Author Archive

An East Leeds Kid’s Apprenticeship

December 1, 2020

An East Leeds Kid’s Apprenticeship
By Doug Farnill Old East Leeds Lad now living in Australia
I started work at George Bray and Company on 1st September 1947 at the age of 15 as an apprentice fitter and turner. I had failed my first job after only two weeks as a builder working for the Robinson brothers at 15 shillings a week. I had soon found that pushing a handcart loaded with bricks and cement and climbing ladders against a high building to hand up slates or tools was not for me. I was relieved to be accepted as an apprentice by Geo Bray.
Work started at 7.30 and for me that meant a brisk walk of about 40 minutes from Glensdale Terrace and getting up at twenty to seven for a rushed cup of tea and slice of bread and jam. It was as quick as taking a 61 bus (or was it a 62) from East End Park on its circuitous route, and besides, the bus fare was an important consideration on an apprentice’s wage. We finished the day at 5.15 pm, and in wintertime that was in the dark. On two nights we had to go to night school at the Tech after work.
My first year was spent in the Mechanics Shop. My first day, exceedingly long and boring, was standing by a more advanced apprentice as he worked a lathe. At the end of an 8 and ¾ hour day I was completely exhausted. The next day I was shifted to work a shaping machine under the tutelage of a lovely old man (he was probably about 40) called Walt Bailey. He showed me the rudiments of sizing and squaring small metal blocks that were to be used by the fitters to make tools and jigs of various designs.
I worked the shaper for several months and became reasonably proficient, although I made wasters from time to time when I cut off too much metal, or got something radically out of square so that the “marker off” complained that he couldn’t work accurately enough with my blocks of steel.
My early apprenticeship was as much about life as it was about particular methods of machining. The Mechanics Shop had a host of memorable characters. There was “Soapy Joe” an ageing man who was a turner of exquisite skill. The legend was that a highly valuable tool needed to be modified in a lathe, but the tool was so delicate that it could not be cramped between the jaws of a chuck as it revolved in the lathe: any pressure would snap or distort its delicacy. So, Joe, fixed the valuable tool to his revolving faceplate using beeswax, and very delicately made the refinement.
Many of the men had nicknames.
One such was Cornish Bob who worked the slotter- a machine that could, for instance, cut square holes in blocks of tool steel. Cornish Bob was perhaps the most unkempt and untidy man I have ever encountered. I don’t suppose his home had any washing facilities, he and his clothes were dirty and smelly, and his uncut fingernails were like claws. I was assigned to watch him work for a day as part of my learning, and I discovered that he had a heart of gold, a most lovely person. At the afternoon break, when Music for the Workers came on for 10 minutes, he broke open his newspaper package and gave me a half of his slice of seed cake. Inside, and I hope it was not discernible from the outside, I shrank from the thought of his dirty hands and fingers, but I took and ate the cake, thanking him, and confronted myself with the shameful smugness of my superior hygienic values based on one bath a week. He was a fine man and I wish I could have enjoyed his cake rather than metaphorically choking on it
Sinbad, was a milling machine operator, he had recently been demobilized from the Navy, and I was always a bit scared of him, he had been in pretty many rough and tumbles.
Pravda, was a precision grinder who worked to very fine tolerances. And he was a vocal communist, the mouthpiece of the official newspaper of the Russian state. When Mr Nixon, the manager of a large section of George Bray’s walked through our workshop, Pravda would begin a chant “What about the Workers” and other tradesmen would pick it up immediately until the whole place rang with “What about the Workers” and Mr Nixon would scurry by.
There were other characters and it was a most formative period of my life, after one year I was transferred to 12 months in the Drawing Office where I learned to file blueprints and fetch the morning tea from the Canteen, but the Mechanics Shop will ever remain a positive memory.
I worked in several other machine and production shops as part of my apprenticeship though I spent most of my time in the drawing office, destined I suppose to be a draughtsman eventually. At the end of my apprenticeship, at age 20, I migrated to Australia, and after 2 days got a job as a fitter and turner and a little later a job in management. But thank you Geo Bray and Company and the Mechanics Shop.

The New Neighbours (Ausie style)

November 1, 2020

Hooray!! She’s back Our Audrey: Mrs Audrey Sanderson (nee Tyres) East Leeds Lass (Ellerby Lane School ) now living in OZ.

The New Neighbours (Aussie Style)

My closest neighbours have lived in the same street as I for many, many years. Only one house has been bought and sold many times. Goodness knows why, it has the same view as we have, hears as much noise from the traffic as we do and subject to the same council rates and taxes as we do.
Not all the new owners wanted to live in the house. Lucky, lucky me they bought it for an investment and it is situated slap bang next door to me. Before being rented out the new owner was going to do some renovations. This was long before out T.V. channels were bombarded with demolitions and re-builds.

The suburb is a very nice area close to a major shopping centre, plenty of schools, lots of sporting clubs and playing fields, heaps of restaurants and very close to the train line. Local trains are used more than busses as a means of public transport.

The original owner had lived beside me for 20 years and it was very sad to see her and her two adult children leave. Their life style had changed and Mum was going into business down on The Gold Coast.

The new owner arrived early on Saturday morning with two other men of the same age, late 30s early 40s. Lots of banging and clanging before 7 a.m. was not a good idea to endear himself to the rest of the neighbours. The day starts early for 90% of Australians compared to the english style of living. By 8:30 a.m. all business are working at top speed. Schools also start at the same time and finish at 3 p.m. The councils do insist no outside work such as building sites etc. start work before 7 a.m. Looks like Mr. Property owner next door thinks rules are for everyone else and he will do what he likes. No good my standing on my verandah yelling at them and adding to the noise. The neighbours would all have been well and truly wide awake after they had emptied the small ute they’d arrived in. A Ute? short for utility truck and it has a cabin usually big enough for 2 and the back is an open trailer. Looks like a van with the backend bit with no roof. A one man business of plumbers, electricians, carpenter used to use them in the era I’m talking about. Long before mobile phones, the internet and credit cards for every day use.
They looked as if they were going to remodel the front and back yards in one day with two lawn mowers, a chain saw, Heaps of thick rope?? and garden hoses galore. plus enough shovels and spades to build another botanical garden. After littering the front yard with all this machinery they went into the house and all was quiet.

