A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
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Social and Administrative History 1660–1835
Leicester in the 1660's, p. 153. Local Government and Administration, p. 160. The Town Fields, p. 165. The Occupations of the People, p. 166. The Relief of Poverty, p. 187. The Leicester Newspapers, p. 189. The Growth of Leicester, 1670–1835, p. 191.
Leicester in the 1660s
To the old and raged citty of Licester, large and pleasantly seated, but despicably built, the chimnies flues like so many smiths' forges.' So wrote John Evelyn when he visited Leicester in August 1654. (fn. 1) A more graphic account was given by Thomas Baskerville of his visit to the town during the reign of Charles II, possibly in 1675: (fn. 2)
As to Leicester, it is now an old stinking town; situated upon a dull river inhabited for the most part by tradesmen, viz. worsted combers and clothiers, for the streets being then a sweeping and cleansing against the judges coming in the next morning the stinking puddles of — and water being then stirred, made me go spewing through all the streets as I went to see it, yet it hath formerly been a town of good remark for here is an ancient house or palace called the Duke of Lancaster's palace, (fn. 3) as also a large hospital built by some of these dukes, (fn. 4) and an old piece of building which they call Janus's temple. (fn. 5) Here is also an old bridge over the river which they call Richard III's bridge (fn. 6) by which some say he is buried. Here are in the town five churches, of which three as I remember have handsome spires, and are to be seen a good distance from the town. The 'Red Lion' where we lay is the best and greatest inn of the town, and was then taken up by the sheriff and his men; it hath in it a gallery or dining room of great length with a long table in it to entertain people, the floor of it, which was the first I saw of that kind, being made of plaster, like that of Paris.
Twenty years later Celia Fiennes visited the town, and gave a more favourable picture: (fn. 7)
Leicester town stands on the side of a little rising ground, though at a distance from the adjacent hills it looks low, but it's a good prospect. It has four gates, the streets are pretty large and well pitched, there are five parishes. The Market Place is a large space very handsome with a good Market Cross and Town Hall. (fn. 8) The town is old timber building except one or two of brick. There is indeed that they call the Newark which is encompassed with a wall of good thickness and two great gates with towers as the town gates are; in which they keep their arms and ammunition. The walls are now only to secure gardens that are made of the ruined places that were buildings of strength. In this Newark which is a large piece of ground are severall good houses some of stone and brick in which some lawyers live ffrank; there is also a new pile of building all of brick which is the Guild Hall (fn. 9) where the assizes are kept twice in the yeare and the sessions quarterly. St. Martin's church is one of the biggest—there is none very big and none fine. They have a water-house and a water mill to turn the water in deep leaden tubbs or cisterns for their use: there are wells in some streets to draw water by a hand wheele for the common use of the town.
Such were the varying impressions made on three visitors to the town in the second half of the 17th century. In 1660 the borough's houses extended well beyond the walls. The walls were still standing in 1645 though they were not fit to withstand any determined assault; (fn. 10) and after the Restoration there seems to have been no attempt to repair the ravages of the siege. The exact condition of the walls varied considerably from place to place, but they were surrounded by a ditch which was not completely filled up until the middle of the 18th century. (fn. 11)
In 1660 (fn. 12) the general plan of Leicester was still that of the medieval town. (fn. 13) The line of the walls and of the roads leading out of the town, the continuing influence of the siting of the dissolved religious houses, and the nature of the town's site all prevented drastic changes. By 1660 the relatively simple pattern in which trade and traffic had converged on the centre of the walled area was being altered. The centre of gravity was shifting eastwards from the High Cross towards the Saturday market place and the East Gate, where it has remained ever since. The background to this eastward move is obscure, but several factors in it seem to have been the relative decline of the castle in the life of the town, the greater activity of the Saturday market in the south-east quarter of the town at the expense of the Wednesday market around the High Cross, and changes in the directions of the main roads leading into the town from the north and south, which tended to reduce the value of the central position of the High Cross. (fn. 14) While medieval traffic from Loughborough and the north followed the left bank of the Soar and used the North Bridge and the North Gate to approach the centre of Leicester, (fn. 15) by the end of the 17th century the normal route ran along the left bank of the Soar only as far as the village of Belgrave where the Soar was crossed and the approach to Leicester made by Belgrave Gate and the East Gate. (fn. 16) In the south there were changes of no less importance. The main road to London in medieval times emerged from the South Gate and led almost due south to Welford and Northampton, but by 1660 the normal route was the present London Road leaving Leicester by Gallowtree Gate, and linking a number of substantial villages on its way to Market Harborough. (fn. 17)
The effect of these changes in the major approaches to Leicester was very important in the growth of the town. The north of it became a backwater, and although the High Cross continued to receive all the west-bound traffic, the centre of gravity was shifted to the streets outside the East Gate (Gallowtree Gate, Belgrave Gate, and Humberstone Gate) and to the Saturday market place nearby. The great coaching inns of the 18th century (fn. 18) were mainly in this area, and it is still the focal point of the modern city. The estates in the borough of the Dominican, Franciscan, and Augustinian friaries passed into lay hands at the Dissolution but were not built on for some time. The lands of the Black Friars in the north-west quarter of the town and those of the Augustinian Friars across the West Bridge were, it is true, on low-lying ground which was unattractive for new building as long as better sites were still available, as they were in the 18th century. The boundaries of these open spaces can still be picked out on maps as late as 1828. (fn. 19) The Grey Friars land was in a much better position for conversion into building plots, since it lay very near the commercial heart of the town. Even so, it was not until 1711 that the legacy of Grey Friars was split up and part of it set aside to form a new street. (fn. 20) By 1720 building had begun, and by the end of the century a whole block of handsome Georgian houses, many of which are still standing, graced the narrow flanks of the New Street. (fn. 21)
Perhaps the most obvious features of Leicester at the end of the 17th century and in the early 18th century was the concentration of building in quite a small part of the former walled area. (fn. 22) Rather more than half of the walled area of about 160 acres was devoid of any building at all. This was in the northern part of the town, where there were only orchards and gardens and the 'back lanes' which led to them or linked up the rows of houses along Churchgate, High Street, and Sanvey Gate. This was the part of Leicester in which two medieval parishes, St. Peter's and St. Michael's, had existed in addition to the surviving one of All Saints'. (fn. 23) By 1670 the part of the town which lay to the north of the Swinesmarket, Belgrave Gate, and St. Nicholas' contained only a quarter of the total population. (fn. 24) The uneven distribution was partly caused by the nature of the town's site. Like most other settlements in the Soar valley, Leicester has as its foundation a gravel river-terrace which ensures for it a dry site well away from the flood-plain of the Soar. The castle, the High Cross, St. Martin's, and St. Nicholas' all stand on a gravel bench rising abruptly some 15 to 30 feet above the flood-plain, which was at its narrowest at the West Bridge, where an easy crossing was possible and a bridge practicable. To the north and south of this dry and well-drained site the ground falls to the alluvium of the Soar or its tributaries. The greater part of the 17th-century town was therefore built on dry and healthy foundations well above river level and the land to the east and south-east. In the north the boundary between the older river gravels and the alluvium is less well defined. (fn. 25) No more than a few feet separate St. Margaret's Church from the level of the river, and the North Gate is little higher than the river level above the North Mills, though High Cross Street (the old High Street) occupies a spur of rising ground as far north as All Saints' Church. (fn. 26) All the land to the north of Sanvey Gate and some of that which lay within the North Gate must have been subjected to fairly frequent flooding in the days when the Soar was unregulated. Occasional references in the borough records suggest this, as, for example, in 1672 when a case of drowning in the floods in North Gate was brought to the attention of the corporation, and in 1744 when it was thought necessary to raise and level the pavement in part of Church Gate. (fn. 27) As long as Leicester remained a small town of some 4,000 to 6,000 people there could have been little incentive to build in these unattractive parts of the town. When it did begin to expand, it grew in the direction of the main approaches rather than spreading over the orchards and closes which were liable to occasional flooding or belonged to charities which were either unwilling to sell their property or unable to grant building leases.
In 1660, then, from the West Bridge and the ruins of the castle overlooking the Soar to the bustling inns which had recently grown up about the East Gate, a cluster of inns, churches, and public buildings picked out the river gravel-terrace at a point where it was highest, driest, and closest to the River Soar. Trade, wealth, and activity were focused here around the Market Place and the points at which the main roads into the town converged. This was undoubtedly the core of Leicester. Other evidence than can be culled from contemporary maps or such records as yield topographical information is hardly needed to substantiate that fact, but the same sources tell us comparatively little of the quality of building, the density of population, or the wealth of the inhabitants in the rest of the town.
In the late 17th century the town was divided into ten wards, all within or adjacent to the walled area. (fn. 28) Two wards lay beyond the north wall, and two others immediately beyond the east wall. Besides the ten wards, three other parts of the town were included in the hundreds of the county, and were outside the borough for administrative purposes, though their exact position was the subject of much dispute. Abbey Gate to the northwest of the walled area was in West Goscote hundred, the Bishop's Fee to the east was in Gartree hundred, and in the south-west of the town, Leicester castle with the Newarke was in Guthlaxton hundred. (fn. 29) None of these three districts was populous, and they accounted for only 79 of the 1,024 households recorded in the borough in 1670, but together with the four wards already mentioned they brought the total of recorded households outside the walls at that date to 423, or just over 42 per cent. (fn. 30)
The hearth-tax returns of 1670 (fn. 31) are a valuable directory of the borough's inhabitants, and an indication of their wealth. Here are enumerated the heads of households in the ten wards of the borough and in the three liberties, together with the numbers of their hearths. They are not only the most complete directory of the borough's inhabitants for any date before the 19th century, (fn. 32) but also provide evidence about the distribution of wealth in the city, and the relative opulence or poverty of the different wards. They also reveal to some extent the wealth of the ruling class, the mayors and members of the corporation. The distribution of the 1,024 households listed is shown in Table I. The total may represent a population of about 5,000, though such a figure is of course at best only an approximation. Leicester's population had grown from about 3,480 (fn. 33) in 1600, while that of the surrounding countryside had remained more or less constant. (fn. 34) The distribution of wealth in the borough as exemplified in the hearth tax returns is shown in Table II. The classification of householders in this table is intended to indicate the size of the different classes in so far as they occupied houses in accordance with their economic and social position. Of the 1,024 households, 537, or 52 per cent., had only one hearth. Of these 281 were exempt from the tax. These are the undoubted poor, who are called 'paupers' in some hearth-tax returns. (fn. 35) The remaining 256 persons with 1 hearth were not 'paupers', but were probably members of the ordinary labouring population. The next group, those with 2 hearths, numbered 175, or 17 per cent. of the total. Those with 1 or 2 hearths include some who can be indentified as artisans or tradesmen who were freemen of the borough. For example, Jerman Pegg, who was taxed on 2 hearths in Alderman Noble's ward, was a joiner and a freeman; (fn. 36) Roger Lewin, taxed on 2 hearths in Alderman Callis's ward, was a butcher and a freeman; (fn. 37) William Walker, taxed on 1 hearth in Alderman Baker's ward, was a cooper and a freeman. (fn. 38)
Table I: Distribution of Households, 1670
|Ward or Liberty (fn. 623)||Households taxed||Households exempt (fn. 624)||Total of households|
|1. Mr. Allsop's ward||49||26||75|
|2. Mr. Callis's ward||70||20||90|
|3. Mr. Noble's ward||35||2||37|
|4. Mr. Baker's ward||86||2||88|
|5. Mr. Deacon's ward||82||9||91|
|6. Mr. Southwell's ward||28||35||63|
|7. Mr. Palmer's ward||114||45||159|
|8. Mr. Clay's ward||64||17||81|
|9. Mr. Townsend's ward||60||25||85|
|10. Mr. Overinge's ward||93||83||176|
|11. Bishop's Fee||32||0||32|
|12. Abbey Gate||13||17||30|
|13. Castle and Newarke||17||0||17|
Table II: Number of Hearths in relation to Households, 1670
|Ward or Liberty (fn. 625)||Number of householders returned as having||Total|
|1 hearth||2 hearths||3–5 hearths||6–9 hearths||10 or more hearths|
|1. Mr. Allsop's ward||43||13||14||4||1||75|
|2. Mr. Callis's ward||49||18||19||4||0||90|
|3. Mr. Noble's ward||4||14||13||4||2||37|
|4. Mr. Baker's ward||23||17||37||8||3||88|
|5. Mr. Deacon's ward||21||21||36||11||2||91|
|6. Mr. Southwell's ward||62||1||0||0||0||63|
|7. Mr. Palmer's ward||103||22||29||4||1||159|
|8. Mr. Clay's ward||32||16||24||8||1||81|
|9. Mr. Townsend's ward||53||21||9||2||0||85|
|10. Mr. Overinge's ward||112||23||32||8||1||176|
|11. Bishop's Fee||8||7||12||3||2||32|
|12. Abbey Gate||25||1||3||1||0||30|
|Total||537||175||236||58||18||1,024 (fn. 19)|
Above such people were those living in houses with from 3 to 5 hearths. Altogether they numbered 236, or 23 per cent. of the householders. They may be regarded as people more or less comfortable in their economic circumstances. They included several ex-mayors and future mayors, whose occupations included those of baker, brewer, fellmonger, apothecary, and woollen draper. (fn. 39) Above these again is a group of 58 householders, including many members and future members of the corporation, occupying houses of from 6 to 9 hearths. (fn. 40) The highest class, with 10 hearths or more, numbered only 18. Prominent in this group were several innholders, (fn. 41) but it also naturally included the most successful men of business in the town. (fn. 42) Rather more than 7 per cent. of the whole number of householders recorded were taxed on 6 or more hearths.
The hearth-tax returns of 1670 therefore suggest that of perhaps 5,000 people in Leicester, rather more than half were of the labouring class, some 40 per cent. were in a somewhat better position, and about 7 per cent. formed an upper class of men who were comparatively wealthy. (fn. 43)
For this period the register of admissions to the freedom of the borough, mostly by apprenticeship, is a valuable guide to the relative importance of the different occupations, within certain limits. (fn. 44) During the decade 1660–9 there were 238 admissions to the freedom, drawn from 49 different trades (see Table III). There were 23 butchers, 19 tailors, 17 cordwainers, 15 slaters, plasterers, and tallow-chandlers, 15 mercers, 13 bakers, 12 fellmongers, and 10 blacksmiths. (fn. 45) During the decade 1670–9 there were 205 admissions, drawn from 46 trades. Among these were 23 tailors, 16 cordwainers, 15 bakers, 15 fellmongers, and 13 butchers. (fn. 46) There are eleven trades in the 1660–9 list which do not appear in the 1670–9 list, whilst in the latter there are eight new trades, of which the most important is that of hosier, which first appears in 1677. (fn. 47) Leicester emerges clearly as a town with no predominant industry or trade. It was economically a well mixed community with a wide variety of trades producing consumer goods, and it was still a market-town with a strong agricultural character.
Table III: Occupations of freemen of the borough admitted 1660–79 (fn. 48)
|Number of admissions||Percentage of total admissions||Number of admissions||Percentage of total admissions|
|Textile manufacture (fn. 626)||25||11||28||14|
|Clothing trades (fn. 627)||56||23||48||24|
|Food and drink trades||48||20||44||21|
|Building and metal-working crafts||36||15||20||10|
|Retail and trade||9||4||7||3|
The social importance of the different occupations during the late 17th century can best be ascertained by an analysis of the trades followed by the mayors and by the members of the Twenty-four and the Forty-eight. There were three successive mayors in 1661, 1662, and 1663 who were woollen drapers, (fn. 49) but from 1664 onwards there are no instances of two consecutive mayors being drawn from the same trade. (fn. 50) Among the aldermen of the Twenty-four in 1660 there were no fewer than 7 mercers and 3 woollen drapers. Altogether 12 different trades were represented among the aldermen. (fn. 51) Among the councilmen of the Forty-eight in 1660, there were 9 mercers and 5 butchers, but 24 different trades were represented. (fn. 52) The mercers were thus the most prominent amongst the socially important trades, but no single occupation was really predominant.
