Archive for January, 2016

Where Did All Our Tuskey Go?

January 1, 2016

Where has All Our Tuskey Gone?

When we were young and had no care
Tuskey (rhubarb) sticks grew everywhere,
One has to wonder where they’ve gone?
Under concrete, every one!

In an earlier tale Sid Simpson relates our typical ramble from East End Park to Temple Newsam: When we were young boys a few of my schoolmates and I would meet up and go on an adventure to Temple Newsam. We were all pupils of Victoria School, York Road and about ten or eleven years old at the time, money was always scarce for us which meant to get to Temple Newsam we always had to walk. The easiest way to Temple Newsam was either down Black Road, which was the longest way, or down Red Road which was the shortest way. Four or five of us would meet up and set off on our way. Black Road and Red Road formed a triangle near to East Leeds Cricket Club. In the triangle was a field of wild rhubarb (tuskey) we would nearly always stop at this field to have our sweet. The tuskey grew so tall and the leaves were so huge we could sit underneath and keep dry if it rained. Out would come the sugar – for those who had been able to pinch some from home – and we would eat our fill. We avoided the thickest stalks as they were the

sourest

.rhubarb sheds
Molly & Peter Smith working in the rhubarb sheds in wartime.

When we rambled the area in the 1940/50s tuskey seemed to grow out of every nick and cranny all the way from Cross Green Lane eastwards to Temple Newsam, Knostrop, Skelton Grange, Thorpe Stapleton, Newsam Green and then on to Morley and Wakefield which formed the golden triangle of rhubarb growing. Rhubarb flourished it was said because the soil in our area liked the soot which fell from industrial Hunslet. So Rhubarb growing flourished due to the legacy of the previous phase in the history of the use of the land use which in our case was coal mining. The land itself is timeless but the nature of its use changes through the years and each phase leaves its fingerprint on the next hence soot produced from the industry that used the coal in the mining phase helped to grow the rhubarb in the next phase – the market garden phase. Academics call this process ’Synthesis’.
Taking an historical snap shot of area eastward to Thorpe Stapleton the earliest settlement recorded is probably the exposure of a Viking long house near Skelton Grange. This places it earlier than the Norman Conquest and this is substantiated by the Danish name ‘Thorpe’ –Thorpe Stapleton, Knowsthorpe etc. After ‘The Conquest’ William gave large tracts of land south of Leeds to his loyal military commander, Ilbert de-Lacy, who had successfully engineered the crossing of the swollen River Aire for William’s army on its way to York.
In the 13th/14/ century large areas of land were the property of ‘The Lords of the Manors’ and the so called ‘breadbaskets’ of Leeds and district were at Woodhouse in the north and the fertile area of Knostrop in the lower Aire Valley in the south. The Lord of the Manor of Leeds was at great pains to stop Knostrop falling into the hands of The Abbott of Kirkstall who was mopping up fertile land wherever he could. At Knostrop the fields were worked by ‘villeins’ no not ‘ villians’ they’re the ones the police are after. Villiens in this context were known as ‘bondsmen’ not slaves and yet not free men, they were the bottom of the pile in the social order, they were obligated to serve The Lord of The Manor and cultivate his land without any payment. For this they were allowed to live in a small cottage on the master’s land and have use of a small strip of land to grow their own food. They had to ask the lord’s permission for their son to become a monk or for their daughter to marry. In addition they had to supply 4 hens and 40 eggs to the lord at Christmas for his table. (Burt & Grady The Illustrated History of Leeds, 1994)
The Black Death Plague which devastated Britain in the 14th century was a two edged sword, it killed 40% of the labouring population but labour became a scarce commodity so those that were left were able to negotiate better terms for themselves and heralded the end of the ‘bondsman’ era. The legacy of this age was that it left us with the great estates and grand houses at Thorpe Stapleton (12thcentury), Swillington Hall and later the Elizabethan/Jacobean Temple Newsam Estate, still available for our 21at century leisure.
The next phase to dominate our land area was the winning of coal to service the industrial revolution. Coal mining was recorded in Knostrop as early as the 16th century but it really got underway with the sinking of Waterloo Pit – the first sod of which was turned on the eve of the battle of Waterloo in 1815. By 1825 there were seven pits a complex of wagon ways and an iron works in the area. A pit village, aptly named ‘Waterlooville’ built by Fenton to service his collieries and had two streets a square and a school between the river and the canal near Thorpe Stapleton is now completely disappeared. (Click to enlarge)

pit map correct size

I have constructed a map of all the named pits in the area from a variety of sources. It has to be pointed out that this map shows the existence of coal shafts across the extent of the mining years, and not all in production at any one time. Some of the land owners who made vast profits from allowing be coal to be mined under their land became too greedy and in the case of Swillington and Methley Halls they allowed coal to be taken from directly below their grand houses and the subsequent subsidence resulted in the Halls themselves having to be demolished. The legacy we have from the coalmining era is the danger of old shafts opening up the odd bit of railway line the red shale from Dam Pit, located between the two plantations at Knostrop which furnished us with the red shale for Halton Moor Road (red Road) and the narrow red road which ran from Black Road past the end of Snake Lane, and down to Knostrop. Of course and the pit hills now landscaped at East End Park which were great for our sledging forays.
So to the market Garden phase the source of our lovely ‘tuskey’ The land left after the mining phase was not the uncluttered fertile fields of earlier and more suited to small farms and particularly market garden enterprises we remember Allinson’s, Austin’s, Craven’s, Tillotson’s, Horner’s, Bickerdike’s, and Grumwell’s etc. Cabbages, cauliflower, Swedes and turnips were the staple diet of these small holding and of course rhubarb (tuskey) it grew wild in the fields where it was allowed to ‘bolt’ for a couple of years and then split and taken into low dark forcing sheds where it shot up to provide the lovely pink stalks for market. The legacy from this era is the odd tuskey root lurking in some forgotten corner or those taken and cultivated in private gardens.
So, moving to the 21st century. The army camps erected in the 1940s to house Italian Prisoners of war and our soldiers to guards them have gone and finally the open cast coal mining that followed the deep mines and blighted the area for most of our lives have also finally been exhaust but in their case they have left us a favourable legacy in the form of St Aiden’s Country Park – a huge pleasant area for water fowl and wild life and thankfully for us to roam. I thoroughly recommend St Aiden’s for a pleasant Sunday morning stroll either just a mile around the lake or a longer three miler around the perimeter But generally I see this as ‘the concrete age’. Personally I’m not a great fan of concrete, concrete production accounts for 5% of global carbon emissions and flattens everything in its path. I suppose it’s a necessary evil. The Cross Green Industrial Estate enveloped all of Knostrop, which has no inhabitants now. Skelton Grange Power Station Built in the 1950s has already been and gone.
To replace our lovely old primary schools: St Hilda’s Ellerby Lane and Victoria etc, a new school was built in the late fifties/early sixties first called, Cross Green School but later morphed into ‘Copperfield’s School’ with the slogan ‘Roots to Grow Wings to Fly’. It has already flown away leaving as its legacy a few Tarmac patches where the tennis courts used to be and a habitat for travellers’ horses. Black Road, our gateway to Temple Newsam is now an urban motorway with factories all the way down, engulphing Austin’s farm where we turned left for ‘Temp’. A huge incinerator is being constructed at the time of writing and there is a 300 foot plus wind generator to service the sewage works. Don’t look at this picture of today’s Black Road if you want to keep our great old Black Road in your mind’s eye. But hey! East Leeds Cricket Club stills stands proudly at the top!
Pity this generation of kids and those who follow on who will never have the pleasure of walking down Black Road to Temp and to feed on wild tuskey. They don’t know what they’ve missed

black road

Black Road today