Post War Memories
A Memory of Mountsorrel.
I was raised in Mountsorrel in the Soar valley near Leicester. It was a Norman village that lay alongside the river Soar under Castle Hill. The hill got its name from the mote and bailey type 12c castle built by the Beaumonts – Earls of Leicester who were given land by William the Conqueror. It is first mentioned in 1150 when its strategic position for a castle was first noticed. Some say the name of the village is an anglicised version of Montsureau, a village in France next to the Loire, or that it was a corruption of “Mount Soar Hill” after the adjacent river. As French was the main language among the nobility, I favour the French connection. During the civil unrest between Stephen and Matilda in the 12c, there was a battle fought and the holders of the castle lost, so the damaged castle was pulled down and the stones used elsewhere. The granite crags on the east aspect of the hill define part of the castle. It is said, according to the stone memorial close by the south aspect, that William Marshal “the greatest Knight” and one time Regent of England fought here.
Granite was found under one of the hills behind the village – it is a very useful hard pink stone used for buildings and roads now days, but in Anglo-Saxon times it was used to make the quern stone used for grinding flour – hence the local village name of Quorn is a corruption of quern. The village and quarry were developed in the 17C to now become the largest in Europe. In the 1940's the village was basically along the main road (A6 London to Glasgow) and around the Green (the largest in the country). The company Alvis, ( heavy artillery and tank manufacturers) having been bombed out of its Coventry factory, had set up a unit in the south-side of the village and this was eventually taken over after 1945 by Rolls Royce who were developing the “jet engine”. My father was taken out of the Army and sent up to Mountsorrel to work for Rolls Royce. Later he worked for the Brush - a train making engineering works in Loughbororugh.
Their first home was a flat over Allens’ garage on the main road in Mountsorrel but later moved into a prefab flat-roof bungalow on Martin Avenue (now demolished) at the top of Churchill Rd in Mountsorrel. These were built to accommodate the skilled engineers who came from all over the country to work at the RR factory. They had all the basic mod cons you needed - small kitchen with a boiler at the back of the fire in the sitting room, two double bed rooms , a bathroom and toilet – the latter were a big plus as a lot of housing in Mountsorrel only had an outside toilet and tin bath in the kitchen! As a new born in 1947 I slept on an old drawer. There was no central heating of course and in the winter the windows would ice up inside.
My sister and I would share a double bed .We would have lots of woollen blankets and a thick feather eiderdown on top under the candlewick bedspread with a hot water bottle to take off the chill. There was a front and back garden, in which we grew some vegetables and kept 2 ducks – Daisy and Gertrude. Dad grew so attached to the ducks that he could not kill them to eat, so he gave them to the next door neighbours to do the dirty deed. There were fields behind us and a nice family the Borretts at one side with Anne and Barbara to play with – about the same ages as Mavis and myself. The Borretts came from Aldershot and eventually went back south to Farnborough. We used to visit them occasionally and Ann always stayed in touch with Mum through the years as their parents had died. Other families nearby were the Thorpes, Squires, Bullocks and our other immediate neighbour Pat Warner, whose parents had the first TV we saw.
It was a happy 7 years we lived there in the pre-fab. Christ Church school was at the bottom of the hill and on my first day at school I remember lining up with the other children to go into the classroom. There was a double class intake then due to the post-war baby bulge, and it continued through my school days. Generally I was obedient and attentive. The only time I was properly punished, was when I went outside to the toilet block in my indoor shoes! I had to stand in the corner then for half the lesson!!. Another time the teacher reprimanded me for touching the metal light switch with a wet hand. I had told her I had a strange tremor in my hand when I touched it. Of course it was the electricity shorting through me, but at 6 years I didn’t understand that.
We did have a radio for entertainment in the evening. I was allowed up until The Archers’ had finished at 7pm. We would have “Listen with Mother ” on at 2pm and also listen to the plays and bands – Victor Sylvesters’ Orchestra or Billy Cottons Band was on a lot. I was 5 when “How much is that Doggie in the window” song came out and 6 when “ All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”..
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11 was a big event in 1953. A neighbour had a television – something we did not have until 1957 - and we walked down to her bungalow to watch– it had an 8inch screen and was in black and white – a huge novelty. It rained all day. I was 6 years old and there was a street party with all the prefabs decked with red, white and blue crepe paper and trestle table set out with sandwiches and jelly. It was a feast for the eyes, but sadly rain set in and soon there were red, and blue stripes all down the white walls of the prefabs that stayed for months. We also went to the Rock cinema ( or Berties Bug House as we called it) showing of the coronation as a trip from school. We walked in a long crocodile to the small cinema at the other end of the village. It was magical. I remember seeing the film Calamity Jane there several times.
