Leicestershire is a manufacturing city, and almost every large settlement in the county has several factories. Some cities are famous for their iron and steel, others for pottery. Leicester, although home to a wide variety of industries, has always been a city known for it's hosiery industry.
Hosiery is any fabric made by knitting rather than weaving. This includes Jumpers and Socks, as well as many other things. The Hosiery industry has progressed in the last 400 years from a cottage industry to the present time, when one or two large firms control the market.
The stocking frame was invented in Calverton, near Nottingham in 1589. Before this date, all stockings had to be made by hand knitting using two needles. The first frame in he county was used in Hinkley in 1640, and by 1670, they were in use in Leicester. However, at that time, it was London that was the main hosiery area in England. And so it remained until the early 1800s, when cheap labour costs caused a boom of activity in Leicestershire. Even then, it was still a domestic industry, because of the difficulties of mechanising the hend operated technology.
The work of stocking making requires a lot of light. Originally cottages were adapted, with bigger windows being added to allow more light in. When the first purpose built workshops were constructed, they had a large area of windows on at least one side.
A few years into the 19th century there was a depression in England, especially for the cottage industry of framework knitting. Wages were very low, and rents were high. Innovations in the machinery were thought of as a threat to peoples livelihoods. Such innovations included machines for making several stockings at a time. Secretly, workers began to meet and form bands to destroy the machines. According to local legend, the Luddites, as they were known, got their name from the village simpleton in Anstey, a man called Nedd Ludd. He supposedly was accused of laziness by his parents, and in anger smashed two stocking frames to bits. Although that may be only a legend, it is definitely known that the Luddites did major damage across the county.
Towards the mid 19th century a machine was invented which was able to reduce the amount of human effort required. In 1839, the first steam operated hosiery factory was opened by Paget in Loughborough. Soon red-brick mills became a common sight all over the county.
Today, Leicestershire's hosiery industry is in depression again, with companies closing down every couple of months. Most of the work is done by computer operated machines, and people are being made redundant as their jobs are mechanised.
There is an excellent hosiery gallery at the Snibston Discovery Centre in Coalville. Follow the road from the clock tower square towards Ashby. The entrance is on the left. There is ample parking.