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Religion

Mr Bakhsish Singh Attwal came to Highfields in 1957.
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Later on in a school we rented a room on Bridge Road, on Sunday we started to pray.

No places to worship in. Missed the fact that there was not a temple.

Now there are 20-25,000 Sikhs. There are 4 main Gurdwaras (Sikh temples). There are more arguments now because people disagree, eg. beliefs etc. There is no unity.

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Weddings started after 1960s when families arrived, used pubs for weddings and halls.

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The Asian population was very low so there were no festivals celebrated in public such as Eid or Divali. We now celebrate at Spinneyhill Park.

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Helen Edwards interviewing Sandy Coleman for Highfields Remembered.
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I remember playing in the streets, whip and top was one of our favourites. I mean, for every Easter we used to have a new whip and top, and my dad was very clever with his hands, he still is. He used to make us these beautiful tops, and he used to decorate all the tops of them so that when they spun round. We'd got the best ones because our colours were brilliant.

I can remember that we used to play ball and get into trouble, because in the avenue, where the first house on Biddulph Street was, there was a huge wall into the avenue, and we used to all play "Double ball up" against the wall. I can remember my aunty Madge (we used to call all our neighbours 'aunty' or 'uncle', it was disrespectful to do any other) coming out and playing hell with us! We'd all run off because all she could hear was bang, bang, bang, from these balls going up, or our feet going up.

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I joined a youth club, at Melbourne Hall, and it was church run because in those days, my sister and I were forced every Sunday to attend church. Although my parents weren't highly religious, they felt strongly that we should attend church every week. Then when we were 15 we were allowed to decide for ourselves whether we went to church or not.

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

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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.

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Mr Boleslaw Dobski came to Highfields in 1947/48.
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Was there a lot of empty housing in the area then?

No, no but houses for sale were immediately bought, yeah. We had been buying and that's how we bought our church there you see. We bought the church with cash.

Was the church empty when you bought it?

Yes it was. It was owned by the Baptists. That church, (you probably will not remember) was built where the present railway station is 120-130 years ago. It was transferred to Melbourne Road brick by brick then we bought it for fifteen thousand pounds. It didn't have a roof and was very neglected. It was leaking all over the place. We got some money together and bought it and that's why there was a sort of Polish ghetto there at that time in the Highfields area.

What year are we taking about?

1956

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But, that was alright until the 1960s. We started moving out when we got a bit richer and the younger got better jobs, and so they began moving out. We had been selling the houses there and moving out and there is hardly anybody now, nobody living of the Polish community. One or two families perhaps, but that is all. My family was the last Polish family who moved out of Highfields. I moved out thirteen years ago. I stuck it out but I couldn't stand it anymore. The noise, the dirt, the prostitution and so on. My wife didn't want to move, but I say, alright you stay, I go!

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I was earning four to five pounds a week. Ten shillings went to the collection every Sunday to buy the church. But the younger generations if it came down from Heaven it would be alright. But to put a little money in it, well, that's something different. You see they have got a different spirit. Perhaps they are more practical!

Does the younger generation actually use the Polish Church?

Oh yes, yes occasionally.

So there is still a sense of community?

Oh yes, still. The children still go to church, perhaps not as frequently as we used to because I had to go to church every Sunday. Without it I would be unhappy. But the younger generation, they go there when there is an occasion. Like everywhere else. It is the same with any young people. When I was young perhaps I was just the same. So they are still using it for their weddings, for their baptisms and so on, and for various functions, but perhaps when they grow a bit older and wiser they will use it a bit more.
The problem is with parking. You see, we used to walk and the younger people will not walk so far. They must have a car and there is no parking space. So there is some difficulties for the younger generation, but then again, you have survived it so far and we hope that the church will serve us for many years to come. For now there is already a question mark hanging around it because when we built the church we counted oh, eight hundred people to accommodate. We had three services on Sundays and today we have two and the church is empty because, well the younger generation don't visit the church as we do and the older generation is dying out.

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Mr Tirthram Hansrani came to live in Highfields in the late 1940s.
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There was no racism, people were not bothered about colour. People did not celebrate Eid and Vasakhi. After 1970 people started to celebrate in their homes. Now people celebrate in public, eg. Spinneyhill Park.

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Mr Abdul Haq came to live in Highfields in 1963.
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The first Mosque was bought in 1965 – Sutherland Mosque. 2A Sutherland Street Islamic Centre and Mosque. Before that I used to go to Birmingham . All this has been built recently.

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Mrs Hazel Jacques came to Highfields in 1942.
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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?

TB? Yes.

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St Peter's Church. That's where I got married before it lost it's spire.

