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Growing up on Fosse Road North, Leicester

By Alan D Craxford

The environs

If you have managed to get this deep into our site, I should by now need no introduction. This is the second of three articles written after a visit we made to my ancestral home in August 2005. The first (358: Our family home) described my parent's house. The third is a valedictory in honour of the main artery of our life in those times: King Richard's Road.

This article is a more general overview of the neighbourhood in which I grew up, went to school and made my first tentative steps into adolescent if not full adult life. The time scale is roughly the decade between 1955 and 1964; a time when I moved from junior school through grammar school and ultimately left the region to go on to University. I did work for several years in Leicester in the early 1970s but after my parents left the city I had not been back for nearly twenty five years.


Fosse Road North

354-364 Fosse Road North, Leicester

The block where we lived

Perhaps before we start I should get you acquainted with the neighbourhood. The world of my pre-teens was quite small and well defined. We lived on Fosse Road North in the West End of Leicester at most about three miles from the city centre. Our house was in a terrace near the junction of Fosse Road North and Central, Glenfield Road, Kirby Road and King Richard's Road. Although it is not apparent from the map, we were also at the top of a promontory geographically speaking so that there were quite steep gradients down the roads to the north, east and west.

The Fosse Park Recreation Ground

Fosse Park

In the earliest years of this decade, the focus of my perambulations was along Fosse Road North and was bounded by the railway bridge which carried a still-working goods line. We would sometimes detour off Stephenson Drive to watch the trucks shunted along the tracks by the old steam engines. There was a modest tree lined open area - the Fosse Road Recreation Ground (Fosse Park) - where the kids kicked footballs, rode bicycles and played on the swings and the dogs exercised! I still have a papery scar on my shin where I tore it on a rusty brake handle falling over a bike when playing as goalie!! The other side of the road was lined by a terrace of large Victorian dwellings. The only commercial properties of interest belonged to Dr Hallam (our family doctor and long time family friend) near the corner of Paget Road and a ladies hairdresser halfway down the hill, Owen Staples - whose son went to the same school as me.

At that time our parents boundaries seemed to be marked by the pubs they frequented. Their favourite in the 1950s was 'The Empire' - on Fosse Road North, beyond Pool Road opposite the end of Battenberg Road where they would meet up with Ethel and Dan Tierney for a pint of Double Diamond and a lager and lime a couple of times a week. Sweet shops, on the other hand, were the 'mile markers' for us kids. I can remember Shooters, strategically placed at the top of the Pool Road hill, selling all manner of flavoured ice lollies on hot summer afternoons.

The Empire 1955
The Empire 2005

The Empire Hotel, Fosse Road North, Leicester in 1955 (left) (1) and 2005 (right) (2))

First schools

Mantle Road Infants School

Mantle Road (3)

I went to school in that direction: firstly to Mantle Road Infants (at the far end of Tudor Road) and then to Inglehurst Junior School (in Ingle Street) - at the top end of Pool Road. There's a curiosity in this neighbourhood too. Newfoundpool, the estate of terraced housing built along Pool Road in the 1880s, was designed by a local builder and worthy, one Mr I. Harrison. If you look carefully you will see that the initials of these side streets spell out his name. To begin with, all the houses were given grand sounding names, such as Fernleigh House (some of which can still be seen on plaques above the front door today), and remained unnumbered until the turn of the century.

'Going to school' is one of the most noticeable differences of those far off days of fifty years ago that affect children of all ages. No 4x4s in those days. I walked to school unaccompanied night and morning, summer and winter, rain and shine from about the age of 5. I was also the big brother monitor of my baby sister. On the way Brenda tagged along about two yards and two years behind me! We have an apocryphal family story of my mother and Eva standing on the corner of Bosworth Street one evening watching me progress slowly up the Fosse hill doing my own thing. About half way I became aware of their gaze and of Brenda's absence in the same instant. I had forgotten to collect her for the journey home. I turned and ran - all the way back to Mantle Road to find Brenda happily playing on her own, quite unconcerned, in the classroom.

The Fosse Road railway bridge early 1950s

The Railway Bridge early 1950s (1)

Junior School was where budding friendships were forged, rivalries were contested and the first inklings of academia were introduced. There was something educationally experimental being tried out in the year behind us called 'Free Association' but we sat in seried ranks of desks, learning our tables and writing out the alphabet in italic script. We were groomed to face the 11-plus examination (scourge of so many parents of the day) I have to say that I didn't find the little test much of a challenge. I vied with Nicholas Green for first place in the class throughout our four years - he usually triumphed. He ultimately went on to a rival grammar school - the Wyggeston.

