The Daily School Run

by

                                              THE DAILY SCHOOL RUN

                                                     By Eric Sanderson

Eric was able to walk to his primary school – Victoria School, York Road Leeds – but when he aspired to study at The Leeds Central High School he needed to take to public transport and an adventurous walk through central Leeds which helped to put him in the right frame of mind for the potentially troublesome day to come. Eric here relates his typical ‘Daily School Run.’ 

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From 1951 onwards, my school was located in the centre of Leeds. This required a daily journey on public transport and, as my home was roughly equidistant from the York Rd system and the No 62 bus route running along East Park Parade via East St etc, a good choice of regular, if usually crowded transport was available.

At the beginning of each school year, we were all issued with our own copies of the year’s text books & for the first couple of years, lock up desks were not available to us. This meant that we had to cart the text books for each day’s timetable as well as the corresponding exercise books. Woe betides anyone who tried to avoid bringing the full complement & share with a companion. Along with the compulsory hymn & prayer book, it was a heavy load so a ride was a necessity rather than a luxury.

I normally chose to travel by Tramcar, primarily because in those days it was cheaper than the bus fare. Taking the tram from outside Victoria school, the fare was 2d (less than 1p) from there to the Central Bus Station, the furthest I could travel for 2d. I guess today’s equivalent would be over £1 – some 120 times greater! The next stop, Corn Exchange cost another 1d and the eagle eyed conductors were always on the lookout for anyone trying to hitch the extra stop for free.

As the tram track ran down the middle of the road, passengers had to flag down the tram and swiftly move to the middle of the road, dodging the traffic in order to board. Admittedly, traffic density & speed was infinitesimal compared to today but even so, it could still be a little risky, bearing in mind vehicle braking systems were much less efficient , especially on slippery surfaces or if the day was a pea souper ,which was not uncommon at the time.

Some of the older trams still had an open front and rear on the upper deck which was not too friendly in bad weather, especially if you were trying to make a start on or complete your homework. These trams were gradually being replaced with the “London” type which were much more comfortable with upholstered seating, better suspension (giving a smoother ride such that your scribblings were less spidery) and much quieter. The 10/15min journey was a good opportunity to put the finishing touches to uncompleted homework, especially if this involved just cramming up on a couple of pages of The Merchant of Venice prior to being grilled  during Eng Lit later in the day. The trams swayed, trundled & clanged their way down the hill & at the bottom of York Rd, at the Woodpecker junction, they’d make an ear piercing, screeching turn round the very sharp bend before passing into Marsh Lane. I also seem to recollect a turntable being located here because the older, long fixed wheelbase trams couldn’t negotiate this curve whereas the newer, double bogied ones could, even if noisily scrubbing off half of the wheel flanges.

Dropping off at the Central Bus Station, after jumping onto the floor mounted conductor’s bell, I’d often wander thro the nearby old slaughterhouse, only occasionally being stopped or ejected and even at 8 o clock, the slaughter was in full swing.

I’ve often thought about my fascination with this horror & ritual but it was probably not dissimilar to that young boy’s experience these days watching Rambo slaughter half of South East Asia in a single afternoon, with the added dimension of the smell of fear & death. Now and again, a poor crazed beast would break loose and stampede around the place and this was a little scary, being the signal for me to beat a hasty retreat.

Leaving the scene of carnage behind to enter the Market Buildings, starting at the lower end which was the fish market. At the time, the Leeds fish market was second in size in the country only to London’s Billingsgate and had a trainload of fresh fish delivered each market day, direct from Hull & Grimsby.

A friend, who had left school early, not being the sharpest knife in the drawer,  had a job boiling crabs somewhere in the bowels of the market and early morning would  see him pushing a barrow load of steaming crabs for delivery to all the fishmonger’s stalls . I have to say he always seemed very happy in his task which he doubled up with a job as an ice cream salesman, pedaling the 3 wheeled contraptions with an ice box on the front, all around the district. Jackie was always good for a few minutes light hearted banter & even for the odd free iced lollipop for his old pals.

Leeds Market was the first place I ever heard adults using what might be called “industrial language”.

