Roger Cave came to live in Highfields in 1940, the year he was born.
This is Hajra Makda recording an interview with Roger Cave on Friday 4th November at Highfields Library, Leicester.
Roger, can you give me your full name, and your place of birth?
My name is Roger John Cave and I was born in Leicester on 2nd March 1940.
Do you know where you were born?
Yes, I was actually born at Westcotes Nursing Home on the Narborough Road area of the city.
Can you tell me a bit about your family background?
Yes, my mother and father were both born in Highfields. Infact my father was born in Twycross Street just over the road from where we lived. After he got married (he was one of five brothers) the brothers gradually dispersed, one went to live in Carlisle, the others remained in Leicester. His mother and father carried on living in Twycross Street in Highfields until their deaths. My grandmother died in 1963 and my grandfather died in 1968. My mother's parents also lived in Highfields in Connaught Street. They lived there until they died. My grandfather died in 1955 and my grandmother died in 1973, I think she was about 89 when she died. Although my own mother died in 1946, (she was only 32) she died of Tuberculosis which was quite common in those days. From what my father has said she worked in an solicitor's office, but I believe it went bankrupt. She then worked in the hosiery trade until I was born. My father worked in a factory, I think he worked for a firm called Dalmers which made plasters for first aid treatment. During the war, he was in the Home Guard as he failed the medical to be taken into the regular army.
How old were you when your mother died?
I was six years old when she died.
Can you remember anything about the funeral?
No, I didn't attend the funeral, she died in Groby Road Hospital which in those days was used as a sanitarium. It was situated on the edge of town, I think it has just recently been closed down, but that was used for people with TB. I think it was built for that purpose really, but I can't remember too much about her, just the odd thing because it is such a long time ago and I was very young at the time.
How many brothers and sisters do you have?
I have just got one step-brother. My dad remarried in 1950 to an Irish lady and she already had a son, so there were just the two of us.
Can you tell me a little bit about the house you stayed in?
Well the house we lived in is still standing. It was originally a six roomed terraced house. In the early days it didn't have a bathroom, we had a bathroom put in but that wasn't until 1950. Before that we used to make do with a tin bath which would be brought out on a Friday night in front of the fire in the living room. I think everybody managed like that. The bath was about 6 foot in length which you'd keep in the backyard and then it would be brought out. It was a ritual having this bath, it was such a lot of trouble that probably that's the reason that it was only brought out once a week! But then grants for home improvements started coming in. I would think it would be about the 1950s when we had a bathroom and so were reduced to two bedrooms.
Right, so you lived in a six bedroomed house, which is quite large for a terrace!
No, a six roomed house, just the six rooms.
I remember during the war years there was a shelter in the yard. Everybody had one really in case of bombs, and also we used to keep our own chickens then because of the shortage of people working on farms. You had to be a bit self contained so we had our own chickens, and also father had his own allotment and that was on Victoria Park, an area that was turned into allotments
In our street, I don't know as anybody owned a car, you'd perhaps see the odd vehicle but there were a lot more shops, or small shops than there is now. I can remember there was an off license just in a small area from Gopsall Street to Melbourne Road. There was also a newsagents, a fish and chip shop, a shoe repair shop, a haberdashery shop and a general grocery shop. All that was in quite a small area really, and every street would be the same like that. I think a lot of these shops have gone now, they have been turned into houses .
I can even remember them delivering bread and milk, and there was a horse and cart delivery in those days. The school that I went to was St Peter's School in Gopsall Street and there was a Church of England School. That kept quite close to the Church more than what the Church of England schools do today. The Vicar and the Curate would come twice a week and we would have to say prayers in the mornings. The school housed quite a lot of children. I suppose there were perhaps up to four hundred pupils there, it was the through school from nursery through to junior, and there were two classes in each year so there were quite a lot of children in the school itself.
Was there any punishment for naughty children should I say?
Oh yes, they were very strict, and you could quite easily get the cane, you could be hit on the hand with it. The Headmaster then was very strict, and you didn't really get many disciplinary problems because of that. I think most parents excepted it as well really so yes, there was a lot of discipline there.
What about the building, has it changed in any way?
