Growing Up in Braunstone (F. J. Abraham)

The way it was. 1930 – 1950

Youngsters brought up in Braunstone during the early days of the Council development were typical of the Country’s working class kids then. Times were harder then, but I think most would say they had a good childhood. Having the advantage of an excellent environment far superior to the inner city from which most of them came.

It is not my intention to give an exact chronological account of the happenings in Braunstone. These can easily be obtained with a little research. My purpose is to try to convey from my memory of that time, how folk lived and worked, what the food, dress, education, crime, etc. was like, and how they interacted towards each other. After the City Council purchased the land which the Braunstone Estate now occupies from the Winstanley’s, South Braunstone was the first part of the estate to be developed, and then N. Braunstone. With the exception of some post war housing it was completed several years before World War Two. Since that time the infrastructure of the estate has changed very little. All the housing was Council owned, since then housing facilities have improved greatly, houses then had no central heating and double glazing etc; Many are now privately owned since about 1980, when Margaret Thatcher introduced the right to buy. Initially all the houses were heated by open coal fires; these produced smog and contributed to the very severe fogs that have since almost been eradicated. However the estate is not as tidy as it was mainly because of poorly kept and fenced gardens, and the large increase in litter, and cars.

Braunstone has the finest open area in Leicester, the park which is in the centre of our estate and provides an extra lung, gives the estate a big advantage over other estates. With every piece of available land used for housing, there is little land available for social and other facilities should they be needed. No doubt in the future City planners will have their eyes on the Park, residents should not concede a single square ft. of our finest asset to development.

Before the War there were no cars on the estate, as a youngster I could not have imagined that ordinary working class folk like us, would own cars to the extent that we do, or our houses. I think the greatest changes have occurred to people, brought about by the changing circumstances, and not to the basic fabric of the estate.

The transition from a manufacturing nation, where almost all were employed, to a wealthy comparatively non producing country, in my opinion has by no means been successfully accomplished.

My family moved to South Braunstone in 1930 when this first part of the estate was half completed. We were an average working class family of that time. There was no bus service to the estate in those days, my Dad came with the removal van and my Mother, Sisters, and myself by tram, we walked from the Hinckley Road tram terminus, I was 5yrs. old, my Mam says I embarrassed her by running down the tram and shouting we’ve got a Council House in Braunstone. Our excitement is still a vivid memory to me; no one had a right to housing then, to be granted a council house was a privilege. Bathrooms, inside toilet, garden etc. were something not enjoyed previously by most families. The garden was full of thistles about 4ft. high which is an early memory. However my dad soon got it under control even with the hindrance of my help.

Initially my parents walked to either Hinckley Rd. or Narborough Rd. to catch a tram into town to go to work. There being no shops on the estate my mother carried all our provisions from Narborough Road which was very hard for her especially Friday and Saturday, (It was a five and a half day week in those days) we would wait for her to come home, for the little extra’s she brought us.

The nearest pub was the Braunstone Hotel (The Huntsman came a few years later) which was opposite the old Narborough Rd. tram terminus. Pubs in those days only opened from 12 noon till 2p.m. and from 6p.m. to 10p.m. The brook on leaving the Park was open along Braunstone Avenue (now piped), to get to the pub a plank over it had to be crossed, no problem going, but coming back in the dark my Dad had been known to fall in.

Hamblin Road Infant School was temporary wooden buildings, the permanent school was under construction (now called Queensmead and recently replaced). Having been at school since the age of 3yrs (at Syston Street School in the City), it was very pleasant especially when we moved into the new buildings. One of my early recollections was the introduction of free school milk, the small third of a pint bottles we enjoyed with our lunch, usually a sandwich most mothers provided their kids with wrapped in greaseproof paper tied with cotton. The teachers were lovely and gave all us kids an Easter egg, and a small present at Christmas.

