Paradoxically, I live in a modern house in a conservation area called “Knighton Village”. Some of the houses at the top of the road are over a hundred years old and they have interesting doors.
Back in the industrial wasteland, north of Leicester city centre, there is the huge Corah Factory. Nathanial Corah started his hosiery business in the 19th century and took advantage of government contracts to expand the business. Corah provided knitted goods for soldiers in both world wars. It was the first firm to contract with Marks & Spencer in the 1920s to provide knitwear. At its heyday in 1969, Corah employed almost seven thousand workers. The main factory was close to St Margaret’s church and an image of the church became Corah’s registered trademark.
The building is partially dilapidated, but small companies still occupy units in the complex.
In this part of the city you can find Watling Street. This is not the historic Roman road between Dover and Wroxeter, passing over the River Thames at London, and forming the county border between Warwickshire and Leicestershire; it leads to Abbey Footbridge over the Grand Union Canal.
Leicester was the centre of the hosiery and knitwear industry from 1800 – 1970. Border Leicester and Bluefaced Leicester sheep provided excellent white wool. The River Soar drove the mills until the mid 19th century, when steam-powered machinery was introduced by Richard Mitchell. Miners dug coal from Coalville (where else?). The Grand Union Canal transported garments and stockings to market, until the railway network took over. Subsidiary industries grew up, specialising in manufacturing machinery, spinning high quality wool and worsted yarn, bleaching and dyeing factories.
Imported clothing, made with synthetic materials using cheap labour, caused the decline of the hosiery industry in Leicester 50 years ago. The “dark satanic mills” closed down, some falling into disrepair, others being converted into apartments or small business units.
When the dreary, grey, rain-sodden weather of February finally evolved into sunshine in early March, we wandered through the industrial heritage of the city centre and photographed some doors.
Next to Bryan’s, the Stibbe Company built knitting machinery in Maxim House, but the factory was demolished twenty years ago. It was famous for making circular knitting and seamless hosiery machinery.
Many thanks to Leicester City Council, which provided the heritage walk route with information about the buildings, that I used in the captions.