Oral History

Archie Spencer

Archie Spencer's remembers his life and times at Barwell.

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr Archie Spencer (AS)

Date of Interview: 27th June 1984

DW. What was it like at your school?

AS. I went to Townsend Road council school, it was a pretty new school, opened in 1911; I think, it went when I was about six years old. It was quite a modern school for those days, it's not changed much, I have been in recently, it's not changed at all internally, they have added bits on externally, extra rooms etc., it's just about the same. The classes were quite big for those days, each classroom was segregated and had its own teacher, the pupils didn't move, we stopped in the same classroom; I think nowadays they move around a bit to different rooms, and the teacher stays in the one room; in those days we had the same teacher all day.

DW. What subjects did they teach, just the three Rs?

AS. More or less, we had nature study and went out on nature walks and things like that, but the ground schooling was arithmetic and essays, there was woodwork for the boys and cookery for the girls, it was as up to date as that when I went. The cookery and the woodwork were upstairs, but you had to be a certain age before you went to these classes. The schooling was quite good. The headmaster in those days was Mr. Edwin Moore, who was quite a strict disciplinarian, the cane was used quite lavishly in those days and you dare not tell your dad you had had the stick or you would have had a belt in the ear from him as well, which is the opposite to modern methods according to what I hear. There's no stick and if you do get it the school master is summoned. You had to respect the masters in the street you know, don't walk by with your hands in your pocket, you smartened yourself up when you saw the master coming, even in those days. I sat for the scholarship when I went in for the 'Dixie' Scholarship at the age of ten.

DW. At what age did you leave school?

AS. I think you could leave at fourteen in those days. You sat the county scholarship automatically. There was this 'Dixie' Scholarship for Bosworth, there were ten scholarships a year, or was it twelve? I remember sitting for that, there were four of us went and we went in a pony and trap to Bosworth. I will always remember when we were going someone threw my hat out, I had to jump out pick my hat up and run after the pony, that was before we got there. We were there all day for this exam and I was lucky enough to pass it and then I went on to Bosworth, I was ten then. There were only seventy to eighty pupils at the grammar school at Bosworth, you were definitely sure somebody had got their eye on you at Bosworth. Mr. Ford-Smith was the headmaster, we thought we were hard done to at the local school, but when you got to Bosworth under him you had got to have your hat on straight, shoes tied up, oh, - he was master, and he got good results - very good results.

DW. What subjects could you take at grammar school?

AS. When I went to grammar school, we went on to French, Latin, Physics, chemistry; you know you could take Greek, if you were good enough. I did quite well at Bosworth and I went on to Birmingham University to study medicines; I did about two and a half years there, then my dad took ill and died and I came back to look after the village shop, on the top town. So I had a really good education and made some good friends, widespread. I have still got them and I keep in contact with them. Sid smith went to Birmingham university at that time, he was about two years after me.

DW. You said 'Dixie' scholarship. 'Dixie' was that a local charity or something?

AS. I think it was Sir Wolstan Dixie, it was their family. I suppose it had been left to one of those charities, you didn't pay any fees for the grammar school, if you passed the scholarship you got free education you see; but I think the thing was we were outsiders. The grammar school at Bosworth was more or less for Bosworth, but these scholarships brought outsiders in, there weren't many from Barwell, very few. Len Harvey went when he was a lad; George Geary - not the cricketer, George the organist, he went, Fred Archer, he went, but there weren't many from this side of the county went to Bosworth. My children all went, in those days they went when they passed the eleven plus, but then when Judith my daughter went, there was a bit of bother, they said she had got to go to Hinckley I rang the headmaster who said he would still get her into Bosworth. There was that feeling all the while they were trying to pull them away.

DW. Now I think there is no-one from this district goes to Bosworth, but it has moved to Desford anyway. It was a good education, very good there; I don't think you can better it now. We hadn't got the modern teaching aids, we hadn't got the sciences, but you did a subject and you got to know it, otherwise there was a great deal of trouble and I mean trouble. It got you the cane at Barwell you got a couple of raps, but if you got the cane at Bosworth you got more than a rap, you got a swishing and it was a real nasty beating you got. But in spite of this everybody admired the headmaster, we all realised what he was doing after the first two years there, you realised it was you he was after to educate. After he died I remember a fellow calling a meeting of the old boys to buy a headstone for his grave at Bosworth. I can remember him getting up to address the meeting, and he said that no-one had been beaten more than he was, but he still admired the man. He had got marks on his hands to prove his beatings, even all these years after, but he finished up as head of agricultural college, and he attributed his success to Mr. Ford Smith's teachings, and discipline. I would have been nothing without him, so no matter what they say it shows it does have an effect on people, and not a detrimental effect. He never forgot his beatings, but he attributed his success to his beatings.

