Archive for the ‘1950s’ Category

WENDY’S TALE

October 1, 2013

                                                      WENDY’S TALE

 

                                           East Street Day Nursery.  1956

 

Wendy Carew is our East Leeds lass now living in Perth Western Australia.

Wendy in this tale remembers her days as a helper at the East Street day nursery

 

I was, again, causing a palaver at home. A decision had to be made about my future. Dad thought I should try for University but Mam wanted me to leave and find work .To be fair to my mother she had worked all her life as a seamstress and constantly tried really hard to make ends meet. The thought of supporting me through more years of education was not her idea of the future.  What a thorough waste of time, my mother kept repeating, for a girl to have “ideas above her station” after all marriage and motherhood, for me, was just around the corner and a University degree wouldn’t help bringing up the kids.

So, to keep the peace, I left my prestigious High School (Lawnswood) at fifteen. Facing the stern Headmistress, Miss Holden, on my own was daunting. She was extremely angry and had hoped I would ‘go on to do great things’ but what could I do? Trapped by my mother’s expectations and my father’s constant quiet surrender I left being a schoolgirl and went to look for work. Thank – goodness I was hopeless on a sewing machine or I would have been accompanying my mother to the huge Montague Burton’s clothing factory down York Road.

I applied to Leeds Corporation for work as a Nursery Nurse. To day it would be called a Kindergarten Helper.

Leeds Corporation had opened a few child-minding nurseries for working mothers and the nearest one for me was along East Street on the outskirts of the city.

Children, as young as babies and up to pre school could be left to be cared for five or perhaps six days a week (I cannot remember if we opened on weekends). I was accepted and began my first job at the East Street Day Nursery.

This Day Nursery was operated from a beautiful old house quite out of place in the surrounding location. Because of its close proximity to the city centre this area had absorbed a huge influx of Irish and Russian immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century and therefore had become extremely overcrowded and very unhygienic. I think the area was called The Bank.

I never enquired but just assumed the house had been the ‘manse’ (the vicarage) for St. Saviours Church situated on Ellerby Road in the suburb of Richmond Hill. Behind the church, on a downhill slope, was the church graveyard and further down beyond the graveyard was this beautiful house, which fronted onto East Street.

Let me describe my workplace, this grand detached house.

It was red brick and three stories high with lots of chimneys. The third story being two attic rooms under the tile-covered roof where, in the ‘hay day’ of the house, servants would have slept.

The front entrance had bay windows each side. Each window and the glass in the door contained beautiful coloured lead panels, which threw a rainbow glow into the interior hall when the sun shone through.

A Large central staircase with polished carved wooden banisters swept upwards in the foyer splitting to left and right when half way to the first floor. To me, growing up in the Charlton’s and on the Rookwood council estate this was a grand old house. I didn’t pretend I owned the place I just thought I was privileged to work there.

A concealed back corridor and stairs allowed movement from the ground floor kitchen and washhouse along to the large dining room and up to the 1st landing door to service bedrooms and further up to the servants small attic rooms. These stairs allowed the maids to bring food, linen and coal to each room without disturbing the owners of the house. Of course when I worked there these stairs were a quick way to take ashes and dirty clothes down to the laundry and clean linen and coal up to where they were needed.

I was accepted as a trainee and began my first job. Used to criticism at home I was like a young puppy when praised and would cheerfully try to do my very best the next time around.

We worked a forty plus hour week and in shifts. Early morning ‘starts’ (7-30am) or late night ‘finishes’ (8pm). My wage was three pound five shillings handed to me in a small manila envelope, which I eagerly accepted each week. I would hide my wage in a pocket in my navy blue bloomers so no one could pinch it.

When arriving home my sealed wage packet was immediately handed over to my mother, as was the custom at that time.

She allowed five shilling for myself, enough money if I was careful, to buy a lipstick, pair of nylon stockings and tram fare for the week. Any left over pennies were placed into savings for shoes, clothes and pocket money.

Now I was working and earning my own money I had thoughts of leaving home and going to swinging London. My father, horrified, announced “only BAD girls went to London” and “no daughter of his….etc…etc.”

So here I was in Leeds, either catching a tram to the city to work or walking through the streets to work. In Spring and summer if I had a 10am start I would walk from Rookwood Avenue down Osmonthorpe Lane, cut along Ings Road and skirt along the perimeter of East End Park cut down Accommodation Road to St. Saviours Church and then down to East Street.

