Dr Stuart Fraser lived in Highfields from 1946 the year he was born.
Hajra Makda recording an interview with Dr Stuart Fraser on Monday 10 October 1994.
Dr Fraser, can you give me your full name, your place of birth and your age please?
I'm Dr Stuart Muir Finlay Fraser, born in March 1946 in the Fielding Johnson Hospital on Regent Road in Leicester. Now, to give you, an explanation as to why I'm talking to you about Highfields, I think my family background would help a lot.
My grandfather on my maternal side was demobilised at the end of the 1st world war, he was a Scottish medical graduate, single, and had to basically find somewhere to work. He answered an advertisement in the British Medical journal where there was a practice of two doctor, working from Highfields, a Dr Young and a Dr Payne, one was a Scottish graduate and one was a London graduate and they were looking for a new partner. I don't know the stories about it but he eventually took up residence at 56 Melbourne Street in 1920, soon after he was demobilised. He was single, I don't know how much he paid to join the practice, as at that time you had to have some capital to buy into a practice. However,I know that it was well known within his family who were all from Scotland, his father was dead by that time, he had a widowed elder sister and he was one of the younger members of the family, and he borrowed money from his older widowed sister and used that as capital to buy his way into the practice. And in fact, from that date until his sister's death, he always paid her interest on the loan, which was his way of paying her back for her help into buying the practice. He came down in 1920 as a bachelor, and immediately took over residence of a very large house which had one, two, three, four- it had four large first floor rooms,large downstairs rooms, a kitchen and a scullery and an attached surgery, a waiting room and small consulting room, and a dispensary and there was an attic room with two rooms in it. He took over residence here and infact brought his youngest sister down to keep house for him. She was probably in her early twenties, she still lives and she came down and kept house for him for six months as he was actually engaged to someone, and he married after he had been in practice for six months, and he lived in the house from 1920 till the 1930s when his practice had expanded and built up and he moved, to the Evington area, and his assistant stayed in the house and ran the practice from the surgery premises. Ah, so from this house, certainly my mother and her younger brother were both born and lived for quite a long period of time.
My mother in fact wasn't born in this house because again, I am not quite certain of what percentage.
Again, I think my mother and her brother and sisters were all born in nursing homes in the city.
My mother in fact was born in a nursing home on Severn Street in 1922 there were quite a number of small nursing homes scattered around just off the London Road there that is a part of Highfields. I don't know what it looked like and I don't know much about it because in fact I think it was destroyed when the sticker bombs went through Highfields in the second world war.
But that was when my mother was born anyway. Maybe her younger sister was born here as well. They all went to nursing homes to be born then they all came back to the house so the reasons for being in Highfields is basically because my mother was born here, my mother subsequently married a Doctor and as I was brought up to believe that we came to England to make money out of the English! That is, came from Scotland to England to make money out of the English, that is what I was brought up to believe!
Highfields was basically where the practice was, where the work was, where the patients lived, the majority of the patients were panel patients on the polio medical service to my grandfather and there was a fair number of patients who were railway workers as the area around Beale Street and Upper Kent Street had a number of workers there, and my grandfather was a medical officer for the railway sickness society.
My first impressions of Highfields I suppose was really the fact that I lived in this rather large house, downstairs it had a large hall, a dining room and a front sitting room, a scullery a kitchen, a pantry larder, a small yard at the back with an outside toilet, there was a small Butler's pantry going into the dining room and off that lead the dispensary, a small consulting room and then a large waiting room. The consulting room, dispensary and waiting room were very much forbidden territories for me when I was younger because that was where there were patients and I just kept out of it but a weekends on the Sunday because there were surgeries all the way through Saturday I could play in the waiting room. It had, what I call railway benches all the way round the wall and school benches down the middle of the room and it was quite a good play room, and I could have a competition to see how long I could not touch the floor by running around the furniture and various things is what I remember, but the other rooms were very much forbidden areas altogether, there was a door directly onto the road out of the waiting room and the one thing I do remember there is that they had a brass voice piece there which the idea was that there was a tube going up to the bedside of my parents and the patients could take out a bung and blow in this and a whistle blew at the other end and you could speak, it was the night call tube.
