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Childhood Memories


Childhood is a wonderful time and even with a war going on there was so much to do, so much to learn. On this page I present some of my own memories of those days.

Riding the Tramways

Uptown Saturday Morning

A night out at the Sov

High Street terminus

The number nine tram terminus at Groby Road was part of the modernization of the city which moved quickly between the two world wars.

The twin tracks left the Blackbird Road/Woodgate Junction and headed up past the new detached and Semi detached houses which stood well back from the road. Further along as the road swept a little to the left to become a modern dual carriage way with concrete lamp standards and a fine new concrete surface, the tracks turned off the road into a small residential cul de sac. Here they ended where a small muddy pathway began which led to a level crossing over the Leicester to Swannington railway and on to endless allotments. 

The path also went under the railway through a dark. dank tunnel where rumour had it the Devil lived. A small stream ran alongside which we were warned came from the isolation hospital further along Groby Road and which carried all manner of germs. 

This was great play territory for us as kids, trams, trains,tunnels, level crossings, water and danger. I still have today in my knee a bit of the railway gravel where I fell rushing off the track before the ancient old locomotive flattened a penny once more. It never healed properly and the dark small dark patch still reminds me of boyhood and adventure.

The trams pulled up to the terminus and departed by reversing onto the other track. before this could be done, the conductor or driver had to swing the trolley pole ,which collected the electricity from the overhead wire, round using a long pole. we always enjoyed watching this. 

The seats in the cars had to be reversed as well. They were made of wooden slats and had a chain which linked the backs. Moving the back of one seat moved all the others with a satisfying loud noise. The more friendly drivers would let one of us change the seats while they sat drinking their tea from a blue enamel flask. 

If we were taking a trip on the tram, we bagged the cabin at the front of the upstairs. It had a curving seat and a door which cut you off from the main cabin. Here you could experience the thrill of the track ahead of you especially on the faster stretches and the movement and noise was much more exciting.

The stretch from the terminus to the Fosse Road junction was a downhill and the best drivers put their foot down while we hoped no-one would be waiting at the stop halfway down. At Fosse Road Junction, tracks came in from the Fosse, then a little further along came the Blackbird Road tracks and all the routes converged onto Woodgate in front of the Sovereign cinema and , St Leonard's Vicarage and the biscuit factory. A lot of people got on here and the journey along Woodgate to Frog Island was slow. As soon as the river was crossed, the smell of the dye works which pumped mucky water into the Soar, was overpowering.

Further along was the bridge over the Grand Union Canal which was, despite the tram tracks, a humpback bridge. If the driver went too fast, and they often did, the trolley pole would fall off the wire and the metal monster would grind to a sudden halt. With a lot of cursing the conductor would use his pole to manoeuvre the trolley back onto the wire. As boys we had seen pictures of trams in other countries using a cage like structure on top of the tram which could not fall off the wire and often wondered why Leicester, which was so modern, stuck with the old trolley system.

By the time the system should have been modernized however, the City Council in their wisdom decided to scrap the whole lot and go for buses. Silly grown ups !


The tram roared on under the iron bridge carrying the Great Central Railway over two rows of poor looking shops, behind which lay some of Leicester's poorer housing and then off to the right and up Great Central Street to drop people at the Railway station and the  grim factories which lined this lifeless road. One of the factories was actually hit by a bomb and was badly burned but the trams still managed to creep carefully passed afterwards.

The trams did at sharp turn to the left after the station and joined the High Street at Campbell's furniture store. Other tracks came in from the left from Narborough and Hinckley Road and a parade of trams made their stately way along the High Street, dropping passengers off at the Co-op until they reached the Clock Tower. Here there was a mass of points with tracks going in all directions. The number nine turned into Belgrave Road and stopped in front of an amusement arcade.

We would probably get off here, having bought a transfer ticket so we could catch a tram home without paying again or go back on another route. We were not allowed by our parents to go to amusement arcades but of course we did enjoying the pinball machines best. The centre of the city was a kids' playground with the lifts and excalators in Lewises being the most fun. Eventually when we got thrown out, we picked up the number nine again and went along Belgrave Road, passed the Co-op Hall and at the Belgrave Road Station, we turned into Abbey Park Road. In Abbey park Road was a huge tram depot and sometimes we would hop off and try to sneak inside but usually got stopped so we crossed the road and had a wander around the Abbey Park.

There was a canal bridge just before the park and a the Wolsley factory with it's noisy machines, puffing steam and it's hot ejaculations spewing into the canal. The park was wonderful and although young we were proud of it. We were taught that Leicester was the richest and most modern city in Europe. It was full of history with roots in Roman times and a great future once Mr. Hitler had been taught a lesson. We believed it, of course. Reading my mum's letters now. I realise it wasn't quite such a paradise.

Back on the tram and past the Frears and Blacks bakery with all those wonderful smells. Every part of Leicester had a smell it seemed. The tram dipped once more under the Great Central Railway and turned sharply onto the best part of the journey, the Blackbird Road. This was a wide dual carriageway with the tram tracks in the centre on their own separate space. This allowed the driver to go fast. and they did. The whole vehicle swayed and it was more exciting than any fairground ride, especially if we had been luck and were sitting in the front cabin.

