Saturday, 30 June 2012


For most of us second generation Irish kids here in Leicester, I imagine our main holiday was simply going "home": ours certainly was. My memory is of glorious summers spent at my maternal grandmother's in Carmen's Hall, Dublin. She was the strong matriarch that held the family together and who everybody in the family called Mother.

In my mind's eye the journey over was long and dark: the sea rough and the floors of the ferry strewn with sleeping bodies. I remember being amazed to see priests and nuns out doing "normal" things like queuing to get on the boat and even more so when they threw up like the rest of us!

By the time we woke up on our first morning the English kids would be covered in hives. The milk? The butter? The water? Who knew? My Mam and her sisters would have all gone home at the same time and brought their kids with them.We would all be staying at Mother's, topped and tailed in beds and fighting for space. She'd sit us up on the worktop at night and douse us with Calamine lotion to stop the itching and the house would be full of little, chalky figures running around trying to avoid going to bed!

We only ever went on a "proper" holiday once and that was to a caravan park in Corton. I had no idea where this was except that it was east and by the sea. I've literally just looked it up on Google to see that it's a few miles north of Lowestoft. I remember talent contests, a working men's club, Mam and Dad smiling and relaxing together. I know I was terrified of earwigs getting into my ears ( I had yet to discover the joys of camping!)

I was too young to realise that the East coast was the default holiday destination for many people in Leicester. Many factories and shops would shut down for the July fortnight and off they'd go. I imagine the  photos below are typical of the Irish in Leicester on that coast.

Chris Conlon and family in  Skegness

Chris Conlon and daughter, Christine, in Skegness
Judith Hubbard with Mum and siblings at Mablethorpe.
A few years later in a caravan  with parents, brothers and sisters at Mablethorpe.

What are your holiday memories?

Read more of Chris Conlon's story .
Read more of Judith Hubbard's story

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

Click here to view a map of The Irish in Leicester.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Wharf St.

Previous posts told of the streets around Belgrave Rd: Garden, Orchard, Royal East and Wilton and the story of a family's life in that area. 

Wharf St 1966
Wilton St was not far from Wharf St, a bustling street full of shops and a cinema. However, for my friend and her siblings, as young children in the 30s, it was a no-go area: a slum area that their mother hated them going near. 

Around that area she remembers these shops:
Worthngton’s grocer’s:  they had several stores across Leicester.

Hillaird’s butchers: ham and pork, hocks and udders.

Manin’s: like an early M+S.

Palfreman’s: a pawn shop.

There were pubs on every corner but she especially remembers The Bolturner’s, Belgrave Rd and The Boot and Shoe club, Wharf St.

Wharf St /Eldon St corner 1966
Her Aunty  would take her down to the Clock Tower: this was an exciting place full of bright lights and shops. Thomas Cooke had a big, lit-up sign over the shop which went around the corner,  giving out the latest news

There was a tram garage inside the Haymarket, with tramlines running into the centre of town from Belgrave Gate, 
Leah's was on the corner of Humberstone Gate and Charles St (later C&A and then Primark).
The Bell Hotel was on the same side of Humberstone Gate nearer the Clock Tower and Lewis’ was on the opposite side.

She also remembers the Town Waites band playing trumpets up and down Belgrave Gate. A conversation on asks

“Has anyone knowledge of the names etc. of the male musicians who were members of of the Leicester Town Waits band at the turn of the century 1800's x 1900's? I understand that the band was local authority organised and funded. One of their activities was to, for a fee, turn out during the evening at Christmas time and play carols outside of the fee-payers premises.”

Modern photos of Wharf St as is exisits today show some fabulous detail if only we remember to look up.

Did you or your family live around Wharf St? What was life like for you?

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

Thanks to Dennis Calow at Vanished Leicester for the old photos.

Vanished Leicester is part of a fantastic resource, My Leicestershire , which is part of The East Midlands Oral History archive

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

Click here to view a map of The Irish in Leicester.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Rock the Claddagh!

