Recollections

Bob Pendery

Bob recounts his memories to Judith Upton on 2nd November 2021.

I was born in Westcote’s Maternity Home in 1930. At that point in time, my parents were lodging with the Taylor family in Stamford Street, their son’s name was Leslie. His mum and dad were caretakers at Ratby School. When the houses were built in Markfield Road, just above Richard’s shop, mum and dad moved into number 7 and that’s where I grew up.

Brenda and I got married in 1953. We lived with mum and dad for 4 years, as like most people, we couldn’t afford a house on our own. Then we got a house: 131, Main Street, near to Harrison’s the Drapers (which is now a take away named Harrison’s Spice). Then the division between Station Road and Main Street changed and our address became 23, Station Road. At the time, Main Street went down to the Chapel; it goes to Desford Lane corner now. We lived there until 1963, when the house we are now living in was built by Fitchetts. They built the whole row – that was Nev Fitchett, as opposed to Fred Fitchett. Fred built the big estate at Groby, Nev was Markfield and he bought this land off Moore’s the farmers. The houses stand on the hill and we’ve lived here ever since. We had 3 children. We lost Kevin at 2 weeks old from meningitis. Geoffrey was the eldest, Mark was the youngest. My wife Brenda passed away a few years ago. We were married for 62 years, so we had a good life! I was a real Ratby Lad!

When I was growing up, to my knowledge, the Ratby lads didn’t mix with the Kirby lads; we didn’t mix with the lads from Groby either, maybe some did but my group of friends didn’t. There was so much going on in Ratby, bless your life – the cinema and dance hall and 3 fish and chip shops! Barrett’s, which was up Plough Lane, was special – you could sit down in there. Then there was Albert Pickering’s shop in Berry’s Lane and then there was another one in Park Road, I don’t know who owned that, we didn’t go down that end of the village. We had the Majestic cinema and ballroom; we were very, very, lucky in Ratby in those days. Buses used to come to the Majestic from Markfield; Thursday was Markfield night. At one point, I worked at the cinema as a part-time projectionist. I worked 4 nights a week; there were at least a couple of us, working from 7pm to 10pm. If you were learning, you had to rewind the film. I’d earn about 10/- (50p) a week, that was my spending money. The films often broke down, as they were very old. They were from the film dump. George Weston (who owned the picture house) couldn’t afford the films shown in the big Leicester cinemas. There were 2 houses on a Saturday. A van used to come with films. There was a change of program 3 times a week: each program contained a main film, a smaller film, then the adverts. Sometimes the film did break down and occasionally we’d have a fire in the projection room. The arc lights that powered the film were very hot - they were pencils of carbon. To make them work, you had to touch them together and then it would spark. Sometimes they burnt away and went out, then we had to strike them again. They were so powerful that if the film stopped even for a second it set on fire!! We just had to put the fire out and carry on. We earnt two shillings and sixpence a show, which was pretty good. At one time, we went on strike and then we were given 3 shillings a show after that. We used to take our own records in and drove poor George Weston mad! We put the records on when George was out in the front. He used to come back shouting “Take it off!!”.

Charlie Dilks, who worked at Reid and Sigrist, also had a sweetshop. Initially it was at the Bull’s Head on the lower corner of the building, then he had a new shop built next to the Post Office. Latham’s owned the rest of the buildings and they eventually became Archers – they were bike and tv people. The tv repair place was upstairs and the workshops went all the way down to Charlie Dilks sweetshop. It was a good shop, just right for the pictures. He only opened at nights, I think because he went to work during the day. (I remember buying long “skipping ropes” of liquorice before going to the cinema – they must have come from Mr Dilk’s shop – J.U.).

