Mr Charan Singh came to Highfields in the 1950s.
Multicultural Archive Project Transcription Mr Charan Singh, 22/6/94.
My name is Charan Singh. I came to Highfields in the 1950s I think. I came here because of my younger brother who was already in Highfields. He used to write to me and tell me how good it was in England. We were farmers in India.
As soon as I got here, I started work the next day in Richard's Foundry on night shifts. I had never seen a foundry. My boots burnt in 10-15 minutes with the hot metal. At night I thought I would not go back to work. The next day, all my dear friends bought me some more boots. I ended up working there for a year. Then I moved onto the Russell Foundry. I worked there for 3 years. Then after that I went to Melton Mowbray Petfoods because my brother worked there.
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.
The weather from September onwards was very foggy and misty. For about 5-6 months I did not see the sun. During November toFebruary it would be snowing. I found it very difficult to walk. So everybody used to get together and walk to and back from work.
There was a small shopping centre near Mere Street. At Highfields, there were only 1 or 2 Asian shops. I used to go to town to buy my clothes. We could not get the Asian spices from here. Somebody used to come from Coventry every Sunday with the spices. Everybody would buy from him.
I found it hard to speak with the people at work. I used a lot of gestures and signs. After 2-3 weeks I started to speak bits of English. My English colleagues were very helpful. They were polite. The neighbours became friendly and we started to go to one anothers house and have meals. We became so friendly that I forgot about my family, that they were not with me.
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.
We could claim benefits after 6 months. I did not even bother about benefits. Too much hassle! The bus fare was very cheap, it used to drop me off right at Russell Street at my job. It was so simple. At the Russell Foundry there was a bath. When the weather was nice we used to bike. As soon as we arrived from India, there would be a job at the foundary. Majority of the people worked 10-12 hours a day.
The children were nice and treated us with respect and love. As the population grows it gets worse. The police were pleasant and helpful. I did not even know about social security.
Everything was on ration during the second world war. 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.
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.
Now there is a lot of difference. There are drugs now. Nobody even knew what drugs were. The houses are now council owned. The residents are bad. If I had to live in Highfields I would find it very difficult. The people get robbed. The houses now are in much better condition. There are carpets, gas, central heating. There were no shops, there are so many now. Nobody had any money. No carpets, no furniture. The children now don't even know what hardship is. I'm retired now. I make do with my pension.