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Clothes/Dress

Helen Edwards interviewing Sandy Coleman for Highfields Remembered.
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Every Easter we used to have a new outfit of summer clothes. No matter what the weather, we wore them on Easter Sunday. And even if we could only afford one outfit a year, you wore that on Easter Sunday.

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On Sunday afternoons when we got older, it was quite the done thing to go to Leicester Museum. New Walk was a meeting place for young people. I used to be really proud because my dad used to take us to the Leicester Museum on a Sunday afternoon, and he'd wear his drainpipe trousers, and his beetle crusher shoes with all these music notes all over the front, and I'd see somebody from school and then they'd come up to me on Monday and say, "Your boyfriend's a bit old for you!", and it was my dad! I used to think it was great! But we used to spend a lot of time at the museum, but I don't really think it was to improve our minds, I think it was more of a meeting place.

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There weren't dances on a Saturday night?

Oh, well I lived at the Palais. Right. On Friday lunchtime if I could possibly get to it, they used to have a lunchtime bop every Friday night. Our school uniform could be enhanced by taking your flat Oxford shoes off and putting on a pair of white stilettos, and it was pale blue gathered skirt and a pale blue blouse My mother's a good dressmaker, so my dresses always had nice styles, you know, with the sweetheart neck and puff sleeves and what have you. And I would put a bright, broad white belt on, with white shoes and nobody would know that was a uniform.

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In my last year I was made prefect, which to me was the best thing out of my whole school life. That I'd actually made it to be prefect. I'd got a deportment girdle! In those days you were encouraged to sit upright. I felt that my 4 years at Dale were 4 good years, and they definitely brought out the best in me

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Linda Cox who was born in 1948.
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When I was nearing my teens, it seemed that my friend Lynda Cowles and myself were always hanging around Charny, looking for bargains or boys! We once got the shock of our lives when we thought we were looking quite glamorous to find we had been covertly photographed by the 'Leicester Chronicle' and appeared on the front page as "Two young window-shoppers". We both had short hair cuts and were wearing our gabardine school macs and ankle socks! We never lived it down.

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Dr Stuart Fraser lived in Highfields from 1946 the year he was born.
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when I came to being 5 or 6 I was sent to a private school along the London Road and this then alienated me from the children and the people in the area because I was then being educated outside the area and I would of course have had a grey suit, school colours, a cap and a black Mac to look all very smart.

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Mrs Betty Hoyland was born in Highfields.
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One of the tortures of my life as a small girl were the long brown stockings which we wore every day, with a lighter coloured pair for Sundays. These were held up by buttons and tapes tied onto liberty bodices which I hated, I used to long for the first breath of warm spring sunshine to be able to go into short socks and sandals.

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Mrs Hazel Jacques came to Highfields in 1942.
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we were always well clothed.

Did they choose the clothes for you?

No, we had what was always handed down, they were always brown tweed coats and berets, and blazers and school tunics and blouses.

So you had a uniform really?

Like a uniform, yes.

You couldn't choose your own things at all?

Oh no, no! Our clothes were taken off us as soon as we got there!

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Did they say what sort of hairstyle you had to have?

Yes, it had to be cut short with a ribbon in it. Yeah. It wasn't until one of the little girls, one of the Catholic girls came in (her name was Margaret), with black ringlets, (oh, she was pretty) she didn't want her to have her hair cut, so we said we wouldn't have ours cut either. You couldn't cut those ringlets off you know, we all objected . We hated the hairdressers! The lady would get the clippers and cut the back of our hair, like a boy. It was awful! We hated it! If the sirens went off we used to say, "Hope the hairdresser is bombed!"

