Archive for the ‘stories’ Category

The Sound of Music

May 1, 2010

The Sound of MusicThe Sound of Music is another of Eric Sanderson’s great tale0w of old East Leeds and how he, and his friends, decided to form a skiffle group.

                          THE  SOUND  OF  MUSIC

For our group, the mid fifties saw our interest in music begin to burgeon, starting with our regular Saturday night record session. One of our friend’s parents had acquired a magnificent Radiogram with a stackable autochange mechanism which would hold about ten or twelve singles, 78’s at that. It also had a stylus which lasted for hundreds of plays, saving the excruciating need to change the needle after each record. Real progress ,where a half hour of uninterrupted music could be enjoyed.

            In those days , just before the era of R&R burst onto the scene here, we used to listen to , and believe it or not, even like modern jazz, the likes of Humphrey Littleton, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong as well as the big bands of the day such as Duke Ellington & Ted Heath.

            Many a Saturday night was enjoyed with endless repetitions of “Bad Penny Blues” ,“Peanut Vendor” and Eric Delaney’s “Oranges & Lemons” along with a shared bottle of beer between about 5 or 6 of us.

            Then came the explosion of R&R to be followed by an offshoot known as Skiffle, one of the characteristics of which was that to form a group, only basic instruments were needed along with some improvised equipment equipment in order to attain  the required sound .

            So, we decided to form our own Skiffle group with Dave Carncross on lead guitar, myself on rhythm, Bryan on Tea Chest Base , Tony  on Washboard and Ronnie  on Glockenspiel.

Our practice sessions took place in Dave’s basement which was a ideal, away from prying ears and complaining neighbours.

Only Dave had any musical nous , which I think he’d inherited from his father, and in addition to guitar, could also play the drums.

            Without having any musical talent or cadence whatsoever, I managed to master a few basic chords whilst Bryan & Tony  seemed to just do their own thing. And the Glockenspiel ?. This may have been ok for a Tyrolean Oompah band but didn’t fit too well with the sound we were hoping to achieve.

            Anyway, we practised most days during the school holidays and managed to achieve what to us sounded a like a half decent result – with the exception of the Glockenspiel. Unfortunately, we had to retire Ronnie, much to his chagrin. He would sit there muttering obscenities at his ill treatment until we hit upon the idea of letting Ronnie become our MC, introducing us to the public in glowing terms & providing him with an important place in the band.

            At first he wasn’t too keen on this but, finally relenting made his first introduction :-

“Ladeez and Genelmun, I would like to introduce to you, the worst ******* band your ever likely to here in the whole of your miserable ******* lives. If you’ve paid to listen to this load of ****, you must be out of your tiny ******* minds and my advice is to leave now, before you’re carried out screaming “ – or words to that effect.

            At this, we were all in stitches and thought that Ronnie had found his true vocation. In fact he took to the task with relish and developed ever more lurid  intros as the days went by. He must have devoted time to studying and rehearsing them because he became ever more imaginative and proficient and of course, we all enjoyed them immensely  .

There was only one occasion when we fell foul of our activities and this was when we’d overlooked that Dave’s father was upstairs sleeping , following his working a late shift on the buses.

Down he stormed into the basement , startling us with his wrath ,as he was invariably an easy going and friendly man. “What’s all this racket ( racket ?? – we thought it was sweet music) , pack up & get out, NOW.” This nearly put paid to our aspirations but , a few days later after having calmed down and true to form and his better nature, he encouraged us back into our “studio” provided we respect his sleeping pattern. I seem to remember that he actually joined in once or twice, playing the snare drum ,at which he seemed very adept.

            Came the day when we thought we might be ready to go public for the first time and decided the venue would be Dave’s basement, which was big enough to hold a decent sized audience.

We never dreamed of asking for Dave’s parent’s consent and what they would have made of strangers wandering through their home & down into the basement, goodness only knows.

            Undeterred, we concocted a few hand made posters, calling ourselves “The Easy Riders” ( long before Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper hit the scene) and placing them on the gable ends of nearby streets, confident that a free “concert” would bring the punters in.

            As curtain up time approached, we waited nervously in our dressing room (the kitchen), wondering if this might be the start of something big.

            The clock ticked on, no sign of any takers and nor did any turn up, even though we waited patiently for what seemed an eternity. What more did people expect than the promise of a free concert and (possibly) light refreshment ( a glass of water was the plan). 

            It was at this point when I think the penny dropped that we really didn’t posses much talent and that our big break wasn’t going to happen.

            We reluctantly decided there and then to abandon our musical ambitions but, for a few weeks in the summer of ‘55, hope sprang eternal and we had lots of fun to boot.

Around this time, some of the local pubs began to employ live music which was, for young people , a welcome break away from the dead hand of the lone pianist and the WM Clubs which had little appeal for many. This was probably a result of changes in the licensing laws but local pubs such as the “Slip”, White Horse, The Shaftsbury, The Prospect etc all benefited from a huge surge in popularity with young people from miles around flocking to a night of cheap beer and free entertainment where early doors was essential if you were to get a good seat with room for a few friends.

Who knows, this may have been the dawn of “binge drinking”.

            One favoured Saturday night venue for us was the Beckett Arms at Meanwood, close by the Capitol Ballroom. This was one of the first pubs in Leeds to boast a live band ( and rotten beer) and was always full to the gunnels up until closing time, which in those days was 10pm within Leeds.

By this time, the buses had stopped running and so we had to walk all the back into town , calling at a couple of fish & chip shops en route, before heading home.

Towards the bottom end of Meanwood Rd was an area known as Camp Road which had a notorious reputation and through which we had to pass.

This was mostly uneventful as we used to give other groups a wide berth except on one occasion when we were stopped by a large group of “Teddy Boys”, resplendent in their knee length, velvet trimmed jackets and suede “brothel creepers”.

            Heavily outnumbered, we were held at knife point whilst they tried to relieve us of our meagre funds, there being not much left after a good Sat night. None of us were any means cowards but this was frightening experience and a refusal to submit was met by one of us being battered about the head with a heavy piece of timber, with much bloodshed resulting and threats of even worse unless we coughed up.

