Roger Cave came to live in Highfields in 1940, the year he was born.
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
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.
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.
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Helen Edwards interviewing Sandy Coleman for Highfields Remembered.
Can you remember the house that you lived in?
Yes I can, very clearly....it was a little cottage, which sounds very nice and grand, but it was just a row of terraced cottages, two up, two down, with a shared yard with toilet and tap! There was no traffic at all, it was a cobbled stone little avenue. At the front of our house was a small garden. Then you had the cobble stones and then we were actually facing the back of Mere Road. The back garden and their gates came onto our avenue.
Yes, it was a shared toilet, and we shared a tap when we first lived in the house then. There was a path outside the back door that went the full length of the yard, but my parents fenced off a little area where my dad used to breed rabbits. Later on when they could afford it, they had a toilet plumbed in and we had water laid on in the house so we didn't have to share toilets or taps.
My mum did work at home for a while when we were very young. I had a bedridden grandma in the front room. We had my mum's big industrial machine in the kitchen, and we used to have a big tin bath that we had out in the kitchen as well. It was only a very small house you know. I mean, how on earth my mum coped I just don't know. But she used to do some machining at home when we were very young.
it ruined my mum's eyes, because the only place that she could have a machine was in the middle of the house. Although she had a big lamp on the machine, I think that's what ruined my mum's eyes, because it was very small tedious work.
We used to make our own entertainment. I can't remember the year, I think it was perhaps 1954 and I'd be about 10 years old. There were terrible floods on the east coast, and it was the first time I got my photograph and my name in print. I held a stall in the street, and I went round to all my aunts and uncles houses that lived next door and along the avenue, asking for things that they no longer used. I don't know how much money I made not knowing that what I was doing was illegal. I don't know how the Mercury found out about it, but my mum took me with the money that I'd raised to wherever it was paid in, to this fund, and they found out that I'd been selling on the streets, and my mother was told that that was illegal. I must have a registered sealed collection box to put the money in, etc. and the Mercury got hold of it and they did a big splash in the Mercury about this 10 year old girl that tried her best and had broken the law. That sort of thing.
I can still remember rationing. We didn't have Easter eggs, we used to have cardboard eggs that my mum used to use over and over again that parted with little things inside, and not necessarily things to eat you know, perhaps things that we'd perhaps taken a shine to. My mum had decided, right, at Easter I'll give that to Sandy or I'll give that to Anne, and it used to be inside your Easter egg.
Sunday afternoons, we'd been to church in the morning, Sunday afternoon, my parents used to say, "Right, what shall we do on Sunday afternoon then?" Because of course you didn't sit in and watch television in those days because we didn't have a television. We used to say, "Ooh, lets go down Chesterfield Road." We used to go house spotting, and it was a big ambition that when my dad won the pools (which he used to do every week), we were going to buy one of these bay fronted semi-detached houses and Anne and I were going to have separate bedrooms, because although we were good friends, there was no privacy!
When we were young we had a tin bath in the kitchen, and then as we got older and we needed privacy, we used to go down to Spence Street Baths and have a slipper bath which I used to hate. You weren't allowed to turn the taps on or off yourself, the woman used to do that, you used to have to sit and queue, you never knew whether the bath was clean because the water was already in there when you went. And I could never tolerate really hot water, and my bath water was always too hot, and she'd be banging on the door, telling me to hurry up and come out, and I hadn't even got in the water because it was too hot!
What about washing clothes?
My mum, well, when we first had the house my memories of when I was little, my mum used to fetch the water in from outside for one of those old-fashioned fireplaces with little ovens at the side, do you know what I mean? We used to have a shallow sink. Quite a big sink, but we did have a drain outside . We had our own drain but then I can remember we had a Baby Burco. Things like my dad's shirts I used to take up to the Chinese laundry, opposite Medway Street School. I can't remember my mum washing sheets.
£200 for their cottage . We had new floors, we had all the walls replastered, it was a little palace. My dad came from nothing, (he used to go to school in his mother's shoes), and lived in Wharf Street which was a really rough area of Leicester. I can remember my grandma, (she was dirty) we used to drink out of jam jars in her house. My dad really did something with himself. Our house was brilliant. We even had a fountain!
My dad did the front room out. We used to go to Margins, the furniture shop on Wharf Street for our furniture and my mum and dad used to pay so much money every week. It wasn't hire purchase because it was paid for before they actually bought it. They paid for it like a club
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Linda Cox who was born in 1948.
Next to the swimming baths was what my dad used to call the "Destructors". It was run by the council, and when all the refuse collections had been carried out, it was brought here to be destroyed and burned. There was a very tall chimney standing on this ground, and on certain days my poor mam couldn't hang her washing out because of the black bits of soot flying from the chimney when it was burning the rubbish. This chimney was later dismantled brick by brick.
Certain items of laundry like my dad's best shirts were taken to the little Chinese Laundry on East Park Road. This was near to the newsagents shop, then newly-owned by Mr and Mrs Nuttall. Their son Robert went to the same school as me St Barnabas Infant and Junior. A bit further along from the newsagents shop was a cake shop, a florists, and on the corner, I think it was Eastwood Electrical.
On Sundays after dinner, I would be sent round the corner to Rossa's Ice Cream Factory (which is still there) to get the milk lollies at 3D each, and delicious they were too!
I used to go shopping with mam on Saturday mornings in Green Lane Road. We would first go to the grocers, a double fronted shop just a bit further along from Baradells the clothes shop. I remember that the sugar, mixed fruit and other dry goods were weighed and packed into those small blue bags. All the items were listed into my mam's little exercise book, and certain things were put on 'tick' to be carried over to the next week when she could pay. Then it would be a visit over the road to Mr and Mrs Hindmarsh for the fruit and vegetables. Occasionally, we would go to the chemist shop on the corner of Bridge Road, (it had an extremely small customer area in those days) it was run by a friendly husband and wife team. I always loved it when mam could spare a penny, and I would hop onto the old-fashioned scales to be weighed. This was then followed by a stick of barley sugar for me as an extra treat!
My earliest memories of old 'Charny' (Charnwood Street) go back to when I was about 3 years old. I remember, perhaps a couple of afternoons a week, I would listen to the radio prtogramme 'Listen with Mother' then at 2 o'clock. The peg rug was rolled up, the fire guard put up against the coal fire and mam would take me to visit my aunt Betty who lived somewhere near Upper Charnwood Street. There was no push-chair involved I had to walk!
although we had no television in our house, or telephone, bath or running hot water we coped well. We were never bored and we could go anywhere we wanted and were able to grow up without any modern horrors of to-day that kids have to be educated about at such an early age. We didn't have to have so many awareness campaigns thrust at us and we were so much better and stress-free for it!
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Mr Boleslaw Dobski came to Highfields in 1947/48.
Yeah, let's go back, you've left the army, you've got a job at Imperial Typewriters.
Where did you live?
