WENDY’S TALE

by

                                                      WENDY’S TALE

 

                                           East Street Day Nursery.  1956

 

Wendy Carew is our East Leeds lass now living in Perth Western Australia.

Wendy in this tale remembers her days as a helper at the East Street day nursery

 

I was, again, causing a palaver at home. A decision had to be made about my future. Dad thought I should try for University but Mam wanted me to leave and find work .To be fair to my mother she had worked all her life as a seamstress and constantly tried really hard to make ends meet. The thought of supporting me through more years of education was not her idea of the future.  What a thorough waste of time, my mother kept repeating, for a girl to have “ideas above her station” after all marriage and motherhood, for me, was just around the corner and a University degree wouldn’t help bringing up the kids.

So, to keep the peace, I left my prestigious High School (Lawnswood) at fifteen. Facing the stern Headmistress, Miss Holden, on my own was daunting. She was extremely angry and had hoped I would ‘go on to do great things’ but what could I do? Trapped by my mother’s expectations and my father’s constant quiet surrender I left being a schoolgirl and went to look for work. Thank – goodness I was hopeless on a sewing machine or I would have been accompanying my mother to the huge Montague Burton’s clothing factory down York Road.

I applied to Leeds Corporation for work as a Nursery Nurse. To day it would be called a Kindergarten Helper.

Leeds Corporation had opened a few child-minding nurseries for working mothers and the nearest one for me was along East Street on the outskirts of the city.

Children, as young as babies and up to pre school could be left to be cared for five or perhaps six days a week (I cannot remember if we opened on weekends). I was accepted and began my first job at the East Street Day Nursery.

This Day Nursery was operated from a beautiful old house quite out of place in the surrounding location. Because of its close proximity to the city centre this area had absorbed a huge influx of Irish and Russian immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century and therefore had become extremely overcrowded and very unhygienic. I think the area was called The Bank.

I never enquired but just assumed the house had been the ‘manse’ (the vicarage) for St. Saviours Church situated on Ellerby Road in the suburb of Richmond Hill. Behind the church, on a downhill slope, was the church graveyard and further down beyond the graveyard was this beautiful house, which fronted onto East Street.

Let me describe my workplace, this grand detached house.

It was red brick and three stories high with lots of chimneys. The third story being two attic rooms under the tile-covered roof where, in the ‘hay day’ of the house, servants would have slept.

The front entrance had bay windows each side. Each window and the glass in the door contained beautiful coloured lead panels, which threw a rainbow glow into the interior hall when the sun shone through.

A Large central staircase with polished carved wooden banisters swept upwards in the foyer splitting to left and right when half way to the first floor. To me, growing up in the Charlton’s and on the Rookwood council estate this was a grand old house. I didn’t pretend I owned the place I just thought I was privileged to work there.

A concealed back corridor and stairs allowed movement from the ground floor kitchen and washhouse along to the large dining room and up to the 1st landing door to service bedrooms and further up to the servants small attic rooms. These stairs allowed the maids to bring food, linen and coal to each room without disturbing the owners of the house. Of course when I worked there these stairs were a quick way to take ashes and dirty clothes down to the laundry and clean linen and coal up to where they were needed.

I was accepted as a trainee and began my first job. Used to criticism at home I was like a young puppy when praised and would cheerfully try to do my very best the next time around.

We worked a forty plus hour week and in shifts. Early morning ‘starts’ (7-30am) or late night ‘finishes’ (8pm). My wage was three pound five shillings handed to me in a small manila envelope, which I eagerly accepted each week. I would hide my wage in a pocket in my navy blue bloomers so no one could pinch it.

When arriving home my sealed wage packet was immediately handed over to my mother, as was the custom at that time.

She allowed five shilling for myself, enough money if I was careful, to buy a lipstick, pair of nylon stockings and tram fare for the week. Any left over pennies were placed into savings for shoes, clothes and pocket money.

Now I was working and earning my own money I had thoughts of leaving home and going to swinging London. My father, horrified, announced “only BAD girls went to London” and “no daughter of his….etc…etc.”

So here I was in Leeds, either catching a tram to the city to work or walking through the streets to work. In Spring and summer if I had a 10am start I would walk from Rookwood Avenue down Osmonthorpe Lane, cut along Ings Road and skirt along the perimeter of East End Park cut down Accommodation Road to St. Saviours Church and then down to East Street.

We thought nothing of walking miles in those days. When I attended Osmonthorpe Primary School I would walk home to Rookwood Ave, have tea and then walk up to my library at Cross Gates change my books and walk home again.

Cutting through the streets to work, if the weather was good, I would walk through row upon row of sooty black ‘back to back’ terrace houses with their cobbled roads, maze of dark alleyways, ginnel’s, outside lavatory’s and smelly overflowing middens.

I was never afraid, alert but not afraid. If I felt danger and screamed many doors would open and whoever threatened me would feel the wrath of a street full of residents ready to come to my aid. Besides, because of overcrowding in the majority of homes, the streets were always full of kids playing, washing being pegged out, neighbours gossiping and men going to and from work or the Pub.