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we were always clean, we had a bath on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week. We had a strip wash, you know on other nights. We always had clean clothes to wear, a vest, combinations, knickers, a liberty bodice, a blouse, black stockings, a tunic, that was it. I think we were quite warm then! Yeah, we didn't know how to put these combinations on, because they were like a vest with legs, and you had to get through the top bit, pull it up, then button up at the neck. But they'd got a big hole in for your backside and a bit at the front – it was quite funny! You used to have to do PE in these combinations at school with navy knickers. We had sewing every Thursday night. We used to sit there moaning! It was awful. "Oh, I can't thread this needle." "Oh, there's not enough elastic, these buttons are horrible. " Ma used to say, "Get on with it!"

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Mr Amarjit Singh Johl came to Highfields in 1964.
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We were very limited as a community, we used to dress and clothe as the English did. We used to go to town for clothes. The standard of shops was much higher than India. I used to like to dress properly. I liked good fashionable clothes. We used to buy groceries in the neighbourhood.

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Miss Alma Knight was born in Highfields in 1923.
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you weren't as restricted as if you were at a grammar school. You were supposed to wear a navy tunic and red jumper for winter, white blouses for autumn and spring, and this is very interesting because we did a lot of sewing in those days, you learnt how to look after a sewing machine and that! You made your own summer uniform. We were divided into four different houses like Bradgate, GraceDieu Swithland and Ulverscroft, and we all had handbroidered emblems and flowers. It was really beautiful, that was the Art teacher's idea. But of course, our mums used to help us a bit getting them done in time, but it was really very nice. There was a very nice arrangement, it was very discreet, and, possibly at that time, which was the middle Thirties, there were a few girls whose fathers didn't have much work. The headmistress and head teacher would arrange an exchange scheme where if you grew out of your tunic, you could take them to the Domestic Science teacher who would just give them a little clean and press if they needed it. Although in those days children were very clean.

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the billeting officer brought them and said, "Oh, if you've got a spare room, or a spare quilt or pillows they'll sleep on the floor."

So you had 3 strange men in your house?

Yes, they were absolutely lovely. They looked so desperately tired, some had just got plimsolls on, and a singlet with the battle top. A few had got their haversacks, and one or two had got little bits of rations they just brought across, they'd come over the Channel you see, landed at Dover or wherever and come up to the Midlands.

So how long did you have them for?

Well, they had to report on Victoria Park at a lovely Victorian pavilion. That was the headquarters where they all reported, and where they were all sent out to other places. One was sent out to North Africa, he was taken prisoner of war there. Two of them were moved on fairly quickly, one stayed a bit longer, and then we had perhaps another three stay. But they always came round with the billeting officer, and it was all documented properly, you see. They were very very nice, they'd come from lovely homes some of them, and the one who was in North Africa, he was Welsh. He had a little time to go back on leave. His parents had a lovely garden and he brought us some Aster plants, things like that. He took to my granny ever so well, well all of us really, we've got a lot of memories of them.

This was seen as a safe area, then, presumably?

Oh, it was. Strangely enough, that would be the summer of 1940, it was the November of that year when we got the raids. Of all the Midlands, I believe Derby and Coventry were hit the most. Coventry was very bad. I've got an auntie-in-law and who was bombed 3 times. She had a sick husband you know, and she worked very long hours in an aircraft factory, so it was a hard life, but she's still here bless her, hale and hearty! You know, she's a dear lady, I must go and see her.

And you were working throughout the war?

Oh yes. I was at the same firm. They had to give up the uniforms of course, I was in the office at that time, and they had war contracts to do. There was PT wear for the army, the uniforms for the ATS, tropical kit for wrens, WAAFs. A gentleman came from London, I don't know whether he was evacuated up here, (he was deaf) but it was the first time I'd ever seen it in Leicester, he had an electric cutter which cut layers and layers of fabric,

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And you were working throughout the war?

