Archive for August, 2012

STRICTLY – COME DANCING

August 30, 2012

After the City Centre pubs what better than the dance halls. And who better to paint the picture than, Eric Sanderson.

 

 

 

 

                              STRICTLY – COME DANCING

By Eric Sanderson

 

 

 

 

                                  

 

Dancing and dance halls were a popular pastime , and for our group, the late fifties was the zenith of our interest. Obviously, this pastime wasn’t confined to East Leeds or it’s community but several  East Leeds groups seemed to attend these places at the same time around then , switching allegiance from place to place as their popularity and fashion changed. They were also good opportunities to meet & interact with groups from other localities and many new friends were made that way.

           

Saturday night was the favoured time when, with a few bob in your pocket and dressed in best bib and tucker, we sallied forth for a few pints to build our dutch courage and join the “Fishing Fleet” , that is, trawling for a suitable girl with whom to spend the evening in soft embrace and perhaps acquire a  “date” for another day.

 

I don’t think that any of us were really interested in the dancing itself as almost nobody chooses to dance unless slightly drunk, or insane, or both , do they? Nor did “Dancing in the Rain” create much inspiration to any of us yet we were firm believers that you should try everything once – except maybe country dancing and drinking Bentleys Yorkshire Bitter (BYB). No, it was the opportunity to meet the girl of your dreams that was the big attraction and here’s a few of the favoured venues that somehow managed to provide the glitz and glamour which drew us, week after week, like bees around the honey pot.

 

But first of all, it was usual to call at the pub in order to down the obligatory few pints of Tetley Bitter and acquire the requisite bravado & confidence . At the time, none of the dancehalls served or would allow alcohol on the premises, for very good reasons. The pubs had a closing time of 10pm and you were refused permission to enter the dancehall after 10 so it was a fine judgement to time your entrance so as to maximise drinking time but still make the dance. But in addition to timing, any overt signs of inebriation would prohibit your entrance  and so stopped your enjoyment of the last couple of hours, the dances usually finishing at the stroke of midnight. 

Our preferred choice of pub was the Guildford Hotel in the Headrow. At the time it was a  rather up market hostelry and we particularly liked “The Merryboys Bar” which had an appealing atmosphere in which to enjoy our couple of pints.

 

The first venue I ever frequented was Mark Altman’s where the resident band was led by Charlie Marcus , a Danny deVito lookalike who also played the trumpet. I recall this as a somewhat boring establishment and lacking the atmosphere that appealed to younger revellers of the time. Although well appointed, it’s appeal was to the more serious dancers and I believe it closed down in the late 50’s with Charlie Marcus transferring his band to the SCALA ,which was above the cinema in Albion Street.

 

This was altogether a more appealing  place to younger people, the entrance being up a wide and sweeping marble staircase into a brightly lit, large and roomy dance floor. There was a small “bar” just off to the right which sold well watered soft drinks in plastic cups at exorbitant prices.

An abundance of tuxedoed minders patrolled throughout to ensure the rules were obeyed and to quell any trouble which only very occasionally arose.

One the these rules was that only traditional ballroom dancing, waltzes, foxtrots & the like were permitted. No jiving/BeBop or Rock’n’Roll , which was becoming very popular with the youth of the day but anyone caught out was very quickly ejected, (although how you could jive to The Blue Danube I never could fathom). I think this was because that type of music & dance was somehow seen in those days as undermining the moral values of the time                    FORBIDDEN

 

 

The security men were also on the lookout for any sign of drunken or rowdy behaviour and I was once thrown out simply because I was said to be slurring my words, which is unlikely because I was never a big drinker, unlike some of my compatriots who were drinkers of Corinthian standard.

Nonetheless, many a good Saturday evening was had at the Scala.

 

Probably the most popular dance hall at the time was the MECCA, located about midway in the arcade which runs from Vicar Lane to Briggate.

Jimmy Saville was the manager there around this time and was just as outrageous as he was in later life. I remember once seeing him with his hair dyed into a Union Jack Pattern. It’s not uncommon today to see brightly dyed hair of all colours but in those days, it was really breaking new ground.

The Mecca also used to allow a limited amount of modern dancing which is probably why it proved so popular, along with it’s mezzanine which enabled you to have a birds eye view of the floor and select your next “victim”.