I had a quick shower and got dressed. It was going to be a long day and knew I would have a headache by nightfall. I had only just gone back into my kitchen when there was a knock on the back door. Thought it was my son who had recently left home as he’d got married. Everyone else uses the front door. I’m speaking as I unlocked the door ” What’s wrong ? ” he lives near my place but it was early for him to be visiting. I was surprised to see a chubby fella dressed in faded jeans, a red check flannelette shirt holding an electric jug. ” I’m the new owner of next door and asking a favour of you already. Would you mind boiling this jug for me as I forgot to get the power switched on and my men are in need of coffee before they start work ” I plugged the jug into the socket in the kitchen and he followed me giving my dining area a good look over. The kitchen at one end with a large slice of the kitchen bench top dividing the area between kitchen and dining room. I’m not thrilled when strangers start checking my house out but could hardly stop myself laughing when I turned to face him and saw him strutting up and down between both areas with his thumbs tucked into the waistband of his jeans doing a bad impersonation of John Wayne. Akubra hats are pure Australian. They are not a fashion statement. They have a wide brim and keep the sun off your head and back of your neck. They are worn by everyone, man. woman and child way-out in the outback where there is no shade at all and degrees of 40+ all summer long. You do see men wearing them in the city now and again but it’s mostly tourists or Aussie jerks who think it makes them look like Hugh Jackman or Mel Gibson. It makes them look ridicules. Guys who are born and bred in the small country towns and the outback would never ever wear the hat indoors and are perfect gentlemen to ladies of any age. This miniature version of John Wayne looked as if he’d lost his horse when he stood still and placed a wide space between his feet or maybe his jeans were too tight. He said he was going to transform the yard and get rid of the umbrella tree in the far corner of the back yard as it wasn’t going to clog the drains with it’s roots. Umbrella trees have a bad name for invading underground water pipes/ I told him the roots of all the trees on the fence line of all the back yards go out under the road at the back of our houses. When I moved in here there wasn’t a blade of grass and only 12 houses dotted over the area. We planted umbrella trees because they grow fast and they had to survive on rain water. Tree roots follow the water supply and we have monsoon drains in the gutters at the edge of the road. He didn’t listen to a word I said. I told him the layout of the water and sewerage pipes in his yard, where the stop tap was, and he started puffing out his chest saying things were going to be different. Hmmm, I have a brother like him, knows everything and infact knows nothing.
I said I hoped they enjoyed their coffee but I was going out in a couple of hours so perhaps he’d better ask the neighbours on the other side of his house if they needed hot water again.
It wasn’t long before both motor mowers started up. The area is called Arana Hills and as the name suggests it is hilly. Not mountainous but all the yards slope. I looked out the front windows to see what HIS men were doing. Both of them a lot slimmer than J.W. but the same uniform, faded jeans, check flannelette shirts but one green plaid and the other blue plaid. They didn’t wear hats. They didn’t know how to cut grass either. Instead of mowing sideways across the slope they were pushing the mowers up and down. It was like pushing a truck up hill and running like hell to keep up with on the down hill run. They abandon it and told boss man they’re going to start chopping down the umbrella tree. They didn’t tell him, they yelled at him from the yard, boss man was upstairs in the house, he yelled his answer to them without coming downstairs. They’d thrown a wheelbarrow out of the ute earlier on but spell bound by now I watched them carry heaps and heaps of thick rope from the front to the back yard. Wearily they sauntered back for the chain saw, a can of fuel, an extension ladder and a bag full of what I presumed was cleaning cloths. Their day job was certainly not gardening.
All quiet once more I took advantage of the situation and made myself toasted sandwiches and coffee. I was fascinated what they were going to do next.
A little bit more awkward for me to watch when they were in the back yard. I had to watch through the kitchen windows as I didn’t want them to see me. God knows what they would have done if they thought they had an audience. Maybe think the were in a movie and start playing Tarzan. The only windows in that part of the house are over the kitchen sink.
I wish I’d have had a video camera back thenYOU would not BELIEVE how they missed having serious accidents. They started off just after lunch. It took the 3 of them a fair time to sort out the ropes. Everybody wanted to be chief and nobody want to be an indian. They were all giving orders left, right and centre of how to place the rope to stop it getting tangled. I couldn’t wait to see who was going to climb into the tree. Eventually they got sorted and boss man and one of the other guys tied the rope round the poor soul who drew the short straw. I’m no expert but I would have though a proper harness would have been better than just relying on how good the others were at tying knots and holding on to the lose end of the rope. I wasn’t laughing as the brave little soul started climbing the ladder. Boss man yelled at him he had forgotten the chain saw. He yelled back at him to climb up behind him and hand it to him when he got sat astride the branch. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Boss man was the order giver, the one who told him he was doing a great job and then took the glory if and when jobs got finished. Trees in yards don’t look very tall until you see them from the top. You should never attempt to chop them down if no one with you hasn’t got any experience. First rule when you climb to where you are going to start chopping is sit across the thick branch with your back to the trunk of the tree, not facing it. One of the Shep, Larry and Mo team Yelled at the guy up the tree he was facing the wrong way.
Man up the tree ” I’m sorry if it’s offending you but you can swap place anytime you like “
Man on the ground ” I’m only trying to save you falling out of the tree knuckle head. You’re sitting on the bit you are about to cut and you’re going to come crashing down with the branch you’ve chopped “
From the top of the tree ” There you go again being a smart arse “
From his mate on the ground ” Suit yourself stupid bastard. I’ll be the one still standing on my feet when you are on your way to the hospital “
” Sorry. A bit nervous up here. Send up the chain saw and lets get this over and done with “
Boss man had to tie the chain saw to another rope and haul it up to him. No he didn’t use a thinner rope and two inch thick one was not working as planned. A running commentary from the man up the tree how everything looked different and how great it must be to be able to fly like a bird and go anywhere you liked. Man on the ground started playing with the rope he held…the one his mate up the tree was fastened to. The voice up above hidden by the leaves yelled at him to stop yanking on the rope or he’d make sure he fell on top of him if he got pulled off the branch. Boss man had put the chain saw into a hessian bag and tied it to the rope with a plastic clothes line. When it reached the man in the tree he yelled down to him ” No need to go to the trouble of wrapping it up hauling it up would have done and the job be half done by now.”
I thought any minute now they’ll be having another smoke and if they don’t get a move on the birds will be coming back to roost for the night. I couldn’t see the two on the ground hanging around if the birds started swooping trying to get the guy out of their tree. The chain saw roared into life and all action down on the ground. The mate hanging onto the rope his eyes never leaving his mate up the tree. Boss man was running from side to side of the tree yelling orders of which branch to cut next. Shades of Shep, Larry and Mo Saturday afternoon at the movies.
When all the branches within reach had been chopped down Boss man told him to come down a few feet and start sawing again.
” Tell you what boss. Seeing as you’re the expert why don’t you show us how it’s done and I can stand down there telling you which bit to chop off “
O Dear. Everyone getting tired and realised it is not such a good game after all. The tree lopper said he’d had enough and was coming down. Boss man said they would come back the next day and finish the job. Both mates said he was on his own. They didn’t mind doing him a favour but didn’t think they’d have to risk life and limb. Boss man got real angry and said he’s finish the job himself. He grabbed the can of fuel and emptied it all over the tree, lit a bit of paper and threw it onto the fuel. Whoosh, up the flames went before you could bat an eyelid. Having an open fire in suburban yards had been banned for years. The smell of smoke neighbours came running with garden hoses gushing full pelt. As soon as the fire was doused they asked who’d lit it. no one spoke but the two mates stepped away from the boss man and the neighbours threatened him with a good hiding if he didn’t leave the area and if he came back they would call the cops.