We thought nothing of walking miles in those days. When I attended Osmonthorpe Primary School I would walk home to Rookwood Ave, have tea and then walk up to my library at Cross Gates change my books and walk home again.

Cutting through the streets to work, if the weather was good, I would walk through row upon row of sooty black ‘back to back’ terrace houses with their cobbled roads, maze of dark alleyways, ginnel’s, outside lavatory’s and smelly overflowing middens.

I was never afraid, alert but not afraid. If I felt danger and screamed many doors would open and whoever threatened me would feel the wrath of a street full of residents ready to come to my aid. Besides, because of overcrowding in the majority of homes, the streets were always full of kids playing, washing being pegged out, neighbours gossiping and men going to and from work or the Pub.

If my shift started at 7-30am in the morning, especially in late autumn or early winter when the mornings were dark, or full of snow I would rise early to catch a tram to town. Alighting at Marsh Lane (other side of York Road to that of Quarry Hill flats) I would trudge under the railway bridge towards Leeds Parish Church. Keeping left along Crown Point Road I would again turn left when I came to East Street.

East Street, before the war consisted of factories and small workplaces but because of bombing during the 2nd world war the houses and run down business’s now lay on open ground in a heap of rusted tin, broken glass and scattered piles of smashed brick and rubble.

A fair way along East Street was my place of work, East Street Day Nursery.

In winter, with snow boots, thick coat, hand knitted woollen scarf, gloves, and knitted bonnet I would trek, head down against the blizzard of snow, passing grim soot covered factory’s, scrap heaps and bomb damaged buildings, eager to get inside this welcoming house. I would leave my outdoor clothes in the attic bedroom and because the heat hadn’t yet reached the attic I would very quickly put on my uniform and rush downstairs to the warmth of the kitchen.

A quick cup of tea toast and jam, and I was ready for my working day.

Five days a week the busy kitchen would have the aroma of food being prepared. Vegetables and Meat cooking, biscuits, bread and scones baking. A large black kettle was forever bubbling away on a humongous black-leaded stove.

Tea was brewed in those days. Tea leaves were spooned into a large teapot ‘One for each person and one for the pot’ was the saying when we made a fresh brew.

Coffee was not the drink of choice with the working class in those days being a new fangled drink and more expensive. Tea leaves could be brewed and brewed again and again until they were tasteless. At this point they were place in a bucket and used to dampen fires to a glow if the rooms became too hot or could be used to reduce a fire to a glowing ember overnight at home leaving it ready to rekindle into flame when the first early riser in the house came downstairs.

The Tweenies.

I was only working there a couple of months when my diligence was dually noticed and I was placed in charge of the ‘tweenies’.

The children in my care were between nine months and eighteen months old. They were considered too old for the baby nursery, and too young for the rough and tumble play amongst the two to five year olds.

Remember I was only fifteen with no experience of young children but it was thought, because I was female, it was a skill I had been born with.

When, in cold weather, I was rostered on early morning shifts, my job was to light a coal fire in my small ‘tweenies’ room before the mothers arrived.

I had prepared the fireplace the night before by raking out the hot cinders, removing the build up of ash under the grate making sure the fire grate was now empty and clean. We had to be so careful there was nothing in the grate in case anything caught fire during the night.

Placing ash and cinders in the coal shuttle I would take it down the back stairs and out to a cinder patch in a safe corner of the garden.

I would then fill the coal shuttle with coal and coke (similar to coal) from the cellar, gather chipped wood and rolled newspapers and carry this up the back stairs to my ‘tweenies’ nursery and leave ready by the fireplace for the start of a brand new day.

Our nursery was situated in a very poor area and only working mothers could afford to place their child in our council subsidised care.

Many of the children arrived covered in lice and nits. I would spend time each day washing each child and running a nit comb through its hair.

With nits in those days a foul smelling solution went on first to kill the eggs and the ‘fine tooth comb’ was to comb the eggs out, which we would crack between our thumbnails. It was difficult to remove eggs from the eyelashes. The children would squirm and wriggle around but I would persist wanting to surprise the mothers, when they arrived in the late evening, with a clean child to take home.  Next day of course they would turn up reinfested and dirty and the process started again.

I loved my job even though it was very long hours. I loved it because the mothers complimented me when they came to collect their clean happy well-fed children. Always criticised for what ever I did at home I was yearning and needy for a compliment and a ‘pat on the back’.