Debbie Field's Claddagh

Having dinner with a wonderful friend recently I couldn't help but notice her claddagh ring. All through the evening I kept thinking to myself.....Has she always worn that? Why haven't I photographed it before now? When I finally asked it turns out I wasn't losing my mind at all.

I had been round several months ago telling her about my work and this blog. I must have just written the piece about the Claddagh and was explaining how much I loved mine, how I wore it, how you notice them from a mile away and feel that connection.

Now, Debbie's family on her father's side is Irish, she's a Tyrell. Her mother was English and for what ever reason she had never had a claddagh ring as a child or as an adult. It turns out that after that evening her husband, Geoff, had searched out this beautiful silver claddagh in  a Leicester jewellers. He got the kids to keep it a secret and presented it to her as a Christmas present. Aaaw. Nice one Geoff.

Read Debbie's family story.
Read more about the Claddagh
See our growing collection of Claddagh photos

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

Click here to view a map of The Irish in Leicester.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

St. Patrick's school, Royal East St.

St Patrick's school, Royal East St.
(Thanks to Colin Hyde for the photo:  East Midlands Oral History Archive)
I wrote a few days ago about a lady whose family had lived on Wilton St ( off Belgrave Gate).Well.... 

She and her brothers and sisters went to St Patrick’s school in Royal East St. A Leicester Mercury article states " the Victorian Gothic building was constructed for the town’s expanding Roman Catholic community. Later a church, built by Irish immigrant labour, was attached to the school forming a T shape. This became a separate parish in 1873 (it was originally attached to Holy Cross)."

A postcard from St Patrick's church.

Spencer’s Guide to Leicester, 1888, describes the school as ornamental and well-conceived…"there are 500 children in the schools which Dominican Sisters teach. Being so handy and central it harbours children of many denominations who receive the same attention as the large colony of Irish children who crowd the courts and alleys of the district that lies between St Margaret’s and St Marks."

The space where the stataue of St Patrick once stood.
 The Dominican Sisters had long gone by the time my friend attended the school. Miss Belton was headmistress and she transferred up to the new school. The priest was Canon George.

My friend remembers Carr’s button factory facing the school. The buttons were made from ivory and the children would suck cast off pieces strewn all over on the ground outside like sweets.This cherished cutting from the Leicester Mercury gives a little more information.

The school closed in 1937 and moved a new school on Harrison Rd for pupils aged 4-14. Catholics at the time collected money to help the cost of setting up the new school. While collecting money for the new school she recalls seeing terrible conditions in Wharf St. There would be 8 houses around a courtyard with a single tap between them: far worse conditions than anything she’d seen before.(More on Wharf St in a future blog.)

She met her husband in 1953 at Our Lady of Good Council on Moira St before the church moved out to Gleneagles Ave, He was an officer in the RAF She met him at a dance at the Birstall Social club-home. He lived in Birstall and was home on leave for the weekend. One of his friends was engaged to a friend of her sister’s and that’s how they met.

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

Click here to view a map of The Irish in Leicester.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Princess Rd

 Chris Conlon came over from Sligo in June 1949 because his brother was already here working down the pit. He went to see someone about work on the Friday and was down the pit on the Monday morning and then lived and worked around Ibstock/Coalville/Ellistown and Ravenstone for 2 yrs 
 He remembers the landlord had a dog that would keep barking and he hit him on the nose to shut him up!

Princess Rd
He later lived at 31 Princess Rd. 10 or 11 men lived here and the landlady, a Leicester woman, would call them for Mass at Holy Cross. They would also sometimes go to the Polish Mass. As he was a miner, Chris could get free coal. He would get the landlady a ton of coal every 6 weeks and she didn’t charge him rent. The men on building sites would get her wood to burn.

2 Turner St

He also lived on 26 Lower Hastings St, 11 Tower St (where he was chucked out by the Welsh landlady) and 2 Turner St.

This black and white photo is taken outside 38 Equity Rd where Chris later lived with his wife and young children: John Patrick, Christine and Michael.

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

Click here to view a map of The Irish in Leicester.

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

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

Click here to view a map of The Irish in Leicester.