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  • James Kirby, a ‘cow keeper’ started a dairy business in Highfields in the 1860s
  • Kirby & West opened a new premises on Western Boulevard in 1934, famous for its Art Deco frontage
  • They were an innovative company, inventing milk vending machines and developing the electric milk float

Three Generations of Kirbys

James Kirby, a ‘cow keeper’, started Highfields Dairy at 36 Hanover Street, now Andover Street, in the 1860s. After James died in 1878, the dairy was run by his son Thomas. The business grew and was very profitable. Thomas bought a new family home, Evington Parks Lodge, as well as a farm, livestock, farm machinery and more buildings. When he died in 1893, Thomas left the dairy business to his son Harry.

The dairy on Hanover Street, date unknown

The Move to Western Boulevard

Although the dairy is called Kirby & West not much is known about Mr West. He was a partner in the company in the early 20th century. In 1920 Frank Smith bought the dairy. It grew, took over other smaller dairies, and in 1934 moved to new premises on Western Boulevard. The new dairy had a striking Art Deco frontage with white, green and blue tiles. By 1960, 17,000 gallons of milk were being processed and bottled daily at the dairy. The building was demolished in 1997 making way for Bede Island.

View of the Kirby & West building (far right) and Castle Gardens

New Delivery Methods

Kirby & West developed innovative ways of delivering milk. They invented milk vending machines which provided fresh, chilled milk, 24 hours a day. The machines were placed in factories and were very popular with workers. They also developed electric milk floats, designed by Frank Smith’s son Harold. The floats had a top speed of 12 miles per hour. One was driven from Leicester to Land’s End, and back again, for charity. This float now belongs to Abbey Pumping Station Museum.

Today, Kirby & West is part of the national company Pensworth, which operates across the Midlands.


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.

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.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

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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