In the winter, night descended around four pm.

When the last mother had collected her child around eight pm we (I say we because there had to be two staff rostered on an evening for safety) would lock up the nursery would quickly walk in the dark, past silent factories and pitch-black waste ground, all the way into town.

Gas street lamps were on at night but they delivered very little illumination. Going home in the dark in that area and towards town when the factories were deserted was very frightening and we would walk very close to each other. Sometimes a ‘bobby’ would be doing his rounds on foot and would walk with us until we reached city lights.

Remember, by now I had just turned sixteen but it was a different era and if working we were expected to be adults.

Looking back and looking at photo’s of East Street in the nineteen fifties, I think of that young lass walking up East Street to work eager to earn three pounds five shillings a week.

My heart goes out to her and I smile because I’ve survived, prospered and have led such an interesting life.

I have a lot to thank Leeds for. It gave me tenacity; ambition and the ability to get straight back up when the many tragedies and defeats knocked me to the ground. Leeds trained me with tough love and then sent me into the world and with those skills I survived.

Wendy Carew's pic of nursary

 

Wendy, with children at the East Street Nursery. Behind them is the boundary wall of St Saviour’s grave yard.

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Great tale Wendy – thanks for sharing it with us. Can we help Wendy? She would love to know more about the history of the building which housed the East Street Day Nursery in the 1950s/60s. It was a detached red brick house, not a plain building. It had once been a grand family built house with attics for servants and quite grand for its day, especially in the area it was situated. Wendy believes the Toch H organisation owned the building in the 1950s and they leased it to the Leeds Corporation who in turn used it as a child minding centre. It would be wonderful if it triggers anyone’s memory. Come on ask around for Wendy.

 

Last month’s pic was of course the iconic Richmond Hill School

 

How about The pic for this month. Where was it? red walls picture

 

 

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THE TEDDY BOY ERA

January 18, 2013

Another great tale by Eric Sanderson

These tales from Old East Leeds have ranged over a huge range of reminiscences from characters, schools, iconic buildings, football teams, cinemas, pubs, and many other topics. However, the “Teddy Boy” era seems to have been bypassed so here’s one or two recollections that might spark off a few memories.

“Teddy Boys” were by no means exclusive to East Leeds but it did have it’s fair share of dedicated followers of the fashion. So this is not a solely East Leeds yarn but even so, Teddy Boy activities were readily to be found in the district and many will have their own reminiscences of that brief period and who knows, maybe even have participated
During the Teddy Boy era of the 1950’s , the most noticeable and visible aspect was the extreme form of dress which had somehow come to be associated with the Edwardian finery of the 20‘s/30‘s.
In reality, the Teddy Boy styles of those days only vaguely resembled true Edwardian finery which were resplendent and characterised by their bell bottomed trousers and wide lapelled, double breasted jackets made from loud check patterned cloths such as Prince of Wales checks and shiny shoes . The Windsor necktie knot was a creature of that period, invented, if grubby rumour is to have any houseroom, by the then Prince of Wales & later Edward the 8th.

The Teddy Boy fashions probably owed more to Victorian & even Regency extravagance in their choice of colour, materials and adornment and although it certainly wasn’t confined to , or even predominantly an East Leeds practice, there were sufficient exponents of the art to make it memorable. But there was also an implicit darker side to the practice in that, rightly or wrongly, a widely held belief was that such dress heralded an association with the more unsociable side of behaviour, such as gang membership, violence, a much broader & anarchic freedom of activity & expression as well as a dissociation with the general courtesies and values of the day . In fact there were many establishments which barred entry to those wearing the Teddy Boy outfit, presumably because of the associated, real or not, notoriety. These included cinemas, many dance halls as well as many pubs.
The fashion didn’t seem to cross the boundary to girls though they did evolve a generally more racy style.

Be that as it may , it brought a new meaning to style and fashion, as well as a major boost to the textile industry, as well as some colourful characters who appeared to have no inhibitions in disporting their new, and expensive attire.

