The CWS West End Works (Dun’s Lane)

Duns Lane - Michael Smith 1972

Above:  The partially demolished CWS Dun's Lane West End Works in 1972 by Michael Smith. (author's collection)

Dunn's Lane - West End Shoe Works 1873-1883

The Co-operative Wholesale Society was set up to buy and distribute goods to local co-operative societies. Through bulk buying, the CWS was able to make substantial savings which were then passed on to local co-op societies and their customers. It began in a small way in Manchester in 1864, but grew rapidly to supply goods to co-operative stores across England. Rather than continuing to act as the middleman, the CWS decided go into manufacturing. It began with biscuits in February 1873, when the CWS started baking a large assortment of biscuits, sweets and currant bread at a factory in Crumpsall near Manchester.

CWS Dun's Lane West End Works
The Dun's Lane CWS West End Works. This picture was taken in 1876, probably in August at the time of the opening of the new four story extension to the factory seen at the rear.
CWS logo
The wheatsheaf evokes a message of unity in strength as one stalk of wheat can be easily broken but a whole sheaf has great strength. The American spelling of ‘labor’ is not a typo – it was intended as a statement of support for the anti-slavery North in the US Civil War. The stained glass rescued from the factory in 1972 is probably very similar.

John Butcher

The Banbury co-operator, John Butcher, convinced the Manchester based C.W.S. to open a shoe factory in Leicester. He had told the CWS board that “biscuits were a luxury and boots were a necessity.” Butcher outlined the potential for sales if 600,000 co-op members and their families each bought two pairs of boots a year. Although the chairman of the CWS thought Leicester was too far from Manchester, Butcher convinced the board that that the expertise for shoemaking lay in Leicester.

Butcher was duly appointed as manager and the new venture began in premises rented for £75 on Dun’s Lane. The West End Works was a pre-existing shoe factory which had been run and owned by Arthur Moulds. He had initially put the factory up for sale complete with machinery, though the CWS began as a tenant, probably renting it complete with machinery. This ready-made set up enabled a swift start to production which began on September 15th 1873 with 100 workers.

John Butcher
John Butcher in 1875. (The Beehive)

"No Brown Paper"

John Butcher outlined his business aims shortly after the West End Works opened. He said the factory would: “endeavour to make boots without the use of brown paper. The people who would buy their boots would have to work hard for their money and consequently they should endeavour to make them strong, so that they would wear well. He did not want to be told, when he went to the meeting of the Board in Manchester, that the boots they manufactured at the works in Leicester would not wear, but wanted them to be of such character that they would wear, and then there would be no fear of working short time.”

Edwin Dadley
Edwin Dadley

The arrival of the CWS plant in Leicester had pre-empted local plans to start a co-operative shoe factory under local control.  However the leading light of this local venture, Edwin Dadley, was appointed as Butcher’s assistant. The Dun’s Lane factory was a runaway success and in May 1874, it was reported that 'additional premises will soon be required.'

CWS Trademark
'Serviceable' brand gentleman's boots were in production at the West End Works in 1890.

Later that year, the rented factory was nearly sold over the society's head, but the CWS bought the premises and an additional piece of land  for £1,350.  Although orders were plentiful, a loss was made in 1875, because too many co-operative societies wanted something different and consequently there were too many small uneconomic orders. All the boots made at the works all had the word “Wheatsheaf” impressed on the sole.


In August 1876, a new four story building was added to the rear of the factory and it was fitted with the latest machinery. This extension doubled the size of the works and the workforce increased to 420. In 1877 it was reported that the factory was producing 7,000-8,000 pairs of boots and shoes a week.

Over the next thirty years CWS footwear production in Leicester grew exponentially and with John Butcher at the helm it became the principal supplier of footwear to every co-operative retail society in the country. By 1910, the CWS had four factories in Leicester employing 2,262 people.

Map1888 West Bridge
The factory on the 1888 Ordinance Survey map, before the coming of the Great Central Railway

In the 1870s, the boot and shoe trade was starting the process of moving away from the hand-sewn method of making boots and shoes. At that time very few factories used power and it would take thirty years for all the processes of shoe making to be fully mechanised. 

