Winding wool – and the Dorothy Café…

Pam Smith, who used to live in Occupation Road, left a comment recently at ‘A Charny Family’ ( asking if anyone had a photo of the wool shop on Charnwood Street. I wonder if this was the one called Wool-n-Wear at 173 Charnwood Street, where James Jelly previously had his funeral director’s business? It was still there in 1969, just before the street was demolished.

I don’t have a photograph, but a couple of people did remember a wool shop, maybe the same one, run by a Miss Seward, described as ‘thin and bespectacled’ with dark hair. Hand knitting was very popular at the time – and back into fashion again recently – but as some people will remember, the wool wasn’t always sold in a ball ready for knitting. A lot of it came as a ‘hank’, when it was wound into a large circular shape and then twisted on itself to keep it in place. It then had to be rolled into a ball, usually while someone else – often a child – held it either side around their hands. This wasn’t a popular job, but sometimes it was a way of getting some extra sweets…

Ruth Wragg remembers that her mother bought wool by the hank in Charnwood Street:

and you had to sit with your hands held up so she could roll it into a ball – but if you volunteered to do it for the wool lady she would give you either an aniseed ball, a gobstopper or a stick of liquorice wood or a sherbert flying saucer, which was my favourite.

Dorothy Café at 143 Charnwood Street.

Dorothy Café at 143 Charnwood Street (Michael Westmoreland)

Ruth’s mother kept the Dorothy Café at 143 Charnwood Street, to the left of Milner’s butcher’s in the photo above. Previous occupants of 143 included the Midland Diving Equipment Company, who appear there in a directory in 1960, and the boot repairer Fergus Wright, who was there from at least 1925 to 1954, maybe longer.

I think there were other cafes on Charnwood Street – someone mentioned one called the Venezia – but here’s an advert for the Dorothy suggesting the hard work that was involved in staying open for 14 hours a day, every day of the week…

Many thanks to Ruth for her memories and the advert, and to Michael Westmoreland for permission to reproduce the photograph of the café.

School hymn books and other memories of Charny…

I was contacted recently by Trica Todd with some of her memories of Charnwood Street. She’s happy for me to share them, so here they are:

The Post Office on the corner of Charnwood Street and Farnham Street (Paul Dorrell)

The Post Office on the corner of Charnwood Street and Farnham Street (Paul Dorrell)

I came to 56 Farnham Street with my parents Lillian and Denis Wright, who took over the corner grocery shop opposite the Post Office in Charnwood Street in the late 1950s. I have an older sister Judith, and we became very good friends with Paul Dorrell whose parents owned the Post Office. I attended Charnwood Street nursery, infant and junior school. The teachers were in our 1st year, Mrs Charlesworth, then moved up into the tower to Mrs O’Conner, then to Mr White, and our last year was Miss Simpson, who became Mrs Wade.

I remember the class Christmas party. I think that there were at least two more classes in each year, and we had to take our own cutlery and plates and bowls with a marker on it (normally a piece of sticking plaster, something that didn’t come off when washed), and then into the hall for games, and one year some dancing. Every morning we attended assembly, and we came in to the hall to Grieg’s’ “Morning” symphony. If you lost your hymn book you quickly acquired another one (by fair means or foul)!

Mum’s maiden name was Gent, whose family lived in St Saviour s Road, so when she saw the post about the bombing in Grove Road she was very interested (see

Merry Christmas…


Dolls made by the Leicester company Cascelloid

Dolls made by the Leicester company Cascelloid (with thanks to East Midlands Oral History Archive)

A very Happy Christmas to everyone, and all best wishes for 2016.

Christmas set me thinking about a shop not far from Charnwood Street. I recalled it as Berridge’s, on Humberstone Road, but have been reminded that it was actually called Burbage’s and was on Uppingham Road. I think it sold mainly bicycles and electrical goods, but they had toys as well that could be chosen for Christmas and then paid for week by week. I remember having a doll from there one year as a Christmas present. My Mum and I used to stop off at Sparrow Park on the bus into the city centre and make the payment – and I could see the doll lying in its box on the shelf for weeks on end before it was actually time for it to be collected!

*There are some memories of Charny at Christmas from previous years at and


Upper Charnwood Street…

Here are some pictures of Upper Charnwood Street taken by Denis Calow in December 1970, just before it was demolished.

Corner of Upper Charnwood Street and Vulcan Road in December 1970

88 – 106 Upper Charnwood Street and the corner of Vulcan Road in December 1970

These were mainly houses rather than shops, though a few businesses were run from them over the years. In 1932 there was one shopkeeper, Mrs Frances Gertrude Dendle at number 48, a lady’s hairdresser, Mrs Dorothy Bagshaw, at number 4, and Horace Bellamy, a gents’ hairdresser at number 2.

Upper_Charnwood_Street_96106_1970In 1966 there was a hairdresser, Mrs Margaret Walker at number 2, and a butcher, C. Henshaw, at number 48, next to the entrance to the foundry of Taylor and Hubbard, crane makers.

Photographs: copyright Denis Calow, reproduced here in accordance with in accordance with My Leicestershire History licence My Leicestershire History website 

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 and

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




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

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).