Leicestershire vol. VI Loughborough

VCH Volume: 
Leicestershire vol. VI (Loughborough)


Our Charnwood Roots project, which ran from 2013-17, involved over 600 volunteers and researched the histories of 35 towns, villages and hamlets across the Charnwood Forest area (stretching from Barrow-on-Soar in the Soar valley to Whitwick and Coalville in the Leicestershire coalfield). We are very grateful to the heritage Lottery Fund for providing the funding for this project.

The history of the market and university town of Loughborough formed an important part of this research, and we aim to publish this as Volume VI in the Leicestershire VCH series of 'big red books'. We are currently raising money to enable us to employ someone to draw together the research we have done, fill any gaps, write the text and publish the volume. Donations towards this would be very welcome - please see the 'Support' section of this website, or contact us for more information. Further volumes for the other 'Charnwood Roots' parishes will follow. 

The research has been fascinating. Loughborough is a large parish (5,000 acres) located between the high rocky ground of Charnwood and the low lying Soar valley. The town (which was probably developing in the 12th century) was originally well connected by road, and has benefited greatly from the coming of the canals, railways and modern roads. The town was originally associated with hamlets and farms, but these have mostly been absorbed into the spreading suburbs. Timber buildings were replaced by brick from about 1800, and there are some distinguished public buildings such as the town hall and baths. The country houses at Burleigh and Garendon have been demolished. The population has grown from 200 to 700 (from 1086 to 1377), reached 1,700 in 1670, 4,000 in 1800 and 60,000 today.

The lords of the manor were high status aristocracy, the Despenser, Beaumonts and Hastings, until an indebted Hastings sold his land in 1809-13. Garendon Abbey held much land 1133-1536. The  agricultural economy depended on mixed farming, with a notable increase in the scale of production in the 17th and 18th centuries. The open fields and common land were enclosed in 1761. The town was a market centre with many trades and crafts for a modest hinterland, but specialised manufacture came in the 18th century with lace and hosiery, and woolcombing employed people alongside hosiery c.1800. Industry diversified in the 19th and 20th centuries, with such enterprises as Brush, Morris, and Taylors. The food and drink trades, as well as services such as inn keeping, have always been important.

The social hierarchy did not include many very wealthy people - it has tended to be a town of artisans and small traders. Some cohesion has been provided by guilds before 1550 and clubs in recent times. The poor were accommodated in a parish workhouse in the 18th century and a large workhouse serving both the town and 24 surrounding villages after 1838. The public dispensary in the 19th century evolved into a hospital, finally replaced by a new institution in 2003. The grammar school founded by a rich merchant in 1494, after a chequered history, emerged in the late 19th century as a major educational foundation. A phenomenal success has been the growth of the University from a Technical Institution in 1909. It merged with other colleges and has become a leading University with an international reputation. 

The religious life of the town was served solely by the large parish church of St Peter and St Paul until the 18th century when nonconformists began to build their chapels. A Roman Catholic church was founded in 1834. In recent decades new mosques and temples reflect the growing cultural diversity of the town.

Until the 19th century the town was ruled by its lords through a manor court. An alternative institution, the Bridgemasters, was endowed with lands from the 16th century, and paid for civic projects such as bridges and roads. The town became an incorporated borough in 1888.