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.



On hair and hairdressers…

A report in a local newspaper about a mass meeting of the Leicester and District Hairdressers’ Association in 1907 reminded me that there were several hairdressers in Charnwood Street within living memory. George Ager at 275, also a tobacconist, was one of them – see my previous blog at https://cib2.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/george-ager-a-charny-hairdresser-and-tobacconist/ for more about him. In the 1920s others included Ernest Toone at 224 – popularly known as ‘Lilting’, so I’m told! – and George Harry Buckby at 130. Mr R. Lord remembers that Toone’s also sold snuff in paper packets – loose and weighed on scales – and that hairdressers’ shops in Charnwood Street were always full at dinner time (what we now call lunchtime) with boys from Gimson’s engineering works in Vulcan Road.

eileen's hairdresser

Eileen’s hairdresser just before the demolition of Charnwood Street in 1970 (Michael Westmoreland)

Toone’s still appears in a local directory in 1954, but Corrigan’s footwear shop had taken over the premises by 1960. J.T. Tate also appears in 1954 as a hairdresser at 155. In 1960 the shop was occupied by the Janlyn Toy Co., but Eileen’s ladies’ hairdresser was also there by 1969. The other ladies’ hairdresser that many people remember was Eunice’s at 112, there from at least 1954 to 1960 and maybe longer. Lorraine Gee-Nichols recalls that: ‘Each Friday afternoon or evening my mum would take me with her when she went to have her hair washed and set or permed at Eunice’s hairdressers, and as a treat we always popped into Paddy’s Swag Shop and I was allowed a little treat’.

Hairdressing might seem a straightforward occupation, not unduly subject to rules and regulations – but the mass meeting of hairdressers in Leicester in 1907 suggested otherwise. The Leicester Chronicle of 4 May 1907 tells us that this was held at the White Swan in the Market Place, and there was ‘a large attendance’. Mr Rainbow, late President of the National Federation of Hairdressers was among those present. The ‘prime motive’ of the meeting was to obtain better rates for hairdressers, who had had ‘greater responsibilities’ placed on them as tradesmen over the past few years. This included the greater liability ‘forced upon them’ by legislation and actions in the courts. ‘No man who had the welfare of the trade at heart would complain of this’, Mr Rainbow said:

but they must recognise these things and shape their course accordingly. Today they were compelled to have better fitted up saloons [sic], cleaner surroundings, better instruments, and the sterilisation of all they used, for the protection of customers against many imaginary evils. Again, they had to face heavier rents, rates, and taxes all round. He appealed to the members of the trade to stand firm, so that their charges might be such as would enable them to earn a living’.

hair preservationWorries about hair loss were nothing new at this time, however, to judge from an advertisement for a ‘Consulting Hair Specialist’, G.F. Moss of 70 Sparkenhoe Street in Horn’s Illustrated Guide to the Places of Interest in Leicester in 1905. This was accompanied by ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photos of the Verger of St Peter’s church in Leicester, claiming that ‘Your hair restorer has effected a permanent cure’. Maybe… but the risk of having an expensive hair-do ruined by rain was permanent enough. The Illustrated Guide also had an advert for Kendall’s in Granby Street, suppliers of umbrellas, sunshades, walking canes and ladies furs. ‘Above all you must have a good umbrella’, it said next to picture of a family taking shelter – and if it happened to break, Kendall’s would also re-cover it ‘equal to new’ from 1s. 6d (7.5 p).

Charnwood Street – what’s in a name?

A view of Farnham Street showing the residential part of the Post Office (Paul Dorrell)

A view of Farnham Street showing the residential part of the Post Office (Paul Dorrell)

If you’ve ever wondered how Charnwood Street and some of the other streets in the area got their names, here’s what I’ve found out about them.

The land on which Charnwood Street was built from the early 1870s was sold to the Leicester Freehold Land Society (FLS) for £1,100 an acre in 1868 by a Mr Farnham . The Minutes that record this sale don’t give his full name, but it was almost certainly Edward Basil Farnham of Quorn Hall. This would explain how Edward Street, Basil Street and Farnham Street got their names – and as Quorn Hall was on the edge of Charnwood Forest, why the main road in the development was named Charnwood Street.

Other streets, including Newby and Preston, were named after members of the Freehold Land Society board. James Preston was one of the original directors of the FLS, and was described in his obituary in 1871 as a man of ‘perseverance and energy in promoting the prosperity and usefulness of the Society’. Shenton Street took its own name from the Surveyor of the Leicester and Leicestershire Benefit Building Society, which was also involved in developing the area.

The Leicester Freehold Land Society was founded in 1849, and Charnwood Street was its ninth estate. The original purpose of Freehold Land Societies was to enable working men to acquire a vote in elections to Parliament by becoming holders of land with a value of at least 40s a year. Land was purchased from members’ subscriptions, and then divided into lots and allocated through a ballot: the Charnwood Street estate itself was divided into 720 lots.  Working men in towns who paid rent of £10 a year or more were granted a parliamentary vote in 1867, so the Society had already outlived this purpose by the time Charnwood Street was developed – but its directors went ahead on the grounds that it would return ‘a fair profit to those who wish to sell, and will be found a very good site for those who intend to build’.

* The above information is based on ‘Charnwood Street, Leicester: the first fifty years’, an article that I wrote for the 2014 edition of the Leicestershire Historian, the journal of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society. This is available in libraries, or from the Honorary Librarian, Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, The Guildhall, Guildhall Lane, LE1 5FQ, for £10 including p&p. Please make cheques payable to LAHS.