A few weeks later a friend of mine asked if the house next door had been bought by a short, arrogant fella by the name of N>>>>>>> son. I said I had no idea what his name was and why was she asking. She said one of her married daughters had told her one of her neighbours was bragging about the house he’d just bought in Arana Hills and was going to be able to retire soon and live off the house rent he was charging. I asked if her daughter was friendly with him. She answered Jan couldn’t stand the sight of him and someone else who worked with him had said he nearly got killed a few weeks earlier as a reversing truck nearly ran him over.
” My God! What sort of work does he do? “
He was some sort of Union Boss down on the wharfs.
This was not 1930s in Chicago with Al Capone and company. This was the 1980s and Brisbane was still like a country town for most of us. A few years later we found out why the city seemed such a sleepy place. The Police Commissioner and a whole lot of his chums were all behind bars for running the place like Dodge City.
Gee Whizz. It was never like this in Charlton Place

















More of Linda’s Reminiscences

October 12, 2020

More of Linda’s Reminiscences
From Mrs Linda Esgate (nee Holloway) Former St Hilda’s School pupil

It seems you are far more familiar with Knostrop than I ever was. Peter. To me it was somehow strange and secretive with a brooding atmosphere and I don’t really know why.
My father had an allotment down Knostrop during the war which I remember as a three or four year-old. It was quite near the river Aire. He was exempt from military service as he was nearly blind in one eye and was working in the optical trade which was one of the essential businesses. Almost every time anything was ready to pick or dig up it was stolen, like the family tent which was locked in his shed…..that was the final straw and he decided to give up the allotment. My mother and I used to go down to the allotment occasionally and as we walked towards a railway bridge we had to pass under she pointed out a tawny owl sitting on one of the metal supports. It was my first sighting of an owl and I remember it well.
We children used to go “down Knostrop” to collect conkers in late August and September. I can’t remember any other horse chestnut trees in the district so the Knostrop ones were in great demand and we used all the tricks to harden them up for “tournaments”, i.e. leaving to dry naturally, baking in a cooling oven, pickling in vinegar etc. I used to love playing conkers. We sometimes played in the playground at St Hilda’s school. (The nanny state hadn’t reared its ugly head then.)

It’s odd how we suddenly remember events from a fleeting memory jog like that. There was a foreign lady (German we children thought)who lived “down Knostrop”. It was unusual in those days to have a foreigner living near us and we gave her a wide berth, poor lady. One Saturday when I was about seven I was in the Co-op butcher’s in a long queue, waiting forever it seemed, to get the weekend joint(still on ration). The butcher was preparing a piece of pork for someone, scoring the fat when his knife slipped and he badly cut his hand. The blood fascinated me, I couldn’t take my eyes off it and it couldn’t be stopped it seemed. I fainted. I remember the side of my cheek hitting the sawdust-covered concrete floor before I passed out completely. I came to being clutched to a large lady’s chest while she slapped my face saying “Come along, come along” in a very guttural accent. I soon came round properly! I realised later how kind she had been.. probably the first person in that long queue to react and help. If you lived down that way you will probably know who she was. I never knew her name or exactly where she lived. I hope I thanked her for her help.
********************************************
I remember the lady you mention, Linda, she was the mother in a Czech refugee family who came to live in Yate’s Yard at the top of Knostrop Hill. They were a nice family and they made ends meet by making ladies handbags out of a red and black material. They had a daughter called Rose Marie. Thanks for you memories Linda.

Jaw-Bone Yard Knostrop’s Golden Acre

October 1, 2020

Jaw-Bone yard – Knostrop’s Golden Acre.

 

Before this month’s tale I have to report that due to Covid 19 we have been unable to arrange the Old East Leeds Codger’s Reunion for this year.

Jaw Bone Yard

(‘click’ on pictures to enlarge)
Jaw-bone Yard was our magical playground in the heart of Knostrop. I believe there had been some whale’s jaw-bones at the entrance of the yard at one time but that was before my time. The yard was a dirt impacted area surrounded by seven houses and stables and barns. I recall some of the names of the cottages: Jaw-bone House was at one time the farmer’s house and then there were: Ash Cottage, Ash Lea, Wisteria, Rose Cottage, and a couple more whose names escape me. Some of the Houses were Jacobean others eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Electricity did not arrive in the yard until the 1950s. The houses had gardens at the front; it was the back doors that opened into the yard. I was born in 1937 around 1941 Mam opened the back door and said, Go out and play. I joined the gang already playing out there and it was then my life began
Jawbone Yard was the centre of our activities: seven houses backed onto the yard and out of the houses came seven kids, augmented by the lads and lasses from the ‘ABC’ houses, the Hall, the Lodge and sometimes too; our friends who joined in the fun from ‘The Top’; which were the streets which sat at the top of Knostrop Hill. This was the gang and didn’t we have a ball! We played every game under the sun in that yard: cricket, rounders, kick-out can, speedway bowlers (hoops) and all the general schoolyard games. The lads and the lasses all mucked in together. We played football with a tennis ball – you were lucky if you could get hold of even a tennis ball while the War was in progress, for just about everything being produced by the nation was to support the war effort – so proper footballs were out of the question. The positive side to this was it certainly taught us how to control a ball. Some of the lads became so proficient that they could ‘keepy-uppy’ with a tennis ball. Harold Sedgwick could even keep it up on his ankle! This all made it that, much easier when we finally did progress to a proper football.
We who played in the yard were fortunate in that one of the dads, who worked on the land at the time, would find balls that had been lost down drains and had ultimately found their way onto the land. He would bring them home and leave them in a grate where we would find them. Mind you a ball had a short lifespan with us, especially when we were hitting out at cricket; balls would fly into the long grass in the adjacent field and become lost. You were out if caught one handed off a wall or if you hit the ball onto a house roof.
Kids from school would say, ‘Can I come home with you after school and pay in your yard.’


In the case of hitting it onto a roof the culprit would be the one to climb onto the roof and retrieve it. The ball would usually be lodged in one of the gutters so you had to climb up onto the roof, via a coal house, then it would be necessary for you to lean perilously over the edge in order to reach it. Like kids all over we were oblivious to the danger.
It pleasantly amazes me that trivial incidents can still be brought to mind after half a century and a lifetime of other more important experiences have elapsed. For instance Keith Gale, a participant in our games, having read the original draft brought to mind an incident, which had occurred when we were playing cricket in the yard. On this occasion Gordon (Oscar) Brown was batting – we could never get him out he was like a limpet. Ball after ball he would just play a dead bat: ‘podging’ as we called it. On this particular day Gordon must have had a rush of blood to the head for he smote a ball mightily, it bounced first on a house roof and then onto a coalhouse roof, finally to be caught one handed by Peter Whitehead. By our rules we believed this to have been have been out, but good old Gordon wouldn’t budge, he stood his ground claiming that as the ball had bounced twice this did not constitute being out! The beautiful thing about this little tale is: that although Keith had been out and about for over fifty years carving out a life for himself, with all the toils and tribulations entailed, that most trivial of incidents had not been erased from his memory.

There was one particularly daft game that we played where one of us would stand facing the stable wall and the rest would choose a film star’s name without letting on what it was. We would form a line across the yard about thirty yards back and the one facing the wall would shout something like, ‘Veronica Lake take two giant strides’ or perhaps, ‘three fairy footsteps.’ Then the person who had chosen that particular name had to execute the ordered manoeuvre without being seen. Should the one calling the shots turn and catch one of us in the process of moving then the name of the culprit would be shouted and they would be out. The first person to reach wall without being seen won.
At one time we had an old wooden wheelbarrow, we would take in turns to sit in the barrow with our eyes closed while some other member of the gang would spin it around and then set off in a series of changing directions. The idea was for the one having the ride to try and guess where they were. In the middle of the yard there stood a huge wooden shed, it had three large gates at the front to accommodate flat four wheeled carts. We would use the gates as the goals in winter or the central palings as the wickets in summer. We could shelter inside the shed when it rained and perhaps play with the large wooden boxes which were intended to transport the vegetable produce to market; cabbages, cauliflowers and especially rhubarb. The boxes could be fashioned into all manner of constructions, houses, cars, whatever we fancied at the moment.

Pauline Brown, (now Mrs Rushfirth), remembers that shed too and another game we played called ‘Escape’. Someone would stand on top of the granary steps with a torch or a bike lamp, shining it on the shed gates and moving it backward and forward and we would try to escape in the dark bits. Pauline recalls it as: quite frightening. We had obviously been brain washed by watching prisoner of war films. .

