Clarendon Park Lending Library

I have been having a run of good luck on Ebay this week.  My favourite item, which arrived in the post this morning, is a copy of Ernest Thompson Seton’s Old Silver Grizzle The Badger.  What makes this slightly battered edition interesting to me is that on the front is a stained, green label printed with the words CLARENDON PARK LENDING LIBRARY.  Which got me thinking about libraries in Clarendon Park.

Apologies for the terrible photo!

Knighton branch library opened on Clarendon Park Road on 9th April 1896.  In 1912 it contained upwards of 4,300 books (according to Kelly’s Directory), rising to 5,900 by 1928.  Opening hours were then 6 – 9.30pm on weeknights and 3 – 9.30pm on Saturdays, reflecting the leisure hours of Clarendon Park working folk.  The Chronicle reported in 1897 that Knighton library readers were more inclined to read “serious” books, especially theology and philosophy, and there were more adult readers than at other branches.  It was abundantly supplied with daily papers and periodicals.  18,000 books were issued in the first year, making it a great success.  A separate table was kept for ladies, and another for boys.  Very sensible.  Ladies and boys just don’t mix, do they?

Many towns and villages had private lending libraries, often operating from small shops.  In Victorian times the cost of books was so high in proportion to incomes, that most people could not afford to buy them and so used a private lending library, at least until the municipal ones were established.  Quite a few were organised by churches, such as St Philips in Evington, where the vicar “put by” 300 or so books and started one for the poor of his parish (no doubt of an improving nature).  Some were established in village halls and schools.  Some of these were free, and some were paid for by subscription or by individual book borrowed.  Both kinds could have flourished in Clarendon Park, with its mix of wealthier middle class and very humble working class people.

None of which brings me much closer to finding out about Clarendon Park Lending Library.  I’m pretty sure I came across a reference to it in a city directory at the county archive…..but I won’t get a chance to check until next week.  Oh, and Catherine Hayes, of The Pebbles, Burmarsh circa 1982 with the red felt tip pen – you are a naughty girl for writing in your books!  Regards, Elizabeth.

Furiously driving three horses and an omnibus on the London Road

A theme is developing as I look at old newspapers to find criminal and delinquent Clarendon Park dwellers.  That theme is Avenue Road Extension.  Now I realise that it’s a long road…but the former inhabitants take up more than their fair share of column inches.

Take this case of a speeding driver on the London Road in 1893.  Benjamin Garner, aged 45, who lived at 67 Avenue Road Extension, was summoned for ” furiously driving three horses and an omnibus on the London-road”  on the 31st of January.  Benjamin was a bus proprietor.  He had a wife (Fanny) and children Walter, Benjamin, Annie, Harry and shortly afterwards Ernest  to support.  Perhaps that was why he was speeding; to get as much work as possible.

Benjamin had started off as a plasterer, but sometime between 1881 and 1887 he started a shop at Edward Road (off Montague Road).  He also kept a wagonette.  By 1891 he and his family had moved to Avenue Road Extension and Benjamin concentrated solely on his omnibus and wagonette driving business.  As they got older children Walter and Benjamin worked for their father as bus conductors.  Walter went on to start a hardware shop in Twycross Street, later joined by his brother Harry.

Benjamin retired late in the 1910s, not before having branched out to give riding lessons.  I wonder if any of his pupils knew that he had been up in court for reckless driving?  As for the punishment, he was ordered to pay costs.  Furiously driving up the London Road these days would more likely land you with points on your driving license, if indeed it was possible to drive faster than 9mph due to traffic.  Regards, Elizabeth.

The First Baptisms at St John the Baptist, Clarendon Park

Last week I began transcribing the baptisms that have taken place at St John the Baptist church from the very first one until some unspecified time (until I go mad and blind from microfiche reader overuse, probably).  It’s going to take me a long time.  In its first year of active service (geddit, service…) the font – designed and donated by the architect who designed the church - was used in 30 baptisms.  Soon after there were well over 50 christenings a year, as Clarendon Park built up and more and more people moved in.

The imposing font

I have only managed the first five years so far (over 270 baptisms) but it has been interesting to look at the database.  One thing that has particularly fascinated me is the way that neighbours seemed to get their children baptised all at the same time.  So no one in Montague Road, for instance, would be christened for several months…and then all of a sudden three or four families would appear within a week or so.  This happened so many times that it can’t be a coincidence.  I did wonder whether the curate was doing his rounds and telling off the residents for not having their children baptised quickly enough!

There are many occasions where entire families were baptised together, adults included.  It was certainly common for all the children to be baptised on one day – from teenagers to new babies.  On 6th July 1885 Ellen (10), John William (5), Annie (3) and Ethel Elizabeth (1) Stapleford, of Queens Road, were baptised together.  I wonder whether it was the excitement of being amongst the first to be baptised at the new church that encouraged so many?