Somewhat naively, I thought bad language was the province of young men, probably because I never heard my parents swear in their lifetime, at least never in front of me. So to hear such ripe language in everyday use was a revelation & slightly exhilarating. Wandering along the “top row”, admiring the stacks of highly polished apples and other exotic fruits set my mind wandering to distant lands like The Sudan, Morocco, Spain & Hawaii that I feared would never be my good fortune to visit.  However, unaccompanied young boys were unwelcome in the market in those days, I suspect the stallholders were suspicious of opportunist young thieves & when simply wandering through, would often be told to “**** off out “in no uncertain terms. A police constable also patrolled the aisles & would similarly kick young boys out with a warning not to return. I always thought this to be rough justice as I was, for the most part, only daydreaming.

Crossing into King Edward St, to gaze enviously into J.T.Roger’s ‘bike shop, followed by a stroll up the County Arcade where there was a large toyshop, just above the old Mecca Locarno, & always worth a few minutes dalliance.

Many will remember the fair haired flower vendor who was invariably wore a long camel coat & plenty of gold jewellery. For many years he stood in Briggate near the Queens Arcade & when I passed, he would be just starting to set up shop. This gave me another opportunity to indulge my travel dreams by reading the labels on the flower boxes – Holland, Scilly Isles & even Lincolnshire sounded attractive.

For a salesman, he was never too friendly and even after several years of wishing him the occasional good morning, he would still retort with a rather unpleasant expletive. I made my mind up during those years that I would never buy any flowers from him & I never did.

A few years ago, I saw in the YEP that he’d died after something like 60 years of trade, mainly just around that pitch.

Onwards through Thornton’s Arcade where there was an exclusive fountain pen shop (it’s still there).At school we were only allowed to use cheap fountain pens or the old “dip” pens.  Ball pens (or Biros as they were then known) were strictly forbidden as they were deemed inimical to good handwriting. Still, the Parkers, Waterman’s, Swans & Conway Stewarts with their tortoiseshell casings & golden trim were rare jewels to behold.    One day!

A slight diversion around the corner would lead to the City Varieties showcase where grainy, black & white photos of Phyllis Dixie’s semi nude tableaux added a little spice to the start of the day but this could only ever last for a few fleeting seconds because passing adults would often admonish leering young boys for having “filthy minds”. I wonder what they would think of the sexual maturity of today’s youth?  

Woodhouse Lane was a little different to now & divided roughly where the St John Centre is now. At this junction was Rowland Winn’s Central Garage with a glittering showroom, exhibiting the very latest shiny new Austin/Morris models. It was here that I first saw the new “Mini” (I think about 1955) and a few minutes of mouthwatering window shopping was never wasted.

Past Lindley’s gun shop in Albion St (where a murder took place during an attempted robbery around 1952/3 & thereafter became a scene of morbid attraction for many schoolboys) & round the corner into Great George St (only Masters, prefects & 6th formers were permitted to use the Woodhouse Lane front entrance) for a short game of touch & pass or a final round robin check on last nights homework.  All in all, a great start to the day I always thought, but then it was into the fortress for a day of 7 periods of Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Eng Lang & other such less interesting diversions, all guaranteed to kill off a few more brain cells.

The Town Hall clock striking 4-o-clock ( it did strike in those days) was music to my ears when a rapid scamper down one of the central staircases , a swift dash down the Head row , with luck, would see me home just after half past four, even if a further hour or so of homework beckoned.

For several years, this start to the day, with a few variations on my route to view other attractions (including the railway station to gaze at the destination board & indulge my travel fantasies), was my usual routine apart from a short period when a serious fire at the school resulted in a temporary relocation to another school, but I never tired of those meanderings which prepared me for the mind numbing rigours of the school day.

I doubt very much if today’s usual ride in the car to the school gates is anything like as fascinating for most youngsters.

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One Response to “The Daily School Run”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thank you Eric, enjoyed reading that again. I did a somewhat similar daily journey to the Junior Tech Section of Leeds Central High, though in the years 1945-47 when the bus fare from East Gate to the Bridgefield was only a halfpenny. Sometimes I pinched an extra stop to the East End Park Gates when the conductor wasn’t looking. I remember we had a French kid in classes for a few weeks – brushing up his English. He was a clever kid and at going home time one night after a conversation in which I had used a swear word, he sought to embarrass me chasing me down the Headrow shouting “Farnill, what means bugger” I think the Junior Tech School was an experiment to give a chance to kids who didn’t make the grade for real high school and I think it faded away after a few years. I look back at it as a great educational experience.

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