In my memory I walk down the old Leicester turnpike, (a road which in earlier times had a toll gate across it) and turn off on to a side road leading through a spinney. These trees were the roosting places of large flocks of crows and at mating time and when the young rooks were about it was bedlam. A small stream is crossed by a red brick bridge and beyond is the village of Kilby.
Straight ahead the
road leads to my uncle's farm, edging his field for some distance and
terminating at the parish church and graveyard. If, instead, I follow the main
road by turning to the right, I see a narrow street bordered by small red brick
cottages with thatched roofs, most with flower gardens, neat and well cared for.
Both the squire and the parson have a stable of hunters and driving horses, as well as foxhounds in the kennels, and between them they rule the villagers with a firm hand. If you meet either of them in the village, the men raise their hats and the women curtsey, but if they stop and speak to a man the hat must be taken off and held during the conversation. Most of the land in the village and in the district is owned either by the squire or the parson and is leased out to the farmers and villagers.
On Sunday morning, just before church time, there is a steady procession of men up the street, each carrying a pan, covered with a white cloth, containing their Sunday dinner, probably of Yorkshire pudding and a beef roast, to be left at the bakery for cooking in the oven. After church the women would go up the street. The pub would open up and the men would enjoy a glass of beer until the baker took the dinners out of the oven called their name. A very convenient arrangement, having the bakery and the Pub so close one to the other.
On the same side of the street is the village store. I remember the little old lady who ran the place. She had short grey ringlets and wore a mobcap. She was always dressed in black with a small white shawl over her shoulders. She wore a small bustle and her heavy skirts and petticoats reached the ground. It seems to me most of her teeth were gone and she almost always had a short stemmed clay pipe in her mouth.
The smell of paraffin oil, molasses, spices, tobacco and many other odours comes to mind when I think of entering the store. She sold candy, pots and pans, candles, flour, sugar, practically anything that might be needed. It was also the Post Office for the village.
In the mornings she held school in a room back of the store, for toddlers and on up to about five, teaching them to write figures, alphabet and small words on slates with pencils. The older ones were used to teach the toddlers while she sat and smoked or attended to the store. According to a photo I have seen, when I attended school, I used to wear a dress, have ringlets at the side of my head, and have a big curl on the top. My slate was framed and had a string to carry over my shoulder, with the slate pencil tied to the frame.
The street continued a short distance and ended in a cross street, forming a tee, with a few houses on either side. I cannot remember if this street led anywhere or it it just petered out in farmland.
The most important place for me in the village was my Uncle's farm, around which most of my memories are formed. It is the first lot of buildings you see when entering the village, a brick building of two stories, in an ell shape, part facing the street and the other facing on the road leading to the church, all having thatched roof.
The front door of my Uncle's house faced the village street. The part around the corner was another residence facing on the church road, with a cow shed at the far end over which was a bedroom belonging to the house. The back doors of the houses opened on to a cobbled yard, the front doors being seldom used.
Entry to the yard from the village street was through a wide gateway, which could be used by horse and wagon. A low stone wall with another wide gate separated the yard from the fields. Against this wall a dung heap was built from the cleanings of the cow stalls with a rim about four bricks high around to keep it from spreading to the rest of the yard. On the other side of the yard were some fruit bushes and a path leading to the outhouse privy, pigsties and the vegetable garden.
Over the wall were two big fields for grazing cattle and sometimes pigs. Separating the fields was a hedge of blackberry bushes and small trees among the roots of which were a lot of rabbit burrows, and it was great fun to go with the men when they took their ferrets and guns for an afternoon of rabbit shooting.
There was a stream at the far end of the fields and I remember this as my place for dreams and fancies. The parish church was a good distance along the road by the side of the big field and I remember it as being very old. I have a very dim recollection of headstones bearing the dates in the 1700's.
1886 was near the end of a period of political unrest. Until 1867, 5/6ths of the male population, including the working class, did not have the right to vote. In 1867, the franchise was extended to all householders. Voting by secret ballot was introduced in 1872 and the agricultural labours were given the vote in 1885. Gladstone was elected Prime Minister in 1886 for the third time and defeated in the same year on the Irish Home Rule question. Everyone was looking forward to Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887. The people, particularly the rural population, idolized her.
When I was born on November 20, 1886, I was named Victor. I was to have been a girl so that I could have been called Victoria, and it was a great disappointment to my parents that I was a boy. I arrived on a Sunday just as the people were passing the house on their way to church. A mid-wife attended my mother, the doctor living about five miles away and only calling at the village once a week on his rural rounds. There was of course, no telephone and sending a messenger in a horse and buggy was the only means of communication in cases of emergency.
My birthplace was on my Uncle's farm, in the house facing on the church road where he lived for a number of years. It is strange but I have no recollection of the details of this house other than that the children's bedroom was over the cowshed and that during the night we would hear the yoke-chain rattle and clump.
When the cows were brought into the shed at night they were fastened in their stall by a chain, which was threaded through a large eyebolt. A weight was at one end of the chain and yoke collar at the other end secured the cow, and every movement of the animal caused the chain to be dragged noisily through the bolt, the weight would be lifted from the floor and then fall back with a thump. To a young child, only partially awake, their noises could be terrifying accompanied as they were by the chattering and rustling of birds and mice in the thatch overhead. I imagine they caused my parents many disturbed nights soothing our fears.