One weasel faced thug held a long, stiletto like blade close to my stomach whilst another searched my pockets. Strangely, they didn’t have the brains to remove anyone’s wrist watch which was probably the only things of any value most of us had on us.

At that time, the Public Dispensary on North Street was operative & so we promptly took our friend there who, by this time seemed to have lost a lot of blood , his clothing being soaked in it.

Several stitches later, he emerged with a huge head bandage and threatening retribution on the perpetrators.

Fortunately, he sensibly dropped the idea once he’d recovered but it put paid to our enjoyable Sat night sojourns at the Beckett Arms

A Victorian School on Every Corner

August 28, 2007

A Victorian School on Every Corner 

 A Victorian School on Every Corner.

During the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period  the district of East Leeds was epitomised by its warren of back to back terrace houses, pubs, picture houses, church and chapels and especially memorable a myriad of great old high windowed, Victorian schools complete with even higher ceilings and primitive plumbing.

These schools were colloquially referred to as: ‘Mary’s,’ ‘Hilda’s,’ ‘Vicky’, ‘Ellerby,’ ‘Saville,’ ‘South Accomm,’ to mention but a few and served the Anglican, Catholic and secular preferences of the local population. ‘Ossy’ and ‘Corpus’ were schools on the periphery of the district and slightly more modern in character. Although the pupils of these schools were fiercely competitive towards each other, especially at sport, in the evenings all were merged into the homogenous street corner society of the district.  A further school Richmond Hill, had of necessity re-located its pupils after being hit by a stray bomb seeking the adjacent railway line.  Folk law relates that partisan crowds in excess of four figures would flock to East End Park when Richmond Hill and Mount St Mary’s played each other at football before the war. These tales are embellished by accounts of mothers running onto the field wielding umbrellas to excerpt vengeance on the opposition for rough play on their sons.

Schools had been closed completely for a while during 1941/42 either for renovations to combat air raids or the air raids themselves. As early as I can recall however, which would be 1943, most schools were already back in full swing with wartime precautions installed.

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These precautions included a brown ‘gungy’ material, that covered the windows in order to contain the glass from being blasted in from an exploding bomb. Black out curtains were also installed to dampen light as seen from above. The kids themselves carried gas masks in brown cardboard boxes slung around the shoulders. From the point of view of the children, who had never known anything else, this passed as the normal way of life and was in no way frightening.

A huge brick built air raid shelter dominated the schoolyard in fact it managed to remain standing long after the war was over and to my knowledge was never used in anger. This was probably just as well as the interior was black as pitch and your nose indicated

That the shelter had found an alternative use as a clandestine toilet.

In the process of the school day we were given a free gill of milk in the morning to be sucked up through a straw and normally entailed much gurgling and blowing of bubbles much to the teacher’s displeasure. School dinners did not arrive upon the scene until around 1950.  Kids who were considered to be undernourished were force-fed castor oil or malt from a spoon in front of the class; one or two of these unfortunates regularly entertained the rest of the class with a show of resistance

As a result of the residue of chalk dust and spilled milk there was always a distinctive smell in the classrooms, especially on Monday mornings when the doors and windows had been closed over the weekend.  Such smells take me back to my early days at school unlocking a chest of memories some pleasurable others harrowing. School came as a

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shock to the system for me as I suspect for many others.  On the first day at school I found things very strange, for instance, they sat me behind two girls both sporting plaits – not having witnessed plaits before I was puzzled. When I arrived home I said to my mother ‘Mam I was sat behind two girls at school today and they had cracks right down the backs of their heads.’ (partings).   I recall too, that I immediately fell in love with a girl called Sylvia – and told my mother, ‘There’s a girl at school called Silvia and she has silver hair and silver glasses and where she lives they have a silver door knob.’

Other times are recalled as being rather more traumatic, like the time in Standard One when the teacher told me to go into the hall and tell her the time by the hall clock. Unfortunately I didn’t know how and stood there looking at that big round ‘Potts’ clock

on the wall, praying for someone to come along whom I could ask or alternatively hoping the floor would open up and swallow me up (There was no’ Scotty’ to beam you up in those days).  And all the time the teacher’s voice could be heard thundering through the partition.  ‘What are you doing boy? How long does it take to tell the time?

In addition to being unable to tell the time I must have been one of the children she called a ‘slow reader’ for, as it was her policy she sat me next to one whom she deemed as a ‘fast reader’. This lad usurped his authority and took it upon himself to grasp my finger tightly and prod it onto each word on the page. The – prod – cat – prod – sat – prod – on – prod – the. I recall a swift kick on his shins restricted him from reaching the word mat and that was the end of that, though it did spur me on to greater effort in the reading stakes.

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One final traumatic experience to relate: my mother had been hospitalised with appendicitis and I had been staying with a remote aunt miles away – hence I could not attend school for a period of around six weeks.  The Monday morning arrived when Mam was well again and I could resume school.   Whether or not her idea was to break me back into school gently or not I don’t know but I remember she said. ‘Oh go on as it’s the first day back you can start at dinner time.’  So she got me ready to start in the afternoon but we messed about until I became late even for the afternoon session. When finally I opened the classroom door after six weeks, half a day and half an hour the class were already heads down working. As I opened the door every head turned up in astonishment at my untimely arrival. It was as though I’d just dropped in from the planet Zog. The teacher was so surprised to see me she had apparently forgotten my name!

School yard games

Before school started in the morning and at playtime the school yard game culture reigned.  The staple diet in winter was always going to be football for the boys played twenty odd a side with a tennis ball and with coats for goal posts.  In the summer cricket took over the wickets being chalk marks on the wall and with three or four balls on the go at once.  The whistle for the end of playtime always seemed to blow when it was your turn for an innings.

I spoke to an old school mate at a reunion recently – he recalled playing football in that

old school yard (we called it the field) and how workmen had been mending the road

outside the railings at the time.  He said this old road mender had been particularly watching the game with a whimsical look in his eye and had finally come over to the

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railings and said to him, very sincerely, ‘Do you know son, these are the happiest days of your life’.  The old school mate said ‘I’ve remembered his words all these years and I think he was probably right.’

As an alternative to football and cricket and to suit the seasons more individual games were played. Ice on the ground meant a giant slide with everyone having a go causing the road to becoming like glass endangering un-wary pedestrians. 

