Nestled at the edge of the city’s leafy Victoria Park, De Montfort Hall has acted as a cultural beacon for the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and beyond for nearly 110 years.
Since the opening ceremony of Monday 21 July 1913, the hall and gardens has held music concerts, royal visits, comedy shows, company dances, political meetings and election ballots. It has sheltered refugees and soldiers, had wrestling and boxing matches, graduation ceremonies, junior and professional orchestras, opera, exhibitions, religious festivals, pantomimes, dance and theatre productions and many, many other events.
Today our affectionately known “De Mont” continues its long tradition of entertainment by being one of England’s busiest and most popular live venues.
A hall for the townspeople
The idea to create a large meeting place for civic functions and the arts was first mooted by Leicester Corporation at the turn of the 20th century to accommodate the needs of an ambitious and growing town.
At 3pm on its opening day, 1,000 invited guests saw hall architect, Mr Shirley Harrison, present a gold key to the Mayor, Councillor James McCall, who unlocked the door to the then unnamed building while watched by the Public Hall Committee and its Chairman, Alderman Chitham.
Once inside, the Mayor gave a speech commending the beauty of the building and gardens, its good value for money and, finally, he celebrated the people whose work and dedication had made it all possible.
“I have the honour and pleasure, as Mayor, of officially declaring this hall open,” he concluded, “and I dedicate it for the benefit of the townspeople.”
Among the notables sharing the platform with the Mayor were local councillors, leaders of industry, the founders of the University of Leicester, and Sir Charles Bennion, the man who later gave the people of Leicester their much-loved Bradgate Park.
Still today, the hall is owned and operated by Leicester City Council which is aware of the importance of the hall as a cultural space for the people of Leicester and beyond.
A hall for live music
For much of its life De Montfort Hall has been associated with live music. Generations of Leicestrians have witnessed their favourite performers on stage in our 2,000 capacity auditorium – or in the green of our gardens during outdoor festivals.
It’s true that almost every popular recording artist of the 20th century has played or sung a note on our historic stage. Among this impossibly long list we can count The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Ella Fitzgerald, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.
In more recent years we’ve had U2, Tina Turner, Iron Maiden, The Smiths, New Order, AC/DC, The Prodigy, The Stone Roses, Glen Campbell, Patti Smith, Amy Winehouse, Gary Barlow and Adele.
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One element of the hall’s impressive resumé is our 6,000 pipe organ. This priceless work of art remains the only surviving example of the genius of Leicester’s Stephen Taylor and Sons Ltd.
This vast musical instrument was gifted to the public by Alfred Corah, the head of Leicester’s largest hosiery company, in February 1914. With its presentation and debut performance the hall was widely considered to have reached completion.
A hall for everyone
De Montfort Hall’s excellent reputation as a venue has been further enhanced by its acoustics, which can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best concert halls in the world. The clever design of our barrel-shaped ceiling is credited with creating the hall’s rich and sumptuous sound.
The conductor Sir John Barbirolli was so taken with our venue that in the 1950s he confessed he would like to steal the hall and take it back it with him to Manchester.
In 1922, Dr Malcolm Sargent, who later became Leader of the Proms at the Albert Hall, established Leicester Symphony Orchestra under our roof, while London’s Philharmonia Orchestra has had a residency at the hall for more than 20 years.
Making it unique among its peers, the hall has witnessed prima ballerinas dance across its stage, seen a King of England create a knight a under its roof (the first knighting in Leicester since 1426) and, on a chilly December day in 1979, it saw Debbie Harry, from Blondie, oblige a Leicester Mercury photographer by posing in a paper Christmas hat he’d bought from Woolworths.
A hall for your memories
With such a long and varied history, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many people have fond stories of De Montfort Hall. We try to use these memories in our regularly updated archive and share them via our popular social media channels. If you have something to add, please get in contact.