The national importance of Leicester in the Trent – Thames space lies in its early and continuous urban history. The Romans co-opted an existing regional capital into Ratae Coritanorum; the forum, baths, basilica, pavements and mosaics can still be seen, right alongside the modernist inner ring road and tower-and-plinth Holiday Inn.
The very existence of a recognisably urban landscape for Watts to describe was a startling new phenomenon in a markedly rural environment. In the late C16th the population of Leicester was perhaps 3,000. At the end of the C17th the population, starting to show the first signs of industrial development and concentration, had crept up to 5,000; barely a village by today’s standards, Leicester was the largest town in the 150 miles between the Trent and the Thames.
Watts described a town of 20,000, a dramatic increase in a century.