These cold days would see us attired in our ‘our long/short’ trousers and long socks, which left only a couple of inches of knee on show to catch cold. I suppose it would have been preferable to go the whole hog and let us wear long trousers but lads rarely did, for mothers kept them in the long/shorts until about the age of twelve. I was even more unfortunate as my mother thought lads in long trousers looked like ‘little old men’ and made me wear shorts until I was a monster fourteen.

Schoolgirls were limited to dresses or skirts, trousers or jeans were never seen on schoolgirls, although the land girls did wear slacks with the zips at the side.  To complete our somewhat bizarre appearance by modern standards our winter turn out included woollen Balaclava helmets that became shiny at the bottom from runny noses.

At Whitsuntide, mostly the girls, would play whip and top – colouring the top with chalks to make an attractive pattern.  In the autumn it would be conkers and bruised knuckles

each time you missed your opponent.  Each player kept score of how many conkers his

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conker had broken, the way this worked was: if your conker broke another which had in turn already broken, say two conkers itself then you added those two to the score as well, so if you broke the conker in this case three was added to the score.  

Lads would try to make conkers harder by baking or pickling in vinegar. Sometimes they had become tiny hard things like a walnut kernel but providing they had not broken away from the string hole they were still considered to be ‘alive’. When a crack occurred the shout was, ‘It’s laughing!’  Last year’s conkers were like iron and wouldn’t be played against if recognised. ‘It’s a ‘laggie’ I’m not playing that’ would be the cry.

Another game was played with cigarette cards or the big bus tickets of the day, which all had a sequential number on the back. In this game a lad would take a wadge of cards or tickets of roughly the same number in each hand and another lad would take a similar number in one hand and bank on one hand or the other – then the bottom ticket or card would be turned over in each hand. If he had banked on the hand bearing the larger number of the two then he would win the cards in that hand. If he had banked on the lower number then he would lose his cards to his opponent.  As school bags were a

‘no – no’ in those Victorian schools a lad’s pockets would often be bulging obscenely with all his winnings.

Marbles or ‘tors’ as we called them was another favourite game.  There were several different types of marble: ‘allys’ (coloured marbles), ‘bottle-washers’ (clear glass), and ‘stonkers’, (made out of stone.)  Some lads were real experts with calloused knuckles to

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prove it.  These experts would have a favourite marble, which they always used when playing – normally it would not be a pretty one but rather a gnarled old thing, which would give a good grip.  They would surrender any of their stock of marbles rather than their ‘player’ should they lose the game. The rules of the marbles game we played to were as follows: two lads would normally play with a marble each – more could play if required – a small hole was excavated in the earth and called the ‘knack’, the idea was for the lads to take it in turns to try and hit his opponents marble.  After a ‘hit’ had been made it was still necessary to ensure the marble was not a ‘needer’.  A ‘needer’ meant their opponents marble still ‘needed’ to be hit more than two shoe lengths away from the hole, big shoes were an advantage if you were the one wanting to be a ‘needer’ little shoes if you didn’t want him to be a ‘needer’. To win the game it was only then necessary to roll your own marble into the hole.

The girls had their own playground, a raised concrete affair higher than our dirt ‘field’.

From this lofty perch they would carry out their skipping games: ‘pitch -. patch  – pepper’ etc.  Or dance around singing their traditional songs:  ‘The wind, the wind, the wind blows high, the wind comes scattering from the sky, she is handsome she is pretty she is the girl of the golden city.  The wind the wind the wind blows free, please can you tell me who it can be?’    Then they would shout some lad’s name, say ‘Tommy Johnson’ then continuing: ‘Says he loves her’ then they would all let out a great scream (silly Beggars) – ‘All the boys are fighting for her’ and so on.  The lad in question probably playing football in the field would blush to the roots of his hair but be secretly delighted – alas it was never me!  Sometimes much to the annoyance of the girls we would sing along with a much ruder version.

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Sport was always king, every year we would have the school sports incorporating track and field although the field sports were only the simple ones for which we had the equipment: long jump, high jump and throwing the cricket ball   Winners at the school sports would represent the school at the District Sports, where more names of schools spring to mind: Prince’s Field, Green Lane, Primrose Hill, Harehills and Brownhill.

Those talented enough to win through at District Level earned the honour of competing at Roundhay Park on ‘Children’s Day’ This was a big day in the calendar and included the crowning of the Queen of Children’s Day’ who had been selected after elimination from the whole of the Leeds school areas.  Those who won an event at Children’s Day proved to be the best in Leeds and earned cult status with their peers.

Football remained the jewel in the crown for us.  Because schools were so much smaller then, perhaps only fifteen/twenty boys in each year and remembering too that the school life terminated at the end of the fourteenth year (it had only shortly risen from the end of the thirteenth year) – it was not unusual then for young footballing prodigies to be knocking on the door of the first team aged eleven or twelve, which was very exciting for them. To be able to ‘dribble’ well was the benchmark against which all these prodigies were measured: Kerrigan at Corpus Christie, Sedgewick and Whitehead at St Hilda’s and Monk at Ellerby Lane are just a few names which fall easily into this category. 

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Victoria had a boy’s own character who transcended all, not in the art of dribbling but in pure power.  He was the amazing Willie Knott; best in Leeds at every sport he put his hand to. Already complete with a moustache and legs like tree trunks at age thirteen he could hit those size four balls the length of the field and woe betide any schoolboy goalie that tried to stop them. He was also king at cricket, swimming, sprinting, and fighting.  When Willie walked by we would just stand aside and gawp.

Modern educational policy has seen a sweeping away of these small Victorian senior schools in favour of the huge comprehensives, so colossal that although probably educationally sound it is unlikely a twelve year old lad will ever again have the magical thrill of seeing his name on the first eleven team sheet.

Inter school football had generally been suspended during the war and even after the war non-essentials such as footballs and football kit could only be obtained on ‘permit’ and permits were as hard to land as rocking horse dung.  This meant that unless footballs and football gear had been stored since before hostilities had begun then improvisation was a necessity.

Our improvisation was to elect to play in white.  This allowed the lads to use their own white shirts when playing for the school team. Not all lads managed to get hold of a pair of proper football boots either and were forced to revert to playing in ordinary black working boots. In spite of this rag tag outfitting I recall with fondness those who formed that first post war school football team in their white shirts and sugar bag blue shorts.

