Many an incredible story can be uncovered on your travels in and around Leicester, from the discovery of the last Plantagenet King of England to the development of genetic fingerprinting. Many storytellers, too, have links to the city and if you’re sitting comfortably, we’ll tell you all about them!

Adults and children alike will not only have heard of Ladybird Books, but will have spent hours devouring the Loughborough publisher’s tales. They range from the charming ‘Bunnikin’s Picnic Party’, printed in 1940, to 21st century tongue-in-cheek stories for grown-ups, such as ‘The Hipster’ and ‘The Zombie Apocalypse’.

A Ladybird that gave children the reading bug

Children of the 60s and 70s will have fond memories of the ‘Well-loved Tales’ series, whose illustrations alone in the likes of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ and ‘The Enormous Turnip’ will take them back to a time when anyone who was anyone owned a Space Hopper, and both mum and dad wore platforms! They’ll recall too the innocent antics of Peter and Jane, which helped primary school teachers everywhere to instil a love of reading into young minds.

The publisher, now part of Penguin, also covered everything from rockets to motor cars in its ‘How it works’ collection, and detailed the discoveries of Charles Darwin and Marie Curie in the ‘Great Scientists’ series.

Ladybird Books achieved all this and more from humble beginnings as a Loughborough bookshop opened by Henry Wills in 1867. Visit the town today and you’ll see a green plaque on the building in Angel Yard, where its books were printed from 1915 to 1973. You can also pick up a bargain in Loughborough’s historic street market, granted a charter in 1221, or book a tour of John Taylor & Co, the UK’s last working bell foundry.

Lutterworth’s very own literary luminary

The world’s most important piece of literature is surely the Bible, and it has a surprising connection to a small south Leicestershire town. It was John Wycliffe, the Rector of St Mary’s Church in Lutterworth, who inspired its first English translation in the 14th century. He died after suffering a stroke during mass in the church, and his life and work is celebrated with an obelisk memorial in the town. His story is told in Lutterworth & District Museum, and the church itself displays many fascinating artefacts, including fragments of his cape and the chair on which he was carried out of the building that final time.

Ancient quarter doesn’t do history by halves

Considered the greatest poet of the Middle Ages and best-known for his unfinished work ‘The Canterbury Tales’, Geoffrey Chaucer was married in Leicester’s St Mary de Castro Church. Located in The Newarke, it is surrounded by 2,000 years of history. Within walking distance incredible sites include Magazine Gateway, used as a weapons store during the English Civil War, and Turret Gateway, built to control access to Leicester Castle, where one of the first English Parliaments was held.

This ancient quarter is also home of De Montfort University’s Heritage Centre. Within this building lie the remains of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where Richard III’s body was put on display after his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth.

All the city’s a stage for celebrated playwrights

Head further into the city to discover more history in the shape of the iconic timber-framed Guildhall. Now a museum and arts venue, one of the greatest writers in the English language, William Shakespeare, is said to have performed here in the 16th century.  

A renowned writer of the 20th century, Joe Orton grew up on the city’s Saffron Lane Estate, and went on to become one of the most celebrated playwrights of the 1960s. His scandalous black comedies had an enormous impact on the world of British theatre, and his fame grew after his death in 1967, when aged just 34, he was murdered by his lover. His plays, including ‘Entertaining Mr Sloan’ and ‘Loot’, are popular with audiences today, and his final work, ‘What the Butler Saw’, was revived at Curve on the 50th anniversary of his death.

This award-winning and unique theatre, which sits in Orton Square, also produces many shows inhouse, which then transfer to theatres all over the world. ‘Made at Curve’ production ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ the Musical’ was an adaptation of the best-selling 1980s’ book by acclaimed Leicester author Sue Townsend. Sue started her career as writer in residence at The Phoenix Theatre, now named The Sue Townsend Theatre in her honour.

A new chapter for page-turners on radio

Another Leicester author, Bali Rai, was inspired by Sue’s work. Writing for young adults, his debut novel ‘(Un)arranged Marriage’ was published to critical acclaim, ‘Rani and Sukh’ went on to become a GCSE English set text, and his “utterly compelling’’ novel ‘Killing Honour’ claimed the North East Teen Book Award.

Fans of radio will know the work of talented Leicester all-rounder Lou Wakefield, an actor and director, and one half of the writing duo behind BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ladies of Letters’. Based on the books of the same name, the show ran for 13 years on Woman’s Hour – starring veteran actors Prunella Scales and Patricia Routledge – before being adapted for television.

Sir David is a natural when it comes to storytelling

Famed as a naturalist, broadcaster and all-round-national-treasure, Sir David Attenborough, who grew up in Leicester, has also penned several books to accompany award-winning TV series including Life on Earth and Life in Cold Blood. Visitors to Leicester Museum and Art Gallery can view portraits of Sir David and his actor/director brother Lord Richard Attenborough among its collections. From fearsome dinosaurs to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the tales they tell are as fantastical as any author’s works of fiction.

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