Local History

09. A Children’s Receiving Home in Highfields

On 20th July 1908, a new receiving home for sixteen boys and sixteen girls was opened at Mill Hill Lane. Its construction cost £1,916 plus £1,000 for the site. The building also contained officers’ quarters and sick rooms. The receiving home accommodated up to 32 children who were entering union care, giving them medical checks and such like before passing them on to one of the union’s cottage or scattered homes.

Mill Hill Lane - Children's Receiving Home

The premises later became The Oaks boys’ home.

‘The Lodge’ at Mill Hill Lane provided a home for 20 ‘ins-and-outs’ — children who were frequent short-term residents.

During the period from 1st August 1914 to 30th November 1918, ninety seven children were buried in Welford Road Cemetery. Thirty two of these children originated from Mill Hill Lane, with a further six  children coming from 14 Welland Street, which in 1916 was the home of a midwife, Mrs Alice Elizabeth Howe (she was not living there in 1914, when no burials came from that address).

08. More Leicester Trivia – the biggest and the best

Leicester crest

LARGEST

Caribbean Carnival outside London

Diwali Festival outside India

Comedy Festival in UK

Supermarket in Europe (Lee Circle) (1961)

Single tier bowling alley in Europe, with 36 lanes on one floor, open all day, every day (Lee Circle) (1961)

Largest car park in UK (Lee Circle) (1961)

FIRST

Local authority in UK to appoint medical officer of health (1846)

Building in UK designed with wheelchair access for people with disabilities (Colton Street) (1909)

Drive-In Post Office in UK (Wharf Street) (1959)

Traffic wardens in UK outside London (1961) 

Automatic multi-storey car park in Europe (Lee Circle) (1961)

Tesco store outside London (Lee Circle) (1961)

BBC local radio station (1967)

Nuclear free, environmental city in UK (1990)

SECOND (nearly first!)

Drive-In Bank in UK (Charles Street) (1959)

Local authority in UK to appoint full time planning officer (1962)

Leicester traffic wardens

 To deal with increasing problems caused by parked cars in the city, a traffic wardens unit was established and in April 1961 the new team took to the streets of Leicester. This was the first use of traffic wardens outside of London and the scheme was soon adopted across the country. They looked very smart on their first outing from Charles Street Police Station!

07. Leicester Trivia

If you were unable to attend our recent Quiz Night, here are a few questions for you. The answers will be posted here next month, so try and test your knowledge (cheat if you must!). Answers now posted below……..

1) The Beatles first performed at the De Montfort Hall in which year?

a) 1963 b) 1964 c) 1965

2) The Royal Opera House was situated where in Leicester?

a) Belgrave Gate b) Horsefair Street c) Silver Street

3) Leicester once had a drive-in bank. Where was it situated?

a) Charles Street b) Humberstone Gate c) Lee Circle

4) The fountain in Town Hall Square is similar in design to one found in which other city?

a) Madrid, Spain b) Oporto, Portugal c) Florence, Italy

5) Emile Heskey (the footballer) attended which Leicester school?

a) City of Leicester b) English Martyrs c) Moat Community College

6) Cardinal Wolsey died at Leicester Abbey in which month of 1530?

a) July b) March c) November

7) Leicester’s first Tesco store was opened in which year?

a) 1961 b) 1964 c) 1969

8) In October 1975 The Who performed at which Leicester venue?

a) De Montfort Hall b) Granby Halls c) Il Rondo

9) Romeo Challenger, the drummer in Showaddywaddy, was born in which country?

a) Antigua b) Barbados c) United Kingdom

10) Daniel Lambert died in 1809 weighing 52 stone and 11 lbs, and was buried in Leicester. True or False?

a) True b) False

And here are the answers that you have been waiting for……..

1) a 1963

2) c Silver Street

3) a Charles Street

4) b Oporto

5) a City of Leicester

6) c November

7) a 1961

8) b Granby Halls

9) a Antigua

10) b False – he died and was buried in Stamford

Leicester Trivia, The Who

06. A stroll along Prebend Street

During the early part of the twentieth century Prebend Street was one of the many upmarket streets in South Highfields and contained only one household where the head of the family was classed as a ‘worker’, the others being either local business owners, self employed or widows ‘living on their own means’.

