Archive for April, 2011

April 1, 2011


Here are more of Dave’s great memories. Dave reminds us in his own inimitably humorous way of the great times, places and folk we enjoyed long ago in old East Leeds.



The railway was always a magnet to us kids and afforded ample opportunity to kill yourself or at least be damaged enough to miss a year or so at school. Walking across the bridge parapet near the Princess cinema was the most risky because a fall would have meant certain death. Even thinking about it now makes me feel very queasy but at least we recognised that it was extremely dangerous, daft as we were. One of the other things we regularly did but never really considered as being potentially hazardous was walking on top of the stone wall right down East Park Road at the side of the railway. The railway side of the wall had a reasonably level bit at the foot of the wall but this degraded quickly into a very steep bank of loose shale and then a vertical stone wall right down to the track. If we’d fallen off onto it and missed our footing on the level area, a screaming, scrabbling slide to oblivion was well on the cards.

Brian Cox once found a box of fog detonators on the railway. I think it had been lost in a locked-up shed near one of the signal boxes. These were round metal discs about the size of a treacle tin lid containing explosive powder and had lead straps with which to bind them to the railway track. The signallers used to fasten them onto the rails at pre-determined positions and when the trains ran over them they exploded thus informing the signaller that a train was approaching and how far away it was in the fog. So, we knew it needed a heavy impact to set them off and that the ensuing explosion would be powerful.  A high wall and a supply of heavy stones or bricks were called for and we found both – down by the railway of all places. One of the detonators was placed carefully in the middle of the path below the wall and we then took turns to drop the rocks onto it from the top of the wall. It took quite a few efforts to hit it correctly but eventually one very heavy stone did the trick. The almighty bang stunned us into a momentary paralysis but then we were off and running up the hill into the park hearing our panting breaths through ringing ears.

What, we wondered, would we do with the rest of them. Over a period, we repeated the exercise at various locations until we only had two left. One dark winter’s night, it was decided that we would use both of them together as a grand finale. We strapped them, one on top of the other under the cast iron leg of one of the benches on East End Park. We didn’t want to damage the bench – we just wanted to hear the bang. Ron Cockill and myself were the tallest so we stood either side of the end of the bench, hoisted it up to shoulder height and then one, two, three`d it up in the air to give us a running start. The explosion and accompanying flash were terrifying – we had a freeze-frame view of Park Avenue in stark black and white and never stopped running until we got to the Shaftesbury cinema.  A furtive reconnaissance later that night revealed a bench which was well past its best at one end, I’m afraid. We weren’t happy about that because that had not been the intention.

Bonfire night gave us the chance to buy fireworks and our annual chance to experiment with the explosive ones. Big Demons and the cheaper Little Demons were the favourites. We generally favoured quantity above quality but were restricted by lack of money and also rationing by the local shops which were only able to obtain limited supplies themselves. We discovered, for example, that bangers would still work underwater if weighted down and lit so that the fuse was fizzing before being thrown into the water. This produced a very satisfactory deep thud and was accompanied by gouts of muddy water so we got two effects for the price of one.

The most dangerous thing we ever did and, looking back, could have been lethal if we hadn’t been very careful, was the bike-pump projectile. We needed a tube for this and the most immediately available ones were our bike tyre pumps. We would dismantle a pump and bury the empty tube vertically into the ground so that only an inch or so was showing above ground level. The explosive charge was a Little Demon and the missile was a screw top from a Tizer bottle which was made of some hard material and conveniently had a rubber ring around it to affect a good seal. One of us would hold the banger into the neck of the tube and somebody else would light the fuse. When it fizzed, the banger would be dropped into the tube and the Tizer bottle top would be instantly jammed down into the top of the tube after it. When the banger exploded, the bottle top would be fired about a hundred feet into the air. We were lucky that the bangers never went off prematurely and that everybody was very careful not to get into the firing line. The bike pumps were mainly plastic and only lasted for one shot or at the most two.  I think it was a good thing that we didn’t have an inexhaustible supply of bike pumps and bangers otherwise, sooner or later; someone would have been badly hurt.

Chumping for wood for the bonfire could be nearly as dangerous as the fireworks.  It was amazing how much wood could be accumulated and we used to store it in the lavatory yards mainly. We made dens out of it so we could guard it against predators from other streets although I think that that threat was largely imaginary – everybody was guarding and nobody was thieving. We used to burrow into the piles of wood with lighted candles in jam-jars for illumination and stay there for hours. Occasionally, the pile would collapse in on top of us but nobody was ever injured beyond a bruise or a graze or two. One year, the Chappelow brothers, David and Richard and myself were down by the River Aire looking for wood and David had brought their Mam`s clothesline. The river was well swollen with floodwater and we were trying to lassoo pieces of floating wood from the river without conspicuous success. This big tree branch was coming downstream and one part of it was sticking up clear of the water. David threw his lassoo and incredibly it landed perfectly on the branch just like in the cowboy films.  He leaned back to pull it in and it was only then we realised that it was actually part of a whole tree. It dragged him down the bank, skidding, stumbling and making giant, leaping strides just to keep up with it. We were running after him as fast as we could go trying to grab onto him or the rope to help. This was quite serious because there was no way we could go home without the rope.  Eventually we managed to put enough collective weight into it to bring the tree nearer to the edge and it grounded. We couldn’t do anything else with it but managed to get the rope back off before it broke free again. We went home black bright, stinking of the River Aire, with no wood, very sore hands and a filthy clothesline. The last we saw of the tree was it sailing majestically back into midstream putting two fingery branches up at us. (I made the last bit up actually.)

Walls` Ice Cream depot was at the top end of Easy Road and we used to cadge pieces of dry ice (compressed carbon dioxide) from the storemen there sometimes. It was great to see it bubbling away and throwing off clouds of white gas if you threw it into water where it fizzed around like a firework. One of our favourite dares was to get a small piece and see how long you could stand the burn of it sitting on the palm or back of your hand. Bearing in mind that this was equivalent to giving yourself virtually instant, highly localised and intense frostbite, it was quite dangerous. I can clearly remember the little patches of yellowy dead skin which sometimes resulted. The worst bit was that occasionally, after you had `given in`, the ice would be stuck to the skin and you had to pull it off in panic – usually taking the top skin with it. Humble pleasures but our very own!!

We used to swim in the river at Collingham during the school holidays. We`d ride there on our bikes and lift them over a hedge at one point and run bent double down the side of a farmer’s hedge until we got to the river. Our Mothers would have never knowingly  let us swim there so we had to sneak our trunks out of the house – towels were more of a problem and many a time we had to get dry on our shirts or just wait until the sun had dried us off. At our favourite spot, the river was deep and powerful at one side and shallow at the other. Looking back now, it was potentially pretty dangerous but we were all good swimmers and I don’t ever recall anybody getting into difficulties.


We went everywhere on our bikes and must have been very fit really. The bikes weren’t the lightweight multi-geared models of today but they were our transport to the outside world. Wetherby, Collingham and York were frequent destinations.  We considered trips to Red Walls and other local spots such as Temple Newsam as being little more than a sprint.  Occasionally, we couldn`t resist the temptation to ride down Otley Chevin at top speed even though we knew we would suffer badly pedalling back up.

Riding around the `basins` up Halton was a regular activity. The basins were pits and spoil heaps from the coal workings which used to be there and had very steep sides. The trick was to ride down at high speed at an angle and pedal like mad to get a wall-of-death effect. Trickier still was riding straight down to the bottom of one and hoping you had enough speed and power to get you up the other side without falling backwards down the slope. These rides were not for the faint-hearted and most of us (me for sure) wouldn’t tackle the very deepest ones. I like to think it was because I was too sensible but, in my heart, I know it was really because I chickened out.

Roundhay Park was good because we used to race each other around the perimeter of the sports field where the ground was banked up like a racing track. Whichever way we went to get there, it was a long haul up from our end of town but going home when we were tired was easy because it was mostly downhill.

There was once a fad for riding on “fixie“. This meant that the gear on the back wheel – usually an eighteen tooth ratio- was fixed in position so there was no free wheel and there were no lower gears to help on the hills. This meant it was very hard work because your legs were under pressure all the time – even going downhill when you were trying to hold the speed down. It was a “macho, look at me, I must be good if I can set my bike up like this“ thing. In practice, you would have had to have legs like a pit pony to go any real distance – particularly if it involved hill climbs.




Mr. Hall was our local chemist on the corner of May Terrace. His emporium was beautiful – all polished wood shelves, counters and cabinets and, best of all, a huge clock which had an impressive, stately tick. There were rows of glass medicine jars with the various chemical names etched into them which were full of mysterious coloured liquids. I used to imagine Mr. Hall working through the night, muttering spells under his breath while mixing and distilling these ingredients into wonder cures. It dawned upon me over the years that he never actually opened any of them and that they were there for show. Although small in stature, Mr. Hall had an undeniable presence and his recommendations were sought as second opinions on the doctor’s diagnosis. When we needed written references for our first jobs, Mr. Hall, being the only local fully qualified professional with letters behind his name, would kindly write to our prospective employers telling them what pillars of society we had been and that we would undoubtedly go far in our chosen professions.

We also had Alexander’s Drug Store opposite the end of our street. You couldn’t exchange prescriptions there but it was well used for traditional potions –some of them old herbal remedies.

We used to buy Spanish and liquorice sticks there and occasionally someone would get a cinnamon stick which we would light and try to smoke like a cigar. The taste was awful and we would vow to never try it again but we always did.

There always existed a firm belief in proprietary medicines and most families always had a few traditional remedies about the house. During the 1940`s and 50`s, it was generally accepted that to be truly efficient such medicines must, of necessity, taste vile. Here are a few which stick as firmly in my memory as they used to stick in my throat:

Fennings` Fever Mixture.

This was commonly called Fennings Fever Cure. A must to help you ward off the symptoms of flu and colds. It was a clear, extremely acidic liquid which scoured the mouth and took all the shine off your teeth. Your cheeks would suck in and your lips would purse as tight as a miser’s money bag. My theory is that it was simply a well diluted acid which was supposed to kill off all the germs in your mouth and throat.

Scott’s Emulsion

This was supposed to be a general all-round tonic containing everything you would need to maintain a healthy system. It was a thick, bilious off-white, oily concoction and I don’t think it was ever proved to be efficacious because nobody could ever actually finish a full bottle. I could never accept that taking a medicine which made you feel sick every time you took it could be a good thing.

Pulmo Bailey

This was a potion for bad chests and was truly horrendous to taste. It had to be administered by a large spoon in one big dose because nothing on earth would have persuaded a small boy to open his mouth again for a second spoonful.

Seidlitz Powders

I always thought they were called `settlage powders“. They were sprinkled into cold water and fizzed very satisfactorily. You were supposed to drink them while they were still effervescing to settle the system down after a hard night or whatever had caused a stomach upset. In my case, they invariably made me sick.

Indian Brandee

This was an entirely acceptable medicine for stomach upsets. I think the main ingredient was ginger which had a warming effect but I also think there was a tiny amount of something sedative in there as well. It always made me feel pleasantly drowsy anyway.


California Syrup of Figs

Mothers in those days set great store by bowel regularity and intensively canvassed their children accordingly. Syrup of Figs was the mandatory medicine for any suspected constipation which was thought to be a root cause of many illnesses – “Got a headache / back ache / bad breath / stiff neck / sore knees??? It’s because you’re constipated“. It was often administered just before going to bed. Considering that we didn’t have inside toilets, this was not without risk but our Mams knew that the magic catalyst would be the first hot cup of tea next morning. It would be only a short time before the first griping pains would catapult you, bent double, teeth clenched, up the street to the lavatory praying fervently that no-one else would be using it when you got there. Many cataclysmic, seriously unhappy, explosively scalding minutes would ensue before you emerged, whey-faced and traumatised walking like John Wayne after a long day in the saddle. Mam would ask if you’d “gone properly “  which was something of an academic question when it was obvious that even the passengers on the No. 64 bus must have heard you and your bum was glowing dull red through your pants.

Friar’s Balsam

This was an inhalant which was mixed with boiling water in a suitable bowl. You had to sit hunched over the bowl with a towel over the head to lock in all the beneficial vapours. There is no doubt that it helped to clear the tubes a bit but it always left me with lightly poached eyeballs and feeling generally spaced-out.

Bad chests called for liberal applications of Vick` Vapor Rub or, prior to that, goose grease massaged into the chest and back. I can clearly remember being well baisted and then sewn into a protective, brown-paper vest by my Grandma. I think it must have been possible to buy goose grease separately as a medication because the words “ We’re having goose for dinner “ and my Mam`s lips were total strangers.   




Sloan’s Liniment

No doubt formulated as a heating agent to deal with muscular aches and pains, this was essentially fire in liquid form and would be applied as required whatever the ailment. A belly ache might suggest a soothing antacid mixture and this would be forthcoming but, if it was a bad pain, Sloan’s would be painted onto the stomach just to help things along as it were. Very soon, the skin would be virtually incandescent and that pain would supersede the original belly ache.




On a night-time, if we were down East Street, we would look up at St. Saviour’s Church looming dark and brooding high above us. The graveyard extended below the church right down to East Street and we would dare each other to walk all the way up the path and through the churchyard. To make it worse, we used to `dip` for who went first, second or whatever and then set off in the agreed order at one minute intervals. It was pitch dark unless the moon was shining and the nerves were jangling as you waited your turn. On balance, I always thought it was best to have to set off first because sometimes one of the others would hide behind a gravestone and leap out with blood-curdling cries just as you were passing. The church itself and the dim street lights around the Cavalier pub were a very welcome sight as they drew nearer.