I left school at 14 and my mother took me on our bikes up to Reid and Sigrist at Desford aerodrome, to find work. Unfortunately, at that time they were not setting on new trainees. On the way back, we passed P.T. Guttridge and Son who were agricultural and electrical engineers; there must have been a notice on the gate and so we called in and I got a job there. It was in the middle of the Tubes complex (now Poundstretcher) on Desford Road. There was a house there, built in the 1920’s or 30’s. I would imagine Mr and Mrs Guttridge had it built; it was exactly the same model as the one across the road from where we live now. There was another one exactly the same again behind the cinema, at the top of Picture House Hill. Another one, exactly identical, was at Geary’s Bakery, opposite the chapel, and one more where Benjamin Shipman lived. The Guttridge works were roughly where the Swannington line meets the Burton line. Until around the 1950’s, the Tubes only had one factory, but then they bought Guttridge’s and Berridge’s, which were close by and built another factory further towards Kirby Muxloe. There was a signal box on the junction and that was at the bottom of Guttridge’s field. There were sidings and all sorts there. There was a little spinney on the side of the lawn at Guttridge’s. The spinney was on the left and the gatehouse was on the right. To access the factory, you had to go between the spinney and the house. The factory was built out of corrugated iron and down a slight slope. Guttridge’s also owned the field, which was on a bit of an incline. There was a small stream that went under the road; it’s still there, but now it has been piped. Berridge’s occupied a factory at the bottom of their fields, which was brick built with a tall chimney, similar to some others in Ratby. One was at Casepack, which is sited near to the station, another one on Park Road and, of course, Wolsey Ltd. on Stamford Street. At that point, Berridge’s were going round to slaughter houses and butcher’s shops, clearing them out, collecting bones and bullseyes - it smelt rotten! In the same area, there were a pair of semi-detached houses built of red brick, older than Guttridge’s house but similar to the houses at the bottom end of Station Road Ratby. Albert Berridge lived in one and a lady named Mrs Bennett lived in the other one. I worked at Guttridge’s for four years. When I first started, it was August 1944. I was taken on for a month’s trial and paid £1 a week. If they then took you on permanently, you had a rise to £1 : 10s (£1:50). The staff comprised two skilled men, two lads, one office girl and Mr Guttridge, who was the boss. The two skilled men were Bob Shipley from Kirby Muxloe, who I think lived in Barwell road – Bob was on the agricultural side, and George Cave from Markfield, who worked as an electrical and machine shop operative using lathes and that sort of thing. The two lads were myself and Derek Dodson from Groby, who had been there for about a year. The office girl was Violet Wood (the late Violet Thirlwell, well known in K.M.). We used to bike home as a group at 5 o’clock every day; we split up when we reached Ben’s Hut, which was the turn for Ratby. Later, they set a store man on whose name was John Henry Cooper. When we worked at Guttridge’s, we lads were gofers really and often were sent to Leicester on our own bikes to fetch spares. I remember Kerry’s business premises; they had a thick book containing everything they sold. It covered electrical goods, protective clothing, welding materials and so many more things. We also often went to Central Motors, Fordson Tractors and Whitby’s on the Welford Road. We used our own bikes and carried the parts back as best as we could, either tied onto the cross bar or in the saddle bag; we never had a basket on the front. We also went to Desford station to pick up parcels, sometimes having to push the bike back as the items we were carrying were so heavy and very large! In the winter of 1947, the worst winter on record, we had to walk to work, we couldn’t cycle. I remember George Cave and I going out with blow lamps to repair bust pipes and thaw pipes. We often went all the way on foot to Station Road, Desford, to a big house near to the Lancaster pub. There were lots of lead pipes that needed repairs. The house belonged to Bedingfield’s, hosiery manufacturers.

Mr and Mrs Guttridge had two children: Mick, whose real name was Geoff, and Mary. Mick was about a year older than me. Mary was a few years younger. Mrs Guttridge was part of the Geary family of Ratby; there were 3 children. The instigator of the bakery business was a Charles Geary, who had 3 offspring: Sid, who lived in Ratby, Cyril who lived at Kirby, and Ena. Ena married Perce Guttridge. Peter Cooper was a friend of Mick Guttridge and he often came up to the factory in the afternoon after school. The Guttridge’s had a model railway, which came out of the shed, around the spinney and back into the shed the other side. Pete and Mick used to work on the model railway, extending it and so on.

