East End Park – Then and Now

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                                      East End Park – then and now

                                      By Eric Sanderson

In the early summer of 2020, after almost fifty years, I decided to repay a visit to East End Park which had played such a large role in my younger life from the mid forties to the late fifties.

I used to live, ‘til the late fifties at the top of Charlton Road, looking down East Park View at the park only a couple of hundred yards (or metres) away. So it was quite natural that we gravitated to the park for much of our spare time, especially in the long hot days of summer. Countless hours were spent there , often with a bat or ball or just to roam from end to end, corner to corner, always finding something new to attract our attention

Unlike many parks, which are little more than an open area of grassland , a few trees and maybe the odd football pitch and little visual merit , EEP had a rolling, undulating topography with areas having different features and characteristics that very few other parks have.

So starting at the East Park Parade Western entrance nearby the bridge crossing the railway cutting, you were confronted by a pair of huge stone pillars , the gateway to Victoria Avenue , a narrow   tree lined avenue that ran the full length of the park, exiting into the continuation of Victoria Avenue up to York Road .  I don’t know what purpose this road had as there was never any traffic on there  and furthermore, the Park Ranger saw to it that you were not even allowed to ride a bike on there (more of which later) On entering the park , to the South (or RHS) was a low lying area of several acres running down to the Neville Hill railway branch line but was little more than scrub & seemed to have little practical use . The only redeeming feature was a steep grassy bank running along the edge of V.Ave where we would often sit or sunbathe whilst watching the changing landscape during the building of Skelton Grange power station.

This area has now been grassed over & has playing fields so, a big improvement there .

          Further along on the same side gave way to what we used to name as the “big hills“. This was an undulating area rising quite high above the general level & covered with trees, shrubbery & criss crossed by well worn pathways leading to a summit from which could be viewed the whole of South Leeds and beyond. It was a prime area for tree climbing , hide & seek & any number of other adventurous activities, even sledging in the wintertime.

Unfortunately, this area is now almost inaccessible with overgrown  & blocked pathways, untended shrubbery & trees & considerable areas of boggy ground . So this a very definitely a deterioration.

Across V. Av from here & stretching almost to East Park Parade barring a narrow grass strip & line of trees (actually running the full length of the park), was a well equipped playground , surrounded by a chain link fence with it’s entrance on V.Av.

One of the features at the time was a central pond which was variously described as a duck pond (although I never saw any ducks on it) , a model boating pool ( a few people did occasionally sail model boats on there) or simply a paddling pool which seemed to be the most popular use of it although it was only rarely filled with water. It’s now no longer there & the playground is a shadow of it’s former self so yet another blow to the former glory.

I suppose the young people of today have different priorities & interests to those of the time when there were no electronic gadgets & games & you had to make your own entertainment.

Swinging back to the South side of V. Av , the “big hills” gave way to a large circular rose/flower garden , always stocked with  colourful displays & surrounded by numerous park benches, freshly painted each year in a bright green with black ironwork.

Alas this has now gone & all the remains of the area is one of dilapidation & neglect & the loss of a magnificent feature.

          Passing on, on the same side arose the “Little Hills” another area of small hills with paved footpaths amid well cultivated trees & shrubbery. This area was very popular with couples out for a stroll & remains broadly similar to those days.

          Coming down from the “Little Hills” & further along towards east end of the park were the playing fields which ran to the far eastern end of the park & the Neville Hill Roundhouse. These playing fields were the “home” grounds for Victoria school , & I dare say one or two others & they were in constant use way back then but I saw little evidence of much recent use .

          Another fascinating feature of this area was the coal bunker. We used to watch in wonder at the raising of the coal laden trucks to the top of the tower, being turned upside down to dump the coals into the storage bunker , in wait for the locomotives to pull under & fill their coal tenders with bright, shiny coal. It wasn’t ‘til many years later did it become clear how the coal trucks managed not to tumble into the bunker themselves.

It was fortunate that many of the iconic steam locomotives of the time made periodic maintenance visits to Neville Hill & I can remember seeing the streamlined Royal Blue Mallard & Sir Nigel Gresley as well as the dark Green Flying Scotsman slowly trundling to the maintenance yard.

Across the way from the playing fields & running over to V.Av was a huge expanse of grassland which seemed to serve little purpose & was rarely used. But, it was a big, wide open space & I can distinctly remember skylarks hovering & singing over this area where they were probably nesting. It’s many years since I heard skylarks in an urban setting.

