Leicester At Work
The rise and fall of industry in the city
This part of the Story of Leicester website is about the people, the buildings, the things people made, how they made them, and the different industries that have shaped Leicester.
People have been making things in Leicester as far back as the Romans but the most obvious visual evidence of industry in the city comes from the mid-19th century onwards in the form of factories and warehouses.
From the early 19th century to the end of the 20th century the main industries in Leicester were hosiery (covering many forms of clothing), footwear and engineering that supported these industries. Names such as Corah, Wolsey, Bentley, Stibbe, the British United Shoe Machinery Company and the British Shoe Corporation were well known nationally and internationally, and provided work for many of Leicester's citizens. Other industries in Leicester included food production, elastic webbing, typewriters, lenses, printing and many others.
However, in the last quarter of the 20th century a combination of foreign competition, the takeover of small family firms by larger companies and economic downturn all contributed to the demise of these companies. Indeed, for many of these businesses the first signs of decline came in the economic crisis of the early 1970s, although some of Leicester's major companies continued trading into the 1990s and later. Now, in the 21st century, only a very few of these ‘big’ names remain in business. There are well-known names such as Next, Dunelm, Bostik, Walkers and a host of companies involved in manufacture and engineering, but the giants of the past are no more.
Industry has not left Leicester, as there are still many things that are made in the city, but the hustle and bustle of factories and workshops in the centre of Leicester is now a thing of the past (of course, this is true for many cities in the UK). This ‘rise and fall’ of industry in the city has left a legacy of buildings and places that have been shaped by industrial activity. Often these buildings have been adapted for other uses such as offices, flats or places of religious worship. There are also many thousands of people who remember what it was like to work in thriving factories and live in a city that once claimed to ‘clothe the world’.
Use the links below or the left hand menu to explore the different areas of industry: