Braunstone when I was younger – by Rosemary Bateman

I was born in 1932 in Braunstone Village, in the first house of Newark, which now they call Cressida Place. It was a nice village, not a lot of houses and none of the estate there, not when I was little.
My father worked for old Mrs. Johnson at the Old Hall Farm and he worked there for a lot of years and he used to bring the cows out this way and of course up the fields onto the Church Field, and my mother was just an ordinary housewife.
And my brothers and sisters we all played you know games, hide and seek in the spinney at the back. There was a stream at the back that we used to walk across, sometimes we fell in it! And also, where the 2 bungalows are now in Braunstone Lane, there was a pond there: we used to play round that, swing in the trees and, so it was quite a good life you know …
We had an old wind up gramophone, so that was our entertainment on a Sunday, or a walk up the bridle path! I know one favourite song was a very old one that my father liked and that was ‘Danny Boy’ – very old ones like that. We used to go blackberrying up the fields, that was another pastime, so really there wasn’t a lot of music. We only had it on Sunday so there was not a lot to do with music or anything.
It was a completely different life, I mean there was nothing to sit and look at at night, televisions or things like that, no wireless to listen to, so you just played out or read your books and made jigsaws.

My earliest memories of St. Peters was when I was 8 years old before I started Sunday school in the old school across the road in Braunstone Lane. And I carried on from there. Being in the Brownies we had a parade every month at St. Peter’s Church.
That was before it was changed and made into a bigger church: I remember it then. I was a Brownie at 7 and so of course that was the old church as we saw it. Then there was this big opening that they did with the plans with the new church, so it soon disappeared from memory really, but I can just remember the old part as we are back to now.
The church might have been fuller than it is now, but I’d never say it was completely full, not altogether. But we did have a good Sunday school then, we would have Sunday school in the afternoon here for the little ones, and then we would take the little ones over to the big one that they had in the church. And then when the old school shut up, we had the little ones in the parish hall.
We’d have perhaps about 30 up to 7 year olds and then they went into church. I taught at Sunday School for 40 years – started when I was 17.
We had some rare children, you see. There was one, one couple, one lot of children, very nice, and they were the only ones that, when they left, their parents sent us a letter to say how pleased they were. But other children we’ve had come to church, licking ice-cream, and it was a Brownie parade one day and one lady came, she said, “They’ve got ice-creams here!”
I said, “Well if you haven’t been to Braunstone first you’ve not lived!”
Another family came in with a dead rabbit one day! I think they just brought it in! So I mean, you know, a lot of the children perhaps all had different fathers even then.

I vaguely remember the bus used to terminate here at one time, so there was always a bus, we didn’t have a car. I don’t know whether we ever went to town much; I don’t sort of remember going to town very often you know, unless you went to buy new shoes or something perhaps…
Our walk was Saturday mornings to queue at the Co-op on Hallam Crescent East, half past seven in the morning we would go to queue up for food you know, on your rations you know, I mean you didn’t have no more … So that was the walk there, and of course it was always a walk then to school, well we should walk past the Co-op every day going to the school in Caldecote Road, shouldn’t we?

During the War, everywhere you went you’d got to carry your gas mask and you’d got to try it on. At Caldecote Road we had to try our gas mask on and my sister next to me, she was crying; she wouldn’t put hers on. I was only a child of 7, my sister was 5. And the teacher fetched me to see if I could try and put her gas mask on for her, which was very difficult.
And then we had to go down the shelter at nights, we had a shelter at the back garden. So we used to cut sandwiches and put them in a basket ready for when the sirens went. And then we’d go down the shelter and stay there until the all clear went, taking our sandwiches with us.
I remember my father was on fire-watch duty at Western Park and they saw this bomb coming, the one that landed on Cort Crescent up near the Cort Crescent School. I remember it just whizzing past the corner of our house, because we were at the end house, and then of course the people next door said, “You’d better get up, go down the shelter.” That was when they bombed Webster Road, I think it was, it left just the babies’ cot in the room, you know, the wall had gone away and just left the babies’ cot standing there.
I was only 7 when the war started but I do remember… and then we had the Americans on the park, you know, stationed. I always remember we stood there, we used to have the convoys come down the road and of course where that green is now there was a hedge about 10 foot high. So we stood there one day and this convoy came past, and of course you wave to them as children, and one of them in the back threw a package out. But of course we’d been told not to touch anything! But we got a stick and poked it, it seemed all right so we took it to our parents and there was biscuits and chocolate in for us!
But the biscuits were as hard as anything you know, but I bet they thought we’d got no food you see, so that was quite… so it was just a matter of going to school always with your gas masks, and then you’d have a bit more added on the chin every time it got bigger, you know, they keep adding a bit on each… I suppose the, whatever it was that kept you safe, had gone out of it, so they added a bit more on.

My father worked for Braunstone Park and Western Park mowing the lawns, the grass and that. I know my mother and the lady next door used to make us a lovely tray of chocolate, I don’t know how she made it but it was with dried milk and my brother only said the other day, “That chocolate tasted better than any chocolate you get now!” We don’t know what it was made of or what the recipe was.
We used to have to fetch the milk everyday from the farm, you know in a jug – nothing to protect it from disease! You used to see it come down a funny thing into a bath, and that was how it was sort of purified I should think. But we did have one fella who was a milkman and he came from the farm, he used to deliver the milk. And if he was thirsty when he got the cows out, he wouldn’t take a drink straight from the milk. When he got them on the village green or somewhere, he would take a drink like that. And of course it was the horse and float, you know, to bring the milk when they did get it round, but we had to fetch ours first.
My father had this horse and float once, and we went out for the day to relations in Enderby, we went all the way with this horse! The poor horse was lathered!

After the war we were still on rations for so long, but I don’t believe we carried a gas mask any more. Even then things were dear because we had coupons for clothes as well. I know this sounds funny: when I was at work my fore-lady could afford clothes which we couldn’t, so she would buy my mother’s coupons from her so she could buy extra clothes! Because my parents weren’t well off to buy us all new clothes, but my fore-lady was perhaps that bit better off and she said, “Have you got any coupons to spare then I’ll give you some money for… so they could go and buy new clothes if they wanted or new shoes you see. So it carried on I think, till about 1950 did they say? And you were measured at school, and the bigger feet you’d got the more clothes coupons you got! I’ve got big feet so I did get extra coupons! So whether the bigger shoes cost more coupons I’m not certain about that.

Dad worked on the parks right until he retired. Because he had to learn then to drive a tractor, and we were all keeping our fingers crossed because he’d always been used to a horse and cart but he did pass.

Photo: Mr F Rodwell (Rosemary's Dad) cutting the grass in Western Park in 1959

1959: Mowing grass the leisurely way
Idyll: It looks like a rural scene, but in fact this is a picture of Western Park, Leicester, taken 44 years ago to the month. It shows Mr F Rodwell cutting the grass with his 24-year-old working mare, Betty, beneath a flowering chestnut tree which “dapples the grass with shadow in the brilliant sunshine”, as the Mercury reporter wrote. This is an image that truly does belong to another age.
(Leicester Mercury)

Because he used to mow what is now the new ring road down Hand Avenue: that was all grass, lovely green – he mowed that as well you see. He use to mow the church field with a horse and mower and the little rabbits would run out at the lights.
We used to eat rabbits during the war because we had a lot, we kept 20 or more, we took them to shows – and fowls and ducks as well, so we did get a few extra eggs. We’d got garden to dig, to put potatoes in, so we did eat quite well, although we never had a lot of money…

This entry is dated Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 at 11.54am and is filed under History.

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