Getting older in East Leeds


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…

30 Responses to “Getting older in East Leeds”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thank you Eddie, they are great reminiscences. Your memory of your sports coat reminds me of a very similar experience, where a draughtsman at Geo Bray and Co, told me he had a piece of tweedish cloth that would make me a nice jacket, and he had a friend who did the cutting and making up. It was all cash in hand and work done at the tailor’s home, and it was a jacket I was proud of for many years. Tell us more, your writing is so graphic and fresh.

  2. Barry Tebb Says:

    These stories are so good they should be in a book,as is my life story/novel ‘Pitfall Street’its about a penny on Amazon .I went to Ellerby Lane School and we lived in Bridgewater Place.

  3. Dave Carncross Says:

    I enjoyed this tale Eddie. So well remembered and written. Struck a chord with me because my Mam and my Aunt Minnie worked In tailoring for Lee and Whatnoughs up Dial Street. They would get material as off cuts and have somebody make up trousers or boys knickers as the short trousers were called in the trade for me and my brother. Later on it was whole suits. No chance of choosing the cloth – what you got was what they could get. I have often thought In later years what a paradoxical situation it was when those who weren’t blessed with lots of brass were getting their clothes made to measure instead of off the peg. I also learned a lot about all the small choices such as jetted or flapped pockets etc which could collectively make a stylish difference to a suit. Yes, you took me back there Eddie and for that I thank you most gratefully.

  4. peterwwood Says:

    Eddie will probably not thank me for this comment as Wally was obviously a very kind man but I have got to giver you beggars a laugh. My dad took me to Wally’s to get me my first suit of ‘long ‘uns’. Dad was being measured for a suit too. Wally, being an old smoothy measured us up and patted us up and down saying, ‘Yes, just standard figures.’ Well, Dad might have been a standard figure but I was a bit rotund at the time to say the least. Anyway we got our suits and I was as proud as punch walking around in my first ‘long ‘uns’ then one day I put my hand in the jacket pocket and pulled out a note from Wally to the tailor it said
    ‘Suit for fat boy.’ I thought that would make you ‘guffle’

  5. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments, and apologies to Pete on behalf of Wally, it was so out of character for him to say something like that, in all of the time I worked for him I don’t recall him ever making an adverse commment about a customer, unless they didn’t pay, or hadn’t endorsed the check, then I became the debt collector sometimes it was so embarrassing, I recall once it was my uncle that I had to prompt for payment, but those are stories for another occasion, and when you scored as many goals as Pete did in his youth playing amatuer football, believe me you had to be fit…

  6. aussiepom Says:

    Cars AND motor bike rides, you would have been the envy of every kid for miles.
    To be trusted to cut out a suit at such a young age was praise indeed. It’s the cutting out that makes the difference in a well made suit. If you can thread up a sewing machine anyone can sew it together. After all these years I’m still nervous when cutting anything out. You’re very good at telling a story Eddie. I was with you in the Spielman Brothers work room. I could even hear the accents of the brothers as they chatted to you. No buttonhole device on the sewing machines back then. Modern sewing machines make everything except a cup of coffee and most women I know can’t thread a needle and buy everything they wear. I still use my electric machine which is nearly as old as me. p.s. I even remember the name of the singer who sang Put a nickel in the Nickelodeon. Teresa Brewer.

  7. marlene Egan Says:

    This brought back great memories l went to Richmond Hill school and crossgreen school,and lived at Easy Grove

  8. marlene Egan Says:

    This brought back great memories l lived at Easy Grove and went to Richmond Hill and crossgreen school

  9. Eric Says:

    An interesting piece of history Eddie & if I remember, Wally Dunn’s was close to Pontefract Lane about where the railway bridge crosses into Pontefract Street, near the Co-op
    In some ways, we were lucky in Leeds as numerous self employed tailors abounded & being quite easy to buy a suit length of your choice , could have a reasonably priced bespoke suit (both men & women) made with several trial fittings ’til well into the ’60’s & early ’70’s before the small, independent tailors began to disappear. Many of them operated from tiny, cluttered premises & a very popular one was Pete Mallory who was well known to many East Leeds Lads. He gave up his business in the ’70’s to work the clubs as he fancied himself as a singer/comedian but had to return to it as he couldn’t seem to get the breaks. He was making a suit for me one time & had his premises, then in St Paul’s Street, broken into with my unfinished trousers being stolen, but not the jacket. It was a rather gaudy grey chalkstripe & I couldn’t get hold of any more of the material. Pete therefore offered to make me another pair from a completely different , unmatching material which would have looked even more ridiculous. However, he did the decent thing & made me another complete suit , from a different material of course.
    So as Dave says, many were lucky to have at least some bespoke clothing which in other parts of the country, would probably have cost a small fortune.
    Do you remember the football match sized crowds Eddie when the Big 3 – Sumrie, Heptons & of course Burtons turned out at the end of the day?

