Electricity and Football at Elland Road

by

Here are more great memories of East Leeds
Electricity and football at Elland Road and East End Park
By Eddie Blackwell

The Terraced House I was born in was serviced by Coal and by Gas. In simple terms the heating, oven and set pot, were part of a Coal fired Range, and the lighting and the cooking ring were powered by Gas.
This was producer gas made from Coal in Coke Ovens then using the Water Gas Process to make producer gas which was pumped into Gasometers, (which still exist today) for storage, and supplied to your house for your domestic needs.
The gas that flows to your needs today, is usually Natural Gas formed over Millions of years by layers of decomposing animal and vegetable matter being subject to high pressures and high temperatures deep within the bowels of the Earth and is usually odourless and has to have a smell added to make it detectable and therefore less dangerous for domestic use. The Producer Water Gas to which I refer needs no such treatment and has a horrible sulphurous smell.
In our house our lighting was provided by gas, each room had a gas mantle which was ignited at night to give light to enable us to see. If the mantle was damaged the light did not provide sufficient luminosity, and the mantle had to be replaced. This was a delicate operation and required a steady hand and an understanding of what needed to be done. The mantle was a silky mesh bag that had to be tied to the ceramic collar through which the gas passed, once this had been completed then the silky bag was ignited and shrunk to form a delicate mantle, when the gas was turned on and ignited the mantle glowed giving off a white luminous light, not dissimilar to the famed Limelight of the Music Halls of years ago, if you touched the mantle then it would disintegrate and become a white powder and the process would have to be repeated, so Mum always had a supply of candles handy as a reserve..
At this time Electricity was in its infancy and although the Trams were powered by this unseen power, domestic distribution was still only for the rich, however we did have a wireless powered by electricity, and the electricity entered the house from an external source.
The wireless although very posh looking with its highly polished wood exterior, did not work. Dad had left to fight in the War, and looking into the back of the wireless we could see valves and wires and solder, it was much more complicated than a Crystal Set, so there was no way we could repair it. At the bottom of our Street across the other side of Pontefract Lane next to the Sheppard Pub, Mr Charlie Atha had his bicycle shop, he also charged batteries and accumulators, and repaired electrical things, he was a strange man whenever I went into his shop I would always see odd pennies and coppers on the floor, I used to pick them up and put them on the counter and when he appeared I would say I’ve found these pennies on the floor Mr Atha I think someone has dropped their change, and he would smile knowingly tapping the side of his nose and say Good Lad what can I do for you today.. Mum called in to see him and asked if he could repair a wireless, what make is it he asked, and Mum said I don’t know that’s my husband’s department and he’s away helping to fight the war, bring it down Lass and I’ll see what I can do..
So off we went home to get the Wireless Set, well I knew nothing about electricity, and my sister who was older than me had no knowledge of it either, everything to us was powered by coal or gas, Mum didn’t know because technology was Dads department, so she got a knife from the kitchen, Stainless Steel blade with a bone handle made in Sheffield, and decided to cut through the wire attached to the Wireless, well it was a live connection, there was a huge bang and sparks were flying every and Mum fainted, run and get Aunty Margaret (she only lived across the way in Ascot place) my sister said as she tended to Mum who was on the floor, by the time Aunty Margaret and I got back, Mum was sat on a chair and my sister was making her a cup of tea, and a flood of relief come over me I thought Mum was seriously hurt. I picked up the knife from the floor and the blade was almost completely destroyed, go and get Mr Atha to come down this needs to be made safe Aunty Margaret said, and off I went like a rocket, I related what had happened to Mr Atha, and he said you run home and tell them that nobody must touch anything , I’ll get some tools and then I’m on my way..
When he arrived he sized up the situation and said you’ve been very lucky you could have been electrocuted, but you were holding the bone handle of the knife and that insulated you against the electrical current, there’s 240 volts going through there, then he walked over to where the wire came through the wall and said this is called a switch, and switch it off, and this is called a plug and pulled it out, now it’s disconnected and safe..
Well I was only a boy not yet old enough to be a member of the library, and I wasn’t an exceptionally good reader, but I said to my sister I need a book about electricity from the library, I just have to find out what electricity is. The following morning off we went to York Road Library and I found this book called “The Boy Electrician”, in the children’s section, the lady said but you’re not old enough to join yet, and my sister said I’ll take it out for him, then looked at me and said don’t damage it and make sure you return it on time otherwise I’ll kill you, she loved me really and had carried me many, many miles on her back when I was very small and my legs were tired, I recall some years later she said to me you see how my bum sticks out at the back, that’s from carrying you on my back when you were little…
This book turned out to be a gem it was full of pictures and drawings of magnets and armatures and windings and things and names like volts, currents and amps and watts, it described how electricity was produced, and how powerful it was, and all sorts of things you must never do, and there were rules and laws about circuits, Watts = Volts x Amps I seem to recall, and parallel and series circuits, a lot of it I couldn’t understand Dynamos and Alternators, but I’d put my foot on the first rung of the ladder, if in doubt find out..

Football at Elland Road and East End Park.