The outside structure has remained the same. It is used now as an annex to the new Sparkenhoe Primary School, so the outside of the old building is still the same although inside it has been altered. Rooms have been knocked through and the classrooms have been rearranged but basically it's the same really. The heating system has been altered and I think there used to be some outside toilets there which all have to be incorporated into the building now. It has been brought up to a modern standard but the basic structure is the same.
After leaving St Peter's School, I went to Secondary Modern School and that was called Dale School which was on Melbourne Road, more or less opposite the library. When leaving the junior school at eleven you went there for three years until you were fifteen, but I left there after the second year and went to the grammar school in town, Gateway Boys' School. At the secondary school, they used to have boxing. We used to use St Hilda's Church which was over the road. They used to have a boxing competition which I don't think would be allowed these days, it would be classed as dangerous.
Yes, I should think it would.
Did you walk to school?
So it was fairly safe for a young lad to walk through the streets of Highfields?
Oh yes, it was very safe to walk there. We all used to come home at dinner time as well.
Can you remember anything about the war?
I can remember the shortage of food, although I had never known any abundance of food because I'd grown up with the ration. I suppose we got used to it to a certain extent, but you know because of that there wasn't a lot of variety in the food that we had.
I was a bit young to remember the bombing but from what my parents said (in 1940) when I was born, I think it was November when the Germans dropped a string of bombs on Highfields. I was taken in a clothes basket when they had the air raid warning to St Peter's School. It was used as a meeting point because the building had been shored up with extra timber so it would stand the blast of bombs. When the siren went off we went to the school to shelter from any bombing, and my parents said they took me in a clothes basket. Infact the night we were there, a bomb dropped only about a hundred yards away from the school building on the corner of Gopsall Street and Sparkenhoe Street, then there was a string of bombs dropped in Highfields Street and down Sparkenhoe Street. After the war, these areas weren't developed for quite a few years. As a child we used to use that as a play area on the bomb sites.
It must have been terrifying for you every time you heard the siren?
Yes, I think the bombs were only dropped one night on Highfields, but there were other warnings when the siren would go off. These sirens were situated on Victoria Park plus there were anti-aircraft guns there as well for the defence of Leicester and particularly for the Highfields there. Yes, the sirens had a high pitched wail you know which would be quite frightening.
Did you have to wear the gas masks?
Yes, we did. I vaguely remember those.
Was there an air raid shelter in Gopsall Street?
No, the only thing was the school, but we would have individual ones in our own backyard as well, it was like a corrugated iron sheet which was curved over the shelter and was submerged into the ground, you would go down steps to it.
Were these made for use during the war?
Yes, just for use during the war. After the war we dug the shelter up, but I think most houses in the town, had those really. But the original Sparkenhoe School was called Highfields Infants and that was more of a utility building, it was built on the bomb site after the war. I believe it remained like that until about 1986 when they built a new school there.
Can you tell me about transport, how did you get about, shopping in the city centre?
Well, often we would walk, I think there was a lot more walking done then, than there is nowadays. We used the trams, and there was the buses as well.
Where did you catch the trams from?
The trams used to run on London Road which wasn't too far away from where we lived. They would take you into the centre of town to the clock tower where you could catch a tram back up London Road. I think we used to get off at the corner of Highfields Street and London Road so we only had to walk down Highfields Street and then the trams carried on to Stoneygate then out to where the Race Course is.
Can you tell me about you leisure activities when you were a child or a teenager?
When I was a child, my main leisure activities was playing football. I always used to play football. I remember after the war, say in 1946 after my mother died, I went to live with my grandparents on my mother's side in Connaught Street. My grandfather was a football fanatic and he encouraged me with football. I used to play on Victoria Park. In those days football was more of a sporting activity than it is now in schools. There would be more football leagues. One school would play against another school which doesn't seem to be the case nowadays, that seems to have died out.
I was very keen on football, I was also very keen on drawing as well because in those days we didn't have a television set so a lot of the time would be spent reading, drawing or playing with toy soldiers. That was another passion of mine playing toy soldiers. So you made your own entertainment really like that.
Did you visit the cinema at all?
Yes, we went to the cinema quite often. There was the Evington cinema on the corner of Chesterfield Road, and there would be special children's matinees on a Saturday afternoon. There would be a special programme for children. We used to go to the Melbourne cinema as well at the bottom of Melbourne Road, they were a good substitute for television really.