Table IV: Distribution of Hearths, 1670
|Ward or Liberty (fn. 628)||Hearths||Households||Average number of hearths per household|
|Taxed||Exempt (fn. 629)||Total|
|1. Mr. Alsopp's ward||135||26||161||75||2.1|
|2. Mr. Callis's ward||159||20||179||90||2.0|
|3. Mr. Noble's ward||145||2||147||37||4.0|
|4. Mr. Baker's ward||287||2||289||88||3.3|
|5. Mr. Deacon's ward||337||9||346||91||3.8|
|6. Mr. Southwell's ward||29||35||64||63||1.0|
|7. Mr. Palmer's ward||246||45||291||159||1.8|
|8. Mr. Clay's ward||198||17||215||81||2.6|
|9. Mr. Townsend's ward||112||25||137||85||1.6|
|10. Mr. Overinge's ward||260||83||343||176||1.9|
|11. Bishop's Fee||114||0||114||32||3.6|
|12. Abbey Gate||27||17||44||30||1.5|
|13. Castle and Newarke||96||0||96||17||5.6|
The 1670 hearth-tax return is useful also in giving information about the relative size of houses. Table IV shows the distribution of hearths, taxed and untaxed, among the wards. For the borough as a whole 2,426 hearths are enumerated, taxed and untaxed, giving an average of 2.4 hearths per household, compared with 2.6 recorded at Exeter at a similar assessment in 1672. (fn. 53) Of the 2,426 hearths in the town, 2,145 were taxed and 281 were discharged from payment on the ground of the householders' poverty. The 281 householders thus discharged, each assessed on one hearth only, formed 27 per cent. of the total number of householders recorded in the borough in 1670, compared with nearly 40 per cent. similarly discharged at Exeter in 1672. (fn. 54) The preceding table shows that at Leicester, as at Exeter, (fn. 55) wards fell into definite groups when considered from the point of view of their wealth. Six wards at Leicester were well above the average, six well below, and one about average. Southwell's ward was by far the poorest; it lay outside the walls, on both sides of Sanvey Gate, from St. Margaret's Church to Northgate. (fn. 56) Only 1 of the 63 households in the ward had more than 1 hearth. Leicester castle, with the Newarke, was the wealthiest part of the town; only 4 of the 17 households there had fewer than 4 hearths, and most of the householders were designated 'Mr.' in the returns, possibly a sign of a relatively high social status.
With the restoration of Charles II came the restoration of the Anglican church. That the dissenters at Leicester, a strongly Puritan town under the Commonwealth, did not submit quietly can be seen from the calendar of prisoners for March 1666, which contains a list of seven persons detained 'for suspicion of breaking into the parish church of St. Martin's in the said borough, and defilinge the communion vessells with their excrements'. (fn. 57) For the sessions of April and September 1666 there were many cases of persons tried for not attending divine service, (fn. 58) and in 1670–1 Robert Atton, one of the Forty-eight, was dismissed for reasons which included his refusal to come to church on Sundays. (fn. 59)
Local Government and Administration
In 1660 the corporation of Leicester consisted of the mayor, 24 aldermen, and 48 councilmen. The mayor was always chosen from the Twenty-four, and the two chamberlains, who were in charge of the corporation's finances, were chosen from the Fortyeight. The town officials included two bailiffs, (fn. 60) the town clerk, the recorder, the town solicitor, the steward, and a retinue of mace-bearers, common sergeants, and other minor functionaries. (fn. 61) Ten of the aldermen were appointed by the corporation to administer the ten wards, assisted by a constable and a thirdborough for each ward. (fn. 62) There were also various commissions and committees, usually consisting of the mayor and chamberlains with several other members, set up temporarily or permanently to carry out certain definite functions; there were, for example, at various dates committees for letting the town lands, for regulating the South Field, for markets, finance, and pavements. (fn. 63) At the beginning of this period the mayor was receiving a salary of £40 a year, which by 1835 had risen to £242 4s. 10d. The mayoralty naturally involved the expenditure of money and time, especially as the volume of business continually increased. The finances were in the hands of the two unpaid chamberlains, who were appointed annually. Frequently the office involved its holders in financial loss, and there were often long delays in making the yearly audit. The great amount of work which fell to these honorary officers, who though often conscientious were not always efficient, meant that they relied a great deal upon the corporation's professional officials, who thus acquired great influence in the conduct of municipal affairs. (fn. 64)
Thomas Baskerville's description of the rough and insanitary state of Leicester's streets, as they were at the time of his visit in the reign of Charles II, has already been quoted. (fn. 65) The responsibility for street repairs rested primarily on the owners of property fronting the streets, and on the parishes in cases where the owners failed to take effective action. (fn. 66) The corporation in its public capacity had no responsibility for street repairs, but as the owner of a great deal of property in the town it was liable for the repair of the streets upon which its property abutted, (fn. 67) and orders were frequently given for the repair of streets for which the corporation was responsible. (fn. 68) In addition the corporation at times made contributions in the general interest for repair of street surfaces, the widening of streets, the building of culverts, and the removal of obstructions. (fn. 69) In 1697 the aldermen of the wards were ordered to call the constables to their assistance to inspect their wards 'to see how the streets are kept in repair, and to cause the constables to take an account of in writing of the persons that make neglect'. In 1716, and again in 1730, the alderman, with their constables, were ordered to inspect their wards, noting which streets were out of repair and what parts of the highways ought to be maintained by the corporation. (fn. 70) In addition the corporation at times made contributions ex gratia for the repair of street surfaces, the construction of new streets, the widening of street culverts. (fn. 71) The corporation's actions in financing street repairs and improvements were sometimes less generous than appears at first sight. At times contributions were made to the cost of repairs only on condition that for the future the parish involved would bear the whole responsibility for the street in question, and the corporation was sometimes actuated by a desire to increase the revenue derived from its own property. (fn. 72) In general the corporation seems to have been anxious to reduce its liability for street repair to a minimum, and on several occasions during the 18th century it was involved in litigation with parishes about responsibility for repairs. (fn. 73) The practice of ordering aldermen to report on the condition of the streets in their wards has already been mentioned. Later in the 18th century the chamberlains seem to have had discretion to pay for street repairs up to a certain sum yearly, (fn. 74) and by about 1800 a regular pavement committee of the corporation developed, with authority to deal with the streets for which the corporation was liable. (fn. 75)
The road from Market Harborough to Loughborough, running through Leicester along Gallowtree Gate and Belgrave Gate, was from 1726 onwards under the care of a turnpike trust. In 1774 the turnpike trustees gave orders that the part of the road which ran through Leicester should be paved, and in 1774 a causeway, made apparently of rough stone blocks, was constructed. (fn. 76) In the 1790's part of the turnpike through Liecester was repaved with granite setts. (fn. 77)
The parishes do not seem to have been very effective in maintaining the streets until the 19th century, though before that date they occasionally paid for repairs to individual streets. (fn. 78) At times improvements were effected by public subscription; thus in 1782 the removal of a row of huts in Belgrave Gate was paid for by a fund raised by the officials of St. Margaret's parish; (fn. 79) in 1787 some kind of public fund seems to have been raised for street paving; (fn. 80) and in 1791 Southgate Street was paved and provided with footways, apparently again as a result of public subscription. (fn. 81) In the 19th century some parishes were more active; in 1822 St. Mary's, after being indicted for neglect in repairing streets, decided to carry out repairs at the expense of a rate, and in 1832 St. Margaret's parish gave orders that street repairs were to be financed from the rates. (fn. 82) The general result of all these efforts seems to have been that by about 1830 most of Leicester's streets were paved in some fashion, (fn. 83) many of them with stone setts or cobbles. (fn. 84)
Until the 19th century the lighting of the borough's streets was even less adequate than the paving. The first evidence for any kind of street lighting occurs in 1768, when the inhabitants of Gallowtree Gate raised a fund amongst themselves for oil lamps to illuminate their street, (fn. 85) and in 1770 Belgrave Gate was similarly provided with lamps by its inhabitants. (fn. 86) In 1777 the trustees of the Loughborough to Market Harborough turnpike, which ran along both streets, became responsible for the lamps, and remained so until gas lighting was introduced. (fn. 87) In 1770 the corporation ordered six street lamps to be erected at its expense. (fn. 88) The failure to obtain any general Improvement Act for the borough made it impossible to carry out any systematic plan for street illumination. In 1821 a gas company was set up at Leicester, and the corporation then authorized the magistrates to place gas lamps on the Exchange and other public buildings, and at any other points where they might consider that lights should be provided by the corporation. (fn. 89) In 1822 the corporation decided to subscribe towards the cost of lighting the Saturday market place with gas, and to place gas lights at the High Cross and Northgates. (fn. 90) In 1831–2 the three most important parishes, St. Mary's, St. Martin's, and St. Margaret's, each assumed control of the lighting arrangements within its own boundaries and some further gas lamps were installed. (fn. 91) The gas supplied seems to have been unsatisfactory in quality. (fn. 92)
The streets were not only dark at nights, they were dirty. The corporation did make some attempt to deal with the problem of street cleansing. During most years in the late 17th century fees were paid for sweeping the streets and removing the dirt. (fn. 93) In 1686 a permanent scavenger was appointed to clean the streets, and in 1689 the town beadle was given the task of sweeping those streets for whose repair the corporation was responsible. (fn. 94) In the 1730's scavenging was controlled by the aldermen in their respective wards, and paid for by a scavengers' rate. (fn. 95) It is not clear how long these arrangements continued, (fn. 96) but in any case the provision for street cleansing seems to have been quite inadequate. In 1774 the trustees of the Loughborough to Market Harborough turnpike found it necessary to forbid the residents in Belgrave Gate and Gallowtree Gate to deposit garbage in the roadway, and from 1776 onwards the trustees made their own arrangements for removal of refuse from the section of their road that ran through Leicester. (fn. 97) In 1813 it was said that the Horsepool, near the Welford Road, had become so choked up with filth as to be a serious nuisance. (fn. 98) In scavenging, as in other public services, the cumbersome system of administration, perpetuated because of repeated failures to obtain an Improvement Act, prevented the evolution of any efficient system of dealing with the problems created by the borough's expansion.
The maintenance of public order in Leicester was, in 1660, one of the many duties of the petty constables, of whom there was one for each of the ten wards of the town. (fn. 99) Each constable had the power to call upon the inhabitants of his ward to perform the duty of watch and ward, though the duty was difficult to enforce. (fn. 100) This inadequate provision for the town's security was supplemented on critical occasions by a greatly increased guard, (fn. 101) and various attempts were made to strengthen the police system generally. In 1688 the corporation appointed a bellman to watch the town at night, (fn. 102) but this arrangement does not seem to have become permanent. In 1706 two bellmen were appointed for the same purpose; this time the appointments were lasting, and the two bellmen survived until 1835. (fn. 103) In the winter of 1748–9 an unusually large number of cases of housebreaking occurred, with the result that the corporation offered a reward of £20 to anyone arresting a burglar. (fn. 104) The inclusion of powers to establish a more efficient watch in the local bill which the corporation endeavoured to have passed into law in 1749–50 seems also to have been due at least partly to the same outbreak of crime. (fn. 105) Although it failed to obtain increased powers by a special Act, the corporation did provide that each alderman should appoint an adequate night watch; the watchmen were to be paid 1s. each a night, and the system was to last until 1 March 1749. (fn. 106) Though the arrangement was prolonged beyond that date it did not become permanent, (fn. 107) and the system of policing remained unsatisfactory. When disorders of any kind took place, as in 1773, 1787, and 1795, the constables and the borough authorities proved quite unable to check violence. (fn. 108) This state of affairs was of course not an exceptional one, and Leicester was perhaps no more deficient in the means for maintaining order than were most other towns.
In the early 19th century some steps were taken to improve matters, and by 1833 the ward constables of the town, with their assistants, numbered 30 and there were also about 40 general constables, the whole under a chief constable with a salary of £50 a year. (fn. 109) This, however, was still an inadequate force.
The borough had also to maintain the means of punishing offenders. There were stocks in each ward, in the charge of the constables, (fn. 110) and the town also possessed a ducking stool, situated at the West Bridge, and apparently last used in 1786. (fn. 111) The most important instrument of correction, however, was the town gaol. The old borough gaol, built in 1614, (fn. 112) stood at the junction of High Cross Street and Causeway Lane. (fn. 113) By the late 18th century the prison was in a very unsatisfactory state. Howard, the philanthropist, who inspected it in 1782, described it as very close and never whitewashed, with 'very offensive' sewers. On a later visit, in 1787, he found that there was no improvement. (fn. 114) It is to the credit of the corporation that unlike many other public bodies they took notice of Howard's strictures, and in 1793 a new prison was built to the design of the well-known architect John Johnson. (fn. 115) An Act of 1823 provided for the repair of a number of prisons, including that of Leicester, and authorized the borough justices to levy a special rate for the purpose. (fn. 116) Using their powers under this Act, the Leicester justices began to rebuild the town gaol, (fn. 117) and a large debt was incurred. The contract for the new prison had been allotted to a member of the corporation, and the new gaol rate was very unpopular. (fn. 118) The county gaol, built in 1791, stood in Highcross Street near the town gaol, and this was taken over by the borough justices in 1828, the county having recently replaced it by a new one. (fn. 119) The borough then gave up both the old town gaol and the still incomplete new structure. (fn. 120) The prison thus acquired in 1828 remained the borough gaol until transferred to the Home Office under an Act of 1877. (fn. 121)
Precautions against fire in the borough were to some extent controlled by the corporation. (fn. 122) In 1681 the purchase of a fire engine was ordered by the corporation, (fn. 123) but after this nothing further seems to have been done until 1744. Then the corporation offered to subscribe £10 towards the cost of buying 'one of Mr. Newsham's new invented engines for extinguishing fire', the rest of the cost of £55 to be met by subscriptions from private individuals. (fn. 124) As the private subscribers proved able to meet the whole cost of one engine, the corporation decided to buy a second one for £40. (fn. 125) There is no record of further engines being purchased. In 1797 the Phoenix fire office presented a fire engine to the borough. (fn. 126) In 1810 a committee was set up to concert the keeping of fire engines with the various fire offices, (fn. 127) and during the early 19th century precautions against fire, in Leicester as elsewhere, seem to have been largely in the hands of the fire insurance companies, though the corporation fire engines still existed, and were 'played' four times a year. (fn. 128)
One further need of the town that required municipal supervision was the watersupply. Water was obtained from two main sources, the conduit and the public and private wells, though many houses also had arrangements for collecting rain water. (fn. 129) The conduit, which had been built in 1612, bought fresh water to the Market Place from springs outside the town in St. Margaret's Field. (fn. 130) It was kept in repair by the corporation. (fn. 131) In every ward of the town there were public wells, cared for by annually elected well reeves who collected from the householders the sums required to maintain the wells in good order. A by-law enacted in 1759 authorized the establishment of pumps at all Leicester's public wells and provided that there should be in each ward two pump reeves, who were empowered to levy a pump rate. (fn. 132) As the 18th century progressed the corporation seems to have become less and less inclined to spend money on the conduit, and in 1771 the townsfolk had themselves to pay for the building of a new cistern. (fn. 133) Until well after 1835 the water-supply of the town was quite inadequate and various schemes were put forward for its improvement. In the late 17th century waterworks had been set up at the Castle mill to pump water through earthenware pipes to buildings in the town. Both this scheme and a similar one projected in the 18th century came to nothing. (fn. 134) As late as 1845 it was said that Leicester was dependent on pumps and private wells, so that the water-supply was quite insufficient for purposes of cleanliness. (fn. 135)
The defects of the borough's administration during the period ending in 1835 cannot be attributed solely to the inefficiency of a corrupt and oligarchic corporation, for the division of power that existed within the borough made any vigorous action difficult. Many functions, notably poor relief and road maintenance, remained the responsibility of the individual parishes. (fn. 136) The parishes were supervised, through the cumbersome proceedure of presentment and indictment at quarter sessions, by the borough justices of the peace, who were always senior members of the corporation, and who were the most effective body in matters concerning the government of the whole town. Finally there was the corporation itself, with its power to enact by-laws, and its general responsibility for the welfare of the borough. (fn. 137) The situation was further complicated by the existence of the liberties, areas which, although part of the town, were not under the undisputed control of the borough authorities, and which ultimately escaped from borough control altogether. As the liberties included some of the wealthiest parts of Leicester, the borough's lack of any clear right to levy rates in them was a serious disadvantage, apart from the more obvious difficulties caused by the existence of such areas outside the corporation's jurisdiction. (fn. 138)
Various attempts were made by the borough authorities to remedy the ineffective system under which the town was administered. The steps taken to obtain a union of the Leicester parishes for poor-relief purposes will be described elsewhere. (fn. 139) In 1749–50 an unsuccessful attempt was made to obtain a local Act, giving powers to light and clean the streets, to maintain the public wells and pumps, to keep an adequate force of watchmen, and to levy rates for all these purposes. (fn. 140) An attempt, largely actuated by the justices' desire to obtain sufficient funds for the upkeep of the town gaol, was next made to extend the rating powers of the borough justices by levying a general borough rate, and by asserting the borough justices' rights of jurisdiction over the liberties. After prolonged litigation the borough justices failed to establish their right to exercise control over the liberties. (fn. 141) Later, in 1822 and in 1831, further attempts were made to obtain a local Act for the improvement of the town, but without success. (fn. 142) Leicester thus remained one of the few English towns of any size without such an Act.
