Highfields Remembered top bar showing extracts from some of the images in the database - click to skip navigation


Mr Alex Acheson came to live in Highfields in 1938.
Now Len Hurst lived in Upper Kent Street and he was a window cleaner. He had been in the Royal Navy as a regular. I was honoured to give the eulogy, or account of his life when he died last year. He was a live wire, he fought very hard but the difficulty with him was that there was only a payment of something like ten shillings if you attended a committee meeting during the day, but that was no good to Len because if he didn't clean his windows on a regular basis, ten shillings didn't compensate for the loss of customers.

Read the full interview

Mr Bakhsish Singh Attwal came to Highfields in 1957.
illiterate people used to work at nights, during day, do up flats and sell for a profit of about 50.

I wanted to buy a car but nobody would sell me a car. I bought a van eventually for my market trade. Normally Asians were doing door to door selling ties, socks, etc.

Read the full interview

Roger Cave came to live in Highfields in 1940, the year he was born.
Can you remember the riots that took place a couple of years ago in Highfields?

Yes, I remember them. Being in the Fire Service I can remember them although I was on holiday when that took place. I know from what the other firemen said it was quite frightening really, they had to adopt a certain procedure in case they got attacked because they had been called to the fire. They had to be careful that they didn't drive into a 'situation'. They had to reverse into the area and then use the local water supply, but by reversing in they could easily and quickly drive out and protect themselves like that. When they were dealing with the fire they would run the hose out to the fire engine from the street hydrant.

the first wages I started on were 12.00 a week. If I go back before then, I worked in the shoe trade, (there were a lot of shoe factories in Leicester at that time) and I think my first wages there were 4.00 a week at the age of sixteen.

Did that seem enough for all your basic requirements at the time?

It did at the time, yes, there wasn't cause to buy so much as there is now. I suppose that from leaving school and being on virtually nothing to 4.00 a week seemed quite a big jump really. It covered the clothes that I bought at that time, but as I say, expectations then really weren't so much as what they would be for youngsters now.

I remember dealing with instances concerning Highfields. One day we had a hurricane, it was a freak thing really, it swept through Highfields and it took chimneys and roofs off houses in Guthlaxton Street and round this area here. I remember St Hilda's Church (which isn't the existing building) as was, but during this hurricane the roof came off in the wind and came down back on to the building! To all intents and purposes, it looked as if nothing had happened to it, but on closer examination they found the roof was loose so they had to pull the whole building down.

I can remember attending a few road accidents down Melbourne Road, you know cars speeding. I can remember going to one or two nasty accidents down there.

got to the age of fifteen they would go to work anyway. Their energies would be taken up with that. I don't remember there being many people unemployed then. I think you would probably be a bit of a problem child to be unemployed. There were always jobs in the factories really, so it was quite peaceful in the area.

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Helen Edwards interviewing Sandy Coleman for Highfields Remembered.
She was a machinist. Yes, a sample machinist. She used to do the samples for Brevitts.

Oh right! So she would get a pattern and she would make it up at home.

No, the shoe was already cut out. I know that they had clickers that cut the shoes out. I can remember seeing flat pieces of leather in the half shape of the shoe that were tied together, and my mum used to join the piece that went on the inside which was separate, and then the front and the side, up to the back seam which was all in one. She used to put those together and make them fancy. They had bows and things like that, she used to do that sort of machining.

it ruined my mum's eyes, because the only place that she could have a machine was in the middle of the house. Although she had a big lamp on the machine, I think that's what ruined my mum's eyes, because it was very small tedious work.

Oh, the Evington cinema! Who can live without the Evington cinema? I'm so
pleased they've kept the frontage. Now, my mum worked at the Evington cinema,
she actually did cleaningthere, so we used to get into the tuppenny rush on a Saturday. All the kids used to go. Me and my sister didn't have to pay because my mum worked there. I can't remember his name, we used to call him the owner, but he was most probably the manager. He would let us go into the top and have a look where the projector room was.

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Mr Boleslaw Dobski came to Highfields in 1947/48.
When you left the army, were you looking for a job, did you know enough English to be able to find work?

