Mr Eric Tolton was born in Highfields in 1916.
10th August 1994, Valerie Lea recording an interview with Mr Eric Tolton.
Do you mind telling me your name?
My name is Eric Tolton.
How old are you?
So you were born in 1916?
Could you tell me where you were born?
Well, my first memory was on Mere Road but I might have been born in Cork Street, because my father had a tailors shop, just inside Cork Street. He was killed in the first world war. They had bought a house on Mere Road when it was first built up there.
Can you tell me what number Mere Road?
Was that one of the tall houses?
Not necessarily, no it wasnt. It was the first house round the corner on Mere Road.
Can you tell me something about your family background?
Well of course, as I say I lost my father in the first world war, I dont remember my him at all, but my mother was one of four children, My aunt Evelyn lived in Worthington Street and the other two, the elder boy lived in Southampton and the other one lived in Oswestry, actually he was a shoe shop manager.
Their parents, my mothers parents name was Davis and they lived at number 10 Holland Road. My grandfather worked at Richards, Bunny Richards the Ironmongers, he had been in the Marines. I understand he was one of the first to land in South Africa when the troops landed there. There were no quays or piers, it was a matter of getting out of the boat and clambering ashore.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
Ive got a sister who is 92 years old. She has recently moved into Ainsworth House, Manor Road. She is not settling in very well as a matter of fact, but 92 is quite a big age to move.
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.
Could you remember where you used to get the gas mantles from?
No, because there was a number of shops in Bonsall Street. There was another shop in Egginton Street but quite honestly as a young boy, I wasnt interested in the shopping side of things so Im not sure where anybody got the gas mantles from.
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.
I realise that you were very young during the first world war, but do you remember any of it?
No, no, I was born middle of the war. The first thing I remember was my father was in Hospital at Lewisham I think it was, and my mother took me down to see him. I dont remember the hospital, and I dont remember seeing my father but when I came out there was a victory procession going by and I can remember my mother lifting me up on her shoulders so that I could see this parade as that went by and thats all I can remember. I was two years old then.
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
My father was one of, oh dear, my uncle Bill, my uncle Jim, my auntie Annie, my aunt Emily. Two went to America, one son married an Indian and lived in an Indian Reservation.
In America, yes. Well, when I went to try and look up some old records, my mother was married from uncle Jims house. From what I gather, he looked after things and it was his son who eventually finished living up here, he is dead now. But when I was in my late twenties I should think, I went to see him. I became a Freeman at twenty-one. You take an oath in front of the Lord Mayor that sort of thing. I said Id like to take more interest and he got me interested in the Board of Deputies you see. We kept in touch and he came to live up here. I learnt quite alot from him about things in the past about my father and my mother as she wasnt one to talk about herself alot you see.
Can you remember your first day at school?
Yes, I ran home from Melbourne Road School and the Infants gate was in Berners Street you see, because I had never mixed with other children and there was a lot of rough lads there. I was scared stiff and when it came to playtime, the teachers used to sit on a small bench along one of the walls and Id just go and stand around and be near to them. There was one teacher who would tell me to go and play with the other children. But I would run home. I did that twice. They started locking the gate after that. But mother was the sort to put on her coat and get me straight back to school!
Were the classes big, can you remember?
They didnt strike me as massively big, might have been thirty. A lot of the time we sat on mats on the floors and then round the wall. There must have been a long bench like thing and part-hinged over, and when it was sleeping time you put your head down.
There was a period of time when you were supposed to sit quiet, say nothing and do nothing.
How old were you when you went to school?
So it would have been 1921?
Yes, yes thats right.
Is it possible for you to remember a school day, like from getting there in the morning?
Well, I dont know. I never did very well at the early school because a lot of the work was using you hands like, colouring papers, making models and knitting and that sort of thing. Im no good at all that and I didnt like school to be quite honest. I was fortunate enough to pass the scholarship, it was only second class. My mother had to pay but I went to the City Boys school and from the first year I was top of the class so once I could do mathematics, history, geography that sort of thing I was alright, but not hand work!
So you didnt really enjoy being in primary school?
No, I didnt.
Did you find it was strict, did you like games?
