Bad weather for bonfires…

Occupation Road from Edwyn Street in 1970 (Dennis Calow)

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




Charny photos on Facebook…

You might be interested in two photos of Charnwood Street shops that have just been posted to the Memories of Leicester Facebook page at – including Joblin’s sweet shop.

More memories of Newby Street – houses and the chapel…

Here are some more of Mr Rowland Lord’s memories of Newby Street before the Second World War, including the house where he lived. There was one toilet between four houses, at the side of a chicken house: quite a ‘nerve-trying experience’, as he recalls, for an eight or nine year old in the dark in the winter. Newspaper squares hanging on string and a candle under a plant pot in the corner on the floor, ‘to help keep the frost at bay’, may bring back memories for some other people…

He also took part in activities at Newby Street Nonconformist Church, a Congregationalist church with its entrance on Humberstone Road and church rooms with a stage and balcony on Newby Street itself. These included drill competitions in the hall with the 9th Leicester Boys’ Brigade, and the anniversary days with 50 or 60 children singing on the stage, wearing new Sunday clothes for the occasion.

One woman who lived on Uppingham Road also remembered the Sunday School anniversaries at Newby Street as:

a very big feature which always took place in the Chapel in May. We always had new dresses and hats. I well remember one outfit I had for the occasion. It was a lilac dress, and I had a leghorn straw hat trimmed with sprays of lilac… After morning service, where we had sung… the rain pelted down… On arrival home, what a sad spectacle I looked! My lovely lilac silk dress was soaked, and the lilac flowers had weighted down the brim of the leghorn hat, which was now ruined with dye. My poor mother was aghast…*

She also recalled bazaars in December that lasted for three days and drew people from ‘near and far’ – with sideshows, and refreshments provided by the ladies of the church, after an official opening by ‘a notable Leicester person, with a view of donating a big cheque’.

The church started life nearby in a ‘small and inconvenient room’ in 1872, but soon outgrew this. In 1876 it became necessary to find ‘a permanent and more commodious home’, and after strenuous efforts by the Building Fund, the Memorial Stones of a new ‘substantial edifice’, capable of seating 750 people, were laid in July 1887 (Leicester Mercury, 26 October 2005).

The roof was damaged and became unsafe during the bombing of Frank Street in 1940, and it was later demolished and replaced by a new church at the bottom of Mere Road.

Thank you again to Mr Lord for sharing his memories.

*Jessie Carr, An Old Lady Remembers (Anderson Publications, 1986), p29


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

TVs on HP…

croxtall cropped photo

The shop at 277 Charnwood Street (Mr and Mrs Croxtall)

Some time ago now I spoke to Mr and Mrs Croxtall who had the Catherine Electrical Service shop at 277 Charnwood Street from the late 1950s until the street was demolished. The shop was on the corner with Spinney Hill Road, but the business started in Catherine Street selling hardware, and kept the name after moving to Charnwood Street. Mr Croxtall ran the shop, and Mrs Croxtall, who was a hairdresser, helped out when needed. When Charnwood Street was demolished around 1970 it moved nearby to Green Lane Road.

The shop sold televisions as well as repairing them. Television broadcasting by the BBC started in November 1936, but ceased on the outbreak of World War II until June 1946. Less than 15% of households had a TV in 1952, but in the following year many people watched the Coronation on a friend’s set or (like me) on televisions set up in a village hall. After this, as the price of sets gradually came down, television became more and more popular. ITV was available from 1955, but people had to have their existing sets converted or get a new one to receive it. Some of the most popular programmes in the early years of ITV were the quiz shows Take Your Pick and Double Your Money, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, and the hospital drama Emergency Ward 10.

According to an article in the Observer in May 1960, a 17″ table TV set cost from £65 – 75 to buy, and should last for five to seven years, ‘but not without trouble. The best person for the servicing is usually the original retailer…’.* New tubes cost £10 -15, and servicing charges were about 13 shillings an hour for the engineer’s time. Mr Croxtall’s shop sold TV’s on hire purchase, enabling customers to spread the cost by paying in instalments – and ‘there were not many bad customers’. Renting a set was the other option, costing around £100 – 110 for five years with free servicing, usually through one of the two big national companies, Radio Rentals or Domestic Electric Rentals.

There was another TV dealer on Charnwood Street in 1960, Sam Carpenter and Sons, at 192 on the corner of St Saviour’s Road; and in 1969 Schofield’s radio and TV dealer is also listed in a directory at 200 – 202 Charnwood Street. Other local shops selling or repairing radio or electrical equipment included the Radio Manufacturer’s Service at 211 and J & S at 177.

Many thanks to Mr and Mrs Croxtall for the photograph of the shop.







A Sunbeam in Shenton Street…

May Freer. This promotional photo was taken at the Zarb studio in St Saviour's Road.

May Freer. This promotional photo was taken at the Zarb studio in St Saviour’s Road.

A Sunbeam Alpine sports car, that is – won by Roy Freer’s mother May in 1961 in a competition to write a slogan for the Britvic Cherry B drink!

The family lived in Shenton Street, and ‘I pestered Mum to enter the competition’, Roy writes. He helped her with the first part, which was to put six singers of songs about Cherry B in order (they were recorded onto a flexi-disc). The second part was to write the slogan:

for the Cherry B twins to promote a new sparkling version. Her winning slogan was so simple that I suspect that was what won the competition: ‘It’s good to have a choice of twins, with Cherry B one always wins!’. The slogan was condensed to ‘Cherry B – always a winner’ on the float that Britvic toured around lots of seaside resorts, with fairground horses ridden by the Cherry B twins (one blond, one brunette).

CherryB_car_Britvic_letter1 (2)Imagine opening this letter on a Saturday morning! Such excitement! Mum woke me up. I was a lazy, typical teenager, but I was soon jumping up and down on the bed. Mum had to go to the phone box to ring Dad’s workplace to tell him the news.

The prize was presented to May at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool by the radio and TV presenter David Jacobs. She was accompanied by her husband Albert, Roy, and Roy’s aunt, who also won £50 for passing on the entry form to his mother. This was followed by a dinner at the Savoy Hotel – ‘all free, first class train tickets too!’.

CherryB_Car_May_David_Jacobs_Roy (2)

David Jacobs presenting May with the car keys. Roy is on his right.

Roy confesses to being ‘a bit disappointed’ with the first prize:

I wanted the third prize, a top of the range Decca stereo radiogram. None of us wanted the second prize – a Lambretta scooter. My prize for helping to win the car (apart from the trip to Blackpool, the fun times in the car and seeing my Mum and Dad so happy) was the Philips tape recorder that they bought me.

May and Albert with the car in Shenton Street

May and Albert with the car in Shenton Street

It was Albert who actually drove the car, which was a ‘bright Pippin red’. Roy was too young – ‘and Mum never learned to drive’!

Many thanks Roy for passing on this great story and the photos. Definitely something a little different… And if you’d like to see the original advert to promote Cherry B, someone has uploaded this and the songs from the flexi-disk to YouTube at


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.