Initially processes like riveting and finishing  at Dun’s Lane were given to other workshops, sometimes to sweatshops with ‘boy labour.’ This practice of sending out of work to country villages, where labour was cheaper, was widespread in the industry and was steadfastly opposed by the union. The union insisted that the agreed wages should be paid to such outworkers, and that factories should be set up in the country districts.

The C.W.S. maintained that  outworking was caused by the lack of capacity at Dun’s Lane, however the union believed this was about saving labour costs.  It was this grievance underlay the strikes of 1879 and 1880 at the West End Works.

No Profit Sharing

While massively expanding its production, the CWS did so along conventional business lines. Whilst it was generally acknowledged that the CWS workers received a decent wage, there were many in the co-operative movement who believed that CWS workers ought to have a say in management and a share in profits. They argued that this model would minimise the conflicts that caused industrial disputes. Initially, the CWS acceded to an annual employee bonus, but abandoned it in 1875. From then on, the CWS strongly resisted any suggestion of profit sharing with employees.

G.J. Holyoake, the co-operative pioneer, was a notable supporter of co-partnership. He hoped that if CWS factories shared profits, it might influence other manufacturers to do the same. He consequently opposed the CWS coming to Leicester to run a factory on conventional capitalist lines. The argument made by the CWS was that it was only continuing the practice already established in co-operative shops and that CWS workers shared in the profits through the dividends they received from co-operative purchases. Although the CWS opinion eventually prevailed, the local co-operative movement was very sympathetic to the cause of co-partnership and this led to Leicester becoming the home of the co-partnership movement.

Dun's Lane, West end Works C1891 (CWS annual)
The new Dun's Lane West End Works c1890 (CWS Annuals)

1883-1972 The New West End Works

In 1878, John Butcher resigned to become a director of Freeman, Hardy and Willis and Dadley, his assistant,  became manager of the works. Dadley's advocacy of temperance was reflected in job adverts which required 'sober' workers and 'preferred' abstainers. In 1880,  he reported that “every inch of room is now used at the works, and if trade revives, further extension will be necessary." In the short term this forced the production of some men's and boys' shoes to be transferred to the newly opened CWS factory at  Heckmondwike, nine miles south of Leeds. 

The West End Works, Dun's Lane
The West End Works, Dun's Lane c1888 (CWS Annuals)
West End Works 1971
The West End Works in 1971 as seen from Braunstone Gate. (Dennis Calow)

The lack of capacity demanded a radical solution. It was found by the demolition of the original West End Works replacing it with an imposing five storey building.  The new factory had a floor space of over 10,000 sq feet and was triangular in shape with one of the long sides fronting Dun's Lane (and later the Great Central railway viaduct) and another facing the River Soar.

Work carried out by the Corporation to the road layout had given the factory a commanding position and the CWS had decided to build something worthy of the site.  The new factory was opened on 31st May 1884 and according to its architect James Tait, the building was one of the most extensive shoe factories Leicester. Tait (1834-1915) was also the architect of Clarendon Park Congregational Church  and Abbey Park's pavilion and lodges.

CWS men's boot
CWS men's boot - date unknown (ROLLR)

The Factory

The building was classical in style and was built in in red brick with carved red brick decorations. Over the entrance was the name “West-end Shoe Works,” carved from brick in raised Roman letters. Above this was a large scale brick panel with the CWS wheatsheaf carved in relief and the address of the head office in Manchester. At the top of the building was a triangular tympanum ornamented with an arabesque design also in carved brick. The attic storey above was ornamented with urns on either side.

The floors were lit from the frontage and from a central yard where the walls of which were lined with white glazed bricks. A lower (three storey) building occupied the south-western portion of the site. Somewhere in the building there was a stained glass window with a Wheatsheaf design which was probably made by Norman and Underwood.

West End Works
The West End Works as published in the CWS Annuals of the 1900s. The artist has made the building more imposing by the exaggerated the width of Dun's Lane and reducing the size of the carts and figures.

The entrance to the offices lay at the centre of the Dun's Lane frontage and this was flanked by two larger entrances: one for delivery and the other for the despatch. Each of these entrances was provided with a powerful lift communicating with the floors above. 

1898 Duns Lane engine
CWS Trade mark
A trade mark presumably produced in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria's jubilee
CWS trade mark
Another trade mark

The ground floor contained the heavy machinery, the riveters' shop and the engine house. Power for the works was supplied by an eight horse-power “Otto” gas engine. The first floor was occupied by the offices, the taking-in room and the stock, packing and sample rooms. The second floor was given over to the making of children’s shoes. The third floor contained the sewing machines and fitting room. The leather was first dealt with on the top floor of the factory in the clicking or cutting out departments. “Airy and cheerful” mess rooms for men and women were provided.

