The society had taken its name from the Anchor Boot and Shoe Productive Society, a co-partnership industrial enterprise started in 1893 and by 1900 had its own premises in Asfordby Street, north Evington.
The co-partnership shoemakers were alerted to the idea of co-partnership housing through an article, written by Henry Vivian, in the Productive Federation Year Book. In that article Vivian described the work of Ealing Tenants Limited and explained the savings in the costs of house building. In his words “By association the tenant-owners can get everything done in wholesale terms, thus effecting a large saving”.
In their first year, 1902, they collected £200 as share capital and this increased to £339 in the following year. But after that the capital decreased and the venture held back until 1907 when, with extra encouragement the share capital increased to £1,500 and the company seemed ready to provide its members with houses. A search was made for a suitable site within the town boundary, yet near to the Evington works. But eventually the company decided on the purchase of 17 acres, with an option of a further 31 acres, just to the east of Humberstone village.
A demonstration was held as the company formally took possession of the land. Vivian was there, as were the mayor and the medical officer of health for Leicester, for it was Vivian who had planned the first stage of the development of the estate. The company tried to get suitable tenders from local builders, but in the end they formed their own works department to build by direct labour. George Hern was appointed manager in May 1908 and within two months the first memorial stone was laid by the towns medical officer of health. This stone forms part of the first pair of houses built in Keyham Lane and it offers a chance to identify where the scheme started. The first occupants of those houses took up residence during October 1908. The cost of that first pair of houses, together with 400yds of land for each, came to about £450 and the rent was fixed at 6/6d per week.
By September 1910, 49 houses were occupied and their gardens were well stocked as the company had made a bulk purchase of fruit trees and bushes. The first stage was completed by July 1911. Just as the second stage of the Garden Suburb was beginning in October 1911, George Hern, the company’s manager, suddenly died. Recovering from the shock, the suburb increased to 95 houses by 1915. There were also three shops, an office, chapel room and an assembly room. The population stood at 350. The value of the estate was valued at £33,000 with an annual revenue of just over £2,000. The business side of the suburb was managed by an elected committee of tenants while another elected committee looked after the social and educational life of the community.
There were regular concerts, dances, whist drives and lectures. Societies and sports clubs grew in strength. Festivals and outings were regular events and the children of the suburb spent an annual holiday in residence at Sutton on Sea away from the estate and their parents. Everyone seems to have adopted the community spirit in Humberstone Garden Suburb. True, there were certain drawbacks. Mains gas and water were available, but mains sewerage and electricity did not come to the estate until the 1920’s.
Tenants had the problem of finding transport to town, although some did come when a tenant ran a bus service to link up with the Leicester Transport service. The tenants have lost many of their earlier amenities. What has happened to their bowling green, tennis courts and recreational space? What was the fate of their shops and their meeting hall? When was the third stage of growth completed?