I recall in the mid 1940’s I think the war had just finished, I had a school friend called Kenny Walker, he lived in Bickerdyke Street which started in York Road almost opposite the Library and ran all the way down to the ‘oller in Saville Green that was adjacent to Torre Road. He was a fanatical Leeds United fan, he wore the Blue and Old Gold scarf, and his Dad took him to all the games both home and away. he also had a Collie Dog called Lassie just like the Lassie in the films at the cinema.
Well one day when Leeds United were playing at home, Kenny said shall we go and watch them play, I said I’ve only got twopence halfpenny, Kenny said well we don’t have to buy tickets I know where we can sneak in, “famous last words” so we walked into town and caught a tram that dropped us off at the ground.
It was nothing like the ground is today and there was a large flat cindered area around the back there was a high solid fence as I recall and at the end of the fence a large Wrought Iron Double Gate with a chain and padlock holding it closed, Kenny said it’s locked, I’ve never seen it locked before, so we went up and looked through the gate and a voice said you can’t come in here without a ticket, but you can watch for 10 minutes through the gate then be on your way, so much for sneaking in, but I was relieved really because I didn’t like that idea anyway.. We watched for a while and I must say I wasn’t impressed at all, they were playing an Irish winger called David Cochrane that day, and he was a good ball player and dribbler, but all he did was go back and beat the same man again and again he never crossed the ball into the penalty box which I thought he should have done, but in fairness we only had a limited view of what was happening, but I said to Kenny we can play better than that, well that got his backup and he said I’m getting some football boots and a football for Christmas and I’ll play you down on East End Park, I’ll race you to the end of the fence…ready steady go.. But he could never beat me, and would always have an excuse like ahh! I’ve got a stone in my shoe, or I’ll have to stop I’ve got a stitch, they were great times when we were lads..
Well I put football boots down on my Christmas list that year, and true to his word on Christmas morning there was a knock on the door, and It was Kenny football boots round his neck hung from the laces, football in his hands and a big smile on his face, are we on then he said, did you get your football boots, yes I said and produced these Light Buff coloured all leather football boots, shall we go to East End Park then and have a game, Mum chimed in but it’s snowing you can’t play football in this, we’ll be all right Mum it’s not going to lay it’s melting as soon as it touches the ground, “again famous last words”..
Off we went down to the park, by this time the snow was starting to lay, but this was a game of honour and the reputation of Leeds United was there for the taking, well it was hopeless you couldn’t do anything in the snow which by now was about 2/3″ deep, we finished up just kicking the ball to each other for about 1/2 an hour and packed it in, but the worst was yet to come..
You lads look frozen to death I told you it was a silly idea here’s a towel each, get your selves dry and I’ll make you some Bovril, and what have you done to your boots, well we lads had never heard of Dubbing and when the label said real leather what they meant was compressed cardboard the football and our boots had just expanded as the snow had melted turned to water and saturated the surfaces, Kenny was almost in tears when he realized, he said my Dad will kill me he spent a full weeks wages on these and he said I had to look after them.. well we placed them near the fire and they dried, and Kenny’s were probably leather because they were not that bad, Mum got some brown polish out and polished them for him and they looked OK, but my boots were unbelievable, so I said well they were hurting my feet anyway Mum, trying to offload a bit of the blame…
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Thanks Eddie for sharing your great memories with us.

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6 Responses to “Electricity and Football at Elland Road”

  1. aussiepom Says:

    The ritual of replacing the gas mantel, how well I remember my Dad standing on a chair to replace them at my Grandma’s house who lived next door to Edward. Like you I was interested in what made things work. My Dad taught me how to change a tap washer, mend a fuse and replace the valves in the radio at our own house. I’m also pretty nifty with a soldering iron. A good job he did teach me I married a guy who must have gone to the same DIY classes Frank Spencer went to. Like your Mum I too learned the hard way of switching off things before attempting to repair them. Not quite so dangerous an experience though the first time I changed a tap washer. I just had an indoor fountain as I hadn’t turned off the stop tap before taking a spanner to the tap in the kitchen.

  2. Edward Blackwell... Says:

    Thanks aussiepom, those were the days when everything was a new experience, remember Mum saying to me don’t touch that Iron (one of those cast iron ones that you heated on the fire) you’ll burn yourself, what did I do when she went into the scullery, yes I had to find out the hard way, finished up having to hold my hand under the cold water tap, it still blistered..but I never touched the iron it again..

  3. peterwwood Says:

    We too had gas. light it went up and down as a result of the pressure sent down the pipes.Sometimes it was quite bright sometimes a sickly greeny yellow. Folk would say, ‘the pressure’s down tonight.’ We had a problem with low ceilings, tall folk would be forever knocking the mantle off with their heads, if you didn’t have a spare it would be candle light until you got a replacement. I used love congregating around a gas street lamp. if you were a good climber you could shin up the post and make messages in the steam on the glass with your finger.

  4. Edward Blackwell... Says:

    I remember the gas street lights Pete, Mr Olbison, who lived at the end house on our street worked for the Gas Board, and he used to go round cleaning and checking the the timers, (which were clockwork as I recall) were all working correctly, we did climb up to swing from the arm that was there for the ladder, simple fun but we enjoyed it…

  5. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thank you Edward, a beautifully written piece that stirred so many memories. I remember Charlie Atha’s little shop (was there something triangular about it?). In the 40’s I would go there for bits of that tiny rubber tubing needed for the valves of bike inner-tubes, and for brake blocks that I had to carve (horribly) to get them to fit and stay in the brake shoes.

  6. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Hiya Doug thank you for your kind comments, as I recall the shop was located on a triangular plot at the intersection of Lavender walk and Pontefract lane, he always had all the bits and pieces you needed, and although caos always seemed to rule he could always remember where everything was, oddly enough I found him to be a very generous man, if you were a penny or twopence short he would say it’s OK bring it next time, but he never forgot….lol…

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