The Town Fields
By the beginning of the 18th century the South Field was the only one of the town fields in which the freemen as a whole had any interest. Common rights in the West Field if any existed had apparently come to an end in the 12th century. (fn. 143) The East Field was inclosed in 1764. By the 18th century it had come to be considered as largely the concern of St. Margaret's, the important and independent parish in which the field lay. The history of the East and West Fields has been dealt with elsewhere. (fn. 144)
With the South Field, however, both the corporation and the general body of freemen were closely concerned. The field, with the adjacent meadows, covered some 600 acres, much of which was included in the Newarke Grange farm bought by the corporation early in the 17th century. (fn. 145) Even in the 18th century, though the town was becoming partly industrialized, townsmen still possessed their own beasts, and valued their common rights. The growth of larger farms in the South Field appeared to endanger these rights, and consequently arouse the freemen's opposition. As early as 1675 the freemen petitioned against the infringement of their pasture rights. (fn. 146) Some idea of the size of the farms in the fields, and of the rents paid for them, can be gathered from the 21-year leases made in 1711 of the corporation's property in the South Field. Of the six farms into which the corporation's lands were divided, two were of 4 yardlands, one of 3½ yardlands, and two others of 3 yardlands; the size of the remaining farm is not precisely stated. The rents varied from £52 to £24. (fn. 147)
The corporation's policy in the South Field was often discussed in the Common Hall, and the Hall Books are full of resolutions, orders, and inquiries concerning the management of the land. (fn. 148) In the early 18th century the corporation was divided within itself about the best policy, 'whether to enclose or lay down to herbage' or to make no change. (fn. 149) There was much opposition to inclosure, which would have ended the freemen's rights of common. A proposal to obtain an inclosure Act in 1708, though supported by a majority of the corporation, failed to take effect. (fn. 150) In 1711 there were protests about a plan to divide the corporation's property in the field into six large farms, and in 1730 the corporation, presumably because of the extensive opposition, decided against inclosure. (fn. 151) A violent contest arose from the granting in 1752 of a lease of 558 acres of land in the field and adjacent meadows to three members of the corporation, Oliver, Phipps, and Ayre, who undertook to inclose the land in three large farms at their own expense. (fn. 152) Although it was provided that the fields were to be laid open from each September for the usual period for freemen to turn in their stint of cattle, (fn. 153) much opposition was aroused, and the situation was made worse by a proposal of the corporation in 1754 to exclude such of the freemen as it saw fit from pasturing their livestock in the field. Violence occurred, and fences in the field were burnt down. (fn. 154) Attacks were made on the houses of members of the corporation, who were divided amongst themselves about the wisdom of the policy that had been pursued. (fn. 155) In consequence of these events new leases were made of the corporation property in the South Field, and the corporation compensated the three lessees for the damage they had suffered. It was specified in the new leases that only such freemen as the corporation saw fit should enjoy common rights, (fn. 156) but in practice the rights of the whole body of freemen seem to have been respected, and the animosity aroused by the corporation's actions subsided. In 1777–8, and again in 1795, alterations were made to the way in which the field was divided, but on neither occasion was any opposition aroused. (fn. 157)
In 1804 the South Field was finally inclosed by Act, after agreement had been reached between the corporation and the freemen. (fn. 158) By the inclosure award, not issued until 1811, 453 acres, free of common rights, were allotted to the corporation, and 125 acres were allotted to the freemen in compensation for their loss of common rights. (fn. 159) Some land was sold to pay for the expense of inclosure, and lesser allotments were made to other proprietors. The award seems to have been considered fair and satisfactory by all the parties concerned. (fn. 160) Financially, the corporation certainly profited for its income in rents from the South Fields rose from £963 in 1804 to £1,894 in 1810. (fn. 161) The inclosure had important consequences for the later growth of the town, which are discussed below. (fn. 162)
The Occupations of the People
After the Restoration it continued to be necessary for all traders in Leicester to be freemen of the borough. (fn. 163) In the markets a partial freedom was granted to certain outsiders, all or most of them butchers, which allowed them to trade in the borough on market days only. (fn. 164) During the century after 1660 the companies or guilds of the various trades continued to exist; each still had its warden and stewards appointed yearly, and new members were sworn in upon the ordinals of their trades. (fn. 165) The freedom gave its holder the right to trade or practise a craft in the borough, and opened the way to participation in civic life and to certain charitable benefits. (fn. 166) Until the middle of the 18th century the corporation tried to insist that all persons carrying on trades or crafts in the borough should take out their freedoms. In 1705, for example, the corporation appointed a committee to meet the hosiers who were not freemen, to consider proposals for them to take out their freedoms. (fn. 167) In 1724 the corporation was considering sueing glovers who practised their trade within the town without being freemen, (fn. 168) and in 1726 orders were given for the chamberlains to inquire about all non-freemen who were working in the borough, since the corporation was contemplating their prosecution. (fn. 169) In the 1730's and 1740's the resistance of certain craftsmen to the corporation's demand that everyone practising a trade or craft within the borough should become a freeman led to much litigation. Finally in 1749 the corporation met with a decisive defeat in the courts when it proceeded against a non-free watchmaker called George Green. (fn. 170) The result of this case made it impossible for the corporation in future to oblige inhabitants of the town to take up the freedom by the threat of legal proceedings. There was no sudden decline in the numbers of persons taking the freedom, but while the population of the town increased very considerably in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, (fn. 171) the number of freemen failed to increase correspondingly, and in 1835 only one in ten of the population was a freeman. (fn. 172) It was perhaps because of the reduced importance of the freedom that the companies of the various crafts seem to have died out about the middle of the 18th century, though for lack of evidence the circumstances of their decline are extremely obscure. (fn. 173)
By the middle of the 18th century it had thus become fairly well established that any trade or craft could be practised in the borough by those who were not freemen. This fact of course greatly reduced the corporation's control over the economic life of the borough, since it could no longer regulate entry into the various occupations.
One further aspect of the corporation's control of economic affairs was its control of apprenticeship. One way of obtaining the freedom was by serving an apprenticeship. The binding and making free of apprentices, and their transference from one master to another, took place before the mayor, (fn. 174) and so long as apprenticeship remained an important institution the corporation was thus able to exercise some measure of supervision over the entry to the various occupations. During the last years of the 17th century there was a dispute about whether the period of apprenticeship was invariably to last seven years or not. (fn. 175) In 1718 the corporation laid down that every apprentice must serve for seven years in one single trade, but this rigid position was soon abandoned, and the corporation, though attempting in general to uphold the principle of a seven-year period of servitude, made concessions in individual cases. (fn. 176) Table V shows that in the period 1720–1835 (fn. 177) the number of apprentices bound in each decade varied little. As the population increased very greatly during the same period, the real importance of apprenticeship was obviously declining. The decreasing importance of apprenticeship, (fn. 178) like the failure to make possession of the freedom compulsory on all traders and artisans, naturally reduced the corporation's power to control the town's economic affairs.
Table V: Numbers of Apprentices Bound, 1720–1835 (fn. 179)
(a) The Hosiery Industry, 1660–1835
The production of hand-knitted stockings was a well-established and highly organized industry at Leicester by the middle of the 17th century (fn. 180) and in 1674 was said to use 200 todds of wool a year in Leicester and the adjacent villages. (fn. 181) It is generally agreed that the stocking frame was first introduced to Leicester by Nicholas Alsop, but the date of introduction has been variously given as 1670 (fn. 182) and 1680, (fn. 183) and there seems to be no reliable evidence on the point. The date of about 1670 is probably the more accurate, for in 1674 a petition was made to the mayor and corporation directed against 'divers freemen trying to engross the spinning and knitting of wool into stockings wholly to themselves and turn it into a monopoly'. (fn. 184) Whether the stocking frame was introduced by that time is not clear. Hosiers at Leicester are mentioned in 1665, (fn. 185) but there is no evidence that they were making use of frames. It is possible, however, if the earlier date is accepted for Alsop's arrival in Leicester, that the petition was part of the opposition to his frame. Alsop first appears in the borough records in 1648 when he was apprenticed as Nicholas Alsop of Wanlip to a Leicester mercer, Edward Noone. (fn. 186) In 1656 Alsop was admitted to the freedom of the borough. (fn. 187) The first of his apprentices to be made free was John Scampton in 1663. Alsop was then described as a mercer. (fn. 188) There is then a gap of 24 years until 1687, when Joseph Parker, another apprentice of Alsop, was made free; again Alsop is described as a mercer. (fn. 189) In 1693, when John Lewin, another of his apprentices, was made free, Alsop was described as a hosier. (fn. 190) In the remaining references to Alsop in the Freemen's Register he is described as a framework-knitter. (fn. 191) The gap of 24 years between 1663 and 1687 might indicate that he left Leicester for a time, and returned between 1670 and 1680, though on the other hand he was a member of the Forty-eight in 1684, (fn. 192) which would suggest a fairly long residence before that date. The first mention of a hosier in the Freemen's Register is in 1677, when Thomas Top, an apprentice of Daniel Pougher, hosier, was made free. (fn. 193) Between 1677 and 1700 17 different freemen and one woman are described as hosiers in the register, although there is no consistency, for the same men are called hosier, woolcomber, or framework-knitter. Of these 18, 3 had been apprenticed to hosiers, 2 to fellmongers, and 3 to weavers; the trades to which the remainder were apprenticed, where known, are varied and not connected with the textile trades. Of the 18 early hosiers, 8 came from Leicester, 1 (Nicholas Alsop) from the county, and the place of origin of the other 9 is unknown. (fn. 194)
In the first half of the 18th century the growth of the hosiery industry was rapid. The rising importance of the textile trades generally at Leicester up to the middle of the 18th century can be seen by the fact that the freemen working in these trades rose from being 13.7 per cent. of all the freemen listed in the register in 1670–9 to 41.3 per cent. in 1740–9. (fn. 195) Similarly out of the total number of newly admitted apprentices in the years 1720–9, 46 per cent. were apprenticed in the textile trades; in the period 1730–49, 54 per cent. of new apprentices belonged to the same trades. (fn. 196)
Attempts were made to bring the young hosiery industry of the midlands under the control of the chartered Framework Knitters' Company, in which the London hosiers were predominant. (fn. 197) In January 1700 the framework-knitters of Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and the ajdacent parts petitioned the House of Commons against the company's unreasonable and vexatious by-laws. (fn. 198) In 1715 the company, as part of an attempt to enforce its control over the industry in the midlands, brought an action against two Leicester framework-knitters, Thomas Derbyshire and William Browne, who had bound and made free apprentices before the Mayor of Leicester instead of before the officers of the company. Leicester corporation, perhaps feeling that its own control of apprenticeship in the borough was being challenged, decided that Derbyshire and Browne, together with any other framework-knitters who might be sued by the company, should be defended at the town's expense. (fn. 199) The company's efforts were ineffective, and Browne at least continued to bind apprentices before the Mayor of Leicester. (fn. 200) Despite this repulse, the company maintained deputies, who admitted new members, at Leicester in the 1720's. (fn. 201) A further attempt by the company to assert its control was made in 1727, when Thomas Gregory, a Leicester frameworkknitter, was summoned to take up membership of the company. Gregory failed to do so, and the company resolved to proceed against him in the courts. (fn. 202) This attempt also seems to have failed, and in 1729, when the company again proposed, apparently without result, to prosecute unadmitted framework-knitters, it was said that independent workers always received the greatest encouragement and protection at Leicester. (fn. 203) In 1753 Richard Garle, a Leicester stocking manufacturer, stated that the company had not exercised any control in Leicester for twenty years past. (fn. 204) It was resolved in 1753 by a committee of the House of Commons, set up in response to petitions from the midlands hosiery areas, including Leicestershire, that the company was a harmful monopoly, whose by-laws were injurious to the hosiery industry and in many cases illegal. (fn. 205) This virtually brought the company's attempts to control the industry to an end.
