4A Text

Alfred Hess (bottom right, from the Hess Archive) was born into a prosperous Jewish family of shoe manufacturers in Erfurt, central Germany. Started in 1879, ‘M & L Hess Schuhfabrik’ used modern machinery and contemporary advertising techniques (centre right) to create a highly successful business. After school, Alfred was taken into the family business which grew to have four factories in Erfurt. In 1906 he married Thekla Pauson, who came from an equally prosperous Jewish family. Their son Hans was born in 1908. Like my father Harry Petzal, who was the same age, Hans Hess attended the Odenwaldschule.

Between 1910 and 1912 Alfred and Thekla built an impressive house in their town (bottom centre, from the Hess Archive) with a tennis court, for one of their shared passions (top left, from the Hess Archive). When war was declared, Alfred, a patriot like most German Jews, joined up. He served until 1918 and returned home physically unharmed, but both Alfred and his homeland were changed beyond recognition. Traumatised by the war and now highly receptive to new experience, Alfred and Thekla formed an important friendship with Edwin Redslob, the director of Erfurt Museum and a passionate supporter of contemporary art. Encouraged by Redslob’s careful advice, Alfred and Thekla amassed over 4,000 works of contemporary art between 1918 and 1931. Often, they bought directly from the artist’s studio and many artists became close friends (Christian Rohlfs and Hans Hess top right, from the Hess Archive). The Hess mansion came to contain Germany’s most significant private collection of Expressionism. Alfred continued to direct the family business, as well as taking on numerous civic and political duties and eventually becoming highly influential in the German art world.

The Hess house and its generous hospitality was legendary, as were their famous visitors’ books. These were filled with drawings, poems and inscriptions from famous artists, poets and writers including Klee, Feininger, Kandinsky and Erich Heckel, who drew the Hess house and garden (bottom left). Max Pechstein was one of Alfred and Hans’s favourite artists, a thrilling storyteller and the creator of a strong woodcut ‘Portrait of Alfred Hess’ (centre and in the Leicester collection) made in 1919. Alfred and Thekla were generous and calm hosts who together put guests at ease. The vibrant atmosphere of the house encouraged new friendships and artistic endeavours. The pictures on the walls were always being replaced and added to ‘a true cavalcade of avant garde art’. Many artists donated work to express their thanks for the hospitality. Later the ranks of artist visitors, would be joined by musicians, composers, art historians, publishers and museum directors. As both the collection and his sphere of influence grew, Alfred became instrumental in loans and donations to major museums and exhibitions.

But the dark tensions that beset all of Germany also came to Erfurt and the first anti-Semitic attack on the Hess house was in 1923. In 1926 the Jewish cemetery in Erfurt was vandalised and the local branch of the Nazis gathered for a convention in nearby Weimar. The Hess family clearly understood the looming crisis and began taking Danish lessons with the thought of emigrating to Denmark. The global depression had also dealt a major blow to the Hess business, forcing them to make difficult decisions in terms of staff and production, as well as reviewing their own financial position. Alfred’s unexpected death in 1931 after failed surgery at the age of 52 was an enormous blow. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Erfurt.

At 47, Thekla and her son Hans, now 23, had charge, in difficult times, of a vast collection of expensive and increasingly controversial art. The Hess shoe company had also lost its highly competent managing director. The company was eventually seized and ‘Aryanized’ by the Nazis who held onto the Hess name as, ironically, they did not want to lose the good reputation the Jewish firm had acquired for its products.

4B Text

Trevor Thomas was born in Gwent on June 8th, 1907 into a South Wales colliery family. A child with a considerable talent for acting and singing, he was nurtured by his mother and his formidable grandparents (bottom right). Clever and with an acute visual memory, Trevor won a scholarship
to the county school and then another to the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. Ambitious and idealistic, he studied Human Geography and Anthropology. He also spent considerable time acting, singing (although, it transpires, he was partially deaf) and making relief prints, such as that of the 1929 entrance to the old College (centre left). He was fascinated by Anthropology and became an assistant to H. J. Fleure, the charismatic Professor at the University (see Aberystwyth museum,
bottom left), whom he followed to the University of Manchester as a lecturer and assistant.