My first address was Melbourne Road, opposite the Polish church. You see, it is an old peoples' home now, but they were big terraced houses, three or four storeys, that's where I started. That was Melbourne Road, number 98 or something. Every second or third house was Polish at that time.
Did you have a whole house?
No, no we moved into digs because I was poor, when I was demobbed. Then I married of course and my wife was poor because she escaped from Poland. She was chased by the KGB! She just managed to escape from Poland through Austria, Czechoslovakia, Italy and to England. When we met here in England, we married. At that time she was a restaurant cook in Brighton. We met in the camp because she came to visit her brother. Her brother escaped from Poland in 1939/40 during the winter and went through Czechoslovakia, Hungary to Greece, from Greece to Turkey, from Turkey to Egypt and joined the Polish forces there. And so he came to England and then I got in contact with him and that's where I met my wife. That was a day! We got married and then we settled here in Leicester. There were two single army beds believe it or not on four bricks each, so if we wanted to make love, well that was funny I can tell you! We were young though, just imagine, an army bed on four bricks because there are no legs to it. Oh, my God!
There were eighteen people in the house! There were one, two, three families with children, three single fellows and three miners, three Irish men were miners. The house was full of people. Everybody was working. We would come home at night at six o'clock, all the women in the kitchen and we had been doing something else, making the fires and that. Of course we were very young at that time it didn't matter.
Can you describe the families, the groups of people in the house? Tell me more about them.
On the ground floor there was the house owner and his wife and daughter, aged about ten.
What was his name, do you remember?
Reruper. He emigrated to Canada. As far as I know he is still alive in Canada because he was more or less my age. The other family who were on the ground floor are still living in Leicester. They had three children, little ones, there were already four children on the first floor. On the second floor it was my brother-in-law and his wife and his little baby and of course, me and my wife occupying the other room. On the third floor there were three Polish fellows, I think they were young men who worked in the tannery, and the three miners and a single girl. I think I counted once it was eighteen or nineteen people in the house. Well, that was a very hard start and to get any other accommodation was out of question in Leicester. There was plenty of work here but little accommodation. If you got two rooms, or use of kitchen or your own kitchen, Oh God that was something, that was heaven!
So you had just a room and you had to share all the other facilities?
Yes. I had to share all the other facilities.
Did you have a bathroom in this house?
Yes, but the miners had the privilege of having a bath every day because they were dirty from the mines. Everyone else had to bath on a Friday night.
Where did they mine?
Somewhere near Coalville. They would come home by bus in their dirty old clothes.
Did you take turns having a bath?
We had to take turns, Oh it was a lot of fun!
How did you manage in the morning when you got up to go to work?
It was all the other things in the morning as well. Just imagine, fifteen people in the queue for the lavatory in the morning. But it was a very orderly house. My wife and I didn't go together to the bath at that time. It wasn't done in those days, so everything was regulated. The hot water was there all the time for shaving. Everything had to be very strict and it was, we had no option.
where did your wife do your washing?
That was another problem, there were no laundrettes that time, we used to take our linen to the laundry. I think it was the Co-op that collected every week. Besides we didn't have much, we had perhaps one change but that was all. I had three pairs of my army socks and that was all. Perhaps my wife had one spare, if she took her bra off, she had to wash it and hang it up to dry and then put it on the next day. I look at it with a little smile but it was hard.
We had been living together in one house and then we got together, three or four of us. We bought another house. With fifty pounds deposit you could buy a house in those days. So that's how we moved out, then perhaps after six months we saved enough for the two families to move along. And so we spread all over Highfields in that way. In the beginning there was perhaps sixteen, eighteen people in one house. We were all Poles together. So it was eighteen people at the start, next week, next six months it was four people and then perhaps two people in the house and then we got married and children arrived and so on. That's how we started.
we saved one hundred pounds and bought the house in St Peters Road. We bought it in 1951 or 1952. So for about three years, we had been wandering around Leicester living in single rooms. We were quite happy to buy the house in St Peters Road. Mind you, it was a respectable area at that time. There was a dentist, a doctor, there was the vicar. You see, there was very little traffic at that time as well, so we were quite happy to have a big house on the main road. Later on, it became too noisy, we got all the traffic. But in the beginning, well, I intended to live in the house forever because we had just rebuilt it to our own design. We were quite happy there. We didn't realise that the traffic was coming with everything else.
Can you describe the house?
It was end of the row facing St Peters Road. It was a two storey house, (ground and first floor) and we had all the facilities there. I rebuilt whatever was not up to our standard and it was quite nice. Big rooms mind you, we intended to stay there. But later on things happened, so we had to move out.
How much were your rates?
It was fourteen shillings I believe, by this time we had a telephone and somehow I couldn't do without it, always having been involved in social questions and political goings on, so without a 'phone I couldn't do it. The 'phone was about another ten shillings a week. We had to depend on the wives working. So, if any of our wives got pregnant at that time, it was a disaster! But somehow we managed.
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Dr Stuart Fraser lived in Highfields from 1946 the year he was born.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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Mr Tirthram Hansrani came to live in Highfields in the late 1940s.
there are more facilities now, gas central heating, carpets to keep the house warm. Even getting coal was difficult.
I could not get Indian, Punjabi food. I could get a few things like lentils, curry powder, chilli powder. After a long time, a Mr Stanford opened a shop. He was very nice, really helpful and sympathetic. He used to deliver to your home.
The houses were very cheap compared to now but the things seemed expensive then because the wages were low. In some houses there were baths. It cost 6p for a bath!
I was here for 4 years without my family. I used to get up early and have breakfast and go to the market. I used to take 2 days off to buy the stock and do my own shopping. My brother's wife used to cook. I used to go and see my friends and brother for entertainment.
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Mr Abdul Haq came to live in Highfields in 1963.
TV, first come about after 1953 when Queen was crowned. We had one. Black and white. No colour, very expensive.
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Mrs Betty Hoyland was born in Highfields.
I remember, this period of the very early Twenties seems to have been something of a quiet backwash of the Victorian age. I can just remember what must have been the last of the muffin men coming along the street at four o'clock in the afternoon, and sitting on the arm of our best settee in the front room waiting for the lamplighter to come along with his long pole to light the gas lamp which stood on the end of the pavement in front of our house.
It never once occurred to me that really, we were quite poor people. My mother was a very thrifty woman with good dress sense who somehow always managed to look genteel. To keep us dressed attractively, all our dresses were made by her own hands for she had no sewing machine.
I had one elder sister who possessed beautiful long dark curls which were wetted and put into curling rags every night, and each morning she appeared resplendent at breakfast with long dark gleaming 'sausages' bouncing on her shoulders. I thought she was quite beautiful. Her name as Dorothy May and we slept together in a big brass knobbed bed, and every night we used to make up stories to tell. Our favourite one was how we would manage to survive if left on our own, and how much it would cost us to eat. We had worked it out to the last detail, and had come to the conclusion that 5d. each would suffice our needs!