The stocking frame was a relatively expensive piece of machinery; in the late 17th and early 18th centuries it was sometimes valued at £10 even after having been in use for some time. (fn. 206) It is therefore not surprising that framework-knitters were not always able to buy frames, and that there grew up a class of merchant employers who owned and rented out frames, and undertook the marketing of the finished product. The practice of renting out frames dates from the early beginnings of the Leicester hosiery industry, for Nicholas Alsop's will (drawn up in 1706) mentions rents arising from three frames. (fn. 207) It is evident from Alsop's will, and from his probate inventory drawn up in 1707, (fn. 208) that he was acting as a merchant employer, renting out frames, collecting finished hosiery, and marketing it in London. Abstinence Pougher, a hosier who died in 1702, was conducting a business of the same sort. In his house in Parchment Lane, near the East Gate, and in his warehouse in the same street, he had at his death considerable quantities of wool, yarn, and stockings. Evidently he controlled the spinning of wool into yarn, for he also had wool in the spinners' hands. (fn. 209) In 1753 Richard Garle stated that he was a hosiery manufacturer of Leicester, and had a hundred frames for hiring out, and that there were about a dozen manufacturers in the town operating on the same scale. (fn. 210) It is impossible to say what proportion of frames was owned by the operatives themselves, and what proportion was hired out either by merchant employers, or by persons not otherwise connected with the industry who bought frames and hired them out as an investment. Complaints made by the Leicester framework-knitters in 1771 imply that it was then usual for the operatives to hire frames, normally for 9d. a week. It appears from statements made at the same time that the framework-knitters generally paid to have the stockings they made seamed up by others. From statements made to a committee of the House of Commons in 1778 it appears that it was then usual for the framework-knitters to collect the raw material from the manufacturers, and presumably they also carried back the finished work. (fn. 211) By the late 18th century, if not earlier, the merchant employers, as distinct from the operatives, were known as hosiers. (fn. 212)
The stocking frame itself underwent no basic change during the 18th century, but many minor improvements were introduced, and two of them were connected with Leicester. In 1781 a Mr. Dalby of Leicester, together with a Mr. Ash, obtained a patent for a device by which elastic work was manufactured. (fn. 213) In 1791 William Dawson, a Leicester framework-knitter, invented a device, known as Dawson's Wheels, which was applied to the existing warp machine (fn. 214) and greatly improved the manufacture of fancy hosiery. (fn. 215)
Little evidence is available about the remuneration of operatives or their conditions of work in the early days of the Leicester hosiery industry. Up to the middle of the 18th century the industry seems to have been expanding, and to have been free from unemployment. In 1753 it was said that the number of operatives available was not sufficient to meet the demand. (fn. 216) Some twenty years later the position of the framework-knitters was evidently far from satisfactory. In 1771 they complained that by intensive work a framework-knitter could earn 9s. a week, which, after deductions for frame rent and for needles and seaming, left a net weekly income of only 7s. 3d. in summer, or 6s. 6d. in winter, when additional deductions had to be made for fuel and candles. These were the earnings of the more successful workers. (fn. 217) Earlier in the century 10s. a week was said to be the average earning in Leicestershire. (fn. 218) The framework-knitters seem to have obtained no satisfaction in 1771, and two years later their distress was the origin of serious disturbances. There had been a scarcity of food for several years (fn. 219) and in the winter of 1772–3 food prices were high. Forty-four of the chief Leicester hosiers undertook that for three months from the end of February 1773 they would not reduce their rates of payment below the level prevailing at Christmas 1772. Despite this riots occurred at Leicester when in March 1773 a frame of a new type was brought into the town. A large mob, including many framework-knitters from the county areas around Leicester, assembled and destroyed the new frame, which, in an endeavour to dispel the operatives' suspicions, had been exhibited in the Corn Exchange. The Leicester hosiers, presumably overawed, promised those who had taken part in the riot that they would not seek patents for any new type of frame, or introduce any machinery which would displace labour. (fn. 220) At a later period framework-knitters might have turned naturally to trade unionism as a remedy for their distress, and indeed associations of framework-knitters did come into existence during the 1770's. (fn. 221) In the late 18th century, however, the operatives tended rather to seek relief through the state regulation of their industry, either by a new Act of Parliament, or by the enforcement of the by-laws of the Framework Knitters' Company. In 1778 a petition was made to the House of Commons by the framework-knitters of several areas, including Leicester, asking for an Act to be passed for regulating the industry by fixing wage rates. (fn. 222) Subscriptions were raised to defray the expenses of passing the Act, and meetings were held in the town in its support, one at least under the auspices of the Framework Knitters' Company. (fn. 223) Owing to the hosiers' opposition, however, no Act was passed. (fn. 224) In 1779 framework-knitters from several districts, again including Leicester, renewed their petition for an Act to regulate the industry, and in particular to prevent the continuance of various frauds and abuses which were perpetrated upon the operatives. A bill was introduced, but failed to pass into law. (fn. 225) It was feared that this failure might lead to rioting at Leicester, but no disturbances took place although there was much violence at Nottingham. It is doubtful how far the Leicester framework-knitters were in favour of the bill. (fn. 226) Evidence given by a Leicester framework-knitter in 1778 suggests that conditions were then rather worse than in 1771; in 1778 it was said that the average net earnings of a workman, after frame rent and minor charges had been deducted, were about 5s. 6d. a week at Leicester, and that earnings had been declining since 1756 or 1757. The frame rent in 1778 was said to be 1s. a week, and framework-knitters were said to have to work fifteen hours a day. (fn. 227)
While seeking to have their industry regulated by statute, the midland frameworkknitters sought at the same time to use the moribund Framework Knitters' Company. It seems very doubtful whether the company had been regarded favourably by the operatives at an earlier period, but by the 1770's they had evidently come to regard it as at least a useful instrument in their struggle for better conditions. (fn. 228) Towards the end of 1778 a number of framework-knitters from Leicester and other centres of the industry were enrolled as members of the company, and in April 1779 a Court of Assistants was set up by the company at Leicester to carry on the enrolment. The company, however, seems to have done nothing to assist the operatives. (fn. 229) By restricting the entry of new workers through apprenticeship regulations the company might at least have kept down the size of the labour force, but it had altogether failed to control the growth of the industry in the midlands. Though the idea of legislation was to be revived later, for long after the failure of 1788–9 it was unsuccessful. The framework-knitters were thus at the mercy of economic forces, and their bargaining position was a weak one. The craft was easily learned, (fn. 230) so that before long the industry acquired a larger labour force than could be employed except in times of unusual prosperity.
In 1787 a further attack upon a new machine was made at Leicester. In 1785 Joseph Brookhouse, of Church Gate, Leicester, invented a method of spinning worsted by machinery. Such spinning had once largely been done by the framework-knitters' wives and families, but Hargreaves's 'spinning jenny' had been introduced to Leicester about 1777. About 1780 the 'jenny' ceased to be used at Leicester, as it had been made obsolete by Arkwright's invention for spinning by rollers. It seems uncertain whether Arkwright's machine was used at Leicester, though the thread from it was evidently employed. (fn. 231) It appears that Hargreaves's and Arkwright's inventions were not used to produce worsted thread, (fn. 232) so that both were presumably of interest only to the Leicester hosiery industry in so far as it used other types of thread. To obtain the necessary capital Brookhouse entered into partnership with John Coltman, a hosier, and Joseph Whetstone, a spinner said to have employed between 1,000 and 1,500 persons in spinning. (fn. 233) The new methods aroused much opposition, and finally in December 1787 a large mob attacked Whetstone's house in Northgate Street, and although fired on by Whetstone and his supporters broke in and did much damage. The mayor, arriving after the riot had been in progress for some time, was fatally injured while trying to read the Riot Act. Coltman's house was also attacked, and the machine, which had been taken to Market Harborough for safety, was pursued there by the rioters and destroyed. The result was that for some twenty years worsted spinning was not carried on in Leicester, though it became an important industry in some other east midland towns, (fn. 234) a fact which as early as 1788 was causing some anxiety at Leicester. (fn. 235)
There is some evidence about the size of the Leicester hosiery industry during the 18th century. In 1712 it was said that 20,000 todds of wool were used yearly in the manufacture of stockings at Leicester, (fn. 236) and in 1716 there were about 7,600 people employed in the industry in the town. (fn. 237) There are said to have been 600 frames in Leicester in 1714, (fn. 238) and according to another estimate there were 500 in 1727. (fn. 239) In the period 1730–50 the hosiery industry at Leicester grew rapidly, (fn. 240) and in 1751 Leicester was described as its most important centre in England. (fn. 241) Two years later there were estimated to be 1,000 frames in the town. (fn. 242) In 1791 it was stated that the borough contained over 70 hosiery manufacturers, and that some 6,000 persons were employed in the various branches of the industry. (fn. 243) The number of frames in Leicester was estimated at 1,600 in 1812, (fn. 244) and at 6,000 in 1831. (fn. 245)
In the 18th century the stockings manufactured at Leicester were in general not of the finest quality, though production was on a larger scale than elsewhere. (fn. 246) Worsted was the most important material used. (fn. 247) Knitted gloves and mittens also came to be made at Leicester; their manufacture was well established by 1778, when the House of Commons was told that framework-knitters normally received 4s. or 5s. for a dozen worsted gloves, and that a workman of moderate skill could make two dozen a week. (fn. 248) The Leicester glove trade in the 1770's was largely for export, and it was much harmed by the American War of Independence and the disturbances that preceded it. (fn. 249)
The period of the great French wars, from 1791 onwards, was at first a time of prosperity for the hosiery industry. From 1790 to 1810 the demands of the armed forces for manpower caused some shortage of labour in the industry, (fn. 250) and this period was perhaps the time of greatest prosperity that the framework-knitters ever experienced. (fn. 251) Some idea of the level of wages prevailing from about 1790 to 1810 can be derived from the evidence given about the hosiery industry in 1845. One Leicester framework-knitter said in 1845 that in the 1790's he had been able to produce about 2½ dozen hose a week, for which he was paid 10s. a dozen. From the gross wages of 25s. a week thus obtained, 3s. 7d. or 3s. 8d. had to be deducted for frame rent, the seaming of stockings, and other charges, leaving a net income of rather more than £1. These rates were for the production of ribbed hose. (fn. 252) Another framework-knitter said that in the years 1805–7 he was earning 15s. a dozen, though he did not state what type of stocking he was making at that time. (fn. 253) James Coleman, of Belgrave Gate, said that about 1800 he was earning 9s. a dozen, (fn. 254) while another Leicester framework-knitter said that at the beginning of the 19th century he was earning 21s. a week, producing wrought hose. (fn. 255) Workers producing the type of stockings known as 'cut-ups', (fn. 256) which were introduced in the 1790's, could, according to one statement made in 1845, earn 12s. a dozen in the opening years of the 19th century. (fn. 257) In 1791 it was said that workers could earn 20s. to 30s. a week owing to the shortage of labour: these wages seem very high, however, and may have been exceptional. About 1797 it was said that the earnings of Leicester framework-knitters varied from 7s. to 21s. a week. (fn. 258) Such earnings are considerably greater than those prevailing in the period 1820–45.
It was during the 1790's that societies of employers first appear in the Leicester hosiery industry. In 1792 a Hosiers' Association was formed in an attempt to prevent the embezzlement of yarn given out by hosiers to their employees, (fn. 259) and it seems to have met regularly. (fn. 260) A society of worsted makers, with the similar object of preventing the embezzlement of wool or yarn, was in existence in 1794, (fn. 261) and in 1796 was negotiating with the woolcombers about their wages. (fn. 262)
Certain new types of product were introduced into the hosiery industry at Leicester at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. The most important was the 'cut-up' or 'straight-down' type of stocking, which although inferior in quality could be produced more cheaply than the old type of wrought hose. (fn. 263) Cut-ups were being produced at Leicester in the 1790's (fn. 264) and possibly as early as 1778. (fn. 265) Their manufacture seems always to have been centred at Leicester itself, very few being produced in the adjacent rural areas. (fn. 266) About 1796 the Leicester hosiers began to use knitted fabric for the manufacture of shirts, (fn. 267) and shortly before 1804 the production of cotton socks, which were very cheap, was established at Leicester. Wage-rates in the sock manufacture were higher than in most other branches of the hosiery industry. (fn. 268) In the 1790's the manufacture of fancy hosiery on the newly modified warp machine (fn. 269) became important at Leicester. In 1791 new and elaborate products called machine pieces, apparently made on the old warp machines, had been introduced into Leicester. Workers making them were said to earn as much as 2 guineas a week. (fn. 270) For some time high wages were paid to those engaged in the fancy hosiery branch, but by 1810 changes in fashion had ruined the trade. (fn. 271) About 1806 the manufacture of knitted braces and cravats was begun at Leicester. (fn. 272) At a rather later period, in 1817, the making of knotted hose was begun at Leicester. (fn. 273)
The general prosperity of the hosiery industry had evidently been somewhat impaired by 1809, when wages, according to a statement in 1845, were reduced by 6d. a dozen, though the reduction seems to have been only temporary. (fn. 274) By 1812 the distress amongst framework-knitters at Leicester and elsewhere was severe, and they petitioned the House of Commons to investigate the state of the hosiery industry. The frameworkknitters' aim was to obtain an Act which would forbid various frauds and abuses from which the operatives suffered. (fn. 275) A bill was in fact introduced, and delegates were sent by the Leicester framework-knitters to support it, but it was opposed by the hosiers, and failed to become law. (fn. 276) The attempt to obtain legislation to control conditions in the industry thus failed once again, and the position of the operatives degenerated further, especially when, after the long period of warfare ended in 1814, the demand for knitted goods for military purposes ceased and many framework-knitters were discharged from the army. In 1814 the Leicester framework-knitters asked for an increase in rates of pay, stating that while prices had for long been rising their rates of pay had remained stationary, or had even been reduced. They even said that their condition had been depressed since 1795, except for short periods, but this was probably an exaggeration. (fn. 277) The plea seems to have had little result. At a general meeting of those concerned in the hosiery industry at Leicester in 1816 it was stated that the industry was then in a worse condition than for 30 years past. (fn. 278) The position of the framework-knitters was made worse at this time by the practice followed by overseers of the poor at Leicester of paying premiums to the hosiers for employing paupers. The overseers themselves even employed pauper framework-knitters to produce hosiery, and by conducting their business without seeking profit, or even at a loss, competed on favourable terms with the framework-knitters who were not in receipt of poor relief. (fn. 279) Out-door relief was often given to framework-knitters who, though working, did not earn enough to subsist on. (fn. 280) Such practices of course tended to pauperize the whole body of framework- knitters. From 1815 to 1817 wages declined, and the rate for one type of worsted stockings fell from 7s. 6d. a dozen to 6s. (fn. 281) In 1817 some relief was obtained by the operatives, as the overseers of the poor agreed to cease employing paupers, except those actually in the workhouses, in framework-knitting, and agreed also not to give any relief to persons working below the usual rates of pay. At the same time the hosiers agreed to increase rates of pay but this success was only temporary. (fn. 282) An unsuccessful strike of the Leicester framework-knitters followed. Some of the strikers were charged with offences against the Combination Acts, but they were leniently treated by the borough justices, who were not unsympathetic towards their plight. (fn. 283) In 1819 the Leicester hosiers and frameworkknitters jointly petitioned the House of Commons, complaining of the production of 'cut-ups', and asking for remedial action. (fn. 284) A select committee was appointed, and the facts it ascertained showed how great the distress in the hosiery industry was; wages for the makers of worsted stockings had fallen from 14s. in 1814 to 7s. in 1819, for a full week's work of 15 hours a day, and in one Leicester parish alone, St. Margaret's, there were 61 stockingers, who with their families made up a total of 300 people, all receiving regular relief. (fn. 285) Nothing, however, was done by Parliament. It was probably the failure of this attempt to obtain redress from the legislature that led to the formation at Leicester towards the end of 1819 of a Framework Knitters Union. (fn. 286) This was not the beginning of combination amongst the Leicester hosiery workers. A union already existed amongst the Leicester woolcombers in 1791. (fn. 287) As early as 1787 the prices to be paid for work were agreed between the hosiers and the framework-knitters, (fn. 288) and such an agreement implies some degree of unity and combination amongst the operatives. In 1790 the framework-knitters in Leicester and Leicestershire, together with those of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, had an association which was negotiating with the hosiers about wage-rates, and in 1794 the Leicester framework-knitters formed a society for recovering absconding apprentices. (fn. 289) Leicester was included in the general association of framework-knitters formed in 1813, (fn. 290) and to carry out the strike of 1817 there must have been some kind of organization, though no union seems to have existed. (fn. 291) There had been further attempts, too, in the early 19th century to use the Framework Knitters' Company as a means for improving the condition of the operatives. In 1805 the frameworkknitters of Nottingham, Derby, and Leicester complained to the company about the excessive numbers of apprentices kept by certain employers, (fn. 292) and in 1806 the company appointed deputies at Leicester and other places. (fn. 293) In 1808 an agitation was in progress at Leicester, aimed at ensuring that all entrants to the industry should for the future serve a full apprenticeship. (fn. 294) This method of restricting the number of workers in the industry proved a failure in 1809 when the prosecution of a Burbage hosier for carrying on the craft of framework-knitting and instructing others in it, without having been apprenticed himself, was unsuccessful. (fn. 295) This was the last attempt of the frameworkknitters to make use of the old chartered company, which had never been a suitable instrument to protect and advance the operatives' interests. (fn. 296) By the late 18th century those of its liverymen who had any connexion with the hosiery industry were nearly all hosiers. (fn. 297) Over a considerable period the framework-knitters had attempted to make use of the company, partly it would seem because of the continuing prestige of the chartered body even in its decaying state, and partly because, at a period when trade unionism was still in its early days and its possibilities were still unrealized, the operatives were ready to turn to any institution which seemed capable of relieving their distress.