Our parents were always busy, and there being five of us kids, hugging and terms of endearment considered so necessary by experts in bringing up children today was very rare indeed. Family benefits such as Children’s Allowance did not exist then, and there was no financial assistance of any kind for families, the child allowance was not introduced until after the war. Never the less we took for granted our parent’s by the care they bestowed on us. Wages were low and mothers like now mostly took responsibility for the family’s welfare, and it was often a struggle for some.

We lived about half a mile from the school, parents rarely if ever took their children to school and their kids would have been embarrassed had they done so. I never heard of any child being molested. Traffic was almost non-existent, no one had a car on the estate, milk and bread were delivered Daily, and coal, etc. were mostly delivered by horse drawn carts, motor vehicles were very few. Horse muck was valued for gardens and never lay on the roads for more than minutes.

A large proportion of the kids on the estate attended Sunday School. Hamblin Rd. School (Now called Queensmead) was the most popular one, and we made sure not to miss attending, especially the weeks prior to Christmas, when the Christmas party was held. This consisted of a tea party with as much fruit, jelly cakes, etc. as could be eaten, and lads would often put one or two cakes inside their shirts to be eaten later. After the feast there was a film show (silent), Charlie Chaplin films were the usual one’s shown. On leaving to go home, all were given an apple, orange, and bag of sweets. In the summer Sunday school outings were organised. Bus trips into the county where a field had been hired would be used for informal sports and tea, and was greatly enjoyed by all.

Braunstone Park was in a far more natural state than it is now. The brook formed a large marsh with reed beds (which was called Dead Man’s Island) where the first boating lake is now. This wetland area was teeming with newts and frogs. Going home late at night with a jam jar full of tadpoles and soaking wet feet often meant trouble. Occasionally we would catch field voles from along the banks of the brook, our Grandma thought they were mice and made us get rid of them. Rabbit warrens covered the slope up to the back of the Hall, the wildlife was fantastic, and the woods beyond the Park covered a large area of what is now the North Braunstone Estate, it was like Wind in the Willows. We kids had freedom to explore and roam that would be difficult to imagine today. Once on the park you were in the country there being no development beyond it. Later the boating lake was made, the brook was altered and the paddling pool made. Also a large chute swings, seesaws and other rides, and two harbours with lavatories were added, North Braunstone was not built till several years later. The Park was the only recreational facility for the estates youngsters. In the summer on hot days the paddling pool would be packed with children, and little family groups would picnic on the grass. Mr. Walker was the park manager; he lived in the lodge near the Hinckley Road gates. His two dogs were well known to all the youngsters Zeno a Bullmastiff, and Jack a lurcher. The house on the park near the corner of Cort Crescent and Braunstone Avenue was occupied by the park keeper Mr. Barton who wore a uniform. There were no shops on the estate initially, the nearest being a paper shop called Timpsons on Imperial Avenue or the Narborough Rd shops. A lady sold sweets from a house in Erdington Rd. She would bring a tray of sweets to the door for kids to select from when they knocked, for their halfpenny.

After about two years or so shops opened on the estate, and a bus service (It was called it the little bus) linked the tram terminus on Hinckley Rd. via Winstanley Drive and Imperial Avenue to Narborough Rd. A two penny transfer from bus to tram, a penny transfer for us kids, took one to the City centre. In those days the ratio of children to adults was much higher than today, every house had children and families were bigger than today, large numbers of children played in streets devoid of any cars when they were not at school, with no parked cars and little if any traffic they could play in safety which would be impossible today.

Adults were far more tolerant of kids than now, (almost all had children) and accepted that they needed somewhere to play. If a neighbour complained about children’s behaviour parents knew their kids were invariably in the wrong and never took sides with them. However they caused little damage and were rarely troublesome to residents. Crime was non-existent, words like vandalism, arson, paedophilia etc. were never heard let alone understood; it would be another 30years or more before drugs came to the estate. The estate only had one policeman P.C. Webster lived in a council house on Waltham Avenue it had a post in the garden with the police sign on. He was to be seen patrolling the estate, either riding or pushing his cycle from Narborough Rd. to Hinckley Rd. every day. He would take in all the places youngsters congregated such as shops etc. and would speak with shopkeepers, any troublesome youngster he would take to his home and make his father promise to punish him. Recourse to the Courts was very rare. Police in those days were very authoritarian important persons. They would tolerate no nonsense from anyone.

Children were brought up to understand that adults were their superiors, giving up their seats on trams and buses to adults automatically, if there were no others. Adults reciprocated by looking out for youngsters if they felt they needed help or advice, they would prevent bullying or warn kids of danger etc. Unfortunately there is now a mutual mistrust between the young and the elderly. Games that were played seemed to be seasonal, whip and tops at Easter, followed by snobs (posh name five stones), marbles and faggies (cigarette cards) which were used as a form of currency in bartering, and gambling with, as were marbles. Kids would set up little hoop-la patches on the pavements with various bits of brick a brae and charge 5 fag cards a go, or sell bits and bobs, fag cards and marbles were the usual currency, we never had money. Girls mostly played skipping games and hop scotch etc; we all played games like rounders, hide and seek etc. Football in the street as now caused occasional friction. Boys played football and cricket almost every night on the park. In the summer lads would go swimming, never to the public baths, we never had money for those, but to the Bede House off the canal or to the Aylestone backwaters, Tattenham corner and the pudding bowl are spots that will be remembered, sometimes we would swim in the canal locks at Aylestone. Boys rarely played with girls and vice versa, and outwardly took no interest in them until they were about to leave school at fourteen. On leaving Hamblin Rd Infants School I went to Imperial Avenue Infants School for a year which was nearing completion, a special junior school class was included because Braunstone Hall School was full, which I subsequently attended. This School must have been one of the finest sited schools in Britain, situated in the centre of Braunstone Park, you realise later how privileged you were to be a pupil there. May Day was celebrated with the two very large May poles which classes took turns dancing around and weaving patterns down.

All schools had football teams, and there was plenty of competition to get a place in one. The team would meet at a designated place on a Saturday morning, and teachers would take us to the playing fields where we played our opponents. Some time’s the City Football Club gave the school complimentary tickets to their games (usually for the reserves) only very occasionally for the first team. When we went to a match it was always with pals. Dads working till Saturday lunch time would go for a couple of pints with their mates before going to the match, they never took their kids. However it was perfectly safe for 10 yr. old lads to walk to Filbert St. to see a match. There was no hooliganism or fighting at matches, just good natured banter between rival fans.

Adults always took it upon themselves to look after kids, and made sure they got to the front to see; even passing youngsters over the heads of the crowd, youngsters were always on the terraces or popular side which was standing. Another instance of this was cinemas showing “A” films, youngsters less than 16yrs. needed to be accompanied by an adult. Kids would stand outside the Olympia or Westleigh cinemas and ask any adult going in; would you take me in please? Giving them the money and adults would take them in, once inside going their separate ways.

These were the days of the Empire, the school put on pageants to mark events like King George 5th Silver Jubilee, and George 6th Coronation, the weeks before these events school children made helmets, shields, and swords etc. out of cardboard and wood with the help of teachers and parents, then dressed as Romans, Saxons, etc, put on a show with all the room the park provided. Street parties were organised to celebrate these events, and went on all over the estate almost every block having a party with tables set out in the middle or the road, with everyone singing, dancing, and enjoying themselves. King George the 5ths death, war in Abyssinia, Edward the 8th abdication, (we sang little songs about him and Mrs. Simpson) George 6th Coronation, and the Spanish Civil War were events I remember from this time.

Television, computers, etc. were two or three decades away, not all families had a radio, so it was a case of organising your own activities with pals. Youngsters were probably fitter than now, anorexia, bulimia, and hyperactivity etc. were unheard of, and there being no cars, school bus passes, television, or computers. However the same cannot be said of older folk. Heavy manual work, and poor factory environments, and medical facilities (until the N.H.S. was introduced after the war 1948) took its toll.

During the summer weather permitting, most spare time was spent out of doors. (Much of it on the park) Every autumn picking black berries and mushrooms mainly from around where the old aerodrome used to be was always popular. In the winters it snowed a lot more than now, kids always looked forward to a good fall. Making snowmen, snow fights, playing with home made sledges was good fun. At night cards and board games were played with pals and family members. With no television and only the radio reading was a major part of children’s enjoyment. Comics and tuppenny books were swapped and sort after more, the Wizard, Hotspur, Adventure, Rover, Champion, Magnet, and Gem were books costing two pence that came out weekly that many older folk will remember. Visits to the Westcotes Library were more frequent in spite of the long walk, as spending more time indoors became necessary.

Sunday was a special day, everyone dressed in their best clothes. It was noticeably quieter than other days except for the ringing of church bells. Most of the youngsters attended Sunday school in the afternoon. Tea time on Sunday was a bit special we had extra little luxuries like tinned fruit and cake etc. which was not usual in the week. My eldest sister “I had four” (About 1Oyrs older than me) was courting, she would invite her boy friend around for Sunday tea about every two weeks or so. Always she would threaten me before hand saying “lf you show me up again and I’ll murder you”, she was quite good really. Being at work she gave us a small addition to our pocket money each week.

Attending school was a must, the Boardman would be round their house the next day should any pupil not put in an appearance.

On leaving Braunstone Hall School I attended King Richards Road Boys Intermediate School, having managed to pass the 11 plus or scholarship as it was known then. These were schools for children whose parents could not afford to send their kids to grammar schools, which had a leaving age of 15yrs (they could not afford books or school uniforms and needed an earlier financial input to the family) but could benefit from a higher standard of education than that provided by the normal elementary schools, though the school leaving age was the same 14 yrs. After junior school all education was single sex there were no co-educational schools. However education lacked the equal opportunity that is provided for today’s youngsters. Before the war it was impossible for a Braunstone youngster to get to University. After the war State scholarships were introduced and made this possible, although they were very rarely awarded in Braunstone. The concrete roads for the North Braunstone Estate were completed quite a while before house building commenced; we called them the white roads. A popular pastime for us kids was making trolleys out of scrap wood and boxes etc; with pram wheels of which there was always plenty. We then took our trolleys to play on the white roads. These were deserted, belting down the hills having good fun, despite a few spills and bruises.

Every year up to the commencement of the War, Braunstone Aerodrome held an air display which all enjoyed. Another annual event was the St. Peters Church Fete. This was held in a field near where the Shakespeare pub is now. Kids looked forward to this and had some great fun. The perimeter of the field was patrolled by Boy Scouts to prevent kids getting in free by getting through holes in the hedge, although the entrance fee was only about 2 pence. Most only had a copper or two which they needed to spend inside. No one seemed to bother that many of us kids avoided paying to go in. Inside there were various side stalls, a roundabout, coconut shies, bagatelle, hoopla, etc. and other games such as picking beans out of flour using your mouth only, the same with apples in water, most of these games were free. Creating the most laughter was a wooden horse which had a roller about 10ft.long for the body about 4ft. from the ground, you sat astride at the tail end with the object of hotching along to the head without rolling off, which few managed to do.

The Shakespeare pub came into being a year or two after the war, at this time it was a farm house. Mr. Hennel lived there and managed the farm for the owner Mr. Shakespeare who was the principle of Auctioneers and Estate Agents, Shakespeare, McTurk and Graham. How much did the naming of the pub and the adjacent estate after the great bard owe to him? One of my sisters worked at the farm for a time during the war she was in the Women’s Land Army.

Polling day was enjoyed because the schools were used as polling stations, and children had the day off. It had a fun atmosphere with little groups of kids going round the streets chanting comical little ditties about the various candidates, and hanging about the polling stations offering to look after local dignitary’s cars for a small fee. Councillors in those days were far more dignified and commanded much greater respect than those of today; also their responsibilities were far greater. Utilities like gas, electricity, and water etc. were owned and run by the council with the cities own gasworks and power station (now gone) also its transport system was a model for other authorities.