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When you go back there today, it must seem very different. Has the area changed?

Well, my sisters and myself went back to St Stephen's Church but it's exactly the same as it was. Apart from the building it was full of black people. Really, it's better now. The personality of the church has changed, people are welcoming there, they're not all staid.

It's High Church, isn't it?

Yes, it is. Father Irwin, he's there now, he's lovely. He and all his black congregation are lovely people. We had a cup of tea with them in their little room at the back that used to be the factory canteen during the war. It was reverted back after the war to a youth club

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Every Christmas morning we had our photograph taken with the Lord Mayor outside the receiving home on Mill Hill Lane. Then Councillor Court, he used to give us all sixpence, and where the sixpences went, who knows. I don't know where they went. We never spent them!

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Mr Amarjit Singh Johl came to Highfields in 1964.
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Where there any places of religious worship?

There was no established places. People of different faiths used to hire a school building on Sundays. Things have changed. Hindus have temples, Sikhs have Gurdwaras and Moslems have Mosques. I could not think of such a change. Some people used to think we must have a place of worship, many used to go to India to perform a religious ceremony. Still many did not bother about religion at all. Everybody thinks individually. Anyway it was a great act to establish your own religious places.

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Were there any fairs in those days in Spinney Hill Park?

No. There was no such a thing in those days. All these things have come with Asian immigrants. Religion and culture are now here. There were no religious processions at all. The celebrations were limited.

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Mr Aidan Maguire came to Highfields in 1962.
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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.

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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.

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Marjorie Marston was born in Highfields in 1942.
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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.

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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.

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Did you used to go to the church quite often?

We did, I always went to Sunday School, and we went on a few outings, things like that. Sunday School outings used to be out to Bradgate Park and we used to go and climb over the rocks and everything.

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From a letter from G R Patel, Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre
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In 1967, Indian ladies started praying in various houses in Highfields. In 1969 a co-operative shop was purchased at the corner of Cromford Street and Chatsworth Street. This shop was later made into the praying hall. In June 1969, the deities of Lord Radha-Krishna were installed and the place was turned into a Hindu Temple. This was the first Hindu Temple in UK.

We started many activities such as religious services, mother tongue Gujarati classes, celebrations of religion festivals, children's art classes etc. Up to 1989, this place was very active serving the Hindu community living in surrounding areas. Slowly our people stated to move to the other areas of the city.

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Brett Pruce was born in Highfields in 1955.
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the late Sixties, early Seventies were a nasty time. I remember going to the youth club at St Peter's Church. I was a choir boy there for most of my youth and for the life of me, I can't remember what the church down at the bottom of Stoughton Street was now, but I was involved in the youth club there as well. But they all sort of disbanded when there were big fights, and drugs were being touted around so they both went, so there wasn't a lot to do. Well, I was in the Scouts. I was in the 23rd Leicester, which was on Egginton Street near the Evington Cinema. I was also in the Cubs. I've got a photo here of me in Stoughton Street in about 1960. I've got photos of the back of my house but nothing really that shows the area very well. At the back of our garden we had a bit of grass and our house backed onto a builders, Fox's Builders, who was in Evington Street. My brother and I used to go and jump over the wall and pinch wood to make sledges and things like that!

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Mr Charan Singh came to Highfields in the 1950s.
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There were 10-12 Asians in Highfields area. We could not worship but later on we started to hire a room in schools to worship.

Weddings were in the house with 4-5 people. Not like now. There were no meals, parties etc. in the parks.

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Used to warm water on gas in kettles and then wash clothes. The clothes took ages drying on coal fires. Coal was cheap could get as much as you wanted.

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Councillor Farook Subedar came to live in Highfields in 1972.
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Can you tell me, did you have any problems with religion, with funerals or weddings?

Oh yes, yes. We had to overcome lots of hurdles when we came. We had to make a cultural awareness to the local community, to local institutions, to the local councils, even local MPs and politicians were not aware of our culture. We had to tell them our requirements, our needs in schools and funerals, or our religious functions. Take the Eid Festival, we had to explain why our children could not come to school on that particular day. Most of the people were not aware, they thought we were all Asians with one religion. We must all be Hindu or we must all be Moslem. They did not realise the diverse religions and inter-cultural community amongst the Asians.

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We used to hire church halls mostly on London Road. We used them for our Eid prayers and things like that. There weren't that many halls available. So we made do wherever we could find a small hall, even the school halls were not available at particular times. Only nowadays, you find schools are giving away their halls on weekends. But when we came we had a big struggle.

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When we first moved there was one Mosque on Berners Street, which is called Masjid-E-Noor and there was another Mosque which is called Sutherland Street Islamic Centre. There were only two Mosques in the whole of the city of Leicester.

