‘Fond Memory brings the light Of other days around me.’ - Thomas Moore, Irish poet (1779-1852)
‘Would rather be a brilliant memory than a curiosity.’ - Emma Eames, American opera singer (1865-1952)
|Congregational Church - Now United Reform Church|
On November 19th 1991 the Hinckley Local History Group held its usual monthly meeting but the subject of the meeting had an important difference from others we have held in the last decade. Certainly memories of members of the group have often been the subject of discussion but on this occasion the whole meeting was devoted to the topic and many and varied were the matters discussed and expounded. A few of those memories are detailed here with apologies to those whose memories are missing in this brief account, and for those modifications which have taken place with the literary licence of the Editor.
Our opening contributor, Mr. Arthur Tomlin, recalled his youth in Hinckley, mainly in the early years between the Wars. Born on a farm at Wykin, Arthur chose to talk about the Ashby Canal which particularly interested him as a boy. He recalled that the canal boat people were friendly to him and that the wives of the boatmen would do the steering whilst the man attended to the horse. Some of the boats, according to Arthur, carried loads of up to 4-5 tons. Often they carried coal, Tom Woodward being the last contractor to use the canal for this purpose with a coal yard at Hinckley Wharf. Firms making use of the canal included Barlow of Birmingham and the Oxford Co-operative Society. The immaculate upkeep of the boats was mentioned and the memory which Arthur had of the 3ft.6” water carriers, usually with three brass bands around them.
The land farmed by Arthur's family had canal bridge number 20 located upon it. The canal was used for washing sheep, the value of the fleece being increased by one halfpenny as a result. Washing was carried out by attaching a collar to the sheep and with a rope fastened the sheep were pushed into the canal. At the age of five- Arthur fell into the canal after trying to push in the sheep dog and was fished out by his father who jumped in to save him.
Sam Harris added a note of local humour at this point, recalling a joke concerning the canal, no doubt often told in the past. One boatman, finding his horse was too tall to go under a bridge, allegedly tried to chip away at the bridge so the horse could pass underneath. He was stopped by a passer-by who suggested it would be easier to dig a hole in the towpath. The bargee rejected this advice since it was the ears of the horse and not the hooves which failed to go under the bridge.
Arthur ended his memories of the canal by recalling the rare instances when he saw horse-drawn boats passing each other, with the laden boat (if the other was empty) having preference. The ropes had to be lifted over the heads of the horses and avoid being tangled so that the boats could pass each other.
Miss Mills brought a shoe brush marked with the name F. Tubb. She recalled that her family had taken over the premises of Fred Tubb, boot and shoemaker, in New Buildings about 1930. Their firm was the first to stock Clarkes Shoes in Hinckley, and travellers would come from the railway station. Shoe cases would be taken from the station by handcart up to Castle Street. Sam Harris added a final note mentioning that he thought Fred Tubb had committed suicide in the late 1920s.
An even darker side of Leicestershire life was recalled by Miss Payne who brought a Leicester newspaper of 1903 in which the murder of her great uncle was recorded. In this infamous Sileby murder, two poachers killed a policeman. The tragedy was even more acute since Miss Payne1 s relative had swapped duties with a fellow policeman for the evening and had become the mistaken victim of the attack by the two murderers.
Mrs. Reece brought a letter recalling the days when William Ewart Gladstone was Prime Minister and Charles McClaren was Liberal M.P. for Bosworth. In the letter to Mr. Foxon, Charles McClaren, visiting the area to lay a foundation stone, requests the loan of ‘the fast horse’ in order to get to an engagement. Ten years later the request would be for a fast motor.
Mr. Lindley brought some documentary items for the local collection at Hinckley Library relating back to a time, a little outside the memories of those present, concerning the establishment of the Congregational Church, now the United Reform Church, in the Borough in the 1860s. It seems appropriate that these details should be included here. The removal of cottages in the Borough in the early 1860s provided the site for a Bi-Centenary Memorial Congregational Chapel to replace the existing building in Stockwell Head. The architects,1 Francis Drake of Leicester1, charged two guineas for the plans. Various local figures presented funds for the new chapel. Samuel Morley, who laid the foundation stone on September 11th 1866, gave £100 and later promised a further £500 if others would do the same. The laying of the foundation stone was followed by a Town Hall Tea at one shilling per person. Other benefactors such as Foxwell, Abell and Preston came forward and the chapel was finally opened for public worship on March 28th 1868 by W.R. Dale from Birmingham. A Celebration Dinner cost two shillings and sixpence per person and Tea one shilling.
The art of memory and its presentation by members of the Hinckley Local History Group, manipulated by the Chairman and Editor, provided a pleasant and unusual evening activity also enjoyed by visitors from Ashby Court. Certainly it is an experience that will be repeated.
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine