1View along Upperton Rd bridge2The Liberty statue
3The Liberty building4The Liberty building
5The Liberty building6The space left by the Liberty building
7The new building on the Liberty site8The Liberty statue
9Link to photo of Statue of Liberty
 

The Liberty Building

The Liberty Shoe factory used to stand on Eastern Boulevard. It was designed by HH Thompson, built in 1918-19, and became a listed building in 1993. However, it fell into a state of disrepair and was demolished in 2003. A new block of flats for students has replaced it. The building was notable for a small copy of the Statue of Liberty which stood on top of it and acted as a landmark for people arriving in Leicester across the Upperton Road bridge. For many years the factory produced Liberty shoes, providing work for local people.
In 'Discovering Leicester', John Banner writes that in 1920 the directors of Lennards Shoes visited New York, were impressed by the Statue of Liberty, and on their return to Leicester commissioned sculptor Joseph Herbert Morcom to produce one for their firm, which they named Liberty Shoes.
The view along Upperton Road bridge before the Liberty's demolition (and the redevelopment of the bridge in 2008) is shown (1), as is the statue (2) before scaffolding and graffitti spoiled it in its latter years. The Liberty was a distinctive looking building (3,4,5) which became very run down by the time of its demolition (6). The replacement building (7) now houses students, and for a while there was some confusion as to what had happened to the statue. In April 2005 it was stored in a crate in an adjacent car park (8), but from the end of 2008 a freshly scrubbed Statue of Liberty stands on a plinth near its original site (9). An attached plaque contains both a Thomas Paine quote about liberty and details of the official opening of the Upperton Road Viaduct Redevelopment Sceme, but makes no mention of the Liberty factory or the origin of the statue.
The following timeline has been created by Dr Rebecca Madgin and is reproduced with thanks.
Date
Event
1919
Liberty Building constructed by Lennard Brothers limited. This boot and shoe factory replaced a factory on Asylum Street run by the same company. Lennards were significant in the manufacturing history of Leicester. Samuel Lennard became the city’s Mayor
1921
Replica statue of Liberty sculpted by Herbert Morcrom and erected atop the Liberty Building. The idea for the statue arose from a trip to New York to assess their boot and shoe manufacturing techniques made by the managing director of Lennards, Disney Barlow. The erection of the statue was accompanied by a name change from Lennards to Liberty in the same year.  This can be seen in the date stamp of 1921 on the revised building plans. 
1935
Festooned with garlands for King George V’s jubilee
1940s
Used as a bomb shelter during World War II
1962
Planning application to erect an illuminated sign on the factory. The applicant was Lowe and Carr signalling the change in ownership of the Liberty factory. Lowe Carr used the factory as the premises for their print firm.
1963
Planning application for the erection of an electrical sub station with the factory premises submitted by Lowe and Carr.
1973
Planning application to extend the factory premises
1974
Planning application to erect a cycle shed and store on the factory premises submitted by Lowe and Carr
1988
Planning application to change the use of Liberty from factory to entertainment including a casino, snooker and squash facilities, a restaurant and a betting shop. Submitted by LCV International signalling a change in the ownership of the factory. This was refused as it was considered detrimental to the amenity of nearby residents. The proposal received six objection letters.
1988
Planning application to change the use from factory to offices and to provided an enlarged parking area. Submitted by LCV International and given conditional approval.
1991
Planning application to change the use from general industry to student flats and build a four storey extension given conditional approval.
1992
Planning application to demolish the existing buildings. Liberty contained on the City Council’s List of Special Buildings in the Local Plan.
1993
Planning application to demolish the existing buildings was withdrawn.
1993-98
City Challenge starts in Leicester and has initial plans to include the building in its regeneration programme.
1994
Liberty building listed with Grade II status as a result of the spot-listing application researched, prepared and submitted by the Leicester Group of the Victorian Society.
1996
Planning application to convert the factory for retail, and residential use. This was submitted by Liberty 21 Limited and given conditional approval.
2002
Planning application to demolish the Grade II listed Liberty building given conditional approval
2002
Building demolished but statue retained. Planning condition inserted that the Statue should be restored, maintained and re-sited on the new building.
2008
Planning application to re-site the Statue on a plinth on the junction of Upperton Road and Western Boulevard. Accepted and Statue re-sited in December 2008.

 

In 2005 local resident Tess Greatorex gave her opinion on the 'missing' statue:
The Liberty Building 1.06 minutes

My relatives, she used to love coming over the bridge and seeing that statue, she says 'Daddy I know we're at my Auntie Tess's now'. Little things like that. And coming from Matlock, my in-laws, used to get off the M1 and come down Narborough Road, and as soon as they see the statue - it's a landmark. And I kept telling this lad, I says it's a landmark; not only that, Mr Barlow spent a lot of time having that made. But there's so many changes, so much of the inheritance is going. They're putting these concrete monstrosities up. And I'm afraid I'm from the old school, I like old places that have a got a story to them. There's not many places in Leicester now that's got a good story to them. That Granby Halls was another - it was criminal to let that go, the way it went. I really do think it was. It is, what is it now, a car park. A car park. Makes you think.
This website is part of the East Midlands Oral History Archive and has been compiled by Colin Hyde. Any comments can be sent to him via the 'Contact us' button at the bottom of the page. Last updated 04/06/09.

 

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