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01.03.14, Leicester
A Leicester Lad’s Upbringing
I was born in 35 Chestnut Street, Leicester on 15 November 1919, wrote George Smith. It was a small Terraced House built about 1860, and I was baptised in the same church, All Souls, as my parents were married.

The terrace was built in blocks of four, each block having a common yard and a pocket-handkerchief size garden for each house, in which my father managed to keep about 6 chickens. In the yard were one water tap and two toilets between the four houses,

Chestnut Street in 1960.

There were two main rooms (The "Front Room" and the "Living Room"). The front room was hardly ever used, being reserved for Very Special occasions. The living room was just that - a living room - where all activities took place.

The size of these two rooms was roughly 10 feet square with the stairs to the bedrooms going up between them. In the living room was a door under the stairs beyond which more stairs lead down to a cellar where the coal was stored, having been delivered by means of a chute from the pavement outside.

A wall divided the cellar, making a work area. A window illuminated this, above which was a grid to obtain "borrowed light."

Heating was achieved by burning coal and wood in a cast iron grate which contained a boiler on one side of the fire, for hot water, This had to be filled by a ladle and hot water taken out by the same method.

On the other side of the fire was an oven used for cooking. This was lovely to cook the Sunday roast, and was an addition to the gas cooker in the kitchen.

Off the living room was a small kitchen about 8ft by 6ft. In this was a shallow sandstone sink (No running water) under a window to the yard outside, and in the far corner was a brick fire heated copper which on Friday nights we used to light and feed the fire with our old newspapers to heat the water for my brother and I to have a bath.

This was done in a tin bath, which hung on the wall outside the kitchen door. This was brought in and put in front of the fire in the living room. Hot water was ladled into a bucket and then carried to the bath to fill it. The lighting was by Gas.

The bedrooms were the same size as the rooms downstairs, including the kitchen. Going through the Bedroom accessed this small room over the Living Room.

My earliest memories were from when I must have been 2 or three. I can just remember my Granddad "Ham". (Hamlet, my mother"s father sitting in his chair. We called our grandparents by their Christian names because both our parents" family name was SMITH.) He died December 1922.

I also remember being taken for a donkey ride in what I think must have been Brazil Street. I remember there were iron railings and no houses on that side of the street, which must have bordered on what I think was the Leicestershire Agricultural Show Ground.

Anyway I must have fallen off the donkey as I remember being underneath the donkey. My mother said it had its hoof on my stomach and would not move! I obviously wasn"t harmed, as I have no recollection of Doctors, etc.

Chestnut Street in 1960.

At the age of three I started school. The compulsory age for school was 5 but school was optional from 3 years. As my mother was working, knitting socks in a factory owned by Toller & Lancaster for which she was paid 4d a dozen, I was sent to Hazel Street Infants School.

I remember we sat on forms fixed round the side of the wall and a "table" could be brought down from the wall above our head on "arms".

After lunch, rush mats were put on the floor and we had to have a short "Nap". I remember how uncomfortable these mats were. We didn"t really have any formal teaching, I expect it was rather like the present day nursery school.

I can remember us all learning a song, tho" I don"t remember what, but we went to another school (Narborough Road) to perform it at a concert there one evening.

When I was five, formal tuition started and we moved to "Standard One" classroom that was formal, with desks laid out in rows, two to a desk and a black board in front of the class.

Chestnut Street in 1960.

1925 was the year that Queen Alexandra died and I remember there was a picture of her in the hall and black crepe paper was put around it.

Also during this year I was returning home with my brother when I ran across the road, tripped on the tram lines, and was run over by a motor car. The driver was unaware of the accident but stopped because he saw my brother "going hysterical".

I had got my head stuck between the back axle and the exhaust pipe and was dragged twenty yards by the time he stopped. I suffered a severe burn to the side of my face, a broken collarbone and severe grazing of the shin.