Close to where I lived, one fellow possessed several suits, all of a similar pattern but in a variety of lurid colours. Pea green, bright red are two colours I particularly remember and all had jacket lengths down to the knees fashioned in what I think was called “full drape“. Strange and funny to many eyes but this character had a somewhat fearsome reputation and it didn’t pay to be anything but complimentary to him. The obligatory black velvet collar, pocket trim and sleeve cuffs set this off ( although that was often marred by a dusting of dandruff on the collar) and required at least double the material to that of an ordinary jacket to make, hence an old friend in the trade telling of the boost this fashion gave to the textile industry and regret at it’s passing.
On the other hand, the trousers were often skin tight from the knee downwards and must have been troublesome to get into (and out of). The trousers were often held up by a belt fashioned from studs or the like and with a huge buckle,( often said to double up as a knuckle duster).What made the trousers seem even skinnier were the huge, aircraft carrier sized and invariably suede, thick soled shoes known widely as “brothel creepers” (wherever did that name come from?).
An uncle of mine once possessed a truly awesome pair of these shoes with crepe soles about 1½ inches thick and on one occasion, unknown to him, my Grandfather thought they might look a bit natty and decided to borrow them. Dressed in his very traditional 3 piece worsted suit, off he trotted in his borrowed brothel creepers to his local but just couldn’t understand why he was such a figure of fun among his contemporaries.
Also, around that time, one or two of the schoolmasters used to wear them. But we always believed there was a practical reason for this, so that they could creep up, unsuspected, to clip you around the ear. So that at least is one explanation for “creepers”. The other part is still a mystery.
The whole was rounded off by a frilly white shirt and a bootlace or slim jim tie , a narrow, usually black ,strip of material , secured by a fancy toggle type fastener.
The hair was an important part of the appearance with a well oiled Tony Curtis quiff, brushed up at the side into a “ducks arse” at the back being the most popular. The Boston, was brushed straight back with a straight line clean cut termination across and above a shaved neck.

Another local revelled in his powder blue version, blue suede brothel creepers and brocade waistcoat. This character was however an easy going soul who didn’t mind a little bit of ribbing over his outlandish choice of wardrobe and who now occasionally attends the Edmund House reunions.

There were quite a few similar fashionista’s in the district and many more who sported less elaborate versions of the style but there’s little doubt that such flamboyance was a game changer in men’s fashion from which men became more adventurous , never to look back to the plain, tight fitting three piece bum freezer suits. No longer was fashion the exclusive province of the ladies, but such freedom also has it’s downside. The license to dress as casually as you like has lead to a higher level of scruffiness from some who think that neglecting your appearance is the same thing. It isn’t.

It became a comic sight though, when the fancy suit was downgraded from best to working clothes and the local coalman turned up humping sacks of coal dressed in a vivid purple, velvet trimmed jacket, stained with coal dust and the knees ripped out of his skin tight drainpipes .

Nor was everyone impressed by the fashion. A friend, who was far from the full blown “Ted” approached a girl at a popular dance hall. He nonetheless affected what he thought was the laid back , cool, Fonze style mannerisms when asking if she fancied a dance with him. After eyeing him critically for what seemed like an age, he received a crushing rebuff & his coolness was badly damaged when the girl said “get lost, you sickly looking t**t !!.
It took some time for him to regain his composure & confidence. Nor did it do his reputation much good either, and he was occasionally reminded of this episode when he became a little cocky.
This lad also occasionally attends the reunions.

Although gang violence was a rarity within East Leeds, on occasion but fortunately quite rarely, groups of lads from outside, notably Hunslet, would foray into the district and stories of gang fights and occasional stabbings weren’t unknown, usually at dances or the York Road fair.

These styles lasted only a fleeting time , to be superceded by the “Italian Look” (I think) but many will remember it vividly and be able to recall other memorable or outlandish examples of this fashion genre and opinions as to it’s association with groups or behaviour

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A Great tale to brighten up February for us, Erc.

Last month’s picture was of course the residue of the Star Cinema York Road

of fond memories

This month’s you may find a little more difficult but I bet all East Leedsers will have been in there at some time or another.St James Infirmary

The Daily School Run

October 1, 2010

                                              THE DAILY SCHOOL RUN

                                                     By Eric Sanderson

Eric was able to walk to his primary school – Victoria School, York Road Leeds – but when he aspired to study at The Leeds Central High School he needed to take to public transport and an adventurous walk through central Leeds which helped to put him in the right frame of mind for the potentially troublesome day to come. Eric here relates his typical ‘Daily School Run.’ 

                                               **************************

From 1951 onwards, my school was located in the centre of Leeds. This required a daily journey on public transport and, as my home was roughly equidistant from the York Rd system and the No 62 bus route running along East Park Parade via East St etc, a good choice of regular, if usually crowded transport was available.

