The Turkey Cafe building has long survived the numerous regeneration projects in the city, not to mention the test of time.
The building itself was built it in 1901 by popular local architect Arthur Wakerley for restaurateur John Winn, whose office Wakerley was using as a temporary work space. Wakerley had already built several landmark buildings around the city on London Road, Highcross Street and High Street but the Turkey Cafe building on Granby Street was a special exception.
Winn already owned several restaurants in the city, each with different themes, and the turkey/ Turkish theme of the building contrasted heavily with his previous properties. Sadly, many of them did not survive both of the World Wars and the Turkey stands alone today. Winn’s ‘Oriental’ restaurant used to be situated just a stone’s throw away in the Market Place.
The Turkey’s cast iron building frame was carefully covered in matt-faced carraware tiles made especially by Royal Doulton, and their signature can be found at the foot of the turkey above the top window. The original tiles can be found both inside and outside the building, with the most precious and fragile examples carefully protected behind false walls put in by the current owners of the Turkey Cafe when they took over in 2004. These precious mosaics, murals and sculptures are a beautiful example of early Art Nouveau-style architecture and the prime reason why the building is a Grade 2 listed building.
From the 1700s onwards, Granby Street became a key part of Leicester’s growth as the main route from Leicester to London (which is why Granby Street has more listed buildings grouped together than any other part of the city). By the time of James I, the site now occupied by the Turkey Cafe was a ‘cockpit’, and then later the site was turned into an inn named ‘The Jolly Miller’, which stood proudly for many years opposite the post office on Bishop Street.
After finally becoming The Turkey Cafe building, the site has had various uses, from ice cream parlours, cafes, nightclubs and during the 1980s, part of the ‘Rayners’ opticians chain. It was during this time, in 1984, that the then owners commissioned a local Loughborough firm to restore some of the main features of the building, including the two stone turkeys that sit either side of the front doors.
The Turkey Cafe - Granby Street - Leicester - History