There was another shed in the yard too, one in which sacks were stored – I believe the sacks must have been filled with soot for when we climbed about in there we’d get ourselves ‘black bright’. On other occasions we played whip and top, conkers, hula-hoop. We had phases when we played with potato guns, catapults or sped around the yard with bowlers in impromptu speedway races. We had dens everywhere, sometimes in the bushes where we could pull off the ‘green stick’ branches to make weapons. One type could be hollowed out for to use as a blowpipe while another ‘springier’ type could be fashioned into the bow for bow and arrows. Sheltering from the rain under a den’s green foliage is among the sweetest experiences life has to offer.

We were a bit light on girls but the ones we had were great, Pat and Pauline from the yard, Brenda, Rita from the New Hall Lodge and very occasionally, Lizzie, from the ABCs. all the rest were lads but the girls all mucked in and pulled their weight especially when we were collecting wood for the bonfires. You could tell which the girls were: they were the ones who practised their pirouettes when there was a lull in the game and did ‘crabs’ up against the wall with their frocks tucked in. There was always a god cohort of dogs running with us

One particular time everyone seemed to be wearing wooden clogs – I think they may have been an attempt to offset the problem of shoes wearing out too fast, or was it that being made out of wood they did not attract clothing coupons? Whatever, the idea was a fad and went out within a few weeks. Then of course there were the bikes, Denis Harrison had a bike on ‘fixed wheel’, it was unforgiving, if you put your feet on the ground before the bike had properly stopped it would punish you by trapping the back of your legs with its pedals; that was really painful. There was another bike which had a bell as big as a teapot and yet another, a butcher’s bike, which had you scared for the basket bit didn’t turn straightaway when you turned the handlebars giving the impression you were not going to make a corner. Peter Whitehead later organised ‘East Leeds Wheelers’ a proper cycling club. Meetings were held in a little building where the dustbins were usually kept. Membership to this club was quite exclusive and mainly taken up by a more ‘up market’ class of cyclist than us ‘yardies’, who rode ‘drop handlebar’ bikes and mostly lived at ‘the top’.

Jawbone Yard was part of a market-garden owned by a couple of brothers: Percy and Fred Allinson. They would arrive at the yard in a couple of beautiful pre-war blue Wolseley motorcars. The sight of such a motorcar today has me drooling. To be fair they put up with a lot from us kids but sometimes they would tell us off, if for instance we were playing with boxes that had already been packed with produce for market.

The area was famous for rhubarb growing being in the golden triangle with Leeds and Wakefield. It was said to be something to do with the soil and soot from the West Riding industry. Rhubarb grew everyware some of it even grew wild, our name for it was, ‘tusky’ and we ate it until it was coming out of our ears, in reality it was a bit of bravado, without custard or sugar it was too sour and made us wrinkle up our faces. We always had a contingent of dogs following us about. It was not antisocial in those days to just open you door and let your dog get out and about the business of being a dog. When we were out though they would always latch onto us, it was a great life for a dog too if it lived in Knostrop. We had a great dog, called Smokey. He would follow us everywhere when we were playing out. Unfortunately, when school started he couldn’t handle it and would make his own way up to school where he would sit in the cloakroom near my coat. When the classroom door opened, he would be in and smelling around among the desks for me. At first, this was a novelty and the teacher had the kids writing a composition about ‘Smokey’, but then he began to guard the door and wouldn’t let anyone in. After he tried to bite the School Board man the teacher told me he’d not to come up again. Mam had to keep him in or tie him up after that but holding him in check was like trying to hold quicksilver. He would even jump out of a bedroom window into the flowerbeds if that were his only avenue of escape.


In the early days we were allowed to play on a grassed area adjacent to the yard where a permanent pile of dried ‘oss muck provided an improvised boxing ring for us. Dried ‘oss muck has a great aroma, one I still enjoy today. Eventually, unfortunately for us, a fence was erected to preclude us from this area. This exclusion, which made it difficult for us to retrieve our ball, had us singing in defiance a contemporary popular song; Don’t Fence Me In. At the east end of the yard were two stables, which usually housed a couple of horses. I remember there was a black one called ‘Prince’ he was not much bigger than a pony; sometimes he would pull a small trap. More powerful horses were stabled to pull the loaded vegetable carts to market. Pat and Pauline’s dad worked with the horses. Pauline writes: ‘My earliest memories are of my dad ploughing the fields with the horses, he was employed at the market garden. Looking back it was very hard work, long hours and poor wages. Back to the horses, one was called Tidy and the other Blackie, both were big shire horses, I liked to watch them being groomed and fed in the stable.’

Our own house backed onto the stables where the big shire horses would sleep in the stalls in a standing position, they were too big to lie down. On odd occasions, a horse would slip onto the floor in its sleep. Then there would be a great commotion as the horse flayed the sides of the wooded stall trying to regain its feet. ‘Hoss down!’ would be the cry and the foreman, Mr Lightfoot, would be sought to try and assist the horse back onto its feet. Sometimes a poor horse would develop boils. I say, poor, because a terrible way of lancing the boils was used. First, the air was burnt out of a jam jar by means of a lighted candle underneath, so causing a vacuum, then the lid would be removed and the open end quickly slapped over the boil making a seal with the horse’s flesh which caused the yellow matter to be drawn out of the boil and into the jar. It got rid of the boil but the horses didn’t half complain. On May Day the horse’s tails would be tied up with coloured ribbons. On Whit Sunday it was our turn to be made to dress up like ‘dog’s dinners’ ourselves. .

Pauline remembers how she liked to decorate bricks, yes bricks! She would mix water with the lime that was heaped in a pile ready for use on the land and make it into a paste. Then she would decorate the brick with daisies, leaves and such. ‘They looked good enough to eat’, she claims. It didn’t take much to keep us happy in the yard!

I think our absolute favourite game was one we just called ‘chasing’. We could play ‘chasing’ in all seasons; it was fun whether it was the light or the dark nights. To play the game; first a couple of sides were picked by the old ‘dip-dip-dip’ method, then one team would run off and after a prescribed period the other team would run after them and try to catch them before they could return to base. In the process of this game we covered miles and miles, over fields through woods, haystacks, rhubarb sheds. We had the lot at Knostrop. The area we covered was so vast that when I consider the game now it astounds me how we ever managed to locate individuals who had run and hidden often several miles away and sometimes in the dark too, but amazingly, we did!

When the game was over we would congregate around one of the gas lamps and talk. Sometimes there would be road works and a night watchman – perhaps we would sit with him for a while around his coke brazier watching the blue red flames and choking on the fumes. Maybe we’d tell a few yarns and then accompany the watchman while he checked his lamps. Pauline remembers being scalded when one of the lads, Brian Smith she thinks, tried to jump the brazier and knocked the boiling water from the big iron kettle all over her legs, causing here to miss school for a while.

In the spring we’d likely go to the pond and collect frogspawn in a jam jar and observe it over a period of time while it turned, first into tadpoles, which eventually lost their tails, grew legs and finally turned into frogs. Then we’d set them free. Invariable a trip to the pond would end up with wellies full of water and a telling off from our mams. In the winter when the pond would be frozen we’d walk gingerly on the ice. I’m told previous generations were more adventurous and would skate on the pond but we didn’t run to ice skates.
As the yard had been there for well over a century I often thought of the many other generations of kids who had a golden time in that yard but no more golden ages now, the yard as with all of Knostrop was bulldozed down in the 1960s on our watch to make was for the Cross Green Industrial Estate .
Pauline as the last of the gang to leave the yard is honoured by having the last word.
‘I was the last of the gang to leave Knostrop; I was in my late twenties. We had to leave owing to re-development. I remember the day we left our lovely old cottage, the only home I knew and loved. I burst into tears I couldn’t help it, I was so unhappy to be leaving. It didn’t seem to matter that we were moving to a new home with hot and cold water, bathroom, indoor toilet, central heating and easy access to town and the shops. I had never been used to mod cons so I didn’t miss them.

