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Leicester Special Collections

Introduction

"I came back thinking that everyone owed me a living. I was a captain out there (India), I was on a pretty good rate of pay. I could imagine everybody queuing up at my front door wanting to employ me, but did I have a shock. They couldn't give two tuppenny damns about me. And it was tough, it really was tough coming back into civvy street." John Jee

"Oh, it was so clean. My mother and I walked down Hotel Street and looked out and both of us turned round and said, 'Isn't this a clean city?' Now, I'd come from Wakefield, which was a mining town then, and you almost had to change your blouse at lunchtime because things got really dirty." Anon

View of Gallowtree Gate, 1945

Gallowtree Gate in 1945

At the end of WW2 Leicester was a smaller place than it is today. Although the Saffron Lane and Braunstone estates had been built before the war, most of the large housing estates hadn’t been started, much of the ‘slum’ housing near the city centre was still there, and for many people life revolved around their immediate neighbourhood and the city centre. In the centre, tram tracks surrounded the clock tower and the roads were a congested mix of pedestrians, bicycles, horses, carts, busses, and trams. The trams stopped in 1949.

The big national chain stores hadn’t yet taken over and there were family-run department stores, such as Morgan & Squires, chains of local cafes like Winns, and many shops run by individuals. Most people remember the high quality of the shops. Likewise, the corporate takeovers of the 1960s and 1970s had yet to happen and local businesses were still likely to run by the sons or grandsons of the people who started them.

As the slum clearances started again in the 1950s they left large gaps in the streets, which sometimes looked like bomb sites. By the mid-1960s visitors and newcomers to Leicester thought the people were prosperous (some said complacent as well) while the city was slightly shabby and run-down - New Walk is often given as an example of this and it was later in the 1960s that it was cleaned up.

But what of the men and women who returned from the services? Once the country came off a war-footing how easy was it to find somewhere to live or work? How did people cope? This website looks at what happened in Leicester from immediately after the war up to the early 1960s. It uses the memories of local people, along with other sources, to give a flavour of what life was like in an era before the Internet, mobile phones, and global communication.

A view over smoky rooftops in the 1950s.

It might have been cleaner than many other cities, but before the Clean Air Act of 1956 the air quality in Leicester could be poor, as this photo shows.

Introduction