The burn went septic and it was months before it healed. The Doctor kept advising Hot Fomentations (Lint soak in hot water) but they didn"t cure it, and it is said, contributed to the bad scarring. My Mother, in desperation started using Germolene, much to the disgust of the doctor, but it healed within a week! In September 1927 at the age of 7 I started to attend Hazel Street Junior School - Standard 1 - and it was here that although I was naturally left-handed the Teacher made me use my right hand to write with. This messed my writing up forever! I was always in trouble ever after in school for bad writing.

The school was trying to raise money to buy an organ and we used to take a halfpenny every Monday morning towards this organ fund. In this we succeeded, getting the pipe organ that I though at the time was a magnificent instrument - on the outside!

I also took one penny each Monday to put in the bank. We had a card and the teacher entered the penny on the card and when it totalled £1 we got a proper bank book from the Leicester Savings Bank.

I remember on "Empire Day" we had a sort of pageant and there would be a child dressed in the national costume of each country of the Empire together with Britannia.

I used to visit my grandmas every Weekend and Grandma Sarah would give me a penny, Grandma Alice gave me a halfpenny (She always gave my brother a penny, she always favoured him!) and I would visit my Great Aunt Maud and she would give me a penny.

I also got a Saturday Penny from my Dad. I saved all my Pennies so that I could go to my Aunt Amy who lived in Cleethorpes with my cousin Joan who was nearly six years younger than me. Mother would put me on the train at Leicester Central Station, and my Aunt would meet me at Grimsby Docks Station.

Here I would spend the Summer Holidays. Later when I was a little older I had to save my own fare and I would go by coach - 5/6 (five shillings and six pence or 28p in modern money) return.

At this period My Brother and I would go to the cinema to the children"s Matinee on Saturday afternoons, at The Olympia "Over the Bridge" on Narborough Road. (I believe there is a garage on the site now.) It cost "Tuppence" (Two Pence") entrance.

There was usually a Serial where the Heroine always got into some seemingly impossible situation like falling down a mine shaft or something and the episode would end with "See what happens next week!"

There would always be a comedy and a Cowboy Film. The favourites were Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson. Of course these were silent films in those days, Talkies hadn"t been invented then.

Later when the talkies arrived I saw "Ben Hur" and "The Goldiggers of Broadway" there. The song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" was popular at that time.

In 1928 my parents decided to buy a new house that was one of a row being built in Belmont Street (though I always remember it as Belmont Road but it is listed on maps and in Poll books as Street), which runs off Duncan Road, Aylestone.

My brother and I used go to see the progress the construction had reached each weekend. Finally it was finished and we were able to move in.

What a delight it was to have electric light and hot water "laid on" and to have a bath in a proper bathroom with a big bath in it. We went round switching the lights on and off! Of course we had to leave Hazel Street School and go to Granby Road School.

Duncan Road was inclined towards Aylestone Road and I remember on frosty mornings going to school the kids created slides on the frosty pavement until there was virtually a continuous slide all the way down the hill. Sometimes the adults got annoyed with this and came out and put salt on them.

The only teacher"s name I remember was Mr. Pickard, although there was a lady teacher who was always pleased to treat our wounds. For this she used some powder she kept in a flat tin. The first thing in the morning she would dress the wounds and then we would have to recite our times tables.

At he end of the 1927-28 year, the school hall was refurbished. I remember there being a big mural freeze round the hall and I remember the men starting to remove them, they were painted on canvas frames, before we broke up for the summer holidays.

I remember one day the Headmaster rang the "Fire Bells" which meant we all had to file into the playground. He had become aware of the airship R101 a few days later and burned out at Beauvais, France and the government decide to about all airship programmes.(More to Follow)

I used to play with the kids in Lorraine Road. A girl about my age lived in the first house by the name of Grace Wagstaffe. There were only houses on one side and opposite were gardens and we used to push our hand under the fence and "pinch" artichokes that were growing there and eat them raw!

Opposite Belmont Road (There again there were only houses on one side, all built in 1828), there was like a big drop on the other side with a bungalow that was accessed by a gate in the fence and a path down the slope. We went there to buy ginger beer and herb beer she made herself.

