Loughborough in 2005
A Brief History
The first surviving document to give Loughborough a recognised name was the Domesday Book of 1086, where it was recorded as "Lucteburne". If you pronounce the c as a soft ch this isn’t quite as surprising as it may seem. The name probably derives from a man called Lehede whose settlement was called Lehedeburh.
However, Loughborough as a settlement is much older than the Normans. There were people living here in Roman times. On the edge of the Soar Valley is a hillock of underlying gravel where today you will find the Parish Church. There are two causeways across the Soar meadows to the NorthEast carrying the roads to Normanton and Cotes Mill and hence to Nottingham and to the SouthWest of the Church the town extended down the hill to a crossing point of the Woodbrook from where there were roads going up to Ashby and Derby. The road to Leicester was Packe Horse Lane. The Woodbrook, not the Soar which is nearly a mile away, is the waterway on whose banks Loughborough stands but today this trickle of a stream is barely visible. You can see it in the gap between the carriageways of Forest Road and as it slinks behind John Storer House and the edge of Queens Park. Then it has been channelled underground. There is a reminder of its existence in The Rushes and it only comes into its own again when it reaches the meadows. Perhaps the Woodbrook is not in favour because of its marshy nature, but certainly the Town and its Market Place was built on its banks.
The Romans were here and so were the Vikings. We are firmly in Danelaw as witnessed by the names of the streets which are ‘gates’, and the names of many of the surrounding villages which end in ‘by’.
By the middle ages the wool trade was the economic prosperity and the Parish Church bears witness to the money. Look also at many of the roads going over the Wolds to the East. Observe the broad strips of apparently unused land beside the road – these were for the drovers bringing their sheep to market. It was at the height of this trade that Loughborough was granted its charters to hold weekly markets and an annual fair.
Industry came early to Loughborough. The granite outcrops of Charnwood Forest have been quarried for centuries as have lime and gypsum under the Wolds. But until the factories of the late Victorian era the town’s industry consisted of individuals occupied in shoemaking, weaving, blacksmithing, agricultural tool making, provisioning, etc. When machinery arrived at the beginning of the industrial revolution some people in the town engaged in the Luddite vandalism which destroyed the first attempts to mechanise the weaving trade. Today the clothing and hosiery industry has almost completely gone. Our economy is no match for low wages in the developing countries and cheap global transport.
The great expansion of the town occurred in the mid 1800s when the water supply was protected from the sewers. Almost overnight life expectancy rose from 40 to 50 years. The great building boom took place in the late 1800’s witnessed by the rows of Victorian terraces. Note also that these terraced houses are defined by the width of their frontages. The meanest are only 12 feet wide (3.65m) but the plush and substantial have up to 20 feet (6.1m).
Loughborough is not noted for keeping its architectural heritage; the town no longer has a richness of architecture. In the early 1900s there was a massive programme of widening the medieval streets and nearly all the old buildings were knocked down. However, a town does not live for its buildings. The people are its main treasure and Loughborough has a great multi-cultural population and a lively network of people in a variety of circles which overlap to create a town that people want to live in. Even if some still hanker for a great name chain store.
The Town Hall
The Town Hall was erected in 1855. The main assembly hall was built as a Corn Exchange but today the last vestiges have been transformed to make a modern centre of entertainment with two theatres, a restaurant, bar and café, a seminar room and the Tourist Information Centre. Upstairs is the Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour.
Loughborough Market is held every Thursday and Saturday. The charter was granted by King Henry III in 1221. Another Charter in 1226 gave permission for the annual November fair when the town centre becomes a riot of bright lights, screams and music. The Charter is read out every year by the Mayor from the balcony of the Town Hall to open the fair.
In the centre of the Market Place is a drinking fountain presented by Archdeacon Fearon in 1870 to commemorate the town's first clean water supply. Around the fountain are some brass plaques to honour our four twin towns of Epinal in France, Schwabisch Hall in Germany, Bhavnagar in India and Gembloux in Belgium.
