The market town of Loughborough had been expanding rapidly during the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries as rural populations migrated to the town to work in its factories.
Situated in the middle of England with a good road, rail and canal network, Loughborough was becoming an important industrial centre. Its situation made it suitable to trade with both the North and the South of England.
In 1838, the churchwardens of All Saints Parish church decided that their bells needed recasting and put the job out to tender. The contract was won by John Taylor and Sons of Oxford providing that this re-casting should take place in Loughborough.
Consequently, in 1859 a purpose-built bell foundry was established in Freehold Street where it remains to this day. The poignant story of the losses endured by the a uent Taylor family mirrors the suffering of countless others, men and women of all social classes during the period of the Great War.
Other industries followed Taylors, especially on the back of the hosiery industry – The Nottingham Manufacturing Company, needlemakers such as Grudgings, the Brush, the Empress Works of Herbert Morris, Coltmans the boiler makers and Messengers, makers of conservatories.
Loughborough was famous for knitwear which employed many people. Cartwright and Warners (which became Towles), I and R Morley and Merino Spinning Mills on No ngham Road, Charles Lowe in Clarence Street, Wright’s Mill in Mill Street (now Market Street), G Braund in Woodgate and Handford and Millers were the chief employers. Clarkes Dyeworks in Devonshire Square, the Whitegate Dyeworks and Godkins in Meadow Lane employed dyers and finishers.
Apart from the larger industries there was an active commercial sector and smaller scale specialist ‘craft’ enterprises and family businesses. As the town grew some of these also extended out to some of the surrounding villages developing into larger scale industrial scale production units.
Loughborough had its own gas works off Greenclose Lane. Gas was the chief means of lighting in most houses either with a centre light or wall brackets in each room. The Corpora on also had its own electricity generating station situated in the Rushes. The station supplied the smaller factories with direct current. The larger firms like Morris and the Brush had their own generators with steam engines and boilers.
Life in the early part of the century was tough for many, there was widespread hardship and poverty: basic housing in the town centre consisting of ‘two up two downs’ with communal outside toilets that had been erected quickly to meet workers’ needs.
Many were located in a series of ‘courts’ around the centre of the town giving quite a tight or cramped feel to the area. Other areas such as Storer Road, Park Road and the Frederick Street area had more substantial housing built for the rising population of more skilled industrial workers and clerical, administrative and service providers.
Things were improving in Loughborough and there was a lively sense of community as can be seen from the 1911 Corona on celebration pictures. A. E. Shepherd wrote “The year 1914 began all bright and pointed towards the country being very prosperous. Trade was good and the standard of living was rising. Loughborough was recovering from the Brush Strike and trade generally in the town was very good.”
Mr Oswin who was born on Wharncliffe Road reports:
“Unemployment was almost unknown and life was ruled by the factory hooters, each one having its own individual note. By far the biggest employer was the Brush Works making tramcars, railway carriages and also electrical machinery. During the Great War, however, the Brush was employed in building fighter aeroplanes and these were flown from the Big Meadow by the Test Pilot, Teddy Barr, who eventually became landlord of the Golden Fleece. One of the planes was put on show in the Town Hall to encourage people to invest in War Savings… “
Loughborough, was strongly religious town with the churches of Emmanuel and All Saints full to capacity. Thanks to the foresight of Archdeacon Fearon and the Reverend Pi s of All Saints and the generosity of Edward Cartwright who provided land and other help, Holy Trinity Church was consecrated in 1878 and St Peter’s church on Storer Road in 1913. In those days before the welfare state, these churches provided social, spiritual and practical help to the populace in a way that is once again becoming familiar in the town. There were numerous chapels and other denominations. Many of the young soldiers would have attended church several times a week, twice for bible class on a Sunday, followed by the standard church services. Clubs such as the Band of Hope and the semi- military Church Army and the Church Lads’ Brigade were ever popular.
At the time of the 1911 census the population of the town was just under 23,000 people. Of course Loughborough was also the market centre of a large surrounding area of agricultural land and communities extending beyond Loughborough into the Forest, South Nottinghamshire, the Wolds, South East Derbyshire and the Soar Valley. Beyond that it was also known as a centre of entertainment, commerce and employment for outlying areas.
Here’s an amusing tale from one of the annual fairs before the war!
“The “Brooklyn Cake-Walk” was an instant hit and became a regular at the fair. ‘Hall’s Galloping Pigs’ performed, appropriately, in the Cattle Market. Jerry Thompson, “the 10 Stone Champion of the World” took on all comers. It was not unusual for over 1,000 people to travel from Shepshed to Loughborough on the last Saturday night of the fair. One year in the 1900s, over 500 people crammed into the last train back to Shepshed, overstraining the engine, which refused to budge. A shuttle service had to be organised to pick up the stranded revellers which operated un l well into the Sunday morning.”
Loughborough’s livestock market was also a lively place for interaction and no doubt attracted a fair few people to Loughborough’s town centre alehouses. The last pub on the Market Place (Loughborough is rare not to have one on its market place today) was the Nelson, prominent in photographs of the period because of its ‘half timbered’ appearance.
The war brought different attractions with patriotic gatherings and parades and a new recruiting band.
“During the 1914 -18 War a recruiting unit complete with bugle band was set up in the town. The band used to parade in the Market Place every day except Thursdays and Saturdays, with a view to attracting a en on to this recruiting drive. It was certainly an attraction for the children after school.”
“We used to sing patriotic songs at school during which our popular teacher, Mr Stagell, a former Barnsley FC footballer, left and we never saw him again. Private William Buckingham VC came on a recruiting drive and lodged across the road from us. He was an orphan from Countesthorpe Children’s Home and we were stunned when he was killed in action a fortnight a er leaving us. January 16th 1916 we had a blizzard that blew telegraph posts down in town.”
– an unnamed contributor from Loughborough As I Remember It.
So this busy industrial, market town with an emerging interest in further education, religiously inclined, par ally poverty ridden but improving, lively in its social offer, offering pretty much full employment was readily getting on with life when the call to arms came. It all began with reports in the Echo…