If the chartered company had proved ineffective, attempts to obtain from Parliament an Act to regulate the hosiery industry and to remove the abuses under which the framework-knitters suffered had been quite fruitless. In the late 18th century the idea of controlling an industry, either by statute or through a chartered company, had of course already ceased to be in accord with the generally accepted economic theories, and in the 19th century was even less acceptable. Under such circumstances operatives had little alternative but to turn to combination to improve their position. It is noteworthy that the Leicester framework-knitters during the early 19th century did not resort to violence at all, unlike those of Loughborough and Nottingham.
A framework-knitters' union of some permanence was established at Leicester in 1819. The union's articles provided that each adult male member was to pay 6d. a week subscription when in work, and each boy or woman member 3d. a week, in return for 8s. and 4s. a week respectively when unemployed. (fn. 298) The union appears to have been basically a friendly society. It was supported by the lord lieutenant, the Duke of Rutland, the corporation, the officers of the Leicester parishes, the borough members of Parliament, and others. The union included framework-knitters from the rural areas around the borough, but its main strength seems to have lain in Leicester. There its members were organized in thirteen districts, each with its own treasurer and stewards. The union owed much to the advice and support of the Baptist minister, Robert Hall. (fn. 299) At first the new union, aided by a widespread strike which took place in the midland hosiery industry in 1819, had much success. By the end of 1819 £6,000 had been contributed to its funds, wages amongst the Leicester stockingers had risen by 4s. a week, and employment was increasing. This improvement lasted only two years. In 1821 conditions degenerated, a strike of framework-knitters took place, and in the first three months of the year £6,182 were paid out by the union in relief to the unemployed. To meet these difficult circumstances the union borrowed £1,550. Some improvement took place, and by 1822 it was possible to repay the debt out of contributions. From 1823, however, wages continued to decline. (fn. 300) According to evidence given in 1845, a worker producing 'cut-ups' in 1823 could produce nine dozen hose a week, for which he would be paid at the rate of 2s. 5d. a dozen; frame rent and other deductions totalled 5s. 1½d. a week, so that the worker's net wages were 16s. 7½d. (fn. 301) The Leicester union was not in a good position to deal with the worsening situation, for subscriptions had fallen off, and the union had recently made an unsuccessful attempt to produce hosiery itself. A new framework-knitters' union was organized at Leicester in 1824 to replace the one founded in 1819. (fn. 302) Strikes took place at Leicester in 1824 and in 1825, (fn. 303) and in 1825 legal proceedings were taken against some framework-knitters who had been involved in acts of violence and intimidation. (fn. 304) Some advance of wages was obtained in 1825, (fn. 305) but the winter of 1825–6 was a time of acute depression, the union's funds became exhausted, and the operatives were quite unable to resist wage reductions. (fn. 306) Though the Combination Acts had been repealed in 1824, so that for the future trade unions were not in themselves illegal, the severe struggles of 1824–5 seem to have destroyed the Leicester frameworkknitters' power of resistance and organization, so that it was more than a decade before trade unionism was revived amongst them. Some slight improvement in trade took place at Leicester in 1827, (fn. 307) but despite periodic minor improvements the general circumstances of the hosiery workers remained very depressed. In 1830 it was said that a very industrious workman could make 2½ dozen hose—apparently wrought hose—a week, for which he would be paid 3s. 6d. a dozen, giving a gross weekly income of 8s. 9d. Frame rent at 1s. a week would have to be deducted from this, together with smaller sums for such things as needles and oil. It was reckoned that a man earning at such a rate, after paying all deductions and his house rent, would have only 1s. 9d. a week left for food for himself and his family. (fn. 308) A report made in 1833 by one of the factory commissioners shows what the circumstances of the Leicester framework-knitters then were. The commissioner described the small and ill-ventilated shops in which some of the framework-knitters laboured, and noted that with few exceptions their whole appearance was sickly and emaciated. (fn. 309) Framework-knitters' wages at Leicester were commonly supplemented by poor relief in the early 1830's. (fn. 310)
The main cause of the distressed condition of the hosiery workers was an excess of labour, aggravated by the fact that since 1800 large numbers of women had become framework-knitters. (fn. 311) The hosiery manufacturers of the day were inclined to blame the depressed state of the industry on foreign competition, which they claimed had deprived them of their export markets, but it seems very doubtful whether there was any truth in their contention. The demand for worsted hosiery, which was Leicester's most important product, seems to have been fairly steady during the 1830's. (fn. 312) The hosiery workers themselves seem to have attributed their distress mainly to the production of 'cut-ups', but this view also appears to be unsubstantiated. (fn. 313)
Besides low wages and insufficient employment, the hosiery workers had other grievances about the way in which the industry was conducted. The exaction of frame rent was a cause of many complaints. (fn. 314) The rent was a constant charge which always had to be deducted from the operative's gross earnings, (fn. 315) and it usually had to be paid even when the frame was out of use from such causes as illness, and irrespective of the amount of work done. (fn. 316) The practice of charging frame rent meant that it was to the advantage of the owners of frames, who were usually the hosiers, to keep as many frames operating and paying rent as possible, a situation which favoured the retention in the industry of a large number of under-employed persons. (fn. 317) At the end of the 18th century the usual rent for a frame was 9d. or 10d. a week. (fn. 318) Higher rents were charged for the wider frames introduced about 1800, and in 1845 it was said that frame rents varied from 9d. to 3s. a week. (fn. 319) Another major grievance of the Leicester hosiery workers was the prevalence of the truck system. At Leicester trucking seems to have begun about 1820 and to have been fairly general in 1845. (fn. 320) The Leicester framework-knitters petitioned in favour of the Truck Act of 1831 which, however, failed to suppress the practice entirely. (fn. 321) The truck system was closely linked with middlemen, whose growing activity was considered by the framework-knitters to be a cause of hardship. The middlemen intervened between the hosiers and the framework-knitters, giving out yarn and collecting finished work. They seem to have first appeared at Leicester during the years of depression after the Napoleonic wars, from about 1816 onwards, (fn. 322) and by 1845 had become a normal part of the organization of the industry at Leicester. (fn. 323) Their position no doubt gave them opportunites for perpetrating various minor frauds upon the operatives, (fn. 324) but on the other hand they did perform a useful function in saving the frameworkknitters their weekly journeys to the hosiers' warehouses, and it seems very doubtful whether the rise of the middlemen really made the circumstances of the operatives worse than it would otherwise have been. Much evidence about middlemen and their activities is to be found in the 1845 Report on the Condition of the Framework Knitters. (fn. 325) Much of the evidence in the report relates to a period later than that covered by this article, and the position of the middlemen in the hosiery industry is dealt with elsewhere more fully. (fn. 326) The practice of concentrating the frames in shops, instead of leaving them to be operated by the workers in their own homes, was a further cause of some hardship to the framework-knitters, as the shops were often crowded and ill ventilated. (fn. 327) Such workshops seem to have grown up at Leicester from about 1825 onwards. (fn. 328)
The depressed condition of the hosiery trade led in 1845 to a parliamentary inquiry. That inquiry, and its results, lie outside the scope of the present article, and are discussed below. (fn. 329)
From the earliest days of framework-knitting the connexion between dissent and the hosiery industry at Leicester was very strong. Nicholas Alsop, reputed to have introduced the stocking frame to Leicester, was certainly a Whig, and probably a dissenter. (fn. 330) The Pougher family, who were prominent in the industry during the late 17th century and the first half of the 18th, (fn. 331) were leading dissenters, and Abstinence Pougher was one of the prime movers in the foundation of the Great Meeting, Leicester's most famous dissenting church, in 1708. (fn. 332) The Great Meeting's registers of births and baptisms for the 18th century contain the names of many men who became prominent hosiers. (fn. 333) Of the twelve original trustees of Leicester's first Baptist chapel, built in Friar Lane about 1719, three were hosiers and two framework-knitters. (fn. 334) The prominent hosier John Coltman, together with another hosier, William Lewis, played a leading part in the foundation of the Millstone Lane chapel, the first Methodist place of worship in Leicester, (fn. 335) and one of the chief supporters of the Harvey Lane chapel, the centre of the Particular Baptists, was Richard Harris, one of the town's leading hosiers during the first half of the 19th century. (fn. 336) The existence of a large and influential body of dissenters in the hosiery industry was attended with important political consequences. These, however, have been dealt with above. (fn. 337)
(b) Other Textile Trades
The hosiery trade was the only branch of textile production to become vitally important at Leicester in the period here being considered. Lace-making was carried on throughout the period, (fn. 338) but never seems to have become of any great importance. Weavers are listed amongst the freemen of Leicester until the late 18th century, but they are not very numerous. (fn. 339) Occasionally Leicester weavers are described as belonging to some particular branch of their trade, such as silk-weaving or tammy-weaving, (fn. 340) but no specialized form of weaving became established in the town as a distinct industry, and weaving never approached the hosiery industry in importance.
(c) Trade and Commerce
In 1660 retail trade at Leicester was centred in the markets, and considerable sums were spent by the corporation from time to time in improving the amenities for traders. (fn. 341) The Saturday market, (fn. 342) held on the site of the present (fn. 343) Market Place, was the most important one. Considerable improvements were effected to the Saturday market place during the 18th century. The shops there, which were owned by the corporation, were rebuilt in 1714–15, (fn. 344) and the Hall Book for September 1715 gives a list of the tenants of 26 newly built shops, stating their trades and the rents they paid. Five of the tenants were bakers and three were glovers; some others seem to have been craftsmen rather than traders; there were, for example, a carpenter, a slater, (fn. 345) and two shearmen. Rents varied from £1 12s. 6d. for corner shops to £1 a year for those which were least advantageously placed. (fn. 346) Besides the shops, the Saturday market contained stalls, which were apparently less substantial structures. In 1717 the corporation was renting out stalls 6 feet long for 10s. a year. (fn. 347) In 1726 the shambles in the Saturday market were rebuilt. (fn. 348) In 1747 the old building called the Gainsborough was demolished, together with the adjacent shambles and some minor buildings, and the new Exchange was erected. Its upper rooms were used by the magistrates; the lower ones were intended for the butchers, in place of the old shambles, but were only used by them for a short time. By 1791 it was already being felt that the Exchange should be pulled down, as the Market Place was by then too small for the amount of business being done, and the space occupied by the Exchange was needed. The Exchange, however, survived until the middle of the 19th century. (fn. 349) In the second half of the 18th century many new buildings were put up around the Market Place, and between 1800 and 1830 many new retail shops were built bordering on it. (fn. 350)
The old Wednesday market in High Cross Street continued to be held throughout the period with which this article deals. (fn. 351) This market, which was for the sale of butter, eggs, fruit, and vegetables, was only of minor importance. (fn. 352) A small pavilion which had stood in High Cross Street since 1577 and was used by the market people was pulled down in 1773 and replaced by a simple pillar. (fn. 353) Coal and hay were sold in the space outside the East Gate. (fn. 354) In 1763 the corporation gave orders that a new market for fat and lean cattle and sheep was to be held on Wednesdays, in the Saturday market place. (fn. 355) In 1774 the cattle market was removed to Horsefair Street, on what was then the southern edge of the town, where it remained until well into the 19th century. (fn. 356) Leicester possessed other livestock markets. The pig market, which in the 16th century had been held in Parchment Lane, (fn. 357) was removed several times in the 18th and early 19th centuries, (fn. 358) and was finally transferred to Loseby Lane, where it was established by 1815. (fn. 359) The sheep market, which had been held in the Saturday market place from 1506 onwards, was removed about 1825 to an area south of Horsefair Street, the site of the present Town Hall. (fn. 360) In 1823 the corporation authorized the holding of a market during the week. (fn. 361) Some idea of the importance of the Saturday market can be obtained from the statement made in 1830 that provisions in great quantities were brought into the market every Friday night and Saturday morning from as much as 50 miles away, although large quantities of fruit and vegetables were produced by the market-gardens in the immediate vicinity of Leicester. (fn. 362)
The annual fairs provided opportunities for business on a yet more extensive scale. The charter of 1684 included the grant of a fair on the Saturday before Palm Sunday for livestock and all other forms of merchandise. (fn. 363) This fair was not a new one: it had been held in 1627 and its origin is unknown. (fn. 364) The great May and October fairs of medieval origin continued to be held, (fn. 365) together with the midsummer and December ones founded in 1540. (fn. 366) Much trading in livestock was carried on at these in the late 18th century and in 1794 five additional fairs for livestock were established by the corporation. (fn. 367) Another fair, the Low Fair, was in existence by 1791 and was held on the Saturday after Easter. (fn. 368)
Even as late as 1830 the Saturday market place remained the centre of the town's retail trade, and sites for shops around it were considered particularly valuable. (fn. 369) By that date, however, the streets radiating from Coal Hill (fn. 370) (High Street, Gallowtree Gate, Belgrave Gate, and Humberstone Gate) were already becoming important for their retail shops. In Gallowtree Gate and Humberstone Gate especially, many new buildings were erected in the first thirty years of the 19th century. (fn. 371)
The purveyance of food and drink was an occupation which involved a relatively large number of people at Leicester, including some of the wealthiest and most influential members of the community. (fn. 372) Many mayors in the period between 1660 and 1835 were drawn from the victualling trades. (fn. 373) Edmund Townsend, Mayor of Leicester in 1666, may be taken as an example. His probate inventory, drawn up in 1678, lists goods to a total value of £594 11s. 6d., including 112 gallons of ale and 156 quarters of malt, valued in all at £171 19s. (fn. 374) Another mayor, Edmund Sutton of the Newarke, was a maltster. His probate inventory, made in 1690, (fn. 375) lists goods to a total value of £138 3s. 9d., including 10 quarters of dry malt worth £8, and 8 quarters of green malt worth £6, besides a good deal of livestock. In contrast to these two prominent citizens is a victualler of a later period, William Mapwell, whose probate inventory taken in 1799 listed goods to a total value of £49 6s. 9d. (fn. 376) Until 1835 it was essential for all beer-sellers of the borough to take up their freedoms, for they had to go before the magistrates to obtain a licence. This was the only trade in which the old freemen's monopoly was maintained until 1835. (fn. 377) The butchers and the bakers each had their own craft companies, which died out about the middle of the 18th century. (fn. 378)
The various branches of the clothing trade were well represented in Leicester. The glovers and fellmongers were members of a single company, which existed in 1660, but for which there is no evidence at any later date. (fn. 379) The tailors' company, under its annually elected steward and wardens, continued to exist until at least 1755. (fn. 380) A mercers' company is mentioned in 1660–1. (fn. 381) The percentage of freemen admitted between 1660 and 1835 who were recorded as members of the clothing trades varied from 7 per cent. to 23 per cent. of the total admitted in any one year, (fn. 382) and the number of apprentices bound to the trades during the same period varied from 7 per cent. to 18 per cent. of the number bound in any one year. (fn. 383) The percentage of those in the clothing trades, as revealed by the Freemen's Register, was not so high in the 19th century as in the three decades after the Restoration, when, judging by the admissions of new freemen and the numbers of new apprentices bound, the clothing trades were the most prominent in the town. No fewer than 9 of the 26 mayors who held office in the years 1660–88 were occupied in the clothing trades. (fn. 384) Richard Weston, mayor in 1703, may be taken as an example of a prominent mercer. He possessed land and messuages at Illston, Great Glen, Smeeton Westerby, and Belgrave, and in St. Mary's parish, Leicester. His probate inventory, made in 1711, listed goods to a value of £3,683 17s. 11½d., including a large variety of goods in his shop and warehouse, and in various rooms in his house. The stock in his shop included buttons, mohairs, sewing and stitching silks, buckram, canvas, tapes, threads, linen and woollen cloths such as Hollands and calicoes, serges, tammys, druggets, calamancoes, ribbons, silver and gold lace, galloon and threads, a 'Velvett' and a cloth pall, 4 cloaks, and sundry 'haberdashery wares'. The whole was valued at £482 17s. 10d. In his warehouse, next to the shop, was a similar array of goods, valued at at £549 5s. 11½d. Besides goods connected with the mercery business his stock included starch, sugar, pepper, raisins, treacle, rice, tobacco, paper, 'flamboys and torches', and 75 gallons of oil. (fn. 385)
The probate inventory of Joseph Wallin, a tailor, gives an excellent view of a Leicester tailoring business in the middle of the 18th century. The inventory was made in June 1750, and shows that Wallin's chattels were estimated to be worth in all £142 7s. 5d., including shop goods valued at £115 5s. 2d. The stock was listed in great detail. It included buckram, Irish linen, dowlas, shirts, coats, 'stay bodies', and metal buttons. There were also parcels of old waistcoats, old quilts, old breeches, new greatcoats, men's new waistcoats, boys' new waistcoats, new quilts, new leather breeches, women's new short cloaks, new drill frocks, blue serge, drill, fustian, shag, tammy, and remants. (fn. 386)
John Bassford, glover and leather-seller, may be taken as an example of a wealthy trader engaged in the clothing trades, at the end of this period. His probate inventory, drawn up in 1831, lists stock in trade valued at £522 9s. 2d., book debts totalling £200, £92 17s. in cash, leasehold estates valued at £110, and two shares in the Oakham canal, valued at £70. The total value of his goods was estimated to be £1,200 4s. 8d. (fn. 387)
(d) The Building Crafts (fn. 388)
In 1660 Leicester was a town of timbered buildings, but before the end of the 17th century the manufacture of bricks had begun in the neighbourhood. In 1699–1700 the corporation leased to Edward Broughton 4 acres of land in the South Field, to dig clay for brickmaking. (fn. 389) The first mention of bricklaying in the Freemen's Register occurs in 1696, when John Kirk, described as the son of Joshua Kirk, brickmaker of Leicester, was apprenticed to Thomas Hartwell, a bricklayer of Leicester. (fn. 390) Celia Fiennes, writing in 1698, (fn. 391) commented on the handsome brick houses in the Newarke, and on the new brick building at the Castle, though she described the town as mostly built of timber. After Joshua Kirk the next brickmaker to appear in the Freemen's Register is Edward White of Leicester, who is mentioned in 1702. (fn. 392) The trade of brickmaker does not appear again in the register for over 30 years after 1702, although some bricklayers occur. (fn. 393) The Presbyterian (later Unitarian) church known as the Great Meeting, built in 1708, is the earliest brick building in Leicester of which the actual date of erection is known, (fn. 394) though not the earliest to be built in the town by many years. During the second half of the 18th century bricklayers appear fairly frequently in the Freemen's Register. (fn. 395) In view of the great expansion of the town during the 18th and early 19th centuries, and of the fact that during the 18th century much of the timber building in the town was replaced by brick, (fn. 396) bricklayers and other craftsmen connected with building must have been employed in considerable numbers, and brickmaking was still being carried on on a large scale near Leicester in 1832. (fn. 397) More information is available about wage-rates in the building trades than about those in other occupations at Leicester. In considering this subject, it must be observed that master craftsmen occasionally charged more for their own services than for those of their journeymen, but such differences in pay, where they occurred, were only 2d. a day in favour of the masters. (fn. 398) The wages noted in the following paragraphs are those of journeymen.