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Those lads were giants in our eyes.  I don’t think they won many matches, we were a particularly small school even for the day, but it seemed their charisma as well as their boots were hard to fill.   Should I meet any of that old team, now well into their sixties – I always try to mention how they were our heroes which invariably brings a glow of pride to their cheeks.

Eventually we did manage to obtain some proper football jerseys and treated  them like gold.  I think this was after a fund rising campaign.  They were green with lace up fronts.  The girls made it a project in their sewing class to sew a red ‘V’ onto each jersey accompanied by a monographic ‘SH’ for St Hilda’s

Because changing accommodation was almost universally un-available on school playing fields we were allowed to wear the football jerseys to school on the day of a match.  Odd lads could be seen dotted around different classrooms proudly wearing the green jersey with the red ‘V’.  Some seemed to drag it out to wearing the jersey to school for a week before the teacher had to tell them off.  Visits to all away fixtures were undertaken by public transport. Few teachers aspired to cars before 1950. Once at the pitch we had to leave our togs on the grass, rain or shine and often had to travel home on the bus with clothes dripping wet.

It seems that schools traditionally kept the same style and colour jerseys year after year – perhaps this made more economical sense in that they could replace the odd worn jersey rather than replace a full set. It also had the effect of setting a tradition, an expectation of

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what was in store when you saw that particular jersey. For instance I recall St Mary’s

played in all green, Coldcoates in green with red sleeves and Osmondthorpe in all red. Squares were very popular, Ellerby Lane played in red and white squares, Corpus Christie in light blue and dark blue squares and Victoria in blue and gold squares which were extra glamorous being near to the blue and gold halves sported by Leeds United at the time.

Numerous school football competitions were on going for Leeds schools at the time.  Those that come to mind are: The Meadow Cup, the Teachers Shield, the Denmark trophy, the Daily Dispatch Shield and perhaps the most prestigious, The Schools Cup, the final of which was played at Elland Road, every lad’s dream.  The Catholics had an additional competition: The Bishop’s Cup which produced many hard fought finals between St Mary’s and St Charles’

I recall Osmondthorpe winning, in addition to the Leeds schools trophies the Yorkshire Cup in the 1940s and understand that Stourton a tiny school just south of the river, swept the field of all the Leeds school trophies year after year in the 1930s. Finally one year to become all England School Champions.

As the school years roll by a close knit relationship develops among the group of lads and lasses destined to spend their whole school life together from start to finish from (age five to age fifteen) without the hindrance of moves to middle, or senior schools etc.  The girls develop from bairns to beauties and the lads gel together in a good climate of Esprit de corps.

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At age eleven a loss is sustained to the whole as the brightest half dozen or so in each year are successful in passing their eleven plus examination and leave the comfort of those small Victorian schools to become elevated to the larger secondary or private schools.     Alas I did not number among these successful students, but would have been proud to have sported the brown and gold blazer of Cockburn, the royal blue of the Central High, navy blue of West Leeds or the red and black of Leeds Modern at Lawnswood.  Not to mention the green and black of Roundhay High School that seemed to be outside our catchment area and of course the numerous private schools.  The girls of Ralph Thoresby (all girl’s school) looked good in their maroon.

No doubt the successful students who embarked on life in these schools of higher education have their own tales to tell.  I can only relate the story of we who were left, generally destined to be the ‘factory fodder’ of the next generation, with no opportunity to take the School Certificate which was the then gateway to university.  No chance to learn a foreign language, work out in a gym or compete in the ‘House’ teams of which they talked so enthusiastically.

There were compensations: no new big informal schools to break in with associated new smells and hundreds of new faces. No homework either – but not, thankfully, no hope!

In my personal opinion our teachers never gave up on us. They were a continuing inspiration for which I am eternally grateful. and I am only saddened by the fact that by the time I realised this they were all gone and I will never be able to thank them for igniting in me and I imagine many others, a love and thirst for knowledge.

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Generally it is true to say, that our teachers were, for better or worse, stricter disciplinarians than their modern successors.  One has to remember that they were either Victorians themselves or had been educated by those who were.  In addition they had suffered the rigours of two world wars.  With this in mind it is not hard to understand that the world was a harsher place in the 1950s/60s and expected different standards of behaviour than we do today.

In view of this transgressors expected and received the cane.  This seems to be a horrific way of administering punishment to twenty-first century society, but for us it was no big thing, one would normally have preferred to face the cane than miss a sports session given the choice. Life has many hardships in store and taking the cane might well be seen as preparing for this.  If you could take your punishment without rancour then your stock rose with both teacher and peers. Sometimes a teacher would congratulate a boy for taking his punishment like a man. (Girls were spared the cane)   In fact the cane was only a problem for those who made a fuss about it!

There were other compensations too for staying on at those old Victorian schools, not least playing great inter schools football (many of the high schools played rugby union) and perhaps even trying out for Leeds City Boys.  Better still the chance to spend a week at the Leeds schools camp at Langbar, near Ilkley. Where one could become a blue-eyed boy or a green-eyed boy at the dinner table, take your first girl to a dance (compulsory) and climb Beamsley Beacon, so becoming an honourable member of the League of Mountain Men.

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Eventually like all golden ages school days trickle away and the close companionship of schoolmates has to end.  Only perhaps to be re-kindled again some three years later for National Service.  Meetings now become rarer but a chance encounter with an old school mate or indeed any member of that old street corner society is a red-letter day for nostalgia.

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 A Victorian School on Every Corner.

During the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period  the district of East Leeds was epitomised by its warren of back to back terrace houses, pubs, picture houses, church and chapels and especially memorable a myriad of great old high windowed, Victorian schools complete with even higher ceilings and primitive plumbing.