At the beginning of each school year, we were all issued with our own copies of the year’s text books & for the first couple of years, lock up desks were not available to us. This meant that we had to cart the text books for each day’s timetable as well as the corresponding exercise books. Woe betides anyone who tried to avoid bringing the full complement & share with a companion. Along with the compulsory hymn & prayer book, it was a heavy load so a ride was a necessity rather than a luxury.

I normally chose to travel by Tramcar, primarily because in those days it was cheaper than the bus fare. Taking the tram from outside Victoria school, the fare was 2d (less than 1p) from there to the Central Bus Station, the furthest I could travel for 2d. I guess today’s equivalent would be over £1 – some 120 times greater! The next stop, Corn Exchange cost another 1d and the eagle eyed conductors were always on the lookout for anyone trying to hitch the extra stop for free.

As the tram track ran down the middle of the road, passengers had to flag down the tram and swiftly move to the middle of the road, dodging the traffic in order to board. Admittedly, traffic density & speed was infinitesimal compared to today but even so, it could still be a little risky, bearing in mind vehicle braking systems were much less efficient , especially on slippery surfaces or if the day was a pea souper ,which was not uncommon at the time.

Some of the older trams still had an open front and rear on the upper deck which was not too friendly in bad weather, especially if you were trying to make a start on or complete your homework. These trams were gradually being replaced with the “London” type which were much more comfortable with upholstered seating, better suspension (giving a smoother ride such that your scribblings were less spidery) and much quieter. The 10/15min journey was a good opportunity to put the finishing touches to uncompleted homework, especially if this involved just cramming up on a couple of pages of The Merchant of Venice prior to being grilled  during Eng Lit later in the day. The trams swayed, trundled & clanged their way down the hill & at the bottom of York Rd, at the Woodpecker junction, they’d make an ear piercing, screeching turn round the very sharp bend before passing into Marsh Lane. I also seem to recollect a turntable being located here because the older, long fixed wheelbase trams couldn’t negotiate this curve whereas the newer, double bogied ones could, even if noisily scrubbing off half of the wheel flanges.

Dropping off at the Central Bus Station, after jumping onto the floor mounted conductor’s bell, I’d often wander thro the nearby old slaughterhouse, only occasionally being stopped or ejected and even at 8 o clock, the slaughter was in full swing.

I’ve often thought about my fascination with this horror & ritual but it was probably not dissimilar to that young boy’s experience these days watching Rambo slaughter half of South East Asia in a single afternoon, with the added dimension of the smell of fear & death. Now and again, a poor crazed beast would break loose and stampede around the place and this was a little scary, being the signal for me to beat a hasty retreat.

Leaving the scene of carnage behind to enter the Market Buildings, starting at the lower end which was the fish market. At the time, the Leeds fish market was second in size in the country only to London’s Billingsgate and had a trainload of fresh fish delivered each market day, direct from Hull & Grimsby.

A friend, who had left school early, not being the sharpest knife in the drawer,  had a job boiling crabs somewhere in the bowels of the market and early morning would  see him pushing a barrow load of steaming crabs for delivery to all the fishmonger’s stalls . I have to say he always seemed very happy in his task which he doubled up with a job as an ice cream salesman, pedaling the 3 wheeled contraptions with an ice box on the front, all around the district. Jackie was always good for a few minutes light hearted banter & even for the odd free iced lollipop for his old pals.

Leeds Market was the first place I ever heard adults using what might be called “industrial language”.

Somewhat naively, I thought bad language was the province of young men, probably because I never heard my parents swear in their lifetime, at least never in front of me. So to hear such ripe language in everyday use was a revelation & slightly exhilarating. Wandering along the “top row”, admiring the stacks of highly polished apples and other exotic fruits set my mind wandering to distant lands like The Sudan, Morocco, Spain & Hawaii that I feared would never be my good fortune to visit.  However, unaccompanied young boys were unwelcome in the market in those days, I suspect the stallholders were suspicious of opportunist young thieves & when simply wandering through, would often be told to “**** off out “in no uncertain terms. A police constable also patrolled the aisles & would similarly kick young boys out with a warning not to return. I always thought this to be rough justice as I was, for the most part, only daydreaming.

Crossing into King Edward St, to gaze enviously into J.T.Roger’s ‘bike shop, followed by a stroll up the County Arcade where there was a large toyshop, just above the old Mecca Locarno, & always worth a few minutes dalliance.

