By Tim Lambert
Hinckley in the Middle Ages
Hinckley began as a Saxon settlement. It was probably called Hinca’s Leah (a Leah was a clearing in a wood). By the time of the Domesday Book (1086), Hinckley was quite a large village with a population of perhaps 300. It would seem tiny to us but settlements were very small in those days. A typical village had only about 120 inhabitants so Medieval Hinckley was fairly large.
The Normans built a wooden castle overlooking the village of Hinckley but it was abandoned and fell into ruins. Also in the late 11th century, a priory (small abbey) was founded at Hinckley. In the 13th century, the village of Hinckley grew into a small market town. At that time the population of England was growing and trade and commerce were booming. At some point, a market began in Hinckley. It was first recorded in 1311 but it almost certainly existed before then.
In the Middle Ages Hinckley also had fairs. (A fair was like a market but was held only once a year). People came from all over Leicestershire and Warwickshire to buy and sell at a Hinckley fair. However, Hinckley was very small with a population of only several hundred.
During the 16th century and 17th century Hinckley prospered and its population grew. This was despite outbreaks of the plague in 1626 and 1666. By the early 17th century Hinckley probably had a population of about 1,000. By 1700 the population had risen to about 2,000.
Hinckley was changed forever in 1640 when the first stocking frame was brought to the town. Making stockings soon grew into the dominant industry in Hinckley.
Then in 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. In March 1644 royalist troops occupied Hinckley but a force of parliamentarians arrived and drove them out, taking many prisoners. However, Hinckley suffered little during the civil war.
In the 18th century, Hinckley remained a prosperous market town famous for making hosiery. The population grew rapidly and it reached 5,158 by 1801. By the standards of the time, Hinckley was a respectably sized town. Meanwhile, the Great Meeting was built in 1722. In 1771 John Wesley visited Hinckley and called it ‘one of the most civil towns I have seen’.
Hinckley in the 19th century
In the first half of the 19th century, Hinckley grew little. The population rose only slightly to 6,177. Industry was still dominated by hand weavers and in the early 19th century there was a great deal of poverty and hardship in Hinckley. However, in the later 19th century, the hand frames were replaced by steam-powered frames in factories and Hinckley boomed. The population grew to over 11,000 by 1900.
There were a number of improvements to Hinckley during the 19th century. Ashby canal opened in 1804. In 1862 Hinckley was connected to Nuneaton by railway. In 1863 the railway was extended to Leicester.
The first Hansom cab was made in Hinckley in 1835. The hansom cab took its name from the architect Joseph Hansom (1803-1882). Soon hansom cabs became popular all over Britain.
A cottage hospital opened in 1809 and from 1834 Hinckley had gaslight. A cemetery was laid out in Ashby Road in 1858. In 1868 a Local Government Board was formed in Hinckley and they set about improving the town. In 1871 Queens Park was laid out.
In the 1870s sewers were dug under Hinckley and in the 1890s a piped water supply was created. In 1894 the Local Board was replaced by an Urban District Council.
Hinckley in the 20th century
From 1912 Hinckley had an electricity supply. A war memorial was erected in Hinckley in 1922.
The first council houses in Hinckley were built in Granville Road in 1913. More were built in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1930s the worst slums in Hinckley were demolished and council houses were needed to replace them. Many more council houses were built in Hinckley after 1945. These included pre-fabs erected in Middlefield Lane in 1946-47. Meanwhile, Hollycroft Park was laid out in 1935.
In 1936 the boundaries of the urban district of Hinckley were extended to include Burbage, Stoke Golding, Earl Shilton, and Barwell. A new police station was built in 1937.
During World War II 12 people in Hinckley were killed by German bombing.
In 1948 Argents Mead was given to the council as a gift. A new bus station was built in 1960 and the Edwards Centre was built in 1962.
In the late 20th century industry in Hinckley diversified. Industrial estates were built at Harrowbrook, Dodwells Bridge, Sketchley Lane, and Hinckley Fields.
Concordia Theatre opened in 1972. In 1974 Hinckley urban district was made into a borough. A new library was built in 1975. A new leisure centre was built in Hinckley in 1977. The Health Centre in Hill Street opened in 1978. The Britannia Centre also opened in 1978.
A new RC Church dedicated to St Peter was built in Hinckley in 1993. A new Magistrates Court was built in 1999.
Hinckley in the 21st century
In the 21st century Hinckley continued to thrive. The Leisure Centre was refurbished in 2000. In 2021 the population of Hinckley was 45,000.