In centuries gone by, St Margaret's Pastures, just beyond St Margaret's Church, was the main location for a host of games and pastimes. These included horse racing, cricket and bowls, plus various traditional ball games.
Today, of course, city parks are the venue for a similar range of activities. Over the years, however, various different sports began to seek out their own distinctive sporting venues.
In 1742 horse racing was moved from St. Margaret's onto a new site to the south of the city. This area was later to become Victoria Park. The town was proud of its racecourse and in the nineteenth century a walkway up from the town centre was constructed which survives to this day as New Walk. At the end of the nineteenth century, talk began of moving the course to a new site further out of town at Oadby. In 1883 the move was approved but it was not a universally popular one. Indeed, from that time until comparatively recently, Victoria Park has often been referred to as the old racecourse.In 1825 cricket moved from St Margaret's Pastures to a new site at Wharf Street and then was moved again to Grace Road some fifty years later.
In the early years of the nineteenth century Leicester was one of the first towns in England to give thought to the idea of setting aside ground for distinctly recreational pursuits. This was a controversial idea at first but eventually Welford Road Recreation ground (Nelson Mandela Park) was opened to the public in 1839. Other 'recs' were to follow including Fosse Recreation Ground off Glenfield Road.
In the meantime, an amalgamation of three rugby clubs formed a single unit which became known as 'The Tigers'. By 1891, this group was occupying premises just across the road from Welford Road Rec. And of course, the history of the city football club and its transition from Filbert Street to King Power Stadium is well known.
Nowadays cricket and football, as well as a variety of other sports and pastimes, also take place in a wide range of city parks. But when St Margaret's Pastures was originally the sporting centre of Leicester, the idea of public parks was way ahead in the future. It was these public parks that proved popular locations for a range of bowling greens, tennis courts and playing field of various kinds.
Amazingly, there were those who argued that the idea of public parks would never catch on!Roger Blackmore