Our greatest friend was a Jewish girl who lived in one of the large houses opposite to us and wore button boots. We played together at all the seasonable games as they came around, whip and top, hoop and stick, shuttle-cock and battledore, and dressed and undressed each other's dolls.
My mother had an elder sister who lived on a farm, and she used to send us boxes of violets, primroses, and daisies in the spring. These we used to arrange in empty fish paste jars along the scullery window sill. The pleasure we derived from these flowers stayed with us for days, and when they faded we pressed them in a large heavy book called My Empire Story.
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Mrs Hazel Jacques came to Highfields in 1942.
Can you tell me about it, how it was run and how many children there were?
Well, when you first go there, it's the receiving home on Mill Hill Lane which is Highfields, and Matron Berridge ran that. It was for the poor years ago. And then any children that looked as if they were going to stay and couldn't return home, they went to Miss Hammonds on East Park Road, which I think is still Highfields.
can you tell me about how the days were spent? Did you actually go out of the home to School, you went to local school?
Yes, we went to Bridge Road Girls' School and Moat Road School. First of all, we got up in the morning and we had to do a job, for example, dust the bedroom floor or get the coal in, or, get the breakfast ready. Then we went to school and at dinner time we had to do all the washing up before we left and it used to be a two hour dinner time then because it was double summer-time and or an hour and a half, it was a long dinner time anyway and then after school we'd have more jobs to do in the evening like getting the potatoes done and ready for the next day, all the potato peelings were taken down to the pig-swill bins which were all collected from East Park Road. We were not allowed to go out after school.
How did you feel about living in the home?
We didn't mind it at all really, because on Saturday afternoon we went to the Evington cinema and if we didn't, we'd go to church on Sunday, every Sunday.
There was a family of Catholics who came to live with us as well and they went to the Sacred Heart up the hill. They were given priority really because they had to go to confirmation classes after school and things like that. They got a bit more time to get out of the home than we did, you know? And then from the end of the war we went a bit further afield, because when we went to the Evington cinema, the manager there saw us and I had asked him if he could save us some seats! Sometimes we were a bit late getting there. The Evington cinema manager was Mr Bowland. I think he was something to do with the councillors of Leicester. He let us into the cinema for free! We all went upstairs and then instead of spending the pocket money we went for a walk to one of the girl's father's houses. We went and cleaned up for him. He used to work at the Leicester Mercury offices. He was a shift worker and course it was nice for him to come home and have his fire made and table laid for one.
So you saw your parents?
Yes, we used to go to the hospital for our chest X-rays.
Ah, did your parents have tuberculosis?
We all wrote a letter to our parents in hospital, how we didn't like it, and they made us work scrubbing the floors or dusting the bedrooms! Matron read the letters, I mean she shouldn't have. Then she said, "Well, you can't write that," she says, "You'll have to do it again." She gave me another piece of paper and told me what to write because then she knew how I really felt about her.
Gosh, as though you were in prison, really!
As though it was some sort of punishment!
Yeah, that's right, we used to call it The Prison!
There was a Roman Catholic girl who I was forever squabbling and fighting. She was the eldest, and I was second eldest. Well I'd been in the home about 2 years, and I felt it wasn't fair that she should come just for a month and then she was the eldest! So I had to go to Countesthorpe for my punishment. I used to scrub the floors there until 10 o'clock at night!
Yeah, that was a wicked place, at Countesthorpe.
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!
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!"
Ruth had some tin curlers, so we tried to curl her hair, we pinched a bit of sugar and put it in water and combed all this sugared water through her hair, then we put these tin curlers in and then all her hair became white and sugary! We couldn't get it out! That was quite funny.
Was there rationing during the war, did that sort of affect you at all?
Ooh, yes. There was rationing. The rations used to come from the receiving home on a Thursday or a Friday. When ma was away this Miss Gillespie, she made us put the groceries away, so it was like bags of sugar had to go in the sugar bin, cereal oats for the porridge, and while we were unpacking them the tea fell in the porridge!
We couldn't get all the tea out of the porridge because every time you put your hand in, it was sort of mixing in with the porridge. So we told Miss Gillespie (who had very bad eyesight and couldn't see hardly anything) who said to leave it as it. So when the porridge was cooking at night, we thought, "Oh, it smells alright." We went to bed, but the next morning we found all this brown, tea leaved porridge coming through the hatch. We had to eat it else we couldn't go to the cinema!
What happened when you got to 14? Did you have to start work?
Well, if you didn't go home to your parents, you just had to be fostered out. A social worker would come and take you to the new foster home. I was going to another school and living in this foster home. My sister went to this art school but what normally happened was they'd go home with their parents and lived with their mother or the father or whatever and then that was it, it was end of the homes. There was no further help, you were out on a limb really.
You were considered to be grown up then.
Yes. So you walked up the entry with your satchel and three pairs of knickers! That was it, you were out! But we felt free, you know? We skipped off into the mist. I was fostered out to an old couple, older than my grandparents. I didn't get on very well there. Then they sent us to another one on Thurlby Road, that was in the same area as Highfields, just off Humberstone. We stayed there for a few years, it was quite nice there but you still had to be in at 8 o'clock at night. I went to night school just to be out a bit longer, because that was on until 9pm so I could stay up till half past.
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!"
The dentist was on Evington Road, and Mr Grainger, he was quite nice, but he used to come to the home first, and then examine us with this carbolic thing. First in the mouth, and then he would pop it back in the carbolic again. Ma used to tell us who'd got to go to the dentist. There was a bell on the house with a piece of metal sticking out, and you had to pull it. The thing nearly came off the wall you know! Anyway we went in there, and there was all these Picture Post magazines, and geographicals. It was that first time we saw the Picture Post, with all the photographs of the war.
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Mr Amarjit Singh Johl came to Highfields in 1964.
Everybody used to do very hard work and long hours. Life was harsh and rough, I felt uneasy after seeing their lifestyle.
Where was your father living in those days?
He was living at East Park Road. He also owned another house at Mere Road which was rented to tenants. There were many people living at East Park Road.
How many people were living East Park Road?
I think about 10 people were living there. I was very upset to see this. There was no privacy and no facilities. I thought I wouldn't be able to live like that.
Did you have bath and heating facilities in your house?
There was no heating but there was a bath, we used to put a shilling (10p) in the metre and take a bath. We also used to have a coal fire. We never used it, nobody had the time to do this we used to go out for pictures at the weekend.
How long did you stay without family?
My wife joined me after a year and half. But it was a strange feeling being without them, because I came from a large extended family. Here we were all male adults who only had to do the work. Most of them were illiterate and uneducated. I had very little in common with them. We had a different level of mental and psychological thinking, we used to live together and go out together. There were no means of entertainment. I used to keep busy at work.
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Miss Alma Knight was born in Highfields in 1923.
they had these sort of places where you were supposed to put waste food, that was for pig food you see, because our relatives in the country used to buy a share in a pig! It sounds a bit funny, doesn't it! They did it through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. In those days you had an allowance to buy food and you fed them on scraps, then when the poor things died, it was all shared out, you see! You were encouraged to grow your own food, you see.