OS map 1915

Ordnance Survey map of 1915

Frederick Spiers, living at number 2, was a tailor, 46 years of age, and also private secretary to Sir Maurice Levy, member of parliament for Loughborough and managing director of Hart & Levy Ltd., clothing manufacturers. He was living in his six roomed house with his wife Kate, a dressmaker, and daughter Kathleen. The family employed one live-in servant.

At the Friends Meeting House was Arthur Richards, age 58, the only head of household living in the street who was classified as an employee – he was an optical glass worker. Living with him were his wife, two daughters (one a hosiery mender, the other a shorthand typist) and an adopted son.

House number 4 was the home of Mrs Helen Ashwell, of whom nothing is known.

The Ordnance Survey map of 1915 indicates that there was a large garden or orchard next to the twelve-roomed house (number 6), the home of Sarah Elizabeth Winterton, a widow 85 years of age and of private means. Also at this address was her unmarried daughter Fanny, age 61, also of private means, and two servants – one housemaid and one cook. This garden occupied the area now known as Prebend Gardens.

These were the only houses on this side of Prebend Street.

Crossing to the other side of the road, where the houses all had between six and nine rooms, we find two self employed professional ladies at number 19. Emily Eldridge was a married 44 year old masseuse from the Isle of Wight and was living with Annie Gould, single, aged 51 and also a masseuse.

Hyman Malin, 33 years of age, described himself as a furnisher, his wife Ettie being a furniture dealer. He was a Russian Jew, and married his wife Ettie Cohen in London in 1909. Living with them at number 17 was their daughter Renie and a fifteen year old servant girl.

In the house next door lived Walter James Smith, his wife Julia Ann, their three children Dorothy, Walter and Paul, and a servant. Walter, 44 years of age, was an American citizen born in the USA, as were his wife and children. His business, W J Smith & Co., boot and shoe manufacturers, was situated at Cobden Works on Humberstone Road (between Nedham Street and Vulcan Road). In 1921 Walter (described as a commercial traveller), his wife Julia and youngest son James were recorded travelling from New York to Plymouth as 1st class passengers on SS Kroonland of the Red Star Line. Their final destination was given as the Wyvern Hotel, Leicester (designed by Arthur Wakerley in the 1890’s and situated on the corner of Station Street on the site which is now occupied by Elizabeth House).

SS Kroonland

ss Kroonland

At number 13 lived Mary Ann Tyler, unmarried and 65 years of age, of no occupation, together with her sister Florence, also unmarried who was a teacher at a council school. Ethel Thorpe, unmarried, was employed as a live-in lady’s help.

Sarah Elizabeth Sedgley (age 70) another widow, was living at number 11 with her two unmarried sons Cyril, (age 42) and Percy Harry (39) who were both lace manufacturer’s agents. Two unmarried daughters age 40 and 34 completed the household.

Their neighbour at number 9 was Horatio Cox, a retired clerk 78 years of age, living with his wife and 54 year old son, who was a widower and employed as a manufacturer’s cashier. The family employed a live-in servant as a sick nurse. A few years later this house became the home of Arthur Colahan, surgeon and composer of ‘Galway Bay’.

Next door we find Joseph Ramsden, a photographer who was 42 years of age, living at number 7. In this household was his wife (assisting in the business), one year old daughter, and a live-in servant.

The final house in this street, number 5, was the home of James Wright, 59 years of age and a nursery seedsman, the nursery garden being adjacent to the rear of the house (see map). He was living with his wife and eight children, his two eldest sons being employed in the business as seed shop manager and nursery assistant respectively. The shop was at 69 Market Place, Leicester. In December 1915 his 25 year old son Walter, who was working as the nursery assistant, enlisted in the Machine Gun Corps, being discharged in February 1919.

