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
Harrison Denis/Brenda Laddie
Miss Barmfirth/Ainsworth
Linley Denis
Sedgewick Bill/Harold Trixie
Through the gates
Proctor Lizzie

Skelton Granger Farm Jameson George
Blower Sheila
Farm Cottages Fox Alan
Hewitt Barbara
Other Farms Austin

13 Responses to “The ABC Houses”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thanks Peter. I especially enjoyed looking at the photograph of the boys having a joyride on the old sewerage works line. That is a picture worth submitting to some gallery or other – if the quality is adequate. I never got to explore the strange territory of Knostrop, in my juvenile mind who knew what monsters and dragons lurked there, but you describe some idyllic years despite having no electricity and easy access to the shops for those who lived in the ABC’s. I think some future writer of social history or archivist will thank you for documenting that information. Incidentally, in the list of names you have a Ms Balmfirth. My mother’s side of the family were Balmforths who lived in Aylesford Terrace, I wonder if there was a connection because it is a fairly unusual name.

  2. peterwwood Says:

    Good old Doug, always the first to put a great comment on a new tale.

  3. John Holloway \(Stronsay\) Says:

    Thanks for the contact again Peter – lots of interesting bits and pieces there for me to ponder over, including ‘those house’ – ‘down Knostrop’ (as we use to say). I had one or two pals in the houses you talk of and as I remember them the houses were very dark – painted black, or possibly built from the same stone as the wall that ran from St Hilda’s School along the east side of Cross Green Lane. The wall between the railway and east End park was also made of the same dark stone with lovely curved ‘coping stones’ on top). The area around those dark houses al;ways seemed very very dingey, partly because of the big trees around them, and I did have one very good friend there called ‘Migger Smith’. We called him ‘Migger’ and I cannot remember his real Christian name. He is certainly in the school photo I sent to you some time ago. He was a wizard at marbles – sorry ‘tors’! Best wishes. Please do keep in touch. John

  4. taskerdunham Says:

    I have no knowledge of this area but thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  5. Elaine Beaumont Says:

    Another good one Peter.

  6. Eric Says:

    A really nice piece of nostalgia & history of an era sadly long departed
    The ABC houses were on my mid 50’s Sunday morning paper round & where I also had to collect their weekly paper bill. It was a slow job as it was always early Sunday morning (around 7.30) & often meant knocking hard & long to get the residents out of bed. As you can imagine, they weren’t always in the most friendly mood.
    I seem to remember a narrow gauge light railway siding ran on the opposite side of the road & which sometimes had a short train of Robert Hudson side tipping trucks parked there. A little further on was my penultimate call to a short row of houses next to Skelton Grange P.S.

    At one house , it was always answered by a tall man , always dressed in bib & brace overalls , reminding me of a West Virginia hillbilly. But he was always pleasant & as it was always around the same time, I guess he was about to start or maybe just finished a shift at the power station.

    My last call was a farm just off Snake Lane , then , home for a full English.

    Is the road down there still open Pete?

  7. peterwwood Says:

    Thank or your comments, gang. I recall your tale : Delivering the Morning Papers, Eric. It’s one of my favourites and still widely read on the site.

  8. Maureen Beanland Says:

    Thank you Peter for another interesting read regarding Knostrop, it’s some time since we were in contact regarding the area and you kindly sent me your book about it which was so much appreciated. I don’t know the area at all but tried to research it when doing my Family history, my Mother-came from there and I only had a small amount of information to relate to, however over the years she mentioned so many of the memories you refer to and it helps me to imagine the surroundings of her childhood, her Street was called Fewston ? She went to a school run by nuns and spoke of some allotments and a humbug house? I wish now I had asked her more questions at the time while she was still here, it would have made an interesting story, the family would have left Knostrop in the late 1920s early 1930s.
    So thank you again Peter.

  9. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Another great tale about Knostrop Pete, unfortunately when I was young I never had occasion to visit the area, it sounds a very friendly and interesting community that lived there, which has sadly disappeared with the passing of time. I did visit the Water Treatment Facility on a couple of occasions in later years, they had a Sewage Incinerator, that went out to Tender for contractual repairs, but we were never successful with our proposals. I find it really interesting to hear about the community life in that area, and I recall your tale about looking for the elusive remains of the Waterloo pit village.
    In it’s day it must have been a thriving community, and a very industrious place with several pit shafts in the area.

  10. Brian Sedgwick Says:

    Really enjoyed reading this Peter. My dad was Bill (William Edward) Sedgwick, my mum was Edna Sedgwick, Harold my uncle. My granddad was also William Edward Sedgwick who worked as a painter and my grandma was Mary Elizabeth. I lived there up the age of four (1954). I remember Trixie really well she was very gentle with me although I later found out she was a good ratter. Just across the road at the back of the houses was some woodland and my granddad would take me “exploring” in the wood. He also took me down the railway to the canals and as you mentioned he took me looking for mushrooms in the field at the bottom of the lane. One time he took me rabbiting and let me fire his air pistol I think he may have got into bother for that because it never happened again. These were idyllic days for someone so young. I remember that it was Mrs. Proctor who lived in the big house. I also remember playing with Dougie and Georgina Jacobs and one time we had got into the works by the side of the railway and I somehow managed to fall into a sewer. Luckily for me Dougie and Georgina got help and I was pulled out. They saved my life. I was taken home and given a vigorous scrubbing down. After that for years, when I went swimming with school, I was terrified of the water.

  11. peterwwood Says:

    Lovely to hear from you, Brian. I’m glad somebody remembers Knostrop and the ABC Houses I knew you dad well and particularly Harold he was one of my best mates, they were both fine footballers. I would go watch your dad playing on Snake Lane for St Hilda’s just after the war finished, When we played football in the Jaw Bone Yard we could only get tennis balls we never had a proper football but I always remeber Harold could ‘keepy-uppy’ on his ankle with a tennis ball. I remember you grandma too, Mary, she was always full of fun with us in your back yard when we called for Harold. I’m glad you remember Trixie, she was a lovely dog, a black and white fox terrier she went everywhere with Harold. If you can remember any more about those early days I would love to hear them.

  12. Brian Sedgwick Says:

    Thank you for your kind words Peter. It was your post that encouraged me to write. Like I said I only lived there for a short time and at a very young age so my memories are limited but they are wonderful memories. I remember my dad played football and I did at one time get hold of a football, (I think he looked after them), and was kicking it against the big wall at the end of the terrace. I think that it may have upset Mrs. Proctor and I had to stop. I also remember that being the end house the garden wrapped around the side and at one time an old canvas tent was put up on the garden so that I could go “camping” ,the tent was a bit smelly. I also remember that there were two old derelict sheds with the house.

  13. Christina Briggs Says:

    Hi Peter

    I have been researching my Husband’s family tree and came across your article whilst investigating his maternal grandparents: Mr and Mrs Procter who lived at the Knostrop Sewage Works. The person you refer to as Lizzie Proctor is, I am pretty sure, my husband’s mother. How old would Lizzie have been at the time of which you write? Liz always talked with much fondness of her childhood home.

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