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Memories of Laburnum Hall and things

By Gordon Ireland. Written January 2011

At the beginning of the1939-45 war the Laburnum Hall was taken over by the II platoon, B Company Leicestershire Home Guard. Their training was performed at Manor Farm because it had more space. The platoon was under the command of Major Carr (then Captain Carr).

After the war the Hall was returned and the Garden City at that time was surrounded by countryside, no Hamilton or Netherhall, and we formed a community association. Everybody paid £1 annually and were able to use the Hall for free.

We had flower and vegetable shows, with expert judges. The field along the side of Chestnut Avenue which was, I believe, the cricket pitch, had been converted to allotments.

A drama group would perform a play once a year and an expert adjudicator would give his or her opinion on the performance.

Once a year the Committee would put on an “At Home”. This was a kind of free entertainment and we had a “Tramps Supper”. The Hall would be in subdued light and after entertainment of various kinds as we had turned up dressed as tramps the evening would end with a “tuck in” of sausages and other ingredients, we sat on the floor to eat it. Saturday nights were usually dance nights and people would arrive from distances, it was considered a country dance night dance. At one time we hired a band called “Gipsy Petrenko” or something similar. As far as I remember it consisted of six members with accordions and dressed as gipsies. 9 O'clock arrived and no band, we were playing records. Then two members turned up looking dishevelled. At that time there was no Netherhall Road, nor estate, just a track, more a cart track. At the bottom of Lilac Avenue was a light and at the bottom of where Rosebarn Way is now, there was another light giving two entrances to the Garden City.

On this particular night the light at the bottom of Lilac Avenue had gone out. The band, thinking the far end light of Rosebarn Way was the Lilac Avenue light had turned there. This field has a slope which resulted in a bog like swamp at the bottom and the band had wallowed in this. However, we paid them as we were under contract and it was not their fault.

Earlier in time the Leicester City boundary for Parliamentary Elections was somewhere near Hungaton Boulevard and the Garden City was in the Melton division. We were short of transport. The electronic tram cars ended at Humberstone Park. As I understand things, residents clubbed together to buy a bus which was operated by Mr Cleaver. I presume this ended at Humberstone Park. What eventually happened to him I do not know.

A prominent person in our division was “Archie Crawford“ who farmed 1,000 acres at or near Hungarton. He stood as a Labour candidate in the election immediately after the war, narrowly loosing. However he was made Lord Crawford for services to agriculture and his wife, Lady Crawford, sadly they lost their son in the war.

In order to improve life after the war the government embarked on large scale house building, neglected naturally during the war. These were mainly Council houses built to a high standard and the Leicester boundary was extended to near Scraptoft. This allowed a new estate to be built.

Laburnum Road was extended and brick houses were built around a large green. The pressure for houses led to mass produced concrete good quality homes creating the Netherhall estate with the large park in the centre and the Garden City was brought within the Leicester Authority.

Roads were improved and a bus service was in operation. There is a large space where Fern Rise and Laburnum Road meet near to Laburnum Hall. In that space was a “monument” about two to three feet tall triangular in shape, in the centre a tree, if I remember rightly, also flowers. All around were seats where folk would sit and gossip. This had to go as the bus route was Chestnut Avenue and then up Fern Rise. The monument hampered manoeuvrability. George and Betty Large lived on Laburnum Road and were prominent in the “Caledonian Society”. They arranged for themselves and Mr and Mrs Derbyshire, who lived nearby, he was a guard on the steam railway trains, myself and wife Riomelda and several others to learn Scottish dancing at the Secular Hall in central Leicester, and a large contingent from the Garden City would enjoy Scottish dancing at the De Monfort Hall on St Andrews night and New Years eve night.

I have mentioned the “At Home” social evening the committee would arrange. George Large arranged with Anchor Tenants committee to give an exhibition of Scottish dancing at one of these. Norman Court who lived at the bottom of Chestnut Avenue had, after the Home Guard disbanded had been horrified to see the damage done to the floor and took the responsibility of bringing it to the full potential for dancing and physically restored it to its former glory (Thereby hangs a tale!).

The Scottish dancers arrived at the agreed “At Home” in traditional dress, bagpipes and all. The leader or some such authority decided the floor was too slippery. He went into the kitchen and emerged with a packet of salt and proceeded to sprinkle the contents on Normans wonderful floor. We had to physically restrain him. As a matter of interest Norman was a good man and a friend. He was the projectionist from the Shaftesbury cinema.

As a matter of pure interest, journey along Uppingham Road, passing East Park Road, you reach the small Sparrow Park on the left Willow Street and Overton Road are opposite, in between a building. This was the Shaftesbury cinema. It belonged to H. D. M. circuit, the initials were the managing director, Herbert Douglas Moorhouse. Most of their cinemas were in the North, three in Leicester, The Coliseum at Belgrave and the Fosse. None of these are cinemas now. The manager of the Shaftesbury was a friend of my family and I would be, as a boy, allowed to go up to the projection room and watch Norman operating the machines projecting the films onto the screen.

To finish this “Hotchpotch” of invaluable memories, at one time after the war, there was a movement to sell off the estate. A Mr Hicklin had worked out a process. The mass meeting of shareholders, held in Laburnum Hall, voted the scheme out. Thus allowing all of us the privilege of living in a community association with a long list of those anxious to join us.

An afterthought regarding self sufficiency, the ground at the corner of Lilac Avenue and Laburnum Road had been levelled and was the bowling green. The ground at the rear of the shop, which was the Co-op, the tennis court, all in addition to the cricket pitch.

A few extra memories of personalities of yesteryear, when we were an isolated community.

By Gordon Ireland

In the cricket team, one member, George Kirton, had an impairment, one leg was deformed and short. He wore a special boot, when batting, a colleague would do his runs, probably he would be stumper when fielding. I do not think there any records of this position.

Sid and Fred Atkinson lived on Chestnut Avenue, known as “big Ack” and “little Ack”, for obvious reasons. They served in the war. Sid was with anti aircraft guns,defending I believe Liverpool. Fred was in the air force ground staff and served in North Africa.

Frank Kirton was in army bomb disposal squad. Len, my brother, joined pre-war territorial yeomanry equipped with ammunition bangle (shoulder) and horse, naturally found himself in the artillery and served in North Africa and Italy.

Jim Woodward lived in Laburnum Road was in munitions, I think, at Loughborough Brush as it was then.
Albert Newcombe lived at the corner of Chestnut Avenue and Keyham Lane was in munitions at, I believe, Wadkins.

“Wally” Elingworth was an electrical engineer in the navy and lost his life when his ship was sunk. I was called up, as a pattern maker, to work for the Army Tank Board.

After the war, hopes were high for a better life, and this prompted discussion groups everywhere. Mr Law lived opposite the hall had some qualifications from the National Council of Labour Colleges. This mat not be in existence now, and he would have meetings in in his front room.

The Garden City shop was originally the Co-op and the upstairs room was used for social events, but also had the community meetings and Mr Cameron was often in attendance. He was tutor at Vaughn collage. This was I believe, the vicarage of Rev Vaughn of days gone by and was an adult education centre at the corner of Great Central Street and High Street, now long gone, but replaced by the new building along side the historic Roman remain of Leicester, and Talbot Lane.

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