The older inhabitants of Knostrop were turfed out of this semi-rural ideal to more modern urban living. But modern conveniences do not necessarily make up for a friendly rural community. ‘You could take the folk out of Knostrop but could you take Knostrop out of the folk!’ Some of the older ones found it difficu settle and perhaps passed away earlier than they should. Such is evidently the price of progress – and Knostrop – like the War, lives on only in our memories. But when we are gone – who will remember then
They built a factory on the site of our lovely yard which was later to burn down at the cost of a million pounds. How dare you suggest that was anything t

Working on the Tools

September 1, 2020


Working on the tools

After writing 164 tales mostly about old east Leeds I’m running out of new things to say about the old area, but I’m sure there must be some of you out there who can add a tale to the site. If you think you have a tale that might suit the purpose of the site please email it to me at peter_wood@talktalk.net

In the meantime I hope ‘Working on the Tools’ will make you smile.

Working on the Tools.
In the engineering we called working down at the sharp end where the real work gets done as ‘working on the shop floor’ and we had our iconic tales to tell. Miners call it ‘working at the coal face’ and teachers ‘working at the chalk face’ When I joined the building services section of a local council I found their tradesmen called it ‘working on the tools’. And they had a goldmine of great tales to tell too, mostly about jobs gone wrong with disastrous consequences. .
There are ‘brickie’s tales, joiner’s tales, roofer’s tales and probably best of all, probably due to their working environment being concerned with excrement: the plumber’s tales. There is something intrinsically humorous about people coming into contact with excrement. Take Ray’s experiences as an apprentice plumber. His first job, straight from school, happened to fall in that bitter winter of 1962/63 when the country was frozen for months on end, including a bank of about ten well used toilets at his new place of work. Those toilets were banked up so high that users had needed to pile bricks across the top of the pedestals topped off with a board in order to get more in. Well; when you’ve got to go you’ve got to go! The foreman told Ray to take a shovel and scoop out each frozen bowl in one solid lump and to lay each lump at the side of its pedestal while he thawed out the pipes with a blow lamp. When the water was flowing again he had to break up the piles and flush them away
You can imagine as a baptism of fire that takes some beating but his first job at the Council came close. His first job there was to free a blocked urinal at Morley Town Hall. Being unsure how to go about this job Ray rang his boss for advice.
‘Go down into the cellar,’ said his boss, ‘there you will find the bottom of the waste pipe – there will be a ‘U’ bend and a locknut, unlock the nut and clear the bend, it’ll probably be blocked with match sticks.’
Ray went down into the cellar and located the ‘U’ bend. To undo the nut he needed to stand directly underneath it and reach up. When it came free so did the contents of a two inch diameter pipe four stories high filled with urine, right onto his head.
Much later on another job for the Council Ray had to replace a w.c. pan. It was just before lunch by the time he had removed the old pan; it was then that he realised that the replacement pan he had brought along with him was the wrong size. Ray apologised to the lady of the house. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Ray, I’ve brought the wrong size pan; I’ll have to nip back to the stores and get the correct one. Will you be OK for half an hour?’ The lady said her husband came home for a sandwich at lunch time but that it would be alright. Unfortunately, when Ray returned with the new pan they had already made a deposit into the hole.
Finally, Ray, now in charge of a gang was advised by his lads that they refused to work in a certain house because it was so dirty and smelled terrible.
‘Course you will – we can’t pick and choose where we work,’ said Ray, ‘follow me.’ With that he walked into the house, slipped on a pile of dog excrement on the bottom step and measured his length up the stairs coming into contact with another pile on virtually every step; he was covered in the stuff. He reckons he ripped out the stair carpet himself and waked out of the house
Enough of Ray – another plumber replacing a complex of pipes realized he needed an elbow joint from the old pipes to use on the new pipes but it was tight and he couldn’t get it off cold so he heated it up with his blow torch until it was red hot that enabled it to expands and free itself. Unfortunately when it came free it fell onto the bathroom carpet and began to burn it, he tried to pick it up with his pliers but it was awkward to grasp and it was making a hole right through the carpet now, so he panicked and tried to pick it up with his hand but of course it was really hot. ‘Ouch!’ he had to drop it; it began to burn another hole, he tried to pick it up again. ‘Ouch!’ he dropped it again and it began to burn a third hole; he picked it up again, ‘Ouch!’ a forth hole. He finished up with eight holes in the bathroom carpet and then it got away with him down the stairs and made a burn on every step of the stair carpet. The tenant complained that she had 26 mysterious burns in her carpets – how could this have happened? She demanded and got a new carpet from the Council.
Still on the subject of carpets, a joiner this time, screwing in a new threshold near to the door was horrified to see a weft of the carpet had wrapped itself around his drill-bit and had pulled a ladder all way across the lounge carpet – virtually cutting it in half. Yet another carpet tale was that of a lad cleaning a chimney. He found himself with a shovel full of hot ash and no bucket. Instead of taking the shovel to the bucket he rested the hot shovel on the carpet while he went seeking the bucket. You can imagine what happened to the carpet. Another joiner needing to ease a door removed the door and rested it along the back of the settee in order to plane a shaving off. Unfortunately he removed a shaving off the back of the settee at the same time.
Mind you sometimes visits highlighted bizarre habits by the tenants as well as ‘clangers’ by the tradesmen. For instance one lady called for a tiler to replace her fireplace tiles, which she said had just dropped off. When he attended it transpired she was burning old railway sleepers. She would stand a chair with its back facing the fireplace and balance a sleeper with one end on the chair back and the other in the fire itself, as the end of the sleeper burned away she would just feed it further into the fire.
The same lady called for a plumber complaining her bathroom carpet was wet: damaged by a leaking pipe. She was after a new carpet from the council but she had been seen getting the same old carpet, dripping wet, out of a skip.
While in the process of studying glazers at work I recall another weird occurrence. We had arrived to refit a small bathroom window, we had the new window already manufactures and on the van. While we were there removing and fitting the small bathroom window it was noticeable that the lounge window had no glass in it at all! The inhabitants were sitting unconcernedly watching TV on a bitter cold day with just a piece of dirty plastic flapping in the window aperture. The lounge window had evidently been dispatched by a hurled dustbin and not by fair-means, so they would have to wait a replacement for that window.
Putting a bath in is a plumber’s job but boarding in the bath is a joiner’s job. There was an old tradesman joiner who would say to his lads, ‘Never let a hammer head come close to a bath edge, hammers and baths are a lethal combination.’ We are talking here about the old cast iron baths covered in white enamel: if the hard surface of a hammer head comes into contact with the roll over edge of the bath a thick chunk of enamel would flake away right down to the cast iron. On this particular day the old tradesman came back from lunch and saw a huge chip out of the bath edge. He went ballistic but none of the lads would own up to being the culprit. He considered his options – as the bath had already been plumbed in the cost to remove and replace it with a new bath was really ‘big money’. So against his own better judgement the old lad decided to attempt a ‘bodge up’. He bought a tin of enamel touch up paint and secreted it on the job, at the same time masking the offending bath edge from prying eyes with a piece of ply. Each day he proceeded to apply a layer of paint in an effort to try and build it up to the original thickness. It was a painstaking task which had to be completed to perfection as he knew the Clerk of Works would inspect the work and he was a real ‘hawk eye’ at any kind of a cover up; if he suspected any impropriety he would insist on the whole job being stripped out and replaced.
On the day of the initial inspection the masking job wasn’t great but considering the old saying: ‘A blind man would be pleased to see it.’ The old tradesman thought he’d take a chance; he crossed his fingers and removed the plywood. The Clark of Works went straight to it. ‘What’s this,’ he said, ‘it’s had a touch!’ The old joiner feigned surprise and ran his fingers along the damaged edge, ‘Well I never, I haven’t noticed that before, it must have been like that when it came,’ he said.
The Clerk of Works wasn’t happy, he pointed to the damage and then put up his finger, ‘It’s had a touch he repeated,’ but as he spoke he slowly walked on. The old joiner thinking perhaps he’d got away with it continued to improve his work with a further layer each day for he knew there would be a final inspection. Unfortunately he couldn’t find the pot one morning when he arrived. He went to the bathroom and there was the Clark of Works holding up the pot of enamel in triumph. ‘You’re nicked,’ he said ‘strip it out and gerit replaced.’ So all the old boy’s work had been for nowt and his credibility had taken a knock too all because a hammer came too close to a bath edge.
When the lads were working on site they would get up to all sorts of pranks; like nailing the cabin door shut while their mates were having their snap then blocking the chimney with a slate so that those inside almost choked to death on the smoke. The site toilet would be a hastily constructed hut over a manhole direct to the sewer. To complete the job they would secure a couple of boards across to form a makeshift seat and this would serve as the ‘thunder box’ as the lads called it. They tell the story that while a lad was already using this contraption they jammed the door shut, nailed a shaft to each side and raising the whole lot off the manhole ran around with it like a sedan chair with the lad still inside.
Things tended to go missing from those building sites ‘big time’. It was a regular occurrence for ladders to disappear from one side of the building site while the lads were working at the other. More spectacular was the case of a bricklayer grinding out between bricks for pointing with a hand held grinder which was being powered by a compressor located around the other side of the building. He was amazed when the grinder was ripped out of his hand and away out of sight around the corner of the building. He raced around the corner just in time to see the compressor disappearing up the road on the back of a ‘gyppo’ pick up with the hand grinder bouncing along the road behind, still attached with its pipes.
Then there was the case of the cement mixer – brand new – never been used, it was left outside the cabin while the lads had their lunch, when they came out it had disappeared never to be seen again. It never mixed a bucket of concrete in anger for the Council.
Best of all was the disappearing engine. The vans were kept in a depot compound overnight secured by a fourteen foot high wall. On the particular morning in question a guy couldn’t get his van to start so he asked his mate to give him a tow start – still no joy, so they looked under the bonnet and there was no engine there at all! Take about ‘my engine’s missing’ this engine was really missing. But how did they manage to remove a 1,600 cc diesel engine and get it over a fourteen foot high wall without anyone seeing or hearing anything? And there were houses all around the depot.
Finally, a roofer’s tale to finish with; this roofer was working on an old lady’s bungalow roof when he lost his footing: he went clean through the roof and the ceiling to arrive amidst a cloud of rubble onto the settee next to where the lady was sitting having a cup of tea. Quite unabashed and quick as a flash he said, ‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this you know.’