Many will remember the fair haired flower vendor who was invariably wore a long camel coat & plenty of gold jewellery. For many years he stood in Briggate near the Queens Arcade & when I passed, he would be just starting to set up shop. This gave me another opportunity to indulge my travel dreams by reading the labels on the flower boxes – Holland, Scilly Isles & even Lincolnshire sounded attractive.

For a salesman, he was never too friendly and even after several years of wishing him the occasional good morning, he would still retort with a rather unpleasant expletive. I made my mind up during those years that I would never buy any flowers from him & I never did.

A few years ago, I saw in the YEP that he’d died after something like 60 years of trade, mainly just around that pitch.

Onwards through Thornton’s Arcade where there was an exclusive fountain pen shop (it’s still there).At school we were only allowed to use cheap fountain pens or the old “dip” pens.  Ball pens (or Biros as they were then known) were strictly forbidden as they were deemed inimical to good handwriting. Still, the Parkers, Waterman’s, Swans & Conway Stewarts with their tortoiseshell casings & golden trim were rare jewels to behold.    One day!

A slight diversion around the corner would lead to the City Varieties showcase where grainy, black & white photos of Phyllis Dixie’s semi nude tableaux added a little spice to the start of the day but this could only ever last for a few fleeting seconds because passing adults would often admonish leering young boys for having “filthy minds”. I wonder what they would think of the sexual maturity of today’s youth?  

Woodhouse Lane was a little different to now & divided roughly where the St John Centre is now. At this junction was Rowland Winn’s Central Garage with a glittering showroom, exhibiting the very latest shiny new Austin/Morris models. It was here that I first saw the new “Mini” (I think about 1955) and a few minutes of mouthwatering window shopping was never wasted.

Past Lindley’s gun shop in Albion St (where a murder took place during an attempted robbery around 1952/3 & thereafter became a scene of morbid attraction for many schoolboys) & round the corner into Great George St (only Masters, prefects & 6th formers were permitted to use the Woodhouse Lane front entrance) for a short game of touch & pass or a final round robin check on last nights homework.  All in all, a great start to the day I always thought, but then it was into the fortress for a day of 7 periods of Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Eng Lang & other such less interesting diversions, all guaranteed to kill off a few more brain cells.

The Town Hall clock striking 4-o-clock ( it did strike in those days) was music to my ears when a rapid scamper down one of the central staircases , a swift dash down the Head row , with luck, would see me home just after half past four, even if a further hour or so of homework beckoned.

For several years, this start to the day, with a few variations on my route to view other attractions (including the railway station to gaze at the destination board & indulge my travel fantasies), was my usual routine apart from a short period when a serious fire at the school resulted in a temporary relocation to another school, but I never tired of those meanderings which prepared me for the mind numbing rigours of the school day.

I doubt very much if today’s usual ride in the car to the school gates is anything like as fascinating for most youngsters.

Memories of Pauline Rushfirth(nee Brown)

September 30, 2007

Memories of Pauline Rushfirth (nee Brown),Memories of Pauline Rushfirth (nee Brown),These are the memories of Pauline Rusfirth (nee Brown) of living in Knostrop in the 1940s/50s, air raids, blackouts, yard games and attending Mount St Mary’s School.  

 

           

Air Raids at Knostrop    (Pauline Rushfirth nee Brown)

 

I remember my mam waking me up and wrapping a blanket around me to carry me out to the air raid shelter when the sirens were going and the guns were firing. The artillery guns were quite close, I don’t know quite where, further down the lane, I think, near the woods. It was very frightening the whole house would shake. The tiny windows had been taped with brown sticky tape in a diamond pattern so they would not shatter into pieces. One particular night when Mam was running to the shelter she went ‘smack’ into a black car, which had been parked outside the door. Being so dark, (remember we could not have any kind of light showing during that which we called the ‘blackout’) anyway Mam was heard to shout, ‘ They’ve got me!’ – They’ve got me!’  She thought she’d been shot.

Pauline (Brown) Rushfirth

In actual fact, between August 1940 and August 1942 in Leeds there were 87 alerts but only nine air raids. In this period 77 people were killed and 327 injured. 197 buildings were destroyed and 7,623 damaged.