CWS Heel building (
Boys operating heel building machines. There is no documentary evidence to show when and where this picture was taken. However, the pillar and beam is look to be the same as in the photo of box making shown below. It is also catalogued with other CWS photos taken in the 1890s. (ROLLR)

The building was heated throughout by a high pressure steam system. Ventilation was provided through fresh air being let in by numerous upright shafts and the foul air being extracted by flues and carried up to the roof.

1935 Duns Lane (Britain from the Air)
A 1935 photo showing the West End Works with the Bow String bridge and the Great Central Railway. The West End Inn (Pump and Tap) is also visible. (Britain from the Air)

In 1884 there were 725 people in the workforce which grew to 1,300 in 1890. In 1885 the works claimed that it had over 800 distinct varieties of men's, women’s and children's shoes advertised in its price list. 
All our goods are made of genuine material. This is a very important consideration, as we find many samples sent to us for competition often contain portions of paper and composition board in parts which ought to be leather; and the leather is also sometimes of the worst and cheapest description. We believe that our goods, taking quality into account, are as cheap as those supplied by any good house in the trade. 

CWS exhibition case
The West End Works exhibited at various  exhibitions of co-operative produced goods including the annual Co-operative Congress. It is not known where this picture was taken, though the date is probably prior to 1891 (ROLLR)

The CWS made a concerted effort to get the numerous Co-operative Societies to stock its goods. To this end, displays CWS products were put on at the many gathering of co-operators. At the 21st Annual Co-operative Congress at Ipswich in 1889 a case containing footwear from the West End Works was described as containing:
gents' wellington, shooting, and other boots; cricket, dress, button, calf, and seal shoes in great variety. ...The ladies' goods consisted of glacé, glove kid, and calf boots and shoes, and others of levant, seal, and imitation cork; tennis shoes, and canvas shoes for seaside wear. There was an equal variety for young people, while the children's goods, artistically embroidered and tastefully cut, made a very pretty show.”

The Dun's Lane viaduct (Colin Walker)
A Gresley Class V2 No 60886 heads south across the Dun's Lane viaduct in front of the West End Works. (Colin Walker)

Technocratic Manager

In 1885, the manager of the West-End Works, Edwin Dadley died suddenly whilst on business for the Society in Paris and John Butcher was persuaded to return to his old post.  Butcher had been a director of Freeman Hardy and Willis for six years and now sat on the Liberal benches of the Town Council along with many of Leicester’s industrialists. He now saw himself as a technocratic manager whose priority was to expand the CWS with new factories equipped with the most modern machinery. Butcher believed that the mechanisation of shoe making in factories brought benefits both to the workers and to the public. He decried the opposition of older workers to the new processes. He highlighted the benefits of the sewing machine in the West End Works which had replaced the hand closing of the uppers of boots and shoes. He thought that the old closer:

"…could not foresee what a lightener of toil it was to prove; what a means of escape from a form of labour that was unhealthy as it was ill paid; that robbed his home of comfort and his children of the opportunities of education, while it warped their young bodies and hindered their development."

He contrasted the days of the "dull and dirty garret workshop" with the "modern" factory where machinists and fitters were "working in a clean, well-lighted, wholesome apartment, and will, likely as not, be singing in unison as they work, making labour a pleasure." (CWS Annual 1890)

CWS Dun's Lane, box making
Boys making cardboard boxes at Duns Lane c1897. They are standing on wooden boxes so they can reach the machine. This picture was published in Co-operation in Leicester in 1898. (ROLLR)

The Union took a different view. Technical innovation led to the subdivision of workers functions into a series of simple and repetitive tasks, both by those who operated the machines and those who worked manually. Whilst these new systems raised productivity,  they encouraged the dilution of labour, making it possible to employ the less skilled and less well-paid labour of youths and women. This led to the Union’s hostility toward the new systems and its suspicion of the machinery involved.

