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  • During the 'Leicester’s Blitz' at 7.56pm on 19 November 1940, several bombs fell on businesses along Rutland Street
  • The well know Freeman, Hardy and Willis building was hit and a large fire took hold
  • The site was redeveloped between 1955-57 with a new headquarters for Freeman, Hardy and Willis, called Enterprise House

Famous Leicester Business

Freeman, Hardy and Willis was a famous boot and shoe manufacturer, founded in Leicester in 1875. In 1876, they built an impressive head office and warehouse, on the corner of Humberstone Road and Rutland Street. They grew to having over 500 stores nationwide and were a familiar sight on the high street. They ceased trading in 1996, after 121 years.

A terrible Blitz night

During Leicester’s ‘Blitz Night’ at 7.56pm on 19 November 1940, several bombs fell on businesses along Rutland Street. The Freeman, Hardy and Willis building was hit and a large fire took hold. The City Fire Brigade, Auxiliary Fire Service and other brigades from across the region came to tackle the fire. Fred Coe, aged 59, was head caretaker of the warehouse. He bravely entered the burning building but was not able to get out and sadly died.

Freeman Hardy and Willis 4 larger
The ruins of the Freeman, Hardy and Willis building, with the fondly remembered City Coffee Stall in front

An unforgettable sight

The building was ruined. For many local people, the blaze was an unforgettable
sight, and it was remembered for many years. The site was redeveloped between 1955-57 with a new headquarters for Freeman, Hardy and Willis, called Enterprise House. In the 1970s it was converted into the International Hotel and is now shops and student accommodation.

Visitor information
Area has been redeveloped

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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