The Leeds Shopping Centre in the ’20s and ’30s,Rugby and the Cinemas.By Stan Pickles.

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For this month’s tale Stan Pickles takes us back even further than usual to the 1020s/30s. Stan who has contributed massively to our East Leeds memories is, alas, no longer with us but the good news was he lived to be a hundred and his great memories of Leeds will live on even longer in these pages. Maybe Stan’s tales may appeal more directly to the pre-computer literate generation. Perhaps if you know someone who would appreciate a trawl through the 1920s/30s you could print it off for them?

The Leeds Shopping Centre in the ‘20s and ‘30s,
Rugby and the Cinemas.
By Stan Pickles
What a difference there is in the Leeds scene today from the lovely atmosphere of yesteryear. Then the shops were all household names and readily come to mind: Walker’s and Geldard’s next door to each other at the top of Kirkgate fitted out all the families for years: Geldard’s for ladies and children’s wear and Walker’s for dads and their lads. They were busy all year round and full to capacity for the annual Whitsuntide ritual. Walker’s with their trade name ‘REKLAW’ also supplied overalls and aprons for all trades. I got my printer’s apron there. Around the corner in Call Lane was King’s footwear shop where you could get a good pair of shoes or boots for eight shillings (40p).
Ho! Those tailor’s shops: Thirty Shilling Tailors, Fifty Shilling Tailors, John Colliers, Burtons of course. Half a dozen are still hanging on with a new image. As I passed through the centre on my way to work many were the times I called at Braham’s Pork Shop on Duncan Street for a sixpenny pork sandwich for lunch, or across the way for a quarter of Wraggs famous polony. That shop was noted for its pork pies sausages and polony. Many were the times I called in there after the rugby game at Headingley for half a pound of best polony for Mam and Dad’s tea with cakes and Yorkshire Relish.
Rawcliffe’s, the school outfitters, also on Duncan Street did a roaring trade in special school jackets, ties, caps all with the many distinctive school badges. There were also: Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer’s (still there) and so many other big stores such as Lewis’s Schofield’s and the rest.
In the days before the wars there was no one-way traffic systems and Briggate and City Square in particular were choc-a-bloc with traffic doing its best to force a way through and the drivers in these rough conditions trying to control their tempers. Of course there was not the quantity of traffic there is today and the one-way systems have been a great help
The Leeds Market held pride of place for shopping. The whole atmosphere around the stalls and the open market filled with its stallholder characters. It was an entertainment in itself to see: Jimmy Rhodes juggling with baskets of crockery and dinner sets. Ringing them like bells and gradually knocking them down to give away prices in front of big interested audiences was enough to fill a stranger with admiration. There was another chap filling a carrier with soap and washing powder, quoting prices all the time and then saying , ‘Come on give me a couple of bob (10p) for the lot.’ and putting an extra bar of soap in the bag as you passed the money over.
These clever salesmen could hold an audience for ages with their sales patter. Then there was the couple who sold sweets and chocolate bars who would fill a large bag with mixed confectionary, then the lady would take them around the audience and sell them at half the price. The patter went something like this, ‘Why pay fancy prices in the shops for their electric lighting and their gaily coloured bags and the smile of the girl behind the counter?’ There was a fellow selling hair clippers who had a bare patch at the back of his head where he had demonstrated his goods’
The final hour on Saturday night was a good time for bargains. Big bunches of bananas going for sixpence (2 and a half p). Fruit – almost given away.
How many of the past newly-married couples still living remember Wigfall’s and Jay’s furniture stores with the famous slogan: Yours today – four years to pay?’ Yes, things have certainly altered a lot from those far off days of yore.
Joe Dixon, the market bobby would keep things in order while in the entrance, Woodbine Lizzie asked, ‘Give us a cig, cock.’ Joe Dixon, incidentally, played for Leeds Rugby League in the 1923 Cup Final at Wakefield when Leeds beat Hull 28-3.
The highlight of my Leeds games was when I went to Wakefield in 1923 to see that Leeds and Hull in the Rugby League Cup Final. I was only eleven years old but by now knew what it was all about. How I had looked forward to it, catching the Wakefield tramcar at the Corn Exchange and travelling the long ride to the Bull Ring. The old Chantry Bridge was choc-a-block with people on their way to Belle View. I was delighted to see Leeds win the cup and Jim Bacon holding it aloft. After the match we got back to Leeds and waited on Boar Lane to see the victorious Leeds team come home in an open coach to huge cheering crowds all the way to the Griffin Hotel, where thee was a reception and the players came out onto the balcony. I was a very happy youngster.
It gives a sense of history that almost 90 years after that 1923 final we still find ourselves walking over Chantry Bridge to that grand old Belle View Stadium (now the Rapid Solicitor’s Stadium and soon to be something quite different altogether)
At Headingley we always stood behind the posts at the St Michael’s Lane end. And apart from my later years when I got a stand ticket that was my favourite spot. How times have changes, though. Now ninety percent go by car and the streets around the ground are packed every Sunday when there is a match. Going back to a time between the wars it was a common sight to see rows of private bus companies like, Wallace Arnold and Heaps, that had bussed loads from all over the north parked tail to tail. It was a regular occurrence to see 30,000 in the ground on big match days