All of these buildings are still standing today.

05. The Great and the Good of Highfields (part two)

Here is the second and final instalment of the enthralling saga that you have all been waiting for, so let’s hear it for Josiah and his family of engineers, secularists and designers………

Josiah Gimson born 1818
Josiah Gimson born 1818

Josiah and Benjamin Gimson (the two brothers of William the timber merchant) started an engineering business in 1842 on Welford Road, Leicester, after serving their apprenticeship at Cort’s foundry. In the early years the principal product of the firm was braid machinery for the elastic web trade; Gimsons also advertised as brassfounders, millwrights and manufacturers of boot and shoe making machinery. In 1878 new works were opened off Humberstone Road, Leicester, adjacent to the Midland Railway. Designed by John Breedon Everard, the building is one of the earliest examples of the integration of iron foundry and engineering; it is the earliest engineering factory built in Leicester. In 1880 about 350 workers were employed making goods ranging from large engines and boilers to small metal components for local industry. In 1887 Gimsons were awarded the contract for the supply and erection of the four beam engines, complete with eight boilers and associated machinery, at the Abbey Park Sewage Works, Leicester, built in 1891. By 1904 the company was advertising engines, boilers shafting and gearing, machinery for use in the brewing trade, builders ironware, boot and shoe and elastic web machinery. Hoists and lifts were also made, a development which has now (1987) become the staple product of the firm. The company operated from the Vulcan Road premises until 1986 when modern facilities were built at Beaumont Leys, Leicester.

Josiah married twice, and produced five children from each marriage, making a total of ten children during a 27 year period (five boys and five girls). When the business became a limited company in 1896 three of Josiah’s children (Josiah Mentor, Arthur James and Sydney Ansell) became directors, as did his nephew Josiah, the son of his now deceased brother Benjamin.

Highfields obviously held a strange attraction for the Gimson family – we have already discovered that two younger Gimsons from the timber merchants lived in Mecklenburg and College Streets, as did their aunt’s mother-in-law.

Now we find that four of the directors from the engineering side of the family also lived in the area. Josiah Mentor lived at 35 Highfield Street, later moving to 61 Sparkenhoe Street in 1889. Arthur James was to be found at 15 Hobart Street in 1883 before he upped sticks and moved across to 54 Highfield Street. The third brother, Sydney Ansell, resided at 19 Upper Tichborne Street but then moved to an eleven-roomed house at 20 Glebe Street in 1909. This is now the oldest surviving building in South Highfields, having being built c.1820. Cousin Josiah, the fourth director, was residing at 14 Highfield Street.

Incidentally, what is now the Belmont Hotel on New Walk was, in 1881, the home of Josiah senior, his wife and five of their children; Sarah, Sydney, Ernest, Percy and Margaret.

The Secular Hall in Humberstone Gate was built at the behest of Josiah Gimson (the largest shareholder) and was opened in 1881, his son Sydney Ansell being President of the Secular Society from 1888 until 1939. Many of the speakers at the Secular Hall stayed with Sydney and his wife at Upper Tichborne Street and then, after they moved, at their house in Glebe Street. Amongst these illustrious speakers were, to name but a few, George Bernard Shaw, William Morris and the Russian exile Prince Kropotkin (who was both a Russian aristocrat and an anarcho-communist). Mary Kingsley, the writer and explorer, was also a visitor after her return from West Africa in 1898.

Such is the fame of Highfields!

Ernest William Gimson, the renowned arts and crafts designer and architect, never lived in Highfields himself but often stayed with his brother Sydney. He did not work for his father’s business but became an articled apprentice to the Leicester architect Isaac Barradale, leaving to work in London after an argument. Amongst other buildings Ernest designed Stonywell Cottage at Ulverscroft for Sydney and the adjacent Lea Cottage for his half-brother Mentor. These were built by Detmar Blow (Detmar’s grandson, also named Detmar Blow, was married to the fashion stylist Isabella Blow). Ernest also designed Rockyfield (in the immediate vicinity of Stoneywell) for his sister Margaret.

