Mr Aidan Maguire came to Highfields in 1962.
This is Valerie Lea making a recording with Aidan Maguire on the 28th of June 1994.
Do you mind telling me where you were born?
I was born in a small village called Mountfield which is just 6 miles outside the main town which is called Armagh. It is the main town in the county of Tyrone in Northern Ireland.
When were you born please?
I was born on the 17th of August 1958, which was a Sunday.
Right, and could you give me some of your family background?
I am the only son in the family of seven. I have six sisters. My parents are John and Kathleen. I arrived in Leicester when I was four years of age with my dad and my sister Helen. We stayed at my aunt Agnes, she lived on Wellington Street in Highfields.
So you came here to join relatives that were already here?
Yes, we came to join relatives that were already here.
And tell me what brought you here?
I suppose it was work and chance of better housing really. At that time in Ireland, there wasn't a great deal of houses available especially for the ordinary working person. If there was it was allocated to certain people, there was a bit of gerrymandering going on.
When you came to Highfields can you remember the first house that you lived in ?
The first house I lived in was on Wellington Street, it was my aunt Agnes's house. We only lived there for a few weeks and then we moved to Sherratt Road which is in the old Charnwood area, or what was called the 'Old Charny' which is the shopping area. A shop that sticks out in my mind was called Paddy Slacks. It was a famous old shop.
I think it was because it was a bric-a-brac place and there were a lot of toys there. I was just one of those places that stood out and everyone remembered it.
Of course, everyone remembered the place at the top of Sherratt Road and St Saviours Road. It was the Black Boy. I think it stood out for a lot of people because it was a local public house.
Did a lot of people go there?
I think they did, it was quite a meeting place. People went on the Saturday night and some of them took the children and some of them didn't.
Were the children allowed in?
I think they were allowed if I remember rightly. I remember a chap I worked with, Joe Randall, he told me that he used to go sometimes with his father into the 'Snug'. His dad would take him on Saturday nights and they would have a sing song. It was one of those things in them days.
They just made music on their own?
I believe so. Joe was a bit of a singer so he probably got it from his dad.
The house you had in Sherratt Road, can you remember what it was like, can you describe the house?
It was a small terraced house. We rented it but we were only there for about a year. We moved to Berners Street where the house had three bedrooms, a back yard, kitchen, living room. Some of them had a hallway but this one hadn't and you walked straight into the room, whereas when we moved to Berners Street there was a wall in the front room so that was separated.
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.
You had three bedrooms and then you were there for a year, then you moved to Berners Street?
It was 94 Berners Street. I thought that the kitchen was quite big, well, if I went there now it wouldn't look so big, but it looked large to me as a child. We owned that house.
You owned the house? It was quite unusual at that time don't you think?
Yes, it was. I didn't know till later but there were a lot of people whose houses were rented but I think all family bought their houses. At the time, my uncles and my dad had a lot of work on at that time. I think there was so much work around in Leicester that if you left a factory on a Friday, you could get in another one on Monday, so many people did that. I mean I had uncles that worked in engineering and but most of them would be in the building trade because a lot of the estates were being built. Parts of Highfields were being cleared to build St Peter's Estate, but before that it was St Matthews Estate and that was cleared and my uncles on worked on that. My dad worked on that estate, they built from nothing to the finish so there was so much work around at the time so much work.
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. I vaguely remember doing little bits you know.
Where did you keep the coal?
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.
Can you remember your first day at school?
Yes, my sister was already at Charnwood Junior School. I remember I went to class five. I can't remember the name of the teacher but I was taken by my mother, I know I didn't want to go, but the teacher calmed me down after a bit. I remember my mother leaving and thinking, "How could my mum leave me in a strange place on my own?" One of the teachers settled me down and gave me a puzzle which had a zebra on it. I settled in on my first day. I went out to the playground which was massive, it was really big! The infant play-yard was separate to the Junior school. Once, I was down by the sand pit and this bloke came up to me and said, "Can you fight?" I said, "Yes", so he said to me, "Do you want a fight?" I said, "Yes" so I punched him and knocked his front tooth out! I still see him now, he has got flash tooth. His second tooth never grew properly and he always blamed me for it, but we were great mates after that. I still see him around you know. It's just one of them silly things that you do when you were a child. I don't think anything happened, I didn't get detention or anything like that!
You don't remember anything?
I don't remember anything any of it, no.