 

The MAJESTIC , located at the western end of City Square was probably the most up market venue, it was certainly the most expensive entrance charge. If memory serves me correctly, this opened around 1958/9 ,replacing the cinema after it closed. Again, no alcohol was served or allowed and it was a generally very well run establishment with plush surroundings, lighting effects and a resident band.

 

We transferred our patronage for a short while to the Capitol , located in Meanwood.

There was two reasons for this. The first was the Beckett Arms, located nearby which was one the few pubs in Leeds which at the time had live music. Mind you, it was a jazz band but, any port in a storm. Thankfully, for me at least,  jazz , like boogie woogie,  it got what it deserved and almost vanished from the scene

The second was yet another pub, the Myrtle which , unusually, used to sell a strong draught cider so you only needed a couple of pints to get into the right frame of mind.

An incident which is still vivid involved one of our group who’d perhaps over indulged in the high voltage cider. He’d managed to befriend a new girl and was sitting down with her in the seats which ran around the dance floor, when he was overcome by the gastric challenge of the near toxic cider and threw up all down the front of his new girlfriend’s ball gown.

It brought a rapid conclusion to a beautiful friendship and resulted in him being quickly ejected , the whole incident, I’m now ashamed to admit, causing much hilarity for the rest of us.

In retrospect, it’s not much of a surprise that success rate with the girls was fairly limited and that they weren’t impressed by the lurching around and sweet aroma of stale booze and fags. And it can’t have been easy coping with clumsy footed boys who most likely looked more like dancing bears than silky gigolos. Girls did seem to learn the art of dancing much quicker & more competently but, as Ginger Rogers said, “I had to do everything Fred Astaire did but I had to do it backwards”, so it’s no surprise really.

 

Sometimes, we would leave the Capitol early as there was a late night chippy just a few hundred yards down the road which always tasted so good after a few pints.

We’d then make our back into town and call at yet another late night chippy for another portion.

So Saturdays in those days were pretty close to being paradise , a game of footy, a few drinks with good friends and listening to a live band, the chance of a dance with a gorgeous girl and a double portion of fish and chips. Happy days.

 

The STARLIGHT ROOF was very popular around that time. It was located behind the Shaftsbury Cinema and catered mainly for young people, playing popular music and allowing modern dancing.

Although I never witnessed any trouble, it did acquire a reputation for such with a regular police presence and experiencing several  serious incidents, possibly because of the proximity of a nearby notorious pub and a couple of estates which were no strangers to such behaviour. I believe it had to close in the early 60’s because of falling attendance and it’s reputation for violence.

 

Some Public Swimming Baths closed during the winter months and converted the main pool into a dance floor by placing a sprung maple floor on to beams laid across the empty pool.

York Road Baths never did this but Armley, Bramley & Pudsey did, and possibly others, but they were very popular, well attended and we certainly enjoyed a good few Saturday nights at those places.

 

On one occasion, before going to Armley Baths, we were enjoying our pre dance drinks in the Maltshovel , a nearby pub. One of our friends possessed a prodigious appetite for the amber nectar but what’s more, he could pour it down his gullet as though it were an open drain. He decided to challenge anyone in the pub to drink a pint faster than he could, the bet being for Half-a-Crown (2s/6d). He had a few challengers but we knew just how good he was and he easily  saw off the competition, making himself a few bob into the bargain. Over the space of about 10 minutes ( about 20 seconds actual drinking time) he’d consumed more than my ration for the whole evening but, he was an extremely accomplished drinker.

Oddly enough, this didn’t seem to affect the rest of his evening’s drinking and he was one of the very few people I’ve seen who could properly demolish a Yard-of-Ale !.

 

Fairgrounds were often places where exponents of modern dancing could practice their skills, usually on the decking surrounding one of the fast moving rides where loud and popular music was played continuously.

There was one particular couple whose names I forget but they were really good at it, attracting many onlookers. I believe they both came from east Leeds (or Hunslet) and went on to take part and succeed in National competition. The girl I think later married a prominent Leeds Rugby player.

 

I had a friend who played both the fiddle and banjo ( although not at the same time) in an Irish Folk Band which frequently provided the entertainment at Irish weddings where many of the guests were enthusiastic if somewhat well oiled dancers. As the night wore on and the guests became slightly more refreshed, the band members would often have a bet between themselves as to who would throw the first punch  and he claims one or the other of them would usually prove to be correct. He further said that when the ruckus erupted, they would either just turn the sound up and play through it or, would play a sad song called the Ballad of Willie McBride which was, Arnie said, guaranteed to bring a tear to even a glass eye,  put a quick finish to the fisticuffs and let the dancing recommence peacefully.