I think my uncles were amateur radio broadcasters and they built their own television set out of a telly radiogram, like a big wooden cabinet that would house a radio and a record player. Well, they converted that, cut a piece out the front and put the television tube sticking through that, it was only a small nine inch. I remember clustering around this at Christmas, it must have been 1948-1950, it wasn't too long after the war.
But the uncle who did it used to be in the RAF during the war, he used to work on radar and I think that gave him the insight. I remember them building this set because I think we probably bought a set at home in 1953 or something like that, you know, or 1954 when it started to take off more commercially.
Do you remember Spinney Park at all?
Yes, we used to play on Spinney Hill Park quite often. What I remember about Spinney Hill Park was there used to be a big pavilion that stood at the top.
I think the winters tended to be a bit colder than they are now, perhaps for a couple of weeks we would have a heavy fall of snow and it would freeze over, so we used to go sledging.
Yes. Was that park used in the war at all for anything?
I don't remember, there probably would be an air raid shelter built on it, I don't know, I can't remember that. I can remember when I was a child, for bonfire night we used to collect all the rubbish, and after the war we used to store it in this air raid shelter in the street.
Can you tell me about bonfire night?
Yes, well bonfire night used to be quite a thing because they hadn't got the restrictions that they have now. Every street in the area would have at least two bonfires at either end of the street even though they were perhaps dangerously close to buildings. A street like Twycross Street which crosses Melbourne Road could probably have as many as four bonfires in the one street, so to anybody standing at a distance it would look like the whole area was ablaze!
So a lot of people used to come out from the street and just join in?
Yes, they did then, I think there was probably more community atmosphere than there would be now in most areas
Can you remember the 'bobby on the beat', or anything about the law at that time?
We used to get the odd policeman come walking by, they used to carry a lot of authority and everybody would be afraid of the policeman. People had a lot of respect for the law. Infact, my grandfather on my mother's side was in the Police Force from 1905 to about 1930. He used to have a board up outside his house saying that he was the police constable so he would be virtually on-call twenty-four hours a day, so if they were in any trouble they could knock on his door at any time.
Do you remember burglaries taking place in Highfields at all?
Not really no. I don't think there was a lot of crime particularly after the war. I think everybody wanted to get back on their feet you know. There was more an atmosphere of all pulling together. I suppose there must have been burglaries but nothing to the extent that there is now, you know you could walk out and leave you doors unlocked and you could be quite safe. You could trust your neighbours. They would have probably lived there for years, there wasn't the movement of people in the area. People stayed put, they weren't buying and selling houses all the while so you knew the people in the locality.
What about your local doctor, was he in Highfields too?
Yes, the local doctor wasn't too far away, he was in a house on the corner of Highfields Street and St Peters Road more or less facing St Peter's Church which was quite handy, I think there were two doctors in the practice then.
Can you remember the riots that took place a couple of years ago in Highfields?
Yes, I remember them. Being in the Fire Service I can remember them although I was on holiday when that took place. I know from what the other firemen said it was quite frightening really, they had to adopt a certain procedure in case they got attacked because they had been called to the fire. They had to be careful that they didn't drive into a 'situation'. They had to reverse into the area and then use the local water supply, but by reversing in they could easily and quickly drive out and protect themselves like that. When they were dealing with the fire they would run the hose out to the fire engine from the street hydrant.
So when did you join the Fire Brigade?
And was this the local Brigade? Where was the fire station based?
This was at Lancaster Road station, then it was called Leicester City Fire Brigade, although now it is Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service. During the war, there was a National Fire Service and then after the war, I think probably about 1948, it reverted back to Leicester City Fire Brigade.
When I joined in 1963 there was only two stations, Lancaster Road and Asfordby Street which was a very old station built about 1880. Lancaster Road was built about 1928, but then in 1964, another station opened at New Parks. In 1973, the old Asfordby Street station closed down and a new station was built and opened in Hastings Road.
Can you remember your first wages when you worked for the Fire Brigade?
Yes, the first wages I started on were £12.00 a week. If I go back before then, I worked in the shoe trade, (there were a lot of shoe factories in Leicester at that time) and I think my first wages there were £4.00 a week at the age of sixteen.
Did that seem enough for all your basic requirements at the time?