Josiah Gimson (born 1818) married (firstly) Elizabeth Orton Farmer in 1843, their children being:

Sarah Ann Gimson 1844-1914

Mary Orton Gimson 1846-1866

Caroline Gimson 1849-1872

Josiah Mentor Gimson 1852-1925 father of Josiah Russell Gimson

Arthur James Gimson 1853-1911

Josiah then married (secondly) Sarah Ansell in 1858, their children being:

Sydney Ansell Gimson 1860-1938

Mabel Gimson 1863-1863

Ernest William Gimson 1864-1919

Percy Gimson 1869-1935

Margaret Gimson 1871-1967

A chair designed by Ernest Gimson and exhibited at the 1890 Arts & Crafts Exhibition in London can be seen at the Secular Hall in Humberstone Gate.

05. The Great and the Good of Highfields (part one)

This is a tale of engineers, timber merchants, secularists, the arts and crafts movement and the oldest surviving building in South Highfields. There are also drapers and department store owners involved in this local story.

Where shall we begin? At the beginning, naturally………….

Once upon a time in the not so distant past there were three brothers living in Leicester – William, Benjamin and Josiah – all were born between August 1815 and November 1818 and were the children of Josiah Gimson (a builder) and Mary Bark who at that time were living in Welford Road.

William became a timber merchant in 1834. By the beginning of the twentieth century the booming hosiery industry’s demand for wooden shapes was keeping Gimson’s busy. The business also made cigar boxes at the time when Leicester was home to 13 cigar companies and produced ammunition boxes and wheel components during the First World War. His son, also named William (born in 1845) bought Swithland Woods to provide a ready supply of timber for the company. This William (chairman of the company in 1929) had a son named Henry Hay Gimson who, during the period of the First World War, was living at 11 College Street.

Gimson timber merchantsAnother of William’s (the founder) children was Joseph Yeomans Gimson (born in 1847) whose own son, also named Joseph Yeomans Gimson (just to confuse us all) lived at 10 Mecklenburg Street (now Severn Street) at the same time as his cousin, Henry Hay Gimson was living in College Street. Both of these grandchildren of William the timber merchant later became directors of the company. Joseph enlisted in November 1915 and served in the 16th Bn Tank Corps during the First World War.

One of his daughters, Annie Maria Starkey Gimson (born 1858) married Samuel Squire, the eldest son of William Squire draper and founder of Morgan Squire & Co, of Hotel Street, Leicester. Between 1889 and 1909 they were living in Salisbury Road, off New Walk. Jane Squire, the widow of William Squire and mother of Samuel, was living at 24 Mecklenburg Street when she passed away in 1908. One of Samuel Squire’s sons was Alfred Morgan Squire whose own son, Peter Squire, served as an intelligence officer in the British Military Mission to the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

As an aside, both Samuel Squire and William Gimson (the son) were members of the management committee of the Leicestershire Trade Protection Society in 1914. You might also have guessed, quite correctly, that members of both families were well represented on the various committees of Leicester Borough Council (we hadn’t yet achieved city status).

If you are following the story so far, you will have realised that the occupant of 24 Mecklenburg Street in 1908 was the widow of the founder of Morgan Squire & Company and the mother-in-law of the aunt (Annie Maria Starkey Gimson) of both Joseph Yeomans Gimson and Henry Hay Gimson who were living at 10 Mecklenburg Street and 11 College Street respectively in 1914.

Keep a look out for part two of this enthralling story which will follow shortly………..

 

04. The Musical Man of Medicine

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland,
Then maybe at the closin’ of your day
You will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay’

You will be surprised to learn that this famous song was composed in a residential street in Leicester in 1947 by a local prison doctor.

Colahan, Arthur blue plaque in Prebend Street

On the wall of a Leicester house a blue plaque has been erected to the memory of the composer of the song ‘Galway Bay’.

The three-storey Victorian house, at 9 Prebend Street, was the home and surgery of Arthur Nicholas Whistler Colahan who was both prison doctor working within the high walls and steel bars of Leicester’s Welford Road jail and a specialist in neurology.

