Where Did All Our Tuskey Go?


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


.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


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14 Responses to “Where Did All Our Tuskey Go?”

  1. Eric Says:

    A really interesting item Pete & a great piece of local history. I never realised that there had been so many pits in the area & looking at the map, there seems to be a couple near the location of “the basins” which may explain their origin.
    I believe the rhubarb in the area was of such a quality that a pink rhubarb champagne was produced from it.
    Similarly , it was said that licorice liked the sooty soil as well & it’s quality lead to the establishment of Pontefract as the centre for world famous licorice products like Pontefract Cakes, Licorice Allsorts etc .

  2. Bill Sowry Says:

    I have traveled the Red and Black Rds many times on my way to work in the Wateloo Main pit and on the Paddy train from 1948 – 63.
    I enjoyed tuskey and went to Victoria School. I live in Australia, Wollongong NSW. i was a miner then a deputy before leaving for down under in 1963. Bill Sowry
    I lived opposite the Slip Inn

    • peterwwood Says:

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your comment on the East Leeds Memories site. I bet you have some tales we could use on this site? If you have please e-mail them to me on peter_wood@talktalk.net we are always looking for old East Leedsers across the world who can provide us with a tale. The other thing: when you sent your last comment about a match played long ago between East Leeds Meth’s and Leeds Wanderers and did anyone remember you? Did you get my reply that I had asked at our last East Leeds reunion if anyone remembered you and Jack Overfield and another guy whose name now escapes me said they remember you fondly and they played in that particular final too but believe the opposition was Corpus Christie and not Leeds Wanderers because Corpus had knocked out Leeds Wanderers in the semi final. Please reply if you get this.
      Pete Wood.

      • Bill Sowry Says:

        In reply to Jack Overfield he was right, it was Corpus Christie we played in the final. I had to mark big Willie Harrison. Other members of our team I remember Derek Green, Jeff Fozzard, Chippie Chappelow, Dennis Kelvin, Arthur Belhouse, Dennis Waterhouse, Garry Hazelwood goal keeper, Harry ? full back, from the Ascots plus Jack himself. It was a great game, hard fought for our win.
        Bill Sowry

  3. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thank you Peter for that overview of the changing uses of the land. It is hard not to be nostalgic about the tuskey dipped into the sugar wrapped in a bit of newspaper. Bill, were you related to the Sowry family who lived in the Charltons opposite to Taylor’s grocers? The Sowry lad I knew was the son of plumbers, and he had an air pistol which he let us fire down in his cellar on one occasion.

    • Bill Sowry Says:

      Hi Doug Farnill
      Harry Sowry was my uncle who lived opposite Taylor’s grocery. Harry’s sons were Keith and Kenneth Sowry and a daughter. My father Herbert Sowry became the senior member of the Sowry plumbing business after Herbert’s father William Sowry died. My father Herbert Sowry died in 1932 from WW1 injuries. He had lost a leg and gassed. Maybe Harry’s sons had the air pistol.
      I lived at 4a Temple View Grove opposite the Slip Inn with my mother Elsie Sowry and grandfather Billy Barraclough, also a coal miner. I was born in Charlton Grove, and lived there a few years..
      Cheers Bill Sowry now 85 yrs old, living in Wollongong, Australia.

  4. Eric Says:

    Hi Bill
    I also remember the Sowry family in Charlton Rd , I lived at the very top facing onto East Park View & remember the brothers you mention although they were a few years older than me but I seem to recollect the older brother of a friend of mine ,Frank Bellerby, who would be around your age now, was friendly with them. It’s quite possible you knew Frank too.
    If I remember correctly, wasn’t Charlton Grove where Tippings gas meter factory was located & “Lizzies” general store was I think at the Slip Inn end of Temple View Grove

    • Bill Sowry Says:

      G’DAY ERIC Frank Bellerby’s name is familiar but that’s all. I remember Tippings gas meter was at the end of Charlton Grove. Opposite the Slip Inn was the Times laundry then Wrigglesworth’s coal yard and shop which was Lizzies. Further up an Off Licence shop, then Harry’s the butcher next to Knight’s fish shop. Opposite Knights was….., tNext to Knights was another Off Licence shop. Opposite was Martin’s newspaper shop where I had a paper run as a school boy. Before the paper run I went to the Bakehouse behind York Rd swimming baths, and picked up six large bread cakes for the shop. I was given a small bread cake as a reward and five shillings a week’s wage for morning and evening paper delivery. I spent this at the Penny Rush and the Bughouse, also the Star and Shaftesbury’s.
      Where do you live now Eric?.