The actor, John Wayne

John Wayne (4)

The actor, Richard Todd

Richard Todd (5)

Christopher Isherwood was also in my year. I made quite frequent trips to his house at the foot of Pool Road where an evening's entertainment would consist of listening to an episode of 'The Archers' at 6:45 followed by 'Sexton Blake' (or was it 'Dick Barton, Special Agent'?) at 7pm while reading that week's issue of 'The Eagle'. This was followed by a family game of Monopoly. I also remember that they had an interestingly decorated toilet - walls which had papered with old newspapers and then varnished (quite a novelty for 1957). I do remember some other names and have hazy recollection of childhood faces of those Ingle Street days. I wonder what happened to Richard Lakin, Steven Clark, Robert Kirk, Susan Burton and Jennifer Booth?

Almost adjacent to the Empire was the Fosse Cinema. What a magnet the Saturday matinee club (tickets 6d a time) was for the local kids. We'd queue up for the weekly instalment of Flash Gorden and Tom and Jerry and sit through the exploits of John Wayne or Richard Todd - and then played at Cowboys and Indians or The Dambusters on the way home. It was also the scene of my first date - I took Judith Crane to see a movie - a musical! I have always liked the story of Uncle Tom's cabin and can still whistle a happy tune.


Glenfield Road

St Paul's Church, Glenfield Road 2005

St Paul's Church

Apart from St Paul's Church, which sat on the corner with Kirby Road, Glenfield Road did not concern us much in the early days. By the time I had moved to Ingle Street, I did occasionally come home "the other way" along Sandhurst Road and then back up the Glenfield Road hill. The establishment which attracted an audience of children in the afternoon was the Co-operative Dairy and Bottling Plant - a noisy place of wonderment watching the rows of bottles trundling along the production line being washed, sterilised, filled and then capped. If we were lucky we would be rewarded with a strip of aluminium foil that the caps were stamped from (I have no idea now what we did with it). If we were even luckier we would catch a fleeting glimpse of the magnificent horses that were stabled there being fed and groomed that in those days were still used to pull the carts. Somewhat later these streets were part of my paper delivery territory.

Car bonnet badge Austin A35

Austin A35 badge

During the mid 1960s Mother and Father's attention also strayed from 'The Empire' to the slightly nearer hostelry 'The Sir Charles Napier' where they would meet their friends the Cuttings (Freda and Jack, I think). Father started to drive in the late 1950s (an Austin A35). We had no garage in those days and side street parking was not particularly secure, so he hired a variety of premises over the years. For some time, one of these was situated down a rough track on the edge of the Fosse Park opposite this public house. In the mid 1960s he moved to a medium sized car - a Cortina - for the first time. On his first day of ownership, he took it away to park for the night and was gone for more than an hour. When he came back he sheepishly had to acknowledge that he had misjudged the turning circle and had run into the door frame.


To the east

Our parents' wedding group: Mum, Uncle Bill and Ann Potter

Mum, Uncle Bill and Ann Potter, bridesmaid

The main road into the City centre was King Richard's Road - which is the subject of another article. However behind our house, and spread out between Fosse Road North and Tudor Road was an estate of streets of terraced housing. Many entered straight from the street into the front room - the rear was reached through a passageway which burrowed through the house. There were also alleyways which ran between the back-to-back terraces and in places courtyards opened up where another bank of housing could be found. Mum's lifelong friend and bridesmaid, Ann Potter, lived with her husband John in Tyrrell Street. Our aunt and uncle lived in Bosworth Street.

Noble Street had three corner shops within a "bottle of milk" distance ("Brenda, we've run out of milk. Pop over and get a pint,please"!!). Mrs Savage was the nearest - hers was a shop (not strictly on a corner) created out of the small front room of a house in the middle of a terrace where she lived with her husband Fred. Even after Ethel had retired and moved Mum kept up a friendship with her. The off licence (draft beer and wines, QC Cream, 6d back on the empties) stood on the corner of Noble Street and Flora Street. The somewhat larger grocery store (Radfords) was on the next corner down (Dannett Street). They prided themselves on a home delivery service.