These schools were colloquially referred to as: ‘Mary’s,’ ‘Hilda’s,’ ‘Vicky’, ‘Ellerby,’ ‘Saville,’ ‘South Accomm,’ to mention but a few and served the Anglican, Catholic and secular preferences of the local population. ‘Ossy’ and ‘Corpus’ were schools on the periphery of the district and slightly more modern in character. Although the pupils of these schools were fiercely competitive towards each other, especially at sport, in the evenings all were merged into the homogenous street corner society of the district.  A further school Richmond Hill, had of necessity re-located its pupils after being hit by a stray bomb seeking the adjacent railway line.  Folk law relates that partisan crowds in excess of four figures would flock to East End Park when Richmond Hill and Mount St Mary’s played each other at football before the war. These tales are embellished by accounts of mothers running onto the field wielding umbrellas to excerpt vengeance on the opposition for rough play on their sons.

Schools had been closed completely for a while during 1941/42 either for renovations to combat air raids or the air raids themselves. As early as I can recall however, which would be 1943, most schools were already back in full swing with wartime precautions installed.

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These precautions included a brown ‘gungy’ material, that covered the windows in order to contain the glass from being blasted in from an exploding bomb. Black out curtains were also installed to dampen light as seen from above. The kids themselves carried gas masks in brown cardboard boxes slung around the shoulders. From the point of view of the children, who had never known anything else, this passed as the normal way of life and was in no way frightening.

A huge brick built air raid shelter dominated the schoolyard in fact it managed to remain standing long after the war was over and to my knowledge was never used in anger. This was probably just as well as the interior was black as pitch and your nose indicated

That the shelter had found an alternative use as a clandestine toilet.

In the process of the school day we were given a free gill of milk in the morning to be sucked up through a straw and normally entailed much gurgling and blowing of bubbles much to the teacher’s displeasure. School dinners did not arrive upon the scene until around 1950.  Kids who were considered to be undernourished were force-fed castor oil or malt from a spoon in front of the class; one or two of these unfortunates regularly entertained the rest of the class with a show of resistance

As a result of the residue of chalk dust and spilled milk there was always a distinctive smell in the classrooms, especially on Monday mornings when the doors and windows had been closed over the weekend.  Such smells take me back to my early days at school unlocking a chest of memories some pleasurable others harrowing. School came as a

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shock to the system for me as I suspect for many others.  On the first day at school I found things very strange, for instance, they sat me behind two girls both sporting plaits – not having witnessed plaits before I was puzzled. When I arrived home I said to my mother ‘Mam I was sat behind two girls at school today and they had cracks right down the backs of their heads.’ (partings).   I recall too, that I immediately fell in love with a girl called Sylvia – and told my mother, ‘There’s a girl at school called Silvia and she has silver hair and silver glasses and where she lives they have a silver door knob.’

Other times are recalled as being rather more traumatic, like the time in Standard One when the teacher told me to go into the hall and tell her the time by the hall clock. Unfortunately I didn’t know how and stood there looking at that big round ‘Potts’ clock

on the wall, praying for someone to come along whom I could ask or alternatively hoping the floor would open up and swallow me up (There was no’ Scotty’ to beam you up in those days).  And all the time the teacher’s voice could be heard thundering through the partition.  ‘What are you doing boy? How long does it take to tell the time?

In addition to being unable to tell the time I must have been one of the children she called a ‘slow reader’ for, as it was her policy she sat me next to one whom she deemed as a ‘fast reader’. This lad usurped his authority and took it upon himself to grasp my finger tightly and prod it onto each word on the page. The – prod – cat – prod – sat – prod – on – prod – the. I recall a swift kick on his shins restricted him from reaching the word mat and that was the end of that, though it did spur me on to greater effort in the reading stakes.

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One final traumatic experience to relate: my mother had been hospitalised with appendicitis and I had been staying with a remote aunt miles away – hence I could not attend school for a period of around six weeks.  The Monday morning arrived when Mam was well again and I could resume school.   Whether or not her idea was to break me back into school gently or not I don’t know but I remember she said. ‘Oh go on as it’s the first day back you can start at dinner time.’  So she got me ready to start in the afternoon but we messed about until I became late even for the afternoon session. When finally I opened the classroom door after six weeks, half a day and half an hour the class were already heads down working. As I opened the door every head turned up in astonishment at my untimely arrival. It was as though I’d just dropped in from the planet Zog. The teacher was so surprised to see me she had apparently forgotten my name!

School yard games

Before school started in the morning and at playtime the school yard game culture reigned.  The staple diet in winter was always going to be football for the boys played twenty odd a side with a tennis ball and with coats for goal posts.  In the summer cricket took over the wickets being chalk marks on the wall and with three or four balls on the go at once.  The whistle for the end of playtime always seemed to blow when it was your turn for an innings.

I spoke to an old school mate at a reunion recently – he recalled playing football in that

old school yard (we called it the field) and how workmen had been mending the road

outside the railings at the time.  He said this old road mender had been particularly watching the game with a whimsical look in his eye and had finally come over to the

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railings and said to him, very sincerely, ‘Do you know son, these are the happiest days of your life’.  The old school mate said ‘I’ve remembered his words all these years and I think he was probably right.’

As an alternative to football and cricket and to suit the seasons more individual games were played. Ice on the ground meant a giant slide with everyone having a go causing the road to becoming like glass endangering un-wary pedestrians. 

These cold days would see us attired in our ‘our long/short’ trousers and long socks, which left only a couple of inches of knee on show to catch cold. I suppose it would have been preferable to go the whole hog and let us wear long trousers but lads rarely did, for mothers kept them in the long/shorts until about the age of twelve. I was even more unfortunate as my mother thought lads in long trousers looked like ‘little old men’ and made me wear shorts until I was a monster fourteen.

Schoolgirls were limited to dresses or skirts, trousers or jeans were never seen on schoolgirls, although the land girls did wear slacks with the zips at the side.  To complete our somewhat bizarre appearance by modern standards our winter turn out included woollen Balaclava helmets that became shiny at the bottom from runny noses.

At Whitsuntide, mostly the girls, would play whip and top – colouring the top with chalks to make an attractive pattern.  In the autumn it would be conkers and bruised knuckles

each time you missed your opponent.  Each player kept score of how many conkers his

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conker had broken, the way this worked was: if your conker broke another which had in turn already broken, say two conkers itself then you added those two to the score as well, so if you broke the conker in this case three was added to the score.  

