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  • Most Odeon cinemas were designed by the office of the Birmingham architect Harry Weedon
  • The main auditorium could seat 2000 people comfortably
  • The Odeon hosted the European premiere of Sir Richard Attenborough’s biopic of Charlie Chaplin

Entertaining the nation

The Odeon was built during the “Golden Age of Hollywood” when actors like Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo were popular with cinema audiences. In the 1930s there were over 25 cinemas in Leicester and probably this one, built in 1938 by the Odeon organisation, was the grandest. Many of the Odeon cinemas were designed by the office of the Birmingham architect Harry Weedon and those from the 1930s had a modern art deco look to them. Leicester’s Odeon could seat 2,000 in comfort.

Odeon Cinema under construction 1937 (1)
The main auditorium under construction, 1937. Affective Digital Histories

Changing tastes

By the 1960s the Odeon had adapted to changing tastes and was hosting music concerts as well as showing films. The Rolling Stones played at the “Odeon Theatre” in 1964 and, in 1965, the Tamla Motown Revue featured the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, and Martha and the Vandellas. In 1993 the Odeon hosted the European première of Sir Richard Attenborough’s biopic of Charlie Chaplin.

An end and a beginning

By the 1980s the Odeon had been divided into four screens and was the only cinema in Leicester where people could book by telephone. In response to other, more modern, cinemas opening in the 1990s, the Odeon organisation built a new multiplex cinema at Freemans Common and the Odeon closed in 1997. For several years it stood empty until it was reopened in 2005 as “Athena”, an events venue that has restored the building to its former glory.

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Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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