The Symington Building

The home of Harborough Museum since 1983, and formerly R & W H Symington & Co Ltd’s manufacturing base

The Symington Building is an iconic Victorian corset factory in the shadow of St Dionysius Church, in the heart of Market Harborough.

R & W H Symington & Co Ltd developed from the foundation of a small drapers and corset making business run by James and Sarah Symington. They married in the mid-1830s and their large family included sons Robert and William Henry who went into partnership using a factory workshop system, and American Singer sewing machines to make mass produced, ready to wear corsets for Victorian women.

The company grew, and from its original rented premises in an old carpet factory opposite The Square it built new factory premises across the road which is now The Symington Building. Their success allowed them to employ outworkers in and around Market Harborough and build smaller factories across the midlands. By the 1930s the company was an international concern with factories in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

With the aim of ‘dressing every woman in the world’ the company became famous for making reasonably priced fashionable foundation garments for women with almost every type of figure and with a wide range of incomes. The invention of the Liberty Bodice in 1908 and the ‘Avro’ and ‘Liberty’ foundation garment ranges in the 1920s and 1930s made Symington’s a household name. Their ruched ‘telescopic’ swimsuits for women and children were popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The Symington factory buildings were iconic. They dominated the centre of the town with their large windows which filled the sewing and work rooms with light.

In 1967 the Courtaulds group took over the Company and in 1980 it sold the Adam and Eve Street factory building to Harborough District Council. Production in the remaining factory across the yard ended in May 1990.

Now The Symington Building, in 2013 the former factory was transformed and is home to museum, library, adult learning and registration services. The ground floor offers a café, ice cream parlour and the concierge. The Harborough District Council Chamber and Civic Suite, and the Job Centre Plus offices can be found on the second floor.