We cursed if passengers wanted to get on and the car had to slow down and stop. Reaching Woodgate again the route completed it's circle and the cars headed slowly uphill back to the terminus. We got out, changed the seats making as much noise as possible, watched the trolley pole being turned and wandered off home. Great days. Today kids of our age would never be given such freedom. We knew where every tram route went, we knew most of the drivers and conductors, which were miserable, which were friendly. Some allowed us to turn  the brass handle to change the destination indicator, some shared their tea.

The buses were never the same but by them we had grown up but the next generations would never know the thrill of riding the tramways.

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Towards the end of the war, I was given a lot of freedom to wander around the city in
a way which no child could be allowed to do today.

A typical Saturday morning would start with calling on my friend John and seeing if he
wanted to come 'uptown' If he did, fine, if not I'd go alone first catching the tram
from the Groby Road terminus and travelling to the stop in the High Street near the
Co-op department store.

We always looked in 'Sports' window first to see if they had any interesting toys.
Sometimes we would venture inside, but the staff would soon shoo us out. On then
through the Silver Arcade into the market and past the fish market where we would
look at the live rabbits and day old chicks on some of the stalls. Next stop was the
Midland Educational where we ignored the Educational stuff and went straight to look
at any toys they might have especially Meccano or Dinky toys. Back along Belvoir
street and in to Charles Street which always impressed with it's fine buildings.

The Electricity offices were here which has a fascinating window which curved in so it
was invisible. Wonderful how we went every week just to look at it ! Further on was
narrow lane which went to the back entrance of Lewises. Lewises we loved and ran up
and down from floor to floor until eventually we tired of it and crossed into Marks and
Spencers through another back entrance.

Marks and Spencers never appealed very much to kids so we passed straight through
and turned left to Woolworth's. Woolworth's had the atmosphere of an Eastern
Bazaar and it was almost impossible to move sometimes so thick were the crowds.
Each counter was an island with one or two girls trapped in the middle who served the
throng as best they could. There was a smell about the whole place which I can still
recall today. It was a woody smell mixed with food, people and even cigarette smoke.

From Woolworth's we made our way through the market place perhaps buying an
apple. Towards the end of the war, ice cream was sold again and their were two
competing stalls, Eric's and I think Espositos. Erics was the best.

Next call would be British Home Stores which was a down market version of
Woolworth's. Not very exciting but sometimes I could buy a battery there. I loved
playing with bits of wire and batteries ! 

By now we would be a bit tired and would drop into the amusement arcade making
sure there were no relatives around to report us to our mothers. we would spend a few
pennies on the machines and then catch the tram home from outside the arcade.
Those who wonder why the TV series last of the Summer Wine is so popular, fail to
see that the wanderings of the elderly characters, reflect exactly the wanderings of
young boys during those last years of the war. Aimlessly following a regular route,
doing little but  enjoying every minute.

We never stole anything from the shops, rarely bought anything (there was little to
buy) left when the assistants asked us to leave. It was all so innocent and yet we got as much pleasure from our Saturdays 'Up town' as any modern child gets from visiting
Disney World. 

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A night out at the Sov.

The Sovereign cinema was our local. When films were released they started off in London in the big West End cinemas and then were released into the 'uptown' cinemas in cities like Leicester. The uptown cinemas were very grand and we could rarely afford to go. They had names such as the Gaumont, the Savoy, The Odeon and the Picture House.

These cinemas tended to show a good film for weeks until audiences dropped and then the smaller suburban cinemas got hold of the prints. By this time however the prints were scratched and had often been spliced, sometimes badly, where the strip of film had been broken.

We never minded and I'm not even sure we even noticed, a moving picture was just that, a moving picture.

The Sovereign was a small cinema in Wood gate. I believe the building is still there and now serves as a warehouse with shops along the front where the cash desk was. It had a small balcony which was just a raised area over the foyer and cash desk. The manager always wore evening dressed and sprayed the place before each performance some said to kill the fleas.

We rarely went into the balcony, it was too expensive. If we went on our own and the film had an adult certificate we would wait outside and ask adults to 'take us in' God knows how we didn't fall into the hands of child molesters, but it just never happened to me or anyone I knew.

The programme usually consisted of two films plus a newsreel.Adverts were projected onto the screen by a magic lantern and mainly publicized local shops.

The film often broke and the lights went up to a lot of audience shouting. Once the projectionist even got the reels in the wrong order but we didn't really mind. 

Sometimes after the end of the war, Olive, my mum, would take us kids and my dad would join us when he left work. She would take some lard sandwiches for him to eat. 

One of the best parts of a trip to the Sov was the bag of chips afterwards. This was almost compulsory and there was a rush at the end of the film to get out and get an early place in the chip shop queue.

I never liked walking home on my own. Even when full street lighting reappeared after the end of the war, I would dodge from lamp to lamp avoiding the dark areas in case some bogey man got me. It was even worse in the late autumn when Leicester always seemed to get dreadful pea soup fog and you could even see properly to cross a road. Conductors had to walk in front of the tram cars and even walking was hazardous.

I loved the Sov and was sad when it eventually closed down, killed by TV. There were posher local cinemas such as the Fosse or the Westleigh, but the old Sov was special, scruffy, small, probably flea ridden despite the spraying but 'our' cinema. 

The afternoon before I wrote this I saw a film in the local Warner multiplex. The picture was perfect, the sound perfect, the seats comfortable but atmosphere ?, forget it, it's like watching films in Church. There are still a few real cinemas around but they struggle. Maybe one day their will be a campaign for real cinemas and places like the Sov will spring up again. In the meantime, it lives on in people's memories, part of a world long gone.

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