I left the company after 4 years, mainly for more money and I went to Astill and Jordan. I worked at the service garage for some years and then I was transferred to the bus side. Eventually I became Garage Foreman. I stayed there for 30 years and then I went to work at Tubes on Desford Road. I worked as garage foreman at Tubes and stayed there for 18 years.

I remember the bombing of Kirby Muxloe in 1940. I was 11 at the time and so it is a bit vague. I have memories of us all under the living room table. I think the Kirby lads and maybe some Ratby lads were out and about the next day collecting anything and everything from the bombing, parachute silk and pieces of shrapnel, but my friends and I didn’t go.

Eric Timson and I were childhood friends for a time. Eric’s dad, Johnny Timson owned a Wolf electric drill! Would you believe!! Eric used to take me in to show me his dad’s electric drill and we used to stand, start it up and just look at it! We also used to go into Martinshaw Wood. Eric lived at the top of Markfield Road, almost opposite the gate into the wood. We used to go into the wood where the Home Guard had built a practice rifle range and also an area for practicing throwing hand grenades. We used to go and look for spent ammunition and hand grenade bits and shrapnel. We also went for a smoke; I’ve never smoked since! I used to supply the fags and Eric used to supply the matches. I think the fags were Kensiters, you had one for yourself and four for your friends. After a while, I really didn’t have any more contact with Eric, but I believe he used to work for English Electric. He used to catch the Hilton and Dawson bus at Kirby corner. I used to see him waiting for the bus. Of course, when you worked for a small company as I did, you had to do everything. We were often out driving in the morning and afternoon and used to see the people coming and going into Leicester. We had a minimum number of drivers, so all the staff had to drive at some time or another. We had to have a full driving licence – I had one for driving double decker buses and then when I went to Tubes, I had to drive lorries. They had about 12 or 13 lorries, which were all artics – big ones. Then I had to take a test for driving Class1 lorries, which covered artics. I didn’t have a test for driving the smaller lorries at Astill’s but you had “grandfather’s rights” – you had a bus licence and they were not much different.

