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Comments from the ‘Champions of East End Park’ replying to the book: Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew.

In October’s blog the question of the publication: Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew was raised and a few old East Leedsers across the world were sent copies for their comments. Of course if you haven’t read the book you may wonder what all the fuss is about. The author of the book, Bernard Hare, purports to be an ‘Eastie’ himself, born in East Park View in 1958. Returning to the area in the 1990s he finds: feral children, car stealing joy riders, drink and drugs, underage public sex, lawlessness and living standards of absolute squalor. Unfortunately, this book is finding its way into the hands of folk new to the area that are unaware of its provenance and think the area was ‘ever thus’

            I think Mr Hare’s book strikes us so violently because he is so detailed in naming the streets and places that were dear to our hearts hence giving  credence to his story: Mount St MaryEast Street, Batty’s Brush Works, Mount St Mary’s Church and Steps, (we used to train for football running up and down those steps), Richmond Hill, East Park Drive, Glensdale Terrace, East Park View, Accommodation Road, Londesborough Grove, East End Park Bowling Green, and the Slip Inn are all mentioned and his finely detailed description of his walk back from the Royal Armouries crossing  over that which can only be our dear old ‘Paddy’s Park’ to finally arrive in Glensdale Terrace.

            Perhaps we shouldn’t shoot the messenger but rather accept that we, who were lucky enough to be born in East Leeds in the 30s 40s and 50s, have probably created a utopian vision of the area when really it was just that we were young at the zenith of the generations and it has been down hill for everyone ever since?

 Here is what our old champions – all born within a stones throw of East Park –   have had to say about the book:

********

Wendy, East Leeds Lass, born in the Charltons, who now lives in Perth, Australia, has this to say:

Sorry, I just can’t read anymore of this book, ‘Urban Grimshaw,’ I was in conflict about the authenticity of the author’s story. I lived in the Charltons in the 1940s and my grandmother lived in the Ecclestone’s. I would cut through the streets mentioned in the book while walking to work at East Street Day Nursery in the 50s and I can honestly say I never witnessed anything Bernard Hare describes. Good writers should entice you into their story not turn you off at the very beginning.

I found the writing alienated me in the very first chapter and my mind was closed and resistant through the next chapters. I think the author needs to be seen as valuable. Perhaps he was overlooked as a child, and saving others gives him a ‘feel –good’ appreciation.

Sorry not interested in reading anymore.

Wendy said after that she had to put the book down and have a glass of wine.

The Slip

Eric, born in East End Park – travelled the world, says:

I have to say that I barely recognise the portrait described in this book and there is very little resemblance to the East End Park that I knew.

I lived slap bang in the middle of Bernard Hare’s described boundary and roamed its highways and byways for over 20 years. I can therefore claim to know the area pretty well

I would differ from his boundary description, it was much less defined than that and in some parts I would not go so far and in others extend further. For example I would consider the true EEP to be roughly bounded on the west side by the railway cutting so far as Ascot Avenue, then a line across Ascot Avenue, Vinery Terrace, Ivy Avenue Street to Skelton Terrace Road then down to Ings Road along to Osmondthorpe Lane cutting south to Neville hill Railway Sidings. People either side may consider themselves to be in or out of the EEP area but it’s a matter of opinion and there was certainly no rigid defined boundary.

It was never described or considered to be an ‘estate’. An estate was generally characterised by several features which distinguished it from the mix of housing which even today prevails in the area. An estate almost always comprised:

(1) Council/Social housing all of a similar style and construction (although   now there are a few private estates).

(2) All had medium to large gardens (mostly neglected)

(3) More structured layout with wider streets, grass verges and some tree lined avenues

(4) In general better facilities than many EEP residences, such as indoor toilets, H & C running water, indoor toilets, bathrooms etc.

The EEP area was never an homogenous area such as this with it’s mix of 19th century terrace housing, some back to back along with more modern housing, preceding any general understood notion of an ‘estate’ in Leeds.

