‘A rich store of memories’

Sound archivists based at the University of Leicester have come across a tape which they believe could be the first oral history recording made in Leicestershire.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The recording, which dates back to 1965, features Miss Bertha Kirby, who was born in Leicester in 1889, being interviewed by Mr J F L Nord who was the Keeper of Antiquities for Leicester City Council.

Miss Kirby is interviewed in her home at 13 West Street in Leicester, the house she had lived in since the age of 12. Prior to that, the family home had been at 52 Market Place, known as Cheapside, from where her father George, a watchmaker and jeweller, had run the family business. According to Miss Kirby, George Kirby had been responsible for many of the public clocks in the city, including those at the Clock Tower, the Cattle Market, the Welford Road Cemetery, the Infirmary and Leicester Prison.

In the recording, Miss Kirby talks about the streets around the areas that she grew up in. She describes how the family home in West Street was extended over the years with one of the first indoor toilets in the area being installed by her grandfather. She recalls sheep grazing on a local recreation ground and animals being led down the street on the way to the Cattle Market. She remembers attending church at the Dover Street Chapel as a child and sucking peppermints through the long sermons.

Grandpa Roper made many alterations. He extended the back bedroom taking in part of the garden and built a kitchen beyond that already there, and a bathroom overhead. This was the very first indoor lavatory or bathroom in this neighbourhood.

Extract from the interview with Miss Bertha Kirby

As well as detailed accounts of life around the Market Place in Leicester, she shares her vivid memories of soldiers going off to the Boer War in the late 1800s and the impact of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901.

Market Place, Leicester, 1902, as Miss Kirby would have seen it as a child.

The interview is one of a number of sound recordings held at The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland. It was digitised by Ewan Shaw as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, a British Library project to preserve sound archives across the UK. The University of Leicester is home to the project’s Midlands Hub.

Colin Hyde from UOSH said, ‘We think this might be the first oral history recording made in Leicestershire. The Leicester Tape Club, which started in the 1950s, didn’t make extended recordings of people’s memories, as far as we know, while BBC Radio Leicester, who did record short oral histories, didn’t start until 1967.’

You can listen to the first 5 mins 49 seconds of this interview on the EMOHA Soundcloud channel.

Read the transcript of the full interview with Miss Kirby

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