Archive for September, 2019

The ABC Houses

September 1, 2019

THE ABC HOUSES
As life accelerates beyond four score years and no one seems interested in writing an account of a lovely disappeared community and place you come to the realization that you must do it yourself or it otherwise it might not get done at all. Such a community and place is the ABC Houses and its community at Knostrop.
I used to think of those folk who lived in that single row of terrace houses in lower rural Knostrop (proper name Knostrop Terrace) as very lucky, slightly cut off from the rest of us they seemed to enjoy a more exciting life style, especially the kids. When the whole of Knostrop, which was part of the Lord Halifax Temple Newsam estate, was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Cross Green Industrial Estate I feared those folk from the ABC Houses in particular, plucked from their rural idyll would find it hard to settle, if they were cemented in with us in those well-loved but definitely urban streets of Cross Green, Richmond Hill or East End Park.
As a Knostrop lad myself from half way down Knostrop – Jaw Bone Yard – I would think how lucky my mates were from further down the road in the ABC houses to live in such a rural idyll. By the way we never did have a convincing answer as to why they were called the ABC Houses, the dozen or so houses were numbered numerically in the normal manner not alphabetically and they were originally built for workers at the sewage works and their families. The idea was formatted that ABC stood for: alum, blood and charcoal, which were the three constituents in the treatment of sewage but that somehow seems a bit unlikely. The houses had gardens at the front but no bathrooms apart from the two houses at each end which were slightly larger and housed the manager and the foreman. The toilets were outside in the back yards and the houses ran on gas until electricity arrived in the late fifties, shortly before their demolition.
They were never on a bus route and it was a long walk to the shops in fact sometimes adults sent kids for bits and pieces over the rickety paddy bridge and across the locks to Stourton. It was a penny to cross the locks so kids would dangerously climb up onto the huge railway bridge (the swing bridge that never swung) and kept the penny for the lock man for sweets. Having said all that, it was an absolute paradise playground for kids. I haven’t a picture of the ABC Houses but I have drawn a sketch of where they used to be.

there were seven of us lived in Jaw Bone Yard or there about which was a little higher up Knostrop Lane and we had the luxury of a big soil compacted farm yard where we could play football and cricket so the ABC kids would come up and have a game with us and then we would travel down the country Knostrop Lane to their magic habitat where they had everything kids could ever hope for. There were two plantations which we called the first wood and the second wood, the ABC kids could shin up those trees like monkeys and we were allowed to cut the dead trees down when we were chumping for bonfire night. They had the ‘Red Hills’ to clamber about on, these were the red shale residue from worked out coal mines, there was even an old mine shaft (Dam Pit) which was brick lined and filled up to about five feet from the top and there was a bit of residue pit head gear we dangerously played about in there unknowing that the shaft had only been capped off in timber which was probably now rotting. There were abandoned rail trucks on a siding line another playground for us and an abandoned prisoner of war camp which had held German and Italian prisoners. After they had left and until they pulled them down this was another source of our adventures. There were also the remains of a tank testing bath and the remains of the facilities of a barrage balloon and ack ack battery. There was a pond to catch tadpoles and sticklebacks and a bigger pond near the pig farm to fish for roach and perch with the traditional bent pin on a hook. The kids from the ABC Houses were more proficient at all these pursuits than us but less palatable for me were their ventures into ratting, rabbiting with their dogs and bird nesting but of course you kept that under your hat if you wanted to keep the salubrious relationship. We would just drift off around that vast area without any particular plan in mind and just have a great adventure wherever our feet took us; we were completely free to roam.
You could also nip across the old disused ‘Paddy’ bridge or cross the weir itself to the enigmatic Dandy Island with its putty mill and the mysterious Dandy Row. Who lived there where did their kids go to school? The kids from the ABC Houses and the farm cottages beyond had to make the long trek up to the same schools as we used, St Hilda’s, Ellerby Lane and Mount St Mary’s They usually rode their bikes up to the top of Knostrop Hill and then left them in a mate’s back yards. As there weren’t any school dinners until the late forties/early fifties they had to go home all that way and back again for their dinners, the teachers used to let them go early so they could get back for the afternoon session in time. But the Dandy Row kids would probably have to somehow cross the river?

It was a long way to the Easy Road picture house but probably safer to walk the long distance than to cross the river by the rickety bridge and the locks to Hunslet and go to the Regal or the Strand especially in the dark?
There was a narrow gauge railway for use of the works and sometimes a bogey would be left on the line and we would set it going and have a ride on it;

The sewage workers were quite tolerant of us in their little brick built pumping houses with sloping tiled roofs for all the world masquerading as cottages. In some of the fields where horses grazed you could pick wild mushroom they always smelt better than the cultivated mushroom you can buy today and ‘tusky’ wild rhubarb was liberally at hand if you were brave enough to take it without sugar.
There were a couple of farms and the farm cottages further before you reached Newsam Green. Skelton Grange Farm was a Leeds Corporation farm but they all had to make way for the Skelton Grange Power Station which has now been and gone but left us with the dangerous ‘sludge lagoons – wicked places which just had a white crust covering dep metres of black water, someone once, unthinkingly, threw a stone in there and my dog chased after it just managing to return before the ‘lagoon’ swallowed him up. So the area was not without its dangers: the sludge lagoons, Dam pit, the works settling tanks and the weir which was somehow controllable and there could by a surge of water when you were half way across. At just about our furthest limit to our adventures was the ruins of Thorpe Stapleton Hall habitat of owls and of great antiquity having been built in the 14th century in the time of King Edward the First perhaps the oldest building in Leeds but I have looked for it recently and all trace is gone. We would play a chasing game which took in all this vast area,

On the face of it the whole of our adventure expanse was rural but in fact Mother Nature had reclaimed it back after the Victorians had ravaged the land. All was green now but it was an industrial archaeologists dream, bits of industrial heritage were to be found everywhere as the area had once had at least seven pits, miles of wagon ways an iron works and the marvellously disappeared pit village of ‘Waterlooville’ the remnants of which I have sought for years.
They used to say that they couldn’t build on the area of our adventures as the land was undermined and liable to subsidence but they must have found a way of getting over that now, buildings abound, the sewage works now called: The Water Treatment facility has doubled in size. The workers there now are not as friendly as their predecessors and will stop entry, everywhere there are fences. You can see the Red hills through the fencing although they now look greyer than red and happily the two plantations still survive but look a bit scraggy. But as a place of adventure that is long gone and just a memory as long as we dwindling few exist, then no one will ever realize what a great place this used to be.
With the help of my good friend, the sadly recently departed, Eric Allen, we have compiled a list of the residents we remember as living in the ABC Houses in the 1940s/50s. His mother, Lucy, was a Dobson and lived in the ABC Houses before she married
Knostrop Terrace
(The ABC Houses) Family Name Children’s names dogs
Shepherd
Benn
Keeling
Harrison Denis/Brenda Laddie
Patrick
Firth
Day
Jordon
Miss Barmfirth/Ainsworth
Linley Denis
Jacobs
Mosedale
Day
Sedgewick Bill/Harold Trixie
Dobson
Through the gates
Proctor Lizzie

Skelton Granger Farm Jameson George
Edwin
Gordon
Blower Sheila
Brenda
Farm Cottages Fox Alan
June
Doris
Hewitt Barbara
Betty
Other Farms Austin
Craven
Bickerdike

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