Savages
Radfords

Mrs Savage's shop (the door behind the Ford Anglia) (6)(left); and Radfords Grocery, 1971 (7) (right))

... And, talking of home deliveries: the baker called every day, as did the milkman - first with a horse drawn cart (our first milkman had St Vitus Dance, a condition which caused him to walk with a curious hopping gait) and later with an electric milk float.

Fosse Road Central and beyond

The "Central" part of the Fosse was quite short and held little of interest. There was the Dental Surgery which was best avoided. Brenda also went regularly to Miss Warner, a very elderly lady and piano teacher, in Daneshill Road. (For an account of a recently uncovered and quite remarkable connection see the article "Concerning the Beadsworth family in Leicester: Part 2" [- Ed]

The CD Elvis Is Back

Elvis Is Back

Early photgraph of Cliff Richard with Cherry Wainer

Cliff (8)

Lesley

Lesley, 1962

During the first half of the 60s decade the boundary of my world in this direction was some way along Fosse Road South which was where my sometime girlfriend Lesley lived. The families had met several years before on the annual holiday jaunt by train to the West Country (Weston-super-Mare on this occasion). Lesley lived with her mother in Upperton Road and was at the same school (a year or so senior) as Brenda. She liked all types of music and was a great Elvis and Sinatra fan. These two provided the music at a long remembered 'first proper' party (that involved having the music a bit louder than usual; the lights a bit lower than usual and the parents in the other room.) Other stars were not so memorable. Who remembers the 'Nashville Teens' these days?

I recall two particular dates that we had during this period. We went to see one of the first screenings of Elvis' film "G.I. Blues" in Leicester. We also went to a concert at the De Montfort Hall which featured the organist, Cherry Wainer, and a young entertainer and his group by the name of Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

Continued in column 2...



Page added: September 27th 2005
Last updated May 14th 2016


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Grammar School and other things

Alderman Newtons Boys School, Leicester: The old school buildings next door to St Nicholas Cathedral

Alderman Newton's School

I attended Alderman Newton's Boys School between 1957 and 1964. The family had had a long association with the school in the past. My great uncle, William Ball (he is pictured at my mother's wedding in the photograph above) was a schoolmaster and deputy head during the 1920s. My mother attended the Girls' School. The main school occupied a building which had been used by another school earlier in Peacock Lane next door to Leicester Cathedral and the old half-timbered Guildhall. Sometime later it expanded into the buildings vacated by the Girls' School when they moved to new premises at the top of Glenfield Road. The school operated a classic streaming syllabus where the more able students took O-level GCE subjects in four years rather than five. I was destined to take pure science subjects. I always found the Biology topics easy to comprehend guided by schoolmaster Harry Hayman. However Physics was something of a trial. At one school evening, my parents were greeted by Mr Morris, the Physics master's wry comment "Become a surgeon? If he doesn't pull his socks up he won't make second lieutenant in the St John's Ambulance"

Green Wyvern Yacht Club pennant

The Green Wyvern birgee (9)

The school colours were a distinctive green blazer with red trimmings. The History master, Bert Howard, was something of a celebrity having appeared for years as a panellist on the BBC radio "Round Britain Quiz" programme. He and his brother, Cecil, were instrumental in running the 'Green Wyvern Yacht Club' (9) along with the City of Leicester Boys School which provided educational and navigational holidays for scholars on the Norfolk Broads. I sailed twice in the early 1960s (on boats with such names as 'Vanessa', 'Nyanza', 'Harvest Moon'). I also played chess for the school and latterly ran the school chess club.

Away from school, I had a Saturday and holiday job (£1 a day) at the Co-op on High Street working in the basement. This involved working in the hardware, kitchen and decorating department (supervised by Les Smith, the floor manager). I recall helping with the setting up of a small car accessory section. I was also invited in for additional sessions when stock control time came around. The store at that time was one of the largest in Leicester. It has long since disappeared, it's place being taken by Rackhams in the new Shires Complex.

