The first section of Charnwood Street was built in the 1870s and ran from Farnham Street to Spinney Hill Road. Like the streets running from it down to Humberstone Road, including Shenton Street, Preston Street and Farnham Street itself, it started out as a residential area and the shops for which it became so well known did not appear in any numbers until the 1880s. The earliest building plans in the Leicestershire Record Office date from May 1873, and while some were for workshops and stables, the majority were for houses – 35 of them between October 1876 and January 1878. Only two shopkeepers are listed in Barker & Co’s Directory in 1875 – Richard Potter and J. Chambers – and three in White’s Leicester Street Directory of 1877. These were Mrs Kate Cartwright, a confectioner; Edward Bentley, a tobacconist; and a greengrocer, William Parish. A hay and straw dealer, Edward Orton, also had premises at the Spinney Hill Road end of Charnwood Street.
At the same end were the Spinney Hill Works, the head office of the Breedon and Cloud Hill Lime Works owned by Fielding Moore, a lime burner, brick manufacturer and coal merchant who lived at Breedon on the Hill. He had other premises in Leicester at Upper Regent Street, off London Road, and 18 Humberstone Road, but according to an advertisement in 1881, the Spinney Hill Works produced ‘Horticultural and Architectural TERRA COTTA OF EVERY DESCRIPTION… Illustrated Catalogues on application, price 6d. each’. In 1877 Charnwood Street was also the home of the elastic web manufacturer William Ward of the firm of S. Jackson & Co of Wharf Street. Several other buildings were described as apartments or lodgings, convenient for the Midland railway station on London Road or the centre of Leicester, and there was also a day school run by Mrs Caroline Jenkyns near to Farnham Street.
None of the buildings in Charnwood Street were numbered at that time, but numbers do appear in Kelly’s Directory in 1881 and in the Census of the same year, running from 1 – 163 on the south side of the street and from 2 – 122 on the north. By then the street had been extended westwards from Farnham Street to Melbourne Street/Upper Kent Street, but this section never developed into the same kind of shopping area. A grocer and a coffee house appear there in Kelly’s Directory in 1881, but much of the north side was taken up by the Charnwood Street Board Schools, opened in 1877. On the south side were the premises of William Dunmore, a pork pie manufacturer, and the brewery of Bates, Son and Bishell, also dating from around 1877 and taken over in 1890 by the Leicester Brewing and Malting Company. The premises of Gimson and Coltman, hosiery machinery manufacturers, were on the corner of Charnwood Street and Vulcan Street (later Vulcan Road). From around 1908 this whole section of Charnwood Street from 1 – 49 on the south side and from 2 as far as the Board Schools on the opposite side was officially renamed as Upper Charnwood Street.