Oh it was strict yes, thats right because you had to march to your classroom. You didnt wander in like they do nowadays. You had to form up and march and I turned round on the stairs because the teacher caught me. I got the cane for that! Then there was a girl, I can remember her name, Madelaine Lewis. The girls sat one side and the boys the other, and what did she do? She did something and I copied her, course the teacher caught me. Why did you do that? I said, Madelaine Lewis did it! The teacher said, If Madeline Lewis put her hand in the fire would you? Of course I was ever such a cheeky lad so I said Yes. I had to stand in the corner for that!
Did you stay for school dinners, do you remember?
No, I went home.
Do you remember doing PE or PT at school?
I dont remember doing it at school, we might have done you know arms out and back, jumping with your feet apart. The first gymnasium was when I went the City Boys school at eleven, thats where they had a proper gymnasium, rope climbing, wall bars and that sort of thing yeah. I think there was something but I dont know whether you call it PT, or just exercising your arms and legs a bit.
Moving on out of school time and into what you did in your own time, when you came home from school, did you play out on the street?
We played out a bit because we used to play marbles and faggies.
When I was eleven I joined the Boys Brigade because they were very good at putting on different activities, we used to go swimming and such like.
Tell me what you did in the Boys Brigade?
Oh we did a First Aid course. Ive got a First Aid badge and I joined the Band and learned to play the drum. We went swimming and did a certain amount of marching. In those days the army marched in columns of four not three like they do nowadays you see, and you formed up in a double rank. You had to do what they call form fours, one step back to make four columns you see. That took a lot of practising and a lot of time was spent doing that. Actually it was through the Boys Brigade that we formed a class at St Johns Ambulance in Seymour Street, off Sparkenhoe Street. I dont know whether it is still there, I should imagine it is. No, I dont know whether St Johns Ambulance is still there, we used to go once a week to a class there doing Ambulance training.
So this would have been 1927, something like that?
Yeah 1927 to 1930.
Did the Boys Brigade march through the street then?
Oh yes. I dont know whether it was once a month that we had a parade to Wesley Hall, we used to meet in Asfordby Street. You wouldnt know Adcocks the Tripe Shop, corner of Asfordby Street and Green Lane Road. We used to meet there, because both Adock boys were in the Boys Brigade and. Occasionally there was a battalion parade through the whole of the city from the different churches.
Actually, that has reminded me about something because I went for piano lessons, and in the Boys Brigade there was a young lad who played the violin and one of the Adcocks played banjo, so we formed a little dance band and we used to go down to the Tripe shop for band practise you see.
Did you ever play for parties and things like that, or just for your own pleasure?
Well, occasionally concerts at the chapel, that type of thing. I went to Humberstone Road Chapel, Newby Street Chapel. I cant remember where it was now, but there was a girl to do some dancing, and she plonked some music in front of me and I couldnt see her and she didnt make any noise in the dance at all. I was absolutely lost! I dont know what she thought of me!
Where did you have your piano lessons?
A man in Fairfield Street formed an accordian band, hes still alive. I think he was in charge at Cowlings, yes he worked at Cowlings. When I first went to him to have music lessons he worked for the railway, I dont know what he did but he worked on the railway. I cant think what his name is. They had a Leicester Accordion Band only eighteen months ago across at the church hall here and the ladies that go to church asked me if I would like to go, and I went and I spoke to somebody there. There was one in the Boys Brigade that took to the accordion, I forget his name now. There was this music teacher and I asked the chap that led the band here if they still had anything to do with it. I think they were both still alive but they had quarreled and split. You know this happens when you get organisations. Ive got Busby or something like that on my mind, Mr Busby.
Lets go back to Wesley Hall and the Boys Brigade. Did you go away on camp?
Oh yes, I went to camp every year. Skegness as a rule.
Did you go under canvas?
The first camp I went to was a joint camp with Newby Street and they set about twelve to the tent there, oh it was ever so crowded and I got cramp in my leg and Id never had cramp before. It set hard you know, I thought my leg had broken, but one of the boys said to rub it. He got up and rubbed my leg and course the feeling came back. I still get cramp now.
Were you a member of the Boys Brigade for long?
