Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Beatlemania hits Leicester!

It wasn’t just any old Sunday morning in October 1963, it was the morning when 4,500 Beatles tickets went on sale for two shows in Leicester the following December. Beatlemania gripped the city and as the local newspaper reported – it was absolute chaos!

The Beatles at De Montfort Hall
Around 3,000 hyper-excited fans queued through Saturday night, some as early as the Friday night, at the Corporation offices in Charles Street to make sure they got a glimpse of the fab four. By 7.30pm Saturday night the queue was 1,000 people in length and by 4am, when most were tucked up in bed, 3,000 people had come out to brave the elements. It wasn’t like a bus queue either it was almost like a mini-festival with singing, dancing, live music and records playing, but the atmosphere would soon be marred by chaos.

What they were all after - an original Beatles ticket
The following day the Leicester Mercury ran with the headline: “Girls Injured, Shop Window Smashed in Riot.” It all kicked off at 9.30am on Sunday when the Corporation doors finally opened. 60 Police officers linked their arms to create a human barrier as swarms of fans ran forward. There was growing impatience as the anxious fans didn’t want to miss out, and this triggered violence in the once peaceful queue. It surged forwards, backwards, left and right as people were hurt and treasured items were smashed. The first to get tickets were Wyggeston schoolgirls Rosalyn Oaskley and Susan Williams and the Beatles records they took with them were smashed in the crush.

Before the clocks struck 10am more than 20 girls had been forced out of the queue, whether squeezed out by the surge or by bulldozing their way out for some air. At least 50 girls needed some sort of attention, including hospital treatment for crushed ribs. Those that just needed a coffee break did just that and then re-entered the dreaded mass of fans for Round 2.

The pressure of the collective mass of surging fans took its toll on a shop window as a 10ft pane of glass fell from the Halfords shop. It would have smashed on the heads of fans below if it wasn’t for the quick-thinking of the taller kids.

It took until 11am for some sort of order to be restored and by midday, all the tickets had gone. The disappointed and disheartened fans left and all that remained was a window, and a huge pile of shoes, bags, cloths, chairs and rugs.

Were you there? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at thiswasleicestershire@gmail.com

by Matthew Sibson

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Trocadero

This stunning photo shows the junction of Scraptoft Lane and Uppingham Road in the late 19th century. Behind the people in this picture now stands the Shell petrol station  and before that, the Trocadero cinema and bingo hall once stood.

The junction of Uppingham Road and Scraptoft Lane

Now an extremely busy junction with cars queuing every minute of every day, you'd be forgiven if you didn't  recognise what you were looking at. The sign behind the horse cart says "Uppingham 7 miles," directing people down what we today call 'Uppingham Road.' The road behind, going away from the picture, is Scraptoft Lane - then just a mere tree lined track way.

Many readers may remember the old Trocadero, which would be built on this site in 1931. Originally it was a cinema, ballroom and cafe, built at this location because of the close proximity to the old tram terminus in Humberstone. It was a cine-variety theatre with variety acts on stage before the feature cinema presentation.

The Trocadero in the glory days

The 'Troc' as it was known to locals was built by Bert Cole, a local builder and entrepreneur and cost around £60,000. With 2,131 seats it was opened with Lord Mayor Councillor H. Carver JP in attendance, as well as British film star Dodo Watts. The opening film was 'Toast of a Legion,' a musical comedy in technicolour.

Sadly, The Trocadero burned down in September 1967 and was subsequently replaced by a petrol station.

On fire: The Troc burned down in September 1967.

By Matthew Sibson

Welford Road Cemetery gets an app

I never thought there would be an app for a graveyard but Welford Road cemetery is getting just that. Computer experts at De Montfort University are creating a smartphone and tablet app for the cemetery so that people from across the globe can enjoy an interactive tour of the Victorian site.

Thomas Cook's Grave in Welford Road Cemetery
The cemetery is home to countless famous local figures including Thomas Cook. Opened in 1849, it is Leicester’s oldest municipal cemetery and one of the oldest in the country. Still in use today, the cemetery houses around 10,000 headstones and 35,000 graves, and is listed as a Grade 2 site in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens.

When the app is launched to market, visitors will able to hold their phones up to headstones to activate digital animations of famous figures from history. But it isn’t just the big names, the app catalogues the stories of more than 200,000 people buried there. The app will use GPS to establish where the user is in the cemetery and is expected to be finished by Christmas next year.

The Friends of Welford Road Cemetery will be working with De Montfort University on the project entitled Unlocking Victorian Leicester, thanks to a £6,100 Heritage Lottery grant.

by Matthew Sibson

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What was the Gartree?

Leicestershire folk all know the name ‘Gartree.’ There is the old Roman Road, called Gartree Road, and there is a Gartree High School in Oadby. There is a Gartree Prison and a huge area of land known locally as the Gartree Hundred. But what is Gartree?

The Gartree (or Gore Tree) was an oak tree situated to the north of the Roman Gartree Road and west of the ancient ridgeway running north to south, between Shangton and Illston-on-the-Hill. The oak was arguably the most important landmark in the ancient local landscape. Ancient oaks were always held in high regard to the pagan elders of this country. Druids would worship the oak tree and hold their ceremonies in amongst their clutches. The Gartree oak is thought to be one of these sacred trees as we know that it was a meeting place for the elders of the Gartree Hundred area, way before the Anglo-Saxons arrived in Leicestershire. This sacred meeting place even pre-dates the Roman invasion and hence the Roman road that was named after it.

Gartree Road (image source: www.leicesterchronicler.com)
Local landowners would gather around the Gartree oak to record their goods and make trading deals. We know from records that between at least 1458 and 1750 the hundred courts met at the oak until they decided to move them to the Bull's Head in Tur Langton, the nearest convenient inn to the ancient meeting place. This primitive, open-air court was chosen so that the sheriff could make fair judgement without the influence of spirits who haunted buildings.

If you saw the relatively recent Story of England TV documentary by Michael Wood, you would have seen the site of the tree and even a remnant of it. Sadly, the ancient oak fell in the 1960s. The area of land is now private and inaccessible without the landowner’s permission. But to mark its importance in the local landscape, a replacement tree has since been planted and can be viewed from the road. Hopefully there will also be an information board and signpost erected soon.

The replacement Gartree (image source: www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk)
by Matthew Sibson