The Process and Products
What did people make and how did they make them? The main industries in Leicester created a vast number of different products and marketed them under many names. For each trade a vocabulary emerged to describe the work people did and these words and phrases became familiar to many people in the city. It is impossible to cover everything in this brief space, but this is a sample of the products created and the processes gone through to create them.
Immediately after the Second World War Leicester’s Official Industrial Handbook reported that the hosiery and knitwear industry produced the following: bathing costumes, beachwear, blouses, cardigans, coats, dresses, gloves, gowns, hats, jerseys, jumpers, neckties, nighties, pullovers, pyjamas, rompers, scarves, shawls, skirts, slippers, socks, stockings and suits.
Most knitted garments are the result a four stage process: preparing the yarn (wool, cotton and silk were the basic yarns until man made materials were introduced), knitting (using a variety of machines to create fabric from the yarn), making up (making the complete garment), and finishing (cleaning, dyeing, pressing, examining for flaws).
Words such as ‘Griswold’, ‘Linking’ and ‘Overlocking’ became familiar to thousands of people and a glossary of technical terms associated with the industry can be found on the Knitting Together website.
The 1990 book 'Knitting Together - Memories of Leicester's Hoisery Industry' can be viewed online here.
Leicester not only made footwear but it sold it as well, and its traditional reputation was for women’s and children’s footwear. Associated industries also flourished and eyelets, laces, heels, adhesives, waxes, inks, nails, rivets etc. were all made locally. For leather products there was also the process of treating the hides, tanning (treating with chemicals), staining, and finishing them so they were ready to be turned into footwear.
Taking a piece of leather and turning it into a shoe starts with cutting out the upper part of the shoe from a length of leather, either by hand or machine (known as ‘clicking’ because of the sound of the knives used). The individual parts of the upper part of the shoe are stitched together and are moulded using a plastic or wooden shoe-shaped mould called a ‘last’. The sole and inner sole are produced on cutting machines and then the upper and insole are joined by using a strip of material called a ‘welt’. Then heels can be attached. Finally, the shoe is ‘finished’ by trimming, staining, polishing, and fitting an internal sock that often has the manufacturer’s details.
This is a film about Equity Shoes produced by Wendy Freer of the Leicestershire Industrial History Society.
After the Second World War Leicester was producing a huge variety of complex machinery and products including; typewriters, electric vehicles, electric clocks, woodworking machinery, lenses and optical instruments, shoe machinery, hosiery machinery and printing. These engineering firms were supported by local foundries. Other engineering involved producing machinery for the quarrying industry, something that continues to this day.
The College of Technology was an important part of the story with many young apprentices training in engineering and moving into local industry.