AS. Mr. Ford-Smith was good at recognising potential, if he saw potential there hidden, he would get it out and he would not bother how he got it out, but he got it out. The record was very good for the few pupils who were there, they all got top jobs, it was wonderful really. I came to Barwell into the village shop, I was only nineteen then and my mother was very good to me, she let me off to play cricket and football and I still continued with my activities. I watched Barwell develop because it did develop then, they started to build these new estates where there used to be fields.

There's this northern estate, Bardon Road, Bradgate Road, and they built houses up there, they continued right to the Kirkby Road; the funny thing is that people don't know there are about six houses in Kirkby Road that a private builder built, and believe it or not the ex-manager of England's soccer team helped build those houses. Don Revie, he was a young fellow and an apprentice bricklayer, he worked on those houses. The City Colts used to play on the Barwell grounds, in those days there were quite a few internationals played football on that field, they were not internationals at the time, they were lads, but they developed into internationals. Then as I say, they built that estate that extended the village, they did a bit of ribbon building down beyond Mill Street, and Hinckley Road, took it nearly to Powers Corner and along Ashby Road, kind of joining Hinckley and Barwell together. There was a bit of an outcry about that, they did not want this ribbon building, so they started on estates again, they built the Waterfall estate which filled a little corner up down there. They built this big estate on the 'High Close' all round the church so that's all filled up. Barwell's filled up a lot; when we were young children four, five or six years old, around about there; there were very few houses. I can remember going down with my dad, he had to fetch the papers from Elmesthorpe station every morning.

When I was old enough he would get the motor-bike and sidecar out and I would go down with him early mornings. There were literally very few houses from Hill Street off Shilton Road to Elmesthorpe, you could count them, there was the one on the left the Red Hall, (Frisbys), and the corner of Elmesthorpe turnpike with Miss Price's house, there's was the farm on the corner. Herbert's farm, as you went down to Elmesthorpe, and there's a little cottage which is still there, where Harry Leader lived, there was Church Farm at Elmesthorpe, and that was it. At the station we would cut the papers undone, tie a few up with a bit of string and as my dad flashed by on the motor bike at about fifteen miles per hour, we used to throw these papers off. One for the Bonser's at Church Farm, one for Harry Leader, one for Miss Price and that was it, that's all the houses that there were up there. Now its developed all the way up, its a big estate round there, this was called the Red Hall Estate, because this is where the Red Hall was, and they turned all the grounds into this estate. This was (Kingsfield Road) I can remember that being built, all these houses up here are on allotments, both sides of the road, they developed the plots into houses, that's how this has developed. Oxford Street, Regent Street, around the corner, I can remember them being built. How old would I be now? I would be about eight or nine then; they talk about vandals now, we used to play havoc in them houses when they were building them, we used to push the walls down as fast as they could build them up, but don't publish that. When I read about it now, we did them things you know, they didn't call it vandalism, they called it devilment. The only amusement we had was to play cricket and football. No recreation ground, we used to have somebody's field and we would kick a ball in that until we got shifted, then we went in somebody's else's field, or we used to play in the street. I can remember where the factories are now, where Harvey's factory is, that was a rough road in those days, they were building that factory and we used to play a game called 'grog', we would dig a hole out in the road and get these great big stones and you had to throw them into the hole and if you got them into the hole and if you knocked the other one's in, that was that. Other times we used to play 'Johnny on the mop-stick' and all sorts, but it was all in the streets and even in those days we used to have gangs, there was the Common Gang, the Top Towners, the Sandholers, and we used to play one another at cricket and football, and fight, proper little gangs. If you went out of your own territory on your own, you were in trouble.

DW. What about when you first started in the paper business; the work, the money?

