This website tells the story of the community of St Martin’s Church, Leicester, during the First World War. On the eve of war, this community comprised over 162 separate households and more than 600 individual people – men, women and children. These were members of the congregation, choir, verger and clergy, and their adult children – who may have stopped attending St Martin’s church (or never attended), moved away from Leicester or even emigrated, but who remained nevertheless part of the families who did form part of everyday worship and life at St Martin’s. Several of these were to eventually appear on the parish war memorial.
St Martin’s was to become Leicester Cathedral in 1927 but in 1914 was already the principle church in the town and like today, was the focus of civic religious events. Also like today, there was a little rivalry with other churches such as St Mary de Castro and St Margaret’s. The church was well maintained and had undergone extensive improvements ten years beforehand including the installation of electric lighting, which can be seen on the picture below.
In 1914 the vicar of St Martin’s was the Reverend Canon Francis Edward Nugee (1855-1930), who had been appointed in 1913, succeeding Norman Macleod Lang. Nugee, his wife Edith and their five young adult and teenaged children lived at the vicarage on St Martin’s East, overlooking the churchyard. Nugee was well respected, from a wealthy clerical family of some repute.
St Martin’s was located in the heart of the city, surrounded by shops, factories and businesses. People still lived in the parish, above shops and in the surrounding 18th and 19th century houses, but by 1914 many of the wealthier shopkeepers and business owners had moved out to the suburbs. Some people attended St Martin’s in preference to the churches in their own parishes, notably people living in the Westcotes area, but on the whole the community was made up of people who lived or worked in the parish. Most people were of the middling sort – people like Robert Harry and Lucy Lee, who kept a fancy goods shop in Gallowtree Gate, or Boot Manufacturer Harry Charles Beeby and his wife Julia at The Firs, Westleigh Road. Some were decidedly more humble, like widow Betsy Barradell, who lived in two rooms in Town Hall Lane. Others still were minor gentry, for instance the Franklins and Yules.
In addition to the thriving Sunday School, there was St Martin’s School in Friar Lane which was closely linked to the church. Headmaster Louis Beaumont Moore Hodges and his wife Jane were regular worshippers at St Martin’s Church. There were the usual social groups and events, Sunday School treats and fundraising bazaars. All in all, St Martin’s was like many English churches in 1914.