Eileen’s Tale

by

Eileen’s tale is a delightful little tale of life in East Leeds in the 1940s, including time spent with her grandmother in Knostrop New Hall and as a pupil at St Hilda’s and Ellerby Lane Schools.

Eileen’s tale

Eileen’s Tale

Mrs Eileen Ramsey (nee Tootle) is the niece of the legendary George Tootle and sister of Barbara who has herself written her tale in these pages.

Until I read the pages of this book I thought Knostrop was just my magic place and never realised there were other children like myself who understood the magic of Knostrop and the way of life of the community as well as me. Although Knostrop New Hall was a wonderful place for me the owners had left the property to rot and decay instead of the upkeep it deserved. Every flat should have had a bathroom, toilet and even the electric light was late to arrive although there was the massive Skelton Grange Power Station just down the road.  Why do they call it progress to allow small communities like Knostrop to be wiped off the face of the earth to make way for concrete monoliths? Lord Halifax had long resisted building on his land on the north side of the Aire. Industry used to be in Hunslet on the south of the river and the fresh air that the people needed on the north. What happened?

                                                        ******

This is my story. I was born on the 27th of April 1932. My father was Roland Tootle, whose mother was Charlotte Wright before her marriage. My paternal grandfather’s name was Christopher Howard Tootle. My first memories are of being looked after by my maternal grandmother, Ellen Maud Smith, whilst my mam, Hannah Tootle, went out to work at J.W. Plant and son Ltd (flag and bunting manufacturer), Elsie Crescent, Upper Accommodation Road. Leeds 9.

            My gran lived with her second husband, Thomas Smith. They had two children, a boy Charles and a girl Ellen, or Nellie as my mother used to call her and who tragically died of a mastoid in the ear aged ten. This is what was told to us when we asked Mother if she had only brothers and no sisters. She said Nellie was her half sister – she died in 1928 the year before my eldest sister, Celia, was born.

My maternal granddad Thomas Byron Holmes and Grandma came from York to Leeds seeking employment as they had a young family of six to support. My granddad was from Southwark in London and served as a soldier in the 26th Scottish Borderers. My grandma Ellen Maud Holmes had a position of nanny, at which she was very good. Granddad (Thomas Byron Holmes) was tragically killed in a freak accident at Waterloo Pit on the 8th of January 1913 aged 36 years. He had been working with another man on the surface, loading and unloading when a sharp gust of wind suddenly arose as they were untying a tarpaulin cover from one of the wagons; it snagged my granddad and carried him up to the wheel of the gantry, which took him round and round. When they finally got to him he was left in just his socks and boots. The inquest was held at the Irwin Hotel, Halton, Leeds. Compensation amounted to just £157. 2/- and 3d to be paid to his widow (my granny) at the rate of £2 per month. 

My gran eventually re-married Thomas Smith, who was a widower twenty years her senior, they moved into the big mansion, Knostrop New Hall, as caretaker and wife. Among their duties were: the collection of rents, upkeep of the interior, cleaning the upstairs and downstairs toilets etc, also the wash-house, hen-house and stables.  

A pony trap was kept in the stables and a gentleman would arrive with a horse, which was stabled elsewhere, and ride around the countryside in the pony and trap. There was a large weeping willow tree, with initials carved upon its trunk on the front lawn facing the lodge (better known as The Round House). I used to climb the huge tree and sit reading my comics within its branches and leaves. I would follow with my eyes the flight of birds into the thick ivy that covered the ten foot high boundary walls and then I would head unerringly and find the nest with tiny eggs inside, usually about four of eggshell blue. They were very high walls to a child and it was only when I was older and more daring that I managed to scale those high surrounding walls of the New Hall Estate and stare over at St Saviour’s Orphanage, where the children would emerge in a long crocodile with one lady in front and another behind.

            I had a sister three years older than I her name was Celia and somehow we only really got together when I was about three years old. She must have stayed with a neighbour while my mother went to work as a sewing machinist. Celia had an accident as a child after coming downstairs very early one morning and playing with matches. She had climbed up on a buffet and reached up to the high mantelpiece for the matches and her pyjamas went up in flames. Her screams brought my dad running downstairs but the naughty girl had slid the bolt on the downstairs door and it took precious minutes before he could kick the door open. He wrapped her in the fireside rug to douse the flames but she had to be taken to the infirmary as she had sustained bad scaring on her chest and arms.

