Archive for August, 2016

Getting older in East Leeds

August 1, 2016

Getting older in East Leeds.

By Eddie Blackwell

Wally Dunn the Bespoke Tailor’s.

My Aunty Alice and her son Donald Anderson lived with my Granny in Ascot Street. Our Donald left school at 14 years old, and decided to become a Plumber, and he started his apprenticeship in 1947. Aunty Alice worked at Wilsons Mills, and used to get remnants of cloth, I was still in short trousers at that time, and Mum took me to Wally Dunn’s, at the bottom of the Street to be measured and have two pairs of short trousers made from the remnants of cloth bought from Aunty Alice.
Well I felt like Royalty being measured up for made to measure trousers. Mr Dunn took the cloth, and said do you want them lined? Mum said yes please, it will take about two weeks, but they will ready in time for Whitsuntide. In due course we went to collect the short trousers, which fit me a treat and Mum paid as required. Mr Dunn said I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’m looking for an errand boy to help me in the shop, and I wondered if young Edward would be interested. I don’t know about that Mum said, it depends on what his Dad says, we’ll ask him and get back to you. It would be half a crown a week Wally said. He had been injured during the war by Machine gun fire, and had to wear a metal belt to hold his stomach in. Well when we got home Mum related the story to my Dad, and Dad said what do you feel about it son, I thought 2/6d was a lot of money, and it would finance my model aeroplane building, so I took the job…
I was a quick learner at that age and the measuring and marking out of the cloth was complimentary to the drawings I made for my models. I was interested, soon I was chopping out which was using the shears to cut the cloth, cutting was drawing the patterns terns with chalk to the measurements of the Client, I remember one of the most important things when chopping out was to snip the cloth at intervals along the seams in order that the ladies who were sewing the garment together had markers to keep the profile. Wally said always use the tip of the shears to do this so you don’t make a kill. A kill was when you cut into the fabric of the garment and ruin the cloth, and have to start again.
The things I had to do was to attend the shop when a customer called, and help in all aspects of the sale, flapped or jetted pockets Sir, one vent or two vents, single or double breasted style, help choose the cloth, and the lining for the suit or suits, record the measurements and details and generally become involved in all aspects of the buisiness, it was something that I enjoyed doing, and there was much more to come..
Wally loved Motorbikes, and cars I remember we went down to a garage where his Mum lived, and there was an old Lanchester Car it was a straight four cylinder engine as I recall, and Wally said it probably wont start, but we fiddled about with it and borrowed a spare Battery connected it up, switch on the ignition pressed the starter button and brum, brum, it was away huge clouds of oily smelling blue/black exhaust smoke which cleared after a while, so we took it out for a spin down York Road and along Burmantofts Street then back on up York Road returning to the garage. We shouldn’t have done that said Wally because we were not taxed or insured, but it was fun wasn’t it. I’d never been that close to a motor car before, and to ride in one exceeded my wildest dreams, and yes it was great fun…
Then he got a Triumph Motor cycle this is about 1947/48 think it was called the Grand Prix it was his pride and joy, and he and his wife had the leather gear of the day that bikers wore, there were no safety helmets required in those days, and he would take me for a spin and we’d go and watch a Hill Climb or go to Odsal and the Speedway…Put another Nickle in in the Nickelodeon all I want is loving you and music, music, music, closer my dear come closer, was the hit song of the day, we had some great times.. There was one occasion when we went by Bus because three of us could not ride the Bike, Wally’s wife Mary a lovely lady blond hair and looked like a Film Star was with us, and after the speedway finished we went to take the bus back home.. Well there was Lady on the bus who got on after we did, and as I had always been taught, I stood up to allow her to sit down, then the Conductor came and said I’m sorry but you lot will have to get off which included me, well the Lady that I had given my seat to made no move to get off, I had no money and I didn’t really know the area we were in, so Wally said this Bus is not moving until that Lady gives up her seat, my lad gave her his seat as a courtesy, showing good manners we didn’t expect that he would be thrown off the bus for it, so the bus Conductor said, is this true Madam, yes she replied, then it’s you that will have to get off, take that seat young man.. I was so embarrassed, but I would have been lost had it not worked out that way.
After the garments had been, chopped out, they had to go for making up, and there were several Ladies in the area who worked for themselves, one lady who made trousers up, lived the other side of Upper Accommodation road, not far from Mount St Mary’s Church and I had to take the cloth with the pockets, waistband and buttons etc. for her to make up, she worked at home in a tiny front room, with a sewing machine and all the bits and pieces she needed, she didn’t do the pressing we did that back at the shop, and Wally would give me the money to pay for the work, it was very much a cash in hand situation, without any paperwork involved, and a few days later I would go back to collect the Items and return them to the shop, we had sewing machines and steam Irons ( not like the ones today powered by electricity, these used gas to generate the steam and heat the soleplate they were made of cast iron, and very heavy), so in an emergency we could do things to overcome any hickups..
When it came to suits and jackets, there was only one place for those to be made and that was Spielman Brothers, they had a workshop which you entered by climbing some steps accessed from Hirst’s Yard where the Whip Pub is located, and the premises were above Watson & Cairns, on the corner of Duncan Street and Lower Briggate, at that time W&C sold Motor Bikes, and I would call in there and have a look at the gleaming motor bikes that were on display, Norton and B.S.A. as I recall stretched the imagination.
The workshop above was quite large, it had a long table running alongside Lower Briggate, with sewing machines a Hofman pressing machine, racks with facings canvases, rolls of silk lining, cloth of every description, it was an Aladins cave of delight and interest.. Often one of the Brothers would be sat crossed legged on the table hand stitching the lapels of a Jacket. Come in he would say, I work like this because the light is so much better and my eyes grow dim with old age, but look at you your growing fast, Abe look at the boy how quickly he is growing, they were two of kindest most generous people you could ever wish to meet, I never left without some small token of my visit, be it an apple an orange, or some chocolate, and they would always say thank you for calling you have brightened up our day, please come and see us anytime you are passing..
I had a birthday coming up and Wally said I’m going to make you a Sports Coat for your birthday, he always attached a note to tell them his requirements, well they made me a sports coat it was like a coat of armour it would stand up on it’s own without me in it, my Dad could not believe it, he’d never seen a coat like it, and when I collected it they had a Birthday Cake for me, and said tell Wally there is no charge for the coat, it is our birthday present for you. They were happy days but they were about to come to an abrupt ending for me. Dads Mum my Grandma had died a few months ago and Granddad was finding it difficult to cope living on his own, so it had been decided that we would move to Osmondthorpe and live with Granddad. In view of this Dad said it would be better if I stopped working for Wally, it’s to far for you to travel after school, so we went down and saw Wally explained the situation to him, and we moved that weekend…
I did call back occasionally, but it was never the same as when we lived down at No 29 Devon Street, the house in which I was born, on a sunny morning on the 21st of July in 1938.
Wally kept the shop going for a couple of years but with demolition looming, and business not all that good, he closed the shop down and started work for one of the major tailoring company’s in town, in the North Street area, and moved to live in the Oakwood. I saw him once after that, near his Mums house but he had put a lot of weight on, his wife Mary still looked like a Film Star, they were in a grey Triumph Roadster Sports Car, it was a two seater with the big rounded front mudguards and chromium grill, headlamps and bumpers, I think it had what was called a dicky seat in the boot.. They seemed happy enough, but that was the last time I saw them it would be about 1950’s…