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Leicester’s Economic and Social Experience During and after the First World War

Info: 2925 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 23rd Sep 2019 in History

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Leicester’s economic and social experience during and after the First World War.

Leicester is a city that is situated in the East Midlands region of England. By estimate, the city lies 160 kilometres to the north-west of London[1]. It had been renowned as an industrial city of Britain for a long history. And its properly networked public transport systems not until the end of the First World war. Researchers have described Leicester as an excellent base that can be used to explore both the United Kingdom and continental Europe. The history of the city has attracted the attention of several scholars, researchers and authors. Most of the available research links its history to the World War One era. Leicester has a population of at least 300000 people[2]. The city’s value was first recognized by the Romans and then the Danes. Until now, Leicester has grown and developed into a commercial and manufacturing centre, best known for the diversity of its trade. The region has also been known for its historic nature, attracting people of different races and cultures to its premises. This paper discusses the economic and social experience of Leicester during and after World War One. In the analysis, the paper concentrates on the details of how the specific regions of Leicester were affected by the war. The paper also details some of the most important contributions of the war in shaping the current situation of Leicester.

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World War One broke out on 4th August 1914. Prior to the emergence of the war, Leicester was known for its religious background, majorly composed of Christian community. Following the war, there was a disruption in the economic activities in the region. A mass recruitment of soldiers took place at the Town Hall. Part-time militants of the Leicestershire Regiment Territorial Force and the Leicestershire Yeomanry were mobilized to take part in the war. Local soldiers were recruited and trained at the Magazine Square. On average, 50000 men from Leicester and Leicestershire took part in the war as soldiers. This led to an economic disruption in Leicester. Since men were the main participants in the production industries, the economy realized a progressive decline during the war. Most of the women could not actively replace men in the manufacturing industries, given the nature of the work and the interference by the activities of the war.

Earlier, Leicester had well set-up industries that could be used in the production of footwear and garments. As a result, the war had made most of these factories surrendered to arms manufacturers. The result was an increase in unemployment rates across the region. The urban centres, particularly, saw massive job losses since most of the workers in these factories had not specialized in arms productions. At first, the recruitment of soldiers was lower in the city due to the fact that most of the men were actively employed in factories. However, with the giving away of these factories to the arms manufacturers, the men were urged to join the army and take part in the War. The war provided a unique opportunity for Leicester to improve its economy. It was during the First World War that industries were mobilized in the footwear and hosiery trade. The emergence of this trade had led to the creation of jobs and slow stabilization of the economy. Even though there were no predictable outcomes, those who benefited from the business were able to cater for their needs and also support the militants during the war. At this point, Leicester was the major source of horses and footwear used in the war among the British colonies and cities.

Most of the women were recruited to work in farms during the war. Angus Stovold was a farmer in Shackleford Surrey[3]. He employed most women from the Women’s Land Army during the war to replace the men who had to be engaged in the war. Without the women, the whole Britain might have starved during the war. There was an acute shortage of food due to the fact that men were recruited to take part in the war. The reduction in food supplies was due to the decline in agricultural production in Leicester and to the whole Britain by extension. Trade was limited and most of the food that was produced was majorly for direct consumption purposes. Large-scale production declined because most of the food manufacturing companies were turned into arms manufacturing companies. Due to the decline in production and economic activities, food was short in Leicester. People queued for food in a few situations. Charitable operations provided little supplies that people scrambled for. In addition, the shortages had led to people using savings to purchase food. The war created a period of starvation in Leicester. Despite women striving to keep the agricultural sector on-going, it was not possible for them to pull up full production level as during the wartime.  The insufficiency of food also led to a situation in which people easily became sick. The East Midlands suffered from acute shortages to an extent that some people even starved and died[4]. The soldiers did not have sufficient food supplies to keep going. Most of the available health facilities were packed with wounded supporters and sick people who could not easily obtain medical supplies due to the war. The declination in economic activities led to Leicester would be about to collapse since it could not fully sustain its economic needs. Military operations remained active in the region until late 1917.

Other than the military impacts of the war, Leicester had also experienced social impacts from World War One. For example, before the war, the region was united under one religion, Christianity. The early presence of the Romans in the city had led to the establishment of strong catholic cultures in Leicester. However, World War One led to a significant interference of the social and religious settings in the city. People paid little attention to religious issues and instead focused on the crisis that was brought about by the war. During the First World War, there was a decline in religious practices in Leicester. The war also led to family separations. Most of the men enlisted in the military to participate in the war. This left behind women and children who struggle to survive. Social disintegration reduced the family unity. Due to the separations, some families did not reunite after the war, especially in cases where some of the members died in the frontline. Most of the male casualties left behind vulnerable families that depended on charitable operations to support their daily needs[5]. Leicester suffered a major issue regarding to social unity and religious organization. There was near total loss of social identity among various families in Leicester due to the implications of World War One.