            I don’t know why but I had lived with my grandma for as long as it was possible and I couldn’t pronounce my sister’s name properly, it was nearer to ‘Ceeley’ than Celia. I must have been a two year old at the time for I can remember my gran wheeling me up and down Knostrop Lane in a pram and then through the ginnel into Easy Road and up to Archie Place.

            It was Knostrop Hall that I regarded as home along with Grandma and Granddad Smith. My uncle, Charlie Smith married Ivy who became my aunt. Their first child, Brian, arrived and I had a cousin. Gradually I was taken back to live with my sister Celia and Mam and Dad in Archie place and began to attend Ellerby Lane Infants School. It was a really bad winter and when we were sent out to play Mam came to the school railings in the snow to bring us hot drinks of cocoa from a flask. She was more than loving towards us; she would give me a ha’panny to ask at the grocer’s shop at the bottom of Easy Road for broken biscuits for my morning break to have with my little bottle of milk.

            Mrs Nelson used to take the infants class and around two of the walls were little linen bags that had embroidered animals on them for us children to pop in our biscuits. Unfortunately for me I always forgot which bag I had put my biscuits in but Mrs Nelson wouldn’t wait for me to find them, she would clap her hands and usher us all out of the room at playtime no matter how hard I protested. Well, in my little mind I thought that was most unfair and I was also fed up of having to lie on a hard camp bed with just one grey blanket in the afternoons. So I decided not to go to school at all. I hid away in the passages and only joined the kids when they were coming out of school at tea time. My sister, Celia, said the teachers had played pop with her because I had not turned up at school and it was her responsibility for taking me to school. So my mam sent me back to my gran’s down Knostrop – or Knowsthorpe – to give it its posh name.  My sister thought I was causing her trouble and upset her, so any explanation of mine was unacceptable. I did eventually begin to attend school again and happily they had started giving us things to do in the afternoons to keep us occupied.

            I remember going for walks in a crocodile down Knostrop to the big house at the entrance to Jawbone Yard to see the monkey on its little stand and the parrot of many coloured feathers that her sailor husband was supposed to have brought her. They also had had a grey/white/brown/black sheepdog or collie with a blue eye and a brown eye {Rex}. Just around the corner on Knostrop Lane was the petrol station yard where huge tankers full of petrol would come and go. Grandma always taught me to walk on the pathway and listen before crossing the road.

            When I was back in Archie Place my sister and I would make numerous trips to The Premier Picture House down South Accommodation Road on Saturday afternoons to see Flash Gordon. The friends my sister had were: Teresa Towning, May Beckwith, Audrey Smith and Margaret Headley and they attended Ellerby Lane School. Jean Clapham attended Mount St Mary’s. Celia being three years older than I didn’t want me around her and her friends so I played with their younger sisters and my own school friends: Sheila Thrush, Maisie Wilcox, Dorothy Jackson and Marion Eastman. We bought two comics a week each and then we swopped them so that we managed to read them all eventually.

            When I was seven years old war broke out. Dad said it would begin with air strikes so we ran out and looked up at the sky but all we saw was a large barrage balloon. Then we had to practice putting on our gas mask, which we carried in cardboard boxes suspended by string around our necks. They smelt horrible and I couldn’t breathe down or up my nostrils anyway because I was a mouth breather like my mate Maisie Wilcox.  

            My sister and I were evacuated to Market Rasen along with lots of others. Celia and I and another two sisters who lived in the Cavalier House Flats in East Street were sent to a posh house. We were allocated attic bedrooms and after being scrubbed down in hot baths and given dry cream crackers and cocoa, with no sugar, we were sent to bed.

The house was owned by the misses Kelly and had its own orchard and lawns and a cook and servants. It was like living in a dream world, far away from all we had known. But the older girls were rebels and they said it was like living in a jail. They caused trouble and the Miss Kellys wrote to both our parents asking if they could keep the youngest sister of each family because we were the quietest. We attended church twice on Sunday and travelled in luxury in a chauffeur driven car with one, or sometimes both of the Miss Kellys (I think now it was probably a taxi).

