Highfields consists of 'a rich array of Victorian housing from grand gothic villas with carved stonework to humble workers terraces of simple brick.' (Janette
Brown). Initially, Conduit, Glebe and Prebend Streets were constructed by the Church Commissioners as a high-class development. Originally located in the East Field of the borough, the name obtained to Highfields House, acquired with adjacent lands by the property developer T. M. Evans
between 1860 and 1872 for his intention to promote the area as a middle-class development. In the 1860s, the expansion consisted only of Lincoln, Seymour and Hobart Streets, but more rapid development ensued in the
1870s and 1880s.
The objective of the developers of the southern part of Highfields - from the Church Commissioners to the speculative builders - was the formation of a 'prestigious urban suburb conveniently located near Leicester's ... centre.' (Brown), represented by the villas in Saxby, Tichborne, Highfield and Gotham Streets. The cachet of the development was subsequently, however, diminshed for a number of reasons.
Despite the erection of the new Workhouse on Conduit Street under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, opened in 1839, and the construction of the railway through to the original station in Campbell Street, aspiration was strong for a higher-class development. In contrast, the introduction of the Anglican Collegiate School for the Church Commissioners in 1836 raised expectations for the development of the southern area of Highfields. Before the 1850s, the limited development conformed to that concept, the view from Glebe Street to New Walk apparently uninterrupted, Highfield House occupied by Joseph Whetstone, mayor, and John Corah, the successful industrialist inhabiting property adjoining Highfield Street.
Paradoxically, one of the constraining influences was the Church Commissioners (Ecclesiastical Commissioners), aspiring to
high-status, but limited development, thus releasing the important area of Prebend Street to London Road onto the housing market only
reluctantly. Moreover, the diversity of other landowners in the area resulted in the piecemeal development of land by speculative builders in small blocks, often fewer than five houses, demeaning the
uniformity of standard.|
From the middle of the century, the status of the area was further diminished by the migration of the wealthy to Stoneygate, so that south Highfields became a concentration for lower middle-class housing. Evans attempted to impose regulation and standards through covenants in building leases: a minimum rental value of £25; restrictions on uses of the buildings; and conformity of external design; all representing 'a serious attempt to set and maintain standards for the whole estate.' (Potts). From the 1880s, however, further expansion of the whole of Highfields extended to artisanal housing, dividing the area into a declining middle-class southern area and an outer area of artisanal housing.
Graham Potts, 'The creation of Highfields, Leicester' (unpublished paper, 1970: Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Pamphlet Box 19B).
Janette Brown, 'South Highfields, Leicester: the evolution of a suburb, 1891-1991' (unpublished M.A. dissertation, Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester, 1994, to which this account is greatly indebted).