Secret Loughborough by Lynne Dyer
The secret that is the town of Loughborough
There’s nothing secret about Loughborough, now is there?! Everyone’s heard of it; everyone knows where it is; everyone knows what it’s famous for, and everyone knows who its famous inhabitants are - right? Err, well, possibly not!
Wherever I get into conversation with people, whether while on holiday, or visiting other towns on day trips, talk often turns to the hometown. Seems not everyone does know that Loughborough is a landlocked market and university town, in the heart of the English Midlands, and that it’s the biggest town in the county of Leicestershire after Leicester itself. Some folk, however, have heard of the town through its university, a high hitter in many university league tables, and having a focus on sport, sports technology, and engineering, as well as other subjects.
So, I thought this is where a book about secret Loughborough might just come in handy! Of course, with Loughborough itself being, if not a bit of a secret, then at least not very well-known, I found the challenge presented by writing a book about Loughborough’s secrets to be immense, as there was so much to share!
Somehow, I had to have a starting point, and that turned out to be quite a difficult point to find!! When I began to think what some of Loughborough’s hidden secrets might actually be, I kept coming back to the idea of the hard and the easy quiz questions: if you don’t know the answer then surely the question is hard to answer, but if you do, then the answer is easy. And so it is with secrets: if you know about something then it is not a secret but if you don’t, then it probably is.
Few of Loughborough’s secrets were actually created to be secrets, or meant to be secrets. Some knowledge about Loughborough’s story may have simply been lost in the passage of time, hence rather than being secrets they are more forgotten. Other secrets may be hidden because we take them for granted, perhaps walking past them every day.
The question that was useful in helping me to decide what to include in the book was “why”. Of all the ‘W’ questions – ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’ and ‘why?’, I think ‘why?’ is perhaps the one that requires the most research, but, paradoxically, can also leave many questions unanswered. The other useful question I asked was ‘how?’, which, again, led to some interesting discoveries.
Following an introduction in which I unearthed some tantalising information about Loughborough, the book is divided into eight chapters that delve more deeply into Loughborough’s history. Firstly, my investigation focuses on some of the pub names that have appeared in the town down the years and what these mean, before revealing evidence of some forgotten brewery affiliations. In this first chapter I also discuss some of the street names in the town, including a group of newer ones which are located and linked to the nearby Beaumanor Hall, which was a ‘Y’ listening station during the Second World War. I reveal evidence of long-gone local iron founders who created physical street signs, like those for Freehold Street and Cobden Street.
In the next chapter I pull together some of the town’s history through its association with nature, be that birds like peacocks, ducks and swans; horses like Songster and Sunloch; trees like the horse chestnut on the Ashby Road or the cedar tree on the university campus, or Loughborough’s success in the annual ‘In bloom’ competition.
One of the key messages I took away from the training I received to become an accredited Leicestershire Tour Guide was to consciously look at buildings for evidence of the history, but more specifically to look up beyond the usually modernised shop fronts when in a town or city. When leading people on guided walks around Loughborough, not only do I encourage people to look up, but also to look down, and indeed to look all around, as there are so many hints and nods to Loughborough’s history that we simply walk past or over every day without giving them a moments thought. In this chapter I delve into the meaning behind some of the plaques found on local buildings, and look at some of the murals and sculptures that adorn the town. Railings, old and new, that exist, practical, yet at the same time beautiful, are fascinating and I try to discover why they have been made and so placed.
Hosiery was a very important industry in Loughborough, so I included a selection of names of hosiery firms in the book. Most have long since left the town, and their buildings been converted for other use: one of these, the factory of I & R Morley, is currently being redeveloped into flats. In addition to hosiery factories, iron founders and brickmakers, engineering and pharmaceutical companies have also been important in the development of the town. Perhaps Loughborough firms whose names are familiar to many include Ladybird Books and Taylors Bellfounders, both of which I include in the book.
In the chapter on people who have some connection to Loughborough, I’ve highlighted a range of people from across the ages – including Henry VII and Robert Bakewell, John Skevington and Thomas Cook – and from across a range of areas – film and reality television stars and sports stars. In the chapter that follows I discuss groups of people and societies like Chartists and Luddites, and friendly societies like Oddfellows and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, oh, and a visit to the town by Buffalo Bill!
At the beginning of this post I mentioned the university, and there is much more information in the book, including the history of the site, the history of the university, a bit about its new London campus, and a description of some of Loughborough’s other connections with London, much teased out from hidden clues.
In the closing chapter I describe the Earl of Moira’s sale, which goes a long way to explain how the Loughborough of today developed. Burleigh Hall is discussed earlier in the book, but Garendon Hall is covered in this final chapter. After investigations into ghosts and fairies, gravestones and milestones, a signpost to the resources and knowledgeable volunteers at the Local and Family History Centre in the public library brings the book to a close.
The book is peppered throughout with my own photographs of such curious things as street signs, commemorative plaques, drain covers and bricks, as well as the more expected ones of like sculptures, buildings, books and … fairy homes!
My intention when writing this book was to tell the reader the history of Loughborough through some of its secrets. My consideration of what exactly to include in the book and what to leave out, and my detailed research of so many aspects of Loughborough’s history mean that I have plenty of material to write another couple of volumes in this series! Now I just need readers and if, of those readers, just one exclaims, whilst reading this book: “I didn’t know that!”, then I will have achieved what I set out to do.
Lynne Dyer's book Secret Loughborough is available for purchase now.