Part 2: AD 1700 to Present Day

A photograph of the thick smog created by factories and domestic chimneys over Leicester. This view is looking across Aylestone.

A photograph of the thick smog created by factories and domestic chimneys over Leicester. This view is looking across Aylestone.

Industrial Revolution

By 1700 Leicester’s knitting industry had grown out of its woollen trade. Stocking making was carried out in homes rather than in factories until steam engines turned the skyline into as sea of smoking chimneys. Canal and rail transport enabled goods made in Leicester to be transported across the globe. Leicester became a wealthy city, one of the “workshops of the world”.

Much of the City was re-built and old buildings swept away. From 1861 to 1901 its population increased from 68,000 to 212,000. With employment available in commerce, building trades, hosiery, textiles, footwear and engineering, people from across the British Isles made Leicester their home.

With prosperity came a desire to learn about the world. Our two universities, museums and libraries all began in this era. It also saw the start of the modern travel industry, when in 1841 Thomas Cook organised a train excursion from Leicester and Loughborough.

Crowds of Leicester residents at the Magazine Gateway - presently Newarke Street runs through this exact spot.

Crowds of Leicester residents at the Magazine Gateway - presently Newarke Street runs through this exact spot.

20th Century

In 1919 Leicester was granted city status, and gained a cathedral in 1927, reflecting its rapid growth in previous years.

By Queen Victoria's death in 1901 the rapid population growth of the previous decades had begun to slow and the Great War of 1914–18 and its aftermath had a marked social and economic impact. Leicester's wide range of industries meant it was better placed than many cities to weather the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. By that time too it was benefitting from incoming eastern European Jewish communities, fleeing from persecution, which brought prosperity through their international business links.

During World War II, Leicester made an immense amount of footwear and clothing for the troops. Corah’s hosiery works alone produced 17.5 million pairs of socks. An air-raid in 1940 was the first serious attack on the city for nearly 300 years. 

Highcross Shopping Centre Leicester, opened on 4th September 2008. Very much a part of modern Leicester.

Highcross Shopping Centre Leicester, opened on 4th September 2008. Very much a part of modern Leicester.

Modern Leicester

After the war more new communities came to Leicester, from Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent. Leicester welcomed many Asian families after their expulsion from Uganda in 1972. In the years since then the city welcomed many more new communities, including from war-torn regions of the world, making their homes alongside people who have come to work here from across the UK and people who can trace their family connections back to this area for generations. 

The continuing Story of Leicester is the story of a rich and diverse culture, with a retail heart and a busy market place connecting with an old town and heritage, waterside and green spaces.