Oh yes. I was at the same firm. They had to give up the uniforms of course, I was in the office at that time, and they had war contracts to do. There was PT wear for the army, the uniforms for the ATS, tropical kit for wrens, WAAFs. A gentleman came from London, I don't know whether he was evacuated up here, (he was deaf) but it was the first time I'd ever seen it in Leicester, he had an electric cutter which cut layers and layers of fabric, he'd been in the tailoring trade. He laid his cloth out, marked the patterns and then cut them with his cutter! Of course they had a lot of extra people, outdoor staff, and I insurance cards and income tax was all taken out of the wages. The contracts for materials was quite a big, you see. I had a girl a little bit younger helping me. But, it wouldn't have been what you called a reserved occupation, after 19 or 20, so I made enquiries and went to work on more essential work. That was inspection for radios for aircraft, which of course, was all right for the war.

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Mr Aidan Maguire came to Highfields in 1962.
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I remember I was quite trendy really! My mum bought me a pair of hipsters, I was only about 6 or 7. I had a pair of hipster trousers and an imitation leather jacket. My sisters started to buy me things and dressed me like a little mod.

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Marjorie Marston was born in Highfields in 1942.
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We always used to have a new dress for Whitsuntide you know, usually a cream one. I don't know why that was, with nice cream shoes and white socks etc., that always happened.

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When you were a teenager, can you remember the sort of fashion that was around?

Yes, I used to love it, it was the big bouffant skirts, you know, with the stiff underneath skirts with all the ribbons on and things, and the big wide belts and tight fitting bodices. I suppose blouses and high heeled shoes, winkle pickers, you know with the pointed toes. I don't think that did my feet much good, but anyway I used to have those. I wonder how I walked in some of those high heels but I think girls used to look feminine, they used to look very nice. Especially in those skirts I used to love them, we had stockings of course we had stockings and suspenders. I didn't like them so much, tights are much better

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Mrs Margaret Porter came to Highfields in 1923.
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I also have very happy memories of going to Medway Street school where I learnt to do the Military Two-Step at the Christmas parties. We all wore our best frocks and had to take some party food which was eaten in the class-rooms.

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some of the lady teachers were a bit tougher, especially Miss Date, who was liable to give you a slap across the knuckles with a ruler. There was also Miss Hopley, who wore her hair parted in the middle and firmly fastened back each side with a hair grip. Both of these teachers wore tunics like the children, and I think, black stockings.

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My teenage years were spent during the war, I can remember painting my legs to save on stockings (in those days probably Lisle, as nylon stockings had hardly come in then) and using Vaseline and soot for eye-shadow! We made pixie-hoods in the winter out of long scarves, and wrapped smaller scarves round our heads in the form of turbans.

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Brett Pruce was born in Highfields in 1955.
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There were eight years between my brother and myself, and I was always a bit of a problem to him, because in the Sixties I was just a young sprog and of course, he was into motorbikes. Yeah, he was one of the rockers , I suppose you'd call them now. You know I was too young for the mods and rockers thing. He was always out on the motorbike in the leather jacket and all the bits. A bit of a god to me, you know.

Was that a group in Highfields? Did he have a similar group to you?

Yeah, all his mates. Again they were all Moat boys. They were all the same age and all had the same interests. There used to be a row of motorbikes outside our house, and of course the younger lads would all be saying, "Look at that", you know, "Let's have a sit on it", or whatever and they were like gods to us because they were doing everything that we couldn't. There were all sorts of fights, but we never saw any of that. Never seemed to happen round our way.

So he had the same sort of friends that you had?

Yeah, oh very much so. It was very community based if you like. You didn't stray much outside your patch.

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Mary Thornley came to live in Highfields in 1912.
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Can you go back to Melbourne Road School, can you remember your first day there?

Well vaguely, I remember my early days there and one or two of the teachers that I got to know quite well. I think the Headmistress of the Junior School was a Miss Valentine, a real Victorian lady, she wore proper Victorian clothes, high necked blouses and things.

Was she strict?

Well she didn't actually teach me so I don't know, but there was a Miss Shires as well who taught me and I got to like her very much, she was very kind, she used to come and have tea with us sometimes at home.