If my shift started at 7-30am in the morning, especially in late autumn or early winter when the mornings were dark, or full of snow I would rise early to catch a tram to town. Alighting at Marsh Lane (other side of York Road to that of Quarry Hill flats) I would trudge under the railway bridge towards Leeds Parish Church. Keeping left along Crown Point Road I would again turn left when I came to East Street.

East Street, before the war consisted of factories and small workplaces but because of bombing during the 2nd world war the houses and run down business’s now lay on open ground in a heap of rusted tin, broken glass and scattered piles of smashed brick and rubble.

A fair way along East Street was my place of work, East Street Day Nursery.

In winter, with snow boots, thick coat, hand knitted woollen scarf, gloves, and knitted bonnet I would trek, head down against the blizzard of snow, passing grim soot covered factory’s, scrap heaps and bomb damaged buildings, eager to get inside this welcoming house. I would leave my outdoor clothes in the attic bedroom and because the heat hadn’t yet reached the attic I would very quickly put on my uniform and rush downstairs to the warmth of the kitchen.

A quick cup of tea toast and jam, and I was ready for my working day.

Five days a week the busy kitchen would have the aroma of food being prepared. Vegetables and Meat cooking, biscuits, bread and scones baking. A large black kettle was forever bubbling away on a humongous black-leaded stove.

Tea was brewed in those days. Tea leaves were spooned into a large teapot ‘One for each person and one for the pot’ was the saying when we made a fresh brew.

Coffee was not the drink of choice with the working class in those days being a new fangled drink and more expensive. Tea leaves could be brewed and brewed again and again until they were tasteless. At this point they were place in a bucket and used to dampen fires to a glow if the rooms became too hot or could be used to reduce a fire to a glowing ember overnight at home leaving it ready to rekindle into flame when the first early riser in the house came downstairs.

The Tweenies.

I was only working there a couple of months when my diligence was dually noticed and I was placed in charge of the ‘tweenies’.

The children in my care were between nine months and eighteen months old. They were considered too old for the baby nursery, and too young for the rough and tumble play amongst the two to five year olds.

Remember I was only fifteen with no experience of young children but it was thought, because I was female, it was a skill I had been born with.

When, in cold weather, I was rostered on early morning shifts, my job was to light a coal fire in my small ‘tweenies’ room before the mothers arrived.

I had prepared the fireplace the night before by raking out the hot cinders, removing the build up of ash under the grate making sure the fire grate was now empty and clean. We had to be so careful there was nothing in the grate in case anything caught fire during the night.

Placing ash and cinders in the coal shuttle I would take it down the back stairs and out to a cinder patch in a safe corner of the garden.

I would then fill the coal shuttle with coal and coke (similar to coal) from the cellar, gather chipped wood and rolled newspapers and carry this up the back stairs to my ‘tweenies’ nursery and leave ready by the fireplace for the start of a brand new day.

Our nursery was situated in a very poor area and only working mothers could afford to place their child in our council subsidised care.

Many of the children arrived covered in lice and nits. I would spend time each day washing each child and running a nit comb through its hair.

With nits in those days a foul smelling solution went on first to kill the eggs and the ‘fine tooth comb’ was to comb the eggs out, which we would crack between our thumbnails. It was difficult to remove eggs from the eyelashes. The children would squirm and wriggle around but I would persist wanting to surprise the mothers, when they arrived in the late evening, with a clean child to take home.  Next day of course they would turn up reinfested and dirty and the process started again.

I loved my job even though it was very long hours. I loved it because the mothers complimented me when they came to collect their clean happy well-fed children. Always criticised for what ever I did at home I was yearning and needy for a compliment and a ‘pat on the back’.

In the winter, night descended around four pm.

When the last mother had collected her child around eight pm we (I say we because there had to be two staff rostered on an evening for safety) would lock up the nursery would quickly walk in the dark, past silent factories and pitch-black waste ground, all the way into town.

Gas street lamps were on at night but they delivered very little illumination. Going home in the dark in that area and towards town when the factories were deserted was very frightening and we would walk very close to each other. Sometimes a ‘bobby’ would be doing his rounds on foot and would walk with us until we reached city lights.

Remember, by now I had just turned sixteen but it was a different era and if working we were expected to be adults.

Looking back and looking at photo’s of East Street in the nineteen fifties, I think of that young lass walking up East Street to work eager to earn three pounds five shillings a week.

My heart goes out to her and I smile because I’ve survived, prospered and have led such an interesting life.

I have a lot to thank Leeds for. It gave me tenacity; ambition and the ability to get straight back up when the many tragedies and defeats knocked me to the ground. Leeds trained me with tough love and then sent me into the world and with those skills I survived.

Wendy Carew's pic of nursary

 

Wendy, with children at the East Street Nursery. Behind them is the boundary wall of St Saviour’s grave yard.