Yes, you see at that time, we hadn't been offered any other jobs, only the lowest of the low. That was a problem. For example I've got 2 friends, one finished Law in Poland and then he was in Oxford for a year or two, and he could not get even the job of a clerk. So he had to start sweeping the floor in the factory, that was our beginning, you see. That was politic of the government at the time, and well, this was it. So it was a hard time. I could start work perhaps because my trade was as a merchant, and you need perhaps a better knowledge of English than I had at that time. Besides I wouldn't even get the chance to get any other job than in a factory. I started in the factory as an engineer and learnt my trade there. I went to a college and picked it up there and that was it.

So you left the army and you moved into Leicester to find work. Where did you work first?

At the Imperial Typewriter Company, do you remember it?

On East Park Road?

Yes. It was quite prosperous mind you. It was one of the best typewriter companys in England, in that era. At that time it was developing and expanding and at that time, I think there was about 150 Poles working for the Imperial. It was very low paid, they didn't pay very much, but then it was a good a job as any other.

Tell me what you did, and how much you were paid and for how many hours you worked?

Ah, it was what 48 hours, wasn't it? It was a 48 hour week and then it was reduced to 44, 42 and so on, but from the beginning it was 48. I was a machine operator there. I was with them for about 15 years and then I changed to Rank.

Do you mean Rank on Stoughton Street?

No, in Gipsy Lane. They specialised in instrument building and I was good enough to pick up a job there. I was with them for about two or three years, then there was a vacancy at the University and I got a job there. I was quite happy then because I got a job in the position of superintendent and it was quite alright then. However, you never master it, but good enough to do a job. And well, I knew the trade and I was quite happy at the University because you meet young people, you meet educated people, and it was uplifting from the factory to a different place, yeah. So it wasn't too bad then.

So you had just a room and you had to share all the other facilities?

Yes. I had to share all the other facilities.

Did you have a bathroom in this house?

Yes, but the miners had the privilege of having a bath every day because they were dirty from the mines. Everyone else had to bath on a Friday night.

Where did they mine?

Somewhere near Coalville. They would come home by bus in their dirty old clothes.

Did you take turns having a bath?

We had to take turns, Oh it was a lot of fun!

How did you manage in the morning when you got up to go to work?

It was all the other things in the morning as well. Just imagine, fifteen people in the queue for the lavatory in the morning. But it was a very orderly house. My wife and I didn't go together to the bath at that time. It wasn't done in those days, so everything was regulated. The hot water was there all the time for shaving. Everything had to be very strict and it was, we had no option.

Let's go back to that time when you first moved into your house. Where did you shop? Did you still want Polish food?

At that time there were very little of Polish foods, we just shopped around the corner. Mind you, we become a member of the Co-op. We had been buying in the Co-op. 1.00 per week for groceries, it was enough you see in the olden days. Well we didn't have contact at that time with Poland at all, so we didn't get any of those sort of sausages and delicacies you get now in the continental shops, we had been relying on what we got next door and besides, everything was rationed. You wouldn't remember? We got a Polish butcher. He started a shop in Churchill Street and so all the Poles were going to Mr Morawiec because he was a Pole and he really was a proper butcher and then we enjoyed the Polish sausage. Max his name was. He was the first one in Leicester to start up a Polish delicatessen.

I was earning about 4 or 5 a week for 48 hours. Mind you 4 was something different to the 4 today of course! But that was the general rate of pay. You tried to make a little overtime or a little bonus and so on. If anybody was earning 6 that was regarded as having a good job. We started working (more or less) in factories.

Did your wife work?

Yes, she worked in the hosiery industry. My wife was a widow when I met her. Her husband was killed in action in 1945 one week before the war ended. Her husband was working as a young staff officer in the general staff. When my wife came here and was working in the factory she was always crying until she got used to it, but then again she had no choice. I don't think she was happy but nobody was at that time.

There were more than six or eight doctors here in Leicester of Polish origin, some of them had been already medical students and they come here to England after France collapsed. There was a Polish section at the medical school in Edinburgh, they finished their studies there.

Were many of those eight settled in Highfields?