High Street Leicester 1960
High Street Leicester 2005

High Street, Leicester in 1955: The Co-op 1960 (left) (1) and The Shires and Rackham's 2005 (right))

Time waits for no man

The decade, dawdling so slowly when I was in the thick of it, came and went. I moved on to University in Scotland in 1964. I did come back to work in Leicester for a couple of years in 1969 but even then things were changing - people had left, places were demolished. Things were never the same.As told above, another twenty five years was to pass before I returned again. Fosse Road (North, Central and South) is still there and so is the old homestead. The Fosse cinema suffered the indignity of service as a bingo hall before it disappeared. The site is now a petrol station and convenience store. As reported elsewhere, St Paul's Church is now redundant and faces an uncertain fate (redevelopment? the wrecking ball?). A listed building, it may be turned into a suite of offices. Alderman Newton's Boys School followed the Girls out west in the 1970s and were then merged with a local comprehensive. There are a few shadowy faces (staff, old boys) peering ghost-like from the past on the pages of the FriendsReunited web site but its long history and once proud name could not save it from obliteration.

Ah yes!. Memories are made of this!!!

Footnote: A brief history of the West End Part 1 - THE FOSSE

The history of our family home has not been immediately easy to follow, not least because of changes in street names and renumbering. The line of the Fosse Road (sometimes called Foss Road in early documents) can be clearly seen on a map composed by Robert Kearsley Dawson in 1837 (10). It runs from Narborough Road in the south to Ashby de la Zouch Road (which is now Groby Road) in the north, passing through both open countryside and the Westcotes and Danet's Hall Estates (the latter owned until 1861 by Dr Joseph Noble). It was crossed by the westward running Hinckley Road and met, about one third of a mile to the north, by the wooded lane, Watts Causeway.

Dr Noble was one of Leicester's Members of Parliament. He had discovered pieces of Roman pottery on his estate which he donated to the town. He died of cholera in 1861. The estate was sold and shortly afterwards Danet's Hall was demolished. However, streets in the upcoming development were named in his memory.

The 1864 street directory notes little building along Fosse Road although an Infant Orphan Asylum was in operation. Construction started in earnest in the latter half of the decade with houses appearing along King Richard's Road (the renamed Watt's Causeway) and Noble Street. The roof of Turret House, on the corner of King Richard's Road, was adorned by an ornate rectangular pagoda-like structure, reminiscent of the gothic towers on the Old Town Bridge in Prague. The remainder of the block between Turret House and Noble Street, six properties in all, was designated Fosse Road Terrace. Ours was number 4.

In 1869, a new church was proposed for the plot of land on the corner of Glenfield Road and Kirby Road. This became St Paul's Church and was consecrated on November 1st 1871. Its first vicar (a tall man with a huge bushy beard and an imposing personality), the Rev. Canon James Mason, was parish incumbent for forty years. The architect's original drawings called for a tower and a slender spire which would have reached 190 feet - the second highest spire in the town. The spire was never built, the ground too unstable to take the weight. An artist's impression of what the completed church would have looked like hung for many years in the vestry. Later that decade, a Wesleyan Methodist Church, dedicated to St Andrew, which did feature a spire, was built on the corner of King Richard's Road opposite St Paul's. A convent dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was built on the corner of Fosse Road and Glenfield Road opposite St Paul's Church. It's grounds were surrounded by a high retaining wall. It's name had changed to St Teresa's Convent by 1960.

For the next 20 years, housing on Fosse Road in a northerly direction stopped at Noble Street. Between 1883 and 1887, the houses in Fosse Road Terrace were renumbered from 1 -6 to 51 - 61 (ours becoming 57). Then in the 1890s, further development took place on Fosse Road from Bosworth Street northwards and from Woodgate southwards. At the turn of the century, the southern end of the road from Hinckley Road to Narborough Road was renamed Fosse Road South and from King Richard's Road to Woodgate, Fosse Road North. Our row of houses were renumbered a second time to 366 - 354, the numbers which they still bear, and lost the title 'Terrace'. For a time, the bit in the middle remained Fosse Road (although the suffix 'Central' was added around the time of the second World War).

In 1902 work started on a major expansion of the transport infrastructure to cater for the spreading population. Rails were laid into the road to provide service for an electric tram route which ran up Hinckley Road, along the Fosse to Woodgate and back to High Street via the Central Station. This opened in 1904. There was a stop directly opposite 358 which remains in position as a bus stop today. The spire of St Andrews Methodist Church and the decorative roof of Turret House can be clearly seen at the end of the terrace on the accompanying photograph.