Bricklayers were sometimes paid by piece rates. In 1721 the churchwardens of St. Mary de Castro paid bricklayers at the rate of 5s. for every 1,000 bricks laid, (fn. 399) and a year earlier the borough chamberlains paid for bricklaying at the rate of 4s. 6d. a thousand. (fn. 400) In such instances it is difficult to estimate the actual earnings, but in most cases bricklayers were paid by the day. In 1715 a case occurs of bricklayers being paid at the rate of 1s. 2d. a day, (fn. 401) and in the 1720's the usual rate seems to have been 1s. 4d. a day. (fn. 402)
These rates are rather below those paid to other craftsmen in the building industry. By the 1750's the normal pay had risen to 1s. 8d. a day, (fn. 403) about the same as other craftsmen were paid at Leicester. During the late 18th century wages rose further, though slowly. In the period 1770–90 the usual daily pay of a bricklayer seems to have been 2s. or 2s. 2d. (fn. 404) During the French wars wages rose rapidly. In 1792 2s. 4d. a day was being paid to bricklayers, (fn. 405) in 1793–5 2s. 6d., (fn. 406) and at the start of the 19th century 3s. (fn. 407) No examples of bricklayers' rates of pay have been found between 1802 and 1815, when an instance occurs of 4s. 6d. being paid. (fn. 408) This was probably unusually good pay, for in 1817 (fn. 409) and 1819, (fn. 410) when further examples have been found, the rate was 3s. 10d. Instances of unusually high rates occur in 1822 (fn. 411) and 1824, (fn. 412) but 4s. a day seems to have been usual in the late 1820's. (fn. 413) It would of course be unwise to attach too much importance to unusually high rates being paid on particular occasions; factors which are not revealed by the available evidence, such as the need for specially skilled work, may have been responsible. (fn. 414)
Masons, who perhaps did bricklaying in the 17th century before bricklaying emerged as a separate craft, are not mentioned at all frequently in the Freemen's Register during the period 1660–1835. (fn. 415) Examples of the wages paid to them are also not plentiful. In 1660–1 an instance occurs of a mason being paid at the rate of 1s. a day, (fn. 416) and in the 1690's there are two cases of 1s. 2d. being paid. (fn. 417) In 1747–8 the rates of 2s. and 2s. 4d. occur, (fn. 418) and in 1779 the rate, exceptionally high for the time, of 5s. (fn. 419) During the years between 1810 and 1833, for which some twenty examples of masons' wages have been found, the rate of pay varied between 4s. and 5s., with an average of just under 4s. 6d. (fn. 420) In general, masons' wages seem to have been rather above those of other building craftsmen.
Carpenters are mentioned with great frequency in the Freemen's Register, (fn. 421) and no doubt during a period when many of the town's houses were still timber-framed there was a considerable demand for their services. Thirteen examples have been found of the wages paid to carpenters during the years 1660–1714 inclusive; in twelve cases the rate paid was 1s. 2d. (fn. 422) and in the remaining case 1s. 4d. (fn. 423) In the four examples found for the years 1715–20 the rate is 1s. 4d., (fn. 424) and in all the cases that have been noted for the years 1720–40 it is 1s. 6d. (fn. 425) In the two cases found in the 1740's the rate is 1s. 5d. a day, (fn. 426) but in the 1750's, 1s. 8d., (fn. 427) and in 1762 the rate of 1s. 10d. occurs. (fn. 428) In 1770–90 the rate was either 2s. or 2s. 2d. a day. (fn. 429) After 1790 carpenters' wages, like those of other craftsmen, rose rapidly. By 1800 the usual rate seems to have been 3s., (fn. 430) and two cases of carpenters' wages in 1813–14 show a rate of 4s. 10d. (fn. 431) Of the six examples that have been found for the years 1818–31, four were 4s. a day, (fn. 432) one was 4s. 4d., (fn. 433) and one 4s. 6d. (fn. 434) In 1824 3s. 6d. seems to have been normal. (fn. 435) A carpenters' trade union existed at Leicester in the 1790's, (fn. 436) and in 1824 there was a carpenters' strike in the town, one of the series that occurred throughout the country in that year as a result of the repeal of the Combination Acts. (fn. 437)
Plumbers and glaziers seem to have constituted a single trade. In the Freemen's Register there are numerous instances of men described as 'plumber and glazier'. (fn. 438) Though instances occur in the register of men being described simply as 'glazier', (fn. 439) it is evident that these were sometimes, and probably usually, plumbers too; John Hall, for example, who was paid £2 a year by the corporation in the 1660's for looking after the town conduit, is described as a glazier, but he must also have been a plumber. (fn. 440) Such evidence as is available for the wages of plumbers and glaziers suggests that they were paid at a rather higher rate than carpenters. In the years 1696–1720 four examples of the wage rates of plumbers and glaziers have been found; in three of these the rate was 1s. 6d. a day, (fn. 441) and in the remaining one 1s. 2d. (fn. 442) In the period 1750–95 the rate seems to have been stationary, 2s. 6d. being recorded on nine occasions, (fn. 443) though rather less was sometimes paid. (fn. 444) After 1795 wages rose sharply to 3s. 6d. in 1805–9, (fn. 445) and to 4s. as the usual rate in 1810–35. (fn. 446)
At Leicester the slaters, plasterers, and tallow-chandlers all belonged to a single company, to the ordinal of which they were sworn. (fn. 447) The company is mentioned in 1657. It was controlled, like the other craft associations at Leicester, by a steward and two wardens, all elected yearly. It still existed in 1755, but there is no further record of it, and it presumably died out, like the companies of the other Leicester occupations. (fn. 448) Long after 1755, persons described as 'slater, plasterer, and tallow chandler' continue to appear in the Freemen's Registers. (fn. 449) The three occupations seem to have been practised together by some persons, (fn. 450) though on the other hand slaters and plasterers appear in some records of payments as though the two trades were quite distinct from each other. There is, however, an obviously close connexion between slating and plastering, and it is possible that slaters and plasterers turned to the making of tallow candles during the winter, when there would be little building work. (fn. 451) The wage-rates of slaters and plasterers seem from the available evidence to have resembled fairly closely those of the other building crafts. Thirteen examples of slaters' pay have been found for the years 1695–1713, and in all save one case the rate was 1s. 2d. a day. (fn. 452) From 1715 to about 1750 the rate was 1s. 4d. or 1s. 6d. a day. (fn. 453) In the 1750's and 1760's the three instances that have been found are of 1s. 8d. a day, and in 1770–90 there are seven of 2s. (fn. 454) After 1790 wages in this craft, as in others, rose more rapidly. From 1790 to 1800 they fluctuated between 2s. and 3s., (fn. 455) and from 1800 to 1815 between 3s. and 4s. (fn. 456) From 1815 to 1835 there are ten examples of 4s. a day, together with three of 4s. 6d. and one of 3s. 9d. (fn. 457) The occasional examples of plasterers' rates of pay that have been found (fn. 458) suggest that in general their wages closely resembled those of the other building trades, but not enough evidence has been found to describe their pay rates in detail.
The wages of labourers in all the building trades at Leicester seem to have resembled each other very closely during this period, and it is not possible to discover different trends or fluctuations in the labourers' remuneration in any one building trade as distinct from that prevailing in any other. Consequently the wage rates of labourers in all the building trades may be considered together. In the late 17th century and until about 1740 the normal rate of pay was 10d. or 1s. a day, examples of both those rates being found throughout the period; (fn. 459) occasionally lower wages were paid, (fn. 460) but apparently such cases are exceptional. During the period 1740–60 labourers' wages, in the instances that have been found, were 1s. a day. (fn. 461) About 1780 they were 1s. 4d. a day, (fn. 462) and between 1785 and 1790 they varied from 1s. 4d. (fn. 463) to 1s. 6d. (fn. 464) In 1792 1s. 8d. was being paid, (fn. 465) and from 1793 to 1795 the rate was 1s. 10d. (fn. 466) About 1800 it seems to have been 2s. a day. (fn. 467) In the period 1810–30 labourers' wages fluctuated between 2s. 6d. and 3s. 4d.; no distinct pattern is discernible in the fluctuations. The average of the instances discovered was 2s. 8d. (fn. 468)
(e) The Metal-Working Trades (fn. 469)
Not a great deal of information is available about the organization of the metalworking trades, or the earnings of workers in them, during this period. The probate inventories, which provide a useful source of information about the preceding period, are of declining value for the years after 1700. Blacksmiths and braziers occur frequently in the Freemen's Register, as might be expected, throughout the period, (fn. 470) and more specialized craftsmen, such as gunsmiths, (fn. 471) tinplate-workers, (fn. 472) pewterers, (fn. 473) goldsmiths, (fn. 474) and silversmiths, (fn. 475) are listed occasionally. The smiths and cutlers were members of a craft company, which like the other Leicester companies was presided over by a steward and two wardens, elected yearly. The company is last mentioned in 1738, (fn. 476) and presumably ceased to exist then, or soon afterwards. Framesmiths, the forerunners of the important branch of the engineering industry concerned with the manufacture of hosiery machinery, appear early in the 18th century, (fn. 477) and needle-makers and sinkermakers, both producing equipment needed by the hosiery industry, appear at rather later dates. (fn. 478) Before the end of the 18th century the metal-working trades at Leicester were thus already being influenced in their development by the town's staple industry. The growth of the engineering industry in the town from the end of the 18th century onwards is dealt with elsewhere. (fn. 479)
Although the town of Leicester attracted a large proportion of the trade of the surrounding countryside, it must be remembered that many of Leicester's inhabitants were themselves engaged in agriculture. Until 1804 the freemen still had the right to pasture their livestock in the open South Field, and even after that date there remained an area set aside as pasture for freemen's animals. The disputes which arose over the corporation's handling of its property in the South Field show the extent to which, during the 18th century, the freemen valued their pasture rights. (fn. 480) One of the town parishes, St. Margaret's, maintained a parish bull until at least 1828. (fn. 481) Until the 19th century the corporation usually included several representatives of the agricultural interest, (fn. 482) and it was not exceptional for members of various trades to have considerable farming interests. The mayor in 1705, for example, Thomas Hartshorne, although a bookseller, seems to have abandoned that trade in favour of farming. His probate inventory, drawn up in September 1708, contains no mention of books, but lists wheat, barley, oats, peas, and hay, valued at £200, 121 sheep, 10 horses, and 3 cows, besides carts, wagons, ploughs, harrows, and other implements of husbandry. (fn. 483) John Pares, mayor in 1695, an innholder and vintner, had a farm in addition to his inn. At his death his property included 8 horses and mares, 4 cows, 4 hogs, 79 sheep, 3 carts, 2 ploughs, a wagon, corn, and hay. (fn. 484) Less important tradesmen had their agricultural interests too. The probate inventory of Thomas Timson (d. 1724), a blacksmith of the Bishop's Fee, included, besides the tools of his trade, sheep valued at £15, out of possessions valued in all at £32 18s. (fn. 485) Many other examples could be given of tradesmen or craftsmen who were engaged to some extent in agriculture in the town fields. (fn. 486) The town population, too, included some who were fully engaged in agriculture, and some of those occupied in farming were amongst the wealthiest citizens of Leicester. (fn. 487) In some cases inhabitants of the town were engaged in farming, as distinct from merely owning, lands outside the borough in the adjacent parishes. (fn. 488) Throughout the period 1718–1835 some apprentices were always being bound to agriculture, although the number never rose above 3 per cent. of the total number bound in any one year. (fn. 489)
The Relief of Poverty
The hearth-tax returns of 1670 show that 281 householders in the borough of Leicester were exempt from paying tax because of their poverty, and that 256 paid tax only on one hearth. All these may be classed among the poor, making a total of 537 households, or about 53 per cent. of the households recorded in Leicester. (fn. 490) In the late 17th century there was thus at least potentially a considerable poor relief problem at Leicester, and the problem increased with the growth of population and the increasing dependence of the town on a single great industry. At Leicester, as in other places, the system was that each parish had to provide for its own poor, supervised by the borough justices. The supervision was, in general, lax and ineffective, though that did not prevent much friction between the justices and the parishes. (fn. 491) Various attempts were made to form a union of the Leicester parishes for poor law purposes. In 1708 a bill providing for the establishment of a town workhouse controlled by a board of six guardians was introduced into the House of Commons, but, though supported by the corporation, was rejected. (fn. 492) Leicester thus failed to obtain a special Act to deal with poor relief problems at a time when a number of other towns succeeded. In 1792 it was again suggested that a town workhouse should be established, but the proposal, though strongly supported, failed owing to the opposition of the large and populous parish of St. Margaret's. The project was revived again in 1810, but failed through the same cause. (fn. 493)
The administration of poor relief at Leicester therefore remained in the hands of the individual parishes throughout this period. Leicester consisted of six parishes, St. Mary's, St. Margaret's, St. Martin's, St. Nicholas's, St. Leonard's, and All Saints', and of several small extra-parochial liberties. (fn. 494) In the late 17th and early 18th centuries poor relief at Leicester was controlled, in the usual way, by unpaid overseers of the poor, appointed yearly. The poor were assisted by out-relief, which often took the form of payments for specific purposes, such as rent, clothing, or burial. (fn. 495) In the early 18th century the Leicester parishes began to build workhouses. In St. Margaret's some parish houses were built in 1714. They were apparently designed only to house the poor, and not to provide premises where they could be set to work. The object was to reduce the amount that had to be paid for the rent of houses occupied by paupers. In 1723 the parish houses were enlarged and converted to a workhouse. (fn. 496) The course of events in St. Martin's was similar. In 1720 the parish decided to erect houses in Millstone Lane to contain the poor, and before the end of 1724 the five houses that had been built had been converted into a workhouse. (fn. 497) In October 1724 the workhouse contained 28 persons, employed mostly in spinning and in knitting stockings. (fn. 498) In St. Mary's, the building of parish houses was decided on in 1722. (fn. 499) St. Mary's workhouse is mentioned in 1725. (fn. 500) St. Leonard's parish decided to rent a building for use as a workhouse in 1742. (fn. 501) All Saints' parish had a workhouse by 1746. (fn. 502) By 1776 all six parishes possessed workhouses, though the three extra-parochial liberties of Blackfriars, the Newarke, and Castle View were without any. The six parish workhouses could accommodate a total of 326 persons. (fn. 503) In converting their parish houses to workhouses, St. Martin's, St. Mary's, and St. Margaret's were perhaps inspired by Knatchbull's Act of 1723, (fn. 504) which specifically empowered parishes to erect workhouses. The motive for building them at Leicester as elsewhere seems to have been a desire to reduce the poor rates. (fn. 505) It is not clear to what extent the Leicester workhouses were intended to replace out-relief altogether. In St. Martin's parish it was resolved in 1733 that no out-relief should be given. (fn. 506) How long this system continued is not known, but it had certainly been abandoned by 1770, when there were 55 people in the workhouse, but 76 receiving out-relief. (fn. 507) In St. Leonard's out-relief was being given in the late 1740's, though a workhouse was established in 1742. (fn. 508) Out-relief was being given in St. Mary's in 1749, though the parish had a workhouse. (fn. 509) The Leicester workhouses seem to have been usually farmed out to contractors who undertook to relieve all the poor of the parish, with certain reservations, in return either for a fixed sum weekly or monthly, or for a fixed weekly payment per head of those relieved. St. Martin's workhouse was farmed almost continuously from 1740. (fn. 510) Agreements were made for farming St. Mary's workhouse in 1762, 1767, 1778, 1793. (fn. 511) All Saints' workhouse was farmed in 1756, and apparently until 1814. (fn. 512) In 1803 the workhouses of St. Mary's, St. Martin's, St. Margaret's, and All Saints' were all being farmed. (fn. 513)