Bonfire night was also an occasion that was looked forward to. Weeks before Nov. the 5th kids would start what was then called rubbishing, collecting rubbish from shops etc., and start building bonfires on any piece of open ground around the estate. Some were 8 or 10ft. high by Nov. 5â„¢ Rival groups of lads would compete to build the biggest bonfire. At the same time old clothes would be stuffed and provided with a mask, a Guy Fawkes was made, put on a trolley and taken where there were plenty of people, who would be asked to spare a copper for the Guy. This was an entirely acceptable form of begging which adults expected. The few pence gained were spent on fireworks. The Guys was burnt on the bonfires, and the Fire Brigade went round the estate damping down the remains of fires in the early hours of next morning.

Families were bigger then now, there were five of us kids in our family, and therefore order had to be preserved for a reasonable existence. Most kids had household chores to do especially when both parents were at work. You were given jobs that had to be done; orders from parents were never open to discussion. Council houses in South Braunstone had upstairs bathrooms (With no central heating and hot water such as we have at present.) water for bathing was heated up by gas in a copper (it took about two hours to heat for one bath) downstairs in the kitchen and pumped up to the bath with a semi-rotary hand pump. These had to be primed and all leaked badly. I hated bath night, besides having a boy’s natural aversion, it was my job to pump the water up into the bath (we only had one bath a week). I bathed in the same water that three of my sisters had bathed in. When I had pumped the water up, I would shout right I’m having my bath now, this never failed to get my sisters going. They would yell “stop him Mam, we are not going in after him”. My mother was meticulous with the girls’ hygiene washing and combing and checking their hair every week. Through the winter she gave us a spoonful cod liver oil and malt every night before we went bed. She made up cough mixture from a recipe she favoured, dosing us at the first sign of a cold. Before going to school our Grandma checked that I had washed properly, she would say to me “come here” lets have look at the back of your neck and your legs. Looking back, children at that time would all have been classed as deprived compared to today’s youngsters. Boys all wore caps and had to be frequently ordered to clean their boots, they cared very little about their personal appearance and would not worry about a patch or two on their trousers. Parents and schools made them conform to a reasonable standard, which did not compare to today’s well dressed kids. Lads improved when girls entered the equation. They had their Sunday clothes for special occasions. Girls were a lot more fastidious, although they often wore items passed down from their sisters. Mothers knitted a lot and also made their girls lots of clothes and seldom purchased items like frocks etc; Kids these days are much better clothed and shod, and have personal possessions our parents could never have afforded even had they existed.

Food was basic compared to today’s large variety, that it was healthier was not by design but by circumstances, and very different from the diet of our kids now. Children never had money to buy food or sweets during the week and most were not allowed to eat between meals. Vegetables were eaten with every dinner. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday for example, we always had a large joint, what was left over would be ate cold with pickles etc on Monday. Any remaining after that would be made into hash for Tuesday. Fish was cheap particularly herrings and sprats, meals were made from sheep’s heads, offal was also cheap as was ox tails etc which would be made into stew with dumplings. Always a pudding would be had with every dinner, usually suet or bread pudding sometimes rice etc. which would be considered fattening now. Alternatives were never provided if you did not eat what was provided going without till the next meal. Our pocket money ran to a few sweets at the weekend and seldom in the week. There was plenty of competition to get a paper round, these were much sought after, and you put your name down on a waiting list at the newsagent to get one.

Holidays for workers were much shorter than today. The main annual holiday was just one week, the first week in August, other holidays Christmas, Easter and Whitsun were usually two days.