In 1931, aged 24, he was appointed the youngest Keeper in the Liverpool Museum, heading the Department of Ethnology and Shipping, where he remained until 1940. Trevor was a highly effective communicator, with his soft Welsh accent and undoubted good looks (centre). This came to the fore in Liverpool where he found time for interests outside of work. He continued to sing and play the Welsh harp (centre right) and he made up and illustrated books of Welsh Folk tunes with intricate pen cover drawings (top left). He designed stage sets and costumes, acted and danced successfully in amateur productions throughout the city.

At the museum he built an impressive reputation for innovation, publishing widely. He wanted to use his artistic sensibilities and ideas about his subject matter to make the objects in his care more accessible. Experimenting with exhibition design, he used colour, shapes and form to help explain objects to the lay person. Photography and models were also part of his tool kit, which eventually won international acclaim and the encouragement of influential critics such as Herbert Read. As a result of this groundbreaking work on museum display, Trevor was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Museum Fellowship in 1938-39. He fell in love with America, travelled widely there and learnt not just about the latest thinking on museum display, but also about contemporary art. Two exhibitions at New York’s recently opened Museum of Modern Art made an important impression: a contemporary German art exhibition ‘Bauhaus 1919 – 1928’, followed by ‘Art of our Time: 10th Anniversary Exhibition’. His time in America and the close relationships he made there, were to stand him in good stead in the future.

The outbreak of war found Trevor still in New York, at the World’s Fair. Although the consular advice was to return to Britain as quickly as possible, Trevor was asked to design an exhibition in Santa Fe and did not leave America until March 1940. He returned to Liverpool and his work at the museum, arriving in the middle of the city’s first daylight air raid. He was found unfit for military service because of his deafness. Shortly after his return, the Museum and much of his work was wrecked by a fire, caused by a German bomb, and there was no longer a job for him.

Trevor Thomas was a complex and interesting man, greatly admired by both his colleagues and his many close friends. Later in life, in unusual circumstances, he came to marry (top right). His wife Sheila had been thoroughly charmed; she was fifteen years his junior. They shared a deep love of music.

4C Text

After Alfred Hess’s death, the Hess family art collection started to be broken up and dispersed. Aspects of this story emerged during the lengthy 2004 restitution case over the Ludwig Kirchner painting of ‘Berlin Street Scene’. After his father’s death, Hans (top left, from the Hess archive) had spent time sorting out the family’s financial situation, before returning to Berlin. At the beginning of 1933 his Berlin apartment was ransacked by Nazi thugs and he was sacked from the publishing house Ullstein Verlag for being Jewish. He then fled to Paris, where he was penniless, and finally to London in 1935. There he worked for Jewish refugee organisations and helped found the Free German League of Culture. Meanwhile, Thekla Hess had returned to her native Bavaria to be with her mother and in 1933 she sent the most important parts of the collection, as loans, to safety in Swiss museums. Other works were sold to raise funds, while she considered alternative solutions.

In 1937, around 675 works from the Erfurt Museum were seized by the Nazi government as ‘degenerate art’, including the loans and donations of the Hess family. The German authorities also considered that the loan collections in Switzerland were ‘Jewish property assets left abroad in breach of foreign exchange regulation’ and demanded their immediate return. Thekla was forced to request the return of the collection to Germany, where much of it was sold under duress, or later disappeared. Thekla, all the while pursued by the German authorities, was tireless in her efforts to save at least part of the collection, travelling all over Europe in discussion with museums and dealers. She managed to send some pieces to London during 1938 and 1939. The last were smuggled out of Germany in pieces of family furniture shortly before the outbreak of war. With her son and her mother now safely in Britain, Thekla decided she also had to leave Germany and in1939 she joined them in London.

Hans continued to be involved in writing anti-Nazi material. He volunteered for war service and was briefly an air raid warden in Hampstead. After that he was classified as an ‘enemy alien’ and sent to internment camps, first on the Isle of Man and then in Canada. He returned from there in early 1942, having volunteered yet again to help with the war effort. He was put to land work (centre right) near
Loughborough, a task to which he was remarkably unsuited. His mother Thekla moved from London to Leicester to be near her son.