CWS making galoshes
Three unidentified women making galoshes. Although there is no documentary evidence of the location or date of this photo, galoshes were made at the West End Works. The factory also had white glazed tiles and the photo is catalogued with other CWS material. (ROLLR)


There were still processes in shoe making which were done by hand and  outside the factory. From the 1870s, finishing work had been given out in Enderby and this was done in a room rented from the Enderby Co-operative Society.  This outwork in Enderby was viewed with misgivings by the workers at the Dun’s Lane. They suspected that the workers at Enderby were being paid at a lower rate and this grievance fuelled a two week strike of 200 workers at Dun’s Lane in 1886. Official statements from the C.W.S. sort to prove that the Society paid the highest rates in Leicester and were the only employers to allow a town rate for the country district of Enderby.

Although the men returned to work on the same terms as before, the strike committee lent its active support to the setting up of the Equity Co-operative Boot and Shoe factory. Although there is conflicting testimony as to whether Butcher helped or hindered the new co-operative, he remained firmly wedded to the CWS model. He told the American journalist H.D. Lloyd that labour co-partnerships would cause the "the creation of an aristocracy of labour. In his opinion, the duty of co-operative manufacturers is to get the goods to the consumer at the cheapest possible price, and they have no right to make this price dearer by paying more than the market rate of wages.” 

CWS Duns Lane Box Making
Women making cardboard boxes at the West End Works (Co-operation in Leicester, 1898)


The West End Works had a sick benefit society whose rules were publicised as a model for other schemes for co-op workers. The rules give a picture of what was considered to be best practice in the days before the existence of a proper health service. The Sick Benefit Society was run by a committee made up of elected representatives from each area of the works. Its objects were to provide benefit in case of sickness and pay for funeral costs. After 13 weeks contributions you were entitled to claim 10/- a week for six weeks then 5/- a week for the next six weeks after which you would not receive any more benefit.

Membership was not compulsory for employees and as the sick pay was funded by members of the scheme, its benefits could not be generous. It is for this reason that we find an annual soiree or concert being held at the Co-operative hall to support the benefit society.  In 1886 there were 200 members which was less than half of those employed at the works, this may have been because 2d per week was considered too much for young workers. It is not clear whether the CWS contributed to the fund, though it did give regular contributions or donations to the Royal Infirmary.

The regular feature of the works’ social life was the annual works excursion. There was a cricket team from 1879 which played on Saturday, presumably after work, since there was no sport played in Leicester on the Sabbath.

West End Works, Dun's Lane
The West End Works, Dun's Lane in 1946 as seen from Braunstone Gate
West End Works
The West End Works in June 1971. The CWS had the factory up for sale at this time. (ROLLR)
Dun's Lane 1972
Dun's Lane in 1972 by Michael Smith who worked for Frank Gadsby on Braunstone Gate.

With the opening of the new CWS Wheatsheaf factory in Knighton Fields, the Dun’s Lane factory took a more subsidiary role and by 1910 there were just 443 people working there. Among the products made were children’s shoes and slippers which used the remnants from the CWS furnishing department. Dun’s Lane also made canvas holiday shoes and rubber heeled "ward shoes" which were designed specially for nurses. By this time the plant was fully electric.

Cardboard Box Factory

In 1933, the Duns Lane factory was closed and the 200-300 strong workforce and machinery were quickly transferred to the Wheatsheaf Works. In 1936, the factory was reopened as a CWS cardboard box factory.  As production at the CWS Wheatsheaf Works reduced in the 1960s, so did the demand for shoe boxes. At some time in the late 1960s the West End Works was either sold or rented to HJB Plastics and it became their No 3 Factory where they had a plastic packaging extrusion plant. (HJB was a subsidiary of Courtaulds, who had taken over the Leicester plastics firm Cascelloid). It is not clear when production at the factory ceased, but in 1971 the factory was up for sale.

1949 CWS Duns Lane
The West End Works in 1949 (Dennis Calow)

In the end, the factory fell victim to the West Bridge A47 road scheme. In 1972, Mrs Jean Freestone rescued a unique stained glass window from the building as it was being demolished. It depicts the Co-op symbol of the wheatsheaf and sickle and bears the Americanised CWS inscription "Labor and Wait." (see top of page)  The window was photographed by the Museum staff and rather being sold to an antique dealer, it was donated to the Museum where it currently remains unseen. 

