Bonfire night used to be something of an occasion in the Charnwood Street area. Both ends of Occupation Road – better known as Occy Day – were popular places for bonfires. It was away from traffic, though too narrow for fires to be safe further inside; but ‘nearly every street had a bonfire’, Jean Smith (nee Raynor) recalled:
and every year we had one in Shenton Street. One of my friends, her Mam had their house painted just before Bonfire Night. Well, she nearly went mad when she came home from work to find the bonfire had been set up outside her house. The fires were so hot it blistered the paint. Also we used to go round to Flint Street to pinch the stuff off their bonfire! So someone would have to guard the bonfire until the adults came out at evening time when the fire was lit. Those who had fireworks would let them off so all of us could see. It was exciting!
A lot depended on the weather. Today hasn’t got off to a good start for bonfires tonight, but it’s nothing like as bad as the storm that raged just the other side of Humberstone Road in June 1880. According to the Leicester Daily Post (23 June 1880):
‘Severe thunderstorms occurred on the previous day between 4-5 pm. Rain poured in torrents for upwards of an hour… [with] very frequent and loud claps of thunder, shaking the buildings in the town’, along with sheet and fork lightning. St. Matthew’s church was struck by lightning at each end. The cross on the gable roof was damaged and a hole made in the roof over the Communion table around eighteen inches wide. Part of the church was set on fire. ‘One of the firemen was fetched and commenced operations, followed by Mr Supt. Johnson and some firemen with their fire escape; and the flames were quickly extinguished before the church had sustained much damage’.
Several other buildings were struck including the chimney of a house in Birstall Street, filling the house with smoke and debris and causing ‘great danger and alarm’ – but no one was injured. The Albert Hotel on Humberstone Road was also struck, ‘the electric fluid [an old way of describing lightning] entering the top of the chimney and bursting into the upper rooms’, but without causing serious damage.
Enjoy the fireworks!
- The photograph of Occupation Road is reproduced from Vanished Leicester, University of Leicester Special Collections, under the Creative Commons licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/uk/.