Oh about five years I should say. I was eleven when I joined. I was still at school or in about my last year when I was sixteen. I got interested in girls and I joined the Labour Party League of Youth which met in New Walk, 29 New Walk that is where I met my wife. My mother was in the Womens Guild at St Hildas Church. There was a lady there, a Mrs Blewitt and she said to my mother, Would your son take my daughter with him because she is interested in politics. I said Id take her. Id seen her about but Id never spoken to her, she was about my age, so I took her and she took up with a pal of mine you see, Ken Shilcock. She is now Mrs Shilcock! They still send me Christmas cards. I picked my wife up and thats how it all started. When all this was going on, I wasnt interested in the Boys Brigade. The friend that I joined with, Alec Chambers, he became Sergeant after I left. Now there is another funny relationship there, Alec Chambers lived in Bonsall Street. His aunt married my mothers brother so we had both got a common aunt and uncle, and their son was a common cousin you see, but we were no actual blood relations ourselves. We went cycling together.
Where did you cycle?
Oh we went to Oswestry where my cousin lived, we went to Southampton and apart from that, Kettering was a regular Saturday visit, the cycle trip at Kettering.
You cycled all the way?
Yes, we joined the Youth Hostel Association and we used to go and stay at nice places. Once I started courting, (my wife couldnt cycle) we used to go hiking. I went over on my bike the next morning and met her there! My other friend Ken married Dorothy, he used to cycle as well. He came to Southampton with me to my aunt and uncle there you see, but Alec used to do the majority of cycling.
When you were in your teens and interested in girls, what sort of entertainments were around?
Ah well, only going to the cinema and dancing. I couldnt dance anyway so it was only going to the cinema.
Where did you go?
The one on the corner of Chesterfield Road?
Yeah, thats right. Strangely enough, one of the ladies up here, she can tell the same story. Sunday night, we used to parade up and down the London Road you know, all the youngsters or teenagers of Leicester. It was a regular procession, we used to walk up giving the girls the glad-eye, and she did the same she met her husband doing it!!! Hes dead now, she lives just across the road. We laugh about it.
Were there any dance halls locally?
Oh, yeah there was one at the fire station at Lancaster Hall, the dance hall that the fire station people used to go to. It was called the Embassy, over the Co-op on the Uppingham Road just before you get to the Uppingham Park, whats the name of the park, is it Humberstone Park? Before you get to Humberstone Park, its quite a big park the room over that was a dance hall. Of course, the Palais de Dance was going but oh you didnt go there. Mother wouldnt let you go there.
Do you remember about transport buses or trams or getting about?
Well there was the tramcar but you more or less walked everywhere. As I say, I went to City Boys School and lived on Mere Road, but you never dreamt of going on a tramcar to school. You walked to school. I came home for dinner and then it was back to school again. I couldnt do it now. Well, it amazes me coming up from the town on the bus, on the Aylestone Road and school children get on the bus and a couple of stops further on they get off again, I dont know, I never dreamt of that sort of thing when we were young.
Lets think, when did you leave school to start work? How old were you?
I was sixteen, it would be 1932, I went to Mellor Bromleys on St Saviours Road.
What did they make?
Hosiery machines. Right at the top of St Saviours Road. I worked there for four years, then I left and went to Warner Street, Spires, and went to Canon and Stokes which was in Orson Street, off St Saviours Road at the bottom, it runs parallel to East Park Road about the first street along.
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.
Do you feel that Taylor Hobsons were reasonable employers then?
Oh yes, they were reasonable employers, yes, because the Rank people bought them out you know. One of them was found dead in the snow outside the factory. I think this was before I started there. They found his body in Stoughton Street. His brother was still there. The two Taylors, you see, formed the Company. The Managing Director when I started was the nephew of one of the Taylors, Mark Taylor. He was the boss, he was very nice I found.
And you worked there right through the war?
All through the war, yeah.
You werent called up?
No, it was a reserved occupation you know.
Can you talk about the war?
Yes, it doesnt worry me. I remember when the bomb fell in Leicester. I lived in Hartington Road at the time.
Well, are we jumping ahead a bit? We need to cover when you got married and moved to Hartington Road first.
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.
What number on Hartington Road were you?
It was 32, you know where the road splits at Vulcan Road. We were about four doors below that on the Melbourne Road end. The back gate actually came into Vulcan road it was the last house, last four houses where the front door was in Hartington Road and the back was in Vulcan road so they were quite a long back being the last of the four as the roads diverge.
Do you remember, were you in the ARP?
I joined the Home Guard. All the manufacturing companies had a platoon. I think ours was 22nd platoon that was attached to the places of work. But then either one or two or three platoons formed a Company. Now, we were with Jones and Shipman or was it Pollys? We formed C Company and then of course above that there was the battalion. It was done on the same lines as in the army you know. We used to go on route marches. I joined the Signalling Corps. I learnt Morse code and used to do signalling.