Those doctors were not necessarily in Highfields. No, I don't think so. Dr Redish was in Queens Road. Dr Mukah in a hospital, Dr Danek in a hospital. It would take too long to mention all of them but they each had a private practice. Dr Turk was near the prison. There were three Polish dentists. All army demobbed. Lucky enough because at that time you see, National Health Service was introduced in England in 1948, or something like that and there were not enough doctors here in England so any doctor of any description got a job, otherwise they wouldn't get it. Solicitors or any other things they didn't have any chance like that to get a job, but doctors, thanks to the National Health introduction, they got a job and they have been happy ever after!

Read the full interview

Dr Stuart Fraser lived in Highfields from 1946 the year he was born.
The interesting thing is about the servants that my grandparents had is that my parents never had any servants at all in the house from 1947 onwards, after the war of course, but up until before the war my grandparents had always had servants and they used to get their maidservant by going to the Countesthorpe Cottage Homes for orphans and when a girl had to leave school she then took up residence and lived in the house and then went usually because she was getting married, and in fact the last servant my grandparents ever had in 1939/40 she married from my grandparents house, this was of course in Evington and she kept in touch with my grandmother until she died.

there were shops just down on the Melbourne Road which I think now is just a spectacle shop and hosiery shops. The houses that are now shops are mostly hosiery shops, corner shops, general store and spectacle shop. From what I remembered as a child was there was food shops, groceries, bakers, butchers vegetable shops and there was a shop near us called Mr Tivvy's, and I used to get sent there to get fruit and vegetables for my mother and the corner shop I think was Curtis's the butchers who again my mother used to get her regular joint from once a week and I think he continued to deliver meat to her, when she went to live on the Scraptoft lane area. Opposite my abiding memory is of the Worthington's general store which is now a bookkeepers premises and I can remember going in there to get food and my mother having to cut coupons up because there was some food rationing still going on.

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Dr Stuart Fraser has lived in Highfields from 1946, the year he was born.
I have had discussions with an elderly surgeon of the city, who, when first appointed as a young resident to the Infirmary in the early 1920s – tells me how he came to assist a surgeon at one of these private nursing homes in the Severn Street or Tichborne Street area, and he describes how they operated in a room with a coal fire in the corner to keep them warm. The surgeon kept his overcoat in the room and took it off to operate, rolled up his sleeves, and once the operation was finished, the assistant plus the porter carried the still unconscious patient on a chair downstairs and back into one of the rooms where the patient was allowed to recover, and then would be subsequently nursed until he was considered fit to go home.

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Mr Tirthram Hansrani came to live in Highfields in the late 1940s.
We used to get jobs quickly then. The second world war had just ended so the industry was setting up again. However we had to work very hard, the jobs were hard. In Highfields there were no factories. We used to work 50-55 hours a week. The average pay was 7. If we did overtime we got 8-9. That was considered a good salary. I worked in a Foundry. I used to walk or sometimes I would go on the bus.

Read the full interview

Mr Abdul Haq came to live in Highfields in 1963.
Where did you work?

Before and during the war I worked as market trader in Leicester and on other markets. Self employed.

Who was your doctor?

Dr Saeed, he came here in 1964-1965. He opened a surgery in Evington Street then he moved to East Park Road. Now there are quite a few Asian doctors in Mere Road.

Read the full interview

Mrs Betty Hoyland was born in Highfields.
I remember, this period of the very early Twenties seems to have been something of a quiet backwash of the Victorian age. I can just remember what must have been the last of the muffin men coming along the street at four o'clock in the afternoon, and sitting on the arm of our best settee in the front room waiting for the lamplighter to come along with his long pole to light the gas lamp which stood on the end of the pavement in front of our house.

Read the full interview

Mr Amarjit Singh Johl came to Highfields in 1964.
Would you tell me about your daily life in those days. What sort of work you were doing and how many hours?

It was manual and factory work. It was degrading and hard work for me. I was not prepared for this kind of work. We were given only this type of work and employment. It was hard work and low paid. We used to do twelve hours a day and also Saturday morning. We used to earn twelve to thirteen pounds a week. I never dreamt of this kind of work, I did not want to go back because of pride and dignity. Then my wife joined me and we used to share our feelings and daily experience. This was a source of relief and comfort, life went on in a routine.

What was your first job in England?

