The city of Leicester is about as far from the sea as one can get in England. But one sweltering August day, when everyone else was heading down to the beaches, we were driving in the opposite direction so that I could fill in a long-troubling gap on my mental map of England. I had wanted to go to Leicester not just because I had never been there, but for a much more important reason—because it is projected to be the first city in England that will become majority ethnic minority.
As we progressed west, the land got warmer, as if we were driving into a moderate oven. Marshland became wolds, wolds fens, and fens the gently rolling Vale of Belvoir, Stilton-making and fox-hunting country, dominated by its neo-Gothic castle. We skirted the untidy edge of Melton Mowbray, the official home of the pork pie, and so on along increasingly congested roads into an unprepossessing Leicester city center.
We disembarked in a multistory carpark on Abbey Street, which commemorates the vanished Augustinian foundation of St. Mary of the Meadows, where Cardinal Wolsey arrived on the morning of November 26, 1530, telling the no doubt flustered abbot, “I am come to leave my bones among you”—which was astute of him, because he died that night. The abbey itself would not outlast him long.
John Wycliffe had previously left his bones in the county, George Fox would be born in Leicestershire some time later,...