He was born in Enniskillen, Ireland in 1885 and graduated from University College, Galway in 1913. Arthur Colahan moved to Leicester after having served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in India during the First World War, and lived here until his death in 1952.

He lies buried in an unmarked grave in the Ireland of his birth – it is only here in Leicester that he is remembered.

Colahan, Arthur in Prebend Street, Leicester

Dr. Colahan outside his home and surgery in Prebend Street, Leicester.

03. The Consanguinitarium

This building, to be found in Highfields, may surprise you. Who or what is a consanguinitarium?

1473 Leicester_v3

The Leicester Consanguinitarium was a charitable foundation established by the architect John Johnson who came from a Leicester family (his father was a carpenter), and who died in 1814 at the grand old age of 82 years. It was originally built in Southgates Street in 1792 and was occupied by his less fortunate relatives (hence the magnificent name, reflecting “consanguinity”).

The trustees (also his relatives) were to impose draconian regulations about the morals, behaviour and daily lives of those who lived there. John Johnson is probably better known to the good citizens of Leicester as being the architect of the City Rooms (opened as the Leicester Assembly Rooms in 1800) in Hotel Street.

In 1878 a replacement Consanguinitarium, designed by his great-great-nephew Robert Johnson Goodacre (1826-1904) was built in Earl Howe Street. The building occupied numbers 11 to 19 Earl Howe Street and in 1883 was occupied by a Mrs Frearson, Miss O’Leary, Miss Caitlin, Mrs Gibson and Mr Turner, all of whom were related to the Johnson family. Six years later Lavinia Freason had been replaced (she became deceased in 1887) by the Misses Goodacre, but the other inmates were still living there.

1477 Leicester_v3

By 1970 there was only one relative of Johnson living in the Consanguinitarium and that was Mitzi Arnold, a variety stage artiste from London, who had lived there for twenty years. In order to keep the properties tenanted it was agreed to allow tenants other than blood relatives of the founder to occupy the cottages.

Mitzi & Dickie Arnold 1938

Mitzi and Dickie Arnold in 1938

The building still exists, so take a walk along Earl Howe Street and see it for yourself.

Not all of Johnson’s relatives were poor, he had three sons, an architect, a clergyman and a physician. In 1868 John Johnson’s great-grandson Charles succeeded his maternal uncle James Brooke as Rajah of Sarawak and took the surname of Brooke – thus in five generations the descendant of a Leicester carpenter became sovereign ruler of a Far Eastern state. Unfortunately Charles Johnson Brooke cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to have born in Highfields!

There is a memorial to John Johnson and his parents in Leicester Cathedral.

M.I. Johnson family Leicester Cathedral 097

02. Our very own Poor Law Guardian and Suffragette

Living at 20 Mecklenburg (now Severn) Street in 1914 were Fanny Fullagar and her sister Kate, daughters of an eye surgeon who also served as medical officer for Leicester No. 5 district for a period of 33 years. Prior to this date the sisters were living in St Peter’s Road.

Fullagar, Fanny

Fanny was born in 1847 and probably as a result of her family background, she became a dogged campaigner on behalf of the training of midwives and worked hard for the creation of the Bond Street Maternity Hospital.

A member of the Womens Liberal Federation, she topped the poll in the local Newton Ward in the 1889 elections and became Leicester’s first female Poor Law Guardian, a position she held for 15 years, before being defeated in 1904 by just one vote.

Fanny became a member of the local branch (formed in 1907) of the Women’s Social and Political Union which was the leading militant suffragette organisation in the United Kingdom. Amongst other acts of violence, pillar boxes in Eastgates, Humberstone Road, Rutland Street and Newark Street were attacked, together with Leicester Golf Course on Stoughton Drive, where ‘No Votes, No Golf’ was carved into the turf. Telephone lines in this affluent part of the city were cut too. The railway station at Blaby was burnt to the ground by three militant ladies in July 1914 (Fanny was not one them!), causing over £500 worth of damage. Soon after the outbreak of war in 1914 the WSPU abandoned its militant campaigns in order to support the British Government.

