Watts’s Leicester: Physical morphology

The most notable feature of Watt’s town was an inexorable creeping outward of the settled space from the town walls.  The three great city fields, the engines of agricultural production since time immemorial, had been subject to Enclosure (the seven hundred acres of East Field in 1764; South Field, another five hundred acres, in 1804); as a consequence, multiple building and development plots became available to satisfy demand.  Expansion, piecemeal but steady, along both the arterial roads and field tracks was unconstrained.  In this respect – and of particular impact in the century after Watts wrote – Leicester stands in dramatic contrast to Nottingham.  The fields at Nottingham, remaining in commons, acted as a brake to development, which turned in on itself; by the end of the C19th the urban streetscape in Nottingham was notorious for densely packed and unsanitary slums, while Leicester, supported by the development of local transport, had broader streets, larger four-roomed terraced houses and even small gardens.  By 1845 the Corporation noted the town was “spread over an unusual extent of ground in proportion to its population.”  More space and air did not mean the houses were gracious; “… the miles of low, uniform, red-brick houses of Leicester have no aesthetic quality whatsoever”.