  5. Eric Says:

    I remember all those places you mention Bill, Temple View Rd was a busy thoroughfare in those days. Do you also remember the grocer’s store (opposite the lower off licence) owned by a real grumpy guy called Yates?. Then there was Big Bill Campbell’s hairdressing salon where he’d send young lads down to the Slip Inn Jug & Bottle outlet for a jugs of bitter which he seemed to consume all day long. Further up there was a pharmacy & opposite there, Blakey’s pork butcher shop. I think there was a couple more establishments as well
    I still live in Leeds but unless you’ve been back in recent years, you wouldn’t recognise the area of your youth.

    • Bill Sowry Says:

      I remember Yates’ shop and he was a big grumpy old man when I shopped there after school. There was the Pawn shop up near Blakey’s where my granddad pawned his suit in and out for the Slip Inn. Next door to the pharmacy was a fruit and veg shop owned by my school friend Charlie Walford’s aunty. Blakey’s pork pies were out of this world. I bought a small pie every week for myself. Lizzy’s had the best Irish roll bacon which I would love today.
      I went back to Leeds 2006 with some of my family and was surprised at the changes; old houses replaced by new, including mine at 4a Templeview Grove, but the Slip Inn was still standing.
      I worked in tailoring at Derry & Wests in Leeds near the bus station after leaving school at 14,then went in Waterloo mine for 2 years, then 2 years in Royal Navy which was a good lesson in discipline and respect which is sadly lacking these days in Australia.
      Where did you work Eric?

  6. Eric Says:

    Hi Bill
    Don’t remember the pawn shop but I do the fruit & veg.
    The Slip Inn is no longer a pub but a convenience store but you probably saw that when you visited in 2006 and you’ll also remember the place when it was a small pub before it had the large concert room added at the back onto what we called the “hollers”.
    I had a relative who worked in tailoring near the bus station but I don’t remember the name of the Co and Derry & West doesn’t ring a bell but there was a few tailoring co’s around there wasn’t there.
    After Uni, most of my career was with Smith Cranes where I became Chief Engineer . It later merged with Clarke Chapman and became the Crane & Bridge Division.
    After coming out of York Rd baths, frozen because of the nearly freezing swimming pool, we would also call at the small bakery behind the baths which you mentioned and look forward to devouring a warm, freshly made bread cake.
    Happy days !!

  7. aussiepom Says:

    I think 50% of former East End Park residents became £10 tourists in the 60s. I love all your photos Pete but in my minds eye I still see them as I remember the land marks. I’d no idea I was on Black Road until we got to where the Bridgefield pub used to be when you and Brenda took me on a tour of where I used to live. Your site is like a magnet for all us Aussie Poms who used to live in the Glensdales and Charlton streets and houses near The Slip. All those people living in a small area I never heard of until I tuned into East Leeds Memories. We can hardly pop round the corner for a cup of tea Bill, Wollongong is a fair hike from Brisbane but glad you’ve added your name to Pete’s site. Since I joined a cousin I haven’t seen for over 30 years added a comment to one of my stories and a relative of my late mother-in-law also got in touch with me and an old school mate too. We might be living in different parts of the world now but 30,000 people tune into the site and are still interested in what we got up to in those terraced houses all those years ago.

  8. peterwwood Says:

    Thanks for your comment and kind words Audrey. I love it when old East Leedsers link in from across the world, that’s what the site is all about. Especially for you lot out there in OZ from the Charlton’s, East Parks and Glensdale’s, etc. I think you must have a conduit from East End Park all way to Australia, it probable starts opposite the old Slip or perhaps on the old Rec. We love you all.
    Regarding our mind’s eyes. My old teacher used to say, ‘See it in your mind’s eye’.
    When I look through my own mind’s eye I can still see Abe White welcoming folk into his Easy Road Picture house, in his Tuxedo, his two stern sisters one in the pay box and one looking out for miscreants. I see big Ernie at the Princess sitting by the screen making sure you didn’t go to the toilet too many times. I see ‘Cleggy’ the tyrant but well respected woodwork teacher at Victory School.
    I see you all out there in the blazing sun while we shiver in the cold and paddle in the floods.

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