AS. When we were younger you didn't bother about money, if we'd got a penny or 'tuppence' (two pence) or 'thrupence' (three pence) a week we were perfectly happy, you could go in a sweet shop and you could get as many as you want for 'apney' (½ penny).

DW. Yes, but a half penny would buy a lot more then?

AS. Yes, you have got to take that into account, when you talk about money, nobody earned much in common with present day standards, the majority of people were very poor. I mean, you take your own family the Wood's and Marriott's, all that lot, they were struggling. I mean even those that weren't hadn't got much money you know, they were struggling, but everybody those days helped one another, if someone was ill, the neighbours all mucked in and helped them. They helped one another with children's clothes, passed them on, and all that sort of thing. Everybody had a hot meal, I mean they didn't have anything extravagant they always seem to feed the kids I mean you had dumplings, you had good solid food, but people would turn their noses up at it nowadays, and you always had your pudding first in those days, so that you made up for the meat, so nobody wanted much meat 'cause you had had a good fill of pudding.

DW. I have heard this before about having sweet first.

AS. I think that was the idea because there wasn't much meat you see, you had a good filling of dumplings or roly-poly, or something like that, you hadn't got much room for anything else you see. About then the only time children got any clothes, new clothes, was the sermons. I mean everybody did not get them, that was the object to get a new suit or frock for the sermons. The Sunday school that you used to go to you would pay perhaps a bob (five pence or one shilling) a week on a card, and a month before the sermons they would pay you your' money, you know, so you can buy things. You could buy a suit for a couple of quid (two pounds) in those days for a child, not nowadays you see the value and workmanship isn't there. "White and Breward" started a boot and shoe factory down Stebby Lane, its gone now; the workmen carried their wage book, you see. When my wife's grandparents died they found a wage book, and they were only earning three shillings and six pence per week, something like that.

DW. What year was that?

AS. I wouldn't know what year, I can't remember now, but it would be about 1900 somewhere about then. A foreman only got about seven shillings and six pence (37½ pence) a week, and you used to work Saturday morning into that. I can remember as a lad, when my dad was alive, the papers used to come from Elmesthorpe about six a.m., the paper lads used to be outside then; in the summer when it was a lovely morning, we would be playing football in the street, waiting for the papers to come on a Saturday morning, there were quite a lot of men walking from 'Hinckley to work, coming up to the factories 'course they would have a little kick of the ball as they went by, half past six in a morning that would be.

DW. How much were papers then?

AS. Penny, I can remember, but they were 'apney (½ penny) at one time, but they were a penny each, I think just before 1912 the Mercury went from 'apney' to a penny, but the London papers were only a penny. I think The Times was tuppence' (two pennies), I would not be sure about that. The majority were a penny the popular press that is. Comics were about, you got a comic for a penny and the flimsy ones like Chips, Comic Cuts, they were 'apney' I think.

DW. Was there a lot of unemployment at that time?

AS. Barwell's done well as far as I can remember. As I say, when you're young these things don't register, but there never seemed to be a lot of unemployment in Barwell. I wasn't here in 1926 during the General strike, I was away at Birmingham then, so I didn't see the effect locally of the General strike. Taking it all the way through, the employment in Barwell has never been bad, not compared with the rest of the country; the money flow always seemed to be fairly even. You know the wages have gone up, prices have gone up, but there's never been extreme poverty, I don't think, in Barwell, never, not that I can think of. The poor were poor, but they managed to get through and as I say in those days everybody helped. That seemed to me to be one of the big changes in life. At present, everybody seems to live more for themselves now more than ever. Barwell village is a tightly knit community and they cling to one another even now. The old Barwell families you can see them in the town, they all cling together. Everybody knows what everybody's gone through, and what they came from, and it doesn't seem to make any difference it just knits them closer together.

DW. What about family nick-names?

AS. Oh are, the Bongo's, the Tongo's, everybody was known by a nick-name.

DW. The family not a person?

AS. Definitely, the nick-name I think was to distinguish the different families. There were a lot of Moores in Barwell; Flasco's, Tongo's, Quiller's If you refer to a person say Joe Moore, which Moore is he? You would say Quiller or a Tongo. The Grewcocks, there were a lot Grewcocks families and they all had these nick-names.

DW. Two of my family had nick-names, Pothook...?

AS. Yes, Arthur Wood's family is a Pothook.

DW. Romay?

AS. That's right, Jim Wood is a Romay, I was Bungay Spencer. I will give you an instance when my younger son started knocking around with a girl. Naturally, being a father, you wonder who she is and I said: "where's she from, Jef?"

"Oh, she comes from Braunstone - Janet King."

Later on he said: "You know her dad."

I said: "Look Jef, I don't know anybody in Braunston, so don't come and tell me that I know her - you had better bring her and let's have a look at her." So the first time she came; she was a grand girl; she came in and she said: "I have got to tell you something from my dad, from a Basher to a Bungay."

"Oh," I said, "why didn't you say Basher King, Shilton?". I've got the scars to prove it. That was the only way I found out; from a Basher to a Bungay, and this is all over the place.

Another funny thing, the dialect. Now Judy, my daughter, she went down to Brighton college, I took her down for an interview and she went in. I went around the town, met her after lunch, after she had had her interview. I asked: "How did you get on?"

I think I got on alright, but a funny thing happened. They were firing questions at me and they said: where do you come from then?' So I replied: Barwell'. Then one of the interviewers said: 'You mean Barrel don't you?' I could have dropped dead, hearing it from a stranger, cause we all call it Barrel".

The interviewer had made a study of dialects and he said one thing he wanted to do was to keep the dialects and he did not want them broken up. No posh talk for the sake of being posh; keep your own dialect. It was amazing to think that someone down in Brighton knew Barwell as 'Barrel'.

DW. It is the same with Hinckley and how they drop h's?

AS. Yes, yes, oh ah, and it's very noticeable when travelling about, you can pick somebody up from the Midlands - of course, a Brummy is a Brummy everywhere. You can pick a Barwell man out anywhere, I think I could, unless he is a pseudo bisney. The centre of the town's not altered, of course, from when I was a lad - it was all open, in fact they used to have a little market. One or two came and put their wares in the street and came to sell them, I can remember that but I can't remember much more about it.

DW. Barwell has not got a market has it?

AS. No never had a market, but somebody must have tried to start one, but it. A never got going. The thing is the centre of the town was a football pitch and we got the signpost and the lamp-post as one goal and you used to put two coats down and that was the football pitch. In the winter we used to have slides. I can remember we had one slide from the top of East Green, which was known and always called Cats Lane, up by Archer's Wood Yard and it went straight down East Green, straight across Kirby Road, straight down stebby lane, a terrific slide, and you went straight across two main roads. we used to slide all night sometimes. The street lamps were very poor and the slide was like glass; no-one came to salt it, it was there for days.

DW. So there was not much traffic about

AS. No, that's what I mean, it made all the difference. The field at the back of our shop, that was all allotments when I was a lad, until they built the Liberal club there. The cottages down high Street; there were five cottages with an entry at the back and the present 'Co-shop' is there now. There used to be a little shop straight opposite. I think Bill Harvey started that then Bill Freer took it on as a shoe repair shop, that's now the 'Nat. west', all the rest along there were cottages.

DW. So the National Westminster Bank building is quite old, thought it was quite a modern building?

AS. Well I think they built on the old foundations, but it is a modern building now; when 'Nat. west' Bank first started, it was just where a small shop was and the houses were still left alongside, but then recently they pulled it down and rebuilt it, I think if you look at the back its still the old buildings. I remember where the 'Co-shop' food store is not, that was the old B.U British United.

DW. British United?

AS. British United Shoe Machine Co. All the factories went there for all the parts to the machines. Harry Wyal was the manager. It was quite a big depot, it stretched right around the back, the contours are still the same, but of course the building's new. The contours are a kind of 'L' shape around the little cottages. The fish shop's still there, that's the same and our old shop and two cottages, they're still the same. The Blacksmith's Arms, that's still there, that's been done up about three times, you know, different decor

DW. The old Queen's Head that's quite old?

AS. Yes, the Queen's Head has not altered much at all, only internally, it's quite nice inside. To think of it Baxter's has hardly altered externally or internally. camels shop's still in the original place in chapel Street as well.

DW. There's not many old buildings left in Barwell now is there?