 

 

 

                                               

 

Office and Works annual dances were another opportunity to enjoy a swirl around the floor among friends. Unfortunately, there was very often someone (usually a young man)  who’d imbibed rather more than was sensible and would take the opportunity to get something off his chest to his boss.

One young fellow of my acquaintance managed to do this every year. At any other time, he was an extremely pleasant guy, – tall, good looking, a very good footballer and semi professional cricketer, liked by everyone.

But on Office Party Night, he would turn up, looking very elegant  in his tuxedo but slightly the worse for wear. He would always then make a beeline for the then Chief Engineer, who was his boss, and proceed to slag him off for some reason or another. The next day, as always, he was stricken with remorse but he was lucky because the then Chief Engineer was good humoured, very forgiving and had the great sense to see it was just the drink speaking in a harmless bit of banter. 

 

There were many other venues where you could enjoy a dance, if that was your interest, such as Church Halls , nightclubs , Community Halls and even some working men’s clubs  but none of those featured in our particular group’s scope of rendezvous and in fact, we gradually fell away from the traditional Saturday night dance , as did most of the groups that we knew, and graduated to more of a regular drinking pastime – notably at the “Slip” or the White Horse in York Road just below the Shaftsbury cinema. By this time, both of these venues featured decent resident musicians, playing the type of music more appropriate to the youth of the day.

So the dancehalls of Leeds had to learn to manage without support and custom of a bunch of clumsy young men, none of whom could be said to possess 1% of the dancing skills of a John Travolta,  but they were probably better places for it, where the serious dancers could waltz away the evening without having people with two left feet constantly crashing into them.

But do such places exist nowadays.

 

Finally, a tip once received from a successful exponent of the art – always go for the girl with the face of a Saint – a Saint Bernard that is – and your chances of success are multiplied tenfold.

 

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Those were the days Eric. Oh if only we could relive them.

 

Last month’s mystery building. Eric and Audrey got it right it was the Friends Adults Chapel on Pontefract Lane – just lower down than the old Princess Cinema  (now a fish and chip shop) And the name of  the side street was; Hall Place.

 

Now how about this building for September – sent in by Dave Carncross.

 

 

 

                                     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  

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The Great Disappeared Pubs of Old Central Leeds

August 1, 2012

 

The Great Disappeared Pubs of Old Central Leeds

By Pete Wood

Sometimes, in fantasising mood, I conjure up my ultimate night of booze and debauchery:  the venue is Leeds City Centre and the decade is the 1890s –‘The Naughty Nineties’. I’m starting off up Briggate for my night on the town. From The Royal Public House Yard comes the sound of hooves on cobbles. There are horses steaming and black and ready for off. Merrymaking floats out on the night air: a tinkling piano, raucous laughter, the occasional breaking of glass. Inside, revellers in ‘Billycock’ hats and ‘bum starver’ jackets, swill back the ale, while their ladies polish off the gin.

            Alas it’s only make believe, in reality pubs like that are long gone and in their place: ‘plastic palaces’ with contemporary music played very loud and the flashing lights that are necessary to draw in the twenty-first century youth with their vast discretionary spending power. City centre sites now need money a plenty to survive. Well, I’m far too old to enjoy their style of pub, but unfortunately, not old enough to have enjoyed the true sawdust and spittoon era. Fortunately, there was an intermediate era – a good night was still to be had in the fifties sixties and even the seventies in the great old ‘mucky pubs’ of Central Leeds; where there were still colourful characters

enough to light up a room. I loved those ‘mucky pubs, in fact I never felt as though I’d really been out unless it took in Central Leeds. Even my stag night was a crawl around my favourite joints.