Milk was also rationed, we didn't get very much. I volunteered for essential work so we had 10 extra coupons to go towards bread and starch type food which I didn't eat a lot of really. My mother usually kept the meat ration for the weekend. Of course there are a lot of books that have been updated on this now. Things like liver and kidneys, you registered with the butcher, you were all on a rota and you could buy those which was off ration you see.
My mother and grandma were very very good cooks. They'd preserve food in these glass jars, they made jam, and we had an uncle who had a market garden and he had lots of fruit bushes, blackcurrants and that. But of course, you used your sugar ration up you see, and we all loved sugar. But I mean that was a minor detail, we all came through it.
It makes you realise that even if there was another petrol rationing and food holdup, you can survive on tinned and dried foods you know.
They didn't suggest evacuating?
No, we had evacuees here.
Oh, they actually sent people to Leicester?
Yes, and there was a lot of Jewish people came up from London, from Clapton especially, they were bombed very badly there.
Oh. And that was actually in Highfields?
Yes, yes. And then another very interesting thing was, I think it was 1940, the fall of France, the troops were all evacuated you know, and they were brought up to the Midlands to be billeted here. So we had 5 in the house, and we had 3 soldiers with nowhere for them sleep.
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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Mr Aidan Maguire came to Highfields in 1962.
Did it have a bathroom?
Yes, it did have a bathroom which was a bit unusual because I remember some people who lived a few doors away who had a tin bath in the kitchen. We didn't for some reason, I don't know why. But we had a bathroom.
How did you heat the house in Berners Street?
It was coal fires, coal coke, I used to get little sticks. You could buy little bags of wood from the corner shop. You put them in the grater. I suppose my mum did the fire or my dad, whoever was up first.
There was a coal house.
At the back?
Yes, we used to have coke as well.
Did the coalman have to bring the coal through the house?
No, we had an entry at the back, everybody went up and down the entry and everyone played in it. It was great, the coalman used to come to everyone in the area. He would come from down the bottom of Nedham Street.
Did he have horse and cart?
No, I think there was a lorry, a coal lorry.
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Marjorie Marston was born in Highfields in 1942.
Can you tell me about the house that you lived in?
It was just a terraced house, it's still standing, I have been to see it several times, it's opposite the school on the corner of Twycross Street and it had just three rooms downstairs; living room, dining room and a kitchen. Upstairs we had three bedrooms, no bathroom, we used to have our bath in the kitchen in a tin bath.
Did you have a toilet inside?
The toilet was outside.
Was that a problem for you during the nights?
Not really, no I don't think so, we managed perfectly all right
At school at Christmas we used to have fancy dress parties which I remember quite well. I remember going one year as Little Bo Peep with all the crinolines and everything. We didn't have a lot of money, obviously we didn't have television then, we used to listen to the radio a lot, listen to records, it sounds ancient doesn't it? But it was that far back. We just made a lot of our own entertainment , we played cards, played darts. My father used to like playing darts, we generally had quite a happy childhood I think.
we didn't have a television until I was about fourteen.
Did you go anywhere else to watch the television?
Yes, our Reverend had one, so he used to invite part of the Youth Club, (or as many as wanted) to go to his house and we used to go occasionally to watch it. It used to be fun but there again you see, we could walk back home from there and there was no problem. It was a lot safer than today definitely.
We used to have a nice Christmas, we didn't have much, you know, we used to have a stocking with an orange, an apple, a few coins, some chocolate not a lot of toys the way they have them today. We used to have one toy or one item that we really wanted and that used to be it but we used to enjoy ourselves. The whole family used to get together on Boxing Day; my mum used to make trifles etc. Before she married she used to be Assistant Head Cook at Groby Road Hospital so she could cook, and she passed it on to me
Did you have a Christmas Tree?
Oh yes, we always had a Christmas tree and decorations. We used to have streamers I seem to remember that we had a lot more white Christmas's as well, you know, a lot more snow at Christmas times.
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.
the doctor was really like a family friend. They knew everything about you, I mean my doctor delivered me he was just like a family friend. You could go to him, talk to him and I remember when my mum was ill we used to ring him up at all sorts of times and he would be there, they were really good. There were no receptionists, you used to go in and sit in the waiting room and he used to come out and call you.
We didn't have telephones of course either not in the house.
So if anybody had a burglary or some sort of emergency how did they get in touch with the police and the hospital?
Well I mean there were phones elsewhere but not many people had them in their homes, so you would go to a call box to get in touch with them. They were the big red phone boxes, the ones that have gone.
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Mrs Margaret Porter came to Highfields in 1923.
We shared a large communal back yard with 6 of the shops: Mr Johnson, Mr and Mrs Whittaker, Mr and Mrs Bamford, Mrs Wacks, the tobacconist and Dunkleys (who had their own portioned off section of the yard for a time). We had no garden but the yard was lovely to play in for Joyce and Mary Whittaker and myself (the only children on the yard). We each had our own shed, my father's shed contained his potato-peeling machine and store of potatoes (it was known as the potato shed). There was also a communal wash-house containing two or three mangles and an outside tap. Beyond this at the top of the yard, were the row of toilets, one for each family, and then the very high brick wall separating the yard from the grounds of the workhouse. There was also a loft over the sheds with wooden steps leading up to it, which belonged to Mr Whittaker. This was used as a factory for a time, but later on we children were allowed to play in it (until the steps rotted).
The living accommodation at the back of the shops was small but cosy. We had no electricity upstairs and had to use candles. (This didn't stop my mother from reading in bed at night with the candle-stick resting on a pillow). We had two bedrooms (no landing) and an attic reached by another set of stairs leading from the back bedroom. I remember playing in the attic with my dolls, as it had a very solid floor and was very clean but above it were the rafters of the roof.
Downstairs, there was only one room, with a cooker set in a recess, with just room for a shelf above. The 'kitchen' was just big enough to hold a sink and for the back-door to open, with a sloping roof. In the early days hot water was obtained from the boiler in the black grate in the living room, which had to be black-leaded regularly. Later on it was removed and a more modern (tiled) fireplace was put in and a geyser was fitted over the sink for hot water.
On the opposite corner of Lincoln Street to Dr Beith was Mr Haines, the vet. He was a very kind man to whom we regularly had to take our cat due to fighting. We needed a cat to keep the mice population down and Mr Whittaker and my dad often had to chase a rat round the yard trying to kill it, much to my dismay.
In the evenings in the winter we had to take a torch to the toilets at the end of the yard, and I would never go without my mother who had to stand outside with the torch. There were no bathrooms and we had to make weekly visits to Vestry Street slipper baths which were situated over the swimming pool.
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Brett Pruce was born in Highfields in 1955.
Do you know why your parents went to live in Highfields?