It did at the time, yes, there wasn't cause to buy so much as there is now. I suppose that from leaving school and being on virtually nothing to £4.00 a week seemed quite a big jump really. It covered the clothes that I bought at that time, but as I say, expectations then really weren't so much as what they would be for youngsters now.
So where was this factory then?
That that was off East Park Road in French Road, it was called George Durstons, it doesn't exist now as a shoe factory, it closed three or four years ago as a shoe factory. I worked at three different shoe factories before joining the fire service.
So what made you decide to join the Fire Brigade?
Well, I always thought about joining, but then all of a sudden I thought, "Now is the time ." When I was twenty three they were advertising because they had had a cut in hours from fifty-six hours a week (that was previous to 1963) down to forty-eight hours a week, so they obviously needed extra men to make up that difference. I joined when they went onto a forty-eight hour week, it's now a forty-two hour week which it has been for a number of years.
I remember dealing with instances concerning Highfields. One day we had a hurricane, it was a freak thing really, it swept through Highfields and it took chimneys and roofs off houses in Guthlaxton Street and round this area here. I remember St Hilda's Church (which isn't the existing building) as was, but during this hurricane the roof came off in the wind and came down back on to the building! To all intents and purposes, it looked as if nothing had happened to it, but on closer examination they found the roof was loose so they had to pull the whole building down. I'm not sure what stands on that now. It was quite extraordinary, yes, instead of blowing it off it just lifted it up and dropped it back down on top.
Were there any major fires in the area?
I can think of of plenty of small house fires but I can't quite picture any factory fires within the Highfields area. There were obviously plenty of big fires during that time, it's just that I wasn't on duty then. There were four different watches. The biggest thing was the hurricane that swept through this particular day.
What about floods or anything like that?
Floods? No, I can't remember floods, not in Highfields itself. I can think of it in other areas because we used to cover Evington, Thurnby, areas like that. Evington used to be an area prone to flooding. I can remember attending a few road accidents down Melbourne Road, you know cars speeding. I can remember going to one or two nasty accidents down there.
Was it fairly easy to do your shopping, was everything available?
Yes, during the time of the 1950s you would go for your bread or tinned food to the small shops, but also in every area there was a Co-op. The nearest to us was in Chandos Street, just the other side of St Peters Road. Most people, I mean with it being a working class area, would be in the Co-op.
I can always remember going to this local Co-op there. Before the age of the supermarkets in Leicester, it was mainly the Co-op or a chain of shops called Worthington Stores. They would provide the main groceries. Yes, I can remember a Co-op shop being in Chandos Street and there was also one in Nedham Street just more or less opposite the Melbourne Road cinema as it was then. But there were also others which are in areas of Highfields not far away from here which have been knocked down now. I can remember a big one at the bottom of Oxendon Street which is only a short street now.
I can remember at the bottom of Oxendon Street, there was a Working Men's Club. It always used to be called the Highfields Working Men's Club, that was the main leisure centre for the area. I mean a lot of these Working Men's Clubs have died out now really but that was quite a focal point for people.
Can you tell me a bit about the area itself, about the buildings that were there but aren't today?
I think the first thing that springs to mind are probably the houses. A lot of the houses now are all the same. They are either used as flats or family houses, but looking back, a lot of the houses were used for different types of people. The houses on Melbourne Road had servants' quarters whereas houses in Twycross Street were ordinary six bedroom terraced houses. But the houses on Melbourne Road were of a better quality. I can remember playing as a child, meeting up with friends. We went into their house and in the basement there was a row of bells hanging up with the names of all the different rooms. That would obviously be the servants' quarters so anybody needing attention could pull a cord which would ring the bell. There were quite a few houses like that. I don't know if it could be that perhaps people who acted as servants perhaps lived in the terraced houses (in the basements) in Twycross Street, the side streets, and then they worked at the houses on Melbourne Road
I see, so would you say this was a middle class area, the people who lived here?
Well, during the 1940s, I would say it were mainly working class although I think people who would be better off were perhaps lower middle class. There were some of those living on Melbourne Road in those days. I think then the area was probably as it was before the war, so I would say mainly working class but then you had this middle class, or the remains of people who were middle class living on Melbourne Road. I think they went away as new housing was built and then it gradually become more working class really I think. Although the houses in the area varied in quality between Melbourne Road and Twycross Street.