  10. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    “Teresa brewer” spot on aussiepom brings back some happy memories, and yes I was very fortunate to have the privelage of riding in a car and on Motor bike rides, do you remember the man just down the street from your Grans, who had the Morgan three wheeler with a JAP engine, think he’d lost a leg, he walked with a limp, he kept it in the garages they built on the bottom holler after they demolished the Air Raid shelters, and yes the modern sewing machines and gadgets can just about do everything, but you can’t equal the hand stitched lapel done by a professional and the Spielman Brothers were truely professionals, but all is not lost in the bespoke trade, I have a Grandson who works in Saville Row, and is developing a market in America, he makes frequent buisiness trips, I think his objective is to manage the New York Branch for his company when the business justifies it, thanks for your kind comments aussipom, when are you going to share your towing experiences with us I’m intrigued, take care..

  11. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Hiya Marlene, pleased you enjoyed the tale, I’m sure you have some great memories of Richmond Hill and Crossgreen School..

  12. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Thanks Doug, I was an apprenticed draughtsmen after I left school, that tweedish jacket sounds something very special, and there were some exellent craftsmen about in those days, I’m sure it was a sports coat that you wore with pride, I know I was proud as Punch of mine, unfortunately I grew out of it, a green grey check, but not loud, with a grey silk lining, it was one of those things that when you put it on you felt 10 feet tall…happy days…

  13. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Pleased you enjoyed the tale, in those years the Tailoring industry was thriving, my Mum worked in the industry, she was at the finishing end of the manufacturing prossess, and pressed the garments ready for sale. I take your point about it being paradoxical that those without a lot of money were having their clothes made to measure and not buying off the peg, but you did feel special in a made to measure suit, and yes in the industry short trousers were referd to as knickers, it was also about the same time as knickers were refered to as bloomers, thanks for your interest Dave…

  14. peterwwood Says:

    Well done Eddie, The site has had 205 ‘hits’ since putting the tale on, on the first of Aug and this morning, the 2nd of Aug. I think that’s the most ever?

  15. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Your right Eric, Wally’s shop was at the end of Devon Street opposite Woolstons Chemist, Lavender Walk intersects with Pontefract Lane, and Pontefract Street is the next junction down going towards the Coop and East End Park, you could see Charlie Atha’s bycycle shop and the Shepherd Pub from Wally’s shop window, there was a confectioners on the corner if I remember correctly I think it was Crowthers, I recall the name Pete Mallory, but I didn’t know he was in bespoke tailoring, I did live away from Leeds in the 60’s and 70’s so perhaps that’s why, I do recall the hordes of Ladies when the shift was over exiting into York Road from Sumrie’s and Hepton’s, and I started work at Leeds Fireclay Company in Torre Road, adjacent to the exit from the Burtons Factory where the Lasses came out about 5pm, and they were always full of fun and mischief laughing and joking after their days work, happy times with lots of good memories, thanks for your comments Eric, very much appreciated…

  16. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Thank you for your kind words Barry, I’m sure our leader Pete has things well in hand, I notice you went to Ellerby Lane School did you know Brian Monk or was that before your time…

  17. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Thats great news Pete, but it’s teamwork at the end of the day, we have a lot of positive people who all make a genuine contribution, I know you put a lot of your personal time into the site, it’s the comments and the collective quality of the stories that makes the site popular, so it’s well done to you all, and long may it continue…

  18. Dave Carncross Says:

    Eddie, you were dead right about feeling great in a proper job tailored suit. My tailor of choice when a young man about town was Terry Watson. Mainly when he was based on Meanwood Road. Ideal really because you could call in at LES McConvilles shop further up from Terry and pick a suit length off the bale and then take it back to Terry’s to be made up. I was looking at a photo the other day of me and my wife and I was wearing a kid mohair two piece. I thought what a marvellous suit and then remembered that in those days I was as thin as a stallion wasp so maybe that helped as well.