Going to the Pictures
Starting in the early twenties after I had graduated through my ‘penny rush’ days at the Easy Road Picture House I ventured further afield with cinema visits all over the city My earliest memories were of stars like, Douglas Fairbanks (the acrobatic one), Mary Pickford (the world’s sweetheart), Charlie Chaplin (the little tramp) who introduced Jackie Coogan as ‘the kid’, Lon Chaney (the man with 1,000 faces), Tom Mix and William S. Hart (the first cowboy stars). Richard Bartholomew and Alice Terry were probably the biggest attractions in the twenties. Rudolph Valentino (he was the sheik) riding off over the desert with his dancing slave girl, Oh that Vilma Banky! The big silent films of the time were: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Gold Rush, The Black Pirate, The Sea Hawk, Blood and Sand, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Way down East and that great epic, The Ten Commandments. To add to the drama and effect there was a pianist who did a good job giving atmosphere to the occasion. Now and again a singer would be engaged to give extra entertainment. For the film, The Volga Boatman at the Coliseum half a dozen singers were engaged to pull a rope across the front of the screen chanting the boatman’s song, ‘Ho’er, Heave Ho’ pretending to be pulling a barge as in the film provided a very effective overture before the film started. By this time I was a fanatic and interested in anything about films. I bought the weekly magazine: The Picture Show, two pence every week, which was full of interesting topics and pictures of the big films, the big stars and all the latest gossip. By the time the ‘talkies’ arrived in 1928 singing and dancing films were all the rage; The Broadway Melody, Hollywood Revue, On With the Sow. Desert Song, Rio Rita, Gold Diggers and the first talking and singing film: The Singing Fool with Al Jolson drew big crowds at Briggate’s Rialto Picture House.
The thirties carried on with new stars arriving on the scene, child star, Shirley Temple was the biggest sensation of them all. As for the men: nobody could match Clark Gable who went to the top with films like: It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, San Francisco and finishing the thirties with the Masterpiece: Gone With the Wind. Gangster films were very popular: The Big House, Up the River, Fugitive from the Chain Gang and Public Enemy Number One, made stars of: James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, Humphrey Bogart, and many more.
I saw lots of films, going at least twice a week. Night school didn’t help but on one of the nights our lesson on practical work was broken to go across Cookridge Street to the Art School (I hated it) for the 8 p.m.–9 p.m. session. I could not stand drawing letter characters as it was of no use to my trade and a waste of time (My old
school teacher, Mr Archie Gordon, once called me, sarcastically of course, ‘Our lightening artist’). Anyway I thought it was a better idea to stay at the back of the group and nip into the Coliseum for the last show. It came off until I had been absent
three times, then I was found out and had to pay a visit to the Head, Mr Bottomley, who was very sympathetic to my cause but asked me to play the game, so that was that.
The biggest night in the history of Leeds cinema was the opening of the luxurious theatre: The Paramount, Briggate, in February 1932. The Smiling Lieutenant featuring Maurice Chevalier was the big film followed by a wonderful stage show. A friend and I went straight from work but couldn’t get near the place for the huge crowds never mind getting in. However we were successful on the Thursday evening. I will always remember it was like entering a royal palace and the wonderful show on stage, I had never seen anything like it.
The opening of the Shaftsbury a few years earlier in 1928 offered really good stage shows. I think it was the only cinema to have double seats for young couples. It was my favourite cinema and held many happy memories. I took my future wife on our first date to the Shaftsbury and I remember the film: The Barrett’s of Wimpole Street (1935). Going back even earlier still to 1923 – The Princess Cinema opened in Pontefract Lane. After being quite happy visiting the ‘bug hutches’ like: The Easy Road, The Victoria, The Premier and then The Regent you can imagine how we felt going into a lovely new picture house. The seats were all very comfortable and the cinema itself was kept spotless. The price of admission was: 3d, 6d, and 9d. Wednesday night was ‘jazz night’. When the lights went up the audience were invited to join in a sing-song following a bouncing ball on a song sheet on the screen while a small orchestra played the popular tunes of the day: I Like Ice Cream, Toy Drum Major, California Moon and Constantinople were songs I recall. Oh and those serials in fifteen episodes with…to be continued next week finishing at the most exciting part and holding you in suspense until the next week. I remember them well: Bride 13, Hidden Dangers, The Masked Rider, Fantomas, Houdini and the most famous and evil of them all Dr. Fu Manchu, who terrified everyone with his torture chamber and the evil deeds, carried out on his adversaries. Pearl White was always in danger, fighting him in films like, The Ebony Block and The Perils of Pauline.
In the thirties I was on the ‘Big Five’ mailing list, a little booklet of monthly programmes at: The Majestic, The Scala, The Coliseum, The Assembly Rooms and The Parkfield in Jack Lane, Hunslet. On Saturday nights you had to book early to be sure of getting in. Yes, cinema going was the main entertainment before the war. Unfortunately, people lost interest after World War Two. Those lovely cinemas were closed and many turned into ‘bingo halls’. I rarely go to the pictures now- a- days but those grand golden days of the cinema hold a special memory for me.