(Illustrated History of Leeds  by Stephen Burt and Kevin Grady)

 

                                    Attending Mount St Mary’s School                                     

I attended Mount St Mary’s School, I think we were the only Catholic family living in Knostrop at the time. We were taught by the Holy Family Sisters. They were well known in the community and instantly recognisable by their black habits and large white headdresses and bibs (wimples were the correct name for them). They were very strict but fair. The classrooms were very cold, no central heating in those days, only a small coal fire. We would have regular air raid drills. A large shelter was located where the pre-fabs used to be. The children would assemble there and sing hymns. As far as I can remember we never did actually have an air raid while we were at school.

 

                                                   The Blackout

 

As a child I was afraid of the dark and  ‘Knostrop Lane was one of the darkest places of all to walk. When my sister, Pat, and I had to go to the ‘top’ I wouldn’t let her speak and would hold onto her for dear life. I can’t explain how dark it was, it seemed to envelope you. Sometimes there were not any lights at all, not even a gas lamp. When I could see the lights of the ‘top’ I felt a little safer. Coming back however it was a different matter, you left the lights behind, the further you went the darker it got. When I got older coming home from school was a nightmare, I would call on my guardian angel to see me safely home.’

 

 

                                                      Yard Games

We played a game 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.

‘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.’

I liked to decorate bricks, yes bricks! I 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 decorate the brick with daisies, leaves and such. ‘They looked good enough to eat’.

 

 

 

 

 

Pauline (Brown) Rushfirth

A Victorian School on Every Corner

August 28, 2007

A Victorian School on Every Corner 

 A Victorian School on Every Corner.

During the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period  the district of East Leeds was epitomised by its warren of back to back terrace houses, pubs, picture houses, church and chapels and especially memorable a myriad of great old high windowed, Victorian schools complete with even higher ceilings and primitive plumbing.

These schools were colloquially referred to as: ‘Mary’s,’ ‘Hilda’s,’ ‘Vicky’, ‘Ellerby,’ ‘Saville,’ ‘South Accomm,’ to mention but a few and served the Anglican, Catholic and secular preferences of the local population. ‘Ossy’ and ‘Corpus’ were schools on the periphery of the district and slightly more modern in character. Although the pupils of these schools were fiercely competitive towards each other, especially at sport, in the evenings all were merged into the homogenous street corner society of the district.  A further school Richmond Hill, had of necessity re-located its pupils after being hit by a stray bomb seeking the adjacent railway line.  Folk law relates that partisan crowds in excess of four figures would flock to East End Park when Richmond Hill and Mount St Mary’s played each other at football before the war. These tales are embellished by accounts of mothers running onto the field wielding umbrellas to excerpt vengeance on the opposition for rough play on their sons.

Schools had been closed completely for a while during 1941/42 either for renovations to combat air raids or the air raids themselves. As early as I can recall however, which would be 1943, most schools were already back in full swing with wartime precautions installed.

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These precautions included a brown ‘gungy’ material, that covered the windows in order to contain the glass from being blasted in from an exploding bomb. Black out curtains were also installed to dampen light as seen from above. The kids themselves carried gas masks in brown cardboard boxes slung around the shoulders. From the point of view of the children, who had never known anything else, this passed as the normal way of life and was in no way frightening.

A huge brick built air raid shelter dominated the schoolyard in fact it managed to remain standing long after the war was over and to my knowledge was never used in anger. This was probably just as well as the interior was black as pitch and your nose indicated

That the shelter had found an alternative use as a clandestine toilet.

In the process of the school day we were given a free gill of milk in the morning to be sucked up through a straw and normally entailed much gurgling and blowing of bubbles much to the teacher’s displeasure. School dinners did not arrive upon the scene until around 1950.  Kids who were considered to be undernourished were force-fed castor oil or malt from a spoon in front of the class; one or two of these unfortunates regularly entertained the rest of the class with a show of resistance

As a result of the residue of chalk dust and spilled milk there was always a distinctive smell in the classrooms, especially on Monday mornings when the doors and windows had been closed over the weekend.  Such smells take me back to my early days at school unlocking a chest of memories some pleasurable others harrowing. School came as a

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shock to the system for me as I suspect for many others.  On the first day at school I found things very strange, for instance, they sat me behind two girls both sporting plaits – not having witnessed plaits before I was puzzled. When I arrived home I said to my mother ‘Mam I was sat behind two girls at school today and they had cracks right down the backs of their heads.’ (partings).   I recall too, that I immediately fell in love with a girl called Sylvia – and told my mother, ‘There’s a girl at school called Silvia and she has silver hair and silver glasses and where she lives they have a silver door knob.’

