A Picture Evokes Many Memories (Quarry Hill Flats)

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A picture evokes many memories
(The Quarry Hill Flats)
( All persons described in this reminiscence are no longer with us – apart from the contributor!)
I was recently sent a few tales from the East Leeds Memories site and on the cover was a photograph of a grey horse grazing in front of what were some of the last vestiges of Quarry Hill flats.
It reminded me of seeing this huge high density housing project, modelled on the Karl Marx-Hof in Vienna, Austria, every time I went ‘into town’ on the tram and later on the bus from my home near Torre Road Garage, which, like Quarry Hill Flats, is no more.



When I attended West Leeds Girls’ High School, from 1957 to 1964, if I missed the No. 11 bus which went nearest to the school I had to change buses at the bottom of York Road outside the Woodpecker Inn. I could then spend time examining the flats, which seemed enormous and rather intimidating.


I only got to go inside one of the flats when my dad’s nephew Derek and his wife Freda moved there with their baby son David. Compared to the 78,000 back-to-back slum houses, which were demolished to make way for the flats, this must have been a delight. With an indoor bathroom, a flat per family, a clean and spacious site right in the heart of the city, close to buses and shops; the 3,000 people who lived there considered themselves extremely fortunate, especially as they also had an on-site laundry and, according to one resident, ‘’the best fish and chip shop in town.’’
My dad was really good at keeping contacts with what was a fairly dysfunctional family and one day took me on a visit to see Derek and Freda.

Just a bit of background. Remedial support for those with speech impediments nowadays has improved so much that it’s very rare to have children in school with a debilitating stutter and, as a retired teacher and head teacher, I have encountered only two during my 35 years in schools.
Unfortunately Derek had a severe stutter all his life having been at school during the 1940’s. He was married to Freda who came from the valleys of Wales and had a very strong Welsh accent. They were an extremely volatile couple and argued a great deal about anything and everything. As the arguments escalated the stutter got worse and the Welsh accent more pronounced until eventually no one could understand either one. At other times they were kind and caring people especially towards their only son David.

In the kitchen of the flats at Quarry Hill, they had a butler sink with a waste disposal. This was covered with a large heavy metal plug which you removed in order to throw down waste material. For Freda it was easier to bath baby David in this large sink – I’ve done it myself with my own kids, in the kitchen sink of a house where I lived in south-east London.
You can probably now guess where this story is going – well one day whilst David was sitting up in the sink, splashing away, at about 8 months of age, there was a knock on the door. The flat was compact so it was not a great distance to the door, so off Freda went to see who was knocking. When she opened the door she was greeted by the happy smiles of two members of the Church of Latter Day Saints – Mormons.
In her usual manner Freda directed them to go way, using a combination of words which I didn’t understand when she later shared this story at a family gathering. My father did explain later that a lady never used words like that – which confused me even more as he was not explicit.
I digress. Let’s get back to Freda. After the hasty departure of God’s messengers she hastened back to the kitchen to discover David half way down the hole of the disposal shoot. She used a lot of Welsh at this point in narrating her story but I understood that, at the time, she must have panicked and resorted to her native tongue. Fortunately David was a chubby chap, for which everyone was grateful. If he had not been quite so plump he would have departed this world a lot faster than he came into it.
For your information, the installation of a waste disposal in the flats was incredibly modern. The French Garchey system disposed of vegetable peelings, fire ashes and, as you can imagine, often many unsuitable items (fortunately not baby David). But the system was beset with problems and was always breaking down.
As years went by, the huge modernist scheme, which had survived the damage of bombing raids – perhaps because Hitler had, apparently, earmarked the construction for his headquarters after Britain’s defeat by the Nazis – had mounting repair bills. The concrete slab facia began to crumble and the steelwork below the ground was said to be buckling. The reputation of the estate also added to its misfortune. Its appearance as some kind of fortress was intimidating and unwelcoming and so demolition was completed by 1978 after having housed people for only 40 years. No physical traces of the site remain, but vivid memories and a fond legacy linger.

The site was grassed over for a while but did not fall into disrepair. It is now home to a number of institutions such as Leeds City College and Leeds Conservatoire, the city’s Playhouse, the BBC’s Yorkshire headquarters and the looming, distinctive, Quarry House, which contains government departments and NHS offices, otherwise known as the Lubyanka.

