Archive for November, 2010

Memories of Growing up in East Leeds by Frank Shires

November 14, 2010

Memories of Growing up in East Leeds (Frank Shires)

Frank remembers his early life in East Leeds in the 1930s/40s: the street games, the ‘black-out’ the ‘knocker-ups’ and particularly the air raids. I love his great little tale of – how, when the sirens went off for the first time, one father soaked all the bed clothes in the bath to seal up the doors and windows in case of a gas attack. When the all-clear sounded there were no dry clothes to put back on the beds.

                              Of course no one really knew what to expect from  an air raid.


When you think back to life in those back-to-back streets of East Leeds it makes you appreciate how the quality of life has changed since the days of the 1930s and 1940s. Television, DVDs, ‘fridges, family cars, mobile and even hand held telephones were unheard of. However I am not sure that the luxuries enjoyed by the youth of today contributes to a happier life! Certainly my early memories are full of fun and good times when we largely made out own entertainment.

Playing marbles or ‘taws’ as we called them on the ‘oller’. The oller was a small rectangle of rough ground facing onto Easy Road at the end of Archie Place and Dial Terrace. Legend said that at one time it had been a builder’s yard.

Having mischievous ‘doggie’ nights when, along with a group of contemporaries, we played practical jokes on the houses in the area. The blackout was a great help. During the war years (1939-1945) there were no streetlights and houses were banned from showing any light after dark. The resulting blackness was a great aid to our nefarious activities. Unlike modern times our pranks were never malicious.

In the warm weather we made gas tar balls from the sticky black substance, which oozed up between the cobblestones of our streets. There was always trouble when you went home with it sticking to your clothes. Then there was playing football, cricket, French cricket, kick out ball and rounders in the street ‘openings. Yes, happy times indeed. To understand what ‘openings’ were you have to understand the topography of the back-to-back streets of houses. They were usually arranged in blocks of eight or four. Between each block there was a small block of toilets – 1 toilet to each 2 houses. The toilet blacks were separated from the houses by ‘passages’, which also gave access to the dustbins, stored between 2 blocks of 4 toilets – toilets and dustbins under one roof. At the other end of each block of 8 houses and before the next block started was an opening, which occupied the same area as 2 passages and the small toilet/dustbin block. Sometimes the openings had 1 or 2 upright posts in the centre.

Way back in my memory I can recall the dustbin areas being ‘middens’. All the refuse was thrown through window into the space behind. When this was to be cleared the refuse collectors or ‘midden men’ had to climb through the window and shovel out the refuse. When this arrangement was modernised the windows were made into open doorways, the space behind was cement rendered and dustbins placed inside. Progress!’ 


We used to amuse ourselves by fishing for ‘tiddlers’ or sticklebacks at Red Walls in Black Road. I believe the official name for Black Road was Pontefract Lane and the Red Walls was a bridge, which spanned a small beck. Other sources of amusement was doing ‘duffs’ or dares around Black Road and Knostrop areas and exploring the ‘Quarry’. The quarry was what seemed a vast area with numerous  tables,pigsties,sheds,garages,ect.between the Easy Road Picture House and Clark Lane Methodist Church. It had a variety of pathways running between the ramshackle buildings.It was wise to be familiar with these pathways in case a fast exit was called for.

One of my earliest memories must be the local ‘knocker up’ I presume alarm clocks  had been invented but probable couldn’t be afforded by the proletariat who lived in the back-to-back houses in my street, Dial Terrace. Our local knocker-up was Mrs Connor who lived at number six and for four pence a week she who would rise early and using a long bamboo pole tap on the bedroom window of each of her customers until they responded. Good timekeeping was obviously more important in those days       


                             Air Raids


There is a tale about a family (Who will remain nameless).  The first time the sirens went off, and bearing in mind no one knew exactly what to expect, the father of the family ripped all the bed clothes from the beds and soaked them in the bath. Then he covered all the windows with the wet blankets to stop gas from entering. When the ‘all clear’ went, they had no dry blankets to put back on the beds.

            I have many memories of the war years. The ‘black-out’ brings probably the most vivid memories. After dark no lights could be shown and when the air raid sirens sounded local volunteers who had not been called up into the armed forces would patrol the streets to ensure the ‘black-out’ was maintained. These men were known as ‘air raid’ wardens and wore a broad armband with lettering to denote their position. Most houses had a thick curtain to seal off the entrance door from the rest of the house; this was to facilitate entering or exiting the premises without showing a light. If a light was allowed there would be an immediate cry of: ‘Put that b…. light out!’ from the air raid wardens, this was to avoid guiding enemy aircraft to the area.

         Moving vehicles had covers on their lights to dim the beam and point it to the ground. Gas lamps, which at the start of the war were the main street lighting, were turned off. It is difficult to imagine how eerie it was walking out after dark – a good knowledge of the area was essential as everywhere was pitch-black, you literally could not see your hand in front of your face.  Any shops which were open after dark (fish and chip shops for instance) had to have a suitable curtain to allow entry without displaying light. There were many black eyes and bloody noses etc. from walking into lamp posts.

