Lady Kate North, also known as Eliza North
(Photo: University of Leicester)

Lady Kate North lived at ‘Brackendale’ (now 213) London Road between 1900 and 1914.

Lady Mayoress between 1914 and 1918 and wife of Sir Jonathan North. Lady North was born Kate Eliza on Dec 19th 1858 to master plumber Mark King and Harriet Eliza Trott and baptised the following month at St John the Baptist, Shoreditch. The 1861 census shows the family living in Hoxton New Town with Mark’s widowed mother, 3 servants and a younger brother.

It’s not clear how or why Kate and her mother gravitated towards Leicester or what happened to her father but in March 1879 aged 21 she married Jonathan North, four years her senior, and the following July, his new business partner, James Leavesley, married her mother, Harriet. The couples settled in Humberstone Road within a stone’s throw of each other and seem to have been very close.

Between 1881 and 1887 Jonathan and Kate had two sons and a daughter and it seems likely that Kate’s mother provided support and advice while her daughter’s husband attended to his extensive business, civic and other commitments.

The outbreak of war changed her life. As Mayoress by July 1915 she had raised over £1,200 for a motor ambulance and convened a group of 150 women who met daily in the Mayor’s rooms to sew, knit and mend garments for the troops and local hospitals. She helped set up working parties throughout the city, providing them with material and it is said that by 1916 she had over 4000 workers producing over 2000 garments weekly and mending many more. This equipped all the local hospitals and two bales a month were sent to the comfort pool at Le Havre.

Lady Kate North organised a committee to provide the sick and wounded with a free meal at Victoria Park Pavilion and drew up a list of householders in the Clarendon Park area who could offer lodgings to their visitors. She worked tirelessly to raise money and to help the Serbian, Russian and French refugees who had arrived in the city. Her work earned her the title of the “Florence Nightingale of Leicester”.

At the end of the war her husband’s efforts were recognised by a knighthood and she became Lady North. Apart from a spell during 1921-22 when she served as President of the Bazaar and Fete Committee that raised over £15,000 for the new University College, she returned to family life, no doubt accompanying her husband on his many public duties. She died in 1930 and the following year Sir Jonathan presented to the city two sets of wrought iron gates at the entrance to Victoria Park and its Memorial Gardens in her memory.

He said:

My family and I appreciate the opportunity given to us to make these beautiful gates a memorial to one of the best mothers, to a loving and devoted wife. She was always interested in any work that could be done for the good of our city. She served as mayoress for four long dark and depressing years of the war, and I might add, served with a persona zeal and devotion such as not only evoked admiration and affection but called others to work, women and children alike.