The very first baptisms took place on 5th October 1885.  The children were William Harper, Beatrice Onion and Alice Muddimer, all of Avenue Road Extension and all just two or three months old.  One of these days I plan to write a little biography of each – if indeed any of them survived to adulthood.  Sadly I recognise many, many names in my baptisms database who went on the appear shortly afterwards in my database of the burials at St Mary Magdalene, Knighton.  Such was the reality of childhood in Victorian times.  Both my boys were baptised in the same beautiful font and I am so grateful that their life chances are better in every sense.

If you would like me to look up a baptism in my database then please let me know.  I have only reached 1890 so far but I will keep your request on record until I get there.  I am also happy to look up Clarendon Park burials at St Mary Magdalene – my database is complete from 1887 – 1951.  Regards, Elizabeth. 

Playing Football in Clarendon Park Streets

I know, shocking isn’t it?  Playing football in the street seems to have been quite  a problem in Clarendon Park in the 19th century.  There were plenty of young lads up before the police court, charged with this heinous crime.  Bearing in mind that there was much less road traffic than today, and that children and young people in particular would have been very much more in evidence in the street than they are today, I can’t see the harm.  And when you consider the overcrowding of the small terraced housing, it makes sense that teenage boys indulged in a game or two.  Take this example from the Leicester Chronicle (November 1896) : 

Walter Green (17), Edward Bostock (17), Arthur White (16), all of Avenue-road Extension, and shoe hands, and Frank Wilson (15), Knighton Fields-road East, were summoned for playing football in the Wigston-road on the 2nd inst.  PC Broome proved the case, and the boys were cautioned and discharged.

Edward Bostock came from a family of at least 8, and both Walter Green and Arthur White lived with eight other people in their 2 bedroomed houses.  There just was not space for everyone to sit around in the evenings reading improving books, especially when the children were strapping teenagers taking up huge amounts of leg room.

The courts didn’t seem to have a very standardised approach to dealing with the menace of street football.  In April of the same year the Chronicle reported two other youths who had been fined:

Albert Austin (16), Salisbury Cottages Lorne Road, and Edgar Stapleton (15), youths, were summoned for playing football in Avenue-road Extension on the 22nd inst.  Fined 2s. 6d or three days.

Given that many other Clarendon Park lads were summoned for the much more unpleasant crimes of throwing stones at cats, swearing, drinking and brawling – you’d think that the local constables would have better things to do.  Especially at Victoria Park, where I have been reading of some VERY fruity goings-on.  But more about that some other time…regards, Elizabeth.

The Gotham House Rusk Lovers

Around 1890, an advertising pamphlet or flyer was published by Montgomerie’s patented malt extract digestive bread, biscuits and rusks, “as used in the Queen’s household.”  These highly superior biscuits were “Highly recommended by the medical profession and frankly, I am appalled that they are not available on the NHS today, such is their wonderousness.  Not surprisingly, people rushed to offer their testimonials to the greatness of this product, not least HRH Princess Christian, who considered all Montgomerie’s products to be most excellent.  Amongst the illustrious contributors was one Rhoda Milne, of Gotham House, Clarendon Park Road.  She wrote to say

 I shall feel greatly obliged if you will send me twelve boxes of Malt rusks, for infants.  Gregory, your agent here, is out of them, and says he will not have any more for a fortnight.  I am entirely without, which is rather a serious matter, as nothing else suits my baby as well.  Yours truly, RHODA MILNE.

The front of the flyer

 So who was Rhoda Milne and why was she so desperate for these rusks?  Well, she was born Rhoda Stuart in Brighton c1858 and married John Milne, a Lancashire yarn agent, in London in 1885.  By 1891 they lived at Gotham House with children Helen (b1886) and John (b1889) – both born in Clarendon Park Road – and two servants.   The family stayed there, going on to have another daughter Elizabeth, until some time between 1901 and 1907, when they moved to Ashleigh Road (near Narborough Road).  John died in 1907 aged just 49, leaving the sizeable sum of £10, 206.  His son John – who by the way was probably the baby in the pamphlet who was greedy for malted rusks – continued the yarn agent and merchant business started by his father.  I imagine his mother had received a fee from Montgomerie’s for allowing her letter to be published as advertising.  I looked for a likely Gregory agent for the rusks but couldn’t find anything convincing.

Gotham House, Clarendon Park Road (left)

As to Gotham House on Clarendon Park Road – you would hardly know it was ever called that now.  There is only the gate post, which has been carved with the name, to show.  It’s divided up into flats now and a bit run down; a bit of a come-down from being the home of a successful businessman with a family and two or three servants. 

The engraved gatepost

 I see this gatepost four times a day so I am pleased that I came across the Montgomerie’s biscuits advertising leaflet that made me find out a tiny bit about some of the former occupants of the house.  If only I could find some of those rusks in the shops today!  Regards, Elizabeth.

