Albert Attenborough (b.1917)
My grandmother and grandfather, they come from Loughborough and they settled as a needle worker in Tans needlework factory in Druid Street. My grandfather, he died because he’d eaten some watercress that weren’t clean, weren’t picked from running water and it’d got some small little bugs on and they got into his blood stream and killed him.
My father got killed in the First World War along with his two brothers, all in the first six months…and my mother was left alone. She, unfortunately, when she was 18, in Sketchley Dye Works – she worked on a brushing machine – and she had the misfortune of having long hair, and she bent down and the teasel brushes…caught her hair and pulled her in, and she tried to save herself and she put her hand on the machine, and a man jumped on the belt and knocked it off, and unfortunately she lost her right arm – they had to amputate her right arm up to there and her other hand was smashed.
Peace Celebrations at Hinckley July 1919
Talk about…fit for heroes to live in after the First World War, she had to scrub door steps in that condition, take washing in, and the washing – she’d get half a crown for when she’d washed it, ironed it, and took it back to the people. Many a person walked by and stopped and looked at her…because she used to scrub the doorstep and wring her floor-cloth out on her stump. She had an artificial arm in the end but you could take the wrist off her hand and put a knife in and carve and all that. In the end she used to go round helping all the blind and everybody, but we had a real hard life.
When I was born in 1917, Mrs. Pilgrim, they lived in Station Road and they were solicitors, and they couldn’t have any children and they begged and prayed my mother to let them adopt me but mother wouldn’t let them…every year I used to go on my birthday and see Mrs. Pilgrim. She were deaf and I had to shout in a big horn, you see, she were my god-parent…I could have been something if mother had parted with me – I should probably have been a solicitor or something – but fortunately mother wouldn’t let us go.
Also in Mansion Street was Jack Wallace and Jim Wallace, now Jack Wallace was a coal merchant and Jim Wallace was a blacksmith and…in Mansion Street was a yard opposite and they used to shoe horses and all sorts of things there. You would stand there and sometimes you’d hold the horses head for him while he shoed it, and he’d get the bellows and pump his fire up and get it and put a red hot shoe on, brand it and then cut round it. Oh yes, real interesting.
I always remember once at the top of Mansion Street, there was a 100 of us sat there and we were all in one long photograph and in them days you didn’t have your haircut like you do now you know, you had what you call a ‘Bolshin’, they’d cut your hair and you’d have a tuft of hair on the front like a blooming coconut.
You used to have arguments sometimes but mother used to keep us in order. She used to have a wooden arm you see and believe me you didn’t ask to be clocked twice with that. I remember once…she frightened ’em all to death. She went out and we weren’t allowed to stop in, we’d got to go and play so I decided I were going to go in home, so I decided I’d got a way of opening the back kitchen window, so I climbed on the…soft water tub, crawling through the window – but I didn’t know that my mother had come back in the meantime for something – and she come in, she hit round the back of the neck, as I were going through this window, with her artificial arm and I were out. She daren’t send me school you know because I were black and blue, she thought they’d kill me. I never done it again.
Mother was quite a friendly person. Anyone who were sort of down and out she’d sort of mother them. In them days you know the tramps used to come round, scruffy looking people with a billy can and things like that, and ask for a drop of boiling water and unbeknown to us, what used to happen, we used to get more tramps come to our house than a little – they weren’t all scruffy layabouts, some of the most educated in the world were tramps, they were really knowledgeable people, you’d get professors and all sorts -…and they put a sign on your house unbeknown to you of where you were welcome. Mother would say, ‘When did you last have something to eat?’ ‘Oh, two days ago.’ So she’d get a bit of bread in them days you used to have a loaf, a cottage loaf, she’d cut that off and just give ’em a lump of cheese and they’d do anything for you – they were really grateful.
Where Atkins’ car park stands now there were a load of little houses from the front of Bond Street right up to Trinity Lane. And all these houses were very small and they all held one another up actually, because they were built back to back. A small yard…when you open your front door you were looking at someone else’s house, and everybody knew everybody there – there were hundreds of houses on there. You’d only have two rooms at the most and you’d have a bit of kitchen or something where you could cook. It were nothing to find four or six people sleeping in a bed – used to sleep at the top and the bottom, they were that poor.
Toilets were outside, no inside toilets. You had to go up the yard and sit in the toilet there and all share, oh yes, there was no such thing as privacy, all shared. You all had to take your turn at scrubbing the toilets out and that – you’d cut the News of the World up – that was the regular paper them days, you’d cut it up into small squares you know, then you’d get a piece of string and a nail and make a hole and hang that in. That were your toilet paper – the News of the World, mind you, thank God the print didn’t come off like it does now. If somebody left it dirty they’d go and fetch them by their ear, they’d put a lock on it, they wouldn’t be able to use it if they didn’t clean it next time. Water toilets they were, what they called old closets, you’d got a chain you see and you pulled it and flushed it, but some places you see didn’t have those, you used to have a bucket and a seat and at the back there’d be a hinged lid and people’d come round with a huge cart and fetch those buckets out and tip them into a big container…they were pretty horrible smelly things they were. You see, quite a lot of the big houses didn’t have all flush toilets – the gardeners in them days used to have to empty the toilets at four in the morning, dig a big hole in the garden, tip it all in there and then fill it over, and that’s where most of your vegetables come from.
I always remember in 1939 we were at work and Mr. Timpson who were one of the directors there…he came and said, ‘Albert, I’m sorry but you’ve got to go.’ I got posted to a young soldiers battalion and the young soldiers were all volunteers, but these volunteers were all bad lads, they were all from Borstal. What these lads couldn’t do was no one’s business; thieves, rogues, vagabonds, the lot.
In fact I knew more about the police than the police knew about them because every day of their lives the police’d come down and want an interview. Once we were at Long Sutton…and there they come down and said, ‘Line em up would you.’ ‘Why?’ I said, ‘What’ve they done this time?’ He said, ‘Just line em up.’ One little chap…he were from Leicester and I lined them up and they said, ‘Ask them to strip out,’ and there were this one man there and his shirt were short and they turned it up and they unrolled his shirt and sewed up there – hundreds of pound notes. They’d robbed the Co-op! All these lads, I’m proud to say this, were real heroes – they went into special forces…and they all got really decorated…yet they were more or less the scum of the earth when they went in.
I always remember when I came out of the forces – I were married then…the first thing I done, I went and bought a washing machine because we’d got an old dolly tub and the peg and it were blooming hard work, believe me, and the first thing we done we bought one of these new washing machines. Only a little one but we bought one. It were only a little tub about 18 inches square…it were just an agitator. You put your washing in and then you put a wringer on the top and then you mangled it – a rubber roller wringer. You got your washing cleaned and of course you were the cat’s whiskers them days if you’d got that.
I went back into the shoe trade…which was a mistake really because if I’d gone into the car trade or something I’d have made much more money but there were that many people…coming out of the forces you were glad to go back and get your job back.