            But no! Our parents would not split us up and my dad said Celia and I would have to stay with a young couple who had a baby daughter. They were Mr and Mrs Saunders, they were a lovely couple and I used to rock their baby daughter to sleep on Saturday afternoons. I was seven years old and I still couldn’t read but I promised to try harder if the teacher would try to teach me how to read. It was hard for me as I had missed a lot of my early schooling. Gradually though it sank in and I was over the moon it was like solving a very hard puzzle. It didn’t come easy for me because the classes were so big as a result of the evacuees, and most of the village children could read already, so the teacher just wrote things up on the blackboard and expected us to understand. what was expected of us.

My mum came for us eventually and took us home to Archie Place, Leeds.           We then attended Richmond Hill School; that was a great school. They put on a pantomime at Christmas. In 1941 the German planes bombed Richmond Hill School while we were sleeping in the cellar at home. We were frightened and Mam started taking us to the Princess or the Easy Road cinema just to give us some light relief from the war which was going on around us. We then had to attend Ellerby Lane School and as I couldn’t sleep properly on a night I often fell asleep in school. Miss Gibbins was the teacher in that all girl’s class. Then in standard three we had an awful teacher (we shall call Miss W) who caused one girl to wet herself because she would only let us use the toilet at play-time. On one occasion she sent me to see Mr Dennis, the headmaster, because I had accidentally broken my wooden ruler. He was teaching a boy’s class next door and I was so terrified, not of being caned but of being shown up in front of all those boys. I broke down a sobbed, but surprise, surprise, Mr Dennis realized it had been an accident and how dreadfully I felt about it all so he sent me away with a stern caution.

            Thank Goodness my next class was standard four and the teacher was Mrs Darnell, her husband was in the armed forces and we were all given wool to knit scarves for our soldiers, sailors and airmen. Ellerby Lane School for me holds memories of lads waiting to snowball us as we went out of the big gate.

My mam said that now I was going to go to St Hilda’s School so that I could take Barbara to school and bring her home at dinner time. Barbara was two years old at the time and I was eleven. That was 1943 and the war seemed far away from us kids but by that time we had become used to eating ‘specky’ apples, raw carrots, ‘tusky’ (rhubarb) and liquorish twigs from the chemists, cough lozenges were treats

My granny had us climbing the trees within the New Hall grounds and shaking down the fruit so she could store it for the winter months. While we were at Ellerby Lane School we had cooking lessons one day a week, I enjoyed that. We also used to march down to Joseph Street baths. Although Maisie Wilcox and I used to enjoy Joseph Street Baths we learned to swim at York Road baths after school. Then we were sent to the Dispensary because the doctors were doing a mass cull of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. When we came round the pain and the blood we had swallowed was horrendous. Our swimming days were over after that, water used to go up our noses and straight down our throats, that was something that had not happened to us before, we were choking and spluttering if we let our heads go under the water. Both Maisie and I were devastated. Maisie came to live in Cross Green Lane, so she started to attend St Hilda’s School too. Our teacher was Mr North. He wore a cap and gown and sat on a high chair at an Edwardian desk. Behind him was a bookcase filled with books and I enjoyed reading many of them. We could borrow them to take home but we had to return them for others to enjoy. There was no one checking the books in and out but we were honest and our parents knew what we were up to most of the time so we had to accept their code of honour.

            The one thing I look back with in sorrow was that some of the other girls caused Maisie and I to quarrel and we never really sorted it out satisfactorily and that makes me sad. I had another friend, Joan Hitchen, who lived across Easy Road; we called for one another to go to school together. Then she moved to Blackpool with her parents and little brother john. We also visited Easy Road Picture House together, regularly. Frank Sinatra had just started out in films (1943) he had a nice singing voice but from what we saw of him he was thin as a skeleton. It was four pence for children on the front seats, even in front of these were about six wooden forms where kids could sit for a penny at the Saturday children’s matinee. My favourite star was Mickey Rooney he played in a saga which would now be described as a ‘soap opera’ on television. In these films Mickey’s father was called Judge Hardy and Mickey had many different girl friends, one was Judy Garland. The seats further back cost sixpence and those right at the back for adults, nine pence.

            My dad had started a large allotment off behind Knostrop New Hall with the help of Mam, Celia and me. He had made a hut, greenhouse, cold frame and a lean-to shed for the horse-muck we had to collect from the stables of a funeral director in Lavender Walk, Richmond Hill. He had huge black horses and we paid him five shillings for him to fill our wheel-barrow with horse-muck for us to wheel back down Knostrop. I wanted to go by way of the Long Causeway as I didn’t want my mates at St Hilda’s to see me wheeling a barrow load of horse-muck. I was ashamed in case they would laugh at me at school because unlike me they didn’t have to work at an allotment.

            We supplied quite a few of our neighbours with food produce. I had a list of customers to supply in summertime with: lettuce, radishes, potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, cabbages, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers. In winter it was Brussels sprouts before the first frost set in. And we grew beautiful chrysanthemums too. Dad had us working all the summer holidays clearing the land and double digging the soil. He said we had to carry the stones away in buckets and pile them up inside the twelve foot walls of the estate. There must have been a well because we moved so many stones they piled up to within three foot of the top of the twelve foot wall. We could then look over at Farmer Allison’s fine detached house and the little ‘Humbug House’ close by. We could also see the ABC Houses further down the road. When the farmer came home with his big shire horses he would let them out of the cart they had been pulling and into the field beyond the New Hall walls and they would kick they heels up and run about in a happy way because their work was over for the day.

My Uncle Charlie was a soldier who served in Burma during and after The Seconds World War. I stayed with my Aunt Ivy and Brian for a while after my tonsillectomy, while she was living in the Lodge or The Round House as we called it.

They had a tiny black, white and tan rough haired terrier called Paddy. Brian and I were sent into the Hall to live with Grandma when another baby was due.  I didn’t know any of Brian’s mates and Grandma would not allow me out of the gates of the grounds to seek new friends while I lived with her. When Grandma was busy cleaning she would often send me up to keep Mrs Barker company for an hour in her rooms upstairs. Mrs barker was a lovely lady who smelled of flowers and talked and talked about her family who had all died either in the First World War or later. The stories she told me about them meant she loved them and didn’t feel lonely talking about them it was as if they were still with her. She gave me a book to read, it was called ‘Little Women’. I really enjoyed reading that book: Mrs Barker was a grand lady, she died at Christmas 1952.

My father’s brother, George, lived in the Hall too. My dad told me George had      been brought up by his granny and his father made him chop up wood into chips and take them around the streets selling them to householders to start off their coal fires.  Later I was told he had been blinded by being repeatedly hit in bare knuckle fights. He took in stay dogs for company and he would walk them the front lawn every couple of hours. He was a giant of a man well known to all and always cheerful in spite of his blindness.

My grandfather’s name was Christopher Howard Tootle and he had a mule in a shed behind Ellerby Lane School. He would get wooden crates and chop them up for firewood then get an Ellerby Lane School lad, I think his name was Ginger Rhodes but I was never sure, to jump up on the cart and sell the chips to householders as they drove around the streets.

Life was full of people, some relatives that you didn’t really know and some you didn’t acknowledge as being related to you. It was very confusing to a child, especially if you were always sent out to play if mothers came to gossip together, ‘Hush! The kids are coming in.’

I had to go up and down Knostrop to collect the greens and potatoes from the allotment for the neighbours because Dad was working on the night shift and Mam said I would need my own bike as Dad needed his to go to work; he was head shunter at  Hunslet Goods Yard. On one occasion when I was about eleven or twelve I was sent to the allotment by my dad at dinnertime and I nearly ran down a string of children who were holding hands across the road just around the sharp bend on Knostrop Hill. I raised my head and prayed to anyone up there to help me for in the seconds that I saw them I realized I couldn’t stop the bike in time. Suddenly a gap appeared in the line of children and I managed to get through but I finished up down on the cross bar of my dad’s bike and crashed into the brick wall on the right hand side of the road. A panic attack or an adrenalin surge stopped my feeling the pain immediately and I ran back towards the little children who were only about six or seven years old, they were dazed too, apart from one little girl who had started to cry, with shock I suppose, because I examined her and there were no marks anywhere on her arms or legs and I didn’t see any marks on any of the other children either. They must have seen me, grazed and bleeding from the wall, and asked what they should do now. I told them to knock on the door of one of the little white cottages and someone might look after them for I still had to carry on to the allotment and get my dad the cabbages he was taking to work and I still had to get his bike back to him in time for his shift. If only I could have got the bike going again but the wheel was buckled and kept catching as the wheel went round. My arm, elbow and knee on my right side were hurting too but I carried on. Upon reaching home I was more worried about what my parents would say about the bike. They finished up arguing, Mam saying that Dad should have made the trip down Knostrop himself and not sent me. He said he would have to catch the bus now or he would be late for work and he would look at the bike wheel later. So Mam said to me, call at Benn’s shop and ask him to make you up a bicycle for ten shillings. I already knew Mr William Benn from Knostrop Old Hall and his sons, Alf and Bill. Bill had a shop at the bottom of Easy Road dealing with bicycles, batteries and tyres etc. So I called in and asked him about getting me a bike for ten shillings and he said he would see what he could do as he knew my granny and knew that if I had a bicycle I could do errands for her. Within weeks he had a bicycle for me; it was a light blue man’s bike with drop handlebars. I thought it was a beauty and I didn’t mind it having a crossbar as I was used to riding my dad’s bike anyway.