Convent
Convent 2

Two views of The Convent of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, Fosse Road North, Leicester (15)


By 1903, Victorian style villas graced the east side of the hill opposite the Fosse Recreation Park - the final house being numbered 320. Building from the Woodgate end stopped for many years at Paget Road. Piecemeal building of more modern houses took place in the plots in between until the late 1940s. Where the properties met there is a marked discontinuity in style, and a discrepancy in numbering which remains to this day. The house abutting 320 Fosse Road North is number 260.

Directories and census returns show that for the first forty years of its existence, the occupants of our house were very transitory and on occasions the house stood empty. This was in marked contrast to our own experience. Previous occupants of the house have included Rev. Richard Sankey, curate to St Paul's (1880); Joseph Johnson, shoe manufacturer (1883); William Howard, inland revenue inspector (1889); Mrs J Cooper (1898); William Clarence Everett, commercial traveller (1909); Alfred Simpson, company secretary (1914); John Whenham, tailoring manager (1925). Our next door neighbours, the Scotney family, were in residence by 1925.

There are some fascinating and curious associations with other surnames of interest to our family tree in the close neighbourhood. From Cottingham, on the Craxford paternal side, Beatrice Green, daughter of Pamela Tansley, married Frederick Prentice at St Paul's Church in 1910 and lived for a while in Kirby Road. Emma Crane (the daughter of Henry Crane who murdered James Craxford's half brother in 1875) lived in Flora Street for about 30 years after she had married her first cousin, Vincent Sculthorpe. Jane Tilley, a fourth cousin of William Craxford's wife, Beatrice, was in domestic service at Turrent House in 1881. On the maternal side, the Cook family (from Grandborough, Buckinghamshire) lived for many years in Bosworth Street whilst members of the Naylor family (from South Normanton, Derbyshire) lived in Stretton Road off Fosse Road Central.

On the other hand, we have found no connection with clothing assistant George Tilley who lived in Fosse Road North or surgeon Alfred Wyatt Crane who lived in Kirby Road at the turn of the century. Alfred was the son of previous Leicester Medical Officer, Joseph Wyatt Crane who was mentioned in the article The Crane family of Cottingham Part 2. Similarly no family connection has been found to date with Judith Crane or Margaret Tansley, junior school classmates from my era.

Part 3 of this trilogy can be found at A walk down King Dick's Road - and back again


Publication

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Parts of this article appeared in the June 2018 edition of the Journal of the Leicestershire & Rutland Family History Society (Journal No. 172 pages 21 - 26) (16)


References

1 Photographs of the Fosse Road Bridge, The Empire (1955), High Street (1960): "Images of Leicester" - The Leicester Mercury; Breedon Books 1995
2. Empire Hotel, Leicester (2005) www.pub-explorer.com
3. Mantle Road Infants School: www.FriendsReunited.co.uk (login required)
4. John Wayne. IMDb.com
5. Richard Todd. "Inside Out"; bbc.co.uk
6. Noble Street 141-161. Photograph from 1971 in My Leicestershire History Photograph © Dennis Calow, and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
7. "Radford's" Corner of Dannett Street and Noble Street. Photograph from 1971 in My Leicestershire History Photograph © Dennis Calow, and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
8. Cliff Richard; Cherry Wainer "Oh Boy! Diary"
9. The Green Wyvern Yacht Club
10. Map by Lieutenant Robert Kearsley Dawson, Royal Engineers from "Report to the Commissioners appointed to report and advise upon boundaries and wards of certain Borough and Corporate Towns" Houses of Parliament April 25th 1837
11. Artist's impression of St Paul's Church, Leicester with spire: Frontispiece to Fifty Years of Church, Men and Things at St Pauls, Leicester 1871-1921: Hextall, John Edward MA and Brightman, Arthur L. BA: John Edward Hextall: Bell & Co. Leicester 1921.
12. Artist's impression and ground floor plan: Wesleyan Chapel, King Richard's Road Leicester: The Building News March 19th 1880
13. Road works at Fosse Road North / Noble Street corner. Photograph about 1902. Source: Leicester Mercury 533146 Leicester, then and now Old Through New Photo Galley: © Jerry Fishenden. Reproduced with permission
14. "Top of King Richard's Road": old postcard 1907 Leicester Past and Present ~ A walk down memory lane: facebook
15. "Convent of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, Leicester": Old postcards: Leicester Past and Present ~ A walk down memory lane: facebook
16. Leicestershire And Rutland Family History Society website.


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