The Pocket Watch and Route Noir

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THIS MONTH TWO MORE GREAT TALES FROM ERIC SANDERSON

THE POCKET WATCH & ROUTE NOIR

 

 

THE POCKET WATCH

By Eric Sanderson

Long summer evenings in the fifties would find a group of us, anywhere between four and seven, on the playing field at the top of Snake lane. Very rarely had anyone any money, not a single penny, we mostly went out with nothing in our pockets.

Games of 3-a-side football, shots in, touch and pass or even cricket was played in fiercely competitive spirit for an hour or so. We then flopped onto the grass to recover and shoot the breeze over any and all subjects – most of which we knew very little about. The comparative merits of bikes was a favourite topic – Claude Butler; JRJ; Dawes etc’ We would argue over the minutiae such as the frame tubing, diameter of the rear stays, tires and (especially) the width of the wheel rims as well as the lustre of the paintwork. I hasten to add that none of us had the slightest chance of owning such a magnificent machine, but you could dream.

One evening Ronnie Cockill told us he had acquired a Smiths pocket watch from his brother Stan and that this model was regarded as the “toughest in the world”. This outrageous boost was widely scoffed at and the evidence, nay, the incontrovertible proof was demanded. Ronnie was extremely indignant at our scepticism and showed us his admittedly fine and robust looking example of horology. With some remaining unconvinced, Ron volunteered to demonstrate the watch’s credentials by hurling it as high as he could into the air and letting it fall to the ground – which he duly did. Sure enough it looked undamaged and continued ticking away like a time bomb. Fairly impressive but it was pointed out that its impact had been cushioned by falling into thick grass. The discussion continued to consider other ways for a more rigorous test, dispensing with placing it on the rail line for the “Paddy” train to run over it or throwing it against a brick wall as being perhaps too severe. A solution was finally agreed upon which, if passed, would satisfy all doubts, the following evening one of our group turned up with a Webley air pistol which belonged to his brother. It was a fearsome looking weapon obviously capable of bringing down a charging rhinoceros. The gun was tested against a nearby goal post, chipping the paintwork as well as burying the slug deeply into a nearby wooden post. We all felt this was going to provide a suitable examination of Ron’s claims. The agreed procedure was that the watch would be hung from a nearby sapping and we would each have two shots at it, one to the front face and one to the back of the case. All shots would be taken before the final examination so that if any damage resulted no individual could be blamed.

With great anticipation the test took place from a distance of about ten yards from the suspended watch. During the test the slugs pinged loudly when they struck the watch but there was no obvious damage from our distant vantage point and at the end the watch was solemnly passed around for detailed inspection by everyone. Remarkably, the watch continued to tick away merrily without a single mark, scratch or indentation to be seen. Honour was satisfied and Ronnie was justifiably triumphant. Secretly, we were all slightly envious of him owning such a remarkable timepiece which would surely last forever.

However, Ronnie’s joy didn’t last long because a few days later he lost his prized possession, probably when we were scrambling up and down the embankment to the “navvy” which we always used to access from the Bridgefield car park because under the bridge there was a small pond which was home to a number of attractive red bellied newts.

So if anybody happens to find a grime encrusted Smith’s pocket watch from the East End Park navvy, still ticking away, it may just belong to Ronnie Cockill.

ROUTE NOIR

Inevitable, after 50/60 years some of the fine detail in such memories can be a little hazy, certainly with my stories. Nonetheless, the thread and the main content remain faithful to the events at the time but apologies in advance to any whose recollections may be slightly different.

The Bridgefield Hotel was the origin of three roads running in a southerly direction from there. Cross Green Lane ran approximately south west with a sweeping left hand bend past St Hilda’s and terminated in those days at the Cross Green pub and the junction of South Accomm, East Street and Easy Road.

Halton Moor Road, always known as ‘Red Road’ because of its red shale surface (at least as far as the ‘basins’ more of those later) than roughly south east parallel to Neville Hill railway sidings and gradually petering out and terminating at Temple Newsam Road near the now defunct athletic track.

There was also another road called ‘Red Road’ by some. This ran along the bottom of the Snake Lane playing fields to Knostrop lane. I always considered this to be part of Snake Lane (but this may not have been strictly correct) and Halton Moor Road to be the ‘proper’ Red Road.

The third road was known colloquially as ‘Black Road’ probably because of the contrast of its Tarmac surface with the red shale of the adjacent Red Road. Black Road is more correctly a continuation of Pontefract Lane which started at the Hope Inn on York Road but this section was never called any other name than Back Road or ‘Blackie’ as in ‘we’re going down Blackie.