It was halfpenny and a penny deposit on the stone bottles she used. In the autumn we would go there to buy a ha"path of "fallings". (Apples that had dropped off the tree.)We got a large bag for our "ha"pny"

In 1931 my father, who was a small-time bookmaker, used to run "Fixed Odds" football coupons and football tickets. These tickets were sealed by, at first, my mother, sewing the folded tickets on the sewing machine.

She did not cut them off but let them run in a string over the back of the machine where I would sit and cut the thread. Later they were crimped on a hand machine my father bought. These tickets sold for 6d and contained the name of two football teams.

There were several prizes for different things, for instance the two teams with the highest scores won £5. There were some tickets with "IOU 2/6" stamped inside. Strictly speaking these tickets were illegal and to overcome this he included the name of two racehorses that he tipped to win and the tickets were sold as "IKE"s 6p Nap and free football Competition".

He then had the bright idea of copying a French idea called "Para Mutuel" (don"t remember the actual spelling), which were to become the football pools. He had acquired what we would now call a mailing list, and he circulated all the pools coupons and called them "Key Pools".

He started to get quite a response though. Many where returned "not known" so it must have been an old mailing list. My brother and I would take them to the post box in my mother"s shopping basket.

He was not popular amongst the local Bookmakers for doing this. They said it would ruin their business! However, one Sunday an advert appeared in "The News of The World", a popular Sunday newspaper, for Littlewoods, advertising their football pools together with a printout of their coupon.

My father decided he couldn"t compete and gave it up! In 1931 he lost all his money on the horse racing side of the business and the house had to be sold.

Just prior to this he asked the committee of the Saffron Lane Working Men"s Club, and got, permission to Sell Cheese Cobs (rolls) and other snacks in the club on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, from a basket on his arm.

This proved so successful that space was allocated in the covered veranda at the back of the club, which overlooked the lawn, for us to set up a stall. A cooker was installed and we sold Cobs, Hot Peas, Cockles, Mussels, Whelks, Hot Jacket Potatoes, and Sweets, etc. Needless to say I got the job of serving the sweets!

In 1931, my mother who seemed to have a better business head, found an empty house and shop at the end of a cul-de-sac round the corner in Curzon Road (No.26) which she rented for 26/- (shillings) a week.

We moved in on Saturday and by Monday the equipment was delivered and being fitted, and we started "frying" Tuesday night fresh fish having been delivered via the old "fish train" system from Grimsby Docks.

I used to peel all the potatoes when I came home from school, in a hand operated potato peeler. This was a large drum that revolved in water contained in a half drum shape, and I had to turn the handle to make it revolve.

Inside the drum were protrusions like a vegetable grater that the potatoes tumbled against as the drum was rotated. It took a bucket full of potatoes at a time. After sufficient revolutions the drum could be lifted out by levers and emptied into a trough.

We then had to take off any peel that had been missed by hand and take out the eyes. On Saturday we would need one cwt.(hundredweight) of potatoes processing. All this took place in the back yard that wasn"t very pleasant in the cold winters.

One Dinner (Lunch as it is now called) Time I came home from school for my dinner and my mother announced she was going to a matinee at the Opera House to see "White Horse Inn". I asked her to take me with her and as expected she said no. She would never let me miss school.

So I threw a tantrum, "kicked the table", pleaded and begged and eventually, much to my surprise she agreed and I went! I think she knew it would be a sort of education for me because it was then I fell in love with the theatre.

In 1931 I left Granby Road Junior School to go to Lansdown Road Senior Boys" School. Here I remember two teachers: A Mr.Duckworth and a Mr. Frank Toone.

About 1932 my mother noticed a piece of spare ground on Duncan Road, the main road, which Curzon Road ran off, where an old bus garage stood.

"Craddock Buses" which originally had run a bus service from town to Aylestone but had gone out of business when the Corporation got the monopoly to run the transport services owned this.

She approached a local builder and suggested he build her a new shop on the site, figuring it would do better business on the main road. He said, "I will go and look at it as I have nothing for my men to do when they finish their present Job."

Later he came back and said, "It"s too big for one shop. I"ll build a pair and you can have one. My mother said, "Fine, but I have no money," to which he said, "Never mind, we"ll sort that out when the time comes."

George Smith, Jersey, Channel Islands, 2002

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