I’ve been working up at the church yard for about 35 years. When Mark was still at school, he asked me if I would have a word with the vicar – I asked what for? Mark said he wanted to take up bell ringing, I said “You what? You go to the chapel, not the church”. So, I suggested that he speak to the vicar himself. Mark did Christian Aid walks, so I suggested that when he took the Christian Aid money into the vicarage, he should have a word with the vicar. Eventually however, I spoke to the vicar, Peter Blackman and he suggested that I should send Mark along to bell ringing practice on a Friday evening. After about a year, he came home one night, it would be in the mid-eighties, and said “I have a message for you from the vicar. He said “Church yard, tomorrow morning, 9 o’clock with your barrow and spade”!” So, the next day at 9 o’clock, I went up to the churchyard with my barrow and spade. I met Horace Gamble walking down Church Lane; he worked in the office at Geary’s at the time. He asked where I was going – I told him and he replied that there’s a skip in the grounds of the church rooms and there are loads of rubbish on either side of the Bier house (a bier is a flat piece of wood or other material that was used to support the coffin) next to the tap in the church yard. It smelt rotten, all decaying flowers and rubbish. I was told that when the volunteers turn up, tell them there are barrows and spades in the porch. I worked all morning, not a soul turned up – as usual! When it came to dinner time, I thought that’s it, I’m going home. At 1:45, I went back to find Peter Blackman and Horace Gamble with red faces – it was a warm October afternoon – barrowing all the rubbish away to the skip. Mrs Toon (Angie, wife of Charlie Toon) was down there with flowers to put on a grave. Suddenly she disappeared and within two or three minutes, Charlie appeared. He had his big barrow and a shovel; it appears Angie had said to him “Hey – Church – Now!” and so Charlie joined us all. We were there all afternoon and with Charlie’s help we soon filled the skip. Peter Blackman said that would have to do as we couldn’t afford another skip (No rubbish collection at the church in those days). I suggested that as the rubbish that was left had rotted down and was mixed in with soil, that I could spread it around the churchyard. I also suggested that I got some old bins from work and sort out the rest of the pile. There were old bikes, vacuum cleaners and wreaths, people had been using it as a rubbish dump. Tubes were an excellent company to work for and as soon as they knew we needed the bins for the church, they agreed immediately. They were grease barrels with a lid on, which is exactly what I wanted. I then painted them black and put handles either side, then I borrowed the works pick-up and every other Saturday afternoon, I collected the bins. By Easter, I said to Peter Blackman – I can’t keep doing this, preying on the good nature of Desford Tubes. So I suggested getting some bags that could be put into the bins. He said “That will never do, we’ve tried it before, the bags burst”. I went to Anstey to the old brewery – they had good strong bags. The manager there gave me a very special rate with no VAT. I think it was about £20 for 200 bags. So then, every dustbin day, I took out the bags and put them by the Church gate. Normally they wouldn’t have collected garden rubbish but a councillor who attended Ratby church had a word with Hinckley and Bosworth council and they agreed to the collection. That continued until wheely bins were introduced. From 1929 until the late ‘60’s, the churchyard was an overgrown wilderness and I have been sorting it out ever since.

I remember Kerry’s shop in Leicester that was on the corner of Free School Lane and Highcross street, and also the Frying Pan. I used to go for my records to a shop in St Nicholas Street, just round the corner from Highcross Street. I must tell you about Mick Gamble – he used to be a Corporation bus driver who then moved to Ratby and took a job with Astill and Jordan’s. He bought a double decker bus and kept it on Astill’s forecourt for a while. He wrote one book and said “Never again”, then he wrote the History of Brown’s Blue Buses.

We used to play tin lurky in the street and also fill cans with water and then throw them over the fence to catch anyone walking by. We used to go scrumping apples and that sort of thing, but the policeman never caught us. I have two tales about policemen over the years. I used to come to Kirby quite a bit with my wife. We became friends with Jimmy Smith and his wife Mary, who used to be the cook at Kirby School. They used to cook the meals in the old scout hut. Unfortunately, one day they cooked some chicken, the weather was warm and of course somebody should have put it in the fridge. They served it up the next day, and Kirby School went down!! Mary was most likely not to blame but as she was in charge and so was reprimanded. Other than that incident, she was there for years, she lived at 64 Main Street, two doors down from Burdett’s shop, next door to Bentleys.