Did you settle down at school quickly?
Not really, I felt it was strange. I suppose it was because there was so many people being around at school and I wasn't used to it. When I came from Ireland, we lived in a village where there wasn't a great deal of people, so when you came to Leicester it was very scary. After a while, I got quite used to school. I always liked drawing, things like that, so I got on quite well with the teachers, especially when I was a little bit older, when I was about eight.
We had a teacher there called Mr Foot. I remember him because he had a bird and I was quite good at art. I am still not too bad, but I used to do a lot of drawings. I was quite popular at school I think. There were lots of other people there West Indian people and Asian people. I remember one of my mates, his name was Rashid, he was a Pakistani kid and one of my best friends. When we were kids up to the age of 8 or 9, we were always hanging around together.
So you would have gone to Charnwood School in 1962, or 1963, is that right?
Yes, it would have been about then. I went to Charnwood Junior School. I didn't stay there until I was 11. I left and went to a Catholic School out at Saffron Lane called Holy Cross. Charnwood was an inner city school. There were just so many people there but Holy Cross was a smaller school. I had some great times at Charnwood. It was a rougher school and you had to be rough and ready, whereas Holy Cross was more of a relaxed school. There was no such thing as ever having a fight at Holy Cross but when I was at Charnwood, I think I was fighting all the time. I just had to stand up for myself really.
Do you remember the classes being very large?
Yes, the classes were very large then because it was an old school. I think there were two or three floors. When I was in Mr Foot's class I would have been about 8 years of age. It was right at the top of the school. I used to have to go up quite a lot of steps.
I also remember we never went to assembly and neither did maybe 15 other children because we were Catholics. There used to be kid there who was of Polish decent. We used to have what was called a catholic class and he used to take us for prayers in the morning.
The headmaster was a man called Mr Bound, the deputy head was Mr Penfold. We never had to go into assembly. We used to be excused and we would say a few prayers!
Were all the excused children Catholics?
No, it was mixed. The kids who actually went to the catholic classes would probably be of Irish background or Polish. If I remember, the Benjamins were a West Indian family, they also went to the catholic classes.
Can you remember a typical school day at Charnwood School, from first thing in the morning?
Yes, well we would go into the school and everyone else would have assembly. We would go to Catholic Class. After that, I remember the big playground when I went up to what was classed as the Junior School, there was just so many people in there. The games we played as kids were...
I was actually reading something in the Leicester Mercury couple of weeks ago about kids' games. I remarked to one of my sisters that they don't play games like they used to. I suppose there are other things today like computers. We used to play Snobs and Marbles! I was an absolute marble fanatic because my mate at school Rashid, was a fantastic marble player. I used to have bags and bags of marbles.
What were Snobs?
Snobs were little square pieces of wood that you put on your hand. You threw one up and you would have to pick another one up. Some of them would be different colours
The girls played with a club ball in a stocking and stand it next to the door. They would lift a leg and bang off the wall!!! I can't remember what that was called now, I don't know.
After you got into school and you had assembly what did you do then?
Well, I used to love drawing. I looked forward to that but I wasn't a great speller and my mathematics was very bad. I remember that I wasn't very good but I was quite imaginative. I was a very slow reader but I made up for it in later years. You don't realise it until you get a bit older but that to move from one environment to another was like being thrown into a crazy world. There were so many people around, you know, different people as I said. People I had never seen around before, black people and kids in classes with turbans on. It was quite a change to have all them in one year. I remember we used to do a lot of things like reading and sums. There was a class below me where the kids always went for a sleep in the afternoon in little cribs, it was a nursery you know, but I went to straight to a class 5.
Did you have school dinners?
No, we all went home, we used to have milk, but I went home for school dinners as it was only up the road.
Do you remember the teachers as being strict?
No, I was lucky probably because I wasn't in the top class. I remember everyone was frightened of Mr Penfold who was the deputy Head. I remember he caught me and Rashid and a couple of other lads playing around where we used to go. He pulled us up by the ears and give us a clip round the ear, we were only about 6 or 7, I don't think he really meant it he just scared us really. The teacher that stood out was Mr Foot, he was such a nice bloke. He wasn't a strict teacher because he used to let me do lots of drawings and things like that. I was about 8 then. A lot of people who were in that class, I suppose, were quite rowdy at school. I think the teachers had to be a bit strict because there was a lot of wild kids there.