I’ve never, ever heard the soubriquet ‘Easties’ applied to the residents or the artefacts (he refers to Eastie Curtains when describing shutters) {or perhaps could he be referring to boarded windows?}

The author clearly knows the area in general, most of his descriptions of the streets are quite accurate but some are not. For example he describes Londesborough Grove as tree lined. It never was and still isn’t. It was as he also describes, too narrow for street trees and even today has no garden trees. Even the lower part, which runs on to East Park Parade was wider but still devoid of trees ‘till well into the 60s but now has the odd garden tree on the east side. Nor was East Park View blocked off by the Slip Inn. True it was diverted but not blocked off

So much for the geographic content but it is the anthropogenic theme of the novel which is dour and depressing and portrays a community which is alien to that I remember through the 40s, 50,s and early 60s.

My clear memory of the area and community was one of vibrant, friendly, safe and relatively crime free environment. There was little anti-social behaviour and the streets were generally free from the litter and detritus. Indeed most houses took particular pride in keeping their own stretch of pavement and road well swept. The pavements were periodically swilled with water, brushed clean and the doorsteps ‘donkey-stoned’ on a weekly basis. Some rented houses were granted 6d a week reduction in their rent just for keeping the flags and doorsteps in a clean state.

Of course there was the odd bit of drunkenness and punch up in the pubs etc, but rarely, if ever the extreme violence which is so common today for the most trivial of reasons, nor the gratuitous profanity that seems to be everyday language by almost everyone. ‘Bad’ language was usually reserved for the tap room or the workplace and never in front of ladies or children. Drug taking was unheard of .

The appalling feral behaviour described in the book just wouldn’t have happened in those days. The parents would have brought the miscreants to heel and failing that so would the community. Although EEP is now described as an inner city area with crime rate attracting the priority of the West Yorkshire Police, it is the Glensdales, Templeviews and the Charltons which has the majority of the  crime. The bulk of the remainder is still a respectable working class community.

It’s difficult to believe the accuracy of the depth and range of the behaviour, it seems extreme. So much so, that I wonder if the author has used the technique of many authors. They take scenes of unconnected events and people, weaving them into a composite picture to try and portray a reality. It may well be that contemporary residents have created their own ‘turf’ boundaries and glossary of terms but I think he has used his knowledge of the area to create a contrived and sensationalised urban story of decay, crime and social breakdown. Although it’s a novel, it’s presumably intended to portray life in the real but its gratuitous use of profanity, lewd and lascivious behaviour is, in my opinion, the only thing that sustains the ‘plot’ i.e. it’s junk.

Whilst parts of the area are now undoubtedly dreadful and unpleasant places to live, unlike the days of yore I can’t help feeling it’s an exaggerated perspective, designed to sell a few books.

I’m only grateful the EEP I knew and remain intensely fond of is light years away from the Hogarthian nightmare described in this book.

Something else has just occurred to me that should have been blindingly obvious. Londesboro GroveThe book claims ‘the shed’ was located between Londesborough Grove and East Park View and that was where the chicken coop of my friend, JT’s grandparents lived. Those houses had quite big gardens and the coop was big enough to hold a few of us from time to time.

John: an East Leeds lad who had a career spanning the continents before retuning to Leeds has this to say:

It wasn’t the easiest of reads – I could only manage a chapter at a time: drugs, thieving, car burning, glue sniffing were never part of my life – or my peers. What a sheltered lot we were.

I’m not sure if this makes sense but the reading of it gave me a feeling of claustrophobia, hemmed in and uncomfortable, hence one chapter at a time.

I left East End Park in 1964 and returned toYorkshire in November 2001.

I cannot equate with the people or portrait of lifestyles. The Svengali/Fagin character, who I assume was the author, was unrealistic in that context. He writes well but unconvincing. It’s not theEast Leeds I recognise.

*********

Audrey Lived in Charlton Place – now long time removed to Brisbane. She observed a general deterioration of the district when she returned for her father’s funeral in 1987. Audrey concurs nearest to Bernard Hare’s description of the old district.