As you work you way down through Highfields towards the railway, I remember going into houses where the toilet was in a court yard so it probably did for half a dozen houses! I think they were the first homes to be demolished. I think that was when I first joined the fire brigade so it was probably the early Sixties.
Do you remember the local library?
Yes, the local library was in Garendon Street, I think that still exists. Although I used the library a lot I never used that one, I would use either the St Barnabas Library which must have been built in the early 1950s, or the main Central Lending Library.
Did many people own their own transport, or did they use the local buses?
Oh, they used the local buses. Nobody started buying cars I suppose until the middle 1950s, one or two cars came out but before that it was all public transport or bicycles. During the early to middle 1950s you saw the odd car start to take to the roads.
What about the Health Centre. Where it is today, the St Peter's Health Centre? Can you remember what was there before?
Yes, before St Peter's Health Centre was there, there was just houses and shops that was just part of Highfields estate. As it was, there used to be a public house, I just can't quite think of the name, but when my grandmother on my mother's side first came to Leicester from Walsall near Birmingham, she worked there as a live-in barmaid at this public house, and that was about where the health centre stands now, on Sparkenhoe Street. I think the pub was there until it was knocked down in the 1960s to build the health centre, but behind that it was terraced houses.
Was there quite a different community in the earlier years like the Polish or Jewish community?
Well I suppose a good indication of that is when I was at school, particularly when I went to Melbourne Road Dale School. When I went to Dale there was more of a cross section of children in the area and I can remember there was one or two Jewish lads. So this would be going back to what, about 1951. I think there was one West Indian lad in the school, I think then in the next year there was an Indian lad but that was about all, you know there wasn't many at the school. Mind you, having said that, I know there is a Polish Church on Melbourne Road but those being Catholics, perhaps they went to a Catholic School, a separate Catholic School. My stepmother was Irish. There was a few Irish Catholics came into the area and of course they had their own school, Sacred Heart on Mere Road. These started to come in the 1950s, I think we gradually began to get that influx. First, I would say we got the Irish people and then probably the Polish people arrived after that. Then you started to get West Indians and then Indian people. When I went to Dale in 1951 it was mainly the original white people who'd lived in the area for years
Is there anything else you would like to tell me about your experiences in Highfields as a child, anything that you have got in your mind?
I'll try to see if I can think of anything extra, I will probably think of things afterwards really.
You had a fairly happy childhood?
Well, reasonably I suppose. I think this was to do with my mother dying, that made it unhappy you know. I mean I made my own amusements, but personally I was unhappy because she died. I think that made a difference to and to my education. I can remember as a child, we used to make our own amusements, we would play out more in the streets. I suppose because there wasn't so much television you know, so children would play together more.
I can remember playing football in the streets. There wasn't a lot of trouble, you would get the odd fight, that's just natural, but there were no gang fights or anything like that. It was just playing together really most of the time and then when you got to the age of fifteen they would go to work anyway. Their energies would be taken up with that. I don't remember there being many people unemployed then. I think you would probably be a bit of a problem child to be unemployed. There were always jobs in the factories really, so it was quite peaceful in the area.
I mean we never had a lot of money to spare you know you just had adequate for your needs that time, I think that's about all I can think of. But all the new buildings that are standing now have more or less replaced the houses. I can't remember any spectacular buildings that were knocked down to provide flats, they were just these poor terraced houses really, the worst of the terraced houses in Highfields were knocked down. The better quality terraced houses are standing over the side of St Peters Road. Particularly the area of Connaught Street and Tichbourne Street, it has quite massive houses up there. I think that was an upper class area of Leicester then in those days. The only other thing I used to do as a child was to go to Melbourne Hall Church, that's where my parents were married. Melbourne Hall was an Evangelical Free Church as opposed to the Anglian St Peter's Church.
Can you remember anything about the Carnival?
The Carnival. I don't know when that started. Yes, because I moved out of Highfields in 1963 and then I got married in 1964 so I'm not too sure. I wasn't really around to see when that actually started so I can't remember too much about that really.
Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
I don't think so, I can't think of anything else off hand really.
Well, thank you very much for your time.
I hope it has added something to it !
I'm sure it has and I think it has been very helpful, thank you Roger.