I suppose the overall thing that I remember about the house was that it was big and it was cold. All the rooms could have coal fires in them. As I said, there was an upstairs sitting room and one, two, at least three bedrooms, a bathroom and a separate toilet and then upstairs, there was an attic of two rooms and a very big cellar full of coal. I think the main thing is that
I remember the house was very cold. My mother would keep one coal fire in the house somewhere but I think the problem was carrying the coal around the house and I think it was very dirty for her. The kitchen was always warm. The kitchen was a bit primitive, well I say primitive but it was much better than a lot of people would have had in the sense that there was a brick scullery and a plastered kitchen with a big welsh dresser style, fixed onto the wall of the scullery room. There was no central heating of course, had a great big sort of mother used to call it "a bomb" that heated up the water for the house, and a large porcelain sink, and again that was very cold and was the one startling thing about the house and that was cold and it had no fires at all.
It was big, the attic rooms could play in. Of course, the answer to why it was so big is that
when my grandparents lived here along with the time in the 1920s of course they had always had at least one resident maid servant and my grandfather always said when they came to the area that a lot of the houses, the bigger houses in the area had at least one maid servant resident, some had two and there were some up Melbourne Road and at the top of Melbourne Street they had two uniform, that's black and white uniform servants and certainly I know that my grandfathers predecessors who lived further up Melbourne Street, they had at least one resident servant and a bell boy who used to run errands for him. I remember that because his daughter told me that one of these boys had tried to strangle her mother and the poor lady had never really recovered from it much from this psychologically.
The interesting thing is about the servants that my grandparents had is that my parents never had any servants at all in the house from 1947 onwards, after the war of course, but up until before the war my grandparents had always had servants and they used to get their maidservant by going to the Countesthorpe Cottage Homes for orphans and when a girl had to leave school she then took up residence and lived in the house and then went usually because she was getting married, and in fact the last servant my grandparents ever had in 1939/40 she married from my grandparents house, this was of course in Evington and she kept in touch with my grandmother until she died.
Right, the thing that I remember apart from the house was the area
there were shops just down on the Melbourne Road which I think now is just a spectacle shop and hosiery shops. The houses that are now shops are mostly hosiery shops, corner shops, general store and spectacle shop. From what I remembered as a child was there was food shops, groceries, bakers, butchers vegetable shops and there was a shop near us called Mr Tivvy's, and I used to get sent there to get fruit and vegetables for my mother and the corner shop I think was Curtis's the butchers who again my mother used to get her regular joint from once a week and I think he continued to deliver meat to her, when she went to live on the Scraptoft lane area. Opposite my abiding memory is of the Worthington's general store which is now a bookkeepers premises and I can remember going in there to get food and my mother having to cut coupons up because there was some food rationing still going on.
I think it would be truthful to say of course that apart form the very close area around the house,
I really didn't go out a lot into the area because I was shall we say from a different group of people from the people that were living in the area at the time. I suppose it is partly the penalty of being the doctors son.
I really only had one close, or one friend nearby who was of my own age and that was my neighbours', and my neighbours were Polish, they were displaced persons from the World War Two and I think he had been a Colonel in the Polish army and he was there with his family and he had a son of my age and I used to frequently play with him. However, he had very little English and I had no Polish, but we seemed to get along quite well,
but then we tended not to see each other because
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.
The striking thing then that I remember about Highfields was that I used to have to walk, I was delivered to school, I was dropped off-he had a Ford Popular car, but I always had to walk home, so he obviously used to drop me off before morning surgery but I used to have to walk home then and this is from Albert Road, which is from the Clarendon Park way and I would walk from the age of 5, I would walk back from Melbourne Street. There was only one major road crossing and that was the Evington Road, St James Road into Evington Road into St Stephens Road and I was told that later on that my mother had another friend who was the wife of a dentist or another doctor and she had instructions to look out of her upstairs window to watch for me crossing the road. That was the nearest I was looked out for in this journey. When I think about it now, it is quite a trek for a 5 year old or a 6 year old child to make unaccompanied and I did it for several years.
