Friday, 1 June 2012

Garden St

A lovely lady has shared her family's story with me....

Her grandfather came over to Leicester for work in the 1870s. He found it working at 
The Royal Opera House, which opened on Thursday, September 6, 1877, where he was quite an expert at ornate plasterwork. She remembers going here years later with her own mother: the Opera House would have seasons for musical comedies, pantos and plays as well. operas. He married his wife of Irish descent, quite likely in Ireland, before they came over.
Her maternal grandmother, had lived in Liverpool and Bradford before she came to Leicester where she was in service aged 16. Family history has it that she worked in factories in Bradford as young as 6 years old. The family had emigrated from Tipperary.

Garden St as it is today, with remnants of how if would have been.

My story teller’s parents had a grocer’s shop on the corner of Royal East St and Abbey St. and lived nearby in Garden St: her father had probably been born here. He owned the shop from whern he had left the British Army previous to WW1, where he went to India for about 3 yrs, He and his first wife had a very good business which she kept going when he was recalled for service at the outbreak of WW1: he was a stretcher bearer in France. He came to home to take over the business again when he was discharged in 1919. His wife died two years later and he was a widower till he married in 1925. He met his Irish wife at a St Patrick’s Church dance where they were fellow parishioners.
St. Patrick's school, Royal East St.

They retained the business until the terrible times of the 20s and 30s when both England and America were in recession and the whole financial structure was crumbling.
He was a good business man with a soft heart, letting customers run up unpaid slates until he too succumbed to bankruptcy. Sadly, he had to sell the shop but the buyers only paid half of what it was worth.

The family lived above the grocer’s shop and the maternal grandmother lived at No 11 Wilton St, off Belgrave Rd with an unmarried daughter. My friend’s mother went to stay there for a while in 1928 to have her first baby, so that  her mother and sister could look after her.

The family were forced to move out when the shop went bankrupt and moved in to the grandmother’s house, at no. 11 for a while. Her brother and sister were born here. Then no. 6 became vacant and they moved over there as a family. (Unfortunately we don't have any photos of Wilton St).

The father did, however, pull himself out of the Depression era by investing in a horse and dray. He built up a round on the new estates that were springing up on the outskirts of Leicester, delivering fresh fish and vegetables and eventually expanding to employ 2 men with a horse and dray each. These men ranged out through the villages as far as Coalville while he carried on with the original round, plus buying a pony and trap for personal use. 

My friend tells me

“When I could drag myself out of bed, I would go with my father to the wholesale fish markets plus the wholesale fruit and vegetable market which at the time (1930s) was in Yeoman St. We would get there would be there for 5.00 am and Dad would be bright as a button, whistling and singing in the magic of the market at that time of the morning. The market was alive with rough humour, and bargaining shouts filled the echoing hall, cigarette smoke misting the high rafters creating an eerie magic. Dad was well known and always secured the freshest fish, fruit and vegetables. The early morning excitement would be followed by a cup of milky tea in the central cafe in the middle of the hall, watching the final transactions. By 8.00 am. the hall would be silent and deserted except for a few cleaners sweeping up the discarded remains of vegetables.”

The Salmon, Butts Close Lane.
We also spent a lovely evening together recently driving round the Leicester streets mentioned above and where thrilled to find The Salmon pub on Butts Close Lane, off Church Gate. My friend remembers her father using the yard of this pub to water his horses on his rounds!

Thanks to Colin Hyde for the photos: East Midlands Oral History Archive

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