How often were you on duty?
Well, every Sunday morning there was a parade and usually one during the week as a rule.
What did you do?
It was held at John Bull and we used to learn Morse Code, signalling with the flags you know.
Did you ever need to put it into practise?
Not really, we were on a parade one Sunday morning, of course there was a proper procedure with the signalling you know. I forgot now what it was now but you had to stick to this procedure. There was a horse that had broken loose, a milk float with a horse. It was going a bit berserk and the message was to be got to somebody who was nearest to it to go and help but we forgot all about procedure, we were all gabbling away one against the other!
We used to go down to the Abbey Park and they sent me right against the far gates on the main road with a wireless. We had got wireless sets then, we had progressed you see, the war was going on, we had got more equipment, but of course the battery on the set that I had or the battery on the sender set wasnt working, so I never got any messages and somebody eventually moved us back and I had to walk back.
Do you remember the bomb that fell on Highfield Street?
Yes. When I first started work at Mellor Bromleys, a young lad named Phil Yates worked there and he used to have fits, he used to have hinges on the front legs of his seat so he couldnt go back you see. Once or twice he did have a fit and a bit of a do about it, but after I had left Mellor Bromleys and was working at Taylor Hobsons, there was a girl in the Drawing Office who was a cousin to this Phil Yates, so I used to get bits of messages about him through her. When this bomb dropped apparently it did him good, yeah it cured his having fits. I dont know whether he is still alive he was bit older than me. He was a dare devil, used to ride on the back of bikes. He never ought to have done the way he had fits! Cause in those days you had a push bike. There was a little bit sticking out the back and youd stand on it and hold on the shoulders of the chap who was driving/riding it. Biggest dare devil under the sun. I suppose thats one way of combating it with a bit of bravado.
After the war, were you still employed at Taylor Hobson?
Yes, yes I still carried on there. I was forty I think when I left there. Excello Corporation which are still in existance I think in Hastings Road or somewhere near there. Thats all been altered since those days cause its all been built up, I went there. I didnt get on there very well at all, my face didnt fit, so I left there. I went to Metalastic in Walnut Street which is part of the John Bull which is not part of the Dunlop Group. The manager worked with me at Taylor Hobsons during the war, we knew one another you see and we got on very well together. I went there as a foreman in the Harding Department. Of course I got fed up again and wanted to move. I made another bad move. I was made rededundant when I left Cottons. I didnt get on as well as they had promised me so I left there and went to what was Stibbes and worked on the night shift. Stibbes were hosiery machine manufacturers and then they went up the spout! In the meantime, our eldest son was living in Canada so we blew my redundancy money and went to see him. When we came back, I got a job at Loomes. They went up the spout as well!
Can I go back to something you said earlier. You joined the Labour Party League of Youth, were you very involved in local politics?
Well I was at an age where the young people thought they could mould the world. Ive got some photographs, there is one somewhere of a group out hiking, well I dont know where we went I was more interested in the girls, usually out in Charnwood Forest area we used to go. Im not really a good walker but the others didnt bike so we used to go hiking. I cant remember what we got up to were all pretty good, you were in those days not like nowadays you had to behave yourselves.
Did you feel that it was reasonably safe to go anywhere day or night in those days?
Yes, when I started courting, my wife lived in Newfoundpool off the Pool Road, I lived on Mere Road and it was perhaps two in the morning on Saturday night when I left her. I used to think nothing of it and get on my bike and bike home. No you never had any trouble, the only trouble that I had was my bike lamp didnt work!
Were the streets well lit then or was it dark?
Reasonable, they werent dark.
The first time I took my wife home after a Christmas party was through the Labour Party League of Youth. A lot of us got together and we had a bit of a Christmas party you see, and she was there so we finished up kissing and cuddling and I took her home. I was walking on air! One night when I got home, my mother was sitting waiting for me, about one in the morning this was!
Do you remember, did you use Spinney Hill Park much? You lived very near it.
Ah, as a child yes, it was a thing to take sandwiches and have your tea on Spinney Hill Park and then in later life, I used to go and watch the cricket. There used to be a lot of cricket matches on the mens cricket pitch down there. All the factories played, oh nearly every night. There used to be crowds watching them, theyd got seven or eight matches on the cricket pitch and there was one fella, I cant remember his name now, they all liked to see him, he could hit the ball right over East Park Road. I think he played for the Imperial Typewriters. I think that was the firm he played for but it was a regular thing, you got crowds of men, well girls/women as well I suppose, I wasnt really conscious of the opposite sex at that time.