We used to go out on our motorbike and sidecar. Jim had a motor bike at that time and before the children were born, we used to go out and take our tea with us. Jim worked as a guard on the railways; he used to work unearthly hours to do his job. He progressed from an ordinary motorbike to a motorbike and sidecar. He rented a space behind the church school room, as he lived opposite, and was able to put his motor bike in a garage. Sybil Bentley did the same. One night, he was walking across to the garage to get his motor bike and side car out to go to work at 2:30 in the morning. As he walked across the forecourt, which was gravel, there was this almighty noise, which frightened the life out of him – he thought the aliens were coming. The village policeman, on his bike, had come down Main Street. Jimmy hadn’t seen him and by putting his foot down on the gravel, he made an unholy noise. All that Jim knew about it was a hand on his collar – “Got yer!!”. Jimmy turned around and there was the policeman. Jimmy called the policeman all the names he could – the policeman thought he had caught a burglar at that time of night. Jimmy had a knapsack on his back so he looked like a burglar. So, he had to go and have a sit down on the steps, get his pipe out whilst still calling to the policeman “I ain’t a burglar!! I’m going work”!! The other event with a policeman was in the early days when I worked at Guttridge’s. We (myself and Bob Shipley) had to go to Desford station with the van to collect an “implement” and take it back to Guttridge’s. It was a great big wooden structure, and Perce Guttridge said to put it on the top of the van. Well, you couldn’t do that, it was 8 feet by 8 feet. It was thick wood cut at an angle with skids on one side of it. We were told that when they got it in the field, it was attached to a tractor and then the wooden side was dragged over the ploughed field to level the ground. The only way we could get it back to Guttridge’s, after much head scratching, was to tow it with the van. We hooked it up to the back of the van and we were towing it along from the station. As we were passing Tubes, just past Newtown Unthank, I looked round and said “Bob, Sergeant Somebody from Desford is at the back, on his bike”!! The sergeant decided to undertake us on the curb side. When he got level with this large object, the camber of the road altered and the wood went into the curb, knocking the policeman off his bike!! Well, we stopped and he was alright but he went mad!! “Have you got a licence for towing? Have you got insurance to cover this?”. Bob got the insurance, which was in the top of the van, the sergeant looked at the licence and said “This is no good – you haven’t heard the last of this”! “You shouldn’t be towing this, don’t take it any further”, so we had to put it in Frank Curtis’ field to pull it off the road. The sergeant went to see Perce Guttridge. I don’t know what was said about it but that was the last we heard of it.

During the war, things had to be done and you just did it! I was driving at the age of 15 or 16. After a while, Bob Shipley left Guttridge’s and started up his own business at Kirby Muxloe station. He did welding and so then they had to set someone else on in his place. That was Jack Herod from Merrylees, but he couldn’t drive, so I used to take him everywhere in the van, even though I shouldn’t have been driving! I remember Don Edwards, another Kirby lad; he married Aylis Copson from Ratby. He worked for Bob Moseley at the garage at the top of Kirby Lane (now Tesco). His auntie had given him a Wolsley Hornet. He couldn’t drive, so other friends drove the car here, there and everywhere. He was as mad as a March hare!! He used to bring his car to Guttridges to get welding done – the garage didn’t have a welder! He used to bring along exhaust pipes mainly. Someone would take their car in to the garage, the exhaust was broken or something wrong with it, so Don used to take it off, chuck it into the back of the car and then drive the car, without an exhaust to get it welded! He used to come down the yard in the car and when the exhaust had been welded, put it back in the car and then set off at the bottom of the drive with the back wheels spinning. All the gravel went everywhere, the car used to fly out of the gate, mad as anything. We used to have to get the rake when he had gone and level all the gravel.

I still go up to the churchyard – it’s exercise and I like to be doing something useful. Everybody stopped during the Covid lockdown but I still went up, I didn’t see anybody up there. The churchyard is very low profile – that’s about the size of it, but everything has to be maintained.

I remember some of the school teachers: Miss Govertt, Miss Holmes and Miss Hounam. I also remember Miss Brennan, who used to cook the dinners. Mr Walter Smedley Baker was our headmaster and each Christmas, he used to give his rendition of “A Christmas Carol”. He could play Scrouge wonderfully well. During the war, we had an influx of evacuees from Birmingham; two teachers came with them. I remember one was ginger haired and he spent a lot of time down the Bull’s Head. There was also an elderly woman teacher. We had to budge up at Ratby school as they were given several classrooms. They lived in different houses around the village. In the war, each house that wanted to be known as a place for children to shelter had to make a yellow sign with “CS” (Children’s shelter). This was put in your window to say that if there was an air raid – come here – you’re welcome.

I used to go to the fair. It was in two places in Ratby over the years. It used to be down on Astill’s field, actually before Astill’s owned the field. Then, of course, it came up to the Recky.

Thank you, Bob, for inviting me into your house and allowing me to record your wonderful memories. J.U.