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Made in Leicester
15-03-2017

I dig out a lot of interesting information from the little book 'Leicester and Neighbourhood' owned by my grandmother and published exactly one hundred and ten years ago.

The book estimates that at that time the Boot and Shoe industry hired more people than any other. Firms like Stead and Simpson used to recruit people from Stafford and Northampton to train local employees. The city was a great distribution centre for the boot and shoe trade throughout the country, employing nearly as many people in, what the book describes as, 'the fundamental trade of Leicester': namely  hosiery manufacture. The industry had been growing in the city (and several surrounding villages) since at least the seventeenth century and by the early 1900's several firms had over a thousand workers on their books.

FivewaysOne of West Leicester's important local employers was Montfort Knitting Mills which had a large factory on Tudor Road. Originally started in 1868, the company survived two World Wars, even posting record profits of nearly 1 million before it was absorbed into Palma Textiles Group in 1983. It closed soon after as the UK's mass textile industry died out.

Around the turn of the 20th century the printing industry established itself in the city. Products included picture postcards, fine letterpress and trade catalogues. The trade journal, the British Printer, was also printed and published locally and distributed all over the country.

Another new development in the early years of the twentieth century was the making of scientific instruments. This involved optical glass and lens making as well as machine tool manufacture.

Over twenty firms were involved in the making of cigars and cigarettes. This enterprise had sprung up in the 1850's and was flourishing in the early years of the last century.

From this analysis we can see that Leicester has long enjoyed enormous diversity when it came to sources of employment. Just after my grandmother's little book was written The Imperial Typewriter Company was formed which in time was to employ over 1700 men and women.

Thus 'Made In Leicester' became a label recognized all over the world.  

Roger Blackmore

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