Crossing over V. Av came  the well used tennis courts & the Eastern end of the park with , again, huge stone pillars but this time fitted with wrought iron gates which I never saw opened, hence, no through traffic

The tennis courts were run by a chap sitting in a solid brick building with changing rooms at each end. The players would buy a ticket from his kiosk which would entitle them to (I think) one hours play &summertime saw the enthusiasts in their tennis whites most weekends . There were I think four courts so it was a pretty cushy number for the guy in the kiosk but, I suppose he probably looked after the changing rooms & maintained the courts as well. The courts are still there but look little used & somewhat dilapidated.

Going back down towards the playground was a large, green painted open fronted pavilion, known colloquially as the “old man’s shelter” & was presumably intended to be a meeting place for retirees to gather & chat.  However , as the place seemed to be more often used as an open toilet , it was hardly surprising that it was little used & is now gone.

The bowling green was a very well used & popular feature, surrounded by a neatly trimmed hedge providing a sheltered environment for players & spectators alike. That is still there but again, seems to lack the horticultural care of those days. I seem to recollect however that young boys were not encouraged to venture into such hallowed ground.

          Backing onto the bowling green & facing the playground was the Park Ranger or “Parkie’s “ house . I don’t know how well paid the Parkie was but he lived in a nice detached house surrounded by pleasant parkland, which was some bonus.

          However, the Parkie at the time was a real piece of work , patrolling the place with a thick stick with which he wouldn’t hesitate to threaten you.

Between his house & the playground was a large greensward which at the time had those ridiculous “keep off the grass” signs scattered around. But of course it was too much of a temptation to young boys to transgress this prohibition ,especially as this was a short cut for us from where we lived, although if the Parkie saw you, he would give chase , waving his stick whilst instructing you to get off the park altogether. How stupid, simply for walking on a wide grassed area, doing no damage whatsoever.

His control of all areas was total & my god , did he use it.

Reverting to an earlier comment re the banning of bike riding along V.Av., a group of older lads were sweeping up & down on their bikes, much to the frustration of the Parkie who kept shouting at them to clear off. Finally being unable to contain his wrath, the next time the bunch swept by, he poked his thick stick into the spokes of one of the riders bringing the caper to an abrupt halt. Such was the tyranny of the Parkie in those days.

Walking back westwards towards the place we started, passing the playground on the RHS completes the quick tour of EEP.

On the whole , whilst some aspects maintained a semblance of their former glory, it was disappointing to see a general decline in what had been a gem of a local facility. Whether this is because of declining use, vandalism & safety or escalating costs,  who knows?.

But in any event, this site is about nostalgia and the tales on here help us to share that nostalgia & fleetingly relive the happy memories of those, at times, golden days

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4 Responses to “East End Park – Then and Now”

  1. Edward Blackwell Says:

    A great tale Eric and very well described, we all spent many happy hours there in our youth, thanks for reminding us of how it used to be in our day..

  2. peterwwood Says:

    Well done ,Eric, great tale. I know ‘the Park’ well in fact up to the latest lockdown I made The Park part of my weekly walk. I remember back in the schooldays we lads from St Hilda’s School had to attend Victoria woodworking classes on Friday afternoons (Cleggy) and we used to assemble on East End Park for our walk up to Victoria School and we always had a go on the longboat but there was one lass who shall be nameless who would take the longboat up into ‘the locks’ when it would jerk to a holt at its highest point and if you were not prepared it would throw you off from a great height. Well done Eric you brought back al our memories.

  3. Eric Says:

    Thanks for your kind comments chaps. I’m very pleased it evoked a few happy memories of a facility we all obviously enjoyed.
    I too remember the dreaded Longboat which always seemed to be operated by older boys ( & sometimes girls) & who took a fiendish delight in scaring the pants from us by taking it up into the so called “locks”. Then there was the “Umbrella” or Witches Hat under which I once trapped & nearly broke my leg & often became slightly dizzy on the “Pork Pie” roundabout located just beyond the slide.
    Do you also remember the “Ladders” ? A kind of see saw for two, ,operated by hand gripping each end & if the rotter at the other end let go whilst you were in the air , down you crashed into a heap.
    All great fun

  4. Elaine Beaumont Says:

    Such a shame that the park has been neglected over the years. Now, more than ever, we need the parks to be able to enjoy a walk.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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