This area shows up on old maps as having been brickworks.  It was a maze of ramshackle piggeries, hen runs and stables. I still wonder who actually owned it – presumably the Leeds City Corporation and what the `elf and safety` executive would make of it in this day and age. It must have been awash with billions of bacteria and germs of all kinds and I think we developed very useful resistance to disease through our younger days as a result.  It was a Mecca for us kids and we knew every twist and turn in the alleys. We used to creep up silently to peer through the boards into the piggeries and there would be hundreds of rats scavenging around the pens. One knocks on the boards and they would all disappear in a breath. My mam would say “You’ve been ont` quarry again, aven`t yer ??“ I used to think she must have had spies all over the place but, of course, she could smell it on my clothes.

The Shires family kept pigs and kennelled two or three greyhounds on the Quarry. Rick Chappelow was related to the Shires and he and I would occasionally help look after the animals. There was a makeshift wood-fired boiler there which used to decant into an old bath. We would pour buckets of old potatoes and other vegetable peelings along with pig-meal into it and wait while the hot water had softened them up – helping the process along by kneading the mixture with our bare hands which would be interestingly pale and soft afterwards not to say cleaner than they had ever been before. When it was ready, we would cart it into the pigsty in buckets with hordes of young pigs knocking us about all over the place. This was undoubtedly dangerous but we never thought so. To us it was just good fun.

Sometimes, we would walk the greyhounds down to Snake Lane and exercise them. One of us would stay at one end of the football field and the other would take the dogs to the other. All we did was then whistle them and they would race from one end to the other for as long as we wanted them to. It could be quite alarming at first because they often couldn’t stop in time and would bowl us over in the process. One time, I was taking two of them down Clarke Lane for a walk on my own when they saw a cat and took off after it with me still attached by two leather leads wound around my wrists. Let me tell you that two fit greyhounds can pull an eleven year old lad face down on the cobbles for a considerable distance without any problems whatsoever.


This was another hazardous location which drew us like a magnet. At that time, it was a dark, deep, foul, heavily polluted river which wouldn’t support any aquatic life except leeches which used to live under the stones. I think that even the local rat population would have had a hard time surviving frequent immersion in those waters. It didn’t stop us playing there though. One of the most dangerous practices was getting down to  the water’s edge and then climbing up the vertical stone walls of the various factories which backed onto the river to feel in the cavities looking for pigeon’s nests and eggs. You might say now that we must have led charmed lives but I think it was because we became streetwise and aware of just how far we dare go at a very early age. My Dad used to say that if you lived until you were seven in East Leeds you’d live `till you were a hundred.


Knossie was always a good venue for us kids. There were some excellent frog ponds during springtime and plenty of woods to play in. It was only a short distance over to Black Road so we could always do a circular route which was more interesting somehow. Down Skelton Grange way there was what we called the sludge lagoons. These were large lakes of water which came from the power station and were covered in a very thick crust of beige coloured sludge. This was deceptively dangerous because it looked pretty solid – thick enough to walk on even? When these thoughts entered our minds we were always well served by our finely tuned sense of what really was dangerous and never risked it. We contented ourselves by heaving heavy stones out as far as we could onto it and watching as they bounced and slithered to a stop and then sank steadily into the oozing depths.

I once remarked to my Uncle Walt that there were loads of wild tomato plants in the fields down that way and at the very end of the summer we would eat them when they were ripe enough. He laughed and told me we probably wouldn’t have eaten them if we’d known how they got there. By that he meant that the sewage works settlement ponds were cleaned out periodically and the residual gunge was spread out over the fields to dry out and act as a fertiliser. The tomatoes grew from the seeds which had, as it were, passed through the systems – human and sewage – intact. 





The areas where the old houses had been demolished we called “t`ollers`. Presumably, this was our local corruption of `the hollows“. We could do what we liked there – there was nothing to break and no one to complain anyway. Stone fights were good and involved building substantial barricades out of the old bricks and masonry to shelter behind. There was occasional collateral damage in the shape of cuts and bruises but I don’t remember anything serious happening. It was just another unconscious way of learning to assess risks without actually doing you a serious mischief in the process.


Pontefract Lane to give it its Sunday name. What does a small boy put on his wish list for a playground??  A smooth road with very little traffic where you could ride your bike hell for leather, fields to play in, fields to pinch rhubarb and turnips from, fences to balance on,  railway lines,  a good, broad stream with clean water and thousands of minnows and sticklebacks, ponds with frogs and newts, woods with big trees, an old Army camp. It was ours, it was free and so, in those marvellous, unfettered days, were we.