In 2021 planning and building approval was finalised for the further development of the old site. Due to commence in 2022, St Cecilia Place will include 352 residential apartments, ranging from studios, one-bed, two-bed, and three-bed apartments, and a communal leisure space on the ground floor. The space will provide two courtyards, cycle storage, and a residents’ car park.
So, what goes around comes around. Many happy memories were taken away by former occupants when the flats were demolished. The community made up of people moving in from severely sub-standard housing created many happy memories formed during the time spent in the laundry, ‘larking about’ in the two large playgrounds and chatting with neighbours in the small parade of shops, along the walkways and queuing for fish and chips. Families who had occupied what was a new concept of social housing were moved out, onto the suburbs, some glad to go, others sad to leave behind the ‘village within the city’.
Will the new streamlined development create similar feelings of communal belonging? I think not. Constructing extremely elegant, modern living areas may encourage a sense of isolation and loneliness. This is not housing to meet a social need for the average family. As far as I am aware it will be available only to those whose income can meet the cost of the rent.

Linda McCarthy nee Culloden 26th May 1946.

The site was grassed over for a while but did not fall into disrepair. It is now home to a number of institutions such as Leeds City College and Leeds Conservatoire, the city’s Playhouse, the BBC’s Yorkshire headquarters and the looming, distinctive, Quarry House, which contains government departments and NHS offices, otherwise known as the Lubyanka.

In 2021 planning and building approval was finalised for the further development of the old site. Due to commence in 2022, St Cecilia Place will include 352 residential apartments, ranging from studios, one-bed, two-bed, and three-bed apartments, and a communal leisure space on the ground floor. The space will provide two courtyards, cycle storage, and a residents’ car park.

So, what goes around comes around. Many happy memories were taken away by former occupants when the flats were demolished. The community made up of people moving in from severely sub-standard housing created many happy memories formed during the time spent in the laundry, ‘larking about’ in the two large playgrounds and chatting with neighbours in the small parade of shops, along the walkways and queuing for fish and chips. Families who had occupied what was a new concept of social housing were moved out, onto the suburbs, some glad to go, others sad to leave behind the ‘village within the city’.
Will the new streamlined development create similar feelings of communal belonging? I think not. Constructing extremely elegant, modern living areas may encourage a sense of isolation and loneliness. This is not housing to meet a social need for the average family. As far as I am aware it will be available only to those whose income can meet the cost of the rent.

Linda McCarthy nee Culloden 26th May 1946.

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3 Responses to “A Picture Evokes Many Memories (Quarry Hill Flats)”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thank you, Linda for refreshing my memories of Quarry Hill flats from the late 1940’s. We all thought them rather posh and the residents lucky compared to our older back-to-back terrace houses. I had a friend who lived there, Jack Bosomworth, a fellow apprentice and son of a carpenter who we used to work for on Saturdays when we would erect garages and garden sheds. Sadly, I lost contact with Jack when I emigrated to Oz in 1952.
    I can’t recall anything about the first photograph of a tramcar emerging from a building, was that part of the Flats? Thank you again, and you too Peter for these monthly treats.

  2. peterwwood Says:

    Great tale Linda, Do you remember the sit con of the 50/60s Queenie’s Castle with Diana Daws staring? A lot of the lads ands lasses who went to the Market District Club lived in the Quarry Hill Flats they were the biggest in Europe when built in the 30s It was said Hitler was going to make them his northern HQ when he had defeated us.

  3. John Holloway \(Stronsay\) Says:

    Thanks again Peter – and yes I remember the Quarry Hill Flats but cannot remember exactly where they were or what they looked like! Every conversation between adults in the early fifties seemed to involve the flats – nothing derogatory – and I don’t remember knowing any of the ‘kids’ who lived there. Am I right in saying the flats were ‘huge’ and situated on the right hand side of the road about half way between East End Park and Brigate? I seem to remember a big (curved) concrete lump with windows. Did I tell you that I have been in touch with my old school pal Freddie Dubber during the last year or so. He was my ‘best pal’ in Copperfield Road – he lived almost opposite – and remembers us two lads playing together. He really was my ‘best pal’ but he had a sorry childhood re health much of which would have been hidden from me.

            Thanks again Peter.              John & Sue.
    

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