At the time it was a very prestigious area. I think they moved there in 1946, it was a very prestigious address if you like. I mean, it was akin to winning the pools to get a house in Highfields! They were big houses with plenty of space. It was a very, very nice area in those days.
Do you remember the house?
Very much. It's still there now.
Can you describe it?
Yes. It was a terraced house, number 7 Stoughton Street. I think it's called Stoughton Street South now. One side of the road is gone, it's part of the St Peter's Estate now. The house was a terraced house with an entry. You entered quite a large hallway which dog-legged down to the kitchen and scullery and another washing room down at the bottom. There were two reception rooms: a front room which I was born in, and the living room at the back. There was an outside shed and toilet and a bit of a back garden, a back yard if you like. The floor was blue brick.
For most of my childhood, at least until I was thirteen, our family didn't have a bathroom, but there was four bedrooms. When I was thirteen the landlord converted one of the bedrooms, (the back bedroom). He chopped it in half and created a bathroom, which again was like winning the pools, because when you're thirteen and sitting in a tin bath in front of an open fire it's a bit embarrassing!
Yes it is. So,
can you remember what your mother had in the kitchen at that time?
Yes, It was very basic stuff if you like. I mean, I know she liked gadgets, my mum. When they came out, she had a mixer, and we had a big boiler type of washing machine.
With the mangle on the top?
Yes, with the mangle on the top. A very basic gas cooker, and that was it. A bridge when they became available, but yeah, they were very basic. We had a big wooden table in the middle of the kitchen , because it was quite a big square kitchen, and that was it. That was the basic utensils.
What about heating? Did you have open fires?
Open fires. There was never any central heating in the house. We dabbled with paraffin heaters upstairs.
When it was really cold?
Yeah, and things like that, but my mum was never keen on them because of the safety side of things, and we could never get on with the smell. Yeah, basically it was two open fires, one in each of the living rooms. I remember there were open fires upstairs for a while. I think we stopped using them quite early on in my life. I was born in 1955.
So in the winter you got dressed downstairs in front of the fire?
Oh, very much so, or in bed. Yes, I did that. I would take my underclothes to bed with me. Actually, under the covers you would reach out, grab your clothes and get in, just to get dressed in bed.
It wasn't such a fun place by that time, especially when we got to the late Sixties. As I said before, I want tell you the bad points as well as the good points, but by that time things were deteriorating quite badly.
How did that affect you?
Well, it was an all encompassing thing because it affected everything you did. You couldn't play out so much.
Is that because there were cars or were you threatened?
Well, yeah, there were cars, there were also drinking clubs springing up. One opened up on the corner of Stoughton Street which was the John F. Kennedy Club. We experienced a lot of problems there, and there were houses of ill repute. Two sprang up more or less dead opposite to us, which obviously posed their own sort of problems. You know we witnessed quite a bit of violence there. My brother and I had the front bedroom, my mum and dad had the other front bedroom, but then we had to move and share and segregate the middle bedroom at the back of the house because of car doors slamming all night.
Keeping you awake?
Yeah, a car would scream up, two doors would slam, the front door would open, the front door would slam! Ten, fifteen minutes would elapse, the front door would open, the front door would slam, the car would start up and then roar off down the street. And this was going on all night!
And how old were you then?
Well, this is in the mid-Sixties from 1966 to 1967 onwards. Probably that's when I started to notice it. I think it was at the same time as the John F. Kennedy Club opened, and most mornings there would be somebody asleep in our entry. Or at best they would have relieved themselves in the entry! But physically having to step over people when you're going to school doesn't set you off in the right frame of mind. My dad worked and he had always gone so my mum would perhaps deal with it.
So how would you get rid of somebody .
Just wait for them to wake up and make their way home.
Was that people who lived in Highfields, or people coming into Highfields?
Yeah, if they were walking I would assume they lived in Highfields, drinking clubs like that were a bit of a rarity at the time, so I would have thought people would have travelled in to the area to go to their places.
The thing that really destroyed my mam and dad was, we had a West Indian family next door to us at number 9, they were lovely. I played with their son who was the same age as me. They moved out in 1968, or 1969 I believe. Then another West Indian family moved in, and it turned out they were not of the best character, let's put it like that. We ended up with parties next door to us at number 9. I mean, they had disco speakers six feet high, literally! If I said to you that it physically rattled the plates off the wall, you probably wouldn't believe it! These parties would go on till three and four in the morning. Then they would just sweep the cans and whatever into the street in the morning. It got really, really nasty.
What happened with the police and the council at that point?
Well, the police were there every other night, and there were fights. Yeah, my brother and I thought it were a little bit exciting you know, because we used to hang over the wall and they'd all sit round a big table in the garden smoking whatever they smoked. It was all a bit sort of risquŽ especially in those days at beginning of the Sixties. You know, this is a bit a bit exciting. But it nearly killed my mum and dad. Going from how tranquil and how friendly it was when I was in sort of pre-teen years. I remember all the front doors were open. You know, you used to just wander in and, I know it sounds stupid, but my mam used to leave the milk money on the table. The milkman used to come in down the entry, go into the kitchen, put the milk on the table, take his money and go. You just can't do that now. My mum used to polish the steps to the front door and the little shoe grate where you cleaned the mud of your shoes and whatever. That sort of thing. Everybody did it in the street and it really was a nice atmosphere.
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Mr Charan Singh came to Highfields in the 1950s.
Before me, my brother lived at Highfields at 18 Hartington Road. We both shared a room. Then we moved together onto Mere Road. We lived together for 2 years. Highfields was a lovely area. Everybody loved one another. There were only 10-12 Asians. Everybody, despite colour, race, was friendly. Everybody cared about one another. There were no baths in the houses then and it was difficult.
Highfield area homes were nice but only a few had baths. Mostly were about £250 but a good house cost £300-400. At the time I could not afford much so I bought a run-down house. I was here for 10 years without my family.
The job was very heavy and difficult. The wage was £10-12. We used to get a Sunday free. On that day I had a bath, did the shopping, the cooking, etc. Then we all used to go to the Black Boy pub. There was a pub on every street.
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Councillor Farook Subedar came to live in Highfields in 1972.
Can you describe the houses you lived in?
It was a Victorian terraced house just right in the centre of Highfields. It was quite a special house. It's got five bedrooms with a cellar and high ceilings and in its original form and shape.
And how many people lived in that house?
There were several family members living in that house.
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Mary Thornley came to live in Highfields in 1912.
What can you remember of that house in Evington Street?
Well, it was quite a nice house actually. The house deteriorated later, but there was some rather nice houses on one side of Evington Street. It had bay windows upstairs and downstairs at the front and a passage from the front door halfway through. Two reasonably nice rooms and then a kitchen and scullery at the back and the passage went right through. And the garden went through to Stoughton Street. There were no houses right up to it at the back.
What did you have upstairs?
Four bedrooms. There was no bathroom in the early days but they did make one of the bedrooms into a bathroom later on, but mainly it was two large bedrooms and two smallish ones.
