Montfort (Knitting Mills) Ltd.
In 1868 William Newby invited two men who like himself had been engaged in the hosiery trade since they were boys to enter into partnership as manufacturers and distributors of knitted goods. Their firm was set up as 'Newby, Brown & Humberstone' in Belvoir Street, Leicester.
As was the custom around that time many knitters who worked for NB&H were self employed and operated in their own cottages away from the town centre, some in outlying villages, coming to the town on Saturdays for their allocation of yarn and returning their weeks production. The firm also produced knitted underwear although the bulk of the trade was hosiery.
There is some evidence that one operator in Ratby operated from a brick workshop in his back garden using machines supplied by the firm. He employed labour on his own account and was the main subcontractor for socks and stockings using Griswold hand turned circular knitting machines.
In 1884, following the departure of one of the partners who owed the firm money which was never repaid, William Newby formed a new partnership with two of his representatives and the name of the firm then became Newby, Groves & Meakin. William Newby died in 1893.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the firm registered its trade name Montfort, chosen because of the area’s association with Simon de Montfort first Earl of Leicester. There was considerable unemployment in the trade at that time but the firm survived and eventually 'Montfort' was to become one of the most respected brand names in the trade. In 1914 the firm became a limited company under the control of the joint chairmen Percy Groves and Gerald Meakin. During World War One both chairmen went on active service overseas and it was during this time they obtained a large military contract for socks which was repeated at varying levels certainly up to the 1970s.
The firm, in common with most of the industry, suffered a serious setback in 1921 and 1922 as the shortage of merchandise in the shops as the result of the War came to an end. As the price of wool dropped from 20/- (£1) to 3/6 (£0.175) in three months the firm had to face the liquidation of valuable stocks but managed to survive until conditions improved. The move to the larger Duke Street premises was made in 1926 at the time of the General Strike.
During the 1920s Newby, Groves, and Meakin Ltd was bypassing the wholesale trade and selling directly to the retailers. Representatives who had previously travelled by train were given motor cars and were able to make much better use of their time. Up to the 1930s the firm had been selling a range of merchandise bought in from other manufacturers but as chain store business began to develop it was necessary to increase production so as to maintain more control of quality and supply. This led to the development of a subsidiary, Five Ways Hosiery Ltd in Welford Road, Leicester. In 1937 W Reynolds (Hucknall) Ltd was added to the group. The Second World War was a time of retrenchment but production continued, aided by the long standing relationship with the Ministry of Defence.
The need for outside capital caused the firm to become a public company in 1947. After the war there was a shortage of factory operatives but these were good years for the industry and the brand name 'Montfort' was taken as the name of the company at the same time. This was a period of expansion and Harvey Knitwear was taken into the firm in 1960, a new factory was set up at Somercotes in 1965 and a year later the Duke Street factory and Welford Road factories were vacated in favour of larger premises at Tudor Road, Leicester.
Montfort had a continuity of control particularly under the Meakin name and was noted for good quality merchandise produced under its own brand name which was extensively advertised in trade and national newspapers.
By 1966 the firm had around 800 employees and still had directors that were related to early members of the firm. There were record profits in 1979 of £910,000. However, by this time the high days of the industry were over and profits became a thing of the past for Montfort (Knitting Mills) Ltd. In the three subsequent years the losses totalled over £1,400,000 and eventually this firm lost its identity when it became part of Palma Textile Group in 1983.