A Trip Down Memory Lane, Leicester — Part 5 — Old Belgrave

I got on a bus to head up Belgrave and Loughborough Road, and got off at the junction with Bath Lane and Thurcaston Road.

I was now entering Old Belgrave, and therefore want to recount here my favourite tale of how it got its name.

In ancient times, there was a giant called Bel. He boasted he could reach Leicester from where he was (about 7 miles to the north) on only three leaps on his horse, (the tale also suggests how three other Leicestershire villages got their names). He mounted his Sorrel mare at the starting point, this became known as Mountsorrel, his first leap took him a long distance to what is now known as Wanlip (yes — one leap). The next leap saw such an effort from both Bel and his mount that they both became injured as they landed. They were said to have burst all, and hence the second leap’s landing point is now known as Birstall. The final leap saw them miss their goal of Leicester by little less than a mile, and the effort involved saw both the horse and Bel dying on the spot of their landing, and hence this area was known as Bel(‘s)grave.

All nonsense of course, but much more entertaining than the actual explanation.

From the traffic island in the middle of the road I took the next three pictures.

These are what my parents and friends used to call “The Belgrave Run”. The first block of flats used to be the site of The Belgrave Hotel. A pub we used to be taken to as kids, and one that we infrequently visited when older. It was the scene of my friend John’s sister’s wedding reception, where the two of us rapped amended lyrics to Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” to the happy couple.

The second still has the name and signs on the outside but The Bull’s Head has been closed for a while. It was never a child friendly pub, and the only times I ever went in there were for pool games.

The third is The Talbot, the only one surviving. There were a lot of times we sat in the concrete beer “garden” as kids, on rickety wooden tables after a walk along the river. I stopped for a soft drink and respite from the sun after a few more pictures had been taken.

This was the old Belgrave School building, built in 1861 and used as a school until the 1950’s. It is now converted to offices and flats, but very much in keeping with its original look and feel.

I headed to the river, passing the playground part of Belgrave Gardens. They have been updated and safety proofed since the days we played there as kids. The slide looks a lot more sedate than the one I remember. A long metal slide with pebble dashed concrete down both sides and stone floor at the base. There was a run up at the top which we would use to try and jump down as much of the slide as possible. It makes you wonder how we ever survived our childhoods.

I got to the river and went under the old bridge. It has been repaired and shored up, and is now open to buses only, having been in danger of falling down not so many years ago. The metal pipe was an alternative crossing for us forty years ago.

After a drink I came back out to Belgrave Hall, always a museum to me, I used to go on a regular basis, quite often by myself. I used to enjoy wandering around looking at the old rooms and their displays. Always fascinated by the bells in the kitchen from all the rooms. It’s only open as a museum one week a month for half of the year, and then for hire the rest of the time. I never seem to time my visits back to Leicester correctly now.

Opposite is Belgrave House (and the gardens beyond), added by the Vann family, owners of the hall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and it looks grander than the hall, but was always dismissed as a child as we couldn’t go in and do anything there.

I spent some time wandering around the grounds of St Peter’s Church, one of the six old “village” medieval churches of Leicester. It is no longer in use as a place of worship and has been up for sale. We played in the churchyard a lot. Being disrespectful little sods, we used it as a base to play hide and seek, and in the autumn it was the best place in the locality to get conkers. We spent a lot of time throwing balls and sticks up at the horse chestnut trees that surround the church to knock the conkers down.

I think the trees have a long memory. They were throwing their conkers at me as I walked around the church taking photos.

I walked back up to Loughborough Road and found yet more places of worship, the Masjid-ul-imam-il-dukhari mosque above (it’s green dome can only be seen from the back and side of the building and not from the street), and The Belgrave Union Church below. I never ever clocked the fact this was a church when I lived near it, it was just another brick building.

I walked up Victoria Road East and came out opposite my first ever school.

Mellor infants, primary and junior school wasn’t as modern looking as this when I went to the infants there. It was the same kind of squat pebble dashed concrete buildings that Herrick still is today.

Opposite is the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah Witnesses. They have rebuilt and expanded, and moved slightly from the corner they sat on. They also have a big fence and gate. I was lining up to take a photo when some JW’s were leaving. They drove out and locked up the gate behind them, and then sat there for a good (well, bad) ten minutes before driving off, trying to discourage me from taking a photo.

The former working men’s club is now Jungle, with its large fake ivory tusks. Apparently it’s massive in there. (Sorry, this joke may go over a lot of people’s heads if they are much older than me.)

And still it goes on, part 6 will follow.

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Kev Neylon

Kev Neylon

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Writing fiction, travel and history non-fiction. Monthly e-zine and website with all kinds of writing. Sign up on my website at www.onetruekev.co.uk