My abiding thoughts are that
I would come off the London Road down St James Road which is all very pleasant and then I would have to run the gauntlet of Medway Street School and the problems were that if there was a school crocodile out and if they saw me I would get stuffed into the hedge! So I always had to avoid a school crocodile or I would get duffed up and then when I got further down, across the St Peters Road, there wouldn't be so many school children then but if there a gang of them around I would have to run and leg it
and I remember one day being chased down a coal street because of course
the side streets off Melbourne Road were still all cobbled with the granite sets, the main roads were all tarmaced but the side roads were all granite sets.
I remember vividly being chased by 3 lads, one of which had warts all over his hand and he was going to give them to me, and I was chased through the side streets off Melbourne Road through Porter Street, into Berner Street and I think I found my way into Wilson Street and back into Melbourne Street and home. It was always a rather difficult and tense time, it might also explain why one day I said to a school friend from my Stoneygate School that I was at, he said, "Oh come and have tea with me" and I said "Oh let's walk home like I do", although he infact lived in Blaby! So I started walking to Blaby with him and his sister, and they had to get the police out there that time to get me!
The thing was once I got to the age of about eleven or twelve there was a lot of re-development going on in the fifties and of course they were building up the Netherhall and Thurnby Lodge areas and my father built a house out there and he actually moved with us to that area, but the assistant Doctor continued to live at the big old house as it was still being used as a Doctors premises.
The other things that I remember about living down here in the area are the fact that there was a marvellous shopping area that I remember going down. The one thing that I recollect getting there was a bike Mr Bones the bikes on the Charny- Charnwood Street which I remember vividly as being one mass of shops and things for sale.
The other thing that I remember actually about living here, very vividly in fact was
bonfire night. I mentioned that all the side streets of Melbourne Road were made of granite sets. What used to happen on bonfire night was that each street would have at least one bonfire if not two, and of course you could quite happily have a bonfire because it wouldn't damage the road because it was granite sets. And a bonfire was marvellous because you drive down Melbourne Road and every side street would have a bonfire in the middle of it and there would be rockets and fireworks in the street and it was a marvellous time. I can remember a rocket going a bit wrong and taking off up Hartington Road once because the bonfires going to five ways was quite a good spot, that's opposite the Melbourne Cinema because you had five roads up there and you could see lots of bonfires and that's a time that I vividly remember, was the bonfire night.
There were no other major incidents or happenings when I was a child here, probably the biggest and most memorable event was when a bread van ran loose. This was an incident that was passed down in family tradition. Of course
there were a lot delivery vans when I was much younger were all horse drawn, milk and bread vans were horse drawn but there were a lot electrical vans as well.
The surgery was virtually opposite Matlock Street which is quite a steep slope near the Spinney Hill area, and em, it must have been one morning when there was an almighty crash and my mother came out of the front door onto Melbourne Street, and I came out to see what the noise was and I came running back and said to my mother, " Mummy, Mummy all the tarts are lying on the road on their backs!", she wondered quite exactly what was going on until I took her round and sure enough there a bread delivery van that had the breaks had failed and it had come down Matlock Street and gone straight into the house and smashed the wall down so we had a bread van stuffed into the house.
There were tarts lying down on the floor on their backs, literally, and I told Mother that I didn't know what she was thinking of at the time. That was one memorable event I remember. I think that the main thing would be to say that because I was the Doctor's son and did not go to school locally, I was, therefore, very much played in the house, made my own amusements up and did my own thing really until I was, well up to the age of four, I have a brother who is four years younger and a sister who is ten years younger. If my mother was ill or if I was needed to I would go off and play with my grandmother who is now living in Evington, and because I was the eldest of my generation in my family I infact remember all my grandparents and infact two great-grandparents who are all Scottish, and if ever there were any problems I would go to my grandparents or occasionally I was taken up to Scotland where I visited my great-grandparents, I had two great-grandmothers, they died-one in their nineties and one when she was one hundred and three. I remember these people quite well and it is quite interesting from a family point of view that if you talk to my younger sister who is ten years younger than me, none of these people that I talk about and know of, well she has heard of them but she has never seen them, they are not real living people for her.
As far as church going is concerned, again we didn't go to a church in the Highfields area, my Scottish grand-parents had looked for something as near as to the Scottish Presbyterian church and found a Baptist church on the London Road and was ministered to by a Scottish minister and that was where the family went for their religion. I often say that I come from a very mixed background of Presbyterian Scottish, Catholic Irish having a grandmother who was Irish Catholic and having a grandfather who was Presbyterian Scottish, which as all of you who know the Ulster troubles will realise that is a very explosive mixture. So, lets see
Did you used to have a television in the house?