For young boys Black Road offered by far the most opportunities for adventure and so the following few yarns will focus on the East Leeds version of the iconic Route 66. It ran roughly south east forming the southern boundary of Halton Moor and Temple Newsam Country Park. terminating at the junction with Bullerthorpe Lane near Woodlesford. Little traffic traversed this road other than the leviathans carrying the excavated material from Parkinson’s strip mining site, located between Temple Newsam and Woodlesford. They would thunder up the road discharging billowing clouds of dust and fine soil which is why, after rain, the road below Blue Bell Wood was covered in a thin film of treacherous sludge, hazardous to any bike rider and, I dare say any other means of transport. The open cast mining site is now completely landscaped and there are very few obvious traces of mining activity.

The Snake Lane playing fields at the top of the road and Cross Green Lane were the source of great pleasure to many with its football pitches, bowling Greens and tennis courts. We spent many hundreds of hours there, as was the picturesque East Leeds Cricket Club (what a gem that was) the site of many keenly fought cricket matches and pleasant afternoons.

The ‘Basins’ were further down and located between Red Road and Black Road. I’ve no idea how they came to be there but suspect they were some kind of ancient soaking pits. Perhaps others may know. Anyway, they were a series of partly spherical depressions in the ground about 25/30 yards in diameter and about 3 or 4 yards deep and they were great fun to whizz around on your bike at breakneck speed – just like the Wall of Death (almost) before skimming over the rim, wheels leaving the ground and into the next basin. Of course it didn’t always happen as smoothly as described, especially after rain and the surface was very slippery, often resulting in a tangle in the cusp of the basin. I guess these were early versions of BMX parks but without the manoeuvrability of modern stunt bikes.

Bike races down Black Road were a popular pastime for us and one summer evening, a few of us were at the top of Snakey where it met Black Road and participating in a few bike races down towards the Woodlesford end. One of the group was a lad called George Dawson who lived somewhere in the Glencoe’s during the early fifties and drifted in and out of our regular group. George had a top quality bike with a fixed wheel arrangement whilst I had bike with a derailleur type gear change and we challenged each other to a race, exchanging bikes with each other. Off we went fairly evenly matched down to ‘Red Walls’ or was it ‘Black Walls’? the bridge over the Wyke beck which then ran along from Halton Moor and beyond On the return run I hit a large pot hole (probably caused by the huge trucks mentioned earlier) at speed, which sent me spinning from his bike and skidding along the road for what seemed about 50 yards. My clothes were torn and I suffered considerable gazing, still carrying the scars to this day and it didn’t do George’s bike much good either. When I see bike crashes in today’s Tour de France it makes me shudder, bringing back unpleasant memories of that day. George’s first thought was to make sure I was OK and even through his bike was badly damaged. He was completely unconcerned, ensuring that I got home safely if somewhat painfully. He absolutely refused to accept any payment for repairs as it had been his ‘challenge’ but it must have cost a small fortune to put his bike back into shape. Unfortunately, we shortly lost contact with George because I believe he went to live in Australia. Bike racing also disappeared from my routine activities for a long time.

Another time we thought we had discovered a highly efficient way of collecting blackberries which grew in profusion further down Black Road. At the time it was possible to buy fireworks long before bonfire night and there was a particular vicious little banger called ‘The Little Demon’. Armed with a few of these we thought that tossing a few into the blackberry bush just a fraction of a second before the explosion, would blow bucket loads of berries from the bush and become much easier to gather. I have to tell you that this idea was a total failure, resulting in not a single berry being dislodged and a total waste of a week’s pocket money. Still nothing ventured, nothing gained.

About three quarters of a mile down the road from the Bridgefield, a rail spur ran from the ‘Paddy line’ to Neville Hill and a track on the RHS lead to an army camp which was used during WW2 to house POW’s and I think the local defence and Home Guard. There was also an Ack Ack battery stationed there. It was later used by the TA. The prisoners, which I believe were mainly Italians seemed to roam freely and a number of them stayed after the war, merging with the Italian contingent in the community. Part of the army camp was an armoured car testing circuit, which consisted of several deep water filled troughs with intervening humps and hillocks. These troughs teeming with frogs, newts and small fish were a magnet for young boys with fishing nets. On occasions a team of TA soldiers would bring a couple of tanks and put them through their paces around the circuit and once or twice they even allowed us onto the turret for a thrilling ride. However, I dread to think what happened to the wildlife in the water troughs as these armoured beasts splashed through them, churning up anything in their path with their powerful crawler tracks.