So when you were small you were bathed in a tin bath?
In front of the fire?
How was the house heated?
By coal fires I think in the early days, they did have two gas fires later on but it was coal fires then and a copper in the scullery for the washing, with a coal fire underneath, that and an outside toilet.
It was your own toilet though?
Yes. They were quite good sized houses actually.
Your mum did the washing inside the copper did she?
Boiled it up and then used a tub to wash with?
Yes, a dolly tub. What did they call the things with the legs, a mangle?
Do you feel then that people made their own entertainment?
Oh yes, yes I think they did. We used to do a lot at home on Sunday evenings we would have people in for tea and then sang and played. Mother sang a bit, she wasn't a professional, but she had quite a nice voice and I used to have to play my violin.
Did you have pets at home?
When I was a little girl we had a mongrel Irish Terrier called Mac who was rather fun. Then later on my father had one after the other. He had black Retrievers and the first one was called Jack, he wasn't a puppy but the others were puppies and my father named them both Sultan. They were great fun, they used to do all sorts of tricks.
My father had an allotment in Green Lane Road. He used to go with his father. I think they used to keep chickens but they certainly had a vegetable allotment down there and I can remember walking down Green Lane Road when it was more like a country road you know with trees, nothing like it is now.
You walked from your house to Green Lane Road?
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Mr Eric Tolton was born in Highfields in 1916.
Right, can we move to the house on Mere Road, you say this is the place you can remember, can you describe the house?
Oh yes, you went in the front door and there was the main room which we called the front room on the right-hand side. You went down a reasonably longish passage with the stairs leading off to the right, you came to what we called a middle room, which was another fair sized room. Then there was the kitchen and the back scullery, there was four rooms downstairs. Upstairs there was a main bedroom and a long landing. When I was in the Boys Brigade and played the drum, I used to march up and down the landing practising. It was a bathroomed house, which was quite unusual for those days really, there was a smallish yard, it wasnt a very big yard. I dont know if there is a lot more I can really say about the house.
How did you heat it?
Ordinary coal fires, no other means.
Did you heat upstairs as well as downstairs?
I believe there were grates in the rooms but I dont ever remember seeing a fire in any of them.
What about cooking?
There was a gas stove. Originally there was one of the old fashioned brick coppers in the back scullery, but eventually that was taken out and a modern copper put in.
When you say a brick copper you mean one with a fire underneath?
Yes, oh yes.
Did you have to fill it with water?
Yes, it had to be filled with water and it stood next to the sink. I never filled it so mother must have done that.
How did you get the hot water to the bath do you remember?
Oh, it was piped up, there was a tap. In the kitchen thats right, there was a big cylinder and of course the water was heated, there was a boiler at the back of it, and prior to that there was one of the old fashioned fires with boilers at each side of the fire which you filled with water. When that was taken out we had a copper fire with a back boiler fitted, there was this big system or whatever you call it in the kitchen in the scullery. Oh that would supply the cold water wouldnt it to the boiler at the back of the fire and which would then in turn ... I suppose .... there was no pump so it must have risen through the natural way that hot water floating to the top. I dont remember any problems with the bath not being able to get enough hot water or anything like that, it must have worked quite efficiently.
Was it built with electric light or did it have gas?
No, that was put in later, I was only very young but I vaguely remember the electric light being put in.
Do you remember what it was before?
Gas, the mantles.
Just a question, can you remember where your mother did her washing?
Oh, that was a days job in the backyard with a dolly tub.
Was it outside?
Oh yes. My job sometimes was to turn the handle on the mangle.
Life must have been quite hard for your mother then?
It must have been although I didnt realise it at the time. She was a tailoress so she had to take in work you see, but even so it was still hard work.
You said your dad had a tailors shop.
Did your mum work with your dad?
Yes, there used to be a tailors shop at the corner of Charnwood Street and Nedham Street, and they were apprenticed there and thats where they met. You see my mums maiden name was Davis. There was some relationship with the Davis of the tailors shop. Then they set up business on their own, and from what I gather from what my sister has told me, there was quite a struggle because they worked all hours. They never had any time for her. She is quite bitter about it actually, but of course, you have to work hard when you build up a business dont you?
I have a cousin on fathers side who apparently was the talk of all of his family. The old tram cars used to have an advertisement around at the front of the tram and they advertised Tolton Tailors on this you see. I think he went bankrupt, thats why he joined the army.
This is your uncle?
No, this is my father.
Oh, your dad went bankrupt?
Yes, I didnt know until many years later. I know my mother had to pay everything off later
Right, you said you got married.
I got married in 1937, I had only been married for a month and I got the sack. I think I went down to the Labour Exchange, there wasnt much money attached to it and I went round several firms and I went to Taylor Hobson which is Rank Taylor Hobson nowadays at their factory in Stoughton Street. I got set on there but it was quite a menial job. I didnt get much money so it was quite a struggle for the first few years of married life.
What were you doing there?
Well I started off doing what is called fettling which is rather a rough job on castings you know. Then the manager put me into the tool store because I had no experience. I had done clerical work prior to this you see. A skilled workman on the shopfloor was considered far above the clerical worker. In lots of other places the clerical worker was the top dog. Anyway, he said he would put me in the tool stores to learn all the names of the tools. When the war started he moved me into the ironing shop. I was taught the trade of ironing different metal, which I did the rest of my working life really.
So it was a good move?
Oh yes it was a good move, but the pay wasnt very good! I dont know whether it is much better now, you relied on overtime to make your money up.
So how many hours a week do you reckon you were working?
Well the normal hours were 47 and wed do at least another five hours on top of that. If you could get a Saturday afternoon in as well that really helped you along. Working conditions werent really very good, but I talk to people my age nowadays they all went through the same sort of thing.
Well, you see, I got married in 1937 and the war broke out in 1939. I had started at Taylor Hobsons just before the war. I was there when the war broke out. I had gone to work on a Sunday morning, because obviously everybody knew that war was imminent and they wanted all the records photocopying, you see. I had gone in to help with that and I remember a man named Adams. I dont know whether you know the Ironmongers in the High Street is it? Corner of High Street and Highcross Street, Adams the Ironmongers I think you called them, but that was the family. In that shop there used to be a photograph and Im not sure whether it was the Adams that was one of the bosses at Taylor Hobsons or whether it was his father. I remember him, there was some old cottages lived built opposite to Taylor Hobsons, is it Porter Street? Its all been knocked about since then. He had gone in there to listen to the radio at eleven oclock I think it was. Of course wed all wandered out and were hanging about outside and he came out and told us that we were at war. That was it. I know what it all meant but there you go. Actually nothing seemed to happen then because things were at stalemate, nobody moved. It wasnt until the following spring when things begin to happen and Id got married andwas living at Hartington Road. There was the ordinary stairs and there was another flight with just one room right at the top. When we had the family (four children), we rigged it up as a bedroom but on the night Id gone to work, we had finished at ten minutes to eight. They worked funny hours at Taylor Hobson they worked on a metric system. The day wasnt divided into five minutes, it was seven, eight, we used to start at seven to point eight which was twelve minutes to eight in the morning to point one was six minutes. Anyway, we left at twelve minutes to eight at night and came out of the factory to go home. The sky was lit up with flares and course I dashed off home. I knew this was the night!
Was it the night of the raid?
Yes I think so. Wed bought a humming top and it was going zrrrrrrh. We went dashing up to the attic to look through the window. We saw the one come down over Freeman Hardy Willis, there was a lot of smoke. Ive never got downstairs so quick in all my life, two flights of stairs!
Did you have a shelter?
Yes, we did have a shelter a brick shelter in the back. Yeah, I used to go into it but it wasnt very comfortable. Sometimes we would stop indoors, we used to put a blanket or something over the window in case the glass broke you know and came in and there was torpedo type thing, we heard it chugging over the house and there were several houses just below us down Charnwood Street that were flattened by it. We heard it go chugging over and in the morning when we came to look out and looked down Vulcan Road, we saw curtains blowing out the windows, living on the hill it must have saved us because the thing came down like that there.
You and your children where you all living on Hartington Road?
Yes, yes they were all born there.
They went to school locally?
Yes, started off at Charnwood Street except the last one but the others all started off at Charnwood Street, then the boy went to the City Boys school, my daughter went to the Collegiate, my other son went to Alderman Newtons and the last girl didnt make the grade. She never started at Charnwood Street, there was a little school attached to St Saviours Church on St Saviours Road.
Right then, can we talk about the school that your youngest daughter went to on St Saviours school?
Yes, well, my wife decided she didnt want her to go to Charnwood Street because she was ever such a little dot and it seemed such a big overwhelming place, so she went to St Saviours and I dont know how she got her in, who she had to see, but she went there. Course she moved from there to Crown Hills, well that would be when she was eleven I should imagine.
Was St Saviours school a private school?
No, we didnt have to pay anything.
Was it attached to the Church then, or a Church School do you know?
I dont think so, I never heard her talking about the Vicar or anything like that going to the school mind you children dont tell you things.
It was a small school you say.
Oh it was only a very small school, yes.
Oh only about two classrooms.
Im just wondering whether she moved to Crown Hills before she was eleven cause with only two classes they wouldnt stretch from ages 6 to 11 would they? Perhaps there were more than two it was only a very small school though.
Deliveries like your coal, did they come by horse and cart then?
Horse and cart, yes. We had the milk from the dairy in Berners Street, Cleavers.
Have you heard of Newbys Dairy?
No. There was one in Highfields called, it was Mrs Newby but we dont know where she operated from we have actually got a picture.
There was Mr Flowers along Mere Road. Flowers, a dairy along Mere Road. Oh Flowers he was a Freeman he sat on the Milk Marketing Board during the war. On the far side of St Peters Road that section of Mere Road. But we had our milk from Cleavers in Berners Street and the young fella, he had got a float and he used to pick me up on Saturday mornings and take me round with him. It was quite high up on the back of these things and when he had finished his round and the horse was trotting back down Melbourne Road, yeah it was lovely.
And was this milk in bottles?
No, no it was poured into a jug and you had a lace netting sort of thing to put on the top to keep the flies out.
So people came out with a jug to buy their milk?
Yes, oh yes.
And it was ladled?
Yes, oh yes definitely.
Out of churns?
I reckon there must have been a stable off of Berners Street. It was part of Berners Street alongside St Hildas Church. I reckon there was a bit of a gateway they used to, cause there would be nowhere around there for stabbling anything, no I dont think so.
So when you bought coal, your coal was delivered by horse and cart?
Oh, that was horse and cart yes. Even after I was married and lived in Hartington Road. If it was a bad winter and the roads were icy the coalman couldnt stop on the hill there.
How did he deliver then?
You didnt get any. No, so you had to buy a ton at a time you see.
Where did you store it?
In the coal house. Yes, you had to spend half a day chopping it up cause it was in big lumps.
Can you remember, did you have groceries delivered as well?
Yes. Now Bodicoats, now where were they, they were somewhere off the East Park Road. You see, when my mother and father had the Tailors Shop like still today, nowadays, the small traders, they all work in one with the other which is far enough you know, trading with one another, thats how Bodicoats came to deliver. Yes, they used to come round one day and take the order and a couple of days later they would bring the stuff.
Did he have a horse and cart or did he come on a bicycle?
I think he came on a bicycle, dont remember a horse and cart.
What did you spend your pocket money on?
Sweets, gobstoppers and the like.
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.
we moved into this big house which had three flats and my mother was always one for people. My father was very quiet, mother was very sociable. She used to take me upstairs where they had a little girl and we used to have a cup of tea and I used to play with the girl.
It was a very large family house which apparently used to have servants because in the basement they had a bell fixed on the wall.
Had it been split into three?
It had been split into three flats. We had the ground floor.
Was it nice living in a flat?
Well, it was rather strange at first. We had never been in a flat before, having come from the country, so it was a different type of living altogether really, absolutely different.
Do you remember whether the flat had an inside bathroom or toilet?
It had one bathroom which was shared by everyone in the whole house, we had our own kitchen. There was a downstairs and an upstairs toilet, we had the downstairs toilet.
What job did your father do?
Well he hadn't got a very good job. He was only on the maintenance staff and he only got 30 shillings a week, but of course in those days you could get your groceries for 10 shillings
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.
There was an inside toilet?
No inside toilet in our house. Outside, in all weathers up that little yard.
What about at night? You had to go out in the dark?
Terrible if you had to go at night. I used to have my own little bucket. The people next door used to empty a little bucket every morning.
mother used to do the washing the old fashioned way, boil in a big copper which was stalled from underneath by coal and she used have what you called a 'punching' thing with holes in the bottom and she used to have a big grey sort of a board, I don't know whether it was made of glass or metal but you rubbed your clothes up and down on them and that's how she washed.
Very hard work, and they starched. I used starch table cloth and everything. I used to to make them nice and crisp.
Did you help your mother round the house?
Yes, I was always one for helping, yes.
My mother had a sister at Coventry, the one that was very well off. She had a very big business, retailed dresses. She used to send mother parcels of clothes and inside she used to put a £10 note or a £5 note so that her husband wouldn't know. She was very good to us, she kept us going really.
We had a wireless. My father was very fond of making a Crystal set, I don't suppose you'd remember the Crystal set.
I have seen pictures.
Yes, he used to make the Crystals for the wireless set. When we lived in the country, he used to go round all the villages selling them. I can see him now sitting listening with the head phones on, I was about 3 or 4.
All families on a Sunday night used to gather round the piano and they used to have a sing song. You would probably sing hymns or home sweet home or that type of thing. You made your own amusement. There was court playing. You get little games on the lawn, battle door and shuttle cock and those things, which I don't think kids really experience the pleasure of now, they just sit there looking at that box all while it spoils conversation in a family household.
