the most interesting books in the collection is a copy of the New Testament, which was translated into an American Indian language and printed in Massachusetts in 1661. This is an example of the first Bible to be printed in the New World.