But you don't remember people being punished?
I know my sister's teacher was very strict. He used to slap the kids, but I don't really remember anybody being sent out and things like that. I can't remember ever being hit at school because by the time I was 8, I left Charnwood Junior School. It was a rough school and the older kids were out of control so the teachers had to be quite strict. The teachers had to keep a tight grip on the older kids as they were quite big for their age.
Yes, when you went home from school, did you play out in the street?
I played out all the time, we played in the yard, we played football outside in the street. When we moved to Bridget Street (next to the school) there was a big wall there where we used to play football. I used to be in goal and sometimes we used to play football individually and the goal post was the lamp post. Sometimes, when the school was closed, we used to nip over the wall and play football, the caretaker turned a blind eye. He didn't mind because we never vandalised the place, we just used to play football. I always remember all the kids round there being absolutely football crazy. I suppose what with 1966 and the World Cup and that being on, it made us even more football crazy.
So there wasn't so much traffic on roads then?
No, there would be maybe four, five. The roads were quite narrow, where as now you would have trouble driving up the road as cars are parked on both sides. So no, there weren't many cars around, no.
So if you wanted to go anywhere you used public transport?
Yes, a lot of people used the local area because it was the local shopping area and because there was so many shops on Berners Street, most people who ever lived in Highfields walked to Berners Street at one time or another.
On Berners Street, there was a delicatessen. I remember this because there was such a variety of shops on Berners Street. In fact, I remember the shops had an unbelievable variety! Even back in the sixties when we were really young, there was a Delicatessen on the corner which was run by a Polish guy. The Polish people came from all over and they were doing things like Salamis and different types of bread and cooked bread, gherkins, and things like that which you wouldn't get in lots of other shops. There were cold meats, I would say it was a delicatessen now, but we just knew it as a Polish shop where you went for bread that tasted slightly different.
What other shops can you remember along there?
I remember there was always another shop, Khans.
What did they sell?
It was everything really from tinned goods, bread, potatoes it was more of a grocery shop and we were spoilt for choice. There was an off-license across the road from us on the corner of Berners Street and that sold food as well. There was a shop on the corner of Haddon Street. You could always go to the Charny for other foods as well.
So did you walk down to Charny?
Yes, I think that everyone walked. I remember my mother saying when we first came to Leicester that every place looked the same because of the big red buildings. I think it must have been the same for people who came from the West Indies because we used to come in from small places maybe or small towns. I think anybody who came from a small village or a town and then came to the city thought this.
When I arrived in Highfields it was changing. A lot of places were in the process of being knocked down because they had been bombed. We used to call them the 'bombed buildings'. It was just another play area for us. It was just one adventure after another but I always remember! We didn't venture too far away from Berners Street, I mean when we were really small. We would class Melbourne Road as miles away, we ventured no further than maybe two or three streets away. When we were growing up we used to always say once you got over Swain Street bridge, we were in a foreign country!
So if you had to have new shoes or clothes, where would you buy them?
It would have been down the old Charny. I remember I was quite trendy really! My mum bought me a pair of hipsters, I was only about 6 or 7. I had a pair of hipster trousers and an imitation leather jacket. My sisters started to buy me things and dressed me like a little mod.
Did you ever go to the cinema that was on Melbourne Road and Nedham Street?
Yes, every Saturday morning we went there. I remember having my badge with a star on it, I loved it. Even today, I love films and pictures. It was absolutely fantastic. We used to go there on Saturday mornings to the matinees, my little mate Rashid was a film fanatic and all us kids used to go every Saturday morning, it was just absolutely choc-a-block, you could never hear the films because everyone was shouting and going crazy. I always remember everyone's favourite was Captain Marvel, and when he used to turn into Captain Marvel and say 'Shazam!', everyone used to go crazy. I mean we would all come out and run up the street, and we would be cowboys and indians and act out the films. That's what we did for the rest of the week!!!
Do you remember how much it cost to get in?
I think it was something like 6 pence. I went to the Odeon and the Old Picture House in Granby Street. My uncle Dan was the big film buff though. He went to the pictures every week. He went on a Saturday morning down to the old corner of five ways to the Old Picture House which become a Bingo Hall
Do you remember when it became a Bingo Hall?
I am not sure, it would have probably been the late Sixties or early Seventies when a lot the cinemas started to shut down. Later on, we used to go to the Evington Cinema which was on East Park Road. We had some great days there as well until it shut down.