The New Walk Museum in Leicester (bottom left) opened in 1849 as one of the first public council-run museums in Britain. The building was previously a school. The progressive thinking behind the initiative was to create a place where people of all classes and backgrounds could come for recreation and education, aspiring to heal the various political and religious divisions of the town. The original museum contained a vast selection of curiosities. Thomas Cook thought it could become ‘an instructive lounge for the lovers of science’ and his son donated a group of specimens from his travels. Leicester´s Literary and Philosophical Society donated its collection of 10,000 objects to the project. A new lecture hall opened as an art gallery but provoked controversy with debates as to what should be displayed. There were complaints that much of the artwork had little or no educational or artistic value! In November 1926, the museum acquired one of its most popular exhibits, an adult male giraffe from Kenya, nicknamed George, which stood at the top of the stairs (bottom right). He was beloved, with his knees bare from years of stroking by visiting children. Despite his popularity George was eventually moved to Wollaton Hall Museum in Nottingham. Hans and Thekla Hess (top right, in a later photograph from the Hess Archive) first encountered the New Walk Museum when Thekla moved to Leicester.

4D Text

In July 1940 Trevor Thomas (lower centre left) was appointed Curator (later Director) of the Leicester Museums and Art Gallery, at the age of 33. With constant air raids over British cities, museums throughout the country were instructed to move precious objects to safety and, if required, give up space to the military. ‘Do nothing for the duration’ was the official line, leaving Leicester Museum with little to exhibit and less to do. In London the young Director of the National Gallery, Sir Kenneth Clark, had other ideas. Insisting it was crucial that the public were entertained, and morale maintained, he set up an ambitious programme of exhibitions, educational and social events. The Jewish pianist Myra Hess contacted Clark with a novel idea and a gallery space was hastily converted into a concert venue. From October 1939, there were daily performances every week of the year, even during the Blitz.

Trevor Thomas was inspired by Clark’s programming and started to fill the Museum with an inspiring series of events. He organised a wide range of educational and artistic activities and talks, suitable for all ages, especially in the summer, to encourage families to stay in the city and reduce travel. He curated exhibitions of local artists and arts and crafts groups. Working with CEMA, the predecessor of the Arts Council, they hosted touring exhibitions. With the acquisition of a grand piano he started lunchtime concerts, which became a popular feature and continue to this day.

Given the restricted circumstances under which the museum was working, Trevor Thomas had had no early opportunity to exhibit the kind of European art which had so inspired him in New York. However, in 1943, with the support of the Polish Air Force of Great Britain, he organised an exhibition of contemporary Polish art. This was followed by the 1944 ‘Exhibition of Mid-European Art’ (upper left), the first exhibition in Britain of German Impressionism and Expressionism since the Burlington Exhibition of 1938. Certainly, it was an ambitious venture during a war against Germany. In preparation, Thomas had been in contact in 1943 with various German refugee agencies and this had brought him in touch with Thekla Hess and her son Hans in Leicester. Thomas quickly realised that both Hans, who remained classified an enemy alien and was ‘working cleaning out cowsheds’, and his mother had an exceptional knowledge of German Expressionism and an even more exceptional collection of actual German Expressionist paintings.

The authorities tightly constrained Trevor Thomas over this exhibition. He had to work on it in his own time, and it had to be sponsored by a British anti-Nazi cultural organisation, in this case the Leicester Branch of the Free German League of Culture. The exhibition included 62 important works, mainly by German Expressionist artists. They included: ‘The Mask, or Head with Red-Black Hair’, watercolour, c.1910, by Emil Nolde and purchased from Tekla Hess (bottom right); ‘Red Woman,
or Rote Frau’, oil, 1912, by Franz Marc and purchased from Stefan Pauson, brother of Tekla Hess (centre right); ‘Behind the Church, or The Square’, oil, 1916, by Lyonel Feininger, purchased from Tekla Hess (bottom left) and ‘View from My Window, or The Bridge at Erfurt, watercolour’, 1919, by Max Pechstein (top right). This last work was a gift from Tekla Hess, marking the occasion of the exhibition and in recognition of the friendship shown to her and Hans by Trevor Thomas. Thomas had also been trying to find a way to help Hans Hess personally, and before the exhibition opened, he arranged for Hans to be released from interment in order to be employed by the museum
as his assistant. Hess began work in Leicester in summer 1944 and remained there until 1948. The purchase of ‘Red Woman’ for £350 by the Museum Committee was a remarkable coup for Leicester, and indeed for Trevor Thomas, though it was achieved only after a long, well documented and sometimes hilarious debate. His key role in acquiring four works from the exhibition as it concluded helped found Leicester’s distinguished collection of 20th century German Art.

