I'm always greeted with 'I didn't realise this was here.' This makes me smile I felt the same when I discovered the estate. The surprise is often followed up by questions about the history of the site, my limited knowledge of it has inspired me to do some digging. So here it is.
The Old Factory (The factory by the river, by F.A Tarry, published by The Dunlop Rubber Company Ltd)
Believe it or not, but the site is over 800 years old. During it's time it has been a Amaur Danet's mill with grazing pastures, it then became St. Mary Mill, followed by wool spinning factory and when that failed, the mill went back to corn grinding.
It is not until 1831 that I feel this sites real story begins and appropriately so with 2 entrepreneurs. William and Alfred Bates were pioneers of it's time. Not only did they decide to take on an exciting and new industry of production of india rubber thread, they also wanted to do it with new technologies, like steam engine. Their formula proved to be a success and the company grew and expanded to manufacture other rubber goods.
The New Press Shop (The factory by the river, by F.A Tarry, published by The Dunlop Rubber Company Ltd)
The duo struck gold when Dunlop approached the factory to manufacture it's pneumatic tyres. With new orders on it's books St. Mary's Mill continued to innovate. Increasing product range forced the site to expanded with new buildings. To accommodate this the course of the river Biam was diverted and the largest gas engine of it's kind in Midlands, was installed.
Everything sounds idyllic so far, but every entrepreneur will tell you innovation always comes at a cost. The great fly-wheel for the engine was stuck on the roadway for several days, following a disaster installation, the fly-wheel broke the wooden bridge and fall into back water, eventually through grit and man power the engine fly wheel was installed. The factories were often flooded by the river, people worked 15 hour days, there was an appalling smell of wild African rubber and health and safety of the day meant it was absolutely fine to work by the light of a naked gas jet.
Canteen and Fire Station (The factory by the river, by F.A Tarry, published by The Dunlop Rubber Company Ltd)
Despite all of this Bates brothers were still innovators. They were the first employers to introduce a canteen for their staff and they were the first company in Leicester to adopt the Whitley Report and formed a Workers' Committee, that was entrusted to look after safety in the factories.
As we know all good things must come to an end. Unfortunately this was the case for the brothers who couldn't escape the great depression of the early 20's. As such the site was taken over by Dunlop Rubber Company that continued to improve the site and it's factories.
Aerial View, 1960 (The factory by the river, by F.A Tarry, published by The Dunlop Rubber Company Ltd)
Reception Room, 1961 (The factory by the river, by F.A Tarry, published by The Dunlop Rubber Company Ltd)
Noticed the beautifully presented tyres above? No part of the original mill remains, but the legacy of the industry of the past 100 years is still here. So here we are, the story. We hope, we shall continue the entrepreneurial spirit of Leicester.