Fanny Fullagar never married, although she was reputedly engaged to a local vicar for seven years. She died 13th January 1918, being buried in Welford Road Cemetery, in the same year that women over 30 attained the right to vote in the general election that followed the end of the Great War.

Outside the former registry office in Pocklingtons Walk (which had previously been the office of the Poor Law Guardians) is a Blue Plaque commemorating this remarkable woman. Most unusually, this is an example of a woman elected to public office almost thirty years before the first women became entitled to be elected in parliamentary elections.Fanny Fullagar blue plaque

01. The story of Prebend Gardens

Prebend Gardens was opened in 1987 by the Lord Mayor of Leicester, Gordhan Devraj Parmar, on land which was previously occupied by a motor vehicle repair workshop and garage which traded under the name of Service Garage. There were also a number of lock-up garages on the site.

Service Garage, the proprietor of which was also Worshipful Master of the Leicester Freemasons (Granite Lodge) in 1976/7, operated in Prebend Street from 1970 until 1978, at which time it moved to premises in Anstey. For many years prior to 1970 the garage operated from premises in Fox Street, adjacent to the former stables used by the railway, before that area was redeveloped.

The postal address of the garage was 4b Prebend Street, and it occupied the majority of the area which later became Prebend Gardens. At one time petrol was sold there, the pumps being situated where the railings are now between the gates fronting Prebend Street. The underground petrol tank was filled-in before the garage vacated the area in 1978. There was a workshop at the rear of the garage with a Nissan hut to one side and a ramp to hoist vehicles. The area containing the lock-up garages was a favourite spot for prostitutes to entertain their clients at night (plus ça change…..!)

Opening of Prebend gardens 13710636_1212139475497709_3218932761258968245_o

This photo shows the opening of Prebend Gardens by Lord Mayor Gordhan Devraj Parmar in 1987. Local residents pose with the Lord Mayor around the newly installed sun dial wearing some particularly fetching outfits that were very fashionable at the time (and are probably making a comeback this year)!

The council minutes of the Planning Committee held in November 1983 included a report by the Chief Executive that at a meeting of the City Council held during the previous week, Councillor Sharman had presented a petition with 262 signatures requesting the creation of the Prebend Neighbourhood Park in Prebend Street. The petition had been referred to the Housing and Planning Committees for consideration.

The following month the Planning Committee reported that the site in question was at present occupied by car repair businesses and was allocated for open space and off-street parking/lock-up garaging in the East Leicester Local Plan which had recently been placed on deposit. The council had made a Compulsory Purchase Order on the site in October 1983 but it was anticipated that the owners of the properties would lodge an objection to the Order, in which case a Public Local Inquiry would be held.

The Officers recommended that the petitioners be informed that the City Council were actively supporting the creation of an area of public open space on land at Prebend Street and/or Glebe Street, but (in the interests of retaining employment) were mindful of the need to first find an alternative location for the car repair businesses currently occupying part of the site.

In March of the following year it was resolved that a further report be submitted about the feasibility of closing Prebend Street to through traffic, following a decision by the Housing Committee about the future use of the Prebend Street garage site.

Decisions on the matter eventually being taken by the various council committees, Prebend Gardens were designed and opened in 1987 in conjunction with the City Wildlife Project. In 2005 the gardens underwent a regeneration project in partnership with Leicester Council Parks Services and a local group, the Friends of Prebend Gardens.

The South Highfields Conservation Area assessment of February 2015 reported that

Prebend Gardens had fallen victim to abuse from vandals and other anti-social users and was being considered for redesign to open-up views and to remove awkward corners. As of April 2018 this redesign is still under discussion (these decisions take time, as we all know!)

Edit:

The 1915 Ordnance Survey map indicates that the area now occupied by Prebend Gardens and adjacent to number 6 Prebend Street was in fact originally a large garden and orchard belonging to one of the local householders.

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