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


A teacher’s memories of Charnwood Street School…

Here are some memories from Mrs Ann Keyworth, Deputy Head of Charnwood Street Infants School in the 1970s, who was interviewed by the East Midlands Oral History Archive in 2002.* She started there part-time in 1965, teaching English to some of the Asian children at the school. The Head of the Infants School at that time was Mrs Beech, who she remembered as a ‘brilliant teacher… a lovely person’:


She was brilliant at controlling 200 children in the school hall. If someone was misbehaving she just used to stop and say “Somebody at the back doesn’t want to sing any more?. You could give her 200 children in the hall with the piano, and not a word.

Charnwood Street School under repair. It was opened as a Board School in 1877.

Charnwood Street School under repair. It was opened as a Board School in 1877.

She recalled the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the opening of the school in 1977, including displays of wedding photos from each decade since the 1870s. The children also drew 100 houses from different periods of time. These were then put up in the corridors to show how houses had changed over the ages – though some of the children, of course, were still living in houses built in the Charnwood Street area from the 1870s. She also had a look through the old school Log Books to see how the school itself had changed. Unlike Mrs Beech, the first headmistress:

was a demon. She was so strict… One poor student teacher who had lost the front door keys of the school got into the most awful row… When the children came back to school in the afternoon after dinner, the front doors were locked, and if they were late they couldn’t get in.

When the Asian refugees from Uganda came to Leicester in 1972, a lot of the children attended Charnwood Street School. Diwali and Eid were celebrated as well as Christmas, and the children also went on a trip each year – the older ones to the zoo, the five year olds and Nursery class to Abbey Park, and the six year olds to Bradgate Park. These trips were particularly popular with those children who hadn’t visited the countryside before. On one visit to Bradgate Park, walking through the woods:

I suggested to them that we might see the Three Bears, or Robin Hood, or even Owl and Tigger, because I used to tell them the Pooh Bear stories… so we were all looking for these sorts of things, and we found a little wooden hut which they decided must have been the Three Bears’ house, and we found a hole in a tree which was Owl’s house, out of Pooh Bear, and this little boy stopped while I was holding children up to look through this hole to see if they could see Owl, and he said to me… “Mrs Keyworth, nothing here is made”… It sent a shiver down my spine. I looked around and I thought, it’s all growing, and he knew what he meant… an amazing concept for a child of six.

In 1981 the Infants School amalgamated with the ‘upstairs’ – the Junior School – to become Charnwood Street Primary School, and Mrs Keyworth became Deputy Head of the whole school.  – though she left soon after this to work as a supply teacher. I wonder of anyone remembers her?

* East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA), 1070, EM/045. My thanks to Colin Hyde of EMOHA for permission to reproduce these extracts, and for the photograph.







Sacred Heart and Sister Columba…

As I mentioned in an earlier blog* some of the children living in the Charnwood Street attended Sacred Heart Roman Catholic School. Since then I’ve been contacted again by Arthur Beyless, who writes:

You say on the website that you did not know if I had the cane? Well as the ‘terror of the neighbourhood’ you would think that I would always be having the cane – but I received a few swipes from ‘Pop’ Riley only once in all the time from age seven to eleven. Could not have been very good at terrorising the neighbourhood…

Arthur also sent me this photograph of his class at the school in 1953-54, showing Sister Columba on the right and Sister Joan on the left. Arthur himself is fourth from the left among the boys in the back row, wearing a tie.

Class at Sacred Heart School in 1953 - 54 (Arthur Beyless)

Class at Sacred Heart School in 1953 – 54 (Arthur Beyless)

The photo was taken in the school playground at Mount Street,  and the shop sign in the background was on the corner of Mount Street and Edwin Street. Does anyone recognise the two priests in the photo, or any of the other children?

Many thanks Arthur – for the photo and for answering my question about the cane!


When Charny was too hot for needlework…

If it was too hot for needlework, the summer of 1881 must have been better than the one we’re having so far this year…

I found this cryptic comment in the entry for 5 July 1881 in the Log Book of St Saviour’s Church of England School, one of the schools attended by children from the Charnwood Street area, which was opened in that year on the corner of Grove Road and St Saviour’s Road, next to the church. More and more people were moving into the area by then, and the Charnwood Street Board School was not large enough to accommodate them all – but no matter where the children went to school at this time their parents had to pay for it.

From 'The Handy Book of Object Lessons' by J Walker (1873)

From ‘The Handy Book of Object Lessons’ by J Walker (1873)

In April 1881 the Managers of St Saviour’s School agreed to charge fees of 3d a week for each child in the Infants, with reduced rates when there were three or four children from the same family: half price for the third child, or 3d each for the first three and no fee for the fourth. Threepence was a significant amount of money for a working class family in 1881, and many parents could not afford to pay – or to lose the money that their children could earn outside school. Although school attendance was made compulsory between the ages of five and ten in 1880 it was difficult to enforce, and illness and the weather also played havoc with the figures. On 27 October 1881 the attendance of 193 at St Saviour’s was described as ‘very good’, but on 13 December it was down to 120 ‘on account of fog’, and there are lots of references to absences due to measles, whooping cough, ringworm and ‘fever’.