Lads would try to make conkers harder by baking or pickling in vinegar. Sometimes they had become tiny hard things like a walnut kernel but providing they had not broken away from the string hole they were still considered to be ‘alive’. When a crack occurred the shout was, ‘It’s laughing!’  Last year’s conkers were like iron and wouldn’t be played against if recognised. ‘It’s a ‘laggie’ I’m not playing that’ would be the cry.

Another game was played with cigarette cards or the big bus tickets of the day, which all had a sequential number on the back. In this game a lad would take a wadge of cards or tickets of roughly the same number in each hand and another lad would take a similar number in one hand and bank on one hand or the other – then the bottom ticket or card would be turned over in each hand. If he had banked on the hand bearing the larger number of the two then he would win the cards in that hand. If he had banked on the lower number then he would lose his cards to his opponent.  As school bags were a

‘no – no’ in those Victorian schools a lad’s pockets would often be bulging obscenely with all his winnings.

Marbles or ‘tors’ as we called them was another favourite game.  There were several different types of marble: ‘allys’ (coloured marbles), ‘bottle-washers’ (clear glass), and ‘stonkers’, (made out of stone.)  Some lads were real experts with calloused knuckles to

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prove it.  These experts would have a favourite marble, which they always used when playing – normally it would not be a pretty one but rather a gnarled old thing, which would give a good grip.  They would surrender any of their stock of marbles rather than their ‘player’ should they lose the game. The rules of the marbles game we played to were as follows: two lads would normally play with a marble each – more could play if required – a small hole was excavated in the earth and called the ‘knack’, the idea was for the lads to take it in turns to try and hit his opponents marble.  After a ‘hit’ had been made it was still necessary to ensure the marble was not a ‘needer’.  A ‘needer’ meant their opponents marble still ‘needed’ to be hit more than two shoe lengths away from the hole, big shoes were an advantage if you were the one wanting to be a ‘needer’ little shoes if you didn’t want him to be a ‘needer’. To win the game it was only then necessary to roll your own marble into the hole.

The girls had their own playground, a raised concrete affair higher than our dirt ‘field’.

From this lofty perch they would carry out their skipping games: ‘pitch -. patch  – pepper’ etc.  Or dance around singing their traditional songs:  ‘The wind, the wind, the wind blows high, the wind comes scattering from the sky, she is handsome she is pretty she is the girl of the golden city.  The wind the wind the wind blows free, please can you tell me who it can be?’    Then they would shout some lad’s name, say ‘Tommy Johnson’ then continuing: ‘Says he loves her’ then they would all let out a great scream (silly Beggars) – ‘All the boys are fighting for her’ and so on.  The lad in question probably playing football in the field would blush to the roots of his hair but be secretly delighted – alas it was never me!  Sometimes much to the annoyance of the girls we would sing along with a much ruder version.

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Sport was always king, every year we would have the school sports incorporating track and field although the field sports were only the simple ones for which we had the equipment: long jump, high jump and throwing the cricket ball   Winners at the school sports would represent the school at the District Sports, where more names of schools spring to mind: Prince’s Field, Green Lane, Primrose Hill, Harehills and Brownhill.

Those talented enough to win through at District Level earned the honour of competing at Roundhay Park on ‘Children’s Day’ This was a big day in the calendar and included the crowning of the Queen of Children’s Day’ who had been selected after elimination from the whole of the Leeds school areas.  Those who won an event at Children’s Day proved to be the best in Leeds and earned cult status with their peers.

Football remained the jewel in the crown for us.  Because schools were so much smaller then, perhaps only fifteen/twenty boys in each year and remembering too that the school life terminated at the end of the fourteenth year (it had only shortly risen from the end of the thirteenth year) – it was not unusual then for young footballing prodigies to be knocking on the door of the first team aged eleven or twelve, which was very exciting for them. To be able to ‘dribble’ well was the benchmark against which all these prodigies were measured: Kerrigan at Corpus Christie, Sedgewick and Whitehead at St Hilda’s and Monk at Ellerby Lane are just a few names which fall easily into this category. 

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Victoria had a boy’s own character who transcended all, not in the art of dribbling but in pure power.  He was the amazing Willie Knott; best in Leeds at every sport he put his hand to. Already complete with a moustache and legs like tree trunks at age thirteen he could hit those size four balls the length of the field and woe betide any schoolboy goalie that tried to stop them. He was also king at cricket, swimming, sprinting, and fighting.  When Willie walked by we would just stand aside and gawp.

Modern educational policy has seen a sweeping away of these small Victorian senior schools in favour of the huge comprehensives, so colossal that although probably educationally sound it is unlikely a twelve year old lad will ever again have the magical thrill of seeing his name on the first eleven team sheet.

Inter school football had generally been suspended during the war and even after the war non-essentials such as footballs and football kit could only be obtained on ‘permit’ and permits were as hard to land as rocking horse dung.  This meant that unless footballs and football gear had been stored since before hostilities had begun then improvisation was a necessity.

Our improvisation was to elect to play in white.  This allowed the lads to use their own white shirts when playing for the school team. Not all lads managed to get hold of a pair of proper football boots either and were forced to revert to playing in ordinary black working boots. In spite of this rag tag outfitting I recall with fondness those who formed that first post war school football team in their white shirts and sugar bag blue shorts.

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Those lads were giants in our eyes.  I don’t think they won many matches, we were a particularly small school even for the day, but it seemed their charisma as well as their boots were hard to fill.   Should I meet any of that old team, now well into their sixties – I always try to mention how they were our heroes which invariably brings a glow of pride to their cheeks.

Eventually we did manage to obtain some proper football jerseys and treated  them like gold.  I think this was after a fund rising campaign.  They were green with lace up fronts.  The girls made it a project in their sewing class to sew a red ‘V’ onto each jersey accompanied by a monographic ‘SH’ for St Hilda’s

Because changing accommodation was almost universally un-available on school playing fields we were allowed to wear the football jerseys to school on the day of a match.  Odd lads could be seen dotted around different classrooms proudly wearing the green jersey with the red ‘V’.  Some seemed to drag it out to wearing the jersey to school for a week before the teacher had to tell them off.  Visits to all away fixtures were undertaken by public transport. Few teachers aspired to cars before 1950. Once at the pitch we had to leave our togs on the grass, rain or shine and often had to travel home on the bus with clothes dripping wet.