The growing seriousness of the problem of poor relief at Leicester is shown by the increasing sums spent. In 1776 the total amount raised in the six Leicester parishes was £2,923, (fn. 514) but for the year ending April 1803 it was £7,105. (fn. 515) For the year ending in March 1835 the expenditure in poor relief in the same six parishes was £11,493. (fn. 516) In St. Martin's parish, the sum paid to the contractor who farmed the poor rose from £300 a year in 1750 (fn. 517) to £13 a week, or about £676 a year, in 1786, (fn. 518) and £21 a week, or about £1,090 a year, in 1800. (fn. 519) The growing expense of poor relief, and the increasing seriousness of the problem of pauperism, led to various measures to improve the administration of the poor law. One was the appointment of salaried officials to assist the overseers. As early as 1740 St. Martin's parish decided to allow 3s. 6d. a week to George Heighton, a former master of the workhouse, so long as he should take care of 'all certificated persons and all people that shall intrude in St. Martin's parish', (fn. 520) and in 1749 the same parish appointed the master of the workhouse to assist the two existing overseers. (fn. 521) In 1752 St. Martin's appointed a permanent overseer with a salary of £15 yearly. (fn. 522) Similar steps were taken in other parishes at a later date; St. Margaret's appointed a permanent overseer in 1800, and St. Nicholas's did the same in 1816. (fn. 523) Even in the small extra-parochial liberty of the Newarke, where there was no workhouse, it was found desirable to appoint an overseer in 1819. (fn. 524) In 1797 St. Martin's parish set up a committee to assist the existing officials. (fn. 525) Poor-relief policy was discussed in St. Martin's vestry in 1804, and again in 1806, (fn. 526) and in 1812 the parish decided to adopt Gilbert's Act of 1782 (fn. 527) so far as it concerned the poor law administration of individual parishes. A committee of thirteen was set up to carry out the decision, and in September 1812 the parish decided to recommend to the borough justices two persons for appointment as guardians of the poor, at a yearly salary of £10 each, and one man for the post of master of the workhouse at £30 yearly, together with persons to fill the offices of visitor and treasurer. (fn. 528) The Sturges Bourne Vestry Act of 1819, (fn. 529) which authorized parishes to set up committees with powers to control the overseers of the poor, was adopted by St. Margaret's, All Saints', and St. Mary's parishes. (fn. 530) St. Margaret's went further, and in 1832 obtained a special Act (fn. 531) which placed the control of parish affairs, and especially the control of poor relief, in the hands of a select vestry consisting of the incumbent, parish officers, and twenty elected representatives of the inhabitants. (fn. 532) The establishment of the parish committees, and of St. Margaret's select vestry, may have been partly due to a simple desire to improve the management of parochial business, but the main motive was the wish of the parishes to reduce, or even destroy, the borough justices' power of intervention in parochial affairs, and particularly their control of the overseers. The justices' actions reduced the power of the parishes to manage their own affairs, and involved them in expenses which they would have preferred to avoid. Tension between the justices and the parishes was made worse by the fact that the justices were drawn exclusively from the strongly Tory and Anglican corporation, while in the parishes Radical and dissenting elements, led by the growing class of wealthy hosiery manufacturers, were active. (fn. 533)
The Leicester Newspapers
Up to 1835 three newspapers of importance were published in Leicester, the Leicester Journal (at first the Leicester and Nottingham Journal), the Leicester Chronicle, and the Leicester Herald.
The Leicester and Nottingham Journal published its first number on 12 May 1753. It contained only four advertisements, and the price was 2d. The paper, issued weekly, consisted of four small pages mostly filled with news from London, with some very slight paragraphs on local affairs. There was nothing in the nature of a leading article. The Journal had no distinctive features, but was an average provincial newspaper of the period. (fn. 534) There were three columns to each of the four pages. The first three pages contained the London news, although the third page had half a column of local information. Frequently the Leicester news was left out for lack of space. Throughout its history the Journal was Tory in its outlook, and favoured the corporation. By 1773 the price had risen to 3d., and the space devoted to local news had expanded to a column and a half. (fn. 535)
At the beginning of 1787 the paper changed its name to the Leicester Journal. It had rarely contained any Nottingham news. When the duty on newspaper was increased in 1789, the price of the Journal rose to 3½d. (fn. 536) In 1797, with a further increase of the duty, the price rose to 6d., and it was stated that 'No advertisements will be inserted unless previously paid for because of losses incurred on that account.' (fn. 537) From 1753 the editor was John Gregory, who was succeeded by his son, another John. In 1803 the younger Gregory took John Price into partnership, and in 1806, when the younger Gregory died, Price took over as sole editor. (fn. 538) Further rises in price took place, to 6½d. in 1810, and to 7d. in 1815, both due to tax increases. (fn. 539) The newspaper did not greatly change between 1753 and 1835, though by the later date there were as many as nine columns of advertisements. Price died in 1831, (fn. 540) but his family remained owners. (fn. 541) From 1832 onwards the paper contained a 'Police Report', dealing with the sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays of the borough magistrates. (fn. 542)
The second paper to be published in Leicester was the Leicester Herald, which had a short life from May 1792 to April 1795. The editor was Richard Phillips, a bookseller at the corner of Gallowtree Gate and Humberstone Gate. (fn. 543) The original price was 3½d. (fn. 544) Phillips was a man of liberal, even Radical, opinions, and the paper reflected his views. He was imprisoned in 1793 for selling seditious publications, including the works of Tom Paine. (fn. 545) In 1795 Phillips's premises were burnt down, and he shortly afterwards removed to London. (fn. 546) The Herald seems to have ceased publication before the fire. (fn. 547)
A paper called the Anti-Gallican was produced at Leicester for a short time in 1794. It was Tory in outlook and noted for its violent tone. (fn. 548)
The Herald's place as the mouthpiece of liberal opinion was taken by the Leicester Chronicle, printed and published by George Bown, of the Market Place, Leicester, who had been charged with seditious practices in 1794. (fn. 549) The first issue was published in November 1810. (fn. 550) The Chronicle was soon at rivalry with the Leicester Journal, and consistently supported the liberal opposition to the corporation. (fn. 551) During the first two years of its existence the form of the paper changed several times, but in January 1812 the first issue was published of a new series, and then and for some time afterwards the paper consisted of eight small pages of three columns each. (fn. 552) In 1815 the format of the paper was altered to the four pages of five columns each favoured by the Leicester Journal. (fn. 553)
The last paper to appear during this period was the Leicestershire Herald and General Advertiser, which first appeared in July 1827, costing 7d.; it contained four pages of five columns each, and was printed by H. J. Wilkinson of Gallowtree Gate. (fn. 554) The publication of the newspaper on Wednesdays was a new departure which the first leading article justified by pointing out that hitherto there had been no news available in the town between one issue of the existing papers, and the next. The paper was a Tory one, supporting the corporation and the monarchy.
The Growth of Leicester, 1670–1835 (fn. 555)
From 1670 to the 1720's there was an increase in the population of Leicester such as had not been seen since Elizabethan times. In 1712, Samuel Carte, Vicar of St. Martin's and a locally renowned antiquarian, put the population of the town at 1,209 families, though he omitted to assess the numbers in St. Leonard's parish and in the Newarke. (fn. 556) If an approximate correction is made of these omissions, which were not very serious in proportion to the total population of the town, a revised estimate puts total numbers at about 1,360 families, or perhaps 6,000 people. Carte's evidence, taken with that of the hearth-tax figures, suggests an increase of not less than 30 per cent. between 1670 and 1712. This estimate is confirmed by statistics drawn from the parish registers, (fn. 557) which show that the average number of baptisms in the years 1711–13 was 35 per cent. greater than that in 1669–71. The number of baptisms suggests in a general way the trends of total numbers, though this correlation is prevented from being a precise one by variations in the birth-rate, in the age structure of the population, in the failure to baptize all new infants, and in the extent of nonconformity. Nevertheless, a comparison between the number of baptisms and the occasional censuses of the town made in the 17th and 18th centuries (fn. 558) suggests a variation in the crude baptismal rate between 30.7 and 32.8 per 1,000, if the abnormally low ratio of 28.1 given by the incomplete ecclesiastical census of 1676 is excluded. In the last quarter of the 17th century and the first quarter of the 18th, baptisms rose by over 60 per cent., which implies a considerable increase in population. The immediate causes of this growth were to be found at least partly in a higher rate of survival. The evidence of the parish registers, though treacherous, goes some way to establish that this was a period when the excess of births over deaths was much greater than it had been in the plague years in 1660–70, or than it was later in the second quarter of the 18th century (see Table VI). Until about 1685 the burial-rate had been high and had been exceeded only slightly by the number of baptisms. In eight years between 1661 and 1685 burials were more numerous than baptisms. Such heavy mortality occurred much more rarely in the next generation, and the excess of baptisms over burials was regularly over 25 per cent. The plagues of the period 1660–70 were not repeated, and more people seem to have survived the rigours of early childhood.
The greater healthiness of the late 17th century lasted until well into the early 18th, but the toll of deaths began to rise fairly sharply after 1719 and they began once more to exceed the number of baptisms. As many as 416 burials are recorded in the single year 1724, amounting perhaps to something of the order of 5 per cent. of the total population of the town. For approximately 30 years after 1730 the number of baptisms varied little, and it was not until 1760–70 that a sharp upward trend was set in motion. Throughout Leicestershire the period 1730–60 was one of high mortality and nowhere was this more marked than in Leicester itself. The pressure of the new fatal diseases lifted slightly in the 70's but the death-rate remained high until 1800, even though the population was then increasing at an unprecedented rate.
Table VI: Average Annual Baptisms
Average Annual Burials
Average Annual Excess of Baptisms over Burials
It is clear that Leicester's growth in the 18th century was by no means an even one, and that there was a whole generation in which numbers failed to increase at all. Stimulated by a revival of prosperity and a low death-rate, the town of about 5,000 in 1670 had become one of 6,000 by 1712 and perhaps 8,000 by about 1730, before the impetus of early-18th-century growth was lost, and the heavy mortality characteristic of the second quarter of the 18th century produced a sag in the population curve which lasted until about 1760. From then until the end of the century the rate of increase was 20 per cent. a decade and the population of Leicester was more than doubled between 1760 and 1801, when the first census reported about 17,000 people. This rate was exceeded during the first 30 years of the 19th century when the population rose to nearly 40,000 in 1831. (fn. 559)
Natural increase was only one factor in the growth of population, and migration contributed much. Its importance is implicit in the parish register statistics, since the excess of baptisms over burials throughout the period is far too low to account for the rate at which the population grew. It is, however, more difficult to estimate what proportion of the total population was made up of migrants than to discover their origins. Analysis of those marriage registers which give the origins of bride and groom suggest that approximately a quarter of those married in Leicester came from outside the town; information about origins is only available for three parishes, and in them only for limited periods in the late 17th century; (fn. 560) the Freemen's Register gives full information about the origins of new freemen only from 1697 to 1702, during which period 38 per cent. of them came from outside the town; (fn. 561) and the more continuous and longer record of the Register of Apprentices from 1678 to 1682 and 1718 to 1770 suggests a figure of 50 per cent. for apprentices up to 1720 falling to 38 per cent. in 1750–70. (fn. 562) It is, in short, impossible to find evidence covering a representative cross-section of age and social position which can give an adequate estimate of the proportion of migrants in the whole population. Nevertheless, each of the sources points to a high rate of migration, varying from a quarter to a half, though the groups from which the statistics are drawn represent sections of the population which were more likely to move. The late 17th and early 18th centuries produced the highest proportion of migrant apprentices.
The Register of Apprentices permits a closer analysis to be made of the origins of migrants. Most came from within the county. Over the whole period rather more than half of the migrants came from villages within a ten-mile radius of Leicester, and the remainder were fairly equally divided between the outlying parts of the county and the rest of the country. From 1678 to 1730 57 per cent. of the migrant apprentices had come from less than ten miles away, but for the years 1751–70 this proportion fell to 49 per cent., with a corresponding increase in the number of those who came from farther afield. Although, as we have seen, the proportion of migrants fell slightly in the later part of the century it is quite clear that the average range of movement had extended. It may be suspected that the improvement of the road system in the 18th century was not without effect on the growth of Leicester. With the exception of the Fosse Way, all the principal roads which touched Leicester were turnpiked by 1770, (fn. 563) and by 1830 Leicester was served by more than 50 stage coaches daily, and there were over 230 local carriers. (fn. 564)
Several points of interest attach to the distribution of the origins of the immigrants from Leicestershire. (fn. 565) Most came from a group of large and prosperous villages strung out along the Soar valley, but apart from this large group, more came from the purely agricultural eastern part of the county than from the west, where a flourishing rural hosiery industry supplemented the opportunities that were to be had in agriculture. All but a few of those who came from farther afield came from the surrounding counties or from London. There was an occasional representative from places as far away as Kent and Lancashire, and even two young men who hailed from Virginia and were apprenticed in 1730 and 1735 to a relative of theirs, a prominent citizen of the town. With one or two exceptions, however, the range from which Leicester drew its inhabitants in the 18th century was a very local one. The majority were born in the town, and lived and died in it. Of the rest over a half were within a few hours' walk of their birthplace, and only a few individuals (no more than 27 apprentices from 1678 to 1770) could claim that their origins lay entirely outside the midlands.