AS. No, no, the old barn down in High Street belonging to the farm (Manor Farm) they are all down, Harvey House is in its place there. Green's Farm used to be in the High Street, the farmyard is still there but it's used as garage premises now. The actual yard's still there. That was a sight for sore eyes Jigger' Green used to bring the cows straight up the main road and down what we called the cowie which is a field a the back, where the fair used to be, than of course at night they used to come back, but any traffic about just had to wait.

DW. Tell me about the fair?

AS. Oh yes, we have a fair every year, we call them wakes. The wakes were a celebration of the church anniversary, it was always a feast, even when I was a lad, everybody had a week's holiday, the factories closed down for a week. The fair came; it used to be at one time at the back of our shop where the Liberal Club is, then it moved further afield further back into what we call the cowie, that was always the field until it moved. Joe Spencer had a field down Stebby Lane and then that was the fair field. well then Joe sold it to the fair people, the fair people sold it to a developer and they have moved still further down Stebby Lane, they bought a field further down so that is where the fairs are. A funny thing about this fair field, it's been developed into quite a big estate and it's known as 'Fair Acre Estate' after the fair, and another funny thing too; is they named the streets, where the cowie used to be, after cows; Hereford way, Ayreshire close and they're about four named after cows and I don't think the modern generation know that was the cowie and that all the streets on that plot are named after cows.

DW. You don't seem to have many places of entertainment in Barwell?

AS. No, there used to be the Picture Palace which was the only one.

DW. Where was that?

AS. That is now a shoe store next to Moles and Moores factory, which is now a warehouse for some travelling firm. Mr. Cooper opened the cinema. The Electric Palace as it was called, that was about 1910 of course, it was one place of entertainment. we as children used to go to the penny rush and kick up a stink and get thrown out, but it was quite a popular thing. It was connected to the one at Shilton, I don't know if its still going now? The one at Shilton, they used to cycle up and down with films and in bad weather the fellow with the cycle with part one got it mixed up with part three and they used to fall in the hedge with it and all sorts of things. Apart from that this was the centre of attraction really, a lot of courting went on and I suppose quite a few marriages were made in the cinema that went with the times. There used to be concert parties here and you had your local little magic groups in the village, nothing elaborate. The church institute was built after the first war; that became the attraction for dances because they had quite a good floor and had some good dances there, select, I don't know why; until the Liberal Club came and they built a big dance floor and that made another centre of attraction. Locally there's nothing you see, the lads used to walk over to 'Hinckley, and after a night out, a long walk back.

DW. Was there no means of transport between Barwell and Hinckley?

AS. The buses started up, the 'Red Buses' started one every hour, then the 'Green Buses' started from Leicester. of course great rivalry; but instead of splitting the services and going every half hour, one ran a minute behind the other or a minute in front of the other to pick up and then the next company would shove it another minute forward and this went on, but there was only one bus an hour you see, well then, after the first was a lot of local developers started, there was quite a lot of local buses. Alf Wragg started one, Robinson's of Burbage started up about then, a bloke named Haynes started one, there were four or five of these little bus services nipping in between the main bus service. These did the same stupid thing trying to race one another to get the customers, till eventually it became legalised and they had to run to a specialised timetable. You 'al-us', if you got the money to go on the bus, you could get on the most daring, they used to take the corners on two wheels; 'hairy-scarey.'

DW. How much was the bus far then, to Hinckley?

AS. A penny, 'tuppence' (two pence) return. I remember going once to fetch some 'inckley Times for my dad, over to Baxter's, I went on the bus, I got the 'inckley Times and then I lost me penny to come back with; apney' it was I was half fare. I lost me change and I had to walk it, but you didn't think much of walking it. During the last war there were no buses much at all, if you wanted to go to the pictures (our pictures weren't open) you 'al-us' had to walk home. we used to come across the big field, as we called it.

DW. Did the last war interfere with village life much?

AS. Well it certainly made a difference. I was away for a lot of it, but the difference was, the early part of the war they brought evacuees in, these came mainly from Coventry and Birmingham area and a lot of them are still here. They took to village life and there're a lot of them still in Barwell now, they are now 'Barwellians', you see the children have grown up here, reared families here so they're really Barwell people. After Dunkirk you see they brought the soldiers in and quite a lot of them married Barwell girls so it's affected Barwell, you see.

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.