*************************************************************

Great tale Wendy – thanks for sharing it with us. Can we help Wendy? She would love to know more about the history of the building which housed the East Street Day Nursery in the 1950s/60s. It was a detached red brick house, not a plain building. It had once been a grand family built house with attics for servants and quite grand for its day, especially in the area it was situated. Wendy believes the Toch H organisation owned the building in the 1950s and they leased it to the Leeds Corporation who in turn used it as a child minding centre. It would be wonderful if it triggers anyone’s memory. Come on ask around for Wendy.

 

Last month’s pic was of course the iconic Richmond Hill School

 

How about The pic for this month. Where was it? red walls picture

 

 

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10 Responses to “WENDY’S TALE”

  1. Dave Carncross Says:

    Wendy. Great stories. You would have been at school at Lawnswood with Jenny Chappelow and Doreen Shuttler I should think. Remember the imaginary line down the playing fields between you girls and us lads at the Modern next door ??

  2. 2andfrom Says:

    Yes Dave, I often played at throwing a tennis ball to see which boy would throw it back.
    Remember the tram to and from school. Boys upstairs girls downstairs. I belong to a group of girls daring to climb the stairs on the way home. I was such a good girl but the sense of adventure made me tag along. Prefects would send us down to the lower deck and report us ne xt day. I still have my leather satchel. my parents had to save for months for my uniform. It was such a great opportunity but beyond my parents thinking. Ah well……that’s life’s.
    Q. Did your mum take you old time dancing ?

  3. 2andfrom Says:

    Hi Dave, I have puzzled you with the dancing. I will explain. My cluster of school friends would swoon over a very handsome young man in the boys play ground.
    He would casually wave to me and I would casually wave back. My friends were of course, envious. I didn’t explain to them that my mother had me accompany her to Old Time Dancing one night a week and his mother had him accompany her. He made me promise not to tell, my young heart fluttered at the thought of having a secret between us. I cannot even remember his name.
    I just wondered if a miracle had happened and you were that handsome young man. I gather not ?

  4. Dave Carncross Says:

    Regretfully not I must say. Me and most of my mates had been taking ugly pills or so we were led to believe by such girls as were kind enough to talk to us at all. Character building comments like that are only appreciated in later life in my experience. I was commandeered by your art mistress a few times as a life model (fully clothed) and spent lots of time staring out of the rear windows onto the Ring Road while being drawn by senior art students.. They never went out of their way to make me feel any better about myself either. Still, I used to enjoy having my mates on about what I’d been up to in the girls school.

  5. Douglas Says:

    A great tale Wendy. And really amazing the level of work responsibility expected of young people those days. And the cutting short of your formal education in no way prevented your capacity to tell a story in such a clear and vivid way.Thank you.

  6. 2andfrom Says:

    Thank you Douglas, your comments inspire me to write more. Thank you.

  7. Eric Sanderson Says:

    A well written and interesting tale of the times Wendy. I also lived in the Charltons , at the top end of Charlton Rd (68) where it runs into East Park View.
    It’s unfortunate you weren’t able to complete your education at the time and follow your dreams & ambitions.A lot of people suffered the same fate either through necessity or lack of opportunity , finishing up doing things well below their talent & ability. Still, it’s good to know you made it in the end.
    By the way, don’t be taken in by Dave Carncross, he was always a hit with the girls – damn him !!

  8. peterwwood Says:

    Yes Eric, I know what you mean, Dave pinched one of my old girlfriends.
    I have been trying to find out more about the history of the ‘Red house Nursery’ for Wendy. So far I have learned it was once a youth club and in the 30s it was run jointly by the Toc H and St Saviour’s Father Kenneth Grisford who would feed the unemployed and especially the poor children. I’m still trying to find out the origins of the house and why such a beautiful building was demolished. Can anyone help?

  9. aussiepom Says:

    Love your stories wendy. You are so good at describing the interiors of houses and the route you took getting from A to B. A long time since i’ve heard a garbage bin called a ‘ middin ‘ London sounded so exciting to teenagers in the late 50s but the train fare was expensive. changed your outlook 10 yrs. later and ecided Australia might be a nice place to live and it only cost ₤10 for a ticket. Survive? of course you did. A yorkshire lass rolls up her sleeves and gets on with it. A sense of humour helps as well and Wendy, you sure know how to laugh.

  10. Chris McHale Says:

    Wendy, with children at the East Street Nursery
    Hi Wendy
    I was researching articles relating to Burtons and came across your photo of the Nursery. To my utter astonishment I recognized myself (Christopher McHale) in the photo, the little boy with the cowboy hat. I think I must have been 3years at the time being 1953 and my parents were both employed at Burtons. I also think the boy on my left was called Duncan Macbride and we both lived on York Road near the Shaftesbury Cinema. If you have any thoughts on this I would be realy interested and will expand on my recollections.
    Regards Chris McHale

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