I thank my father for a lot of things I know, because he always used to talk to me. When he came home from work, he used to take me down the country lanes and he used show me the trees and he used to say "Look dear, that's an Oak tree" and he would show me the wild roses and the tips and tell me that you can make syrup out of those tips and everything like that, I learned from my father.
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.Mrs Dorothy Woodford was born in Highfields in 1921.
I have vivid memories of my childhood home and lifestyle. The front room was the best room and had the refinement of a large black fireside rug and the family piano. It also had a white marble fireplace, the top of which was covered with a fringed cloth. The house only had gas lighting and I can well remember one awful day when I accidentally set the fringe alight with a candle. Fortunately no real damage was done. We must have been quite poor certainly by present day standards but we always had a cooked breakfast and a two course mid-day dinner. In those days there were no factory canteens and the husbands came home for their dinner.
My mother was a house-proud woman and I can still see in my mind's eye the newspaper laid in front of the back room grate, and my mother on her knees with the orange & black 'Zebo' striped tin polishing the steel fender until it gleamed like silver. Often, she would send me to White's hardware shop in Conduit Street for a penny 'Dolly Dye' with which she would proceed to give curtains, tablecloths and serviettes a second and more attractive lease of life.
Every week, Mr Johnson called from Vickers Mounts to take our grocery order this usually came to well under £1, but it was quite lengthy, and I can still hear my mother saying, "A 4 and a 2 of Gram (Sugar), 1/2 of Typhoo etc etc. On one of Mr Johnson's visits he asked how old I was and I remember saying "3 1/2" "Oh", said he, "3 1/2d", which at that time I thought was rather silly!
My mother, without a sewing machine, made all our clothes, often going to W.A. Lee's store (then situated at the corner of Humberstone Gate and Charles Street) to pick up remnants for herself and us girls.
One day, never to be forgotten, my father brought home a wireless set which he had purchased from a friend for £1. This caused great excitement. Dad fixed it up in the fireside cupboard in the living room and being the eldest, I was entrusted with the job of taking the accumulators to be charged. These were quite heavy for a child to carry, and I was terrified of spilling the contents on my legs as I had been warned they contained sulphuric acid which would cause horrible burns if it came in contact with the flesh.
My mother often told me that after Wednesday her purse was usually empty, but we never went without good food and adequate clothing, though there was much patching and turning of garments.
Every Friday evening, we children would look out of the front window waiting for our dad to return from work. Friday was pay day, and on his way home dad would buy a couple of kippers for tea, a real tasty treat!
Sunday was a busy day. If we had been good during the week we would sometimes find a little treat tied to the brass bedhead, usually a whipped cream walnut (then 2d. each). After breakfast (always egg and bacon), dad would polish our shoes till they shone, and wearing our Sunday 'best' we went off to morning Sunday school held in Gopsall Street. This was presided over by Miss Glover who I believe was also a day school teacher. We all sat in small classes of 5 or 6, were told a Bible story after we had each to do a drawing. At least 3 hymns were followed by prayers one of which sticks in my mind was for 2 Burmese children 'Eethet' and 'Weesoe' (spelling undoubtedly wrong), but the pronunciation is accurate! We were given a penny for collection and I can honestly say the morning collection went in the bag! Alas, when after a roast Sunday lunch we were again dispatched to afternoon Sunday school (so that our parents could enjoy a nap), I have to confess I would only put 1/2d in the other collection. I would quietly take the other 1/2d. round to Mrs Norman's shop and buy chocolate raisins (which remain a weakness to this day).
My parents did their very best to instil good standards in us. We were allowed to play with certain friends in Seymour Street and Highfield Street (Gartree Street was considered to be a little lower in the social strata and friendships not particularly encouraged).
On the other side of Sparkenhoe Street the houses were rather bigger and my best friend lived in one of these. She was Joyce Hart, a Jewish girl who was a descendant of Sir Israel Hart, one of the city's past benefactors. The Harts had a maid called Florrie as Mrs Hart, (Joyce's mother) helped in the family radio business. Florrie would be detailed to take the three of us to the 'Vicky' Park, and I remember she often seemed rather disgruntled at the responsibility!
As an only child with both parents working, Joyce was a lonely child and I was often invited to tea. I received these invitations with mixed feelings. I was only used to mother's home-made cakes, and the cream horns and chocolate eclairs gracing the Hart's table were temptation indeed! On the other hand, Joyce's father wore a little skull cap at the table and this for some unaccountable reason scared me a little. Joyce loved to have tea at my house as she so enjoyed my mother's home-made fancy cakes and jam tarts.
Sunday afternoons after Sunday school, with parents rested and in an amiable frame of mind were quite social occasions. My parents were friendly with a couple Alfred and Edith Wilson, their daughter Doris was about my age. They would arrive at our house complete with music case and music, and after a wonderful tea of John West salmon, salad, peaches and cream we would be regaled by piano duets by my father and his friend Alfred, followed by my mother singing such songs as 'Come back to Erin', 'Land of my Fathers', 'There's an Old Fashioned House in an Old Fashioned Street', 'Annie Laurie', 'Robin Adair', and one which even today brings tears to my eyes, 'Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree the Village Smithy Stands'. How safe and loved we felt on these family evenings! The following Sunday, complete with our music we would reverse the process and join the Wilsons at their house in Copdale Road. There wasn't any transport, so we walked both ways.
Sunday was the one night of the week we were allowed to stay up for supper usually cold roast and pickles or (what I preferred) bread, cheese and pickles, though mother was convinced that cheese at night was too indigestible for a child.
Apart from the usual childhood ailments Measles, Chicken Pox, etc. we were rarely ill. All good parents made sure their children were 'regular' with a weekly dose of syrup of figs. In spring we had a course of sulphur tablets later followed by brimstone and treacle (a gorgeous concoction) to clear the blood! In the winter we had a daily dose of cod-liver oil and malt, or Scotts Emulsion which was in a fascinating bottle with a label portraying a man carrying a fish over his shoulder almost as big as himself. If we seemed a bit below par mother would buy a bottle of Parish's Food, said to be full of iron, and therefore disastrous to teeth if not cleaned immediately after taking a dose.
My father was very particular regarding the type of newspaper allowed in the house. The Daily Express was acceptable, as was Titbits (though mother had some reservations). The Mirror and News of the World was definitely out! We children had the Children's Newspaper every Saturday which I recall was a most interesting publication.
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Mrs Joan Hands came to live in Highfields in 1940.
It was a long walk to the British Restaurant in East Park Road, especially for a toddler aged about three and a half. The Restaurant was held in the Hall adjacent to St Barnabas Church. Wafts of Bisto gravy and powdered-milk custard mingled together, overlaid by the pungent aroma of greens cooked to destruction, but we went inside nevertheless. Any food was better than none! In fact, I grew to like the custard, especially if it was served with a man-sized helping of treacle sponge, and it took some time to get accustomed to custard made with fresh milk after the war.
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