Other highlights were the weekly visit of Dockerty’s greasy fish and chip van- not that we had them every week, the rag and bone man, fish man, and coal man who all called by with their horse and carts. The milk was delivered in glass returnable bottles daily , first thing in the morning. You had to bring it in early or the birds would peck through the foil topping and take the cream off the top. We played with skipping ropes, marbles, played cowboys and Indians, made dens and hopscotch. There was always a hunt for a decent piece of chalk from the garden so we could draw the boxes.
.My friend Ann and I would always meet up on Saturday afternoon and go up the hills to play on the rocks, which all had special names – the Peak rock, stone-henge, crows-nest , farm rock, devil slide. Climbing the difficult rocks was a challenge, as was jumping from the peak rock - the highest, which was rite of passage. Another test of your bravery was jumping from the Stonehenge rocks to the grass and across the gap between them, with always the danger of landing on the broken glass at the foot of the rocks. But we never injured ourselves.
We met other children up there and would play sliding down the grassy slopes in late summer on cardboard or on the gravel slopes of the tips with wooden boards when it was dry. Blackberry picking was a regular foray. Specially exciting was watching the granite blasting from the tips at 4pm regularly– we would hide in the gorse bushes from the guard who came round and then creep to the tip edge to watch the blast - so full of terror in case it blew us up. But really the blasting was deep at the bottom of the quarry so no debris would ever hit us. Hiding in the gorse bushes was also useful when it came to spying on courting couples – we would see a regular couple coming from our vantage point and have time to hide before they arrived – not that we saw much!! My especially exciting activity was to try and climb on the back of horses that were in the surrounding fields. I would take some carrots from the pantry and my best hair brush to coax the horse or pony to the gate where I could groom it and then climb on it. So many times I would fall off into the mud, telling my mother I had fallen in a puddle.
Another time Anne and I would go down to the locks by the Waterside inn to help with the gates as the barges came through. There was always the unique smell and roar of the river water running through the sluice gates or over the weir. Walking along to the 1860 echo bridge we would find places to fish for tiddlers in the shallows. The river would regularly flood after heavy rain and we would come back with wellies full of water because we had been paddling in them. Great trees to climb were also found there.
By this time I was at St Peters School on Watling St, the other side of the hills, which I had to cross every day. The worst time was in the winter when we had to wear our wellies which would chafe and cause red sore area on our legs. Chilblains were also a regular from cold damp footwear. The school had 4 class rooms and separate play grounds for boys and girls. Lunch was in the school rooms ( now a private house) on the main road – a short walk away. By the entrance to the dining hall was a cave entrance and you could see where the roof had caved in. It was rumoured that this was a secret entrance to the castle that used to be on the hill, but had been destroyed during the first civil war between Stephen and Matilda in the 12 C.
A regular annual treat was the arrival of the fair which would pitch up on the playing fields behind the butchers. On the Saturday evening we would each have some money to spend on the rides. My favourite was the dodgems and ghost train. We would buy candy floss and toffee apples to eat.
Food shopping was from a small shop on the Green (Underwoods), who also sold freshly made ice-cream – that was such a treat and often we would have to wait while it was frozen .
Other shops we used in the village were Dobsons’ a bakers in a very ancient 17c building with a bread oven at the back. Frequently we had to return to collect the bread loaf wrapped in paper, fresh from the oven. We used Braybrooke’s the butcher and my favourite from there were the beef skirts that he would cut fresh from the carcass while you waited. There was always a queue in that shop. He had an abattoir behind the shop and you could hear the animals as you went down the lane to the playing field. Other shops were Dilks – sweets, Chapmans – hardware. Mrs Baum – hair dresser, Cavners – fruit and veg, Antills – grocers and a cobblers. There was a manor house next to the Dr Walton, opposite St Peters Church, and this was later owned by Rosemary Conley who devised the Hip and Thigh diet plan. A chemist near the doctors sold the concentrated and fortified orange juice which we loved, but also the vile green travel sickness medicine. A small book shop next door sold childrens’ books for 6d each and I read The Jungle Book, Black Beauty, Tarka the Otter, Enid Blytons Famous Five / Secret Seven stories and the Mountain of Adventure and others in the series.