I remember I had a friend who lived on the corner of Duffield Street, there was a big Irish family there called the McKanans. Brian was very big for his age, he grew up to be about six foot six eventually, but we dressed him up like a 'guy'. Our 'guy' looked the best around but things got a bit dangerous when we spotted the 'policeman spirit' coming up Melbourne Road. We said to Brian, "Don't move Brian, stay there because here comes policeman spirit." Of course, basically he would class it as begging, all we wanted to get was sweets, but Brian got up and ran up Duffield Street dressed as a 'guy'. The policeman said later on when he caught us, that it was the first time he had seen a walking guy!
Did you go to church regularly?
Yes, we went to church every Sunday.
Which church did you go to?
We went to one on Mere Road.
So you were going there for years?
Yes, we went there every Sunday. I used to go Sunday School because when we first arrived in Leicester, we didn't go to a Catholic school. There was an influx of Polish, Irish and Italian people. There just wasn't any public schools at that time but since then a lot have been built so I went to Charnwood, but I am glad I did. I didn't like the policeman who took us for Sunday School, I don't know why really. I think he was from the 'old school' you know, he was very strict. I always remember him as an unfriendly person. I was scared of him and you shouldn't be scared of a policeman, but later on, another man used to take us and he was a really nice bloke. At the end of Sunday School he used to give us sweets, that's probably why we liked him!
Was Sunday school in the morning or in the afternoon?
It was in the afternoon. We used to go church on a Sunday morning then on to Sunday School in the afternoon, I really didn't like Sunday School.
Did you have Sunday School outings?
No, I never went to one of these Sunday School outings, I don't think there was any, I think the church at the top of Melbourne Road used to be like the Boy's Brigade. I think they used to have a lot of outings but for some reason we never did.
What about the Evangelical Church?
Yes, they used to have outings, but I don't think there was much community spirit at the church at that time. You went to church and that was it, you were never really too friendly with the actual thing you know, there was a bit of a barrier.
Was the congregation made up mostly of local people then?
Yes, it would have been local because I think that Sacred Heart's congregation would be now dispersed, people still go to Sacred Heart now although they lived in different areas, but it was definitely local. It would have been people round the Charnwood area it was always packed, every service was packed. People who went there with their kids probably take their kids now. There has been quite a few generations from the Sacred Heart.
You mentioned the Polish Catholics who you were at school with, did they go to Sacred Heart?
They would have probably gone to the Sacred Heart Holy Cross Church before the their church was built on Dale Street. I don't know when it was built, but if they hadn't gone to that church they would have probably gone to Sacred Heart. A lot were the Goanese community in Leicester which derived from the Portuguese Community of India. I went to school with lots of nationalities and the Goanese are a big community now, they still use the Sacred Heart.
They still use the Sacred Heart to this day. They are a very large community and very devoted Catholics.
Were they living locally here?
They would have been living locally yes. Most of their children would have gone to Sacred Heart school or the surrounding schools. They would have probably started off in Charnwood or Medway like I did, and then they would have gone to that school or the Holy Cross School which is down on New Walk. Of course it's no longer there.
Did they have a problem with English?
No, they didn't no, I don't remember the Goanese community having problems with English at all.
You said you moved from Charnwood to a school on Saffron Lane, when you left there at eleven, where did you go to School?
I went to Corpus Christi which was a secondary modern Roman Catholic School on Gwendolen Road. It was just a walk over Spinney Hill Park to get there. The majority of people who went to that school would have come from the Highfields area, there was a lot of people who came from Thurnby Lodge, and even as far away as New Parks. It was an interesting school to go to because although the majority (70%) were white, most of them would have been the first generation from another country; Poland, Ukraine, Ireland, West Indies and of course the large Goanese community. As you know, there was always a large Asian population there but the Goanese always classed themselves as Portuguese for some reason. We always knew them as the Portuguese people, it wasn't until later that I found that Goa was a Portuguese colony in India but everyone just called them the Portuguese and they all spoke really good English.
When you left at fifteen, did you have a job to go to?
Yes, I started work on Charles Street at a knitwear factory. I think a lot of people worked there, Cherubs at Charles Street is still there. I remember wanting to be an apprentice joiner but I couldn't get a job at the time. I was quite good at wood work, I was good at art, I would have liked to go to Law school but at the time I think you had to have A' levels to get in. I don't think many people left with qualifications, I think they told to either get a job locally in factories (because there was so much work at the time) or you could do apprenticeships.
