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From Leicester Mercury 5th July, 2016

Sketchbook by Olwen Huges

They regarded it as a sort of rural utopia away from urban the horrors

A number of social reformers wrote about the dreadful living conditions of workers in the rapidly expanding towns and cities of England in the mid and late-1800s.

Rapidly built back-to-back houses with primitive sanitisation and little light were the norm for hundreds of thousands of people.

Some wealthy factory owners were so concerned for the welfare of their workers, though, that they built model villages for them.

Titus Salt built Saltaire, near Bradford; Robert Owen built New Lanark, in Scotland, and John and Richard Cadbury built Bournville, near Birmingham. All the dwellings were close to the factories.

In other cases, though this was somewhat later, co-operative movements of workers developed shop complexes and owned factories collectively.

In Leicester, one of these was Equity Shoes.

The factory in Western Road was recently converted into apartments.

As an offshoot of this factory; one to make children’s shoes was built in Asfordby Street by Arthur Wakerley; as part of his North Evington development in Leicester. It was leased to Anchor Boot and Shoe Co-oper­ative Company in 1895.

Being well versed in matters of co-operation for mutual benefit, the workers decided to build themselves a model suburb.

But instead of utilising the knowledge and architectural skills of Wakerley and living in North Evington, they chose to purchase a large plot of land a little to the east of Humber­stone village and commission their own architect, George Hern, to design the layout and houses.

They saw this rather isolated locality as a sort of rural utopia away from the horrors of urban life, though it was just close enough for them to walk or cycle to the factory each day.

The first pair of semi-­detached houses - now 101 and 103 Keyham Lane in what became Humber­stone Garden Suburb -were occupied in late 1908 at a rent of 32p a week in modern money values.

The church was opened in 1910, a large recreation ground in 1914 and by this time there were three shops in Laburnum Road with meeting and recreation rooms above.

Hall sketch
The community centre

The community centre, today’s drawing, was built in 1937, by which time there were 143 houses, all well spaced and with big rear gardens allowing vegetable growing.

Carefully chosen tree varieties lined the streets.

In 1935, Humber­stone parish was brought inside the city boundary and the recreation ground was compulsorily purchased for housing and schools development.

This, together with the new roads and better public transport, spelled the end of the utopian rural dream.

The 143 houses are all still there, as is the tenants association, but the ethos is quite different as this small area is now part of Leicester.

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