4E Text

In July 1946 Trevor Thomas’s career in Leicester ended abruptly and tragically. He and another man were arrested and charged with an indecency offence in a public toilet. He was refused bail and jailed for a weekend before the case came up in the local Quarter Sessions. Advised, perhaps incorrectly, to plead guilty to avoid cross examination about his sexual orientation, he was fined and ‘bound over to keep the peace’. As he left the court, the Town Clerk, on the steps of the Town Hall, handed him his letter of dismissal as Director of the Museums and Art Gallery, which also included the loss of his pension rights. The removal was without notice or right of appeal.

Trevor Thomas and his family always felt that his humiliating sacking from Leicester ruined his professional career and negatively impacted his entire life. He fled to London to be looked after by friends and had a ‘nervous breakdown’. He was then, until recently, systematically written out of the history of the Leicester museum and the German Collection. In the late 1970’s Thomas bravely went with art critic Brian Sewell and Patrick Boylan, a future director of the museum, to the Leicester Records Office to inspect his ‘court file’. It transpired that he had been targeted by the otherwise benign Leicester police because ‘anonymous sources’ said he was a ‘known homosexual’. Homosexuality had been a serious criminal offence in 1940’s Britain. Despite a court character witness statement from Sir Kenneth Clark, who said it was widely expected that Thomas would succeed him as Director of the National Gallery, the young and rather inexperienced judge went by the rulebook.

The more vexed question may be whether Trevor Thomas was targeted not only because he was gay but because of his policies and ideas as the influential Director of the museum. Whilst many appreciated his far sighted and ambitious plans, he also had numerous critics, including the Town Clerk, who longed for a return to the pre-war status quo. Over time his important stewardship of the museum was overlooked and undervalued. Hans Hess, who took over at this difficult time but only stayed another two years was certainly not responsible for the erroneous view that he and the Hess family were the founders of the German Collection.

The Wolfenden Committee was set up in 1954 to consider the UK law relating to ‘homosexual offences’. It recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. The Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded on 12 May 1958, mainly to campaign for the implementation of the Wolfenden report, but progress was slow. It was not until after almost ten years of campaigning that The Sexual Offences Act 1967 (upper left) was passed, after an intense late-night debate in the House of Commons. It retained many restrictions, some of which were overturned by the European Court of Human Rights and the Sexual Offences Act of 2000. In 2017, a section of the Policing and Crime Act known as the ‘Alan Turing law’ officially gave posthumous pardons to the thousands of homosexual men from England and Wales who had suffered under previous laws.

In 1975 Trevor Thomas, by then in his late sixties, heard about the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and attended their first conference. A divisive event, he actively intervened with a speech and comforted a young boy in a way that unified the conference and electrified the media. He continued to work with CHE for many years on its committees and ran a counselling service. On 19th November 1985, at the invitation of the Director of Leicester Museums and Art Gallery, Dr Patrick Boylan, who championed his cause, Trevor Thomas was the guest of honour at the reception for the centenary of the Leicester New Walk Art Gallery. The invitation was appreciated by the now very elderly Thomas and marked the beginning of the public restoration of his reputation of which I hope this exhibition is a part.

4F Text

After two years at Leicester, Hans Hess (left centre) became the Keeper at York Art Gallery (bottom right). He married to a fellow refugee and their only child Anita Halpin has looked after the Hess collection for many years, and retains ownership of the Leicester loan collection. Hans Hess was a committed Marxist; his daughter has worked actively with Trade Unions and the Communist Party. Thoughtful and philanthropic, Anita Halpin has tirelessly pursued the Hess family restitution claims in Germany. Recently both the Hess and Pauson families (Alfred Hess’s brother-in-law) made generous donations and bequests to Leicester.

In 1955 the German Jewish refugee art historian Rosa Schapira (top right in a painting by Walter Gramatté) made a major bequest to the museum. An early supporter of the Die Brücke group of artists, in particular Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, she escaped to Britain in 1939 with most of her collection. Her attempts to donate works to major British institutions were largely rebuffed but her offer of 19 works on paper by Schmidt-Rottluff to Leicester was gratefully received. Most of her collection went to her native Germany, which was keen to make amends for the sins of the Nazis.

In 1990 a local businessman, Michael Brooks, made an outstanding donation of 60 works to the German Expressionist collection. Originally interested in Expressionist film, he started collecting after visiting the Museum. His enthusiasm for Expressionist literature, art and film developed into ‘a passion for the entire movement which has never left me’. For the last 20 or so years the collection, now numbering nearly 500 pieces, was skilfully nurtured by curator Simon Lake (small in the centre) who with encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject, fostered important relationships and instigated many special exhibitions. Regrettably Simon was made redundant in 2019 in a cost-cutting exercise; the German Expressionist collection no longer has a specialist or knowledge-based curator.

Trevor Thomas (top left) went on to have a long and diverse career, though never at the level predicted by Sir Kenneth Clark. Talking to his son Giles (Giles Thomas and I, bottom centre) we reflected on how the public ‘outing’ of his homosexuality and subsequent fall from grace had effectively derailed his father. Obliged to see a psychiatrist, who encouraged marriage as a ‘cure’, Trevor married Sheila in 1947 and they had two boys. For seven years he lived in Paris with Sheila and the children, and worked for UNESCO (bottom left) on approaches to arts education. In 1956 he moved to the US, first as Visiting Professor at Columbia University in New York and then as Professor of Art History at Buffalo University. He wrote art criticism for the Buffalo Evening News, and immersed himself in the work of the Abstract Expressionists, which informed his own burgeoning style of painting. He also did an enormous amount of costume and theatre design. He loved America and considered this the most personally fulfilling time of his life.

The marriage by then, with his long absence, had fallen apart and by 1962 Trevor had custody of his sons in London. On his return to London, with the pressing need to look after his sons, he was appointed Art Director to the Gordon Fraser Gallery. In November 1962 he found accommodation at 23 Fitzroy Road in north London, also the home of the poet Sylvia Plath (whom he only knew as Mrs Hughes), who lived upstairs. He spoke to her on several occasions and was the last person to see her alive. She took careful precautions to seal off her children’s rooms, when gassing herself to commit suicide. However, the gas came down the chimney rendering Thomas unconscious.

A few years later Gordon Fraser moved his business to Bedford and Trevor reluctantly followed, sorry to leave London. In his later years, he painted and showed his work and engaged in numerous social, charity and civic duties. He made his home in Bedford where he lived for over 28 years, the last 13 with his partner Robert.

5A Text

Leicester is one of the oldest cities in Britain, having been in place since at least the Iron Age. It has a long and fascinating history of upheaval and dissent.

‘Old Jewry’ (bottom left) is a Roman wall from a town-centre bath house.  The origin of its name is disputed; it is probably not associated with the expulsion of Leicester’s medieval Jewish community by Simon de Montfort (top centre) in 1231 but comes instead from traditional beliefs attaching any ruin of unidentified origin to the Jews.

De Montfort was the 6th Earl of Leicester. His ruling against Jews was the forerunner of the 1290 Edict of Expulsion, which expelled all Jews from England, the culmination of centuries of persecution. He is better remembered as the founder of a representative parliament that included ordinary citizens, a radical step in 1258.

Richard III (1452 -85) (centre left) was the last English king killed in battle.  135 years later the cartographer John Speed (his map of Leicester, centre) claimed that after the Battle of Bosworth Field the king had been buried by the river west of the town, but this proved incorrect. The discovery of his remains beneath a Leicester car park captured worldwide attention.