Almost all Braunstone folk worked in Leicester’s diverse manufacturing industries. Leicester was Britain’s largest centre for boots and shoes with hundreds of factories in and around the city. Hosiery factories were like wise numerous. Engineering was another very large employer, the British United was the worlds largest producer of shoe machinery and employed thousands. The Bentley Engineering Group were also the largest hosiery machine manufacturer and employed like numbers. Leicester was also an engineering centre for machine tools, quarry and building plant. School holidays were also much shorter than now, Four weeks in August, no mid term breaks, and about a week at Christmas, Easter, and Whit. Family holidays were rarely longer than day trips to the seaside. Many kids had never seen the sea, special trips were organised by the Leicester Mercury and the Evening Mail (There were two local evening papers then) for these youngsters.

Most boys wore short trousers until they were in their last year at school, almost all boys wore caps, footwear was always boots with steel half tips on the heels and steel studs hammered into the leather soles to make them wear longer (these were the days before plastic soles) Girls had stuck on rubber half soles. Almost all Dads were amateur cobblers to save money, and only used the repair shops as a last resort.

Our Grandma was the only grandparent we had; she lived with us for about five or six years before going to live with an aunt. She was a disciplinarian, we sat at the table before every meal was served up, and always had to ask before we could leave it, eating between meals or in the street was not tolerated. She was a very tough and canny old lady who had had fourteen children and had spent some time in the workhouse. She looked after us whilst our parents worked. Her authority over us was never questioned by Mam or Dad, and she never interfered between them. We always came off second best should we tangle with her or misbehave. Life was especially hard for mothers, like many mothers my mother worked full time. She would come home at night, and would be doing chores like ironing etc. often till 9 O’clock at night. Like most other men my Dad did no housework. However he did the garden. We kids had chores to do and no one went out on Friday night which was cleaning night for the week end.

King Richards Rd. Boys Intermediate School (Nothing to do with King Richard the third School which was much later) was about 2 miles from our house, there were no bus passes or school dinners then, and no one was allowed to stay at school during the dinner break which was 2 hrs. We walked home and back again, in all about 8 miles a day. No excuse was taken for lateness (Including the weather) or for annoying residents. Offences of this nature or any misdemeanours committed during or outside of school hours were dealt with by the Headmaster, he always instilled in us that the good name of the school was paramount. Although the school building was early Victorian and facilities must have been amongst the worst in England let alone Leicester. Our gym and metalwork room was in Castle St. (The old St. Mary de Castro church rooms) and we marched though the streets to get there, several times a week. Every Friday afternoon was allocated for sport. Pupils boarded a line of trams in King Richards Rd. which would go along Fosse Road and Blackbird Rd. to Parker Drive, alighting there, a walk up past the old dog stadium to the playing fields. If the weather was bad it meant staying in school doing lessons, so we prayed for good weather. Sport was considered important and pride was taken in the achievements of schools soccer and rugby teams. In particular the rugby 1st team, which won the under fourteens shield on a regular basis. Four teams would represent the school almost every Saturday during the season. The teachers in charge were just as keen as we were, and took pride in the teams achievements. Education for the school leaving age of 14yrs was of a high standard. Often we would have lessons such as trigonometry in the City, measuring the height of steeples such as the Cathedral pacing out a base line, then sighting the top of the steeple with a theodolite to obtain the angle, on returning to school we would calculate the height. Art was another subject that was often carried out in the City, places like the Jewry Wall, the Castle, Ruperts Arch the Newarks, and various church’s would be sketched, almost 40 pupils, sometimes at several sites with a single teacher in charge. In the summer bus trips to places in the county occurred several times a year. These were much enjoyed although they were really lessons. Visits to places like Mount St. Bernards Abbey, Cropston and Blackbrook reservoirs, Gracedieu, Borough on the Hill etc. making sketches and notes which were written up back at school. Tests on all subjects were carried out twice a year, and reports of the results were sent to parents, this included position in class for every subject, and the overall position in class. Our Headmaster said education is not just a means to an end; it’s an end in its self. King Richards Rd. School made an ingrained lasting effect on us lads who were fortunate enough to be pupils there. Of the many old boys I have met since leaving all have had nothing but praise for the old school. There’s more to schools than just buildings. During this period the storm clouds were gathering over Europe, and war seemed inevitable. I left school at this time, going straight to 48hr five and a half day working week, which would seem very harsh for a 14yr. old by today’s standards. Nevertheless school leavers were well equipped educationally, they were eager, confident, and looked forward to leaving and earning money, even though it was very little. There were no careers officers, and youngsters never took parents to job interviews with prospective employers in case they thought employers would consider them inadequate. When young school leavers started work, initially they were given menial tasks to do, like making tea, running errands etc. No one considered this to be demeaning, just part of the natural order of things. It was part of a growing up apprenticeship.