Before I go any further perhaps I should introduce my family and relatives. My father's name was Frank, he was a bricklayer. My mother's name was Elizabeth, her maiden name was Preston. Their oldest child was Lilly, a deaf mute who was unable to walk and who required personal attention for all her needs all of her long life. The second child was Ernest, and then came Frank Edward (Ted), Albert and myself. My sister Anne (Nancy) is two years younger than me and William (Bill) was born two years later.
Dad's oldest sister, Ellen, lived in London. His brother Will went to Australia for a time and then returned to Leicester. His remaining brother George, lived in Leicester and in later years lived with us after Dad died. She did not remarry.
I remember the farmhouse, especially the kitchen, so well, because we used to spend our school holidays there after we moved to Leicester. It was a wonderful treat for us to get into the country, especially the ride out there. We would go to the Market Place in Leicester where the farmers from all around would display their produce on their stalls. Here the 'Carrier' would have his wagon and horse stationed ready for loading supplies and passengers for the villages on his route.
The wagon had a canvas cover and bench seats along the sides, and all the parcels and boxes for delivery would be piled down the middle. The villagers and farmers would commission the Carrier to make purchases in the city for them and deliver the goods on his next trip. You read of this kind of thing in Charles Dickens 'Barkis', in 'David Copperfield' for instance. The trip took between two and three hours, depending on the number of calls to be made on the way, and left Leicester on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
Aunt Nancy would be waiting to welcome us at the door and lead us into the large kitchen-living room. I remember the big oak beams across the ceiling with hams and bacon flitches hanging from them curing and the open fireplace with the hooks and trivets for heating the pots and pans. There was a Dutch oven which was placed in front of the fire to hold the meat or fowl while cooking on a spit, which was turned as required by a handle. The floor was red tile and my Aunt used to mop it every morning, wearing pattens, shoes with a flat wooden sole raised from the floor a couple of inches on a light iron framework with a ring shaped base to keep her feet dry. She was most particular about the cleanliness of the room as the milk and butter making were handled in this room.
The fresh milk was brought in pails from the cowshed and poured into large earthenware puncheons in the dairy, which was a room off the kitchen, always kept closed to maintain an even temperature. The milk would stand overnight or longer for the cream to rise. And what thick cream! I remember going into the dairy one day while I was alone in the house and dipping my finger into it to taste it. Some time later, probably the next morning, my Aunt said, "There must have been a little mouse in the cream". I did not say I had done it but looking back, there was no doubt she knew who the little mouse was.
Twice a week the butter churn was set up in the kitchen, the cream poured in, and it was turned, and turned AND turned, getting heavier as the butter was formed, but always turning at the same speed, the mass of butter being carried on the chum blades to the top and then falling with a flop to the bottom again. Then it was made into pound blocks, pressing the paddle on each pound to leave the imprint they used.
When we went to bed we took a candlestick, holding a candle, a snuffer and two or three matches. These were on a small table at the foot of the stairs and were always replaced there the following morning. Coal oil lamps were used in the downstairs rooms and oil lanterns for work or moving around outside at night.
As nearly as I can recollect our first home in Leicester was on Crafton Street in one of a row of two storey houses made of brick and all of the same type, extending on both sides of the street for its whole length. There was an entry to the rear of the every second house, with the upstairs bedrooms of the two houses joining over and forming a cover to the entry. I went to an Anglican Day School in the next street to us. My only memory of it is being pushed off a form upon which we were standing while singing and the teacher blamed me for doing it on purpose and I had to stay in half an hour after school. We used to have spending money (a farthing) every Saturday to buy candy in the sweet store close by, and as we got older, this was raised to a halfpenny. It was always a long serious decision to make as to what kind to buy.
We moved to Bell Lane and I went to a Board School. The boys and girls had separate classes and playgrounds. There were five or six classes in one large room, with a large iron heater to warm the whole of the room, an impossible task. With six teachers talking or several classes having reading lessons, another having singing instruction it is surprising we learned anything.
While we were here, my elder brother, Ernest, was apprenticed to learn carpentry, Dad, putting up a bond for him. After a year or so he joined the Royal Engineers, making the bond forfeit. When the Boer war broke out, he was sent to South Africa and was in Mafeking when it was besieged. I remember when he returned; he brought a banana home with him, the first one any of us had seen. And when he cut it in two with a long sloping cut, displaying the angel in the centre, we thought it was miraculous. Ted, the second oldest, had found work on an estate as a gardener, later moving to work in the Lake District in north England.
We moved to Abbey Lane, Belgrave in 1899 or early 1900, to the house Nancy and Bill are still occupying. It was way out in the country then and the surroundings were very pleasant. There were two houses of similar construction side by side, separated only on the ground floor by an entry for access from the road to the rear of the house. It was about three miles from the centre of Leicester with good roads for the horse drawn traffic. Two horses pulled the street railway cars, and they were about 10 minutes walk from where we lived. The heavy drays, (forerunner of the present trucks) were pulled by teams of heavy horses. Two to four and occasionally six were needed to pull the load.