However, there was a shift in gender roles during and after World War One in Leicester, which had been widely discussed nowadays. Following the enlistment of men to the military, women took over most of the jobs that were initially left for men. For instance, the women worked in the farmlands and the few factories that kept operating. In addition, the women in Leicester were charged with the responsibility of taking care of their families’ needs. They had to engaged into the duties that men left behind. Social reorganization led to the exposure of women to new roles, given the absence of men. Women were involved in cultivation and food production as a way to support their families.

There was an emergence of charitable organizations that aimed to support women and children who were severely affected by the war. Similarly, charities were also established several caterings for soldiers who lost their jobs after the war. The charitable operations commenced during the war period and became more and more important after the war[6]. Women and children were the most enthusiastic to provide charitable services to the men who returned home with no jobs to maintain their living. Following the war, there were many charitable programs set up in 1919 and 1920. Most of the them had benefited from these establishments. Specialist medical facilities were established for disabled miners and soldiers who took part in First World War. The society learned the need to share the available resources to meet the needs of its people. Top in the priority were the servicemen who did not have any pension program due to financial scarcity after the war.

Leicester struggled to restore its lost heritage. In the year 1925, the Arch of Remembrance was set up in Leicester, which we can still find it in Victoria Park nowadays. The memorial arch was built in remembrance of the activities and effects of the First World War. It was after the city received a royal visit from the king and queen that the memorial arch was unveiled. In the year 1927, Leicester was restored as a cathedral city on the consecration of St Martin’s Church as the Cathedral. The economic diversity of Leicester and lack of dependence on single market operations enabled it to restore its production levels. At the end of the war, most of the factories re-emerged and most of the people secured employment. Production was slow in the 1920s, but the political and religious leaders were determined to ensure that Leicester was restored to full operation. It was not until the 1930 Great Depression that the economy of Leicester also experienced significant staggering and decline. However, this was a global economic challenge that did not only affect Leicester though. Periods after World War One saw into Leicester focusing on the restoration and further construction of transport facilities and infrastructures. Even though most of the mass housebuilding operations took place after the 1930s, Leicester began the reconstruction process in the 1920s. The primary focus was on the transport and communication sector that the government focused on with the aim of restoring the industrial operations to full capacity.

After the First World War, Leicester became a major destination for immigrants. Due to the reconstruction of the production industries, immigrants moved to Leicester to search for jobs. The high immigration was majorly because of the economic diversification in the region. Most of the industries emerged, especially those in the agricultural sector. The people of Leicester remained in committing to the rebuilding the resources that were destroyed by the First World War. Both men and women remained united towards restoring the economy to full potential. There was a social reorganization after the war. During the war, women took part in most of the activities that were considered to be meant for men. At the end of the war, therefore, the women realized that they could also engage in social roles that were not “originally” set for them. This led to further speeding up of economic development and social movements in Leicester. Social reorganization of roles and duties among men and women led to the recognition of women as important components of the society. Their social status had been raised. In addition, the women also landed into formal employment position due to the contributions that they made during the First World War in Leicester.

Most of the European countries were left in debt, following the World War. It is only the United States that managed to balance its economy during and after the war. Due to the high European debt crisis after the war, Leicester was among the regions that were negatively affected by the financial crisis. The European nations had to develop alternative means to balance the high debts and making it back to full operation. In addition, Leicester had to further diversify its economy to avoid only depending on a single variety of trade. During the First World War, nations with well-developed transport and communication facilities had advantages over their enemies. For example, the United States’ well-established infrastructure made it more convenient for them. Regions in the European countries had to develop alternative means to advance their transport and communication facilities in preventing a repeat of war. The economic impact of the development of transport and communication networks was enhanced communication and transportation of commodities to the factories. The stimulation of the agricultural sector created a situation that the raw materials had been increased for the industries. Another post-war impact of the First World War on Leicester was the focus on education. Due to the enlistment of men in the military, there was a significant change of specialized labour force. The region, therefore, focused on professional development through education with a view to producing qualified persons to fill the vacancy created by the War. Leicester became renowned for its educational facilities. Until the present, there is a high immigration rate of the students to Leicester in pursuit of higher education certifications[7].

In conclusion, First World War had major economic and social impacts on Leicester. The larger part of the history of Leicester is based on the occurrence of the First World War and the Second World War. However, World War One had a more important impact on the establishment of the economic and social infrastructure in Leicester. During the war, most of the economic activities in the region were interfered with and the social stratification led to the creation of imbalance in most families. It was then that most of the women learned of their ability to participate in activities that were previously preserved for men. Interwar period led to gradual restoration of economic and social activities in Leicester.


[1] University of Leicester, About Leicester, (2015).

[2] Leicester City Council, About Leicester, (2015).

[3] National Farmers Union, World War One: The Few that fed the Many, (2014).

[4] BHO, The City of Leicester: Social and administrative history since 1835, (n.d.).

[5] East Midlands Oral History Archive, Leicestershire & Rutland Remember the First World War, (n.d.).

[6] Historic England, The Impact of the First World War, (n.d.).

[7] Vidal-Hall, J, Leicester: The City of Migration, (2003).


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