A History of Loughborough

By Tim Lambert

Early Loughborough

Loughborough began as a Saxon village. At the time of the Domesday Book (1086), Loughborough probably had a population of about 180-200. By the standards of the time, it was a fairly large village. In the 13th century, Loughborough became a busy little town. From the early 13th century Loughborough had weekly markets and annual fairs. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but were held only once a year. They attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area).

In the Middle Ages Loughborough soon became a busy little town, although it would seem tiny to us. It probably only had a population of several hundred.

In Medieval Loughborough traders or craftsmen of one type tended to live in the same street. Bakers lived in Baxtergate. Baxter meant baker and gate is derived from an old Scandinavian word for street ‘gata’. So it was Baker Street. Many of the people of Loughborough kept livestock. Any animals found wandering were put in a pound called the pinfold until the owner paid a fine to get it back. Pinfold gata was the street leading to the pinfold.

Loughborough Grammar School was founded by a wool merchant named Thomas Burton.

By the late 16th century Loughborough may have had a population of about 2,000. Although it was tiny by our standards at the time Loughborough was a fair-sized market town.

However, like all Tudor towns, Loughborough suffered from outbreaks of plague. It struck the town in 1558, 1602-1603, 1609, and 1631. Each time the plague struck there were many deaths. Nevertheless, each time the population of Loughborough recovered.

Loughborough also suffered a severe fire in 1622, which destroyed many buildings. However, the town was soon rebuilt and through the centuries Loughborough continued to be a busy little market town.

In the early 17th century a writer described Loughborough as: ‘great and large, well situated by reason of the wood and water, adorned with many fair buildings and a large church.’

From the late 17th century there were framework knitters in Loughborough. They worked in their own homes making woolen stockings, although the industry became mechanised in the 19th century.

The first purpose-built theatre in Loughborough was erected in 1771 and Loughborough Canal opened in 1778.

Modern Loughborough

In 1801 Loughborough had a population of over 4,500. By the standards of the time, it was a fair-sized market town. And it grew rapidly. By 1841 the population of Loughborough was over 10,000.

In 1819 a dispensary opened where the poor could obtain free medicines.

The railway reached Loughborough in 1840 and the Town Hall was built in 1855. Then in 1888, Loughborough was made a borough.

Like all early 19th century towns, Loughborough was dirty and unsanitary. In 1848 it suffered an outbreak of cholera. However, in 1849 a Board of Health was formed and in the second half of the 19th century, things improved. A clean water supply was created in Loughborough in 1870.

During the 20th century, the population of Loughborough continued to grow rapidly. In 1901 it was 21,000. By 1951 it was almost 37,000. Meanwhile, the Carnegie Library was built in 1905.

In 1809 a man named John Heathcoat invented the lace-making machine and began production in Loughborough. However, his new invention was unpopular with men called Luddites who feared it would take away their jobs. In 1816 Luddites destroyed Heathcoat’s machines. As a result, he moved to Devon.

However, from the mid-19th century, there was a bell-founding industry in Loughborough. From the late 19th century an engineering industry grew up in the town. In the 20th century, Loughborough was noted for its engineering industry and its pharmaceutical industry.

Church bells

In 1916 a Zeppelin raid on Loughborough killed 10 people. Furthermore, 480 servicemen from the town died in the war. In 1923 Carillon Tower was erected as a memorial to them.

The council built the Shelthorpe estate in the late 1920s and 1930s and Loughborough University was founded in 1966. Carillon Court Shopping Centre first opened in 1972. It was refurbished in 1992. Then in 1998, a bronze sculpture called The Sockman by Shona Kinloch was unveiled in Loughborough. Charnwood Museum opened in 1999.

Today Loughborough is a thriving town. In 2024 the population of Loughborough was 64,000.