GREAT NEWS FOLK

August 12, 2020

Great News

Great News Folk: Our readers will be happy to learn that Audrey Sanderson (Ausie Pom) has just sent me an e-mail, She’s still alive and kicking. Audrey: an Ellerby Lane School former pupil now living In Australia has written many tales on this site but we have not heard from her for a long time and feared for her wellbeing.
Less happy news is the demise of Bernie Finn who wrote tales from Victoria School.

GLORIA’S TALE & THE VAGARIES OF THE 61/62 BUS ROUTE

August 1, 2020


As Gloria’s tale Mrs Gloria Hislop (nee Blakey ) depends on quality rather than quantity it has given me the chance to air the vagaries of the present No 62 bus route too.

GLORIA’S TALE
About eight of us from school [presumably Ellerby Lane School?] used to go to the cinema once a week, twice if you had enough spending money left. It was about 9d to get in. We used to make a B-line for the Easy Road Cinema. We always sat a couple of rows from the front. You not only came home with a stiff neck from looking up at the screen but also with a stiff bum for sitting too long. The girls weren’t so bad at sitting but the lads were always getting the usherette shining her torch on us, it was either crunching sweet papers rattling bags of crisps, talking or the lads putting their feet up on the row in front.
Eventually they got sick of us and told us to get out and not to come back. So then we ventured further to the Princess Cinema which was about a shilling to get in and on this particular night one of the lads decided he wasn’t, going to pay so he decided to climb in through the toilet window but he got stuck and fell backwards into a dustbin so we got banned from there too. From there we went to the Star cinema, talk about luxury, plush seats, it was about one and Six to get in there, so we stayed a while until we got banned from there and

THE STAR CINEMA

moved on to the Shaftsbury Cinema, got banned from there and moved onto the Regal Cinema at Crossgates, stayed there for a while then it all fell apart as we were older by then and almost ready to leave school.
They were great days and times not like now, violent. My daughter is in the police force and the tales she tells are unbelievable.

**********************************************
WOW! Let’s get on the 62 bus after that but thanks for a great tale, Glo.

THE VAGARIES OF THE NUMBER 61/62 BUS ROUTE.
This month’s tale concerns the number 61/62 bus routes. This may only appeal to dyed in the wool old East Leedsers so I do apologise if you are not conversant with the area

Here is a picture of a number 62 bus passing East End Park, it’s an old AEC. Thanks to those old camera snappers who took the trouble to record the mundane things in our past. It was a long circular route- shared by the number 61 and the number 62. The number 62 went around clockwise and the number 61 anticlockwise. I’m going to relate the route anticlockwise from Eastgate and then draw a sketch.
Eastgate, Duke Street, East Street, Cross Green Lane, Eastpark Parade, Ivy Street, Lupton Avenue, Hudson Road, Compton Roads, Stanley Road, Harehills Road, Sheepscar, Meanwood Road, Blackman Lane, Woodhouse Lane, The Headrow, and return to Eastgate,

Sketch of bus route. ‘click’ to enlarge
How do I remember this old route? Because I’m an old ‘saddo’ and an old saddo who nostalgically walked the route on foot a few years ago.
My old mate: the late lamented Eric Allen, loved that route and as a school boy if he saw our favourite ‘clippy’ Alma was on duty he would hop on the bus and travel all the way round. Alma, also of show stoppers fame would let him ring the bell and if the grumpy old inspector got on she would palm him a penny ticket which would see him OK until the inspector got off.
Fast forward to today. While on my current forays around the area I keep seeing a single decker No 62 bus cropping up all over the place i.e. Flax Place, Lavender Walk, I even saw one coming down Easy Road surely that was the job of the number 64? You could catch a number 63 or 64 from Eastgate too. The 63 came by way of York Road and the 64 by way of Hunslet, They both crossed at the coal stathe at the bottom of Easy Road. Seemingly the 63 and 64 have disappeared and the 62 does the job of the lot. This intrigued me and I thought I’ll get to the bottom of this, ‘saddo’ again, so I obtained a route time table from the bus station and this is what I found out: The new 62 bus route is as follows: It starts from the bus station and goes: St Peter’s Street, Marsh Lane, Mill Street, Flax Place, Richmond St, Bow St, East St, Accommodation Rd, Knowsthorpe Cres, Cross Green Lane, Pontefract Ln, Park Parade, East Park Rd, Pontefract lane, Lavender Walk, Upper Accommodation Rd, Dial St, Easy Rd,
Cross Green lane, South Accommodation Rd, A 61, South Accommodation Rd, East St, Marsh Lane, Richmond St, Flax Place, Saxton Place, Marsh lane, York St, St peter’s St, and back to Leeds City bus station. So in a way it is still a circular too but a much shorter one than of yore.
Pontefract lane twice how does that work? I challenge old East Leedsers to work out this route in their minds eye. And I’ll include a sketch of it in next month’s ‘blog’. Apologies once again for being a ‘saddo’ but it is East Leeds memories when all’s said and done!


