Memories of old Thurcaston and Cropston

Leaders: Colin Hyde and Sylvia Cole

20 September 2022

Our first meeting of the autumn season was something a little different.  Instead of a speaker, we invited long-term residents of Thurcaston and Cropston to come and share their memories of life in the two villages.  It was lovely to see and hear from a good number of visitors in addition to our own members, which led to some lively discussions and one or two reunions between people who had not met for many decades.

The evening was led by our own Sylvia Cole, assisted by Colin Hyde from the East Midlands Oral History Archive.  Colin kicked off by playing a couple of recordings on the subject of healthcare and he asked what provision there was in our parish before the NHS.  The villages had no doctor but one who lived nearby could sometimes be persuaded to stop on his way home!  Those who contracted infectious diseases would isolate for several weeks at home or would go to a sanatorium at Markfield.  An infant welfare clinic was held each week in the Memorial Hall.  For mothers in childbirth, a midwife had to be fetched from Rothley, though up to the 1960s a Mrs Garner in Cropston could be called on to deliver babies or to lay out the dead.  When the Co-op in Thurcaston closed (where Tebbatt’s now is), villagers campaigned for it to become a surgery but were told there was already sufficient local provision.

Each village formerly had its own post office, where you could also buy some groceries.  In Cropston, meat was supplied by Bunny’s, who slaughtered their own cattle on site.  “Butch”, who worked there and also at the garage, was skilled at preparing any cut you wanted from the hanging carcasses but he gave up the business when hygiene rules were brought in.  It was not unknown to see him cycling back from Bradgate Park with a deer across his shoulders, while another character would tout pheasants and rabbits of dubious origin round the villages!

Many of our guests had been to school in Thurcaston and there was general agreement about which teachers were inspirational and which ones they hated.

Pupils – including those from Cropston – would walk home for lunch then return in the afternoon.  Later, lunches were delivered to the school in aluminium trays but they were not remembered fondly!  When numbers outgrew the Old School Rooms opposite the church, the Memorial Hall was used as an extra classroom until the new Richard Hill School was built.  The best students could win a scholarship to go to the grammar school at Quorn but most finished school at 14 or 15.  One option for the boys was then to move to an apprenticeship at the Rolls-Royce factory in Rothley.

The various pubs provoked a lot of memories.  You could play “devil among the tailors” (a type of table skittles) at the now-vanished King William IV.  There was a mynah bird at the Wheatsheaf in the 1960s, while one landlord at the Reservoir Inn had a pet fox, which would sit on his shoulder.  He was not too particular about the drinking age, being willing to serve you in your scout uniform!  Freddy King, who cleared glasses at the Bradgate Arms, would steal sweets from Cropston Post Office to give to the barmaids, who, knowing they were stolen, would bring them back again.

There were also many memories of the youth club held in the Memorial Hall and of the various people who ran it.  The favoured spot for sledging was at Wallis’s Hollow, opposite the Wheatsheaf, but on a good run you had to jump off to avoid ending up in the brook.  People leaving the pub would join in the fun late into the evening.  The hill on Anstey Lane beyond the church used to be steeper so cars needed to be pushed up it in snowy weather.

Cropston was served by police from Anstey but Thurcaston had its own village policeman, who lived on Leicester Road.  One guest remembered receiving a visit from him after he was caught placing pennies on the railway track to be squashed flat by passing trains.

We heard of some rivalry between the villages – residents of Cropston were thought to look down on Thurcaston – and of a divide (not felt by everyone) according to whether you went to the church or to the chapel.  There is clearly much more to find out, including about the many local clubs and societies, and this event was much enjoyed so we hope to hold another one along similar lines in future.