The Richard III Society was founded in 1924. It sought to rehabilitate the King’s reputation, challenging his representation by William Shakespeare as a physically repulsive murderer and placing him instead in an appropriate historical context as a man with a degree of disability wielding power in violent times. There followed decades of speculation and research as to the burial site, aided by the discovery of two descendants of the king’s line who allowed the use of their DNA. In August 2012 the Society funded a search carried out jointly by Leicester University and City Council on the former site of the Greyfriars Friary, which had become a car park. Almost immediately a human skeleton was found, with the unusual characteristics attributed to Richard. By February 2013 the family’s DNA had helped determine that the skeleton was indeed that of Richard III through the use of DNA fingerprinting, which was developed in Leicester in 1984. The king was reburied in Leicester Cathedral on 26 March 2015 with pomp, prayers and commemorations across Leicester. ‘Towards Stillness’, by public space architect Dallas-Pierce-Quintero (bottom right) is a contemporary sculpture about Richard III outside the cathedral, aligned with the axis of Bosworth Field. Twelve vertical steel plates, life-size silhouettes, evoke the moments before, during and after the King’s final journey from battlefield to city.

Richard III would have just missed seeing the oldest house in Leicester. ‘Wygston’s House’ (centre right) was originally a wool-merchant’s house built in medieval times. Remarkably its ownership can be traced continuously from 1557. Just before the English Civil War (1642-51) the citizens of Leicester were in uproar about proposed deforestation and the enclosure of common land for private enterprise. In that time of social upheaval and dissent it was no surprise that Leicester became a Parliamentary stronghold, and in 1645 King Charles I laid siege to the city. John Bunyan (1628-88, top left), the great Puritan author of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, had joined the Roundhead army. His life was saved when a fellow soldier took his place during the siege of Leicester; ‘as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the head with a musket bullet and died’.

This was a time of many new rival Christian sects. John Bunyan disagreed with his contemporary George Fox (1624-1691, top right), who was a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as ‘the Quakers’. This name was first used as a term of abuse by a judge Fox had told to ‘tremble at the Word of the Lord’. The son of a Leicestershire weaver, Fox denounced the existing religious and political authorities and developed a thoughtful if uncompromising approach to Christianity. The Society of Friends looked for a direct experience of God, shunning ritual and ceremony and holding meetings in homes rather than church buildings. Conscience was emphasised as the basis of morality and the Quakers refused to swear oaths or contribute to any form of violence. The movement crossed social boundaries and was persecuted for its beliefs but had some notable protection from the Puritan Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. There is still an active and welcoming Quaker ‘Friend’s Meeting House’ on Queens Road in Leicester.

5B Text

19th century Leicester was transformed by industrial revolution, but maintained its commitment to dissenting and radical causes (top right). Railways arrived and factories opened; hosiery, textiles, and footwear were the chief industries.

There were over 20 shoe manufacturers in Leicester during the 19th and 20th centuries. Equity Shoes (top), though not the largest, lasted the longest, until 2009. Equity was a radical workers’ co-operative from the outset, and one of its first machinists, Alice Hawkins, became Leicester’s most famous suffragette, campaigning for women to be able to vote in elections. Her statue stands proudly in Leicester market (top centre). Hawkins joined the Independent Labour Party in 1894 and became actively involved in Unions (bottom left). She formed a close friendship with Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst, who helped form the local Women’s Social and Political Union, based at 14 Bowling Green Street. Sylvia, an accomplished artist, drew Alice and her fellow workers. Her drawings are in the New Walk Museum. There were suffragette marches across the country and the one in Leicester in 1911 (bottom left and centre) drew large crowds. Alice Hawkins was jailed five time during the campaign. The outbreak of war in 1914 brought campaigning to an end. Votes for Women were eventually allowed in 1918.

Women have often played a prominent role in radical movements. Little is known about the social reformer Elizabeth Heyrick (1769 -1831, silhouette lower right), who was a Quaker committed to anti-slavery and ending capital punishment. Heyrick believed that women should be involved in these issues as they are able ‘not only to sympathise with suffering, but also to plead for the oppressed’.

Another tireless worker for the oppressed was Amos Sherriff (top left), the first Labour Lord Mayor of Leicester in 1922. Sherriff grew up in Leicester’s slums and did not go to school. He was Illiterate until his twenties, when he joined the Christian Mission (later the Salvation Army) and learned to read and write. A member of the Independent Labour Party, he remained a confirmed Christian and teetotaller all his life.