          Unfortunately, I can relate to how some kids have been abandoned, Not abandoned as in left on the road side but left to their own devices with no structure whatsoever. In our day neighbours would step in and give kids a bath and a meal or take them in when their parents were having a fight. Charlton PlaceThere are so many ‘do-gooders’ quoting rules but not prepared to roll up their sleeves and take charge and the kids are left to flounder along spiralling out of control. No matter where you live there is an area of survival of the fittest which turns into ghettos of squalor. In 1987 my mam still lived in Charlton Place. I was there for Dad’s funeral. Only about three houses had the same long term occupants I remembered when I lived there.  I don’t know how much rent Mother paid but it must have been cheaper than most areas as almost everyone was on the dole or some welfare payment. I was upset at the state of the houses with their grimy appearance. Mum had a window cleaner who came once a week she was the only one in the street he cleaned for

If the area had been in BrisbaneI would have avoided it like the plague. Strangely I didn’t feel any fear at all. At that stage I had to use a walking stick to get around but I still didn’t feel vulnerable but I wouldn’t have left a car parked outside overnight as I fear it wouldn’t have had its wheels in the morning.

All the shops were still operating but had wooden padlocked shutters over the windows after closing up.  The streets were extremely quiet after dark, no sound of people walking home from the pub or chip shop. I found it eerie. About twelve months later my brothers got Mum a unit down near Upper Accommodation Road, somewhere round about The Yorkshire Penny bank and The Hampton Pub. It was units for elderly people. My brothers said it was safer as the Charltons had become like a war zone. What is the answer to the problem? EDUCATION, its no good blaming society. Everyone is responsible. Don’t be afraid to stand up and have a say. Make those who have the power to alter things take notice of what you have to say.

Doug: born in the Glensdale Terrace in the 1930s and now lives near Adelaide, Australia

As for Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew I don’t know where my feelings end up.Glensdale Terrace It seems to pretend to be autobiographical, with Bernard Hare talking about himself. But, while he certainly writes as an insider to that culture, it doesn’t seem credible to me that a grown man in his thirties would join such a young bunch as the shed crewers. If it is really true, it is equally incomprehensible that he wasn’t lynched somewhere along the line for being a ‘nonce’. Whether he was innocent or not it would have been hard for him to avoid accusation.

But even as fiction from an insider it paints a depressing picture. I can believe there are pockets of such deprivation and sub-culture, but it’s harder to believe that it would be widespread over an entire district. We have pockets of extreme ‘delinquency’ here in some suburbs ofAdelaide. The gang of 49 is currently at war with society, with car thefts and ram raids, only the other day there was an abduction if a mother and child. The police know them, the courts have put them away in prison for periods but as soon as they have served their time they repeat the offences. Sadly they are mostly drop outs from school, from families absent of parents, and no hope of future other than what stunts they can pull and where they can get their next fix. So I can fully believe there are such pockets in Leeds and in East End Park.

Again I link back to your memoir. We were lucky to be part of a social class that had a positive culture. Though lowish in the social pecking order we were encouraged to finish school and do apprenticeships. As a youth I really cared about the impressions that the good citizens of Glensdale Terrace had about me. We were poor but decent. How awful that the whole fabric of socialisation has crashed for these young people.

Whether it is appropriate to blame Maggie Thatcher and those she represents, I do not know. But something essential has been stripped from society. People have to have a sense of future. If they are continually belted byBabylonthey will sink to the depths of this poor bunch unactualised kids, who in the postscript are not doing too well as adults either.

There is a sense of approval that the author seems to bestow on his own efforts and on the kind of integrity and loyalty to each other that these kids have. I’m sorry I can’t endorse that approval. Sigmund Freud (whose views I do not always subscribe to) once wrote that each new generation of children is like an invasion of the barbarians and it is the duty of parents and societies to socialise them and bring them under control Somehow, socialisation has failed. Somehow the id has to be brought under the control of the ego and superego.

Authoritative parents, good education, and prospects of some kind of respectable work, have to be reinstated.

Well at least Mr Hare has given us a talking point. Perhaps he will reply with a comment on this site?

