Hinckley Historian Magazine

Hinckley Historian Magazine No.50 - The Druid Street Quarter

Map of Druid Street Quarter
Map of Druid Street Quarter

Hinckley is a town which has links with the hosiery industry extending back to the year 1640 when William Iliffe is thought to have brought the first stocking frame to the town. He later married Elizabeth Cleveland, daughter of the Vicar of Hinckley.

Her brother, John Cleveland, became a famous cavalier poet.

Only in the mid-nineteenth century did hosiery production move from hand operated frames to steam powered factory production. This led to an expansion of the industry and the construction of numerous hosiery factories. Many of these were built in the area of Druid Street and Factory Road. In 2002 Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council commissioned a development plan for the 'Druid Quarter' of Hinckley from Latham Architects. This master plan was designed to regenerate an area where the decline in hosiery production had left many unoccupied buildings and a growing sense of dereliction. The plan has attracted not only local but national interest and early in October it was announced that £100,000 had been secured from English Heritage. This would be used to revitalise this 43 acre site in which the legacy of the nineteenth and early twentieth century hosiery industry is located.

The name Druid Street probably originates from land in the area which once belonged to the friendly society called the Ancient Order of Druids. Dr Joan Skinner, an architectural historian, has extensively researched the factories of the Druid Street Quarter and during the September Heritage Weekend of 2002 led two fascinating walks through the area. Many of the details which follow are the result of Dr Skinner's research and my attendance on the guided walk.

The overall area covered by the Druid Street Quarter is indicated on the map accompanying this article.

I shall only mention a few of the many buildings of interest which may be seen in the Druid Street Quarter. In the South of the Quarter, beginning on Trinity Lane, is the blackened shell of G Bott's old factory. Built in 1904 and designed by Ball and Heaton it has all the features of a factory in the early Edwardian period designed to produce cotton fabric. In the days of full production early in the twentieth century it had separate entrances for the owner, the workers and horse drawn goods vehicles. A little further down at the end of Trinity Lane is the building opened in 1937 as the 'Danilo Cinema' at the corner with Hollycroft Hill. The Worcestershire Regimental Band appeared at the opening ceremony. Opposite is the imposing Police Station, built in the mid 1930s, symbolic of civic and constabulary pride of place.

Daniel Payne and Sons old factory, Factory Road Akins old factory, Lower Bond Street
Daniel Payne and Sons old factory, Factory Road (left/top), Akins old factory, Lower Bond Street (right/bottom)

Factory Road (formerly called Back Lane) was, as its name implied, full of factories producing hosiery, boots and shoes and needles. Many of the factories incorporated the names of their owners outside and the manufacturing within on the handsome edifice fronting the factory. Much of the construction occurred in the 1880s when Hinckley boasted a Liberal M P, Mr McClaren, and many of the villas, interspersed with factories, bear the names of Liberal politicians of the day, such as 'Harrington Cottages' of 1883. Development of hosiery continued into the 1930s in Factory Road with a new factory being built in the "Janus Syndrome Style', its frontage facing in two directions. On the Upper Bond Street side of Factory Road the building now occupied by RAE Motor Factors was once the grand factory of Daniel Payne and Sons. After seventy years in the production of 'fully fashioned jerseys and circular knit socks for the armed forces' it ceased manufacturing in 1957. No longer to be seen in Factory Road or Bond Street was T Jennings and Sons, now replaced by the new Magistrates Court building.

Leaving Factory Road through a convenient jitty one can enter Upper Bond Street close to the Queen's Head Inn. The present building, constructed in the late Victorian period, replaced an older thatched public house. The cottage adjacent to the inn housed the last two recorded hand knitting frames used in Hinckley. These were used in the First World War for the production of old style military pants ordered by the War Office.

Crossing Upper Bond Street one can proceed up Well Lane alongside the Co-operative Steam Bakery of 1907, now occupied by Sellars. This route leads directly into Druid Street. At the north end of Druid Street on the left hand side is the old Laban Tansey hosiery needle manufacturers, no longer making needles. The old factory extending along Neales Yard between Upper Bond Street and Druid Street was operated by Orril, Jackson and Brocklehurst from 1894 with other manufacturers subsequently using the building. Other factories, many now derelict, line the street but of special note is the Art Deco office building which was originally built for

The old Co-operative Steam Bakery, Well Lane Moore and Osbourne’s old factory office
The old Co-operative Steam Bakery, Well Lane (left/top), Moore and Osbourne’s old factory office (right/bottom)

Moore and Osbourne in 1935 designed by Symington, Prince and Pyke on the corner of Druid Street and Albert Road.

Albert Road deserves special mention for buildings not directly related to the hosiery industry. The Primitive Methodist Chapel, now Hinckley Methodist Church, was built in 1884 and adjacent to it is the old Hinckley Board School of 1878, now Holliers Walk Primary School. When it was built the school was reputedly the largest board school in Leicestershire.

At the end of Druid Street is the Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel of 1722, a building of special interest adjacent to the old Atkins factory. Robert Atkins came to Hinckley to begin his hosiery business in the same year in which the chapel was built and the Atkins family worshipped in the chapel for nearly two centuries. Elizabeth Atkins was the last person to be buried in the chapel grounds in 1891.

Joseph Goddard was the architect and this large factory was in fall production by the 1880s. Various extensions have occurred in the intervening years and it is a building now probably destined for conversion into apartments.

Finally the oldest building in the Druid Street Quarter brings us to the end of this review. The Framework Knitters' Cottages probably date from about 1680 and today house Hinckley and District Museum. They are of box-frame construction and when built would have had wattle and daub rather than brick filling the framework.

The Druid Street Quarter amply repays a brief perambulation as it is representative of so much of Hinckley's heritage.

Albert Road Methodist Church Holliers Walk Primary School
Albert Road Methodist Church (left/top), Holliers Walk Primary School (right/bottom)

Author: Hugh Beavin

Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine