More about Charny at war…

hills chemist

Hills (Chemist’s) Ltd at 167 Charnwood Street (Michael Westmoreland)

Here are some more memories of Charnwood Street during the Second World War from Mike Smith. For many years his uncle Eric Baker had a dispensing chemist’s shop on Charnwood Street known as Hill’s. Mike writes that:

The Hill was my grandfather, J. W. Hill, who lived in Newby Street and was – as he put it – a tailor to the gentry. He was a wealthy character and the principal shareholder in my uncle’s business. My uncle and my father were great friends as they were in the 1914-18 war together, and each married  one of  J.W.’s daughters. My mother was Louie, who sang most of the leads with the  Leicester Amateur Operatic Society. Eric’s wife Rene was a very active member of  the Leicester Drama Society. Louie and Rene were amongst Leicester’s ‘bright young things’. One of their accomplishments in the early twenties was going by motor bike from Leicester to Bournemouth in two days. My mother crashed the bike twice…

But back to Charny. During the 1939-45 war my uncle made a very comfortable income by manufacturing and selling Petaline. This was ladies’ make up, the manufacture of which depended upon the availability of quantities of grease, oil and dye which – with the aid of pestles, mortars, and various mixing machines – he conjured into four staple lines in the cellar under the shop. They were

1. Foundation Cream in a toothpaste type tube which needed a special machine to fill.

2. Face Cream put into what to me looked like fish paste jars.

3. Lipstick. Very much in demand as red dye was difficult to obtain.

4. Leg make-up to imitate nylon stockings. This was a two part kit. The main part was brown stain to paint the leg,  the other part was a black marker to impersonate the seam down the back.

During the war on Saturdays I would travel to Charnwood Street with my father and help to pack the orders for the week’s delivery which my father made, part in his car and part on his bike. I believe that the Earl of Stamford pub in Birstall was a local sales point. It is an interesting picture to conjure up: ‘Good evening landlord, two pints of best bitter and a jar of face cream’.

During the war my aunt Rene was in the ARP as an ambulance driver and was in the thick of the various bombing incidents in Leicester. My mother was most impressed that her sister, after returning her ambulance in the early morning, then went to help my uncle in the shop.

After the war my uncle died and my aunt Rene carried on the business, though she did no dispensing – but with the help of my mother who travelled by bus from Birstall, she opened daily. The most impressive thing was that my aunt, who was a strong personality, became a sort of Charnwood Street agony aunt, and my mother would tell me of both ladies and gentlemen seeking her advice on problems that had little to do with medicine.

Many thanks to Mike for passing on these memories.

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