East End Park

                                  

               

                                       

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8 Responses to “”

  1. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Great comments from Wendy, Audrey, Doug & John.
    I had to laugh at Wendy needing the odd glass to calm her down and John only being able to stomach one chapter at a time.
    Thoughtful comments (as usual) from Doug, as well as Audrey with her forthright views.
    General consensus seems to be that it’s light years away from the EEP that we all knew, thank goodness

  2. Bernard Finn (Bernie Says:

    I am indebted to Wendy, Audrey, Pete, Doug and John for putting my thoughts into words, I concur and endorse everything you say.
    As Eric states the EEP area depicted in the depressing book Urban Grimshaw is light years away from the area as we knew or remember it, I confess I couldnt finish it.
    Memories can be garnished and Pete rightly tables the thought for fair debate in asking the question “could we have created a utopia that wasnt real”. For me that certainly is not so because I simply had something or somewhere to compare with it.
    I was born 1st July 1940 at 39 Glensdale Street. Due to some domestic problems within the the family we exchanged residences with some other members of our family and we ended up living in Gibson Street, Burmantofts….now that was a culture shock for an impressionable 13 year old, even then it was an area that would make Urban Grimshaw pale in comparison.
    I was fortunate to have carried on my schooling at Victoria and so retained my attachment to my friends of the area, it is there I would spend most of my leisure time. That continued into my 20s the Slip Inn being the focal point by then rather than the Park.
    So I can say I was a East Leedser by birth but also importantly by choice.
    Sure we had a few villains in the area, some even a little worse than being loveable rascals but it was never a place where you walked in fear. Quite the contrary for me in my teens a haven, thank goodness our residency in Burmantofts only lasted a couple of years.
    One piece of trivia I recall that has a bearing on teenage behaviour in our day was the screening of the film Blackboard Jungle at the Princess Cinema. Many will remember it for its famouse theme music Rock Around The Clock. It was seen as an excuse for teen riots and vandalism when it was shown. Many cinemas would not show it for fear of trouble, this would have been about 1957 I think.
    Im sure many would remember the Princess was packed that night and just prior to the film starting the light came on so everyone could see the Police filing in to form a line at the back.
    No riots, no vandalism there or in the streets after, just a lot of kids singing along. The only activity seemed to be from a couple of young policemen gyrating to the music..no nasty Easties there.
    After spending halfe my life in Australia I returned to the UK in 2003 and one of the first things I did was to take a nostalgic walk around the area and the Park, I found pockets of new developments around but oh what a joy it was to find so much of my old stomping ground still intact and as was.
    I have taken that same walk several times since and its always a pleasure, sure some parts are now a bit seedy but the wonderful memories always flow back from every street,they were good times.
    Yes Eric light years away from Urban Grimshaw and the Easties, who ever they were or came from.
    The Burmantofts I knew is long gone…no tears for that. But I do now wonder where all the people went, could some some have migratwd to the EEP area and become the Easties?.
    No offence intended to the current residents of the area I have stopped and talked with many really nice and helpfull people during my walks there.
    Bernie.
    (Bernard Finn)

  3. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Good post Bernie and a very good point where you ask if we’ve created, in our minds, some imaginary place of great peace and bliss. Like you, I don’t think so but it would be interesting to ask the question of our peers – what exactly is it that we feel is so special about our area & time?. What is the glue which keeps fabric of those times so intact that so many keep getting together to renew old friendships and memories?.

  4. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Typo – last sentence – “What is the glue which keeps THE fabric “etc —

    • Bernard Finn (Bernie Says:

      Still pondering on that Eric.
      Credit to parents, the generation before us must be important. Coupled maybe with the welding together of the community during the tribulations they shared in the war years.
      But though those two factors must be important ingrediants they dont make it unique do they? I wouldnt think so anyway .
      There must be some other factors, like you I hope we can get some responce from our peers while we ponder on.
      If we find out what it is maybe we could bottle it and make a fortune.
      Bernie

      • Eric Sanderson Says:

        Yep, you’re right, there must be something else. Maybe we should take out a patent, just in case. To plagiarise Del Boy Trotter – ” this time next year we could be millionaires”

  5. Bernard Hare Says:

    The book bears no relation to my childhood memories either. Things must have changed.

  6. David Stewart Says:

    “I would cut through the streets mentioned in the book while walking to work at East Street Day Nursery in the 50s and I can honestly say I never witnessed anything Bernard Hare describes.”

    That’s cos the book is based on the late 1990s.

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