England

'What I learnt touring my home town of Loughborough'

Becca Bryers Image copyright Becca Bryers
Image caption BBC journalist Becca Bryers loves to tour new places but had not considered exploring her home town

Whenever I visit a new city on holiday, I always take a guided tour to get a feel for the place and its history. But what would I discover if I took a trip around my home town?

The idea came to me while making the latest episode of the BBC podcast Multi Story which was themed around hidden history. It got me wondering what I might be overlooking in Loughborough, a place I thought I knew inside out.

I met my tour guide Lynne Dyer outside the town hall on market day. She told me: "Very often we're so focused on doing what we're doing, that we don't see the things that are around us.

"Or we see them but we never ask: 'Why is that there? Who put that there? What is that all about?'"

Lynne has been curious about Loughborough ever since she arrived as a student in 1978 and fell in love with the place.

I spent the first 20 years of my life here and regularly come back to visit family and friends.

Loughborough is a market town in Leicestershire with a population of about 60,000 and a university, but it's not known as a tourist destination.

What would our journey around its streets uncover?

Penguins in the park

Image caption Queen's Park's first aviaries were opened in 1955

We began in Queens Park, where I spent a huge amount of my early teenage life hanging around.

Most locals know the blue-copper topped Carillion in the centre is a memorial opened up after World War One, but I didn't know the wider history of the park.

Lynne told me it was opened in 1899 to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

At the time there was a lot of concern over public health so the park was created to allow factory workers to get a bit of fresh air among some greenery.

As a kid I loved going to see the parakeets and other colourful birds in the park's aviaries.

Lynne revealed the first aviaries were opened in 1955.

They were also home to a toe-nibbling goose called Gertie and two penguins which had their own igloo.

Sadly the penguins died after just a couple of months.

Golden triangle

Image caption The former Rosebery School building is now a medical centre

Just outside the town centre is an area of terraced houses I've always known as the Golden Triangle. Lynne tells me she suspects this was a piece of estate agent spin that's stuck.

During the industrial revolution, Loughborough was prosperous with many factories operating throughout the town.

One of these was Messenger and Co which was established in 1858. It started out making glass houses before diversifying into things like boilers and heating apparatus.

The Golden Triangle was once Messenger Village, where the staff and their families lived next to the factory.

As the industry died, the families gave way to students and the streets around the former factory changed. The nearby Rosebery School is now a medical centre.

The mystery of the missing statue

Image copyright Lynne Dyer
Image caption The Pinau statue was given to Loughborough by the people of Epinal in France

Opposite Queen's Park, on Granby Street, is the town's library - a place I'd regularly visit as a kid with a huge appetite for books.

Outside the 1960s section of the library is a statue of a boy removing a thorn from his foot.

It was given to Loughborough by the people of Epinal in France to celebrate the twinning of the towns in 1956.

Lynne told me that in the 1980s the statue went missing and was found a couple of years later in the River Goole in Yorkshire.

By chance, a man living in Goole, knowing nothing of its history, showed a picture of it to his parents who happened to live in Loughborough.

They recognised it and ensured it was sent home.

The Sockman

Image caption The bottom of the statue has faded due to people touching it

As we loop back to the start of our tour we stop to look at The Sockman statue in the market.

He was created by artist Shona Kinloch in 1998 to mark the newly pedestrianised town centre with a nod to its hosiery industry history.

Lynne said that during the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, hosiery companies were the biggest businesses in the town.

A local trade directory listed 20 hosiery companies in Loughborough in 1863 and many more related enterprises like dye works and needle makers.

Lynne pointed out that the statue's elevated foot was a different colour due to wear from people stroking it as they went past.

"Or sitting on it", I replied, thinking of all the times I'd seen my grandpa lift my younger cousins on to it.

Lynne said these kinds of personal anecdotes enriched her tours.

"The good thing about doing walks with local people is that they can share things with me too, so it's a two-way experience," she said.

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