  19. Gloria Blakey Says:

    These stores certainly bring back a lot of memories. I went to Richmond Hill and Ellerby Lane School and lived in Glensdale Street. I still go to the school reunions. Does anybody know when it is this year

  20. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Hiya Dave, I bet you looked the Bee’s Knee’s in that kid mohair two piece, and as you say the figure always helped, the last one I had made was from a remnant of a blue pinstripe worsted cloth that I found after my Mum passed on so I had it made up in 1996 into a Single breasted three piece suit which I still have and wear on the appropriate occasion, a tailor from the old school who had a little shop in Green Lane made it up, think he’s retired now, when I put it on I feel great not a crease in it until you get to the neck, then it suddenly goes from looking new to looking old, but it still fits a treat…take care Dave…

  21. peterwwood Says:

    hi Gloria, Thanks for your comment. I didn’t know Ellerby Lane School had a reunion all of their own? But we have an annual old East Leeds Reunion for all the folk of all the schools who used to live in the local area. The next one is due on Tuesday 1st Nov at the Edmund House Club, Pontefract Lane. Kick off around noon. Hope you can make it.

  22. Eric Says:

    Seeing your post Dave reminded me that the lower Meanwood Rd/Woodhouse St/Nth St area was a hotbed of bespoke tailors & material suppliers. My own choice, Pete Mallory was based there originally before moving to a tiny, cluttered garret in St Paul’s St.
    Also, many woolen textile mills had what they called “Fent Shops”, selling their own products very cheaply often because it was the last few metres of a production run or sometimes as the material had been rejected by their main customer as being the incorrect shade or some other reason which made no difference to you if you liked it.
    If I remember correctly, didn’t it require 3 – 31/2 yds of material for a two piece suit length which was about 2 yds wide,

    A Mohair suit was a much prized acquisition in those days but they had to be very well made or they didn’t hang well did they?

  23. aussiepom Says:

    I’m not sure of the order the streets went in the Glensdales but Gloria your name rings a bell. Did you live opposite Ann Wardle ?

  24. Gloria Blakey Says:

    Thanks Pete I wondered when the meeting was it is the annual reunion I attend most times with Joyce Marshall.

    Hi Audrey, I thought it was you Audrey Tyas.. Yes I did live opposite Ann Wardle but she is now nearer to you than me. She moved out to Canberra when she got married in 1965. I kept in touch for a while but have lost contact me.

  25. peterwwood Says:

    Marlene and Gloria:
    We’d love to hear of your own tales of those great times in East Leeds or elsewhere for that matter. If you have any we could use please e-mail them here to
    Audrey and Gloria: please keep in touch with each other, you go back a long way. I’m sure you would like to share memories.I could provide reciprocal e-mail addresses if you both wish.
    It’s what this site is all about

    • Gloria Blakey Says:

      Thanks Pete, I would very much like to keep in touch with Audrey we were great friends in our younger days. It doesn’t seem like two minutes since we were sat on the railway wall eating chips out of the paper.

      I’ll wait for Audrey to reply. Thanks once again.

  26. aussiepom Says:

    G’Day Gloria,
    I’ve asked Pete for your address. Where do you go for the school reunion. Most of the pubs in East End Park area are long gone.

  27. Gloria Blakey Says:

    Hi Audrey.

    The school reunion is at the Edmund House Club on Pontefract Lane. Are you thinking of coming over!!!! Just joking. If you ever visit England I hope you will let me know. In the meantime feel free to keep in touch by email.

  28. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    The Edmund House Club, takes me back a long way, I had an Aunty who lived in Clarke Row, and my uncle Fred used to rent a garage that faced onto the railway adjacent to the Club, in 1957 I used to play football for the Edmund House Football Team, I always remember I did a poster to try and generate some interest, so I spelt Football..FUTBALL and waited to see if anyone noticed, and they did, you’ve spelt football wrong I could here people say, but it didn’t generate any spectators….great days….happy memories…

  29. Paul Gibbins Says:

    It’s grand reading all these lovely stories, about those ‘barefoot days’ in East Leeds, you appreciate what a wonderful childhood we all experienced in our area.
    I spoke with a call center the other day and because I now live in Lincolnshire , I just appened to ask where he was based, “Garforth”, he said, ” you would not know where that is?”. So when I mentioned the Zion Methodist Chapel Sunday School trips to the Rhubarb Farm Sheds in the 50’s, I think I lost him!.
    I lived in Kitson St, with sister, Betty & brothers, Alan, Keith, John & Roy, me being the youngest.
    Sadley, Alan & John have passed away, John contributing many articles to these East Leeds pages.
    Dad,(Ossie Gibbins) worked at Ardsley and Neville Hill Loco Depots with Mum(Selina) lived in Kitson St for 30 years.
    I went to various school’s in the area, including the old Richmond Hill, Ellerby Lane, Richmond Hill(Clark Crescent) and then back to Ellerby Lane, re named Cross Green.
    I am hoping to be there on Tuesday 1st November at Edmund House and to meet old friends and recollect many stories.
    Regards Paul Gibbins(Gibbo)

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