            Gone now, regrettably, are The Royal in Lower Briggate and McConnell’s with its barrel filled window. Gone too the round Wine lodge in City Square, The Mitre, King Edward, King Charles, Robin Hood, Nags Head, Dolphin, Scotsman,  Market Tavern and The Marquis of Granby. The Star and Garter near the Corn Exchange is an amusement arcade and the Central Market, Golden Cock, Hope and Anchor, Brougham’s Arms and Yorkshire Hussar have either gone or changed their names, some several times over and with the changing of their names has come a changing of their special character too. Not all is completely lost, at the time of writing those left of a rapidly diminishing bunch are: The Whip, bless it, where Woodbine Lizzie used to stand by its three stumps and where I first saw a ceiling spinning round after sampling barley wine. The Palace, The Duncan, Royal Oak’ The Regent, Scarborough Taps and The General Elliot totter on. The Ship, Whitlock’s, Piccadilly Bar, and the Pack Horse were up ginnels and never quite aspired to my favourite category of: ‘mucky pub’. The Headrow pubs and above were out of my frame.

            Through the years I think The Star and Garter became my absolute favourite; you certainly saw life in the ‘Star’. For a start there seemed to be three or four different sexes in there, I was never quite sure who was supposed to do what to whom. Then there were the ‘ladies of the night’ plying their trade, they were a lively bunch; always laughing: their antics made the pub a fun place. Mingled in were the old ‘down and outs’ – old kids who had been in there drinking since the pub opened. By the time I would be going in there at nine or ten o’clock they would have an inch of ash on the end of their cigs and beginning to fall asleep. They would nod and nod, getting lower and lower until they heads would finally touch the table, over would go the beer and the glasses would shatter. The ‘star’ had a barmaid who had developed a technique for dealing with this; she was only a slip of a lass but she couldn’t half shift them on. She would grab them by the collar and flick the stool away with her foot, then using the momentum of their fall she would drag them out backwards to the door and then bump. Bump down the two steps onto the pavement of Call Lane. I can recall two bodies still lying there one night as I was trying to enter the pub.

            Often there would be undercover police in there on the look out for stolen goods or trying to locate the whereabouts of some rogue or other. You would hear a commotion and they would have someone spread-eagled against the wall being searched; accompanied by a great commotion from the recipient.

            There was a an old kid who collected glasses, I’ll swear he broke more than he got back to the bar – there would be a c-r-a-s-h and a couple of minutes c-r-a-s-h again. No one seemed to notice or worry about it, the floor was always swimming in ale and blood and you could feel broken glass forever grinding underfoot. I saw a lesbian give a guy a crack who was getting too familiar with her friend. Another night I went in there and it was so crushed there was nowhere to stand but I could see there was plenty of room at the far end, so I pushed my way through, folk were looking at me strangely, when I got to the space at the front I realised why; a naked woman cavorting about there, then I had to try and push my way back. Perhaps the strangest sight I ever saw there was a bloke having his hair set on fire. It happened like this: there was a couple of chaps talking to each other, pints in hands – I saw this woman pass behind them and then suddenly his hair was alight, flaring right up to the ceiling. The funniest thing was he didn’t seem to notice, he continued to talk to his friend: ‘rhubarb – rhubarb’ etc. and there was his hair actually blackening the ceiling. Finally his mate must have noticed and I imagine he said something like: ‘Hi up Joe, your hair’s on fire!’ Anyway they managed to put it out between them, he seemed no worse for wear in fact, incredibly, although his hair seemed to have been burning for a considerable time it did not seem to have been noticeably consumed. ‘It’s that bloody woman!’ he said finally and chased out after her into the street.

            Surprisingly I never found the place to be dangerous. If you didn’t cause trouble, no one would trouble you and you could observe to your heart’s content. The punters were streetwise to an amazing degree so much so it made you feel naïve. And there was total equality, if Prince Philip had gone in there for a pint or even the Queen they would have had to wait their turn at the bar like everyone else.

            To round off the evening was to have fish and chips from the Crown Fisheries, eaten in alcoholic fuzz, out of the paper, on the Corn Exchange steps – observing every species of humanity rolling home up Boar Lane in jovial state. And that old blackened Corn Exchange observes on too and if those old Victorians couldn’t shock him – then I’m sure neither will me or you.

(Unfortunately even more of these great old pubs are ‘mort’ since the writing of this piece.)

 

Following on from Eric Sanderson’s picture question (the alternative ‘Slip’) which he now reveals is actually in Harrogate – here is another poser. East Leeds veterans will surely recognise this magnificent building now seemingly under renovation for something other than its original use. But can you remember where it is? I bet no one will remember the name of the side street?