Everyone was issued with a civilian gasmask, which were supposed to be carried every where. Braunstone houses all had gardens so every one was supplied with an Anderson air raid shelter which residents were responsible in erecting. Looking back the rapidity in which these were manufactured and distributed was a credit to the Government’s organisation. It was matched by the residents who got stuck in completing the erection of their shelters, and those of elderly or disabled folk. Everyone had an identity card, which makes older folk wonder what all the fuss is about now they have been proposed again. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin had managed to get a year’s breathing space. (Peace in our time) before declaring war on Germany. Like the rest of Britain, Braunstone folk were expecting this, and all solidly supported the Government.

When war broke out many young men were called up almost immediately, especially those who were reservists and members of the T. A: The L.D.V. was formed (Local Defence Volunteers), which later became the Home Guard. Their headquarters for Braunstone was the school on the park. This was because Braunstone Park was considered to be a likely dropping zone for German Paratroopers. The park was patrolled every night through the hours of darkness by the Home Guard. Occasionally the odd courting couple who had managed to get on the park were surprised and startled by a patrol which had sneaked up on them with a shout of “Halt who goes there, friend or foe” friend would be the reply “Advance friend to be recognised” Much to the embarrassment of the couple and the enjoyment of those patrolling. Everyone knew the correct procedure, and had been taught that failure to observe it may mean being shot so no one took chances. Red faces would be seen in the torch light.

Early in the war a string of bombs were dropped by a German bomber across the park from opposite Aylmer Rd. S. Braunstone through to the N. Braunstone estate. After the bombing of Leicester, and the Coventry blitz, Braunstone folk took to their air raid shelters less mostly ignoring the sirens and sleeping through. Rabbits on the park were gassed and the warrens were ploughed over and destroyed, about half of the park was cultivated for cereal crops. All the Allotment Society’s plots were taken and cultivated. Every piece of waste ground was used for allotments (Dig for Victory campaign) to assist the food shortage. Despite food rationing no ones plot was interfered with although some were quite open. The women worked wonders with the food rations; they stretched the butter and the sugar rations and had all sorts of dodges to prepare good meals. People were allowed by the Council to keep poultry, and most kept chickens and rabbits, surrendering their egg ration for poultry food. Rabbits were kept for food not pets. Despite clothes rationing girls managed to look attractive, female ingenuity compensating for many shortages. To illustrate these silk stockings at this time had a seam at the back, (before nylons). They were almost impossible to obtain, so some girls coloured their legs and got a friend to draw a line down the back of their legs to simulate the seam.

Conscription meant the young men on reaching 18yrs were called up to serve in the forces, older men had already been conscripted. Waiting until one was 18yrs. old most likely meant conscription into the army, or coal mines (Bevin boys) neither of which I fancied, so I volunteered and joined the Navy when I was seventeen. Even through the worst times during the war people remained cheerful and optimistic. There was a spirit amongst folk that has never since been replicated. Whilst their husbands were away some said mothers would not be able to control their children. However little changed, with the women showing who controlled the family.

When America entered the war a camp for American troops was set up on the South Braunstone side of the Park facing Gooding Avenue from Redmarle Rd to Aylmer Rd. Braunstone folk got on well with all the Yanks who were very generous giving sweets and chewing gum to the children. They did not have rationing and seemed to have unlimited amounts of food. Many of them were overweight. Tinned meats, fruit, and other foodstuffs etc. were given to the local residents they favoured. However when American soldiers had been drinking in the local pubs (the Braunstone Hotel and the Huntsman) trouble would break out between the black and the white troops. The American camp commander stopped this by ordering that black troops go out one night, and white the next. At this time I was in the Navy only seeing the Americans when home on leave.

Because British servicemen were the lowest paid of all the Allied forces and Americans the highest they rarely mixed. A low rank British serviceman’s pay was barely one pound a week, and they could not compete socially with the lowest paid Americans getting around five pounds a week. Braunstone’s young servicemen envied them because they did not have the money to spend on girls etc, and having a good time that the Americans had.

At this time there was a beer shortage, and sometimes pubs had no beer or only opened for an hour or so. When a pub ran out beer someone would come in and say so and so pub still has beer and all would rush to get another drink before closing time.

Towards the end of the war the Americans left the Park and the camp was occupied by British Army personnel. After a time the Army left and the empty Nissan huts were occupied by squatters. These were families who could not get housing accommodation. When these families were found houses, and as soon as they moved out, the Council pulled the Nissan huts down to prevent further occupation. A year or two later the last family had been re-housed and the site cleared, the Park reverted to something like its former self.

Just over a year after the war ended I was demobbed from the Navy. Many of the older married servicemen had returned to their families and some normality was beginning to be restored.

Food was still rationed, and clothes were on coupons, the little crime there was mostly concerned the black market in these commodities. Although most men had been trained in the use of weapons and unarmed combat, violence was nil. Times were still fairly austere, pubs closed at 10 p.m. and singing was not allowed in pubs in the City, although it was in the County. The winter of 1946-7 was perhaps the worst ever. Temperatures stayed below freezing for weeks. Coal was the source for almost all power (Heating electricity and gas.) and the bad weather meant moving it was limited. Power cuts meant folk were laid off from work, and coal which most people used for heating was in very short supply. Wood was collected from spinneys and some fencing etc. was burnt in an effort to keep warm. It was a common sight to see folk pushing prams and pushchairs with large bags of coke which they had fetched from the Aylestone Rd. gas works. Considering the Country was almost bankrupt when the War ended the first post War Government (Led by Clement Atlee) did an excellent job. Gradually rationing was abolished, they started N.H.S; allowances for children were introduced, retirement pensions improved, and the working week reduced to five days, (40hrs.) longer annual holidays were enjoyed.

Today despite the loss of almost all our industry, and the introduction of automation, and computerisation etc. working hours have hardly changed since that time, and the retirement age is set to be raised. Looking back and considering the circumstances and the achievements of this Government it makes one realise that our country has fallen well short of its economic potential and its welfare feel good factor. Those who served and fought for the country during the war to maintain its independence were betrayed and have now seen this surrendered. Even so we have a much better living standard than the early years I write about. Recent improvements to the facilities on our estate (New Deal) have given rise to increasing optimism and hopefully this will continue. Blaming parents for the wayward behaviour of some youngsters that leads to crime is totally wrong. The Government has created a climate where bad behaviour, poor education, drugs and crime can flourish. Their abandonment of common sense for liberalistic legislation is increasingly destroying family life, and every piece of new legislation they introduce makes the situation worse. They have removed all the traditional tools that kept crime low and produced far superior educational results. Human rights increasingly bestowed on criminals, is a further blow that greatly diminishes the human rights of everyone else, especially the vulnerable and the elderly. A recent example of governmental inconsistencies is in an effort to curb drinking they increased licensing hours, which is fostering more drinking and further depravation. Gambling with its associated miseries is also set to be fostered by the government. Despite the claim that they are worried about people’s personal debt, and the large numbers apposed to it. Unfortunately the cliques ruling Parliamentary political parties have their own interpretation of democracy and impose their will on M.P.s by threatening to cast them out of the party into the wilderness should they not obey the whips. However I remain optimistic that the common sense of ordinary people will eventually say enough.

F. J. Abraham 2007

This entry is dated Wednesday, May 30th, 2007 at 4.38pm and is filed under History.

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