I remember starting work at Cherub, it was just work for three days a week. Me and two old mates of mine started together as trainees in knitting machines but we actually never got on to the knitting machines, we were more like slave labour.
Why do you say that?
Simply because we were taken on as trainee knitters, but basically the idea was we started off at the bottom and got to the top, but we started at the bottom and stayed at the bottom!!! I only stayed there for six months, I could see what was happening and the money was terrible.
When I think about it, I suppose I really just wanted a job so I could buy records and clothes and things like that.
What did you earn?
My first wages were £9.43 but that wasn't for a full week. I remember when I started work when I was fifteen, I was one of the youngest in the year, I couldn't get my cards so I worked there without any cards until I was sixteen which was in the August. I would have been better off if I had gone back to school for a year when I think about it now. I know some people that did that, but I worked there for about six months and the actual wages was £11.43. That was for a five day week, you had to really work for that. I must have lost a stone in weight! You never stopped, you were lucky if you got a 10 minute break.
I left there and I got a job in the building trade. I went from about £11.43 to about £32.00 which was a big jump. I was also learning about the building trade, joinery and things like that.
Did you work locally when you were building?
Well, the firm was based in Thurmaston, it was called Charles Street Builders. It was owned by the Murphys, who own most of Leicester I should think by now! They are probably one of the richest people in Britain, I think the woman that runs the firm now is the richest woman after the Queen. They built a lot of property, warehouses and things like that. I worked for them for a couple of years but I left to work on the city council which I really enjoyed. I used to work for the Saffron Lane Cemetery actually when there were a lot of gardens. I enjoyed working for Charles Street Builders because I got around a lot. I went out and worked in places like Loughborough, and I always liked working in Cherubs. I always liked to work far away from home for some reason, I don't know why.
When you were still living in Berners Street at this time?
Can we come back to when you say you were fifteen and you left school, what did you do in the evenings?
Well, by the time I was fifteen, we used to go a place called Black Friars which was on New Walk, it was adjacent to the Holy Cross Church. It was run by the Brothers. Most of the kids that went there were from Highfields, they were from Corpus Christi School, Moat Boys, Moat Girls and also people came in from English Martyrs which was another Catholic school on Anstey Lane.
On Monday nights when I was about fifteen or sixteen, we used go to the Palais.
Where was the Palais?
Humberstone Gate. That was where we used to go because it was from fourteen to eighteen year olds on a Monday. We used to go to the discos and it was brilliant. We used to look forward to Friday night and Monday night, I used to get through work as quick as possible, it was something to look forward to really.
What time did they start?
They started at about 7, or half 7, and they would finish about 11 or 11 o'clock. There was always lots of places to go with a lot of people. I remember when I used to go Blackpool with West Indian friends of mine, we used to go there be into music, reggae and dancing, We were mad on dancing, we used to love it. We used to go the Palais on Monday night with the West Indian kids who lived round the corner from me. I was really into music so it was great to go there with all the girls of course!
How did you spend the weekends?
Well, when I started work in my mid teens, I spent a lot of time in a boy's club, a lot of us from Highfields used to go down to St Matthew's Boys' Club. We would play football at the St Matthew's Community Centre and that would take us all over the city. We used to go Eyres Monsell, Northfields and play football.
Where was the Highfields Community Centre?
The Highfields Community Centre was actually besides Uplands School. We used to play football at the back and we played football on the car park in front of Sirrals, the shopping area, and we used to play football down by the rally banks, as we used to call it.
Where are the rally banks?
The rally banks are down beside Beal Street and Murray Street, which is the what we used to call the bottom of Berners Street, it's right down by the railway tracks. That is another area where everybody used to go from Highfields. Everybody used to go down the rally banks, it was quite dangerous really, we used to go down the slopes on the old large bread baskets, we used to get the really big ones. I remember I put my knee on one, I suppose it was quite dangerous really, there were so many people around but we never had any trouble. We once got chased by the transport police, but we weren't really vandals or anything we just played. Everyone would be fifteen or sixteen and we still used to go down there and play football even though we had left school. I think we still did until we were nineteen, I remember that until we moved, and we used to play down Garendon Street as well, which is off Berners Street.