The press reports of 1972 make no mention of finding the time capsule which was laid with the foundation stone by J.T.W. Mitchell in April 1883. The site of the factory is now occupied by the unprepossessing Westbridge Industrial Park which is opposite De Montfort University’s QE2 Leisure Centre.

A footnote from Peter John Clare:

The CWS building was very oppressive on the narrow Duns Lane and cast a shadow over the whole road. At the time of my youth, I wasn't sorry to see it demolished. It made the whole road so much lighter.
However, in my later years I developed an interest in architecture. Looking back I can see the the CWS building was quite attractive architecturally. It bore the grime of years standing so close to the Great Central Line and from the exhaust from the vehicles of the day. Duns Lane was a major route into town in those days from Narborough Road."

The West End Works under demolition
The West End Works under demolition in 1972 (Leicester City Council)

"Cleaning the exterior of old buildings hadn't come about at the time and if it had, the building 'might' have been cleaned and saved. That said, it was the 1970s and there was much desire for modernisation in the city and old buildings were out of fashion. Had the CWS building ever been cleaned it would have revealed beautiful architecture and nowadays would no doubt have been converted to apartments.”

Sources: Leicester Chronicle 9th March 1872, 18th May, 15th November 1873, 12 August 1876, 7th April 1883, 9th October 1886, 12 July 1968, 25th August 1972, Leicester Daily Post, 1st July, 11th September 1875, Leicester Evening Mail 20th April 1936, Leicester Journal 6th June 1884, Benjamin Jones, Co-operative News 17th March 1888, 18th October 1890, Percy Redfern: The story of the CWS The Jubilee History of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Ltd. 1863-1913, Co-operation in Leicester,  1898, E.O. Greening, A Pioneer Partnership, 1923, CWS Annuals 1884 -1916, Leicester: A Souvenir of the 47th Co-operative Congress,  1915, R. A. Church: The Effect of the American Export Invasion on the British Boot and Shoe Industry 1885-1914, 1968

Enderby Boot and Shoe Works 1889-1958

Enderby Boot and Shoe works
The Enderby Boot and Show works from the 1905 CWS Annual

In 1889,  a  new CWS factory built on King Street started production and it was soon working at full capacity. It brought all work in the village under direct C.W.S. control and  thus ended out work. It would seem that the union’s allegations during the 1886 strike had borne fruit.

The new factory was a substantial red brick building which still dominates the ‘look’ of the village centre. It was built by Mr W. Langton and Son of Enderby and cost about £960.

Clicking room at the Enderby CWS factory
The clicking room at the Enderby CWS factory in the early 1930s. Arthur Woodhouse is in the centre of the front row. (Brian Turner)
Enderby Boot & Shoe Works
The Enderby Boot and Shoe works shown in 1911

The works was a  single storey building except at the front where women fitters and machinists worked in an upper room. Beneath this was the over looker's apartment, which was partitioned off from a long room that ran the whole length of the building.  The machinery was powered by a gas engine. In 1895 there were 100 people working in the factory. 

The building of the new factory provided work for local women. This was welcomed since many young women had to leave their ‘country homes’ to seek a livelihood in Leicester and elsewhere.  The CWS also built the ‘Co-operative Cottages’ on Cross Street as homes for some of the workers. A two storey extension to the factory on King Street was added c1908.

In 1913 there were about 300 people working in the factory which now specialised in making strong riveted boots for women and girls. That year the dismissal of two woman workers, Esther Faulkner and Olive Coulson, led to an eight week strike of 1,800 workers at the three CWS shoe factories in Leicester. (see the article on the Wheatsheaf Works for the full story)

King Street, Enderby
King Street, Enderby
Enderby Civic Centre
Enderby Civic Centre in 2009 (Google)

In 1958, as part of a plan to centralise production and improve productivity, the CWS closed the factory which then housed clicking and closing rooms. The 49 workers were offered the chance of transferring to the Leicester Wheatsheaf Works.  The Enderby factory was then used by George Ward Ltd for making children’s shoes and by Griflex a plastics firm. Part of the factory is now the Enderby Civic Centre whilst some of the factory extension fronting King Street has been converted to residential use.

Sources: Leicester Journal Friday 29th March 1889, Leicester Daily Post 8th March 1913, 31st October 1913,  Leicester Evening Mail Saturday 22 March 1958, 1st December 1959, CWS Annuals 1896, 1905, 1911.