When did the others come?

The others just came because the demand was there and there was a big influx of the Moslem Community in Leicester coming from Malawi. They were coming from Zimbabwe, South Africa, East Africa. As the Moslems started coming to England, alot chose to make Leicester their home. Then the need was there because Masjid-E-Noor was a very small Mosque and even Sutherland Street was a one terrace house through Sutherland Street, so I don't think these two Mosques could have taken the influx of the population, then increasing Moslem population in Leicester. So the demand was there at that particular time.

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I remember in 1974, Imperial Typewriter Building was in dispute with the Asian workers and the Imperial Typewriter decided to close down the whole factory. Some Moslem businessmen thought they could convert the canteen of Imperial Typewriter into a Mosque. It's one of the largest in Leicester now. Slowly and gradually there were other Mosques built in Keythorpe Street and there was one built on Loughborough Road, and there was one bought on Stoughton Drive South. There's another Mosque on Barclay Street off Narborough Road, and then there's a Mosque on Upper Tichbourne Street. There's a new Mosque on St Stephens Road so roughly there must be twelve in the city of Leicester now.

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Now what about the Madressas for the children of the supplementary Schools?

Oh yes. Now we had a struggle. As I said we had two small Mosques to contend with a large number of children to be taught in supplementary schools. So slowly and gradually, we negotiated with local schools to give their premises to be available in the evenings for supplementary schools in the early years. If you come around in Highfields in the evenings you will find most of the schools are allocated for some kind of supplementary school.

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How would you celebrate Eid at that time?

We used to go early in the morning. We used to hire a hall on London Road. A church hall, and we would perform our Eid there. Then we would come home and celebrate with our family, mother, sisters, brothers, cousins and then we would go and visit families and friends' houses and that was Eid. Then we realised that we must do more than that. So I myself took an initiative in 1982/1983 to get an Eid Festival on a proper footing. I went to the council, I got a planning application to set up a proper Eid Festival in Spinney Hill Park, with different stalls, food stalls, book stalls, and a sports function. Then I also went and saw the local fun fair chap, Billy Bates. He was quite willing to accept our offer. The first Eid Mela we celebrated with the Lord Mayor and the local MPs, councillors, local dignitaries, scholars from London, they came down and we had our first Eid Mela in the whole year. Leicester was the first city to establish Eid Mela.

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there was a need for young children to celebrate their Eid because it's an event, Eid itself is happiness. A child needs to identify what Eid means to him or her. So when the Mela came, most of the children were blessed with Duas.

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You know people were coming from Birmingham, Manchester, London, Slough. We met people from all over the country for Eid Mela. It was a success! It was just not for Moslems. Everyone came to it. It was open to everyone regardless of colour, creed or race.

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Mary Thornley came to live in Highfields in 1912.
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Did you find that there were a lot of musicians of your age?

Not so many of my age, but there were quite a lot musicians in Highfields, in Highfields Street itself. The first one I can think of was at the corner of Severn Street and Highfields Street, he was the organist of St Peter's Church, a Mr Bunny. Further along on the other side of Highfields Street towards the London Road end, there was a family called Burrows. Now I didn't know the senior Mr Burrows but his son was
Dr Ben Burrows who has not been dead very long. He was an organist at one or two different churches in Leicester and the daughter was Grace Burrows who was a very well known violinist in Leicester. It was through her that I went to the Symphony Orchestra because she was the leader of that and she ran a pupils' orchestra which had practices at the Edward Wood Hall Building. I'm not sure if it was the actual Hall or one of the small buildings.

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Mrs Muriel Wilmot came to live in Highfields in 1927.
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I went to St Peter's Church.

Do you remember what that was like?

Very very nice indeed, I loved it. I used to go to Sunday School in the afternoon and service for grandmother and father at night, and if there was anything on in the week I would go to that also.

Did a lot of people go to that church?

Yes, there were a lot then, it had an atmosphere then which is minus now.

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.Mrs Dorothy Woodford was born in Highfields in 1921.
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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).

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Mrs Joan Hands came to live in Highfields in 1940.
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My earliest memories are of the Methodist Church, also situated on Melbourne Road, but higher up the hill. A plain yet sturdy building, it faced the main road, but the entrance we little ones were allowed to use was in the side street. There were two large halls, underneath the body of the church, both used for Sunday School classes which were divided into groups according to your age. The cosy, newly-polished smell greeted us as we filed in on Sunday afternoons, leaving our parents in peace for a few hours. I loved the tiny wooden chairs, circling for protection from the outside world around our teacherís lap.

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