We used to have a large bonfire every 5th of November. I always used to go down there and let fireworks off and things like that. There was a lot of Irish families there. I can't remember ever being any hassle between people whoever they were. It isn't until people get older that they start rivalries, it is just a pity that it happens, but I think it happens in every community you know.
I also remember around that time when I was fifteen, sixteen, there had been the big marches through Highfields, the big anti-racist marches. I remember when I was at Cherubs, I got to know a lot of people, there was a quite mix, there was a woman in there who used to be an old cleaning woman, she was an old Italian woman who was ever so nice. There was another women who worked in the room, she was a real racist, she hated everyone and I remember one day she said, "By God," she said, "Bleeding foreigners are taking over here," she said. I said "Well, I am a foreigner as well!" She said, "I thought you were." I said, "I'm from Ireland." After that, I don't think she liked me very much! She turned out to be a member of the National Front and she went to their marches.
They had a big march on what is now called Nelson Mandela Park. They were supposed to march through Highfields but they didn't. People came from all over the country to march through Highfields but we wouldn't let them in, everyone had a big meeting up on Spinney Hill Park.
I remember lot of my Asian neighbours. We used to live two doors from what was called Khan's Supermarket, and all the people worked in there we were all friends. Mr Khan was from Pakistan, his wife was from Italy so there was a bit of a mix there. The people who served in the shop were very friendly, it was like a large community.
On Duffield Street once, a prostitute was killed, her name was Rosy Hillard. It was the first murder in the area, it shattered everyone's innocence.
What do you remember about it?
All I remember is that it was in the paper and that she was murdered, and they (the police) never did find out who killed her.
Where was she found?
She was found where the Charnwood Estate is built now it would probably be the late Seventies. At the time, we used to sit out at nights until about 11 o'clock. People didn't believe you when you said there would be five or six on each corner, there was so many around there at the time. When you used to talk to people from outside the area and say you are from Highfields, they would say, "Highfields! I don't know how you live there, it must be terrible!" But it wasn't really. People went about their life you know.
This is the late Seventies you are talking about?
Yes, but that was something that always sticks in my mind. You see murders on films, and you hear about people getting snatched and things like that, but when it's in the next street to you, it's a bit hard to take in. She used to come to the corner shop at Bridgend Street. I remember when the police came round to interview us, I was playing records in the front room. They interviewed my dad. My dad used to work long hours so was away probably at work or at home at that time. Then they asked if there was any other male in the house and I came out, but they were looking for an older person. The girls used to have a bit of trouble with each other. It was a lively place to live. I think that was when I realised that it could be dangerous if you weren't aware of where you were going. You had people kerb crawling and things like that. I remember once coming from Black Friars, we used to always come through St Peter's Estate and then we used to fan out. There used to be two girls who we used to walk home with, they lived on Dale Street. We got them home then some of us lads would go down to the bottom of Berners Street down to the Five Ways, some lads would go down to Garett Street. I used to walk up Berners Street, but this one night we came through St Peters and got split up. I was just coming to the corner of Berners Street, when I noticed this bloke at the corner, it was about 11 o'clock. He was about fifteen or something, but the minute I spotted him I knew he looked dangerous. I got to the corner where the delicatessen was, I knew he was coming for me and I ran, I managed to get to our door just in time. I was lucky that night you know. It was that place. I think after that you had to be aware there was two sides to Highfields. You based your life on the street you lived in. If you played on the park or you played on the estate itself you just played round the street.
There used to be the adventure play ground in Spinney Hill Park as well. We used play there.
Was it a centre of your life when you were young?
It was a place where everybody was drawn to. There would be about seven, eight games of football going on, and then you would have a lot of the Asian kids playing cricket the bottom and near the brook, you would very rarely see it now.
I go to Evington Park most Saturdays. I go down with my nephews and my brother and there is just no one there and it's such a waste really. Back then, fathers played with their children, there would also be a lot of black kids playing football. I mean that's how Highfields Rangers started.
I remember when I was really young there was a band stand.
Can you remember having bands there?
Vaguely, there must have been. I remember there was a big large marble fountain which was near the old Tea Cup. It was a large building. They just let it go, which I thought was terrible, they should have kept really.