Thanks for those great memories. Stan.
The central Leeds cinema I remember were: The Odeon (previously The Paramount), The ABC (previously The Ritz)the Tower, The Assembly Rooms, The Gourmont – Cookridge Street (previously the Coliseum), The Scala and Majestic who always showed the same film for some reason and The News Theatre and Tattler near City Square. And our local cinemas: The Picture House (Easy Road), The Princess, Star, Shaftsbury, Regent, Hillcrest and in Hunslet: The Premier, Strand and Regal – all within walking distance and many more just a tram ride away. I’m sure you, our readers will remember many more.

Right, out last picture was of course The Market District Boys Club. Eric got it right how many more? And what about this months picture? All East Leedsers should recognise this one.

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9 Responses to “The Leeds Shopping Centre in the ’20s and ’30s,Rugby and the Cinemas.By Stan Pickles.”

  1. Alex Says:

    The photograph: It’s the park keeper’s house in East End Park.

    I remember going to nearly all the cinemas you mention in the 1940s. There used to be a picture house on Florence Street (off Compton Road) that I went to a couple of times. It was a very cheap and primitive place with forms instead of seats. I can’t recall its proper name now – if it had one. We used to call it the ‘bug hutch’. Fights were common among the audience of kids shoving each other to get room on the forms.

    Maybe the Clock in Roundhay Road doesn’t count because it wasn’t in Leeds 9, but that used to be a ‘classy’ picture house.

  2. peterwwood Says:

    Could your cimema in Florance Street have been The Western Alex?

  3. Alex Says:

    Yes, you’re right, it was called The Western – maybe because it showed lots of cowboy pictures?

    In those days films were classified ‘A’ for adults and ‘U’ for universal. Anyone could get into a cinema showing a ‘U’ picture. But if there was an ‘A’ picture on and you were under 16, you could only get in if accompanied by an adult. I remember hanging about outside the Star in the dark and asking strangers, “Will you take me in Missus”.

    Later ‘X’ films came on the scene but by that time I had left school.

  4. Douglas Says:

    What a marvellous memory Stan had: names and places I had long forgotten flood my mind once again. Thank you Stan and Pete for making these reminiscences possible.

  5. Dave Carncross Says:

    When you think of it, most of the cinemas were still in operation in the 40s and 50s. My Mam`s family lived in Glensdale St near the Princess and at one time one of her seven brothers, Billy, got a job there ushering / taking the tickets etc. The tickets were usually blue in colour so, occasionally if funds were especially tight, they used to cut them out of Tate and Lyle sugar bags and present them as the real thing. It worked a treat because the Princess was always busy then and nobody noticed the odd person entering the queue> Billy used to “tidy` up afterwards, of course.

  6. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    Lots of memories of visits to almost all the cinemas Stan mentioned. We got value for money as they showed a cartoon, Pathe news, trailers for the next week and the ice cream lady with a tray of drinks, ice lollies etc. at intermission. They also had a continues program so you could watch the film twice if you’d arrive ate and missed the beginning. It a boy took you out on a Saturday night and bought tickets for the balcony seats you thought he must have plenty of money. Of course you got the cheap skate wouldbe Romeo who said he’d meet you inside the cinema. Most of them spent the evening alone watching the film.

  7. Eric Sanderson Says:

    That is definitely the “Parkie’s” house on East End Park, we used to pass it nearly every day on our way to or from the football pitches & other parts of the park.
    Enjoyed the reminiscences, a few things in there I’d forgotten and some I didn’t know

  8. Mike Peacock Says:

    Yet to see any reference to the Paladium, Bridge Rd, Holbeck. Leeds forgotten picture house.

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