My first job was in a factory on Gwendolen Road, then as a bus conductor in the Leicester City Transport. In the factory, working conditions were very poor, it was an engineering factory. They were producing spare parts for diesel engines. The work was hard and I was young and strong. I did not mind hard work but the racial discrimination was very painful and hurtful. Many immigrants did not understand the taunts, it was a different kind of discrimination in those days. It is different nowadays.

Read the full interview

Miss Alma Knight was born in Highfields in 1923.
And you were working throughout the war?

Oh yes. I was at the same firm. They had to give up the uniforms of course, I was in the office at that time, and they had war contracts to do. There was PT wear for the army, the uniforms for the ATS, tropical kit for wrens, WAAFs. A gentleman came from London, I don't know whether he was evacuated up here, (he was deaf) but it was the first time I'd ever seen it in Leicester, he had an electric cutter which cut layers and layers of fabric, he'd been in the tailoring trade. He laid his cloth out, marked the patterns and then cut them with his cutter! Of course they had a lot of extra people, outdoor staff, and I insurance cards and income tax was all taken out of the wages. The contracts for materials was quite a big, you see. I had a girl a little bit younger helping me. But, it wouldn't have been what you called a reserved occupation, after 19 or 20, so I made enquiries and went to work on more essential work. That was inspection for radios for aircraft, which of course, was all right for the war.

I insurance cards and income tax was all taken out of the wages. The contracts for materials was quite a big, you see. I had a girl a little bit younger helping me. But, it wouldn't have been what you called a reserved occupation, after 19 or 20, so I made enquiries and went to work on more essential work. That was inspection for radios for aircraft, which of course, was all right for the war.

Did you enjoy that?

I liked it very much, yes.

And that was in Leicester?

Yes, but a lot of relatives did that sort of work, one or two were nursing, it was sort of assistant nurse then in those days, of course a lot were in the forces, but my father was still on city transport.

Did the buses keep going through the war?

Oh yes, and we had some very bad winters. The snow congested on the roads, the snowploughs wouldn't touch them, but they had one or two buses that did have the snowplough on, you see. So it was very bad, you know, my father often had to get up early to walk to Abbey Park depot, get the bus out and clear the roads. There was round the clock working for factories in those days, 24 hour working.

Did the buses keep going through the war?

Oh yes, and we had some very bad winters. The snow congested on the roads, the snowploughs wouldn't touch them, but they had one or two buses that did have the snowplough on, you see. So it was very bad, you know, my father often had to get up early to walk to Abbey Park depot, get the bus out and clear the roads. There was round the clock working for factories in those days, 24 hour working. Sometimes he had quite a long working day and didn't come home at the proper time.

After the war, were you still a teenager or in your early twenties?

I was in my twenties then, yes.

What did you do then?

Well now where was I then? Yes, I was still in the same job, that was Gent and Company. But yes, it was very interesting work, quite exacting, you know. Then there was a changeover to civilian work, and a lot of people did had to go. At the time I had a long spell of very poor health. It may have been due to growing up in the war years, working long hours along with the poor diet. It was mostly due to an illness I had when I was a teenager, I was in and out of hospital quite a bit with various illnesses. But then I worked at another very nice firm, Davenset, Partridge Wilson. They were very kind if you were genuinely ill. I did loads of different jobs there. My sister worked at various jobs since she'd left school. She worked at one or two firms. She went to Gent and Company. They needed somebody in the purchasing office, so she said, "Oh, you know, I'll ask for you", so I applied and got the job. I was there until I was made redundant. I didn't actually retire you know, it was sort that I was redundant before retirement. Like a lot of people. I think the last few years was, possibly not quite so good, it was taken over with different staff coming in and very fragmented, you know.

In the old days it was just like a big happy family. You had your Christmas dances and parties, it was a really lovely experience. But funnily enough, the last year I was there was the happiest. I worked at another branch, and then I went back to the main branch for the last year and it was very nice there. But unfortunately they closed the department down and even the manager went.

What year was that?

Yes, that was during all the redundancies in the 80s, yes. But I still find lots to do, committees and helping people and adult education, I'm back again tomorrow! Oh I love it there, it's absolutely lovely. It's at Wellington Street. I see they're expanding out into these sort of lunchtime things, where there are talks on different subjects. You don't have to book it. If you've got a free lunchtime you can go in you see, which is a lovely idea.

So really you've taken up education again.

Yes, I'm very interested in it, so if you know of anybody in education who'd like a bit more information about the old days, but just on a local level, you know.

So you've stayed in the last house you moved into?

Yes, my sister comes to stay. She was here recently, she'd have loved coming in, you know. Yes, she's married and lives in Cheshire.

Oh, so she's gone quite a distance away.

Yes. But you can get here quite quickly, they'd like me to go and stay for a week, you know.

But you've never wanted to move from here?

No, no I love it, yes. But, I'm afraid I do get a little bit upset about the smears that this area gets.


You know, it's from people who don't even know you. I'll perhaps just go and have a cup of tea somewhere, and I'll say, "It's a bit breezy, I've walked into town." They say, "Oh, and where do you live then?" "Highfields," "Oh, you mean Highfields! Nobody respectable lives there, why on earth do you live there?"

Well if anyone should know about it, it should be you!

Of course! Yes! I mean we've always had lovely people there.


But going back a few years, there was a bit of trouble with people drinking too much, it used to cause bits of arguments, but of course it was in the house then you see. I mean, they were the loveliest people when they'd not had a drink! That was the thing in those days.

So how would you say Highfields has changed over the time that you've lived there?

There's a lot of Asian people taken over the shops, and the newsagents is lovely. I think that is gorgeous, that newsagents. I mean, even from when white people had it, it's never changed a bit. It's really welcome to go in there, friends go in and have a little chat, and look what's on the front of the Mercury you know, and they say that if you're going to be a bit late they'll save things for you. They are lovely people in there, so that has never changed a bit, you know. But as I'm in town a lot I do quite a lot of grocery shopping in town. But the little corner shops are very nice in Gopsall Street, that's always been a grocery shop.

But you've lost things like Charnwood Street.

Oh, yes! When we had the survey for the improvements, a lot of us put, "Wish Charnwood Street would come back."

I see!

And strangely enough, that year I mentioned, the last year I was at the firm, which was a very happy year, there were about 6 or 7 gentlemen and a girl, well she'd be in her late twenties, she was West Indian, she was awfully nice to work with, she might perhaps have been 30, she remembered Charnwood, her mother taking her! So you see, she was a real Caribbean girl, and she loved what we loved.

there were some very poor people in those days. I hadn't started school, I was only about 3. The front room downstairs was a waiting room and these poor dear people used to come in with their coughs and colds, of course there was a lot of fog in those days. They used to sit there with the little card like that for the prescription. But of course my mother and my grandma, they had to look after it you see. They were up at the crack of dawn, cleaning the floor and cleaning everywhere out, and of course it was all under lock and key. My mother used to say the dispenser was a very nice lady, she'd unlock the door and my mother would go in with a cup of coffee for her. I was allowed to go in you know, I sat on this high stool.

Where did they get their prescriptions from then?

They all went to a special doctor.

I know you had to actually pay the doctor, didn't you?

Yes, you did but as I say, through these little health schemes. Of course, you see, I can remember up to 1948 it was still that scheme up to then.

Were you covered by a scheme yourself?

It was the Health Service then, W/I did have to go in the infirmary during the war, now I really can't think how that would be paid for.....I had a nose and throat operation, and I was in a week. I had to take my gas mask and ration book, if the sirens went they pushed all the beds to the middle of the ward and brought you an extra blanket, you know! Of course, as it was my throat I couldn't eat much, so they had one weeks rations for nothing!

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Mr Aidan Maguire came to Highfields in 1962.
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.

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.

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.

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.

Read the full interview

Marjorie Marston was born in Highfields in 1942.
I remember mine because when I was older and I went out to work I started on two pounds ten shillings a week, that was at the GPO. I went to work in the Drawing Office there.

And that was fairly adequate?

That was good and when I left work to have my son about eight years later I was on thirteen pounds something and that was a very good wage for a lady at the time.

we became Drawing Office Assistants, we helped the draughtsmen draw diagrams and underground cable diagrams for the telephones. We used to have quite a nice crowd together, you know. A lot of girls there, and men, the men were draughtsmen and we were Drawing Office Assistants but basically a lot of the jobs we did were very much the same, we just had a different title. The wages, as I said, started at 2 pounds and 8 shillings and after eight years I was on to 13 pounds something, which was considered quite good. We had quite a good time at in our work, we were what they called Civil Servants at the time, which meant that you were in a job for life if you where in it then, not now I'm afraid.

Around St Peters Road area where a lot of fairly rich people lived, my mother used to go and clean for someone in Highfield Street and I used to go along with her sometimes, elderly 1adies perhaps on their own. Not quite the same around there today I'm afraid.

Were they well paid, you know, people who used to go and clean?

I doubt if they were very well paid, I really don't know how much my mother used to get.

It was quite a rich area?

St Peters Road around there it used to be, yes.

when I left school I went straight into a job where as a lot of them don't these days; if there was unemployment it was probably because the person was sick or ill. Mostly you could find a job of some kind or another.

Not a lot of people went to university after school unless you had some money, you know money helps a lot to go there, so mostly you left school at 16 and went out and found a job and it was a lot easier than it is today.

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Mrs Margaret Porter came to Highfields in 1923.
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.

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 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.

Read the full interview

Brett Pruce was born in Highfields in 1955.
I remember when I was very young, there were still gas lights. I've got this memory in my mind of the gas man coming along putting the lights on and off. I must have been very young then, because after that they sort of increased the lighting over the years. There seemed to be just one electric light. When the electric lights came in, there was one at one end and one at the other. We always classed our Stoughton Street as our piece of the street. It was really in three segments with other roads going across. A bit further down Stoughton Street was the big Rank-Taylor Hobson factory where they made optical lenses. My mum worked there during the war, or for part of the war. And then the road went down Stoughton Street and ended up on the Melbourne Road near the Moat Boys' School.

Did your mother work when you were smaller?

Yes, from what I can remember. I couldn't really tell you whether she worked when I was really small, but when I was at school, yeah, she actually worked at Highfields Infants' School on Sparkenhoe Street. She actually did a spell as a lollipop lady there as well for a few years.

She must have been one of the first lollipop ladies?

Oh yeah, very much so. Yes, I am going back well into the Fifties.

What about your dad?

My dad was a miner when he came out of the army, and then he had an accident. He worked at Coalville. Then he worked as a Shunter on the trains at London Road Station.

Read the full interview

Mr Charan Singh came to Highfields in the 1950s.
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.

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.

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.

Read the full interview

Councillor Farook Subedar came to live in Highfields in 1972.
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.

Do you know of any local factories in Highfields. Can you tell me anything about them?

Yeah, there were plenty in actual fact. As I say, when Imperial Typewriters closed, most of that building slowly became occupied by mostly Asian entrepreneurs, they established their businesses there. The prominent ones which come to mind are Nyasa Garment, Adam & Co, Screen Objects, Supreme Textiles, they were all there. Everest Hosiery, Everest Garments, they established their businesses in Highfields and it has really brought prosperity to the area. We must commend the hard work and dedication of these Asian businessmen to really make Highfields what it is now. Otherwise if the businesses were not here, Highfields would have suffered severely, because there are no other big industries in this area. Most of the local residents of Highfields managed to get a job within the location.

Asian ladies hardly used to go out to work. Nowadays, they are fighting for their position which is a very healthy sign and I think we should encourage them. They're educated, they go out to the universities, they've been out to different institutions and they are establishing themselves. I'm happy for them.

Read the full interview

Mary Thornley came to live in Highfields in 1912.
You had pupils for the violin, in Highfields?


Was there much demand?

I had quite a few at one time. I can't remember how many but it was whilst I was still at college so I used to teach in the days between, not all day or anything like. I got into various orchestras in Leicester when I was quite young because I seemed to get on quite quickly .

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.

Did you ever go down to the Fiveways cinema on Melbourne Road?

Yes, I played there once or twice but not regularly. It was silent films and they had orchestras you see and I have got an idea there was a trio or something violin, cello and piano that played at the Melbourne cinema and I think I went and deputised once or twice for them either when they were ill or went on holiday or something.

My father also played for the silent films, he played at somewhere called the Empire in Wharf Street off Humberstone Road, don't suppose that's there now, but they had films there and then it turned into more like a music hall and he still played there with one or two other men, violin and cello and I think it was an organ or something similar.

What sort of music did they play at on those occasions?

Well with the silent films they used to try to fit the music to things that were going on, and of course they had to sort of switch from one piece to another rather quickly, sometimes when the scenes changed. I suppose they had some nice sentimental music for the love scenes.

I don't know what year it was I should think it might be during the first world war and we had King George V and Queen Mary to visit Taylor Hobsons factory and they came right past our back entrance, so we had a platform made underneath some trees and we had had a beautiful view of them going by. Queen Mary with her parasol and I don't remember the colour but I should think it was pale pink or something like that, that was quite an adventure and quite a lot of people came and joined us so that they could see.

Tell me something else. Did you ever have to go to see a doctor?

Yes, we went to the doctor on Evington Road. Later there was one that came to live more in the Stoneygate area but it was Dr Shira in Evington Road, Shira, MacNorton and somebody else.

Did they make house calls?

Yes, yes definitely.

Was he nice?

Yes I think so, yes.

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Mr Eric Tolton was born in Highfields in 1916.

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.

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

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.

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.

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!

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?


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.

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.

Read the full interview
Listen to the full interview

Mrs Muriel Wilmot came to live in Highfields in 1927.
What job did your father do?

Well he hadn't got a very good job. He was only on the maintenance staff and he only got 30 shillings a week, but of course in those days you could get your groceries for 10 shillings

my mother took me to get my first job at Freeman Hardy Willis, a shoe shop in Granby Street. A very nice shoe shop. I started there as a Junior at half a crown a week.

You liked it?

I liked it because I had to do everything. We had to scrape clean the carpet every morning. We scraped on our hands and knees the whole of that big shop. I had to arrange all the chairs, polish them all once a week. I had to get the meals, get the morning break, get the manager's dinner. I used to have to take all light fittings down they were screwed on four screws, take them all down and wash them all and put them all back. When the stock came in I had to fit it into the existing stock. I had to do that all on my own, and I made a good job of it, I loved every minute of it. I used to come home and I was so tired.

What time did you work, can you remember?

Oh the shops had long hours then. We worked until 6pm Monday and Tuesday, 7pm Wednesday,Thursday half day and Friday 8pm, Saturday 9pm. All that for half a crown a week until after three months it was raised to 5 shillings

Then I was called for the army , I had no choice. I could either go on the munitions or join the navy,the WAAFFS or the ATS, that is the army the navy or the air force. I went down to Ulverscroft Road where the silver barracks was. I went there for my selection test and I got put into the army and I went to my training at Terevera Camp, Northampton. I received my basic training at Northampton and then I was posted to the firing camp. I was the only one that had to go to a gun site and I was on one of the big computers that control the guns, where you could see all the information fed into it and then the gun is fired on that information, the ballistics and that sort of thing. I loved my army life.

I loved it because it was an education in itself. I learned more than I had ever known about anything. You learned to mix, to stick up for yourself and learned to live together. There were 24 girls in one barrack room. We were like sisters, it was lovely. We hadn't got our own friends so we used to go up to London and everywhere, all round the shows and everything.

We did the basic training; there was marching, learning how to be in the army, learning all the regimentation , learning to take orders, learning how to salute the officers, speak to an officer and all that type of thing, that took six weeks

Read the full interview

.Mrs Dorothy Woodford was born in Highfields in 1921.
Every Friday evening, we children would look out of the front window waiting for our dad to return from work. Friday was pay day, and on his way home dad would buy a couple of kippers for tea, a real tasty treat!

Soon after, I passed the Scholarship as it was called, and was accepted as a pupil at the Wyggeston Grammar School. This auspicious event coincided with my father's promotion at work. I can clearly recall my mother, unable to contain her delight telling us children, "Don't broadcast the fact, but your father's a 5 a week man now!" This put us above the threshold to claim for any help with school uniform, though I'm sure my parents would have been too proud to ask anyway! Somehow by scrimping and saving I went off to Wyggeston with all the necessary kit.

Although in retrospect I regret not making better use of my opportunity, I'm grateful for the all round education I received. We were proud of our school and our uniform, which far from causing class distinction did much, in my opinion, to iron out the obviously very different backgrounds of the pupils.

Read the full interview

De Montfort University