It has stayed in my mind that I started to work on April 3rd, 1900 and I think this would be about right as I had not reached my 14th birthday and had to have special permission to leave school. I worked in the office of my Uncle George, Dad's brother, starting as office boy, folding accounts and putting them in envelopes, then affixing postage stamps. They shipped pies and cakes all over the British Isles and Ireland, with a number of traveling salesmen covering the various districts.
There were three rooms in the offices, a large room in which was a high stand-up desk at which four to six clerks worked, using stools about 2 1/2 feet high to sit on. There was an office for the accountant and one for the general manager and the boss. There were no typewriters, everything being done by hand and no telephones.
I progressed through the various office jobs and in 1909 I was made salesman and given the district of North Wales, with Chester as my headquarters. I worked all the seaside resorts along with the larger towns close to the coast as far south as Cardiff. I was in Aberystwyth when the memorial service was held at the death of King Edward VII. An Eisteddfod had just been concluded and a huge number of singers and choirs were gathered there. The service was held in the valley with singers on the surrounding hills and it is impossible to describe the wonderful harmony and grandeur of the scene. A few months later I resigned and joined the staff of th International Correspondence School, selling technical and business courses, working out of Coventry and Birmingham. I have condensed the events of quite a number of years here and have omitted events occurring at home.
In 1900, then, we had settled in our new home and Dad was busy making a garden and building a small greenhouse. The first week in August was always a holiday week and Dad was carrying soil in two pails at a time from the street into the greenhouse trying to get it completed before the coming fall. While bringing in one load and as Mother was standing at the back door, he stopped to speak to her, then suddenly collapsed at her feet and was dead when the doctor arrived.
Dad's loss caused a big change in our lives, of course. Ernest was in the army, Ted working in North of England, Albert had recently started to work in a hosiery factory, and I at Uncle George's place. Nancy and Bill were still in school.
The factory, where Albert worked, knitted 'Tams', and the owner arranged for Mother to have supplies of them sent to the house for her to sew the wool 'bob' on the top, comb and trim them and return to the factory. This was paid for by piecework and we all helped, enabling us to carry on over a very difficult time. Mother's sister, Molly, came to live with us about this time, and her board and room payments helped also.
I should describe the interior of the house perhaps. In the kitchen was a fireplace beside it a big copper boiler, bricked in, with a small firebox underneath. This was used every Monday morning for boiling the week's washing. Monday, at six o'clock in the morning, one of the boys had to fill the copper with pails of water from the pump at the sink, another would light the fire under the copper. The mangle (wringer) was outside, under a shed, and it would require wiping down and getting ready for use.
We had city water from a tap at the sink but the pump water was softer for the laundry use. In the kitchen was also a gas stove but whether this was put in later or not, I do not remember.
Under the same shed as the mangle was the toilet, with an overhead water tank and pull chain. From the kitchen a passage led to the livingroom, which was the most used room in the house. We ate and played and it was the centre of all our activities as Lilly's chair was beside the fireplace here, and she was included as much as possible in all we did. The piano was here and Aunt Molly liked to play, and as I progressed with my violin, more time was spent with music. Sunday evening hymn singing became quite a regular thing.
The other room on the ground floor was the front room or parlour, which was used only on special occasions, such as when visitors came, which I may say was very rarely. It had a bay window, the drapes of which were usually down so that the furniture and rug would not fade. At Christmas time, Mother would bake small mince pies, lemon tarts and other seasonal goodies and they would be placed on large platters on the table in this room until Christmas Day. The door was always closed but at this season of the year a special close watch was kept on it while we kids were around so that the goodies would not all be eaten before Christmas.
Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bathroom with a washbasin and a bath but no hot water. On bath nights water was heated in the kitchen and carried upstairs in pails. Mother and the two girls slept in the front room, the boys in the middle room and Aunt Molly's room was at the back.
Albert and I used to have pets and I remember once a wooden cage was hung on the outside of the house by the bathroom window in which were a family of white mice and one morning we found the cage empty, all the mice having got into the house through the bathroom window. I will leave to your imagination the frantic searching that went on and the instructions to keep such pets down in the shed. Aunt Molly was scared to death of mice.
We had at different times, cavies (guinea pigs), rabbits, white rats and mice, pigeons and other animals. You can see where you girls and your children get this 'pet' fever from; it is in your blood. We used to trim and brush the animals preparing them for exhibition at shows and fairs, winning many prizes.
I must return now to where I was working in Coventry. I sold I.C.S. courses for about two years and during the latter part of this period the country was being flooded and bombarded with advertisements advising people to go to Canada where everybody was getting rich and land was free for the immigrant to live on.
Pictures were being shown on the screen at the theatres and, in 1912, I decided I would go and find out what it was like for myself. I looked at a map of the country, not knowing where to go and chose Peterborough for the only reason that a city of the same name was near Leicester.
I bought a ticket to travel on the 'Corsican' as an emigrant, said goodbye to the family, with a promise to return home in a couple of years.