Current no 62 single decker passing Saxton Garden Flats
If you think about it, it is a tidy little anticlockwise route that takes in our three areas of East Leeds: Cross Green, East End Park and Richmond Hill, it can bring you home from town or take you into town and it does not need a clockwise partner.

I Knew the Greatest Generation

July 1, 2020


I knew the Greatest Generation, particularly in war time. I was not of that generation but I lived among them and at school I was taught by them.

‘The Greatest generation’ is a tag well-earned as they lived through two world wars and a depression. They were unsinkable and that probably owes some credence by the fact they followed another great generation; the late Victorians.

They lived through mostly austere times of blackouts and gas lighting. I recall evenings in front of coal fires darning socks and making clip rugs, we were under rationing restrictions until 1954; we ate many rissoles and Woolten pies. But there was usually much home-made music mainly the upright piano and people giving a song. I suppose there must have been the debilitating illnesses and phobias we hear so much about today but I never heard them mentioned then. Looking back this was one of the things I admired most about them: they ‘just gor on wi it’

There was much gallows humour and wartime cartoons. Usually at the expense of the Kaiser, Hitler and Mussolini but one I remember in particularly was the famous cartoon ‘Go find a better oil’. This was two Tommie’s hiding in a shell hole with bombs and bullets sailing overhead and one says, ‘This isn’t a very nice oil’ and the other says, ‘Well if you can find a better ‘oil go gerr in it!’

 When the lads came home on leave from the Army Navy Air Force or Marines there would be as a great party atmosphere. As a child I would get thrown up in the air as would be some of the ladies. Those who were not drafted into the armed forces were plucked out of soft occupations and made to do war work as were many single women who were bussed to the huge munition factories dotted around the area. Old guys or the disabled were given the job of air raid warden and fire watching. I believed it gave some older guys a new lease of life to be doing a useful job for the country; ‘Put that light out’ and of course others were drafted into the Home Guard (dad’s army)

Although there were many turbans curlers and pinafores in evidence the ladies glammed up well with bright red gash lipstick, peroxide blond hair and wraparound coats with tight belts which made them bait for the Yanks who were said to be, overpaid, oversexed and over here. If a boy wanted to cut another boy in the school yard he would shout, ‘Your mam goes with Yanks.’ But the Yanks liked the girls and the girls liked the glamorously attired big spending Yanks This caused consternation to our lads who had been fighting in foreign theatres for two years on their own in their less glamorous uniforms. But we could not have done without them. 90% of the time in the battle of the sexes the guy is the villain this was in the other 10%.

I recall nights in the air raid shelter, the Battle of Britain, D Day, the opening of the concentration camps and the original VE Day. We had three bonfires that year: one for VE Day, One for VJ Day and one for Guy Faulk’s Night, but chumps were getting a bit scarce by that time. To be honest I remember a night a short time later when the blackout was lifted and all the lights went on again more than the actual VE Day.
At the end of the war it was probably time for the Greatest Generation to take a back seat and hand over to our generation. Our generation is the Generation in between that ‘Greatest Generation’ and the present generation?

My Grandfather had been in the Boer War and The First Great War and my father had been in Egypt with Lawrence of Arabia but now it was our generation’s turn. I was drafted into The Army of Occupation in Germany (BAOR) to serve in: Minden, Detmold and Monchengladbach. I found the folk from that country to be no different to us. The Nazi generation was not their generation but they had to live with the stigma of it. Every time there is a victory milestone anniversary for us to celebrate it makes me cringe to think that they are inversely reminded of their bitterness their defeats: D Day, VE Day and especially the shame of the opening of the concentration camps. Theirs is the shame of living those defeats over and over again. Yet apart from the obvious atrocious Nazi politics which of course we must never forget, their fighting forces have nothing to be ashamed of. Germany is a large country but not a massive country and they took on the rest of the world and they were actually winning at half time. If they had not overstretched themselves by taking on Russia and then committing suicide by bringing the USA in to the war, who knows?

At least I am glad that Anglia Merkel at last now celebrates VE Day in Germany as the day Germany was liberated from the Nazis. And we should be happy that the war had a finite end. The ideological wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya Iraq, Yemen and The Congo do not seem to offer the combatants that privilege.

 Just a thought: Germany is now an economically powerful nation and friendlier towards us than some of the other European nations who were on the same side as us in the Second World War. They resist further rearmament and without them the European Union would fold; and it’s a little remembered fact that we declared war on them (justifiably of course after the invasion of Poland) it was not Germany who declared war on us! The Nazi generation is no more the responsibility of their present generation than slavery is of our generation, we are all products of out time, so perhaps it’s time for us to stop reminding them of the war and letting THEM ‘ger on wi it’.

Press on Regardless but not Rewardless

June 1, 2020

PRESS ON REGARDLESS, but not rewardless!

By Val Milner: Ex Ellerby Lane Pupil, Director of the iconic Ellerby Lane School Film: Brought to Justice. And member of the Show stoppers Dance troop.

 

Val tells us of her ordeal in the 1950s with Polio.

In 1949 when I was a couple of months short of my 11th birthday I contracted the virus disease of Acute Poliomyelitis (Infantile Paralysis) and became one of the polio statistics of that year. The annual general report of the Registrar General says in 1949 there was a total of 5,918 cases in England and Wales, of which 5,439 were paralytic and 479 non -paralytic. In a dreadful way I suppose we were fortunate there was ‘only’ 657 deaths, it could have been so much worse.

I’d enjoyed a happy seaside holiday with my mum, aunty and cousin, but back home in Leeds 9
I started to feel unwell. In one scary incident my legs gave way as I walked to the toilet – outside lav, of course. Laid out on the pavement I couldn’t get up until a concerned neighbour saw and helped me. Things got worse reaching a stage of headaches, aching muscles and hardly able to move my legs or even sit up by myself, my daytime hours spent laid out on the settee. Thank God for the creation of the NHS which began only the previous year on 5th July 1948.
What would we have done without it.

We were registered with a doctor’s practice at Richmond Hill. My mother’s most vivid recollection of that time was coming into my room during the night to check on me. I was awake and pointed into the darkness telling her to look at ‘that lovely bright light’ at the bottom of my bed.

The doctor visited again on the Saturday morning, immediately returning to his surgery to phone a specialist to come see me on a domiciliary home visit, only to be back within minutes with the news that an ambulance was on its way. The specialist had heard enough to diagnose Infantile Paralysis.