‘The Gorge’ was a cutting through a granite or sandstone outcrop near to the Woodlesford end of the road, about 10/15 foot high and about 100 yards long and topped by a line of trees, some of which were horse chestnuts. The sandstone rocks provided many a good hand and foot hold for clambering up for the ‘conker’ trees in September, when the conkers trees came into their prime. As it was a couple of miles from the top of Black Road it was a very long round trip to walk and as such meant that the conker crop would be pretty much intact, enabling a good harvest.

Just around the corner, up Bullerthorpe Lane, the rear entrance into Temple Newsam Park lead into through fairly dense woods. Within them was a pond which was absolutely stuffed with fish which would fight to jump out onto a simple fishing rod or line. Fishing competitions would often yield 30 to 40 catches EACH of fish measuring up to three or four inches long. They were all returned of course to ensure sport for another day.

That which we knew as the Bluebell Wood was in fact properly called Bell Wood and bordered the southern edge of the Temple Newsam golf course. I seem to remember that access to it from Black Road meant crossing private farmland patrolled by a warden who seemed to find the presence of young boys inimitable to peace and harmony. So it was a bit of sport to scamper across the farmland and dodge the bad tempered warden in order to meander up Dog Kennel Hill to the mansion house at the top, taking the short cut home via Halton Moor Road (Red Road)

The final little yarn of this story concerns the illegal and dangerous practice of what we called Paddy Hopping. At times when we were trudging back up the road, the Paddy would often pass by, usually slowing down and sometimes enabling us to jump up and cling to the back of the last wagon. We would dismount quite easily as it approached Cross Green Lane as it had to stop there prior to discharge the passengers or to cross the road when going to the coal staithe. Makes you shudder just to think of it these days but then, what a laugh!

Roaming far and wide was an everyday occurrence for many, just think what today’s youngsters are missing.

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5 Responses to “The Pocket Watch and Route Noir”

  1. marlene Egan Says:

    I remember bluebell wood very well l seem to recall a natural spring in there ,and we used to stop and drink from it on the way to temple newsman . We used to walk from Easy Road to temple newsman,l can’t see the children of today doing that . Red road black road and snakey lane l remember them all great memories

  2. Dave Carncross Says:

    By God, that tale took me back Eric. I always thought that what we called Bluebell Woods was really called Lady Ingrams Woods. In later years I dismissed that version thinking that one of us had made it up but when reading about Temple Newsam was amazed to find that a family called Ingram owned it for many a year so maybe I was right. My most well defined memory of the woods was once when we were having a climbing race – pick a tree and get right to the top – I was well in the lead until I encountered a wood pigeons nest and the bird flew out straight into my face. Nearly caused a dreadful accident in the trouser area. The shock seemed to affect my coordination and it took me twice as long to get down as up. Wish I could have another go now.

  3. Eric Says:

    Hi Dave
    Do you remember the warden /gamekeeper that used to give us nightmares, I used to be so scared, but that was part of the fun, being terrified.
    Don’t worry Dave, I’m sure if a grizzly was after you, you’d climb those trees like a good’un

  4. Eric Says:

    By the way Dave, you may be correct in that the woods could have been named after the Ingram family who, as you say, were owners of the house for a period and if memory serves, the Ingrams passed the estate onto another family member who was the Earl of Halifax before it was acquired by Leeds CC.
    So maybe Bell Wood was a name given later, or even simply called that by association due to the abundance of bluebells growing there.
    I also seem to remember that one of the prior owners married Mary Queen of Scots who was said to have stayed there on occasion.
    Pete’s a good local historian , he may know the answers

  5. peterwwood Says:

    I can’t confirm the origins of the name ‘Bell Wood’ but the guy who married Mary Queen of Scots and lived at Temple Newsam was Lord Darnley. There are a few streets named after him at Colton but he, himself he met a sticky end being murdered by his peers.
    Route Noir is now a concrete conglomerate of factories, an incinerator, wind generator, access roads etc., unrecognisable from the Route Noir we all knew and loved. But if you close your eyes you can still see the ‘dog leg’ bend near Oxley’s sports field, good old Red Walls, Austin’s farm with the duck pond, the Basins and the Blue Bell Wood. Lets do that shall we?

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