When I started courting we went and played tennis on the Spinney Hill Park. I remember them building a sandpit on the top along the Mere Road. And of course in the winter time, Im jumping up a year or two now, they used to do sledging down the hill, oh it was marvellous because there were one or two odd trees and you had to dodge the trees. The Italian prisoners of war used to come up there sledging from Shady Lane, or was it the Germans? I think it was some of each, Italians for a start and Germans later from the big camp on the Shady Lane there. It was getting towards the end of the war they still hadnt come out, we used to go sledging down the Spinney Hill Park.
Can you tell me when you wanted to buy your clothes when you were young where did you go?
Knowing my mother I should imagine the Co-op! Well, I have never been very interested in buying clothes to tell you the truth, in fact, no I wasnt very clothes conscious. I know after I was married the only time my wife could get me to buy clothes was when we were on holiday. Even now I dont like buying clothes. Ive got a daughter who lives in Holland and when I go over there at Christmas to see her she buys the clothes for me.
Did you go away on holiday much?
Well when the children were younger, prior to that, going back to the beginning before I was married, I had got an aunt at Southampton and an aunt at Oswestry, and they were the two places we used to go on holiday. I do remember going with my mother to Yarmouth or was it Lowestoft? No, Lowestoft for a fortnight. That was a big thing in those days but when I had got the family we used to go to Mablethorpe and this sort of thing then we went to the Isle of Man. The most holidays we had were in the last ten years of my wifes life. We used to go abroad a lot, she loved travelling and I was only too grateful that we were able to do this in our later years, but prior to that with the children, it was just ordinary seaside holidays, it was nothing special. Scarborough, Yarmouth, Torquay, Paignton I think we went to Llandudno.
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.
You remembered the name of your daughters teachers?
I reckon that was Miss Stead, the one on the left there Im sure.
Now your other daughter went to the Collegiate?
She went to the Collegiate.
Can you tell me as much as you can remember about the Collegiate? She had to pass a scholarship to go there, did she?
Yes, I dont really know a lot about it?
Did she have to wear a uniform?
What was the uniform like?
You dont expect me to remember things like that?
What colour was it then?
I reckon it was a dark blue sort of colour. They wore soft felt hats in the winter and straw hats in the summer.
So you cant remember what the uniform was?
No. Beyond the felt hat and the boater yes.
Is there anything else about the school that you can remember then?
Strangely enough, I told you about uncle Arthur who eventually married my mother well, he had two daughters by his first wife, and one of those, May, had a daughter Judy and she went to the Collegiate the same year as my Judy did, our Judy. And the mother May she was quite a good tennis player in her younger day and I know she played tennis against parents verses teachers. I dont know that I have got anything special to say. I presume they played hockey.
What age did your daughter leave?
Sixteen. She is the one that is in Holland now, there her two daughters up there.
What about pleasure?
you made your own pleasure, there was no television and videos and all these mechanical things that they play with nowadays, nothing like that whatsoever. We used to play whip and top all along Mere Road from one end to another, there was no traffic. Wed stand in the middle of the road and whack the thing and go running after it and bowling hoops, you know the hoops, we used to run all along Mere Road. Whether there was an odd bicycle came a long I dont know.
Was Mere Road then the cobbles that part of it still is?
Some of the bits by the park entrances there are cobbles that are under the tarmac.
You said there was no traffic on the road. No.
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?
Have you got any idea how much it cost, can you remember?
No, no idea.
Where was the horse kept, do you know?
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.
And was this the same on Mere Road, you had a coal house at the back?
Yes, oh yes.
Did you have a back entry or did he have to come through the house?
Yes, back entry on the Mere Road house and of course when we lived at Hartington Road, as I said it went right through to Vulcan Road so he delivered coal from the Vulcan road just up the yard there. Yes, cause there was an entry on the Mere Road because
next door, 168, they were school teachers, it was quite a posh area and a school teacher was somebody to be respected in those days, yes you know, like I was going to say doctors, but I dont know whether doctors are respected nowadays like they used to be. Because I was a naughty boy I was, I used to have an awful temper and my mother wanted me to do something, I cant remember what it was now, and I was playing up kicking my feet and screaming at the bottom of the entry and this lady next door Mrs Bowman, the teacher, she came out oh she didnt half give me a lecture.