I started working full time on my fourteenth birthday. My mam got me a position at Lewis’s on the Headrow in the town centre. Monday to Saturday with a half day off on Wednesday for the sum of twenty two shillings and six pence. I thought I was in prison! I had to pay my own bus fares, for my dinners and still give Mam fifteen shillings. When I found out that I could leave at two minutes notice I took the chance after working for three months there just taking money out of the little containers and putting in the change then putting them back into the tubes that used to shoot them back up to the shop counters. I told my mam that I had been working in the cellars, where they took all the money and at first we used to get a break in the morning and an afternoon break as well as a dinner break but the adults conveniently forgot about the breaks and we were too young to speak up for ourselves so I left there at two minutes notice. My mam was furious with me and took me down to Great George Street Junior Employment Exchange and I landed a job at Joseph Kay and Son, Accommodation Road, as a junior clerk 9 am to 5 pm with one and a half hours for lunch, five and a half days a week. They also paid for me to go to Osmondthorpe Night-School to learn typing.

At St Hilda’s School Vera Wood and Joan Dobson were in the same class as me and the twin sisters, Sheila and Shirley and the greengrocer’s daughter, Pat. As for the others I can’t recall their names only their faces. We were all in Mr Child’s classin1945/46. I recall a party at school when the war was over. Our mothers had been baking and spending their precious food coupons, there were jellies and custard trifles as well as sandwiches but I was appalled when the boys starting a bun fight after they had scoffed everything else. I thought what a waste of food after all that effort our mothers had put in and how they had deprived themselves of their precious coupons. I came away disgusted. I suppose boys will be boys but we girls couldn’t understand them at all and I thought it would be a long time before I looked at them in a different light.

About this time coloured plastic wire became popular at school. The girls would thread different colours into designs and made them into bangles for themselves. And I remember going to the St Hilda’s playing fields to play near the tennis courts.

Happy days!

It was disappointing to me when I returned to the site of Knostrop New Hall in 2008. I had hoped to take a photograph of that lovely old weeping willow tree but it had long gone beneath the concrete jungle.

So sad! 

Knostrop New Hall.

Drawn by Eileen from memory. On the left of the picture can be seen the northern servants entrance, carriage house, wash house, inner yard and backdoor entrance,

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3 Responses to “Eileen’s Tale”

  1. jantoots Says:

    Very interested to read this story, my father was also George Tootle – he was the son of Thomas Tootle who I believe Roland’s brother. My mum always said that my dads uncle George was a boxer so I was most interested to have this confirmed by this story. I have been unable to track down a great deal of information on my father’s ancestry so this gave my some insight.
    Janet

  2. Margaret Walters Says:

    Great to read these stories as Ivy and Charlie Smith where also my aunt /uncle Ivy was my mums sister and l also spent many holidays in the round house with my younger brother Arthur while mum and dad worked and when aunt and uncle moved into the big house too ,can remember Brian working on the farm in the holidays ,l was born in 1939 my brother 1942 .My mum and lvys name before marriage was Barker ,mums married name was Town .Margaret Walters.

  3. Jennifer elaine Harrison Says:

    Hi Eileen .Born in December 1947 ,I grew up in Leeds 9 .From the age of 10 I lived at Old Chapel House which was also my mothers [known locally as Dr Devlins receptionist Batey] place of work . My mother also married the Bill Benn you refer to in your interesting story. I also went to St Hilda`s as did my older brother Kenneth & sister Diane & my father John Bateman
    Jennifer Harrison nee Bateman

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