            The public transport- trams and buses – had lace curtains glued to their insides to prevent injure to passengers from flying glass should the vehicle be caught up in a bombing raid. It was compulsory to carry gas masks at all times even when at school or visiting the ‘pictures’ as we called the cinema in those days. Thankfully, we never had to use the gas masks in earnest. Certain equipment was distributed amongst the houses in the area, such houses were identified externally. For instance, if a house had a stirrup pump left for emergency use, the letters: SP was pained on the outside of the wall. I have my doubts as to how effective the stirrup pump would have been in a dangerous situation as they were had operated to pump water from a bucket or similar vessel

            The cellars in our back-to-back houses were reinforced by building a brick pillar in the centre to support a RSJ across the ceiling. This was to make the cellar safer to use as a shelter in the event of an enemy air raid, in fact when the alert sirens sounded we invariably sat, suitably padded on the steps that led down to the cellar. That is all except my father, a veteran of the First World War, I’m sure he said he would only get out of bed when it was necessary. The only night he joined us on the cellar steps was the night bombs were dropped on our neighbourhood. I remember seeing the damage caused in Debt Street (Richmond Hill) and a large crater in the ground behind the Prospect Public House. And of course one of the bombs damaged and eventually closed Richmond Hill School. It was believed the bombs were intended for the nearby Marsh Lane Goods Yard. I can still picture the searchlights scanning the skies and the exploding shells from the anti-aircraft barrage attempting to destroy the enemy aircraft. For its size and concentration of industry Leeds suffered comparatively little damage from air raids during the war. I was once told this was due to its position in the air Valley. The resultant fog made it hard to detect from the air. Presumably the navigational instruments were not too sophisticated in those days.    









Evacuated from East Leeds to Ackworth

November 1, 2010

Evacuated from East Leeds to Ackwoth.

This month’s tale revisits the experiences of two East Leeds school girls: Mrs Kathleen Fisher (nee Lane) and Mrs Molly Browning (nee Smith) evacuated in 1939 from East Leeds to Ackworth, and their slightly differing  ‘take’ on their adventure..


                                                         Kathleen’s Tale

I was interested to read in the Yorkshire Diary (YEP) about children who were evacuated from Leeds at the beginning of the war and note they mostly went to Lincolnshire and the Dales. It made me think about my own experiences of evacuation – we went as a school group to Ackworth, just outside Pontefract. My seven-year-old brother, Michael, and I (aged 10) attended St Hilda’s Junior School on Cross Green Lane, Leeds 9. Early in September 1939, we walked down from school to the railway goods yard near the river Aire at Hunslet, with our belongings and boxed gasmasks over our shoulders. We got on the train and were taken to Lower Ackworth School where we were given a carrier bag containing, amongst other things, a tin of corned beef and sticks of barley sugar. People then came into the school and ‘chose’ which child/children they wanted – boy or girl, two boys or two girls but nobody seemed to want a boy and a girl whose mother was arriving next day with two babies!!

After much discussion, we were taken to stay in the headmaster’s house overnight (the house was called ‘Graystones’) and a home was found the following day with room for us all to stay together. This was the house of a lady who ran it as a private school and I think we were unwelcome guests!

            My brother and I had a long walk across the field to the village school and were glad to meet up with our pals from Leeds, we all soon made friends with the local children – but back in our ‘billet’ it was not so good. The house rules had to be obeyed, no speaking at meal times, no noise around the house, early bed (thought the sirens went occasionally so we were up again). My mother was very unhappy and took the three younger children back to Leeds. After as couple of weeks (most of the other children were returning too) but as our school back in Leeds was still closed my parents decided I should stay at school in Ackworth to continue my education.

            One morning I woke up to find I was covered all over in spots and wrote to tell my mum (no mobile phones then!) She quickly contacted the lady of the house who was quite cross when she realised I had chickenpox. I was put into strict isolation – away from the girls in the private school and life was even more lonely and difficult. A couple of weeks later I returned home and went to Richmond Hill School. This suffered in one of the air raids and St Hilda’s School was reopened.

            Looking back I think our evacuation to a venue so close to Leeds was an expensive mistake made in panic and to send children away from home to stay with strangers would not be considered a safe idea now. I have talked to some people who were happy and stayed with very nice families, all I can say is – they were the lucky ones!!


                                   Molly’s Tale

On the 1st of September 1939, with only a few days warning and not knowing our destination, we were marched in crocodile fashion to Hunslet Goods Yard to catch a train, carrying only our gas masks and a change of clothing. Before we got on the train we were handed a brown paper carrier containing a sandwich, an apple and to our delight some chocolate, which I still believe to this day was Kit-Kat or something similar. This was supposed to be for emergency but most of it was consumed by one and all before we arrived at our destination – Ackworth, near Pontefract!!. I was one of the older evacuees and had the responsibility of counselling the younger ones, who were totally confused.  I found it hard to hide my own fears.  we were taken to the local C of E school, where prospective foster parents came to choose who they would like to have. My friend (Mary Pearson) and I lowered our heads if we thought we were going to be picked by anyone we didn’t like the look of. It must have been late in the afternoon when this warm looking man and his wife for us – the last two left. We were later to discover that, as they couldn’t get there until late and wanted two girls we had been held back for them.

Mr Taylor was the caretaker of Ackworth Quaker School and Mrs Taylor was the cleaner. They were kind and jovial and we loved to go the Quaker school to help out and pretended we were posh pupils there! Apart from missing my mother and brother I quite enjoyed the luxury of being billeted at a house with a bathroom, as our home, number 12. St Hilda’s Road didn’t have one. I very much enjoyed the country life, picking fruit etc. One downside of the evacuation was that my best friend, Audrey Smith was evacuated to South Africa, which was a closely kept secret at the time because a few weeks earlier the Germans had sunk a ship carrying evacuees to America. I stayed at Ackworth until the following Easter, most of the other evacuees had returned long before that, some only staying a week.  I never returned to St Hilda’s School, which had closed because of the war, but went to Cockburn High School in the following September.