Memories of Charny from Cornwall…

Tricia Todd wrote to me again recently after a chance encounter in the shop near Looe in Cornwall where she works. ‘Of course, we see a number of holidaymakers’, she says:

and I can pick out a Leicestershire accent. Chatting about the football, I mentioned I was a Tigers fan. Well, the next thing, we’re chatting about where we were born, and I mentioned that I lived on Charnwood Street. The gentleman smiled broadly and said his parents ran the chemist shop on the street. Did I remember ‘Hill’s?

Hill's chemist shop at 167 Charnwood Street (Michael Westmoreland)

Hill’s chemist shop at 167 Charnwood Street (Michael Westmoreland)

Certainly I did! My parents bought my sister and me a Brownie 127 camera and case for a Christmas present one year, with a black and white film in the camera. I can’t remember how much it cost to get the films developed, but we were very careful with the shots we took, no instant photos like today! The shop was very dark (to my eyes anyway), but had the most beautiful walnut counters and big blue and green pharmacy bottles along the shelves with strange Latin names written on them in gold lettering.

With Mum running our shop in Farnham Street, and Dad working for Folwell’s, the pork butchers, I went to Nursery school when I was about three and a half years old. A Mrs Haynes was in charge with a couple of nursery nurses. At break time there was a bottle of milk and also fingers of bread that had been dried in an oven, not a rusk, more like a Melba toast. There were no fridges to store the milk, so fine in the winter but not so pleasant in the summer – I still don’t like warm milk. As we couldn’t read we all had a bag, coat hook with a symbol on – mine was an umbrella – and in the afternoon we had to have a nap on the floor with a rug that had your symbol on.

There were toys outside. I think there was a metal horse like a rocking horse, a see-saw, and a paddling pool and sand pit, or am I wishing that? We had a very hot summer, and I am a red head and burn very easily, so Mrs Haynes went to the Co-Op on Melbourne Road and bought some Nivea cream and smothered me in it so I wouldn’t burn. You wouldn’t be allowed to do that today!

There was a library on the corner of Garendon Street.  I would have been about four and loved books, and Dad took me up there. As we got to the steps he bent down and said ‘if they ask you how old you are, say you’re five. I put my arms on the counter and rested there, and of course she asked how old I was. ‘Five’, I said very firmly. ‘Yes I can see that’, she said, looking at my Dad and  knowing full well I wasn’t – but I could have one book and if it was returned in good order she would let me have more. Needless to say I got more books.

Does anybody remember the concert at the De Montfort Hall, when schools from all over the city took part, about 1965/6? There were about 12 children selected from each school. A group of us were called into the hall and ask to sing ‘God save the Queen’, I think, a little worrying at the time as we didn’t know what it was all about. I think it was Miss Armstrong who played the piano, and as we were selected we were told what we would be doing. We had rehearsals with her, and then she had a car accident and we had to go to Melbourne Road school for practice with their part of the choir. We had to walk up there on our own as a teacher couldn’t be spared. I think something was said along the lines of ‘do not misbehave, we will know’ and I think we did behave.

We got together with all the other schools and met the conductor who had already chosen his soloists. The piece I remember most is ‘The Daniel Jazz’, about Daniel in the lions’ den – I can still sing it! The stage felt enormous and with the lights was daunting, but I managed to find Mum in the audience and sang to her. After that, whenever we went to the hall I would casually nod towards the stage and say ‘I’ve sung on there’, and yes, the family got sick and tired of me saying so!

Many thanks Tricia! You can read some of Tricia’s other memories of Charnwood Street at; and Michael Smith’s memories of Hill’s during World War 2 at


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.