Thursday, 13 June 2013

St Steven's Rd.

John Walker on St Steven's Rd. Tall fella, centre right.
John Walker was born in Tubbercurry, County Sligo in 1937. He came over to England when he was 19 on October 5, 1956 and arrived in Leicester the next day, a Saturday. He was met by his brother James who was the eldest brother and had already come over “for money".

The Black Boy, Albion St.

John first stayed in South Albion St. with a Kerry man, John Brosnan and his wife. James warned him that the food wasn’t very good and that he’d soon look like a greyhound.
After a few months the brothers found a room in a house on Avon St with a cousin, Johnny Armstrong, and they cooked for themselves. They lived here for 2 yrs. and during this time John worked for John Laing. John and James  paid £2 a week rent, a pound each. John did the shopping and James did the cooking and when James left John had forgotten how to cook!
He met two fellas from Charlestown who got them work with cars," no tax”. John first worked in Derby,  Matlock, Sponden and finally back to Leicester. In Leicester he worked for Johnson and Stubbs, a Birkenhead firm, digging trenches and laying gas pipes. After 2 or 3 months he was transferred to Northampton, then Runcorn and back to Leicester. He was then 23 years old.

Back in Leicester he got a room on his own at 8 Tichbourne St. and then 43 St. Peter’s Rd. with 2 other fellas, Johnny Quinn and George Callaghan.
George “ never washed a shirt”. He would buy a new shirt each week, wear it till it was black and then buy a new one. He’d be spending £2 for a shirt when John was paying £4 a week to have his entire washing done at a local laundry. When John told him George couldn’t believe how all his shirts came back clean and pressed: he didn’t buy another shirt for 6 months!
Johnny Quinn would take his dog to the pub; he’d buy two pints, one for himself and one for the terrier sitting on the bar!
They had a cooker in the room and John did the cooking and shopping. The first week they paid £3 each and John kept a tally of all the costs in a book.

John had been a Pioneer since he was 16 in 1953. People used to say “drink is a bad dog you have to muzzle” and ” Drink never made a strong man or a great nation.”
The other fellas liked a drink and would be dying for a drink on Sundays when the pubs were shut. Although John was a Pioneer he could see how much the fellas wanted their drink; once he bought bottles of beer and hid them under the sink. He told them he could get them drink on a Sunday and charged them £2 for it! They couldn’t understand where he’d got it from and he could never understand why they didn’t do that for themselves. (He gave them their money back when it he told them what he’d done.)
John would often make a big stew. One time he put the 4lbs of stewing beef in the pot but fell asleep and forgot to turn it on. When he woke up he put it on for a while and went out. That night George Callaghan brought a fella back from the pub saying “John always had a great stew on” but this time it was half raw!
In 1963 he bought a house on St. Steven’s Rd for £1,800. His friend, Big John Ward was amazed: “You buy a house? You couldn’t buy your breakfast!”
Like many fellas John would go home to see his family and would help out on the family smallholding. One time, in 1966 he met Mary McDonagh at a dance in Cloonacool. This was a fundraising dance for the local priests in a marquee and cost 2/6d to get in.
Mary had a great musical ear and could pick up a lilt. She could go to a dance, sit up with the band, come home and lilt a tune to her father. “Daddy, I have a nice tune” He’d say ” bring me the fiddle from under the bed” and between them they’d get it! They were married in 1968 by John’s brother, Michael, who was a priest.

Dunlop, Leicester.

Mary had already been over to England: she had lived in Birkenhead with an Aunty and trained as a bookkeeper. When she came to Leicester she worked at Dunlop filling in for a woman but they wanted her to stay on. Their first son, Michael, was born in 1969 and she went back to work after wards.
He remembers going to the pictures regularly on Melbourne Rd. and an off-license called Walker’s on Biddolph St  (which is now a funeral directors.)
They used both Holy Cross and Sacred Heart Church. They were in Sacred Heart Parish but the other side of St. Steven’s Rd was in Holy Cross.
John doesn’t recall experiencing any prejudice during those early years and one friend had even asked why so many people talked to him. John says “If you’re alright with people, people will be right with you.” “I often meet a black man and stand up and have the craic.” "When I go in if they don’t speak to me I speak to them."
Both children were born in Leicester; Michael in The General in 1969, John in The Royal in 1972.
Once both his uncle and father had died John says " Being as I was supposed to go home anyway” he went home and the family stayed in Ireland for the next 14 years.
John came back to Leicester in 1986 while Mary and the boys stayed in Ireland. They'd had a very bad year on the farm and eventually John decided to rent all the land out  and the whole family returned to 14 Linton St, Evington, a 3 bed-terraced. (The family still own that land.)

Linton St today.
Michael went to Charles Keene College and John went to St.Paul’s. It was only after a visit from the Headmaster that John realised his youngest had been ”schemin’ school” for months. Young John had done the work in school in Ireland and was able to miss school here in England and still keep up. The Headmaster even said " If he was my son I’d take him out and get him a job”. John went on to night school and continued his education getting a degree in Electrical Engineering.

 If you'd like to be involved contact us on 0116 276 9186 or pop in to:

The Emerald Centre, Gipsy Lane, Leicester. LE5 OTB

We're now also on Twitter: follow me on  @irishleicester or join The Irish in Leicester group on Facebook.
Click here to view a map of The Irish in Leicester.
Thank to Colin Hyde at EMOHA for the photo of Linton St.


  1. Really enjoyed reading this. Michael Walker is our son in law who is married to our daughter Tracy. He really is a wonderful man and my wife Joan and I love him as we love our own children. They have 4 children, Jack 19, Katie 15, Joseph nearly 12 and little Niamh who is 9. John Walker is a true gentleman and a wonderful man, and we feel so privileged that the Walker family is part of our family.

  2. Thank you Steve. John is full of stories and gives a great insight into how life was back then.