It seems that schools traditionally kept the same style and colour jerseys year after year – perhaps this made more economical sense in that they could replace the odd worn jersey rather than replace a full set. It also had the effect of setting a tradition, an expectation of

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what was in store when you saw that particular jersey. For instance I recall St Mary’s

played in all green, Coldcoates in green with red sleeves and Osmondthorpe in all red. Squares were very popular, Ellerby Lane played in red and white squares, Corpus Christie in light blue and dark blue squares and Victoria in blue and gold squares which were extra glamorous being near to the blue and gold halves sported by Leeds United at the time.

Numerous school football competitions were on going for Leeds schools at the time.  Those that come to mind are: The Meadow Cup, the Teachers Shield, the Denmark trophy, the Daily Dispatch Shield and perhaps the most prestigious, The Schools Cup, the final of which was played at Elland Road, every lad’s dream.  The Catholics had an additional competition: The Bishop’s Cup which produced many hard fought finals between St Mary’s and St Charles’

I recall Osmondthorpe winning, in addition to the Leeds schools trophies the Yorkshire Cup in the 1940s and understand that Stourton a tiny school just south of the river, swept the field of all the Leeds school trophies year after year in the 1930s. Finally one year to become all England School Champions.

As the school years roll by a close knit relationship develops among the group of lads and lasses destined to spend their whole school life together from start to finish from (age five to age fifteen) without the hindrance of moves to middle, or senior schools etc.  The girls develop from bairns to beauties and the lads gel together in a good climate of Esprit de corps.

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At age eleven a loss is sustained to the whole as the brightest half dozen or so in each year are successful in passing their eleven plus examination and leave the comfort of those small Victorian schools to become elevated to the larger secondary or private schools.     Alas I did not number among these successful students, but would have been proud to have sported the brown and gold blazer of Cockburn, the royal blue of the Central High, navy blue of West Leeds or the red and black of Leeds Modern at Lawnswood.  Not to mention the green and black of Roundhay High School that seemed to be outside our catchment area and of course the numerous private schools.  The girls of Ralph Thoresby (all girl’s school) looked good in their maroon.

No doubt the successful students who embarked on life in these schools of higher education have their own tales to tell.  I can only relate the story of we who were left, generally destined to be the ‘factory fodder’ of the next generation, with no opportunity to take the School Certificate which was the then gateway to university.  No chance to learn a foreign language, work out in a gym or compete in the ‘House’ teams of which they talked so enthusiastically.

There were compensations: no new big informal schools to break in with associated new smells and hundreds of new faces. No homework either – but not, thankfully, no hope!

In my personal opinion our teachers never gave up on us. They were a continuing inspiration for which I am eternally grateful. and I am only saddened by the fact that by the time I realised this they were all gone and I will never be able to thank them for igniting in me and I imagine many others, a love and thirst for knowledge.

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Generally it is true to say, that our teachers were, for better or worse, stricter disciplinarians than their modern successors.  One has to remember that they were either Victorians themselves or had been educated by those who were.  In addition they had suffered the rigours of two world wars.  With this in mind it is not hard to understand that the world was a harsher place in the 1950s/60s and expected different standards of behaviour than we do today.

In view of this transgressors expected and received the cane.  This seems to be a horrific way of administering punishment to twenty-first century society, but for us it was no big thing, one would normally have preferred to face the cane than miss a sports session given the choice. Life has many hardships in store and taking the cane might well be seen as preparing for this.  If you could take your punishment without rancour then your stock rose with both teacher and peers. Sometimes a teacher would congratulate a boy for taking his punishment like a man. (Girls were spared the cane)   In fact the cane was only a problem for those who made a fuss about it!

There were other compensations too for staying on at those old Victorian schools, not least playing great inter schools football (many of the high schools played rugby union) and perhaps even trying out for Leeds City Boys.  Better still the chance to spend a week at the Leeds schools camp at Langbar, near Ilkley. Where one could become a blue-eyed boy or a green-eyed boy at the dinner table, take your first girl to a dance (compulsory) and climb Beamsley Beacon, so becoming an honourable member of the League of Mountain Men.

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Eventually like all golden ages school days trickle away and the close companionship of schoolmates has to end.  Only perhaps to be re-kindled again some three years later for National Service.  Meetings now become rarer but a chance encounter with an old school mate or indeed any member of that old street corner society is a red-letter day for nostalgia.

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A Story of my Old School Hall

August 26, 2007

This is a little story of my old school hall at St Hilda’s in the 1940s

St Hilda’s School Hall 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOSTALGIA SERIES

 

NO 71

 

THE OLD SCHOOL HALL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE OLD SCHOOL HALL

The old school hall at St Hilda’s has had three tales told about it already: Eric Allen’s one about the old time dancing, Jean (Burrow) Lynley’s Swiss roll incident and my own previous tale about not being able to tell the time by the big Potts hall clock. The reason why the hall has so many tales to tell is probably because it was so versatile. Our first introduction to the hall as St Hilda’s pupils was when we had to get our heads down for an afternoon nap upon our reception into the infants or better known to us as the ‘babies’ class. Later it was our venue for assembly and when it was too wet for us to use the playground we would use it to march up and down – in serpentine lines: ‘The grand old Duke of York – he had ten thousand men – he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again – and when they were up they were up and when they were down they were down and when they were only half way up they were neither up nor down.’  I suppose it was the teachers’ chance to get us to let off a bit of steam after being cooped up in the classroom. You thought you were a real clever if you nipped from one line into another without the teacher spotting you.

              One afternoon a week we would have singing lessons in the hall. Mrs Duckworth would sit at the piano in her pale blue flowered dust coat, she would use the half moon shaped first aid box on the chair to elevate herself to the level of the keys. Miss Fewster would stand at the front behind an old wooden desk and tap out the time for us with a ruler. She would give us the key to start us of; ‘Mee-me-me-me’, tap–tap-tap. And we would be off, ‘Where have you been all the day Billy Boy, Billy Boy, where have you been all the day my charming Billy?’ Then she would spot someone misbehaving; say I was the culprit, she would shout, ‘Wood’ at the top her voice and bang the desk with her ruler. Mrs Duckworth would cease her playing and make some remark like: ‘I didn’t know Wood was a bad boy Miss Fewster’ and Miss Fewster would reply something like, ‘Bad! He’s darn right wicked!’ Tap, tap, tap with the ruler and we’d be off again: ‘I’ve been courting all the day with my darling, Nancy Gray and my Nancy tickles my fancy… Another favourite of the teachers’ was: A shepherdess was watching – ding dong – ding dong – ting-a-ling – ding dong, her flocks the whole night long – ding dong. We cleverly managed to substitute one of the ‘ding dongs’ for ‘stink bomb’. Occasionally the teachers’ would be really ambitious and have half of us singing: ‘row, row, row your boat;’ and then as we went on to sing: ‘gently down the stream,’ the other half would begin with, ‘row, row, row your boat’ at the same time. Complete chaos!

