The changing face of St Margaret’s in Leicester

I recently came across some research I did on my Wigstons in Leicestershire and thought it might be worth sharing.

‘My’ Wigston was Thomas aged 47, living in Luke Street to the East of St Margaret’s church, as listed in the 1871 census.

First of all I tracked down a contemporary map as close to the 1871 as I could and in the Leicestershire County Record office I found a clear street map of 1874. This showed the location as being on the outskirts of Leicester. I then looked on Google maps to see a comparison but sadly Luke Street had not survived. However by looking at the Google satellite view I could see the area had been modernised and the edge of a building was aligned with what would have been Luke Street. By then looking at Google Street View I could see the area was a real mixture of Victorian and 1930s run down derelict buildings alongside modern buildings.

I then decided to visit the area and it became clear that the new building that had replaced Thomas’ Luke Street was a univeristy building. The blue arrow denotes where Luke Street would have run before being replaced by this buidling.

luke-street

My next step was to visit the Leicestershire Record Office and by tracking Luke Street through the electoral roll I determined that Luke Street disappeared between 1967 and 1984.

My next port of call was online research and it became apparent that between 1835 and 1860 Thomas’ St Margarets became built up and one of the area’s most important factories, Corah’s St Margaret’s works, was built and grew over time. The initial plans devised a scheme for the construction of premises on an immense scale: the main warehouses was 160 feet long and 50 feet wide. The rear was an even larger building, the factory, the dimensions of which were 294 by 80 feet. The 140-foot chimney was attached to the factory. The works were driven by a large steam powered beam engine, which was started for the first time on 13 July 1865.

By 1866, over one thousand people were working at St Margaret’s, and the buildings had been extended twice. Our Thomas Wigston by the 1901 census had moved but stayed within the parish. One can only think he moved because of the approaching industrialised development or was forced out to make room for progress.

Originally, a factory yard stretched north as far as the canal but by 1941 there had been no less than nineteen extensions to the original building taking up all available land.

The economic hardships of the years following the 1st World War took their toll on the Corah operation.  After years of consistent expansion, the company faced their first experience of decline. By 1936, various branch operations in Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and London had closed, production being centred on Leicestershire.  Profit margins were reduced and overheads cut.  The firm was managing to survive, but their saviour came in the form of Marks and Spencer.

Into the 1960s, Corah’s employed over 6,000 workers, making it one of the largest factories in the city. But the UK hosiery industry fell into severe difficulties following the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s. It may have been that Luke Street may have been swallowed up by further development in it’s hey day or was sold off to help ride the hard times of the recession. Corah’s and its competitors were faced with changing tastes and foreign competition. It had to borrow to reinvest at the same time as having to keep prices low – and, in the inflationary 1970s – pay their workers more.

Corah lost its last link with the founding family in 1989 and in the same year it was sold to Australian corporate raider Charterhall and was broken up shortly afterwards after Charterhall crashed to a huge loss. By the 1990s the factory had closed.

Armed with this interesting information, I then wanted to see how the development of this factory so close to Luke Street would have had on the area. By googling and digging a bit deeper it appears that there is quite a lot of information about Corah’s available including maps and plans. The Univeristy of Leicester site was useful showing a 1939 diagram of the factory with what would have had Luke Street in the bottom left hand corner. The site also has a 1959 staff handbook showing the inside plan of the factory.

corah-floor-plan

Title
Welcome to Corahs’, Employees’ Handbook, 1959
Created by
N . Corah & Sons Ltd

It does not show Luke Street so my thoughts are that by this time it had been reduced to a minor cut through between the car park and the cycle park.

By checking on Ordnance Survey street level maps for 1953 and 1973, along with the earlier electoral roll details, I deduced that Luke Street was demolished between 1967 and 1973.

Sadly, today the area is derelict and run down but it clearly demonstrates the ebb and flow of urbanisation which has always happened and always will.

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