Sherriff opened a bicycle shop on Belgrave Road, which became an informal community advice centre. Cycling was a popular working-class hobby with strong links to the socialist movement. The shop distributed the weekly Socialist newspaper ‘The Clarion’ and promoted the Clarion Cycling Club. In 1901 Sherriff joined the Board of Guardians, which managed the Poor Laws, the precursor to Social Security. He was horrified at the punitive treatment of the poor and the levels of inequality in the city. In 1905 he organised the Leicester March of the Unemployed, commemorated by a plaque on the Corn Exchange in Leicester Market Place (bottom right). The march caught the public imagination and raised awareness of the plight of the unemployed. However, it had no direct effect on the government and the King refused to meet the marchers.

Thomas Cook was another teetotaller and radical Christian, founder of the eponymous travel firm, whose 1994 statue stands outside the railway station (centre left). The story goes that the idea of paid excursions ‘came to him in 1845 as he was walking from Market Harborough to Leicester to attend a Temperance meeting’. He was ambitious and successful. In 1851 he arranged for 150,000 people to visit the Great Exhibition in London. In the following years he started taking passengers to Europe and the business grew rapidly. Cook had many enduring radical commitments. These included the repeal of the Corn Laws (which taxed imported grain, keeping the price up) and Chartism, a political movement for extending the vote to the working classes. He was an important property developer and opened ‘Cook’s Commercial and Family Temperance Hotel’ and the ‘Temperance Hall’ next door on Granby Street. He never allowed ‘secularists’ to use the Temperance Hall. Later in life he helped found the ‘Leicester Coffee and Cocoa Company’, setting up coffee houses throughout the city as an alternative meeting place to the pub.

5C Text

With a population approaching half a million Leicester is one of the fastest growing and most diverse cities in the UK. The city is home to many nationalities, languages and faiths. Accurate figures, until the next census, are hard to come by but anecdotally Leicester is the only city in Britain with a minority White British population. A Labour Party stronghold with a directly elected Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester voted to Remain in the 2016 referendum on the European Union.

The city has grown favourably in public consciousness and on the tourist trail in recent years. This is in part because of the discovery of Richard III’s remains (centre); his Visitor Centre has become one of the country’s top museums. It is also because of its exceptional football team. Leicester City FC, known as the Fearless Foxes, became Premier League champions in 2016 (top right). One of their most devoted supporters, and one of Leicester’s ‘favourite sons’ is Gary Lineker (centre left), the former Leicester and England footballer who presents Match of the Day for the BBC. Lineker, who shares the ‘Remain’ sentiments of Leicester, speaks and tweets vociferously on political matters and is also well known for his views on refugees; ‘I will continue to speak up for refugees and immigrants and British values of tolerance and free speech’.

Amongst Leicester’s other favourite sons are the Attenborough’s. Frederick Attenborough, the father of both Lord Richard and Sir David Attenborough (bottom right), was principal of University College Leicester from 1932 to 1951. Richard and David attended Wyggeston Grammar School, and the family lived on campus in College House, where the devoutly Methodist Attenborough’s took in two Jewish refugee girls from the Kindertransport, who grew up with Richard and David. Under Frederick Attenborough’s leadership University College grew in size and stature, and became the University of  Leicester in 1957.The late Richard Attenborough was a distinguished actor and film director. He founded and endowed the Attenborough Arts Centre at the University of Leicester, which the family, including his theatre director son Michael, continue to support. Richard collected Picasso ceramics from the 1950’s, 75 of which were gifted to the New Walk Museum after his death. Sir David Attenborough, now a national treasure, retains numerous connections to his home city, supporting natural sciences, arts and academia.

There are two major universities in Leicester, both have innovative buildings on their campuses. Leicester University’s once radical, glass roofed engineering building (bottom left) was designed by James Stirling and James Gowan and is now a listed building. The National Space Centre (centre left), designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, has become one of Leicester most iconic buildings. It houses a museum, an education centre and the University’s space research programme. Many of the displays, such as upright rockets, are housed in the 42m high Rocket Tower which has slim steel supports and a semi-transparent cladding of plastic ‘pillows’.