            If you behaved reasonably well in the singing lessons you would probably make the group who had the doubtful pleasure of visiting the Belgrave Hall or even the grander Leeds Town Hall to hear a symphony concert. It was pearls before swine!

Later a stage was built at one end of the hall the site for future school concerts and of course the nativity plays.

            Regarding the Saturday night old time dancing in the hall: I had a nasty experience one night while taking a breather from my pathetic attempts at the: Lancers, the Dashing White Sergeant and the Paul Jones. I was sat on a wooden bench (they were of course the same benches we used for school) someone came along and said, ‘Shuv up’.  I ‘shuved’ up and a spell went into my posterior; I say spell it was more a stake fit to kill a vampire. I tried to pull it out but it broke off with about three inches left inside me. My dad had to take me down to the dispensary on the back of his motorbike to have it removed and remove it they did but I always thought that they had left some still inside me; sometimes it would prick me when I was sat in the pictures. Fifteen years later I plucked up the courage to go back to the dispensary and they got another two inches out of me, it was bleached perfectly white from being inside me for all that time. No thought of compensation then of course.

            The church held its bazaars and jumble sales in the hall and we manned the stalls: cover the halfpenny and ‘housey – housey’, bran tub. On Thursday Evenings in the late 1940s early 1950s the hall was shared, half each by the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. We with our knobbly knees on show attired in our corduroy shorts that smelt like wet dog when it rained and the Guides who always looked a treat in their white ankle socks, blue tops and navy skirts.

            The school hall will probably be a block of flats by the time this is read but I wonder if sometimes in the calm of an afternoon the residents will ever hear the ghostly sound of ‘tap-tap-tap-mee–me–me’. ‘Can she cook an Irish stew Billy boy Billy boy, can she cook an Irish stew my Billy boy?’

‘She can cook an Irish stew fit for me and fit for you and my Nancy tickles my fancy….

‘You! That wicked boy there! – Stay in at playtime!’…tap-tap-tap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Leeds of the 30s, 40s, 50s

August 26, 2007

Here is a delightful story of Ark Royal week 1941. The story is by Mrs Joan Elliott nee Dobson. I wish we had the Ark Royal spirit today.The Pantomime

THE PANTOMIME

 

By

 

Mrs Joan Elliott (Nee Dobson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PANTOMIME

My life in 1941 revolved around: going to school (St Hilda’s) and to the Easy Road Picture house on Monday and Thursday nights; these were the days when the programme changed. If we went with an adult the cost of admission was 7 ½ pence.  We were very lucky in that my life long school and after school friend was Vera Wood; she had a sister older than us called Mary. Mary was a very lovely young lady and talented in many ways, she was particularly good for us for she could take us into the pictures and act as our chaperone.

            School at that time was quite boring, Johnny North, our teacher, had been one of the teachers brought back from retirement to take the place of the teachers who had been called up for the war; he was far too old, must have been in his seventies and to us young ten year olds that  seemed absolutely ancient. Then we got the ‘call to arms’ as the saying goes. The city of Leeds had decided to buy an aircraft carrier: ‘The Ark Royal’. It was think time! What could we do to help raise the money; Save jam jars? Collect rags? Neither of these seemed an option, we didn’t get enough jam to make saving the jars worthwhile and we had lots of uses for rags ourselves; rag rugs was one (if you don’t know what rag rugs were ask one of your elders). Then one of the gang came up with an idea: we’d have a concert.

            At that time Frances Ladler, was producing the pantomime, Cinderella, at the Theatre Royal. That was the answer; we would do a copy of that wonderful show. Fortunately for us, the mother of one of the girls in our class was a cleaner at the theatre and she brought us home some old programmes left behind by theatre goers. At the back of Mr Wood’s garden in St Hilda’s Crescent, there stood a big shed, this was our property, or so we thought at the time – I think it really belonged to the railway, which ran along the bottom of the gardens. We spent hours in that shed, always busy doing something or other. From now on it was to be our pantomime workshop.

            First of all we had to get a cast together; there were plenty of willing girls but the boys were another ‘kettle of fish’. We managed to get Peter Dunhill to play Baron-de Broke and Keith Hobson was Buttons, Vera Atkinson played Cinderella and Vera Wood Prince Charming. I played Dandini. I can’t remember who played the ugly sisters but I remember that half our class at school were in there playing some part or other. From that very first day our lives were taken up with: planning, begging, sewing and borrowing old frocks to cut up and make into other things.   At this point it should be remembered that at the time the war was in full swing and not a lot was left; clothes and food were on coupons, plus anything of any use was taken up for the war effort but we were given lots of help by our parents and relatives. After a lot of fun and planning we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

            The next worry was: where to hold this magnificent production as the shed was certainly not big enough? The houses in St Hilda’s Crescent were in pairs and between each pair of houses there was a yard were the back doors of the houses faced each other. We decided that one of these yards was to be our theatre. We borrowed draw curtains for the bottom of the yard and draw curtains for the top. The scenery was painted on old rolls of wallpaper out of a neighbour’s attic. The stage at the top end near to the gardens was made higher by wood lent to us by another kind soul. I must say at this point that the generosity and kindness of all our parents, relatives and neighbours could not have been better, everyone by now wanted to help.

            On the night of the show chairs came out of every house. Mrs Wood’s piano was put under the window and Mary Wood was the pianist. In the shed all the costumes made by the girls taking part in the show were ready.

The show opened and ran every night for a full week at two pence for an adult and a penny per child. We played to a full house every night for a week and raised a grand total of £20 for Ark Royal.


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