• Elastic webbing is used in a variety of products including braces, glove wrists, stocking tops, boot sides, hairnets, belts and suspenders
  • The Luke Turner factory in Henshaw Street is a listed building due to its cutting edge construction methods
  • In 1877 there were an incredible 47 elastic webbing producers in Leicester

Elastic webbing, a key ingredient

In the mid-19th century the manufacture of elastic webbing for boots, stockings, braces etc. was a very profitable business in Leicester. Elastic web is a material widely used in clothing, upholstery and other products. It is a woven rubber thread sometimes interwoven with cotton, wool or other fibres to provide elasticity.

The manufacture of elastic web in Leicester dates from 1839, when Caleb Bedells opened a factory in Southgate Street to produce a new and improved type of rubber webbing.

The rise and fall of an industry

From 1844 the process of vulcanisation of rubber vastly improved the raw material for elastic web and in the same year Archibald Turner founded his elastic web factory, the Bow Bridge Works, Leicester. The industry grew throughout the nineteenth century and by 1877 there were an incredible 47 elastic web manufacturers in the town! However, partly through changes in fashion and partly because manufacturers failed to involve themselves in research and development of new products, processes and machines, the industry declined towards the end of the nineteenth century. By 1902 there remained only 18 viable companies in operation, but one that survived – well into the twentieth century – was Luke Turner & Co.

Adverts for Luke Turner and E. Wykes Ltd. from the ‘Leicester Official Handbook 1954’

Luke Turner & Co. Ltd.

Supplying both the footwear industry and hosiery, the Luke Turner company extended the uses to which the material could be put – such as braids, cords, garters, corsetry, bandages, covered fine elastic for millinery, drapery, umbrellas, welts for underwear and kindred goods. One of their famous brand names was ‘Lion’.

The original factory in Grange Lane

Whilst many of the elastic web factory buildings have been demolished or changed usage, the Turner factory survives. The original 1862 factory built for Luke Turner & Company in Grange Lane with extensions into Deacon Street, covers a complete corner site. It contained a research department and a room with special looms for experimentation, trial and testing of new products, designs, material and colours. This progressive attitude kept the company in business with national and international markets.  In 1878 the company built another factory at Peterborough  and expansion in Leicester led to the building of a large, custom-built factory in 1893.   

Part of the Luke Tuner factory being demolished, 1970. Vanished Leicester at the University of Leicester

A new factory designed for productivity

A double row of cast-iron columns runs centrally through each floor of the factory providing a central aisle, so that machines and processes could be accommodated on each side, with benefit of considerable natural light and cross ventilation from the large expanses of glazed wall.  The exterior walls are the factory’s most unusual feature and appear to be unique, at least in Leicester, and far ahead of their time. The vast window walls are only subdivided by narrow, undecorated cast-iron struts and lateral girders holding the floors. The narrowness of the struts permits maximum light into the interior. Because of its cutting edge design and for being one of the earliest iron-frame examples in the UK it is listed, preserving it for future generations.

Luke Turner - a prominent citizen

Luke Turner died in 1897. He had been a substantial figure in the life of the town; he was considered of considerable standing in Anglican religious and educational circles. Amongst many local dignitaries who attended his funeral, were the Mayor and the incumbents of four major Leicester churches.

After Luke Turner’s death, his sons carried on the business until 1941 when it was taken over by Penn Elastics, an American-owned firm. The factory closed in 1974 and since then it has been restored and re-purposed into residential apartments.

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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