New architecture can be found all over the city. De Montfort University’s award-winning Vijay Patel Building (centre right) was designed by local CPMG architects and houses the art and design faculty. The Curve Theatre (top left), designed by international architects Rafael Viñoly, is the anchor building for the new ‘cultural quarter’ in St. George’s Conservation Area. Retail flourishes in the modern shopping centres, as well as around the ornate Highcross memorial clock tower (upper right) and in the back lanes. There is an exceptionally diverse and wellsupported cultural and arts scene. Leicester produced the musicians Engelbert Humperdinck, Showaddywaddy, The Deep Freeze Mice, Cornershop, Deep Purple’s Jon Lord, half of Dire Straits and Kasabian. Best known currently is singer and songwriter Mahalia (centre).

5D Text

Leicester is one of Britain’s ‘Cities of Sanctuary’. City of Sanctuary UK is a secular charity which ‘holds the vision that our nations will be welcoming places of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution’ (centre).

Terms such as refugee, asylum seeker, economic migrant and illegal immigrant all have very different and some overlapping meanings, yet all are often used or thought of interchangeably. People such as my grandparents, the Hess family and Dr Mohannad (next panel) left home in fear of their lives. In my grandparents’ and the Hess family’s case they were the wrong religious and ethnic group.

Whilst we all know that there is trouble in the world, many of us still do not believe or understand that people do not readily leave their homelands. People flee because they have been oppressed and persecuted. Persecution can be religious, national, social, racial, political or because of gender orientation. People flee because of war, poverty, hunger and more recently climate change. They may have been threatened, imprisoned or tortured. Their ensuing journeys are often hazardous and uncertain (top centre and centre).

Many refugees from the Nazis ended up in Leicester, with its history of caring Christianity and strong Quaker tradition, such as the Kindertransport children taken in by the Attenborough family. Hans Hess arrived for perhaps less charitable reasons. Like most Leicester Jews, he may have attended the old Highfields synagogue (top left). Ben Abeles, who had a place on the Kindertransport thanks to British humanitarian Nicholas Winton, became a renowned physicist. Because of his experience as a child refugee and as a member of the Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation he is now supporting a City Council undertaking to accept and support at least five child refugees each year for the next 10 years.

In August 1972 Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, ordered the expulsion of the entire South Asian minority population of 80,000, giving them only 90 days to leave. These Ugandans were entrepreneurial, hard-working and a massive asset to the Ugandan economy. Leicester City Council then placed adverts (bottom centre) in the Ugandan press trying to dissuade Ugandan Asians, most of whom held British passports, from migrating to the city! The effect was opposite. Of the 27,000 Ugandan Asians that came to Britain, about 10,000 went directly to Leicester, thinking ‘it must be a gold mine, that’s why they don’t want us there’. The success in all fields and at all levels of Leicester’s Ugandan Asian community is well documented and is a prime example of refugees presenting an opportunity and not a threat. In 2012 Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s mayor, expressed his regret over the council’s action.

With over 240 faith groups across 14 different faiths in the city, and hundreds of places of worship, it is unsurprising that many of the organisations helping and supporting new arrivals in Leicester are faith based. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple (top right) was built with help from the Ugandan Asian community. Leicester now has the third-largest population of Hindus in the country. Many immigrants and refugees who came to Leicester, such as Dr Mohannad, are Muslim. Local Muslims were using the houses on Sutherland Street (bottom right) as a mosque as early as 1965. There are currently over 35 mosques in Leicester, as well as a wide range of Muslim organisations that work on interfaith and community issues. Leicester Cathedral (bottom left) is at the centre of Leicester’s Old Town and houses the tomb of King Richard III. It is involved with many refugee outreach projects.

Leicester has always been welcoming to refugees. To be different here is the norm. There are hundreds of different groups under the City of Sanctuary umbrella offering assistance and support in different ways across the city and county. They address basic needs like housing, clothing, food, money, healthcare, education and legal advice as well as providing hospitality and friendship, recreation and entertainment. Leicester-based Counterpoint Arts have set up Refugee Week, an annual programme of art, education and cultural events to celebrate the contributions of refugees. ‘City of Sanctuary groups share a vision to promote, network and resource activities in all spheres of society that focus on welcoming and including refugees who have come to these islands to seek safety’.