The Log Books do give a really good sense of what the children were taught – and how. ‘Object Lessons’ were very popular, like the one illustrated above on ‘The Fox’. Those for 1883 included The Ostrich, Whale, Crab, Spider, Flax Plants, Sugar Canes, Day and Night and Thunder and Lightning. Some of the children were only three years of age when they started school, so the lessons to the ‘Baby Class’ were ‘chiefly conversational’. Lessons on form and colour were given every week and ‘Toys are also used for the last lesson on Wednesday’. The Log Book also gives a list of School Songs for Divisons I and II (five to six year olds). These included The Merry Milkmaid, O Dear What Can the Matter Be, Freddie Saw Some Nice Ripe Cherries, The Mill Wheels are Clapping, and ‘marching songs’ like March Away, March Away and A Tommy Was Walking.

In the East Midlands Oral History Archive there is an interview with a man born in 1893 who attended St Saviour’s School. He recalled that:

As an infant we sat on the floor, no desks in those days. The school was financed by the church, and we paid a penny a week towards the upkeep of the school. I enjoyed school. It was a mixed school, and my cousin sat at the side of me. She was clever and I wasn’t, so she told me all the answers! I wasn’t clever, but I was brilliant at Maths, and that stood me all through my life.

At nine o’clock in the morning we assembled in the school yard. A whistle blew at five minutes to nine, and at nine o’clock we marched upstairs, and the first half hour of the day we had prayers, the Lord’s Prayer and a lecture and a hymn, then we dispersed to our classes. The Headmaster, he sat at the desk in the centre of the big room, watching everybody.

In those days there was reading, writing and arithmetic. That was it, really. In the Infants we had slates, and a slate pencil. Then when we got to the Seniors, we had one exercise book that had to last us 12 months. The girls didn’t have the cane. They were stood in the corner for five minutes if they were naughty. You see, the parents of the kiddies were big church people, and it was more or less a family affair (East Midlands Oral History Archive, Anon, 591, CH/086/0210).

He left the school in 1907 and went to work for Faire Bros as a cashier before volunteering for the Leicestershire Regiment at the start of the First World War and being wounded during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. You can listen to the full interview at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland – see for details.

Going back to the needlework, it wasn’t just the girls who did this at school. In the St Saviour’s Log Book for 24 January 1882 there is an entry ‘Examined boys’ needlework’ – but it still leaves the question of how it could ever be ‘too hot for needlework’. The only explanation I can think of was that it made the children’s hands hot and sweaty, leaving grubby marks on the needlework… All other theories welcome – but it’s not quite July yet and maybe we will also be too hot by then…    

Green Lane School…

A class at Green Lane Infants' School in the 1960s

A class at Green Lane Infants’ School in the 1960s

I promised some more photos of schools in the Charnwood Street area. These photos of Green Lane Infants School in the 1960s were kindly sent to me by Stephen Poultney, who remembers it as ‘something like Charnwood Street School. There were two assembly rooms, one on top of the other, and most of the classrooms went off these. I remember its demolition in 1973 after the new school was built. The classrooms had four brick thick walls between them – built to last – but no inside toilets for the kids. They were outside, with no roof either…’.

I’ll pass on some of Steve’s other memories of Charnwood Street another time – but here are more of his photos:

green lane infants 2 green lane infants 3

green lane road 4Let me know if you recognise anyone, or have memories of your own of the school that you’d like to pass on.

Great photos Steve – many thanks!

Charnwood Street School…

A class at Charnwood Street School in 1962

A class at Charnwood Street School in 1962 (photo provided by Jennifer Florance, nee Harris, fourth from right on second row).

Schooldays often feature in the memories of Charnwood Street that people have passed on to me. The above photo of a class at Charnwood Street in 1962 was sent to me by Jennifer Florance, who went there from the age of seven to eleven. Her first teacher was Miss Brown, and Mr Bown was Headmaster – but one of her earliest memories is of hearing about the death of Marilyn Monroe in that same year while on her way to a lesson in the ‘turret room’ of the school, up the stone stairs with no bannisters. The large school hall was used for lots of activities, including PE when it was raining, and for a tuck shop set up on a table in one corner, selling crisps and biscuits, that she helped to run in her last year at Charnwood Street.

Every Friday the ‘Film Man’ also came to show ‘Look at Life’-type  films in the hall. She recalls that he often had problems getting the sound right; but some of the films were quite memorable, including one about how concrete was made and used! And then, of course there were the regular visits by the ‘Nit Nurse’… Equally memorable – and a bit more fun! – was Miss Armstrong, one of the teachers, reading them Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood, and the small school library near the hall where the children could borrow two books to take home.