Famous Clarendon Park Folk: Joe Orton, Playwright

Just recently I have become aware of a few famous (or famous-ish) folk connected with Clarendon Park in some way.  I thought it might make an interesting series, so here is the first.  Joe Orton (1933-1967), born John Kingsley Orton, spent the first two years of his life living with parents William and Elsie at 261 Avenue Road Extension before moving to Saffron Lane estate.

After leaving school, Joe started work as a junior clerk.  Sometime around 1949 he began to be interested in the theatre and joined a number of dramatic societies,  including the prestigious Leicester Dramatic Society.  He successfully applied for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in November 1950.  There Joe met  Kenneth Halliwell. They quickly became lovers.

After graduating, both Orton and Halliwell went into regional repertory work and wrote novels, which remained unpublished.  From 1963 he began to have success with radio plays and later at the theatre, including  Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964),  Loot 1964)  What the Butler Saw.  Joe’s work became synonymous with the macabre.

On 9 August 1967, Halliwell bludgeoned 34-year-old Orton to death at his home in London, with nine hammer blows to the head, and then committed suicide with an overdose of tablets.  Orton had wanted to end their relationship.

The new Leicester Theatre, Curve, has a new pedestrian concourse outside the theatre’s main entrance named “Orton Square.” 

I have paraphrased this article from Wikipedia, where you can read the full article.  Unfortunately I can’t include a photograph of 261 Avenue Road Extension, because when I visited on Sunday it didn’t appear to have one.  259 yes, 263 also yes, but unless it is behind the two houses in the manner of Platform 9 and three-quarters, there is no 261.  I will see if I can find out about renumberings.  More famous Clarendon Park residents some other time – regards, Elizabeth.

Death and burial in Clarendon Park

Bit gloomy, this subject, but it’s a big one and actually quite interesting.  Not everyone who lived in Clarendon Park in the past died there, but a lot did and especially – sadly – the children.  National infant (under 1 year) mortality in Victorian England was something appalling like 160 per 1000 live births in 1899 and the figure for Leicester, as a town, was probably significantly higher.  One in three children would not live to see their fifth birthday.  Adults also had a much lower life expectancy than today.

I have been transcribing the burial records of St Mary Magdalene, Knighton, listing every person who died whilst living in Clarendon Park.  It is time-consuming work – so far I have finished 1887-1906 and 1929-1950 and there are literally hundreds of names.  Each entry records the person’s name, their address, age and the date they were buried.  You are welcome to ask me to look up any name or address (I found a tiny baby who died at my house in 1900..very poignant).  Anyway, the list forms a useful snapshot of death in Clarendon Park, though totally unscientific.  Here are the results for 1887 – 1906:

  • <1m             32
  • 1m – 6m     45
  • 7m – 12m  45
  • 13m – 2y    32
  • 3y – 5y        13
  • 6y – 10y     8
  • 11y – 19y   19 (of which 7 were aged 17)
  • 20 – 30       24
  • 30 – 40      30
  • 41 – 50       30
  • 51 – 60        31
  • 61 – 70       28
  • 71 – 80       18
  • 81+             14 (the oldest person was 93) 

As you can see, the vast majority of deaths were in children 2 years or younger, though the risk levelled off a bit after that.  A surprising amount of people died in early adulthood, and most adults died in what we would now consider middle age, rather than after the current retirement age.  There must be many more deaths in the 81+ bracket today.  It is notable from the records how the number of child deaths gradually reduces and the age of people generally increases over the 19 years I looked at.

So, how and where were all these Clarendon Park folk buried?  There isn’t a burial ground in Clarendon Park itself.  Many people were buried at Welford Road Cemetery, which opened in 1849 and provided space for people who were not members of the Church of England, as well as those who were.  Clearly a lot of people chose to be buried at St Mary Magdalene, Knighton, as St John the Baptist, Clarendon Park and St Michael and All Angels, Knighton had no graveyard (many if not most new Victorian churches were built without).  Even nonconformists were buried there – under the Burials Act of 1880 any christian burial could be carried out at parish churches, and quite a few Methodists and other nonconformists were buried at St Mary’s.  Some people were buried in other parishes, for example if they had lived many years in a village or another part of Leicester before moving to Clarendon Park.

Victorian funerals were big business, with mourning warehouses advertised in the local press.  The middle classes were obviously able to spend more on the trappings of mourning but it was a matter of pride for many poorer people to give a decent funeral.  Many would not have been able to provide even that.  Cab Proprietor William Maurice Jackson was also a funeral undertaker, and coffins would have been provided by some of Clarendon Park’s many carpenters, joiners and builders.

Thank goodness those days have passed, and most Clarendon Park dwellers are in good health and can expect to live to a reasonable age.  I promise to bring you something less morbid next time!  Regards, Elizabeth.