We often went down to town. I always snort with derision when people in the South talk about going `up to London`. Most often we would walk it taking various routes as the fancy took us. If we went down Marsh Lane way, we could enjoy the herbalist’s shop window where there was glass jars containing enormous preserved tape worms and other hellish parasites purporting to have lived inside some poor unfortunate person or other. It always made me uneasy when my mam used to tell me not to use too much sugar because it would give me worms. I used to visualise similar worms snaking down my throat hunting for the sugar while I was asleep.

After the herbalists, we could take in the horse meat shop just under the mainline railway bridge near the central bus station. The proprietor had obviously never qualified for his City and Guilds Certificate in window dressing and his offerings were always pretty gory. It looked like he had personally slaughtered and dismembered the horses on the spot as it were.  None of us ever knew anybody who had actually ever eaten horse meat – not knowingly anyway – so it always puzzled us as to who his customers were.  I recall one time when he had whale meat on offer but it looked like re-badged horsemeat to me.

The slaughter house – renamed the abattoir in more enlightened times – was just a few strides up from the bridge and was another regular port of call. We used to peer through the louvers in the shutters in the hope of seeing what went on. One day, our hopes were realised and we actually saw a bullock being shot in the head with the humane killer. It went down like a sack of spuds with a sickening thud and, in that instant, changed my views on cowboy films and guns forever. We were all very thoughtful for quite a time thereafter and the slaughter house was firmly struck off our list of local attractions.

Kirkgate market was next – particularly the bottom end where they sold pet animals of all types.

The hot pea and pie stall was at the end of that row and the savoury smells were torture because we never had any money to buy some. We always seemed to be hungry and, given the amounts of energy we expended every day, I don’t suppose that that is particularly surprising. It was very handy to be able to have a wander through the covered market when it was cold and raining. Free as well.

The City Varieties posters always interested the lads when we reached a certain age. It was widely believed that all sorts of naughty shows went on there and we never passed the entrance doors without carefully examining the publicity material in the hope (never satisfied) of a sneak preview. I always thought it must be a very small place inside because the miniscule entrance was sandwiched between tall buildings.  The first time I actually went to a show there I was amazed when it opened up inside like the Tardis.

Lewis’s` was always good for a ride up and down the magic escalators and an envious look at the American Ice Cream parlour where they dispensed unbelievably exotic Knickerbocker Glory sundaes and other ice cream delights all unattainable to us penurious young`uns. I always promised myself that, when I was working and earning, I would go there and order the most expensive confection available. I never did though – there always seemed to be something I needed more.

I was always fascinated with the demonstrations the salesmen did selling miracle kitchen appliances and other new labour saving devices. These were very popular with customers who would stand and gravely listen to all the professional patter but, young as I was, I felt that it was hard work for the salesmen because they got little feedback from their audience even when their products were performing their best party tricks.  I don’t recall ever seeing anybody from Easy Road buying anything from them anyway.


Our local bookie was Gerry Schofield. His betting shop was above the garage next to the ginnel on Easy Road. There was an outside wooden staircase up to it.  In those days, bookies were grandly called `Commission Agents“ and over-the- counter bookmaking was actually illegal.  That didn`t seem to trouble the local constabulary overly as I recall.

My Dad worked there as a part time clerk. He was a bus driver for the Leeds City Corporation Transport (Tramways he always called it) and was on permanent nights from being demobbed in 1945 until he retired aged 65 in 1966. He used to clerk three afternoons a week after a morning in bed and then go back to bed for a couple of hours in the evening before starting his next night shift at around 10 / 1030 pm.

My maternal grandmother used to like a bet now and then and had her own convoluted system of betting combinations which took ages for the betting clerk to write down.  Dad used to plead with her not to come to his window because she then felt free to change her mind halfway through the process just to complicate things further.  One very busy day – probably one of the Classics racing days – the floor of the betting shop collapsed and deposited several punters including my grandma into the back of a Bedford tipper truck in the garage below. She suffered a broken arm and leg injuries as well. She was then in her late seventies and she was still suffering from leg ulcers as a result when she subsequently died aged 84.  To my certain knowledge, there was no compensation of any kind which in those days would have been par for the course, I suppose.

The bookie had another office on Town Street in Bramley and my Dad agreed to work there for a couple of weeks while somebody was off sick or something. Unfortunately, the police chose that period to raid the office and Dad finished up being fined. I think it was after that that he decided that clerking at the bookies wasn’t for him any longer.  He used to make up his wage by doing “snivels“ which was what the bus drivers used to call football specials on Saturdays. The night bus drivers were given preference for these jobs because most of the daytime drivers would have been working split shifts anyway.


April 1, 2011