The latest resident of the Market Place is the Sockman. He arrived in 1997. Love him or loathe him – you make your own decision. Are we honoured by his representation of the hosiery industry or are we offended by his whimsy?
The Curzon cinema, formally "The Empire", was opened in 1936 and was a state of the art building at the time, with air conditioning. The stained glass windows of the original building are still visible from Town Hall Passage.
Church Gate is the only surviving street that retains its original medieval width. The old pink kerbstones made of local granite from Mountsorrel show the chisel marks of the quarrying instruments. Imagine the whole town centre with the streets this wide and you can accept the modernisation.
The old Guildhall
At the top of Church Gate is Sparrow Hill the original gravel hillock on which the settlement was founded. Here are you will find the Parish Church, the Manor House, now a hotel, which was built in 1477, the Three Nuns and Windmill Pubs and Lowes Furniture Shop which used to be the guildhall, and also served as a hospital in the middle ages. The roof is an excellent example of local Swithland slate. Thomas Burton set up his Grammar School in the grounds of the Parish Church. The huge Plane tree now stands on the site. Fearon Hall at the back is a lovely example of late Victorian public building.
Over the last few years the Parish Church has been beautifully restored and adapted to modern requirements. The structure that we see today dates from the explosion of English church building in the 14th and 15th Centuries. Building began in 1330 but the site has been recognised as a place of spirituality for much longer and there are surely Norman and Saxon remains buried underneath. The headstones in the churchyard are made from Swithland slate and underground springs have been tapped beneath this ground since ancient times.
The Old Rectory
Beside the Parish Church is what has been saved of the Old Rectory. The building was being knocked down in 1958 when somebody called a halt to the destruction. Today the remnant houses a museum which is open on Saturdays from April until September. The oldest parts of the building date back to around 1200 and there are many stories of secret tunnels connecting the Old Rectory and the Manor House to the Parish Church. The site is open at all times and to the rear of the building you will find a wildlife garden.
Steeple Row looks like a nondescript avenue of lime trees sheltering pigeons, breadcrumbs and parked cars. Here used to be the medieval slums that crowded up against the churchyard walls. Just off Steeple Row is Rectory Place with some lovely Georgian buildings but across Fennel Street is the much less lovely Rushes shopping centre. This is where Sparrow Hill drops down to the marshes of the Woodbrook.
Before the shopping complex was put up there used to be a jitty called Dead Lane connecting Biggin Street with Bridge Street. It is said to have been the last journey for victims of the plague. At the end of Shakespeare Street is a building which used to be a School: when digging foundations for this school, skeletons were discovered and it is believed that these could be the remains of people who died during the plague.
Queens Park, The Carillon and Charnwood Museum
There are some fine buildings in Granby Street especially the Carnegie Library. At the junction with Packe Street you may notice the sculpted stone inlaid into the red brick wall. In front of the Library is a replica of “le Pineau”, donated by Loughborough's French twin town, Epinal, a sculpture of a boy removing a thorn from his foot. The Library houses a good collection of local history resources.
Alongside Granby Street is Queens Park, Loughborough’s breathing space with bandstand, duckponds, aviary, flower displays, playgrounds for toddlers and a café. It was created in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The Carillon Tower which dominates the park was built by public subscription as a memorial to the men who died in the Great War of 1914 - 1918. John Taylor and Company cast the 47 bells of the Carillon which is played regularly on Thursdays and Sundays. Inside the tower is a museum to the soldiers and airmen. The view from the top of the tower is superb with Charnwood's landscape laid out before you.
At the edge of the park is Charnwood Museum. The building itself used to be the swimming baths. Now inside is a great place to interact with the Borough’s history and geography. There are regular exhibitions of art and other interests. The café is attached to the museum.
The park is well used for informal games of football, people relaxing on the grass, services of solemn remembrance, and public festivals, notably Picnic in the Park.