The Leicester Fortnight

26 June 2020

The much-beloved Leicestershire Workers’ July Fortnight started fifty five years ago in 1965.

An announcement was made that factory holidays in Loughborough, Shepshed and other places in the district were to be changed from the first two weeks of August to the first two weeks of July. This meant that work at such places as The Brush would effectively close down for the fortnight, with many workers boarding the special holiday trains to popular destinations such as Skegness.

The move came as a result of a ballot conducted by Leicester and County Chamber of Commerce. The new arrangement was to be for the next year and 1967, after which the position was to be reviewed. The decision to stage a ballot of employees in factories which closed down for the annual holiday in August – both operative and staff – was taken as a result of discussions between employers and trades unions. A total of 11248 ballot papers were issued, the ballot resulting in 4645 votes in favour of the change and 3894 against.

Holidays were often cheaper in July, and it also had the advantage of avoiding the ‘great rush’ that the Leicester Mercury described just before the holiday fortnight in August 1956, when over ninety percent of rail tickets were already sold at local travel agents and up to five million vehicles were expected to be on the roads nationally.

More than a hundred thousand people left Leicester on holiday in July 1965, the Leicester Mercury reported, with ‘a cool one million pounds’ in their pockets, including holiday pay.

Around ten thousand of them travelled on the nineteen East Coast ‘specials’ from London Road Station, and ‘everyone had a seat’ thanks to a free ‘book in advance’ scheme.

Most people did travel by rail, either because they didn’t own a car or to avoid what the Leicester Mercurydescribed as the ‘nightmare drive to the coast’.

It wasn’t just the factories that shut down in Leicester during the July fortnight. Some offices and other businesses also closed, buses ran on a reduced service, and the city seemed almost deserted at times.

The weather on the East Coast for the first two weeks of July in 1965 was said to be ‘improving after a mixed fortnight’ – but there was no need to miss out on news from home as holidaymakers could still buy an edition of the Leicester Mercury  in Skegness and other popular resorts. 

Some people from Leicester were also venturing further afield for their holidays by the 1960s, with the Spanish resorts of Lloret, Sitges and Torre said to be popular destinations, along with those on the Italian Adriatic coast.

The Leicester Mercury in typical 1960s fashion concluded its article on the Leicester Fortnight with the following paragraph:

‘The Friday is bound to be a day of tension – for mother who has to cope with packing and meals to eat on the way; for the children who are excited at thoughts of what seems like endless days by the sea; and for father who is expected to do a day’s work, rush home and change, load up the car, and then start on a drive of 200 or more miles, a good slice of it during the hours of darkness… [It] can often become a nightmare for the man behind the wheel.’
Leicester Mercury – 7 July 1964

Article by Loughborough Library Local Studies Volunteers.

Facts taken from the Loughborough Echo and Leicester Mercury.
Copies of Loughborough Echo are available on microfilm at The Local and Family History Centre at Loughborough Library.
Leicester Mercury archives can be accessed at the Leicester Record Office at Wigston.