Oh, so you knew her very well then?

Yes, I got to know her quite well yes.

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Did you wear a school uniform?

Yes, navy blue gym slips, beige cream blouses and blue and green striped tie collars. School bands on the hats were the same colours as the ties. I think it was a black hat in the winter but it was a Panama in the summer.

Was it a felt hat in the winter?

Yes the black one was yes. I do remember we used to go to the Victoria Park Tennis courts for our tennis lessons and if we had our blazers on, we had to wear gloves and if we didn't have our blazers on we had to carry our gloves. We walked in a crocodile line to Victoria Park. The courts are still there I think, not the ones near the pavilion but the ones a bit further a long nearer the University.

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I don't know what year it was I should think it might be during the first world war and we had King George V and Queen Mary to visit Taylor Hobsons factory and they came right past our back entrance, so we had a platform made underneath some trees and we had had a beautiful view of them going by. Queen Mary with her parasol and I don't remember the colour but I should think it was pale pink or something like that, that was quite an adventure and quite a lot of people came and joined us so that they could see.

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in the first world war, my mother and grandmother used to visit the soldiers at North Evington War Hospital which was is the General Hospital now, it was an Infirmary place before the war I think. In the first world war it was quite a big hospital and we used to walk there from Evington Street, straight through down to Melbourne Road, up Derwent Street to Mere Road, down Parkvale Road which is at the side of Spinney Hill, cross over and you are at the corner of Gwendolen Road, walk up Gwendolen Road and your at the hospital main gates. They used to go every Thursday and Saturday or every Thursday and Sunday I think. I used to go sometimes with them and then one or two of the men if they were well enough to get away were allowed to come and have tea and one of the nurses came with them once or twice. I remember one man he came from Nottingham and his name was Waterson, its funny how you remember these names isn't it? And then there was an Australian soldier who visited them after he had been back to Australia and he came to see them after when he came to England again. That was all from the first world war but they certainly had these men in their blue suits with their red ties, they wore flannel like suits.

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Mr Eric Tolton was born in Highfields in 1916.
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Your mother must have found it very difficult during the depression and afterwards when you were growing up?

Yes, yes she must have done. Cause she used to make the clothes. She was a tailor you see, mind you some of the things I used to have to have cut down, I wasnt too happy about, even though Im not very clothes conscious but I had an uncle who was a presser at Hart and Levys and he could make suits you see, so my suits were made by him and mother combined. In those days I didnt really buy clothes. I suppose I dont know they might have been made, we had grey shirts in those days.

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Mrs Muriel Wilmot came to live in Highfields in 1927.
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I remember I have always been one for good quality. Once, mother bought me a cheap tunic from Woolworths and I wanted to see the pleats go in and out but they didn't. I used to go by a big bicycle shop to look in the window at my reflection to see if the pleats went in and out they didn't. So I went back and complained to mother and she said I am awfully sorry but you can't have that type. I said I wanted one of those square necked blouses like Catherine Trip had, that's my friend. She had a velvet top and tunic and mother said that they were in a different situation, and you have to have what you get and be grateful. So that was that.

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.Mrs Dorothy Woodford was born in Highfields in 1921.
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Soon after, I passed the Scholarship as it was called, and was accepted as a pupil at the Wyggeston Grammar School. This auspicious event coincided with my father's promotion at work. I can clearly recall my mother, unable to contain her delight telling us children, "Don't broadcast the fact, but your father's a 5 a week man now!" This put us above the threshold to claim for any help with school uniform, though I'm sure my parents would have been too proud to ask anyway! Somehow by scrimping and saving I went off to Wyggeston with all the necessary kit.

Although in retrospect I regret not making better use of my opportunity, I'm grateful for the all round education I received. We were proud of our school and our uniform, which far from causing class distinction did much, in my opinion, to iron out the obviously very different backgrounds of the pupils.

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