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Mrs Margaret Porter came to Highfields in 1923.

An extract from the written memoires of Mrs Margaret Porter who came to live in Highfields in 1929.

Memories Of Sparkenhoe Street, 1929 – 1946 by Mrs Margaret Porter (nŽe Hall).

I have very happy memories of living at the fish shop in Sparkenhoe Street opposite Gearys the chemists. We moved there when I was three (around 1929), taking over from Mr and Mrs Dave Whittaker who moved to the fruit and vegetable shop next door but one. Next to us on Sparkenhoe Street, was Mr Johnson (Jonty) the cobbler, then Whittakers' fruit shop, Pitchers' cake shop, a Post Office, and lastly Tantums, the newsagents where we bought all our birthday cards. There was also Billy Bares a cycle repairers. Beyond Tantums were the railings of the gardens leading to the front entrance of the workhouse (later known as Hillcrest Hospital).

On the other side of our shop was Jack Bamford, the butcher, which was on the corner of Sparkenhoe Street and Upper Conduit Street (now Maidstone Road). Next to Bamfords (or Mr Nichols) was a tobacconist, and another fruit and vegetable shop called Dunkleys. After that came Mrs Garners shoe shop, then a sweet shop run by a Miss Brown, and a drapers shop run by a Mrs Drake.

The sweet shop on that side of Conduit Street was full of wonderful sweets for children which were put into little triangular bags. I think you could get a bag for a farthing or a half-penny in those days. Sweets consisted of aniseed balls, coconut chips, sherbet dabs etc. There was a better quality confectionery shop on the other side of Conduit Street where my mother paid weekly to obtain a Crown Derby teapot full of chocolates one Christmas.

I can't remember any other shops on the left-hand side of Conduit Street except for Goodalls' grocery shop, which was more or less at the end of the row. This was a large double-fronted shop which had counters running all round the shop. They also had a delivery boy who went around on a bicycle (just like Granville). He had a mop of blonde hair, was usually whistling the latest tune, and I thought he was wonderful.
After Goodalls, there might have been a bank, and then the back entrance to the workhouse which went round into Kent Street where men used to wait at the end of the day hoping to be given a meal and accommodation for the night.

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.

Both Mr Whittaker and my father went very early in the morning to the wholesale fruit and fish markets which were at the bottom of Halford Street. Mr Whittaker carried his goods back on a hand-cart (which stood in the yard) and my father often had to help him push it up Swain Street bridge (which we often used to play on). I can remember Mrs Whittaker boiling beetroot for the shop, and my mother boiling mussels and whelks which had to be removed from their shells later and displayed on large oval meat dishes in the shop window. My father spent every morning at the sink filleting the fish which was a very cold job in the winter.

On the opposite side of Conduit Street and Sparkenhoe Street was the Prince Albert public house and between there and Gartree Street a very nice row of houses with front gardens. These were still there around 1954 after our row of shops had been demolished. {I/J On the other side of Sparkenhoe Street on the corner of Lincoln Street was Dr Beith's surgery. In those days there were two waiting rooms, one for private patients and one for those on the panel. The 'panel' waiting room, I seem to remember, consisted of long brown forms, but we seemed to do very little waiting, and you certainly didn't need to make an appointment. Dr Beith made up his own medicines (mostly tonics and cough mixture) but prescriptions only had to be taken a few yards to Gearys.

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.

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

We walked to school and I can remember once meeting a flock of sheep being driven along Saxby Street (probably from the cattle-market) and hiding behind a tree. Mr Grattidge was the headmaster and I also remember Mr Kimberley, and Mr Hall (who ran the school band which played 'On the Isle of Capri'). Both of these teachers were very nice but some of the lady teachers were a bit tougher, especially Miss Date, who was liable to give you a slap across the knuckles with a ruler. There was also Miss Hopley, who wore her hair parted in the middle and firmly fastened back each side with a hair grip. Both of these teachers wore tunics like the children, and I think, black stockings.

War time memories include the very bad bombing we suffered in the Highfields area in November, 1940. We spent the worst night in our brick air-raid shelter beneath the workhouse wall (not a good position if it had come down). It was so full of people, my dad had to stand in the doorway. We all sat listening to the bombs whistling down, not knowing if the next one was going to land on us. A large land-mine landed with a thump in the middle of Sparkenhoe Street (just above Lincoln Street) making a hole large enough to take a double-decker bus.

After this, for some time we used to go along to the air-raid shelters in the grounds of the Wyggeston Girls' School in University Road. Here, we used to sit on wooden seats having a sing-song (mostly 'The Quarter-Masters Stores' if I remember rightly), and not sleeping very much. Lack of sleep figured largely in my wartime memories. Any sounds of aeroplanes in the middle of the night were very frightening.

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

Another war-time memory is of going to Bradgate Park, where the American forces were camped prior to D-day and being entertained by them and given dishes of crushed pineapple.

Before the Coleman Road buses started to run along Sparkenhoe Street in the mid-Thirties, we had to walk to London Road to catch a tram, quite a trek up and down Conduit Street. Mainly, we walked in to town down Swain Street bridge, possibly to go to the Princes' cinema in Granby Street or down the steps which are still there, to Queen Street and the newly-built Odeon. In the summer we could walk to Victoria Park or the De Montfort Gardens, where I remember going to open-air concerts. I can remember buying lemonade from the old pavilion, and drinking water from the metal cups attached to the fountain behind the pavilion.

On Sundays (the only day the shop was closed) we often went on day trips to Skegness. This entailed packing sandwiches and walking all the way to Belgrave Road station very early in the morning. We knew we were nearing the sea when we saw fields of yellow mustard and Boston Stump (the church tower), and got very excited at the prospect.

The shops I have memories of were finally pulled down around 1950. A picture taken in 1954 shows them recently demolished, although the terraced row of houses on the other side of Sparkenhoe Street (opposite the workhouse) were still there then. Most of the shops, including ours were still open until that time, although we actually moved to better living accommodation on Mere Road in 1946.

My regret is that I didn't take a photograph of these shops when I had the chance, and hope to find someone who may have one tucked away somewhere. I never dreamt that I would become so nostalgic about them as I grew older.

De Montfort University