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.
Do you remember his shop, what his shop looked like?
Did you have pocket money?
I had a penny from my mother and my aunt that lived in Worthington Street, I used to do her shopping for her on Saturday morning and I got twopence, that were my pocket money.
So where did you shop for your aunt then when you went shopping?
Oh, there were some shops in Dronfield Street, the Greengrocers, Timsons, the Paper shop, Mrs Weston, the Chemist shop, she was cross-eyed, it was most disconcerting. There was a sweet shop on the corner, Winterburns I think there name was ..... there was a pork butchers just inside Donnington Street. They were quite good local shops. The nearest Co-op I would say was in Conduit Street. There was one in Chandos Street because my pal who lived in Bonsell Street used to go to Chandos Street for his mothers groceries, but I dont think from where we lived on the Mere Road that thered be much in it really. You didnt think a lot about walking to places you see.
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.
Can we just come to the fact that you are a Freeman of Leicester now, can you tell me how you came by this honour?
Well it is handed down you see from father to son and its got to be on the male side unfortunately. My two are freeman, the younger so who lives at Oadby his son will be eighteen tail-end of this year and he is going to become a freeman. It was twenty-one you see when I took it up but it has been brought down to eighteen. And it was 1978 I think they altered the act so that it was eligible for freeman living in county would be entitled to either a pension or to a bungalow. They pay a small pension to some people but its not much, only four or five pounds a week and you have got to be pretty well destitute to get it. Actually in two years its the eight hundredth anniversary of the first freeman, goes back to eleven hundred and something.
Are there any duties attached to it?
Well there used to be, I mean, a freeman originally did what the city council do nowadays. They had to do policing and it was really to control trade. Freemen were the only people allowed to trade within the city walls and that really how it all came about. Thats going back to when after the Norman Conquest and you were apprenticed to a Freeman, after youd done your time you became a Freeman and you could set up your own business you see. Thats how it all started. Ill give you something that you can take and read about the Freeman before you go.
Freeman were the only people who were allowed to vote for Parliament and a lot of fiddling was going off Ill give you so and so if you vote for me that sort of thing. I dont know whether you have heard of the rotten boroughs, well that was really the Freeman, they were the rotten lot and it was 1843 round about that time when they formed the city council you know, to take over the duties of running the cities. Of course the old Freemens Common cause we owned all that land you know the Aylestone Road thats why we were able to buy this land and build these bungalows selling that. And the Freemen were allowed to graze cattle cause its all the Aylestone road end of things where the electricity place is, now that was all Freemens land originally which has gradually been sold off.
It was in 1922 that we tied up with the Charity Commissioners and now any money spent has to be done with consent of the Charity Commission, but the only advantages one gets really as I say there is a small pension paid to some and the bungalows. But people dont want them now weve got one empty been empty for months. I mean I became active as a Freeman many years ago now and at one time when these were first built I was chairman of the Bungalows Committee, I had a long waiting list of people, I used to take them in order of age actually and it was in 1970 when we went with the Charity Commission sorting out frest regulations it was made to the most needy. Cause we had one lady down here she was rolling in money, she employed her own solicitor all this sort of thing you see, but by law she was the oldest applicant and was entitled to it which is wrong you see.
I still lived in my old house in Collingham Road and had to pay rent and rates and all this sort of thing I shouldnt be able to live as comfortably as I do now I should be scratching around cause I only. I get my ordinary pension, and of course when I did sell my house its that money thats bringing me the interest which I am living on, but when I read in the paper and they talk about the interest rates going up again, Im quite pleased. So I suppose from that point of view you can say you are needy cant you? There was a man came to talk to us from the Charity Commission, he used to say the poor and the needy, came from Liverpool.
And now Mr Tolton, for a final question we are asking everybody is how does Highfields as it is today compare with your memories of the area?
Well I dont really know the Highfields a lot from a personal point of view now, but from what I see in the paper, and read, and hear, it was much better in my day than it is now. You were safe to go out, you could do things cause in the very fact that there wasnt the traffic, it made things more peaceful. like it is. Mere Road, Highfields Street, Saxby Street were quite select areas you were coming up in the world if you lived there, but Im afraid you cant say that nowadays really, its a pity really because there are some lovely houses up there, big houses but I dont know I liked it in those days better than I do now.
Thank you very much.