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Leicester Special Collections

Being Young

In 1947 the school leaving age went up from 14 to 15 and young people were obliged to spend an extra year in education. By 1950 30% of 15 year olds, 14% of 16 year olds and 7% of 17 year olds were in full-time education in England and Wales. Compared with today, few people went to university in the period 1945-1962. Overall participation in higher education increased from 3.4% in 1950, to 8.4% in 1970, 19.3% in 1990 and 33% in 2000.[1]

In 1944 the Education Committee advised the town council that five infants' schools, seven junior schools, and five secondary schools were 'obsolete and inadequate' and should either be replaced or completely rebuilt. As a result, 17 new schools were opened in 1945–55. By 1954 the Education Committee had responsibility for more than 57 schools giving elementary education at either junior or infant stage, 30 secondary schools, and the nine grammar schools in the borough. The total number of pupils in the care of the Leicester Education Committee in 1952–3 was 30,640 in primary schools and 13,459 at grammar and secondary schools.[2]

The eleven plus exam, along with parents’ ability to pay grammar school fees, helped to decide which tier of education girls and boys entered. While it might be thought that it was more desirable to attend the grammar schools than the standard secondary schools, this wasn’t always the case. In 1952 the Collegiate School for Girls was a grammar school with 385 pupils and Liz Brandow (recorded for this project) doesn't remember it fondly:

Liz Brandow recalls class distinctions at the Collegiate Girls' School in the 1950s.

Students in the College of Technology canteen in 1945

Students in the canteen of the College of Technology, 1945.

It was only at the start of the 1960s that the City of Leicester followed the County of Leicestershire and moved towards a comprehensive education system.

Getting a job

It was expected that there would be a job for everyone once they left school and publications such as the County Youth Handbook carried advertisements from all the major employers in the city. Some people had jobs arranged for them by their parents, others went and found their own. However, as Malcolm Mason explains, expectations weren't high and, for young men, the prospect of National Service loomed large:

Malcom Mason talks about job prospects for school leavers in the 1950s.

Going Out

For many young people their first taste of joining a group or society might have come through the local church or chapel youth club, or the scouts and guides. Recorded for this project, June Davies recalls her social life as a teenager in the late 1940s:

“I went out every night... all to do with the church (Holy Trinity). Monday was, I can’t remember what it was called, but some sort of youth club, Tuesday was youth club, Wednesday was guides, Thursday was drama group, Friday was scouts and the guides all went and met the scouts, and Saturday was youth club again. It was purely table tennis, various games, they had a kitchen where we could have coffee and biscuits, or whatever, just socialising, just talking to each other, somewhere to meet. All quite innocent but very good fun. 

“I went to the cinema every week, at least once… because there were five cinemas within five minutes’ walk. We were theatre minded so we went most weeks to the theatre, we went to the theatre a lot. We would go to the Opera House, the Palace, the Floral Hall, saw all the shows.”

In 1949 Diane Goodall joined 'The League of Youth', which was a Labour run youth club for 15-25 year olds that met on Braunstone Avenue. They organised dances, camping trips, day trips etc. and she went there until she got married.

Diane Goodall talks about the Labour League of Youth.

Link to a film made to promote the work of a Methodist Association youth club at Market Harborough in Leicestershire in 1961 - http://www.macearchive.org/films/second-thoughts

Other than the local youth club or cinema there were few places for teenagers to go in Leicester before the 1960s. Chris Hill recalls that, as a teenager, her favourite café was Banners Milk Bar, on London Road by Victoria Park (there was also one on Belgrave Gate), but this was superseded by Brucciani’s on Horsefair Street, which was more central and convenient.

It was only in the later 1950s that El Casa Bolero was opened on Castle Street by Olga and Leslie Pepper. This boasted the city’s first espresso machine and was the first of the coffee bars in Leicester.[3]

It was followed by the Espresso Bar on New Bond Street and others until, by the mid-1960s, there was a thriving coffee bar scene. When the Leicestershire & Rutland Topic reported on this in 1964 they visited El Casa Bolero, The Chameleon (King Street), The Hungry I Pancake House (Freeschool Lane) and El Paso (Princess Road). In the Topic article, local jazz musician Maurice Coleman is pictured duetting with Cecile Green at The Chameleon.[4] Each of these cafes catered for different sections of the older teenage market.

Link to video about coffee bars in London - https://youtu.be/rW5Oi_gX0dk

Teenagers

By 1962 the idea of the 'teenager' was firmly established and a multitude of products  - comics, clothes, records, toys etc. - were aimed at teenagers in an attempt to part them from the spare cash many of them earnt. For a long time after the war young people who wanted to look smart dressed like their parents, but there were many other fashion options from the French 'New Look' of Christian Dior to Teddy Boys, leather-clad bikers, and Beatniks.

"Immediately after the war there were not a lot of clothes in the shops so many women, my family included, would run up outfits on the home sewing machine. However, in the ‘50s when more material became available, the New Look arrived and I remember with pride my first really long dress, a long coat and a hat with a feather. The male students at the University always wore blazers and ties, and the girls wore skirts and blouses, and everyone looked very smart." Anon.

Many young men sported the slicked back haircut popularised by the actor Tony Curtis and known as a DA (Duck's Arse). For those who wanted to stand out from the crowd, the main working class fashion of this period was the Teddy Boy (and Girl) look.  Groups of Teddy Boys sometimes fought each other and managed to earn a bad reputation. While Malcolm Mason remembers the Market Place as the main hangout, the biggest reported fight in Leicester happened at a fair on Saffron Lane (see below).

Malcom Mason talks about Teddy Boys' clothes.

Newspaper article about Teddy Boys

An article about Teddy Boys fighting at a fair ground, 1959.

In Leicester there was plenty of work available for young people throughout the 1950s and 1960s. There were also many women who worked in hosiery factories and knew how to make their own clothes. Lots of people knew someone who worked in a shoe factory. With plenty of work and money, and the availability of a wide variety of clothes and shoes, teenagers could dress well if they wanted to. However, in 1962 most young people dressed fairly conservatively. The varied hairstyles, bright colours, and pop fashions of the 'Swinging Sixties' were just around the corner.

[1] Education: Historical Statistics, House of Commons Library - http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN04252/SN04252.pdf  (Accessed 19/06/2018)

[2] 'The City of Leicester: Primary and secondary education', in A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, ed. R A McKinley (London, 1958), pp. 328-335. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/leics/vol4/pp328-335 (Accessed 25 June 2018)

[3] The Leicester Mercury, 2nd June 2011

[4] The Leicestershire & Rutland Topic, No 1, Vol, Sept 1964 p.24