The Leeds Schools Camp


The Leeds School’s Camps
The city of Leeds had a schools holiday camp designed for children from deprived families who would not otherwise have had a holiday at all, which opened in Silverdale as early as 1904. But the camp our generation will perhaps remember better is the one that was popular to us at Langbar near Ilkley in the 1940s/50s. I was privileged to spend a week there myself but I will leave it to Keith Gibbins to tell his memories of a week at that schools camp
The league of Mountain men, by Keith Gibbins. Around Leeds and dispersed throughout the country there must be thousands of ‘certified mountain men’ who as school boys enjoyed a ‘ten bob’ holiday at the wonderful Leeds School’s Camp. This facility for both boys and girls was permanently sited at langbar near Ilkley. ‘ The aims and purposes of the camp was to provide the children of Leeds affordable holidays in the countryside in an environment which was loosely based on military lines to promote character building and appreciate nature. For the boys who proved themselves to be good campers and climbed Beamsley Beacon their reward was the presentation of ‘The League of Mountain men ‘certificate which was endorsed with the boy’s name and signed by the camp superintendent (no doubt there was a similar one given to the girls) These were great times for us city dwellers and a breath of fresh air during the austere years of the 40s and 50s.
A couple of years ago I took my Grandkids or a nostalgic climb up Beamsley Beacon. I insisted they had to pick up a rock from the base, carry it up to the summit and place it on the cairn which had been formed by thousands of kids fifty years ago. Now this pile of stones is probably the only remaining memorial to the Leeds Schools Camp and it evokes great memories of childhood adventures. When we reached the top I met a man from the old Blenheim School. I introduced myself as an old ‘Ellerby Lane’ boy and he told me four rocks in the middle of the pile that were his. The memories of the fifties came thick and fast: the wooden dormitories – Denton and Nesfield were named after local villages – Mr Podmore was the camp leader, David the cook, the last night cabaret dances at the Stephenson Jaffe memorial Hall – visits to the valley of desolation and Bolton Abbey long crocodiles of boys on day trips to places of local interest – cold water ablutions – early morning inspections of the bunks with folded stick blanket boxes having knife edge squareness etc. ect. etc.
I told my fellow camper how I had personally caused chaos and disruption to the camp in my final visit in 1953. We were on a day trip to the River Wharfe, it was a hot day in mid-April, myself and two other boys decided to go swimming. The river was freezing and within a couple of minutes we were back on the bank drying off in the warm sunshine. Suddenly I developed a blinding headache – the pain and the camp nurse was called, she thought I was having a migraine which was the wrong diagnosis, she sent two boys back to camp for a stretcher and then four boys carried this delirious 14- year old back to the camp sick room where incredibly she kept me overnight. My condition got worse and the next morning she put me in the back seat of a car and took me to Ilkley Coronation Hospital. The events that followed must have caused absolute panic for the Leeds Schools Camp and the Ilkley health Authority as the doctor told them I had meningitis and I was transferred by ambulance to Seacroft Hospital in Leeds and eventually given the lumber punch which showed that I didn’t have meningitis but that I was suffering from a subarachnoid brain haemorrhage. After a couple of months in X Ward: patient number 551. I made a full recovery; despite my shortened last holiday at Langbar I eventually received my ‘League of Mountain Men’ certificate for 1953.
Footnote from Keith’s brother, John, who was also at the camp the same week: I missed out on Keith’s river trip as I had been assigned spud bashing duties but I do remember the stretcher bearing party returning to camp, with their consignment. High drama indeed. Alan Allman was carrying a corner of the stretcher. Our hut was fumigated and we slept on the floor of the memorial hall. Great fun at the time despite Keith’s problems.
Thank you, the Gibbins brothers for your camp memories. Even though I wasn’t an Ellerby lane School boy myself the news of Keith’s drama filtered through to the rest of the East Leeds Schools. I attended the Langbar Camp myself it would have been 1952 a year before Keith’s adventure I remember it was only 7/6 then it must have gone up half a crown to be ten bob the next year. There are just a couple of my own memories I’ll add to Keith’s tale. When we first arrived a guy said to me, ‘You will be a blue eyed boy.’ I thought, oh that’s nice. To another lad he said, ‘You will be a green eyed boy.’ I suppose he said the same to the girls too who were usually from another school so that you were all strangers. Anyway the blue eyed, green eyed thing was just a tag when they called over the speakers for blue eyed boys it meant you had to go to the kitchen and wash up or peel spuds or something, similarly thing with the green eyed lot they had specific jobs too, perhaps lay the table or something.
The last night for the dance in the Memorial Hall every boy had to approach a strange girl from another school who you had never seen before and ask her if you could take her to the dance and of course as fourteen year old boys we were mostly a bit shy and it was a traumatic experience but I’m sure it was character building
One day while we were out on an organised walk, can’t remember if it was the Valley of Desolation or Bolton Abbey, we approached a little temple like building and the organiser said we must make a sacrifice here and he selected a lad at random and made him bend over a stone that he said was the alter. He made the lad pull up the back of his shirt and he said I must brand you to appease the gods, then he took his stick and touched the lads naked back with the cold ferrule tip, evidently extreme cold and extreme hot feels the same and the lad thought he had been branded and screamed out and we all laughed, but can you imagine what would have happened to an instructor if he had performed that trick today.
That week at Langbar was a good rehearsal for National Service which for many of us was soon to follow. And I too have my ‘League of Mountain Men’ Certificate to cherish and remind me of a great character building week at the Leeds Schools camp.
Much later I took my wife to the base of Beamsley Beacon and I said, ‘Right we are going to pick a rock up each and take them up this mountain and place hem on the cairn at the top.’ She looked at me as though I was mad, she had no empathy for it. She was not a mountain man!

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2 Responses to “The Leeds Schools Camp”

  1. Douglas Farnill Says:

    Thank you Keith, John, and Peter.
    I don’t think the camp was operating during the war years when I was at Ellerby Lane. The facilities were probably used to house prisoners or a military detachment. But it sounds like it was a character building experience for you all, despite poor Keith’s affliction. Thank you Peter for organizing this once a month treat, and the archive of previous contributions is really impressive. I hope you all have your certificates framed and hanging on your walls with all the other testimonials of your achievements over the years 🙂

  2. ispeakasifindidowhatisay Says:

    Wonderful, warm memories, beautifully rendered.


    Mark Wilson


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