Leicester increased its population threefold during the 18th century, but the records and maps of the town show no substantial changes in its physical extent. There was much new building, (fn. 566) though little new ground was broken. Between the map of 1722 (fn. 567) and the map of 1792 (fn. 568) published by Throsby there are few differences of importance. In the early stages of growth and during the long depression of the hosiery trade from about 1760 to 1790 existing buildings seem simply to have become more overcrowded. (fn. 569) In addition, English families appear to have been larger on the average in 1801 than they were in 1670, so that the demand for separate houses did not increase at the same rate as the population.
The activity of the 18th century was concerned mainly with the rebuilding of much that had become unsafe and decayed. Georgian brick replaced much that had been halftimbered. The most spectacular achievements were the removal of the town gates in 1774, (fn. 570) the replacement of the old Gainsborough by the Exchange in 1747–8, on the same site overlooking the Market Place, (fn. 571) and the building of the Assembly Rooms a few years later near the site of the East Gate, (fn. 572) and of a new town gaol (fn. 573) and the infirmary. (fn. 574) All of these were swept away in the orgy of Victorian building, and other than a few houses, mainly in New Street or near it, there is very little evidence now of 18th-century building.
New domestic building was irregular and piecemeal, but it filled in many of the gaps which were obvious in the town of 1700. (fn. 575) There was much solid achievement in the north of the town, which continued to be the part of Leicester in which the poorer artisans and labourers were housed. Quite early in the 18th century the hovels in Sanvey Gate belonging to the corporation were rebuilt. (fn. 576) By 1800 houses were just beginning to appear (fn. 577) in the north-western part of the town which had been so long devoted to orchards and gardens, though it was not until the 1850's that the area was completely built up. In the south of the town the most outstanding achievement was the creation of New Street out of the Grey Friars land. (fn. 578)
The character of the building in New Street and of the houses which had been built on corporation land near the bowling green which had been opened in 1736–7 (fn. 579) made it clear that this was still the most select residential part of the town, as it had been in 1670, and it was therefore no accident that when the corporation proposed in 1785 to establish a public walk for the people of Leicester, they should choose a strip of land which started from this area of the town. (fn. 580) The New Walk, as it came to be called, began at the junction of a recently built street with the Welford Turnpike, which had been created twenty years earlier. (fn. 581) It followed closely the boundary hedge which separated the South Fields from the inclosed fields of St. Margaret's parish, but lay entirely within the former as far as the turnpike on the London road. The New Walk therefore had a number of factors to recommend it. On the one hand the corporation's interests in the South Fields enabled it to appropriate land there, and on the other hand it connected the fashionable part of Leicester with the open countryside at a point where high land approached most closely to the town, giving wide and pleasing views from almost anywhere along its course. Its very creation added a further incentive to later residential building along its line.
The establishment of the New Walk was one of the few occasions in the late 18th century when the unreformed corporation displayed an element of public spirit. It was largely the prospect of substantial gain that stimulated the unsuccessful plans of 1792 to divide the Horsefair Leys and the adjacent land into small building plots, and to construct an imposing square in which land would be reserved for a new town hall. (fn. 582) In the event it was not until 1807 that parts of the Horsefair Gardens and the bowling green were sold in building lots and the present streets in that area were marked out. (fn. 583) There was little of the attention to formal planning which had been obvious in the 1792 plans, and the new streets were laid out economically along existing boundary lines. By 1810 most of the Horsefair Leys and the bowling green gardens had been sold in small lots for building. (fn. 584) The corporation had embarked upon a policy of selling land at a high profit for building that was to have tremendous consequences both for its own finances and for the way in which this part of the town was to grow in the first half of the 19th century.
In the first half of the 19th century the town began to stretch long tentacles along the main roads to the north-east and south-east. What amounted to a new town, and, indeed, was often called New Leicester, sprang up in the north-east quarter to the north of Humberstone Gate. The turn of the century marked the beginning of a new phase in the physical growth of the town, just as the 1760's marked the beginning of a new phase in the growth of population. The two went hand in hand, though there was a substantial time-lag between them as families grew and as overcrowding became more obvious in the late 18th century. In general, the early 19th century was marked not only by the most rapid rate of growth of population in the town's history but also by the predominant importance of framework-knitting, still organized on a domestic basis and in the early years of the century enjoying a marked prosperity. (fn. 585) Neither the boot and shoe industry nor the factory system were prominent in the first half of the century, and it was only when these did become important that the growth of Leicester began to take on a different character again. (fn. 586)
The directions of physical growth in the first half of the 19th century were very largely controlled by two factors: the building of the Leicester–Loughborough canal, completed in 1794, (fn. 587) and the inclosure of the South Fields under an Act of 1804. (fn. 588) One concentrated the flow of working-class people into the neighbourhood of Belgrave Gate, the other permitted a southward expansion of better housing parallel to the New Walk and up to the brow of the hill near the London road turnpike. From the first the canal was successful, particularly in the carriage of coal and other heavy traffic. The toll receipts on the Leicester–Loughborough road dropped by a third between 1793 and 1795, and it was not until 1830 that they recovered their former level. (fn. 589) In 1792 (fn. 590) there was virtually no building north of Sanvey Gate, except along North Gate Street which linked the town with the North Bridge over the Soar. The construction of the Leicester Navigation entailed the cutting of a short canal, which left the Soar about a mile north of the North Bridge, and rejoined the river just south of the bridge. Along the line of this canal there had grown up by 1828 a line of industrial establishments: (fn. 591) Frog Island, between the canal and the river, was the site of tan-yards and bleaching-yards, while the main groups of wharves lay to the east of the canal's junction with the river, and it was here, along the strip of the canal nearest to Belgrave Gate, that the public wharf was built, together with lime-kilns, iron-foundries, and, in 1821, the gas-works. (fn. 592) Population and housing followed industry towards the canal. To build on the low, level land on either side of Belgrave Gate was the obvious course open to those who wished to provide for the housing needs of a population which was increasing at the rate of 800 or 900 a year, but it was also almost the only course and many residential streets were laid out immediately south of the canal before 1828. On the Abbey Meadows farther north, flooding was a serious menace, and the meadows were in any case subject to common rights. To the west of the town and the river there were only a few houses at the foot of the West Bridge in 1792, but between then and 1828 much building took place along both banks of the newly navigable river. To the south the corporation land in the South Fields was being carefully preserved for other purposes. On the other hand, St. Margaret's Fields to the east of the town had been inclosed in 1764. (fn. 593) Common rights had been abolished and there were no obstacles in the way of any individual landowner who wished to sell to the speculative builder. Even before 1794 houses had begun to string out along Belgrave Gate and Humberstone Gate, and the arrival of the canal in that year therefore helped to strengthen a tendency which was already apparent. (fn. 594)
As early as 1805, when an excellent survey was made of the lands in St. Margaret's parish, (fn. 595) it is clear that the framework for the street development of the next 30 years was already determined. Between Humberstone Gate and Belgrave Gate lanes and paths which had been laid down on inclosure were later made into roads from which dreary, close-packed streets branched off, usually parallel to the long axis of the fields they replaced, in order to compress the maximum number of houses within the minimum of space. St. Margaret's parish, excluding Knighton, which had accounted for 30 per cent. of Leicester's population in 1700 and about the same in 1790, contained rather more than 60 per cent. in the years 1830–50 as a result mainly of this steady expansion of building to the east and north-east.
The second factor which had far-reaching effects on the growth of the town in the first half of the 19th century was the inclosure of the South Fields. The expansion of the town to the south and south-east was impossible until the common rights of the freemen had been extinguished by inclosure. Before the inclosure award of 1811 there was scarcely a building in the South Fields, even though the demand for housing was pressing against the boundaries nearest the town. As soon as the award was issued and the lands were allotted to the corporation, the freemen, and a few private owners, the extension of building could and did proceed into those parts of the South Fields which were most conveniently placed near the town.
As a result of rights confirmed in the 13th century, and of the acquisition of the Newarke Grange in the 17th century, and of other 16th- and 17th-century purchases, (fn. 596) the corporation held almost all the land in the South Fields, and the main limitation on its monopoly was the pasture rights of the freemen. It was these common rights, highly valued by the freemen, which had stood in the way of earlier inclosure of the South Fields, and under the award of 1811 the freemen received 125 acres out of the 600 allotted. (fn. 597) Their lands were in the remote parts of the fields. Almost all the remaining lands were allotted to the corporation, including the land which lay nearest to the town and the New Walk. (fn. 598)
The inclosure of the South Fields removed the only remaining obstacle of importance to urban expansion, which was untrammelled by any obvious natural barriers. The importance of this can be seen if Leicester is compared with two other midland cities, Nottingham and Coventry, both of which suffered in the 19th century from the constriction caused by the existence of common fields, which made building impossible until the common rights were extinguished. (fn. 599) It was true that there were few open spaces in Leicester in which 'the labouring poor' could take what leisure they had, but 'Leicester has (by inclosure) got the means of expansion, has made use of it and is comparatively healthy and the people well off, whereas in some parts of Nottingham they are crowded together in a way that is alarming to think of'. (fn. 600)
It must have become clear to the corporation from the sales of the bowling green and the Horsefair Gardens at the turn of the century that the piecemeal sale of small plots of land for building could be a highly profitable business. To extend this policy to those parts of the South Fields which were ripe for development was an obvious conclusion. As soon as the Inclosure Act had been passed the corporation could come out into the open, as it did when its South Field Committee reported in 1806 'it will be prudent so to mark out the streets and lots in the Bowling Green Garden so as not now to destroy or injure any plan which may be hereafter proposed for building'. (fn. 601) Any plan which involved building near the bowling green would inevitably involve part of the South Fields.
Almost as soon as the award was issued in 1811, the corporation began to nibble at the land nearest to the town. By January of the following year land near New Walk had been bought from one of the members of the corporation in order to lay out a street parallel to New Walk and thus to bring into the building market part of the South Fields and a piece of privately owned land between New Walk and London Road. At the same meeting of the Common Hall the new road was topically named Wellington Street, and the sales of public land began. (fn. 602) From the time of the inclosure award to the end of the unreformed corporation in 1835, the South Field Committee, to whose hands the business was entrusted, consistently followed the same policy as far as it profitably could. In 1814 the committee observed that 'much land eligible for building on and adjoining the streets which have already been laid out, still remains unsold, and as it now lets for £6 an acre, and the clear produce of it would be at least £1,250 an acre, the committee recommends that those parts be sold as long as customers can be found and either new property bought or any scheme of public advantage be undertaken'. (fn. 603) Apart from a provision that a small piece of land near the New Walk should be reserved for gardens, there was no restriction on sales right to the end of the old corporation's regime. The tentative regulation of elevations and building standards which had been planned to secure uniformity and elegance in the abortive plans for Brunswick Square at the end of the 18th century was discarded or forgotten. The fact that some of the resulting building, in the Crescent and along Regent Street, for example, was among the best there is in Leicester today can be attributed to the climate of the age rather than to conscious guidance by authority. Ostensibly the corporation devoted the proceeds of its land sales to the purchase of valuable properties in the town, gifts to a few charities, the making of some half-hearted improvements in the amenities of the town, and to the elimination of its liability to land tax and of the rents it owed to the Duchy of Lancaster. But the obvious and dominant aim was to use the capital gains from the sale of land to increase the annual income of the corporation. (fn. 604)
There were, however, more sinister motives, hidden by the silence of the records and only partially brought to light by the inquiries of the parliamentary commissioners into the government of the town in 1833. (fn. 605) There was doubt about how much land had actually been sold. The corporation records proclaim, and the town clerk insisted in 1834, that not more than 13½ acres had been alienated for building since inclosure. Yet several highly reputable inhabitants of the town were willing to depose before the commissioners in 1832 that within the previous 25 years the quantity of land sold must have been of the order of 25 to 30 acres. They based their estimate on the number of new streets built in the South Fields since inclosure, 'which form an extensive portion of the suburbs of the town'. A land surveyor estimated from a new and excellent map of St. Mary's parish (fn. 606) that 26 acres had been sold, excluding the area of the main streets. It seems that these estimates were probably more correct than the records of the corporation, since the sale of property was one of the subjects on which the corporation refused to answer the commissioners' questions. It was suspected, probably justly, that some of the proceeds of sales had been used to finance the parliamentary election of 1826. (fn. 607) Individual members of the corporation profited from the sale of lands in the South Fields. Apart from the many publicly recorded sales to members, there were believed to be a considerable number of secret sales at low prices. (fn. 608) Although it was said in 1833 that none of the land in the South Fields was worth less than 5s. a yard, and much was worth more, members of the corporation were said seldom to pay more than 5s. for it. A witness stated that he bought land from an alderman and common councilman at 50 to 60 per cent. above the price paid for it to the corporation. Some was sold at twice the price. (fn. 609)
This then, was the process by which much of the building in the South Fields was achieved up to 1835, whether on the flat land to the west, where working-class houses and hosiery warehouses were springing up, or on the rising land to the south where some of the best houses in the town were being built.
The Leicester of 1835 was a very different town from that of 1660. The manufacture of hosiery had expanded until in 1830 it was said to be almost the only manufacture of the town. (fn. 610) Since 1800 the engineering industry had been growing steadily, though in 1835 it was still far from being as important as it later became. (fn. 611) The manufacture of boots and shoes was just beginning to develop as an industry of some importance. (fn. 612) Steam power was already appearing, and by 1830 there were 24 steam engines in full operation at Leicester, not counting those engaged in grinding corn. (fn. 613) About 1838 there were said to be nearly 50 steam engines in the town. (fn. 614)
The growth of the town, and the expansion of its industries, would have been impossible without a corresponding development of its communications. The improvement of roads in the 18th century and the building of the canal have already been discussed. (fn. 615) At the very end of this period the railway appeared, and in 1832 the Leicester & Swannington Railway gave Leicester its first satisfactory communications with the west Leicestershire coalfield. (fn. 616) Its effects on the town's industry and topography, however, were not felt until later.
Whether the architecture and general appearance of the town had improved as much as its population had increased was a matter about which contemporary observers were divided. William Cobbett, who visited Leicester in 1830, described the town and its setting in very flattering terms. (fn. 617) On the other hand another and perhaps more dis- passionate observer, writing in the same year, remarked: 'While the town in less than thirty years has expanded to twice its former bulk, too little, it must be confessed, has been gained in elegance and beauty. The new streets have been laid out without much, if any, regard to taste and regularity, and the new buildings are in general destitute of ornament and uniformity.' (fn. 618) Certainly much new building had been done in the streets radiating from the former East Gate, (fn. 619) and in some other places such as the New Walk, apart from the newly built areas on the edge of the town. The town gained some handsome new houses, some of which survive to the present day. (fn. 620) On the other hand in the 1820's many older buildings remained, picturesque but decrepit, their timbered upper stories projecting over the narrow roadways, (fn. 621) and many new streets were being built, especially in St. Margaret's parish, in which the houses were small, crowded together, badly constructed, and built on ground almost impossible to drain properly. (fn. 622) Leicester was already acquiring some of the aspect, and many of the problems, of the Victorian industrial town.