Information on Loughborough

John Heathcoat, Loughborough and English Heritage

Posted on 18/04/2008
A. Jarram

38 Leicester Road, Loughborough (photograph by A. Jarram)

Whilst consulting the list of listed buildings in Loughborough and the rest of Charnwood It was quite obvious that the House owned by Lace-master John Heathcoat at the time of the 1816 Luddite attack on his factory was missing from the listings.

The discovery of a tunnel, in 2006, secreted under a slate shelf, in what would have been a cellar cupboard, further added to the buildings importance. The tunnel of approx 2 6” square section curving through 90 degrees led to a sealed tiny brick-lined room. The room contained a breach in its roof covered by a rough hewn sandstone slab. It was through this void that the room was discovered by workmen working on plumbing and electrical wiring under the floorboards of the Victorian extension to this Georgian House. When constructed the room would have been under the garden. The breach was probably caused by accident probably at the time of the extension.

To address the balance an attempt was made by a Loughborough resident and amateur local historian Tony Jarram to apply to have the house listed but on the advise of English Heritage the Department of Culture Media and Sport have refused listing of the property.

The English Heritage recommendation was based on the report of their advisor

An appeal has been raised against the listing as Tony feels that the advice received does not take a number of factors into consideration.

To fully understand the importance of this building, it is necessary to study events in the town in the period 1808 to 1816.

John Heathcoat was the inventor of the Bobbinet lace making machine that replicated the hand made lace net. This machine revolutionised the industry. This machine had been developed in both Kegworth and Nottingham. Heathcoat then moved to Loughborough and with John Boden set up a lace making factory containing 55 of his new lace making machines nicknamed “Old Loughboroughs”.

These machines were patented and Heathcoat and he charged royalties on anyone else who operated them setting them. Most were in Nottingham, where concern at the additional on cost was eroding profits. It is thought this was the reason that a group of machine-wreckers known as Luddites, probably paid by the Nottingham lace masters, attacked Heathcoat and Bodens Loughborough factory in Mill street, the present day Market Street. The factory site is now occupied by Iceland and Poundland.

At the time of the attack in 1816 John Heathcoat owned the house at No.38 Leicester Road, for which listing is being sought. It is thought by some historians that John Boden lived at No.40 Leicester Road.

At the time of the attack Boden was in Loughborough but Heathcoat was in Tiverton Devon eyeing up a woollen mill, where post the Luddite attack, he would re-establish his lace-making operations.

The move to Tiverton may have been partially due to the threat of Luddite attack, but also the inadequate supply of water from the Woodbrook to drive powered machinery,the “New Loughboroughs”, that Heathcoat was developing.

English Heritage in their report to the Department of Culture Media and Sport say that the association of the tunnel and cellar features with Luddite activity in Loughborough is based on supposition, and is not corroborated by any other evidence. Moreover, the present building, beneath which the tunnel and cellar lie, appears to be of a later date.

The connection with Luddite activity, as described, is irrefutable. Heathcoat was in Loughborough 1808-1816 The Luddite attack was in 1816 at John Heathcoats Factory in Loughborough. That is pretty simple to connect.

The secret room being under the later extension is clearly because the extension was built over the subterranean features, probably causing the hole in the roof of the Priest hole type secret room in the process.

Nobody will ever be able to prove that the tunnel and room were dug by Heathcoat to protect him and his family from Luddite attack says Tony but nobody has managed the find any other explanation for the unique feature.

English Heritage comments, in their report relating to the architectural quality of the building is not contested. Alterations to the ground floor spoil the original Georgian layout. The architectural significance of this site, however, is the underground features that are not only locally but also nationally unique. It is the tunnel and secret room that make this building unique.


The building has been given a ‘Blue Plaque’ by Charnwood Borough Council, the only building in Loughborough with such recognition.


English Heritage in their report, says Tony, have not given a very en-lightened assessment of this building. He adds that, historic buildings in Loughborough in generally are not getting the protection they deserve. He identifies two warehouses that experts advised were not of significant importance that were swept away during the Loughborough Wharf development. He adds even some buildings on the local listings are in a terrible state.


The appeal against the failure to list Heathcoats house has been lodged with the Department of Culture Media and Sport.


In concussion Tony says English Heritage have got this one so very very wrong

Photographs of Locally Listed and Statutory Listed buildings in Charnwood and Loughborough are being collected by members of inLoughborough in the photograph albums

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