No, we never had television until I was twelve or thirteen, we did have radio of course and I suppose that is a memory that I will always have, that my mother used to listen to the radio a lot and when I was younger I would be with her sitting and reading or doing whatever and the radio would be on and infact I do remember having blackouts. This would have the very early fifties or the late forties that my mother used to keep a stock of candles on hand in case of the blackouts, and there were black outs in the winter months, and we would have the fire going upstairs and we would have the candles to sit and read by. Of course there was no radio to listen to then.
But there was one radio in the house yes, which my mother used to listen to a fair amount, and in the blackout, I vividly remember that happening on a number of occasions.
The only other thing was, that's right, it was interesting having talked about my journeys to and from school , I remember child safety again, I was playing in my bedroom and there was an electric fire with a charred front to it and once when I was getting dressed into my pyjamas at night, I fell and burnt myself on it. I remember this glass fire because it had a large circle of my flesh stuck to it, and I think that is how they got the district nurse to come up and dress my anatomy where I burnt myself, and I vividly remembered being careful about fires at a very early age.
When you say you used to walk to school at the age of five, and walk back from school, can I assume it was a very safe area to walk at that time?
Well yes, I think the main thing was that the traffic was so much less that I could be trusted I mean it was safe certainly from the point of view that I wasn't going to get mugged, I think the only danger I had was from a local school boy who was going to give me his warts or fire his catapult at me which would be taken as normal school boy rough and tumble, you would just have to stand up for yourself or talk your way out of it or join them, or leg it and get home! But certainly, there would be no reasons for anyone to worry, and I think that quite honestly if I had gone adrift and got lost I'd feel very much I would have spoken to somebody and of course if I had said who I was I think most people would have said, "Oh you're Doctor so and so's son" and would have known where I lived and taken me home. There would have been no worry.
I mean there are still people around here who, I have a number of patients who say "I remember you when you were born, I remember you when before you were born" and in fact that is not quite right because they are getting me muddled up with my younger brother and sister and they forget that I am a little bit older than they think I am. But, I think in this area that I would have revealed my self.
I certainly didn't have any friends who came down into this area, and in fact it was one thing that I used to have as a bit of a problem as a school child and I used to say, "why can't we live where my school friends live?" They were all obviously professional and upper class people and I was told "this is where the people are, this is where the work is, this is where we have to live". And so I accepted that.
Right, can I just ask you as a Doctor today, how would you react to a child of five walking the streets of Highfields today and what would your reactions be and your concerns?
I must admit as a child walking back and I can remember at dusk times and it used to get a bit dark at times, I would be a little alarmed and I would even consider I would talk to social services about it! (Laughs).
That's what I was thinking, I can't imagine my seven year old son walking through Highfields.
That's right, yes, when I think about it really,
well it was a working class area but an upper class working area. There were people around who were skilled people, shopkeepers, they did a variety of things, it was by no means a rough area at all. If you wanted to get into rough areas, my mother warned me never to cross into the Humberstone Road and get into the Wharf Street area, that was bandit territory, that was bad news, that was a rough area down there.
Certainly there was never any suggestion that one needed to worry at allof actually living in the area.
So were there many crimes being committed?
Again, I suppose the honest thing to say is that I can't recollect there being major crime as a problem, I mean this as a schoolboy, a young schoolboy and I wasn't so well read with the mercury and knew every little thing that was going on.
My mother and father had a very relaxed way of managing the house, I mean they wouldn't ever lock things up at all, they were very trusting and I assume this trust was how they had developed through the thirties and the forties probably, living in Highfields had had no great major worry about security. There was certainly in the time that I lived here, there was never a break in to the house at all whilst we lived here, no break ins into the dispensary at all, nothing at all, no
Can you remember the local bobbies doing the beat?
I can never recollect seeing a local policeman walking around. As I say the only contact I had with police was when I tried to walk off to Blaby from Stoneygate when I was about seven they picked me up in a black mariah and brought me home and I remember vividly standing in the landing in the house and I think it was a sergeant saying to me "and you won't do that again then son!"