|Keen researchers of Hinckley Past and Present|
In September 1989 the John Cleveland College began a new Personal Studies Programme for all students beginning in the fourth year. The History and Geography Departments decided to launch a course entitled, 'Hinckley Past and Present, Mr. Spriggs being responsible for the analysis of the present state of the town and the author of this article for the element involving the past.
The course, which lasts for seven weeks, takes the form of an investigation into one particular part of the town by twelve to fourteen intrepid explorers. These sallies into unknown Hinckley take place on a Tuesday afternoon at a time when the natives are thought to be most amenable to exploration and investigation. The enquiry centres on a section of Hinckley as it was a century ago and as it is today. As a first exploration the area of Upper Bond Street and Factory Road was selected by the students and subsequent enquiries have involved the Market Place, Borough and Regent Street and more recently Castle Street, Church Walk and the Churchyard.
Students began their enquiry with a brief introductory lesson on the history of Hinckley, a subject on which many already have a detailed knowledge reflecting work done in Primary and High Schools. A visit is then made to the particular area selected for study. Students studying Hinckley in the past are provided with photocopies of the 1887 Ordnance Survey map of Hinckley on a scale of 10.56 feet to one statute mile. These maps, kindly loaned by Fred Warren, are of a sufficiently large scale to show every tree, manhole and pump which existed in the town a century ago, Copies of old photographs of the area are taken to the site which is being investigated and students take photographs of the area as it is today for comparative purposes. Evidence of the area's past history is noted by the students such as the dates of buildings and evidence, usually above the ground floor, of the age of the building. The Leicestershire Record Office has kindly provided photocopies of the 1881 Census for those streets being studied.
After the work on the ground, a visit is then made to the Local Studies Collection at Hinckley Library where Phillip Lindley has been of great assistance in providing an introduction to local history sources and their use. By using local directories, microfiche copies of the Hinckley Times of 1889 and other sources, students have been able to build up a detailed picture of an area of Hinckley a century ago. The development of historical empathy, the projection of oneself into the situation of someone living in the past, has been a skill developed to a high degree by many of the students. This has been particularly aided by their own investigation of historical sources and the application of historical empathy to an environment with which they are familiar in a modern context.
Mr. Spriggs has investigated the areas of the town studied in the past in the modern context by examining land use and the commercial and industrial developments taking place today. Traffic and pedestrian surveys have been conducted and plotted, presenting a picture that would have seemed incredible to residents of Hinckley fifty years ago, let alone in 1889.
Students have noted the extent of change in a century and the continuing change which is taking place around them, and the impact which this is having on Hinckley. The names of houses and streets such as Hartington Cottages, Factory Road or the vanished Gladstone Place all help to tell the story not just of Hinckley in the past but of the nation as a whole. The change of use or ownership of buildings has been of special interest such as the insignia of Pares Leicestershire Bank above the entrance to the modern National Westminster Bank. Noted with interest also is the longevity of the existence of public houses bearing in many cases the same name for over a century. The continued existence of public houses bearing the same name as a century ago on Upper Bond Street when all other buildings had either changed or been demolished, gave food for thought but not of course liquid refreshment. Only chapels and churches, students noted, matched the longevity of public houses on particular sites and indeed in the case of most chapels and churches, far exceeded them. Fixity of tenure for locations of worship and drinking are of course a feature of towns throughout the country.
The students involved in the courses have generally appeared both to enjoy their course and develop or improve new study skills and interests. Angela Coleman, a participant in the first course, wrote a typical impression of Factory Road in 1889 which she has kindly allowed me to reproduce here:
Factory Road 1889
The street would have been fairly busy during the week, with plenty of comings and goings in the factories on the street. Maybe there were children playing on the cobbled street. There would probably be a water pump somewhere along the road and a Victorian pillar box. The rest of Hinckley would be similar. Cobbled streets, water pumps, public houses, horses and carts coming and going from the hosiery factories. On a Sunday everyone would have gone to St. Mary's Church or another nearby chapel, all wearing their finest bonnets. Near the church is the school, where the lucky children would go to during the week, until they are old enough to get a job in one of the factories in Hinckley, usually at the age of about 12 or 14. The residents of Factory Road were probably working class and not very rich.
At the end of each short course a display is made by the students, of the material they have gathered from their researches in directories, the census and the Hinckley Times. Photographs taken by the students are also included. In the future the activities might be extended to involve interviews with people who have been residents of a particular area for many years and who might have memories of others. Time has at present made this oral history aspect impossible to follow. So, if in the future you see a band of intrepid explorers from John Cleveland College in the town with clipboards and the enthusiasm of keen researchers fear not. Their objectives are wholly peaceful and are merely to further the knowledge and understanding of Hinckley Past and Present.
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine