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

Mary Thornley came to live in Highfields in 1912.

12 August 1994, Valerie Lea recording an interview with Mrs Mary Thornley.

Would you mind telling me your name?

Mary Thornley.

How old are you?


So you were born in 1908?

Yes, that's right.

Can you tell me where you were born?

In Leicester, off the Evington Road, then I went to live in Highfields when I was four.

So that would have been 1912?


Where in Highfields did you live?

Evington Street.

What number, do you remember?


What can you remember of that house in Evington Street?

Well, it was quite a nice house actually. The house deteriorated later, but there was some rather nice houses on one side of Evington Street. It had bay windows upstairs and downstairs at the front and a passage from the front door halfway through. Two reasonably nice rooms and then a kitchen and scullery at the back and the passage went right through. And the garden went through to Stoughton Street. There were no houses right up to it at the back.

What did you have upstairs?

Four bedrooms. There was no bathroom in the early days but they did make one of the bedrooms into a bathroom later on, but mainly it was two large bedrooms and two smallish ones.

So when you were small you were bathed in a tin bath?


In front of the fire?

Probably, yes.

You don't remember?

Yes, I think I probably just remember it.

How was the house heated?

By coal fires I think in the early days, they did have two gas fires later on but it was coal fires then and a copper in the scullery for the washing, with a coal fire underneath, that and an outside toilet.

It was your own toilet though?

Yes. They were quite good sized houses actually.

Your mum did the washing inside the copper did she?


Boiled it up and then used a tub to wash with?

Yes, a dolly tub. What did they call the things with the legs, a mangle?

Were you the only child at home or did you have brothers and sisters?

No, I was the only one.

Can you remember much of your childhood before you went to school?

Well I suppose I did. I went to school at five and my grandparents lived with us as well so I had plenty of company before I started.

Where did you go to school?

I went to Melbourne School I suppose. It's still there I presume. Later on I went to a private school in Highfields Street, the corner of Gotham Street and Highfields Street, it was called Lindhurst College in those days.

Can you go back to Melbourne Road School, can you remember your first day there?

Well vaguely, I remember my early days there and one or two of the teachers that I got to know quite well. I think the Headmistress of the Junior School was a Miss Valentine, a real Victorian lady, she wore proper Victorian clothes, high necked blouses and things.

Was she strict?

Well she didn't actually teach me so I don't know, but there was a Miss Shires as well who taught me and I got to like her very much, she was very kind, she used to come and have tea with us sometimes at home.

Oh, so you knew her very well then?

Yes, I got to know her quite well yes.

Do you remember school days, what you did during a school day?

Not really, no. I know we did sewing, besides ordinary lessons, but I don't really remember much about that part of it. I went on into the other part of the school for a year or two before I left and went to the private school.

How old were you when you went to the private school?

Oh dear, I don't know! Perhaps nine or ten.

Did you used to stay for school dinners or did you walk home at lunch time?

Oh no, I didn't stay for school dinners. Of course the war came you see when I was six and we had half days because Medway Street School shared the other half of the day with our school.


Well I don't know why, maybe because of staff shortages.

That's the first person I have heard say that.


Do you remember much of the first world war. Does anything stand out in your mind?

Oh yes, Zeppelins and things like that. I got very scared. I used to go to bed and then come down again and sit outside the sitting room door until they found me sitting there in the cold. Yes, it was rather frightening.

Did they make a noise?

Yes they did. I can't remember any bombs or anything dropping there. They did bomb Evington Street quite near to my mother. I don't ever remember being hungry or anything, but I think that there was a shortage of some foods.

Do you remember anything about the flu epidemic after the first world war?

Well I remember hearing about people my parents knew who got it, and some of them died, but fortunately we didn't have it ourselves.

Did many of the children from school get it, some schools were closed weren't they?

No, I don't remember that. I don't remember the schools being closed or knowing any children who had it. Funnily enough it seemed to be older people who had it.

So you would say that you enjoyed Melbourne Road School, you didn't find it too strict?

Yes I think I enjoyed it. I was quite happy to go there and I made quite a few friends.

Did you walk to school?

Oh yes, it was very near you see, it was only just down to Melbourne Road from our house.

There was no traffic of course?

I don't remember anything much about the traffic, no.

And you walked on your own and you came back on your own?

I had a friend who used to call for me every morning.

But there was no worry about you going on your own?

No, I can't remember being taken except perhaps the first day. I don't even remember that but I would think I probably was.

And then when you left Melbourne Road you said you went to a private school?

On Highfields Street, yes.

Can you tell me something about it?

Well it was run by three sisters called Thompson. There was Miss Thompson, she was the eldest, Dorothy I think her name was but she was always known as Miss Thompson. The other two were called Miss Kathleen, Miss Eveline. Their parents were fairly elderly. They partly ran the school but they didn't have anything to do with the teaching. They lived in the school house. It is quite a big house three storeys high and didn't have much garden either, none at the front. I think there was a sort of school yard at the back. Yes I quite enjoyed being there. There was quite a lot of nice girls went there.

It was just girls?

Yes, there might have been the odd little boy in the kindergarten but I was older so I didn't come in contact with them. It wasn't like the Collegiate, which definitely did have a kindergarten for boys and girls, that was in College Street, well it's still there.

Did you wear a school uniform?

Yes, navy blue gym slips, beige cream blouses and blue and green striped tie collars. School bands on the hats were the same colours as the ties. I think it was a black hat in the winter but it was a Panama in the summer.

Was it a felt hat in the winter?

Yes the black one was yes. I do remember we used to go to the Victoria Park Tennis courts for our tennis lessons and if we had our blazers on, we had to wear gloves and if we didn't have our blazers on we had to carry our gloves. We walked in a crocodile line to Victoria Park. The courts are still there I think, not the ones near the pavilion but the ones a bit further a long nearer the University.

Can you remember what other subjects you were taught at school?

Well, all the usual things I think I don't think there were any exceptional things.

Did you do music?

Well, yes. By that time, I was playing the violin. I started the violin when I was seven you see, I didn't take any private lessons I'm not sure whether they gave any, I can't remember but they had singing lessons, that sort of thing you know. They were quite musical people so I am sure we gave one or two concerts in what was called the Racabite Hall in Dover Street, now the Little Theatre. It was an old chapel or something which was converted into the theatre later on. We did one or two concerts for the parents there, it was used for other musical things. I remember the musical festival in Leicester, they used that hall for some of their competitions, like the Edward Wood Hall which is now the Fraser Nobel Hall, Victoria Road Church at the corner of University Road was another hall that was used for the competitions. De Montfort Hall was then used for final concerts of the Musical Festival.

Going back to Lindhurst College, have you got any idea how many girls would have been there, how big it was?

No, I can't really remember. They had two or three different classes, different years I expect with quite small numbers in each class. I shouldn't think there were perhaps more than fifty or sixty girls altogether, just making a guess.

What about the teachers then, did the Thompsons teach you themselves or did they have other teachers as well?

Well they didn't teach French, we had a French woman. First there was quite an elderly teacher who was definitely French. Then we had a younger girl who was also French. I don't remember any other languages. I suppose there were some but that was probably the compulsory one. We went to the YMCA gymnasium which was down in their basement and we had a Mr Robson who took us for gym. He lived in Highfields Street nearly opposite to the school. He also had some association with the Wyggeston Boys, he probably taught the Wyggeston boys their gym or something. Quite a nice old gentlemen. A lot of those houses just there were bombed in the second war but I think the school building is still there, but it won't be a school now.

Is it the one that was called Gotham House, right on the corner of Gotham Street and Highfields Street, the big house?

Yes, it's still there. I think it was turned into apartments because I knew somebody who lived there in the downstairs room.

What age were you when you left there?

About fourteen, I didn't stay at school after fourteen.

What did you do then?

Well I had already started to take violin lessons with a man who was the leader of the HallŽ Orchestra in Manchester at that time. I went up perhaps every fortnight for some private lessons with him. I was taken to Manchester by my grandmother and then he suggested to my father that I should go on to the College of Music in Manchester which I did. Of course I still learned the violin from him because he was a professor there and he had been a pupil there as well.

What made you learn the violin in the first place?

Well I think my father wanted me to learn and I had been promised to somebody as a pupil when I was born. I just took it for granted that I was going to learn and as my father was a musician, he taught the piano, he was a great help to me you see.

Did you father give piano lessons then?

Yes, in Evington Street. He played at the Theatre Royal when it was in Horsefair Street and he played in Wyn's Oriental Cafe which was in Market Place.

Will you tell me your father's name.?

His name was Thomas Staniforth Ashmell. I was Mary Ashmell, yes that's right -
M E L L not W E L L, we used to get that quite often. I don't think there were any other Ashmells.

Was there much demand for his piano lessons?

Oh yes I think so. He seemed to have a lot of pupils coming all the time.

Did you not learn the piano from him?

I learned a little bit from him when I was very small and then I gave it up when I started the violin. I had to do it as a second instrument when I went to Manchester but I didn't do very much. I didn't have time to do that and I had to travel twice a week to Manchester from sixteen to twenty-one by myself. A sixteen year old wouldn't be allowed to go now, but in those days it would be alright.

So you were travelling to Manchester to the Royal College of Music to train as a musician?


What did you do the rest of the week?

Practise. I practised an awful lot, you have to if you are going to do well with things. Then I started teaching pupils later on and I played a lot in Leicester.

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 .

Was there many orchestras?

Well, I played in the Leicester Symphony Orchestra when it first started in the 1920s and I stayed in it until only a year or two ago. I was the leader of it in the latter part of the thirty years I was there but that's nothing to do with Highfields is it?

Well no, but it's still interesting.

Were there any local musical groups, local to Highfields?

Well yes, there was the Leicester Philharmonic Society which is still going. The Chorus you know, as well as the Leicester Symphony Orchestra and various small orchestras. Most people played in the different orchestras you know.

These small groups, did they play for concerts or just for their own entertainment?

Yes, there would be some concerts given. I used to play at a lot of concerts to do with churches and for the congregations and choirs in various churches so there was plenty of scope really.

Did you go to any of the local churches?

I went to St Peter's Church in Highfields Street and I was married there as well in 1933. My mother and grandmother went there all the time they both did quite a lot for the church one way or another.

Do you remember any church outings?

I went to the Sunday School in Gopsall Street School, we used the Sunday School in there. I suppose we must have had one or two little outings I don't really remember much about those. I don't suppose they would have got away with having no outings.

Did you belong to Guides or anything like that?

No, I didn't do anything in that way. I went to quite a lot of things connected with St Peter's Church which took place in their parish room which is joined to the church, little social evenings and that sort of thing, I joined into whatever there was. I used to go to church on Sunday mornings with some girlfriends. I remember various Vicars but not their names.

Do you feel then that people made their own entertainment?

Oh yes, yes I think they did. We used to do a lot at home on Sunday evenings we would have people in for tea and then sang and played. Mother sang a bit, she wasn't a professional, but she had quite a nice voice and I used to have to play my violin.

Did your grandparents play anything?

No, they were interested in music but they didn't play. My father definitely was, he made it his work you know.

Now then, can we go back to when you first started violin lessons?

Yes, I was seven years old and I went for my first lesson. The gentlemen who was going to teach me he lived in Sparkenhoe Street opposite to Lincoln Street, he was fairly elderly and he had forgotten all about me and I came back home in tears. So I had to go back the next day and have my first lesson, the day after my seventh birthday. He lived just above Conduit Street, Upper Conduit Street corner. Later I went to his son who was a friend of my father that I had been promised to you see, he lived in Lincoln Street but he was rather busy when I started so I suppose I was farmed off to father to start with.

What was their name?

Munston. He was the headmaster of the Alderman Newton Boys' School until it turned into the Grammar School.

And then you went to the son in Lincoln Street, again he taught from his house did he?

Yes I suppose. I stopped going to the Munston family when I was about twelve. Then I went to Manchester, but not the college until I was sixteen. You didn't need any 'A' levels or 'O' levels to get in to the music colleges then, so I went at sixteen.

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.

You were saying that you went to see if you could join the Orchestra.

Yes. They had rehearsals on Sunday mornings or afternoons, sometimes at 10.00am in the morning sometimes 2.00pm in the afternoon for three hours and Malcolm Sargeant was the conductor then. It was just after he qualified as a conductor and he was very young, it was when he lived at Melton Mowbray and was the Organist at Melton Mowbray Church, he conducted right through the second world war even when he went to London he still came down and conducted the Symphony Orchestra, but then he got much too busy in the second world war and he was becoming very well known then, he was Dr Malcolm Sargeant then. He hadn't been knighted at that time.

You led a very busy life, did you have time to mix with youngsters or your own age?

Yes, yes I did, mainly through the church which I have mentioned before, like little dances and that sort.

If you went out, did you ever go to the pictures?

Oh yes, I went to the Evington cinema quite a bit and I used to go to things in Leicester like amateur dramatics or musicals, that sort of thing. My mother took part in two lots of Leicester Amateurs then, one was called "Rip Van Winkle" and I was quite a little girl then and "Up Pompeii", I forget who was the composer of that, those were the two she took part in. I had some photographs of her in her costumes.

Were there any in Highfields, amateur dramatic societies who put on performances?

I don't think so, no not really, I suppose probably a lot of people who lived in the Highfields district might be in them but I don't think it took place in the district.

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 can understand if you are playing a piano but if you are playing in a trio, how did the three of you manage to play the same thing?

I never played regularly so I didn't know all the background, but I imagine that possibly the musical director would have to see the film through and decide what to play and they would cut from one piece to the next rather quickly, but of course it was easy enough if there was only a pianist. My father did quite a bit playing alone and of course he would be able to switch over without bothering about the music but when there are two or three people together it's not quite so easy is it? But as far as I remember that's how they tried to play suitable music for the scene changes.

And the music hall that your father played in, would that have been musical songs?

Yes, that's right.

What sort of customers went to the music hall?

Oh, I don't know about that, I really don't know.

I didn't realise that we had a music hall actually!

Well, the Palais I think was definitely a music hall because they had some quite well known people there. Vester Tilly was a male impersonator, she's spoken of nowadays I know. I can't remember all the people by name but it was definitely a music hall because you where either the top of the bill or if you were at the bottom you were the next best. D'oyly Carte and people like that would come to the Opera House they wouldn't go the De Montfort Hall in those days. They used to have ballet there and I did once play for a ballet company there for a week. I remember doing Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, they did that and the usual ballets and they were very good. Of course you couldn't see much of what was going on when you were playing down in the pit.

That's really interesting. When you finished college at Manchester, what did you do then?

I still continued playing at various things in Leicester and I did more teaching I suppose, and then I used to go away from Leicester sometimes to play in other orchestras. I went to Lincoln about three times a year. One or two people went from Leicester and one or two from Nottingham to boost up their orchestra. We gave one orchestral concert in October and then did the Messiah just before Christmas in the cathedral and then the St Matthew's Passion also in the cathedral about a week before Easter, that was a regular thing. It was very nice because it's a beautiful cathedral and the music sounds very good in there, they had players from all over the place.

So music became your job of work?

Yes. I still went on playing after I got married, but not to the same extent and then Olga was born the year after I was married but I still played in the Symphony Orchestra all the time. My husband was very interested in that, he played in it and he was also the Secretary of the Symphony Orchestra for a good many years organising concert programmes and that sort of thing.

Was that how you met your husband, through the orchestra?

Yes, yes it was really. He was a printer in Bowling Green Street, his father and brother had the business before him just opposite Bishop Street next door to Morgan Squires as it was then.

It used to go through to Market Street, I thought it was still there, I don't know.

You said you got married at St Peter's Church, what year was that?


And did you stay in Leicester then?

Yes, we went to live in Guilford Road, Stoneygate and I lived there until I came here.

To Queniborough?

Yes. We came out here about twenty-three years ago.

Oh right, and all this time you remained involved in the Symphony Orchestra?

Yes, yes one way or another. I taught at the Wyggeston Girls' School for a long time. I went to help them out in the second world war when the person who was teaching faded out for some reason or another. I was asked if I would go and help them out temporarily and then I stayed twenty odd years, but not full-time, it was only part-time. I used to visit certain days of the week and I enjoyed that very much but other than that I kept on playing of course but not as much as I did before I was married, you can't do everything can you?

Can we go right back to when you were a young girl of ten or eleven, can you remember what it was like to actually live where you lived, what the street looked like and what the people where like around you?

Well, I have described the house that I lived in. There were one or two quite different style houses before Oxendon Street. But the other side was quite different, they were smaller houses right on the street, the others were palisaded, they had a small bit of garden at the front and a hedge or a fence or something. I think the fences that they had when I was a small child were iron ones which had to be removed for use in the first world war. Then they had little walls and wooden fences or something like that instead. But the others were smaller houses on the other side, they were right on the street. We had some quite nice neighbours, I can't remember a great deal about them really. There were other musical people along there as well; a Swiss man and he played the violin and viola. He played in the Symphony Orchestra, rather a flamboyant gentleman.

Were there children of your age down there?

Not many. The girl who used to call for me every morning to go to Melbourne Road School she lived in Stoughton Street, higher up near to Sparkenhoe Street and so she and one or two others up there I knew, but there weren't any immediately around us. I think they seemed to be more older people there.

Was it a street of working people or professional people?

Well a bit of both really. The ladies nextdoor to us; one worked in Lorrimar's factory I think, I can't remember what she did but she certainly did go out to work and then there were the elderly parents who lived there. The house on the otherside I can't remember who was there when I was very small but later on a family came and they had several daughters and sons, nice people but they weren't my age. I think there were some girls a bit lower down the street on our side called Collin. I think the family were decorators or something and they went through from one street to the next because their decorating premises were at the back.

Did you every play out on the street?

Not very much. I don't think it was thought a good idea to do that but there was plenty of gardens to play in and I did have quite a lot of games there. Sounds as if I didn't have much of a childhood, but I did, it's just that I can't remember anything much of interest until I got older.

It was obviously a happy childhood then really even if nothing stands out.


Did you remember the Tannery that was just down the road from where you lived, Briggs Tannery? Was it working when you were living there?

I don't remember it. I remember Taylor Hobsons Factory in Evington Street. Infact I was talking to somebody about it the other day, it isn't there now because I know somebody who works for Taylor Hobson which is somewhere else in Leicester.

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.

You don't remember what the occasion was?

No, I can't remember. They did come to see the Taylor Hobsons factory but I don't know what for. Now they go to just to two or three places. I remember the Queen coming to open the Queen's Hall at the University and then she went to the De Montfort Hall. Mother and I had tickets so we went to see her. That's the only time I've seen the Queen in person, I saw George VI and Queen Elizabeth once near the Victoria Park Gates but I don't know quite where they went it might have been something to do with the University, but that was much later on.

Well, let's go back. Did you ever go shopping with your mum when you were little?

Yes, I expect so.

Can you remember any of the shops that you went to?

I used to go to Lee's in Humberstone Gate, opposite where Lewis's was, that was a good shop. And my grandmother used to go to Grices and Cordells in High Street. They were just past Lloyds Bank, I think Grices is there now but I don't know what it's called. I remember them putting money in little boxes and pulling a string and it ran along the to the cash desk in the middle, it was rather fun!

It was always draper's shops that had those wasn't it?

That's right yes.

If your mum did food shopping, did she do that locally?

Well she used to go to the Co-op in Conduit Street, my grandmother went in to Leicester to do shopping at a shop called Johnsons near the clock tower. There was also Wand's Chemists on the corner which changed to Timothy White. I remember going there with her and you sat down and gave your order and they sent it to you. I did that later on, after I was married and I worked at Raymonts, opposite the Grand Hotel, that was a very nice provision shop. You could sit down and give your order there which was nice.

Now they used to say that streets had a shop on every corner. Were there any shops on Evington Street where you lived?

Yes, there was a greengrocers at the corner of Evington Street and Oxendon Street, I think that sold everything.

No fish and chip shops?

Well, I think there was one further down on the next corner.

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.

What about a dentist, did you get taken to a dentist?

I can't remember where I went to at first, I went to one or two different dentists. I don't remember very much about dentists until later on and then I went very regularly.

Did you have pets at home?

When I was a little girl we had a mongrel Irish Terrier called Mac who was rather fun. Then later on my father had one after the other. He had black Retrievers and the first one was called Jack, he wasn't a puppy but the others were puppies and my father named them both Sultan. They were great fun, they used to do all sorts of tricks.

Did you ever need a vet?

Must have done I should think but I don't remember.

There used to be a vet on the corner of Lincoln Street I think.

Really? I don't remember that.

Can you remember the trams coming to Highfields? They used to run up Melbourne Road.

No I don't think so.

You don't remember the trams running up Melbourne Road?


So if you wanted to get into town, did you walk?

I think so. It wasn't really awfully far you know. Down Sparkenhoe Street and you were at the station you see, and then you're in town nearly aren't you?

Of course there were tram cars when we used to go to Stoneygate terminus from somewhere on the London Road. Sometimes we would go for a tram ride on Sunday evenings which was quite nice. They had opened-topped tramcars and you pushed the seat the other way when you returned. There was a church in Saxby Street called Saxby Street Methodist with a little hall fixed to it. I don't think the hall was bombed altogether but that was turned into a school, I don't know if it is still there.

There is a new school there now.

Really? I haven't been that way very much for a long time. The last time I went down Evington Street was certainly since my husband died about twelve years ago. I was playing at the Little Theatre for the week and we had a matinee in the afternoon and there was a lot of time to kill in between so I thought I'd go and see what they were doing up there, and of all things I walked from the Sparkenhoe Street end and the first house that was pulled down was number 44, my house.

Now you lived in the Highfield Street area did you know anything about the Jewish community that existed there?

Well I knew one or two people and the fur people. I don't know where their shop was, probably in Granby Street but the family lived in Upper Tichbourne Street which goes from Tichbourne Street to Biddulph Street. Going back to Evington Road I've just remembered that there was a Jewish family living opposite to my mother, their name was Baguel. I think and they had two daughters, very attractive daughters, and I once went to see one of them get married in the Synagogue on a Sunday, it's the only time that I've seen a Jewish wedding.

Tell me about it.

There was a canopy over the ceremony and the men all sit downstairs and they keep their hats on and the women sit upstairs in the gallery.

Even for a wedding?

Yes I think so. I don't know why they should.

The bride and groom sit under the canopy?

Yes, yes I don't remember any bridesmaids or anything but I suppose there were some. I also knew the Sirkins who lived in Tichbourne Street for a long time because I got quite friendly with Mrs Marjorie Sirkin. I don't know whether she is still alive but she moved to live in the Albany flats on the London Road, above Mayfield Road. I can't bring to mind any of the others who lived around there but there is something opposite the Synagogue in Highfield Street that is dedicated to a Jewish person isn't there?

It's the Day Centre, I think.

Oh Hart and Levys. That was a factory on Swain Street just near where Swain Street Bridge is below Hillcrest. A big factory, I don't know whether that's still there now, I think it might be hosiery. There used to be some steps that you could go down from the Swain Street bridge to get to Queen Street because Queen Street itself I know has been all pulled down and rebuilt. Are those steps still there?

I don't think so, I don't know them.

I used to go down there when I went to hear my father play at the pictures at the Empire. Of course you could get to Humberstone Road quite quickly by going that way you know.

Were there many factories around there when you were young?

Not really. It was a very big factory, that one behind the Hillcrest. I think I there was another one quite close to it but I can't remember, lower down towards where the Police Headquarters are now. I can remember that all being altered but I don't know so much about the more recent alterations, not living in that part now, but it's very difficult to visualise when you travel by car and go through all those back roads to get to Humberstone Road and Uppingham Road, what it was like when I was young.
My father had an allotment in Green Lane Road. He used to go with his father. I think they used to keep chickens but they certainly had a vegetable allotment down there and I can remember walking down Green Lane Road when it was more like a country road you know with trees, nothing like it is now.

You walked from your house to Green Lane Road?

Yes, yes. We used to in the first world war, my mother and grandmother used to visit the soldiers at North Evington War Hospital which was is the General Hospital now, it was an Infirmary place before the war I think. In the first world war it was quite a big hospital and we used to walk there from Evington Street, straight through down to Melbourne Road, up Derwent Street to Mere Road, down Parkvale Road which is at the side of Spinney Hill, cross over and you are at the corner of Gwendolen Road, walk up Gwendolen Road and your at the hospital main gates. They used to go every Thursday and Saturday or every Thursday and Sunday I think. I used to go sometimes with them and then one or two of the men if they were well enough to get away were allowed to come and have tea and one of the nurses came with them once or twice. I remember one man he came from Nottingham and his name was Waterson, its funny how you remember these names isn't it? And then there was an Australian soldier who visited them after he had been back to Australia and he came to see them after when he came to England again. That was all from the first world war but they certainly had these men in their blue suits with their red ties, they wore flannel like suits.

When you begin to think about it, you have got a lot to reminisce about haven't you?

Yes, yes.

Do you remember anybody from the workhouse. Do you remember seeing people from Hillcrest which was the workhouse previously, it must have been still the workhouse when you were young?

No, except if you went there, it seemed to have a very peculiar smell.

What of?

I don't know.

I have been to some funny places in my life, I've been into the prison more than once and played there, my husband took a little group of singers that he was conducting at the time, he wasn't a professional musician but he did conduct a bit and you will never guess what they did, they did "Trial by Jury" and of course the men were most interested. Do you know anything about Gilbert & Sullivan's Trial by Jury?
Well you know what it's like then don't you? Of course they were very tickled. They had all these concerts in the chapel and they were very narrow and they had to sit up very straight because they were so narrow, they couldn't loll. I don't suppose they are there now I suppose they have easy chairs now. They took us round the place and showed us the kitchens and things where the food was being done and it was quite interesting.

This is Leicester Prison that you are talking about is it?

Yes, yes you go in the big door and they lock that before they open the next one. They still manage to get out though don't they? Don't know how they climb those gates and walls, do you?


De Montfort University