5B Text

19th century Leicester was transformed by industrial revolution, but maintained its commitment to dissenting and radical causes (top right). Railways arrived and factories opened; hosiery, textiles, and footwear were the chief industries.

There were over 20 shoe manufacturers in Leicester during the 19th and 20th centuries. Equity Shoes (top), though not the largest, lasted the longest, until 2009. Equity was a radical workers’ co-operative from the outset, and one of its first machinists, Alice Hawkins, became Leicester’s most famous suffragette, campaigning for women to be able to vote in elections. Her statue stands proudly in Leicester market (top centre). Hawkins joined the Independent Labour Party in 1894 and became actively involved in Unions (bottom left). She formed a close friendship with Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst, who helped form the local Women’s Social and Political Union, based at 14 Bowling Green Street. Sylvia, an accomplished artist, drew Alice and her fellow workers. Her drawings are in the New Walk Museum. There were suffragette marches across the country and the one in Leicester in 1911 (bottom left and centre) drew large crowds. Alice Hawkins was jailed five time during the campaign. The outbreak of war in 1914 brought campaigning to an end. Votes for Women were eventually allowed in 1918.

Women have often played a prominent role in radical movements. Little is known about the social reformer Elizabeth Heyrick (1769 -1831, silhouette lower right), who was a Quaker committed to anti-slavery and ending capital punishment. Heyrick believed that women should be involved in these issues as they are able ‘not only to sympathise with suffering, but also to plead for the oppressed’.

Another tireless worker for the oppressed was Amos Sherriff (top left), the first Labour Lord Mayor of Leicester in 1922. Sherriff grew up in Leicester’s slums and did not go to school. He was Illiterate until his twenties, when he joined the Christian Mission (later the Salvation Army) and learned to read and write. A member of the Independent Labour Party, he remained a confirmed Christian and teetotaller all his life.

Sherriff opened a bicycle shop on Belgrave Road, which became an informal community advice centre. Cycling was a popular working-class hobby with strong links to the socialist movement. The shop distributed the weekly Socialist newspaper ‘The Clarion’ and promoted the Clarion Cycling Club. In 1901 Sherriff joined the Board of Guardians, which managed the Poor Laws, the precursor to Social Security. He was horrified at the punitive treatment of the poor and the levels of inequality in the city. In 1905 he organised the Leicester March of the Unemployed, commemorated by a plaque on the Corn Exchange in Leicester Market Place (bottom right). The march caught the public imagination and raised awareness of the plight of the unemployed. However, it had no direct effect on the government and the King refused to meet the marchers.

Thomas Cook was another teetotaller and radical Christian, founder of the eponymous travel firm, whose 1994 statue stands outside the railway station (centre left). The story goes that the idea of paid excursions ‘came to him in 1845 as he was walking from Market Harborough to Leicester to attend a Temperance meeting’. He was ambitious and successful. In 1851 he arranged for 150,000 people to visit the Great Exhibition in London. In the following years he started taking passengers to Europe and the business grew rapidly. Cook had many enduring radical commitments. These included the repeal of the Corn Laws (which taxed imported grain, keeping the price up) and Chartism, a political movement for extending the vote to the working classes. He was an important property developer and opened ‘Cook’s Commercial and Family Temperance Hotel’ and the ‘Temperance Hall’ next door on Granby Street. He never allowed ‘secularists’ to use the Temperance Hall. Later in life he helped found the ‘Leicester Coffee and Cocoa Company’, setting up coffee houses throughout the city as an alternative meeting place to the pub.