I stayed in Seacroft Isolation Hospital until danger of infection had passed, my parents told it was unlikely I would ever walk again, which thankfully was to prove wrong. The diagnosis was confirmed by the virus being isolated by a sample of my celebrospinal fluid taken by lumbar puncture.
Polio meant isolation from the outside world; no known medicine to cure us; no vaccine. The miracle is no-one among family, friends and neighbours came down with it, but they must have been in a state, anxious at the turn of events.

How fortunate then that eventual transfer to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield for a stay of several months saw my gradual progression from bed-patient to wheelchair (wheelchair races forbidden), 2 walking sticks, 1 stick, then none, profiting from great nursing and physiotherapy. In hospital I learnt to swim. In hospital ‘school’ was a teacher coming into our ward attempting to teach girls of different ages. I liked to join in their songs, my favourite Hope the Hermit – ‘a hermit wise and good’ who lived ‘in a blithe green wood!’ I still like it.
All the children from my class at Ellerby Lane School sent me individual get well letters – I wish I still had them! Family and friends were greatly missed but my parents came for the hour long visiting time on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and my mother came for the only other visiting hour – Tuesday evening after work, but there were lots to keep me occupied in between.

Our very own kindly and long-suffering Sister Johnson was in charge and when I was recovered sufficiently as an up-patient she was soft enough to allow me to dress up in a white coat and with stethoscope round my neck parade around the ward ‘helping’ but NOT when matron was around – she ruled with an iron fist concerned primarily that patients, staff, fixtures and fittings daily passed muster. Matron’s entrance was preceded by a flurry of nurses’ whispered warnings -she’s here! – then her booming voice, “Good morning, gels!”

We gels had our film star photo collections, sing-alongs, read and swapped comics and mags and best of all, when as up-patients, freedom, as we played on the grass outside the ward. One nurse was considered a friend for life for saying I had a look of British film star Patricia Roc – would you believe!
Friday night was film night, and once a group of volunteer amateur entertainers came in to give us a concert which we thoroughly enjoyed. I am ashamed to say, however, that one of the highlights immortalized in my diary was ‘big girl (as in ‘large’) slipped when dancing’.

Pinderfields was designated as an emergency hospital in 1939, 20 overflow huts were built on adjacent farmland to nurse battle casualties of the Second World War. At the end of the hostilities the huts remained in use as general nursing facilities. Girls Ward I, my ward, was one of these long huts heated by a solid fuel stove with a tall iron chimney going up through the roof. During the cold winter months I developed nasty chilblains – the first and last time I’ve ever had them. At the end of the ward was a large cream coloured machine, an iron lung respirator encasing a young polio patient, its regular rhythm a constant background sound.

Readjusting to life back at Ellerby Lane School was not easy. When hospital was left behind one of their instructions was for me to wear trousers at school to ‘keep your legs warm’ or as mum would say, ‘Watch that circulation’. Ellerby Lane was accommodating, but we are talking about 1950 when trousers were not the norm for girls, not a good feeling to be different from the rest. For a time I was allowed 2 swimming lessons a week (at Joseph Street Baths). I seem to recall the steamy water was a ghastly dark green colour.
Generally though, any awkwardness felt by me or by anyone else gradually faded away, and good weather meant that I could go back to wearing skirts. Life was returning to normal.

My hospital repertoire of folksy songs was augmented at music lessons when our class gathered in the hall with lovely Mr. W. J. Banwell instructing and playing the piano. We performed songs ranging from quiet remorseful ballads such as Barbara Allan to rendering a rousing version of ‘On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at. Barbara Allan seemed to be a favourite song of teacher ‘Chuck’ Holmes because when we were singing it he would sometimes leave his classroom, a few steps from the hall door, then stand there listening.

It took a while for me to catch up on school subjects, but I always say how lucky to be at Ellerby Lane during that time. We started Spanish language lessons which came in handy at Christmas when mixing a verse or two in Spanish to O come, all ye faithful or Silent Night at doors when my mates and I were out carol singing – it has been known to intrigue the household within and we were often spared the hefty kick on the door that signalled dismissal. And, of course, there was the innovation of film appreciation lessons learning about how films are made, culminating in 1953 in being let loose to make our own film reported in local newspapers and beyond. Heady stuff! One thing that did bug me about school was having my PT (physical training) efforts constantly registered as ‘Fair’ on school reports, which I thought was anything but fair, but better I suppose than a ‘Tries hard’.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that polio figures began to improve dramatically due to the effects of the vaccine campaign, and nowadays, according to a British Polio Fellowship Report, it is estimated that 120,000 of our population still live with the after effects of polio.
What d’you know – I’m still a statistic……………


END

Great tale, Val. We are very lucky to have a contributor that remembers so clearly right back to the start of our great NHS.   ‘Oh Matron!’

and for the record, I too thought you looked a bit like Patricia Roc. And I bet all you Ellerby Lane School colleagues will be happy Mr Banwell and ‘Chuck Holmes’ are remembered. 

Linda’s Tale

May 1, 2020

 Thought a few memories of St Hilda’s School might trigger similar memories…….
I started school when I was three years old , during the difficult days of the second world war and when it was nearly impossible for schools to get much in the way of paper and pencils or art stuff etc. That didn’t matter in the infant’s class run by, I think, Miss Maitland. I think I should mention that we called all the teachers Miss not knowing if they were married or not. In that first class we had various toys including a metal-framed see-saw with canvas seats and it used to shift across the wooden floorboards in all directions depending on how vigorously it was being used. We queued each day up for a spoonful of cod liver oil followed quickly with another of orange juice and then our bottle of milk…kept us healthy to some extent I guess when food was in short supply.
The next class was Miss Powell’s and she was quite strict and we were taught to read and write and basic numbers. Her room had a fireplace and in the winter there was a fire lit. In the alcove alongside the fire was a glass-fronted cupboard displaying books and toys including the most wonderful humming top. Every time she opened that cupboard I hoped the top would come out but it never did. Did anyone get to play with it?
Then to Mrs. Duckworth’s class where we learnt our multiplication tables. Which I still know!! Her hair always looked the same. Did anyone ever find out if it really was a wig? She was very strict and gave up to six strokes of her ruler for misbehaviour. I got two strokes once but can’t remember what I’d done to justify it. All through these early days we had to use our writing paper carefully. We started the writing at the left hand edge and used the whole width, from top to bottom. Muddly I think. Pencils got shorter as term progressed….
I don’t remember a great deal about Miss Fewster’s class. But we were ten or so by that time.. she was a kindly person. I must have been concentrating on something one day when she said,”Don’t scowl so Linda”. I still do that..the facial lines prove it.
Playground games were skipping ropes, ball games, taws and conkers and whip and top in the winter but we liked to decorate the top face of the top with coloured chalks and they weren’t easy to come by so they were used right until we couldn’t hold them when they got too tiny. Also in the winter we made slides in the snow. Winters were colder then. I remember wonderful ice patterns on my bedroom window (inside) quite frequently. The winter of 1947 was very cold for months and the snow was deep and was swept off pavements into the road, and it was piled up enough to make igloo type dens inside.
I had school dinners, and I enjoyed them, in particular the thick gravy(my mum never made thick gravy) and the school dinner ladies were really nice, Mrs Sheard and Mrs Cole..they didn’t mind me having extra gravy.
Mostly very happy days for me and I remember fellow pupils. They were mostly good to know. Wonder how many remember me.
Hope you’ll be able to pass on some of these snippets if you feel you can, they may trigger memories in others. Please give my best wishes to old fellow pupils and hope they are faring ok in these difficult times.

Linda is the fourth girl from the left on bottom row of girls.

‘Click’ on picture to enlarge