Archive for February, 2009

The Memories of Denis Gudgeon

February 1, 2009

Denis remembers his early life in East Leeds – especially his fear of the swimming instructor at York Road Baths, Being fed cod liver oil and Richmond Hill Methodist Chapelblog-denis-gudgeon 

York Road Baths   (Dennis Gudgeon)


I came from Wakefield to Leeds in 1942 and attended Ellerby Lane School. I was a non-swimmer and quite frightened of the swimming baths. On Monday afternoons we went to York Road Swimming Baths. I used to dread them, the fear would begin to take hold on Sunday night and at that stage I would start to count the hours to the swimming lesson. I never told my mother, because you didn’t in those days, in any case she would have told me to get on with it and that it would soon be over. Time marched on and inevitably the witching hour would arrive and we formed up into a ‘crocodile’ and marched to the baths with the schoolteacher, Mr Holmes. When we arrived there we were met by a man who terrified me more than any other person did in my whole life, I’ll call him Mr L.

We were not allowed to change in the cubicles but marched straight into the boiler room, where we got into our swimming trunks. Once changed we were routed into the baths area where the smell of chlorine remains a smell that I have identified with fear all my life. Mr L never spoke, he just shouted, ‘Those who can swim, up into the deep end, those who can’t stay here in the shallow end.’ The shallow end was three foot deep and I suppose we boys were all about four foot six.  We were lined up at the edge, ‘Jump in’, bellowed L (I hated him but what could you say?)

We jumped in; if you were lucky your feet didn’t slip. If you were unlucky, under you went. No arm floats or anything as fancy as that, only L with a pole with a hook on the end. I suppose that was to hit boys with, certainly not to pull them out if they got into difficulties.

Once in the water we were all told to stand two yards from the edge and swim to the bars at the edge of the pool. Of course nobody made it and we all went under again. If anybody refused he threw his whistle at them. I assume he aimed to miss but how were we to know that? The boy he had thrown it at had to retrieve his whistle for him. Remember the water was three foot deep and a boy’s arms two foot, so there they were fishing about for it while trying to keep their heads out of the water with Mr L bellowing away. Nobody could help or offer sympathy we were all trying to look inconspicuous. Eventually the lesson would come to an end and we would have a reprieve until the next Monday.

One Monday afternoon we went and there was no Mr L waiting. Somebody said he’d had a heart attack. Boys started smiling and even talking. We changed, went into the pool, we laughed, played. It was great. Somebody said he’d once trained an Olympic swimmer: Doris Storey.  I didn’t know what the Olympics were and I couldn’t have cared less about Doris Story.  I do recall one little incident at a ‘lesson’.

We had all changed in the boiler room and were walking into the swimming pool area, when I noticed Tom Dubber, a very nice, intelligent, quiet and I suppose, looking back; a sensitive boy had still got his vest on. L bellowed, ‘Take your vest off’. Tom bravely said, ‘I’ve got a cold and my mother said I’ve got to keep it on.’ L said, ‘Alright’. And Tom kept his vest on for the lesson.

I learnt to swim; I suppose the motivating force was that I could become one of the boys who were able to go into the deep end.

                                                Apple Cores (Conks)

One of my Ellerby Lane experiences related to apple cores or ‘conks’ as the boys called them. Again this was about the 1942/43 era. People were poor, although I never felt poor and I’m sure there were many families worse off than we were.

I remember taking an apple to school and as I was eating it a boy came up and asked if he could have the ‘conk’ when I’d finished.  I said that he could, I knew he meant that when I’d finished he wanted the core so that he could eat the centre of the apple that I’d missed.  Almost immediately another lad came up and asked if he could have the conk I explained that I had already promised it to someone else. He then asked if he could have ‘second conk’. I said he could. To the uninitiated the lad wanted the conk so that he could eat what had been left after the first boy.

I look at the bowl full of apples in my home and often think what those poor boys would have made of it all. Times change!!

                                                Cod Liver Oil of Malt


My mother regularly gave my sister and me, Cod Liver Oil of Malt, in winter to prevent colds etc. I remember at Ellerby Lane, the boys on free meals (I always thought their fathers were probably in the army) being called up to the front of the class by the teacher, Mr Holmes.  He got an enormous jar of CLOOM from a shelf. He had them lined up and then went along the line giving them a tablespoon full from the jar. There was no such thing as washing the spoon between boys. Funnily enough the boys themselves accepted it very meekly. None of them seemed to suffer any particular ailments. I suppose they all immunised each other? Also I never remember any of the other boys trying to take a rise out of them; they accepted it as part of the norm.

                                                            Rev’d Elijah Green


Mr Green was the circuit minister for Richmond Hill Methodist Church, Bourne Chapel (and I think All Saints and Zion).    I have looked up the name ‘Elijah’ and he was an ancient ‘fearless Hebrew prophet’


Our Mr Green was wonderful, a friend to all, involved with all the familiar chapel events and the youth club. He was softly spoken and yet on a Sunday morning from his pulpit he could shout and rant and rave and preach, ‘hell and damnation’ to those who didn’t conform.

Was any man more intended from birth to be a Methodist Minister? His parents must have known his future even then for him to have been Christened, Elijah!  I remember having scarlet fever as a ten year old and being in Killingbeck Fever Hospital for three weeks. No visitors were allowed, not even parents but Mr Green came to see me dressed in a white smock coat. God bless Mr Green.

Incidentally, all I remember about Killingbeck, was having to drink a cup full of senna every night out of an old tin mug.  Dark brown senna pods – awful!


                                                Richmond Hill Methodist Chapel

Sunday afternoons were Sunday school. Nobody ever said; ‘Do you want to go?’ you just went! As I got older we also went to chapel at night. I always liked it; it was like an extension of my family. Even now, after all these years, when I see a member of that old congregation we have an exchange of reminiscences, it’s always nice.  The highlight of the year was Whit Sunday. The first one I remember was going on the back of a horse and cart. The cart had no sides and the seats were pews from the Sunday school. I think the horse and cart was Mr Fretwell’s (his son was John Fretwell). There were three or four of these carts and the procession went to a field in Crossgates. It was absolutely fantastic; we had packed sandwiches and lemonade’. The sun always shone and everybody smiled.