I think things were changing most when people bought cars. The park was used less and less. I don't think there were immigrants coming in. When we arrived it was changing, people who lived round that area who had money and lived in the big houses on Mere Road
I remember going to the park with my uncles and my aunties. People went on the park on Sundays. After school we played football in the until 9 o'clock at night perfectly safely. But the thing was I think there is always true safety in numbers because there always seemed to be older lads looking after younger lads. Also because a lot of kids I went round with had come from an Irish background, they were all people knew your brother or they knew your dad or they knew your sister, or they went together with your sister but even other people because we lived on Berners Street you knew the kids from Moat Boys and the older ones. Everyone played football and things like that and everyone went down the brook. We used to go on the brook trips, you know, mystery trips down the brook to find out where we came out. There were the white families, the black families, there were a lot of people around so it was safety in numbers.
Yes, when you said you used to take mystery trips down the brook to see where it came out, what do you mean?
Well, people used to say, "Let's go down the Mersey Tunnel." It wasn't very far at all, right at the end of Bridge Road and East Park Road.
You followed the brook and came to a bridge, but because it was a long tunnel, you could actually walk through it, it was a bit dangerous because it was all moss and stuff. It was quite clear when I think about it really, it wasn't very polluted at that time, even though there was factories from Bridge Road running in to it. It was quite an adventure you know, we used to sometimes go there after mass on Sunday.
What about the Fair on Spinney Hill Park?
I think it was Bate's Fair that came. I remember the ones in the seventies better because I was older. I mean, I always loved the Fair. I loved sitting in the Dodgems and things like that and you got all the music. The Asians always used to come from all over once the fair was there, all the Asian community seemed to descend on the Fair because they loved it.
I know it moved round the different parts of the city . I think it used to stay in Spinney Hill for quite a bit longer than in other place because it was so popular. I don't remember any trouble or anything like that, there might have been a few scuffles and things like that. I think probably, sometimes when people from other areas came in, there will be trouble. There was a gang of white youths who came from another area to do what they called "Paki bashing." At the time, people who lived round there were black, white, or brown. They came down basically to have a go at the Indian people, but people who lived there seemed to come together in that situation.
I used to love the Fair. I liked the Big Wheel along with the Dodgems. Yes, it was very popular in the Seventies. Most people went to the Fair and you know, people could wander round, my sisters would wander round. I would be with my and we would see everyone from posing with older girls friends!
What other community events went on in the area, can you remember this time?
Let me think now. I don't think any of us were ever Scouts or Cubs or anything like that, but we used to go to the Boy's Club which was in St Hildas, it used to be the old St Hilda's Church. It was a tin hut which is actually a church now but it was it was where the rummage sales used to be, I mean in fact that was a great community thing, rummage sales. We used to have them down St Hilda's Church, that was a community thing, everybody went to rummage sales because amongst other things you would get little baked cakes and things like that. I suppose it was like the equivalent of car boot sales now.
Tell me about this the Boy's Club at St Hildas?
I remember the guy who ran it, Ernie O'Connor. You could go in there for free, it was easy going and you could play table tennis and just mess about basically.
We used to go to the one which was in the old St Peter's School, which would be on Oxenden Street? Or it was just near House Street, the old St Peter's. It's gone now but we used to go there at nights. We played a lot of games and things.
It was an organised youth club?
Yes, it was quite organised but quite relaxed in that way and of course when the summer came they used to have summer schools at the old Moat Boy's school. They were great, everybody went to that.
What is a summer school?
We used to have organised things, sports, there would be cooking for the girls. There was football and you could go in there and do painting and things like that and it was quite good. Most of the summer holidays I suppose was really organised. I remember my sisters used to like going there, yes. My little sister Sharon was addicted to Ambrosia Cream Rice, she used to just wander in to Khans supermarket there and pick the rice up without paying and just wander in the house!
Maybe a lot of the girls round the area looked forward to going there because there was something actually for them. Whether it seemed to be more catered towards the lads I don't know, I never knew there was too many things for girls.
I think that a lot of people didn't go to a lot of organised things, they would go to the summer school but they would go for the trips and things like that. They used to sort trips out to the Foxton Locks and things like that, everybody wanted to go.
They had the sports round on Spinney Hill Park or Ethel Road, the playing fields on Ethel Road. There were little medals and things for the winners, it was quite good. Everyone enjoyed the summer school round here because people were together.
A lot of my friends weren't really members of anything really, we just used to go up there.
I actually remember going there I remember going to where the adventure playground is when we were about five or six, our class did a nature thing in a meadow. I remember one of the kids seeing a grass snake!
It was right beside the park keeper's house. In the summer, they used to have big trips. I remember they used to have ferrets. I remember taking my two little cousins up there once and they had Ferrets
What did they do with them?
I didn't really like Ferrets, but they used to take them out like and my cousin wanted to put his hand in the mouth and all that. I said, "Don't do that!" I was responsible for them. I said, "Remove your finger!" If I remember rightly they also had goats, they were quiet really. Yes, they used to have quite a lot at one time, but I think maybe they got rid of them because people complained or something, but they used to have a little compound where they wandered round.
We used to sometimes go to Keythorpe Street where there was a student house. The students were from all over really. We used to go in there and sit and talk to them and they used to let us, it was like an 'open house'. I always remember that because they used to always make coffee with brown sugar. I suppose really when I think about it they were "hippies". They were nice people. They used let us run round their yard, a couple of lads used to be into music. We would bring our records in because we were music fanatics. We were all T-Rex fans. I remember we went to one of the guys and he had this old single of Marc Bolan. He was in a band in about 1967 when he was a real hippie. Still, some of the lads would be smoking at that time.
This was just a house on Keythorpe?
It was just a house. I remember one year, one guy came and he was not too keen on us coming in, he was a bit more strict. We stopped going really, he didn't like us coming in. As I say, they were mostly all hippies and a little bit strange but I suppose they were OK.
Do you remember the police being very visible in the area when you were young?
Yes, the police were quite visible round there especially round Melbourne Road and Berners Street. They used to come in the big black Mariahs. I didn't see them arresting anyone. In fact they used to chat most of the time. I remember them walking around and they would get you in the black Mariahs. They used to be around there because there was quite a bit of trouble up on Spinney Hill Park with the black lads. I think it was just people congregating around there and things like.
Do you remember any of the Highfields Carnivals?.
Yes, I remember some of the other carnivals. They used to go through Highfields and St Peters Road and up through onto Victoria Park. A lot of people did move out of the area, we were probably one of the last families to leave Berners Street, so a lot of people I did hang around with at the time before I moved out were a lot of black lads.
I used to go to a lot of West Indian's parties in my late teens every Saturday night. I mean I was really into music and one of my mates used to play in one of the famous reggae bands in Leicester called Grand Asians. They played all over the place and Rob was the saxophone player. He used to play at St Peter's Community Centre and the Phoenix Theatre. We would go to concerts and at the time we would go to a lot of concerts at De Montfort Hall, and at the University of Leicester. Then, you know we would go out on the town for a couple of drinks.
We might go to the Bernies Pub which is on St Peter's Estate, or we would go down to watch in the Royal Mail pub which is just over Swain Street bridge which is now a big music venue. Lots of bands play there, but at the time it was quite a quiet little pub. Sometimes I was probably the only white face there but because I grew up there and I lived there I never had any real problems with anyone.
I think the carnival was a hit in a bigger way now than it was then. It would have been on a small scale when it started up. The West Indian community were people I palled around with, one of my best mates was a West Indian kid.
Can you tell me how old you were when you moved away from Berners Street?
I was about nineteen, nearly twenty.
Where did you move to?
We moved to St Saviours Road. I worked on the council at the time, I wasn't too keen on moving and I didn't I like it. I still feel relaxed, there is something about the area, it was just you felt a part of it, for years even afterwards when I didn't live down there, actually my aunts and uncles live down there, so I never have left now but I still go through the area and I have still got relatives who live there right in the heart of it you know. Cork Street is where my mum's cousin still lives. I always identified with Highfields as home, I always will.
And can I ask you one final question? How does Highfields today compare with your memory of it?
It's definitely a different area. It has changed, I mean it is a very strong Moslem area and I think that most of the Asian people, even people I went to work with were Moslems. I mean there are Mosques there. I know that they have done a lot of work to it, done lots to the houses. The Asian communities are a very strong community there, they really stick together and that's the way they will survive.
It has changed but the funny thing is it's becoming quite an area where lots of single people live. When I was being brought up, there were people living in flats but now there are more students. It is changing into a student area and a lot of people seem to be moving back into Highfields. For instance, when I went college last year there seemed to be quite a lot of people who were tutors who lived down that area so it's got a little bit of a bohemian air about it. There are all nationalities now.
Thank you very much.