Schooldays were not always the ‘happiest days of their lives’ for the children at local schools, and getting the cane or the ‘slipper’ was also still a common punishment at this time. In Jennifer’s case it was for trespassing on the railway embankment that was reached through a little gate in Nedham Street, with a tempting view of daisies underneath. She and one of the boys at the school were spotted one Friday by a teacher, and spent the whole weekend worrying about being reported to the Head – not without good reason, as on the Monday they were hauled up onto the stage and ‘slippered’ in front of the rest of the school.

Alongside the ‘kindly’ headmaster Mr Bastick that Jill Richardson remembers from her own time at Charnwood Street School there was one teacher who ‘seemed huge… and threw the chalk at everyone. She terrified me… [but] my lasting memory is when walking up the stone staircase and getting the smell of bread. Many years later I visited [the school] and could still get that aroma (imagination or not, I don’t know!)’. Maybe this was the yeast from the brewery across the road, which several other people recall smelling when the school windows were open in warm weather?

Charnwood Street was not the only primary school in the area, of course. There were also Green Lane, St Saviour’s Church of England and Sacred Heart Roman Catholic schools – and there are plenty of memories and some great photos of these to share in the near future…

Many thanks to Jennifer and Jill for the photo and their memories.


Charnwood Street Board School in the early 20th century

Charnwood Street Board School in the early 20th century

I was sent this wonderful photo of Charnwood Street School by someone whose father went to school there in the early 20th century. The building is still used as a school, of course, but here’s a little of its earlier history.

The school was designed by the local architect Edward Burgess for the Leicester School Board, an elected local authority which was set up in 1870. Before that most schools were provided by churches, chapels or charities, and it was part of the job of the School Board to fill in the gaps and provide enough places for the growing populations of Victorian towns. The Charnwood Street Board School was opened in May 1877 to accommodate over 1000 children – 383 Infants and 790 in the rest of the school – and cost £13,013. 8s 1d, including the site.

In the late 19th century its Headmaster was Lawrence Staines, who had previously been Head of Syston Street School, the first school to be opened by the Leicester School Board in January 1874. He was born in Leicester, and educated at Christ Church School in the Wharf Street area before training to be a teacher at St Martin’s College in Chelsea. He then taught for four years at a school in Forest Hill in south east London. On returning to Leicester he spent 14 years at King Richard’s Road School and seven at Syston Street before moving to Charnwood Street. According to an article in the local journal The Wyvern in March 1899, six other headmasters in Leicester had been scholars or teachers at his schools at one time or another; and:

during his long career… Mr Staines has been the recipient of many presents from the scholars and teachers who have been under him, testifying to the high esteem in which they have held him.

Like most other Board Schools in urban areas, Charnwood Street had no playing fields and used the nearby Spinney Hill Park for games. Mr Staines himself was said to be an enthusiastic sportman, a member of his college football and cricket teams, ‘stroke oar in the college boat’, and captain of the Teachers’ Cricket Club for several years. An ‘active supporter of and worker for’ the Leicester Football Club (The Tigers), he was also Chairman of the Schools [Rugby] Football Union. In his professional capacity he served on the Committee of the Leicester and District Teachers’ Association for 21 years, and on the Executive Committee of the National Union of Teachers for eight years, ‘doing much useful propagandist work up and down the country’ (The Wyvern, 17 March 1899).

Leaping ahead to 1938, Charnwood Street School was by then looking and feeling its age and was modernised at a cost of £27,054, including the demolition of the nearby refuse destructor. The area was expected to ‘provide a school population for many years to come’, and as there was no other site available nearby for a new school the Education Committee decided ‘to try to turn and old school into a new one’ (Leicester Mercury, 26 July 1938). However, in a report by HM Inspectors in October 1951 the school was described as presenting ‘many difficulties and falls below modern standards’. These difficulties included a lack of space, especially in terms of classrooms, while the hall was unable to accommodate the whole school at once for assemblies or ‘allow freedom of movement’ for dancing and PE. Nevertheless, the Inspector noted, ‘commendable effort is made to keep the school in good order and to brighten it with fresh paint, cheerful pictures and flowers’.

The safety of the children was also a matter of concern. In the 1950s the school was using the playing field on Martin Street, the other side of Humberstone Road, for games on Mondays and for the annual Sports Days, but the space previously occupied by the refuse destructor was used to provide extra playground space for the Infants School. The ‘confined nature’ of the existing playgrounds was the cause of several accidents to the children – not to mention the danger of ‘extreme falls towards the railway’ from one of the walls around them. Similarly, the Headmistress’s request for a gas ring in the staff room was granted in 1964 because staff tea and coffee had to be made in the Nursery kitchenette and then carried the length of the school – a practice described as ‘very dangerous’ to both staff and children.

I’ll be passing on some memories of Charnwood Street School and the other schools in the area – Green Lane Road, St Saviour’s and Sacred Heart – in the next week or two, with some great photos, but if any of this jogs your memory in the meantime please do leave a comment!

Very many thanks to Audrey Payne for the photograph. The information about Charnwood Street School in the 1950s and ’60s is taken from Log Books and correspondence in the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland (30D73. 221 and 30D73/266.