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Leicester Special Collections

Leicester in the early 1900's

An army team with ambulance outside of General Hospital Leicester.jpg

An army team with their ambulance during World War I, outside of General Hospital

Leicester in the early 1900s was very industrial. The two key industries were footwear and hosiery. The city as it is today was a town until 1919 and much smaller than it is today (had a population of over 227,000). When the First World War started these industries were key in the war effort to produce military clothing such as socks, hats, and footwear. Most of the Leicester community would have been involved in helping the war effort. Women were a key part in working in the industry to replace men who enlisted in the war. Around 50,000 Leicester and Leicestershire men served in the First World War, around 9,348 people lost their lives.

Leicester suffragette protest on Granby Street, 1911 (Courtesy of Leicestershire Record Office)

The WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) also known as the suffragettes campaigned for women’s rights during the early 1900s. This campaign started in 1903. Although the WSPU was founded in 1903 the campaign for women's suffrage predated this by several decades. At Leicester, 1909 marked the first serious protest at Palace Theatre. Shortly afterwards in 1910 the WSPU set up a shop at Bowling Green Street, to sell leaflets, pamphlets, postcards and other merchandise, to promote their campaign of women’s rights to vote. Eventually in 1918 women over 30 were given the right to vote. This online exhibition tells you some of the stories of women who were involved in the suffragette campaign. These personal stories depict the determination to fight for women's rights in Leicester. 

Mayor of Leicester announces the end of the First World War, 1918


Jenkins, J. (2010) 'The Smeeton Westerby Suffragette', Trans. Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, 84, pp.251-277.

Story of Leicester. Leicester during the First World War. Available at: 

Story of Leicester. The Timeline of the Leicestershire Regiment in the First World War. Available at:

Story of Leicester. The Women's Social and Political Union shop. Available at: 

East Midlands Oral Archives. Leicester & Rutland. Available at: