We could hear the bombs falling…

Earlier this week there was an article in the Leicester Mercury about the bombs that fell in the Charnwood Street area in November 1940. This featured Greta Taylor nee Wenlock, who was eight years old at the time and attended Charnwood Street School. The family lived close to Grove Road, which was ‘turned into a huge crater. The hole in the road was absolutely massive and the houses around it were rubble’. Greta also remembers having to carry a gas mask to school every day, ‘and there were drills to make sure we could put them on properly’.

Bomb damage in Grove Road, November 1940

Bomb damage in Grove Road, November 1940

One of the people she recalls was the landlord of the Black Boy pub nearby, Mr Parker, who brought her a ticket for a street party once Victory in Europe was announced. She was ‘desperate to go out and join one of the parties’ – but the ticket was for a party in Sherrard Street, and when she got there she wasn’t allowed to join in as she lived across from the street rather than in it…

There are other memories of World War 2 in the Charny area at https://cib2.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/charny-at-war/ and https://cib2.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/more-about-charny-at-war/.

Everyday complaints…

Cough medicine adI’ve recently been loaned a 1930 medical guide to treating ‘everyday complaints’ by the United Chemists Association Limited (UCAL), designed to be given away to customers by dispensing chemists. Those in Charnwood Street in the 1930s – W. Dalby at 165/167 and Wands at 215 – probably handed out similar publications, so it’s interesting to see what sort of advice was given.

A lot of it was based on using patent UCAL products, such as its ‘Nit Ointment’ for head lice or its ‘Magic Toothache Cure’ – though it did also give lots of advice on avoiding toothache in the first place (‘a mere rubbing of the front surfaces with a little pleasantly flavoured paste once a day is next door to useless’). ‘Chilblain Paint’ was ‘sure to give relief’, but plenty of ‘nourishing food was also recommended, including as much fat, butter and cream ‘as can be assimilated’. Lanoline was suggested for chapped hands, and liquid paraffin for ‘Health and Happiness’ – an ‘intestinal lubricant which surpasses all others. Nothing harmful! Nothing habit forming! Just the simple way to good health!’.

Joy Walk bath saltsSome of the advice may seem amusing or even positively dangerous (like putting flour or bicarbonate of soda on burns ‘to exclude the air from the affected parts’, or treating convulsions in children by putting them in a hot bath and dosing them with castor oil), but there was no National Health Service at this time, and many working class people found it difficult to pay the fees charged by doctors. These publications and the medicines that could be bought much more cheaply from a chemist or corner shop were an important part of day to day healthcare, along with the traditional ‘home remedies’ passed down from older generations.

It’s also interesting to see that obesity was a concern even then, with advice to avoid sweets, pastry, butter, fat, meat, potatoes and ‘above all, sugar’, while indigestion was said to be ‘one of the most common of modern complaints… due in great measure to the high state of civilisation in which we live, and the complicated nature of the occupations which many of us have to perform… Common sense will dictate at once that more regular exercise and a thorough mastication of the amount of food consumed are first essentials’. Failing this, the ‘Sutu Indigestion Cure’ was ‘undoubtedly’ the next best thing.

Cholera, typhoid and dysentery were by then rare in Britain thanks to clean water supplies and improved sanitation, but still featured in the guide – dysentery being ‘most prevalent in malarial districts abroad, and is very prone to occur in military camps’. The guide also had a section on ‘Poisons and their Antidotes’, accompanied by the advice to ‘CALL IN A DOCTOR’. This suggests that some poisons like arsenic, strychnine and lead salts were much more freely available at the time than we might imagine. Acute alcohol poisoning also appears in the list, the symptoms described as ‘leering vacant expression, giddiness, pupils of eyes dilated, pulse strong, skin sweating’. The suggested antidotes were cold douches to the head, ‘rouse patient and keep awake’, giving strong tea or coffee, and ‘when recovered keep warm’.

The absence of sun screens or remedies for sunburn is probably less a reflection on the British weather than the fact that only a minority of people could yet afford to go abroad on holiday. Some of the ‘household hints’ at the end of the booklet may not be so useful in the 21st century, either, when lifestyles have changed so much in other ways. How many of us beat our carpets nowadays, or need to clean our silver or gold embroidery, or rub Vaseline onto the joints of our umbrella on the grounds that it is ‘far too expensive an item to neglect’? – though a tip for getting rid of the smell of paint may still be handy (sprinkle a handful of chopped hay on a bucketful of water and let it stand in the room).

hills chemistIn Charnwood Street itself, Hill’s had taken over as chemists from W. Dalby by the time of the Second World War. If you’d like to visit an earlier blog about Hill’s, see https://cib2.wordpress.com/tag/hills-chemist/.




A friend of the working classes…

Something from the past…

On 30 March 1914 the Leicester Daily Post reported the unexpected death at the age of 63 of one of the Borough Councillors for the Charnwood ward, Dr Clement Frederick Bryan, who lived at ‘Montello’, 22 Victoria Park Road. Described as a man of the ‘highest character, remarkable professional skill, and many admirable personal qualities’, he was a surgeon and Medical Officer of the Leicester Workhouse for over 30 years from 1880 – a role in which he was said to be ‘nothing if not efficient and painstaking’.

Inmates of the Leicester Workhouse in Swain Street in the late 1890s (Clive Harrison)

Inmates of the Leicester Workhouse in Swain Street in the late 1890s (Clive Harrison)

As an institution, the Workhouse was so dreaded by the poor of the town in unemployment, sickness or old age that the abolition of the Poor Laws in 1929 and its later renaming as Hillcrest Hospital never quite managed to overcome the stigma of the past. Dr Bryan, however, was said to be quite capable of ‘holding his own’ with the Poor Law Guardians who controlled the Workhouse, and to be ‘a favourite with his pauper patients’, who no doubt included residents of the Charnwood Street area. This may have helped rather than hindered his political career as ‘an ardent, active and popular member of the Liberal Party’ after his election to the Council in 1898. His death, said the Leicester Daily Post:

will be generally regretted, irrespective of party and class… [he] did specially useful service in both the Council and committee-room; especially as a member of the medical profession. That he was remarkably regular in his attendance will be realised by taking the first official roll-call at hand. During the year 1898-9 he was present at as many as 159 of the 175 meetings to which he was summoned. Of these 39 were at the 42 sittings of the Sanitary Committee… His counsels, therefore, were as regular as they were thorough and valuable’.

Part of the Towers Hospital, originally opened in 1877 as the Borough Lunatic Asylum (Colin Hyde).

Part of the Towers Hospital, originally opened in 1877 as the Borough Lunatic Asylum (Colin Hyde).

He also sat on the Water Committee and Lunatic Asylum Committee, where it was said that he ‘likewise did excellent work’. He served for some time as Hon Surgeon to the Leicester Volunteers, and as ‘certifying surgeon’ and investigator of possible negligence in factory accidents in the town, in which role he was described as ‘a friend of the working classes’*. Although ‘a staunch Liberal… [he] never showed a partisan spirit, and always took a very broad-minded view of all matters that came under his consideration. His speeches in the Town Council, though not frequent, were always listened to with attention, and they always carried weight’.

Dr Bryan had no fear of ending his own days in the Workhouse. He left an estate of £20,835 2s. 6d, with his son Clement Arthur Douglas Bryan, also a surgeon, inheriting his share and interest in his practice and all the property associated with it, along with two family pictures and a silver salver. In his will, made in 1910, he also left £50 to his groom – a reminder that horse-drawn vehicles were still the rule rather than the exception in Edwardian Leicester. It’s perhaps worth mentioning as well that in 1906 the old Workhouse Infirmary in Swain Street was replaced by the New North Evington Poor Law Infirmary – the ‘Palace on the Hill’, as it was popularly known, which eventually became the Leicester General Hospital.

*Jonathan Reinarz and Leonard Schwarz, Medicine and the Workhouse (University of Rochester Press, 2013). For more information about the Leicester Workhouse, see http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Leicester/.

Many thanks to Colin Hyde for the photograph of The Towers, and to Clive Harrison for providing the Workhouse image. Clive is the author of In Sickness and in Health:  a history of Leicester’s health and ill-health, 1900-50 (Leicester City Council, 1999).

Happy holidays…

Does anyone have memories to share of going on holiday from  Humberstone station on Uppingham Road in Leicester?

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the July fortnight holiday in Leicester, changed from August to the first two weeks in July in 1965 after a ballot of local ‘workpeople’. Holidays were often cheaper in July, and it also had the advantage of avoiding the ‘great rush’ that the Leicester Mercury described just before the holiday fortnight in August 1956, when over 90% of rail tickets were already sold at local travel agents, and up to five million vehicles were expected to be on the roads nationally.

All the trains going to Skegness and other east coast seaside resorts in 1965 left from London Road station, but for years before this many of them left from the Great Northern railway station on Belgrave Road. This also had a station not far from Charnwood Street on Uppingham Road, saving people a journey into the city and out again – but it wasn’t just the factories that shut down in Leicester during the July fortnight.


Site of the railway station on Uppingham Road (Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons])

Some offices and other businesses also closed, buses ran on a reduced service, and the city seemed almost deserted at times. More than 100,000 people left Leicester on holiday in July 1965, the Leicester Mercury reported, with ‘a cool £1 million pounds’ in their pockets, including holiday pay. Around 10,000 of them travelled on the 19 East Coast ‘specials’ from London Road station, and ‘everyone had a seat’ thanks to a free ‘book in advance’ scheme (3 July 1965).

Most people did travel by rail, either because they didn’t own a car or to avoid what the Mercury described as the ‘nightmare drive to the coast. ‘Is it safe? Is it necessary?…’, it asked in 1964 of the ‘Friday night rush down to the South coast’ at the start of a holiday week:

The Friday is bound to be a day of tension – for mother who has to cope with packing and meals to eat on the way; for the children who are excited at thoughts of what seems like endless days by the sea; and for father who is expected to do a day’s work, rush home and change, load up the car, and then start on a drive of 200 or more miles, a good slice of it during the hours of darkness… [It] can often become a nightmare for the man behind the wheel (7 July 1964).

The weather on the East Coast for the July fortnight in 1965 was said to be ‘improving after a mixed fortnight’ – but there was no need to miss out on news from home as holidaymakers could still buy an edition of the Leicester Mercury (and maybe the Leicester Mail as well?) in Skegness and other popular resorts. Some people from Leicester were also venturing further afield for their holidays by the 1960s: the Spanish resorts of Lloret, Sitges and Torre were said to be popular destinations, along with those on the Italian Adriatic coast.

Humberstone station closed to holiday traffic in 1962, but as a footnote, there was another station on Humberstone Road, closer to the city centre, which was part of the midland mainline. This closed in 1968 and was later sold by British Rail to Leicestershire County Council for £1. It was rebuilt on the Battlefield Line at Shenton, near to Market Bosworth – see the picture below.

The former Humberstone Road station, rebuilt at Shenton station on the Battlefield Line (Colin Hoskins - Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

The former Humberstone Road station, rebuilt at Shenton station on the Battlefield Line (Colin Hoskins – [CC BY-SA 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons])





Let Worthington’s feed you…

Worthington spoonThis interesting little item was sent to me by someone who had read one of my Charnwood Street blogs. You may recognise it as a tea caddy spoon, featuring ‘Sam’ and ‘Pete’ who appeared in adverts for the local grocers Worthington’s Cash Stores – wearing white jackets, aprons and hats, alongside the slogan ‘Let Worthington’s feed you’. They were based on two actual employees – Alf Pickering, a warehouseman, and Tom Rainbow, who worked in the company’s office. In one advert in the 1930s they were shown scrubbing a cow, ‘making sure of good wholesome beef for our Beef Sausage – 6d per pound’. On another occasion someone complained about an advert offering ‘Peas, Perfect Peas, Picked from Perfect Pods’ – on the grounds that the company was using the hymn ‘Peace, Perfect Peace’ in a disrespectful way (Leicester Mercury, 12 August, 2013).

Worthington’s was founded in 1891 by Charles T. Worthington, and had a branch not far from Charnwood Street at 256 Humberstone Road. A history of the company* also relates the ‘red letter day’ between the two World Wars when Worthington delivery boys progressed from handcarts to bicycles – although these caused some problems of their own. One boy, Ern West, recalled a close encounter with a horse and cart that caused several hams to fall off the bike and roll down the street, with him in hot pursuit. After retrieving most of them, he took them back to the depot and was told by the manager to ‘wash them in the back of the shop… no more was said about the matter’. Eggs packed in paper bags had to be ‘lifted delicately out of the basket before riding over the bumps’, but sometimes the bikes fell or were blown over when they were parked to make a delivery. Eggs were rationed during World War II, so Harry Johnson, a Worthington’s delivery boy at that time, used to carry them in his pocket for safety – but ‘sometimes came off his bike and found he had a pocket of scrambled eggs’. He also recalled being rewarded with a glass of ginger wine when dropping off the delivery at the Friar Tuck pub in Woodgate on a cold winter’s morning… (Leicester Mercury, 7 February 1998).

The last Worthington’s shop closed in 1966, but people using them in the 1930s remembered them as ‘old style shops with sawdust on the floor and the smell of cheese, tea and biscuits in the air… old-fashioned bacon slicers… ornate carved tills, but mostly… the friendly and courteous manner in which they were served’ (Leicester Mercury, 12 August 2013).

Many thanks to Bramwell Rudd for sending me the spoon.

* Let Worthington’s Feed You: the History Of Worthington’s Cash Stores, by P. Grundy (1997)

Mick Basten – Charnwood Street boxer…

After posting my previous item about the Victorian boxer Joseph Collins, I remembered that the professional boxer Mick Basten lived in Charnwood Street, between Flint Street and Fareham Street. According to the BoxRec website at http://boxrec.com/index.php, he was active as a heavyweight between 1960 and 1964, and took part in 13 professional contests, winning five, drawing one and losing seven. They included two at Granby Halls in Leicester, and one at Cossington Street baths, where the swimming pool was covered over to hold boxing and wrestling matches.

Thank you to Dave Bent for the original information about Mick Basten. I wonder if anyone else remembers him?

A Charnwood Street prize-fighter…

In the later 19th century Charnwood Street boasted a prize-fighter – an illegal bare-knuckle boxer – in the person of Joseph Collins, a shoe hand born in Leicester in 1847, and better known in boxing circles as Tug Wilson. He was living at 81 Charnwood Street in1878 when he was found guilty of aiding and abetting a prize fight at Aylestone Park, held in the storeroom of an unoccupied bakehouse between John Orton, a bricklayer’s labourer, and William Burrows, a shoe hand (Leicester Chronicle, 12 October 1878). Other prosecutions followed, including a charge in May 1881 of ‘being about to commit a breach of the peace by taking part in a prize fight’ in Birmingham against the ‘noted pugilist’ Alfred Greenfield. After pleading guilty he was bound over in the sum of £100 to keep the peace for 12 months, with two sureties for the same amount (Leicester Chronicle, 28 May 1881).

In the following year he was invited to the USA to fight the world heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan at Madison Square Garden in New York, with a promise of $1000 dollars and half the gate receipts if he was still standing at the end of four scheduled ‘exhibition’ rounds. He survived all four by allegedly ‘running, wrestling and intentionally falling to get away from the champion’, and was ’roundly booed by the crowd’.

How he spent his hard-won prize money is not known – but by 1891 he was living at 32 Preston Street and working as a fish hawker. In November that year he was summoned for assaulting a stonemason, John Barratt, of 147 Humberstone Road, who was also said to be ‘well-known in local sporting circles’. During an argument in the Nelson Inn in Humberstone Gate, Joseph Collins was said to have struck Barratt:

a most violent blow in the eye, which was blackened. He had suffered considerably from it and had been in bed for a week. The barmaid bathed his eye, and while she was  engaged defendant tried to get at him again, but was prevented by the landlord.

Collins claimed provocation after being called a coward, but Barrett’s lawyer said: ‘If the assault was proved, he would ask the Bench to consider what force a blow from Collins would have – it would be like a kick from a horse’. Interestingly, the Chairman of the Bench declared that provocation ‘did not justify defendant in striking complainant; still, to call a man a coward was to court the punishment which had been given. The case would be met with a fine of 5s’ (Leicester Chronicle, 28 November 1891). In December 1893 he appears in an account of a gymnastic display and ‘assault-at-arms’ in the village hall in Syston, staying well within the law with ‘a splendid display of the manly art’ with Mr N. Mawby, the amateur champion of the Midland counties and runner-up in the heavyweight amateur championship of England earlier that year. He retired from the ring in 1902, and is recorded in the 1911 Census as a fishmonger, living at 62 St Saviour’s Road East with his wife Sarah.

See http://boxrec.com/media/index.php/Tug_Wilson for a picture of Joseph Collins/Tug Wilson.