Other times are recalled as being rather more traumatic, like the time in Standard One when the teacher told me to go into the hall and tell her the time by the hall clock. Unfortunately I didn’t know how and stood there looking at that big round ‘Potts’ clock

on the wall, praying for someone to come along whom I could ask or alternatively hoping the floor would open up and swallow me up (There was no’ Scotty’ to beam you up in those days).  And all the time the teacher’s voice could be heard thundering through the partition.  ‘What are you doing boy? How long does it take to tell the time?

In addition to being unable to tell the time I must have been one of the children she called a ‘slow reader’ for, as it was her policy she sat me next to one whom she deemed as a ‘fast reader’. This lad usurped his authority and took it upon himself to grasp my finger tightly and prod it onto each word on the page. The – prod – cat – prod – sat – prod – on – prod – the. I recall a swift kick on his shins restricted him from reaching the word mat and that was the end of that, though it did spur me on to greater effort in the reading stakes.

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One final traumatic experience to relate: my mother had been hospitalised with appendicitis and I had been staying with a remote aunt miles away – hence I could not attend school for a period of around six weeks.  The Monday morning arrived when Mam was well again and I could resume school.   Whether or not her idea was to break me back into school gently or not I don’t know but I remember she said. ‘Oh go on as it’s the first day back you can start at dinner time.’  So she got me ready to start in the afternoon but we messed about until I became late even for the afternoon session. When finally I opened the classroom door after six weeks, half a day and half an hour the class were already heads down working. As I opened the door every head turned up in astonishment at my untimely arrival. It was as though I’d just dropped in from the planet Zog. The teacher was so surprised to see me she had apparently forgotten my name!

School yard games

Before school started in the morning and at playtime the school yard game culture reigned.  The staple diet in winter was always going to be football for the boys played twenty odd a side with a tennis ball and with coats for goal posts.  In the summer cricket took over the wickets being chalk marks on the wall and with three or four balls on the go at once.  The whistle for the end of playtime always seemed to blow when it was your turn for an innings.

I spoke to an old school mate at a reunion recently – he recalled playing football in that

old school yard (we called it the field) and how workmen had been mending the road

outside the railings at the time.  He said this old road mender had been particularly watching the game with a whimsical look in his eye and had finally come over to the

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railings and said to him, very sincerely, ‘Do you know son, these are the happiest days of your life’.  The old school mate said ‘I’ve remembered his words all these years and I think he was probably right.’

As an alternative to football and cricket and to suit the seasons more individual games were played. Ice on the ground meant a giant slide with everyone having a go causing the road to becoming like glass endangering un-wary pedestrians. 

These cold days would see us attired in our ‘our long/short’ trousers and long socks, which left only a couple of inches of knee on show to catch cold. I suppose it would have been preferable to go the whole hog and let us wear long trousers but lads rarely did, for mothers kept them in the long/shorts until about the age of twelve. I was even more unfortunate as my mother thought lads in long trousers looked like ‘little old men’ and made me wear shorts until I was a monster fourteen.

Schoolgirls were limited to dresses or skirts, trousers or jeans were never seen on schoolgirls, although the land girls did wear slacks with the zips at the side.  To complete our somewhat bizarre appearance by modern standards our winter turn out included woollen Balaclava helmets that became shiny at the bottom from runny noses.

At Whitsuntide, mostly the girls, would play whip and top – colouring the top with chalks to make an attractive pattern.  In the autumn it would be conkers and bruised knuckles

each time you missed your opponent.  Each player kept score of how many conkers his

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conker had broken, the way this worked was: if your conker broke another which had in turn already broken, say two conkers itself then you added those two to the score as well, so if you broke the conker in this case three was added to the score.  

Lads would try to make conkers harder by baking or pickling in vinegar. Sometimes they had become tiny hard things like a walnut kernel but providing they had not broken away from the string hole they were still considered to be ‘alive’. When a crack occurred the shout was, ‘It’s laughing!’  Last year’s conkers were like iron and wouldn’t be played against if recognised. ‘It’s a ‘laggie’ I’m not playing that’ would be the cry.

Another game was played with cigarette cards or the big bus tickets of the day, which all had a sequential number on the back. In this game a lad would take a wadge of cards or tickets of roughly the same number in each hand and another lad would take a similar number in one hand and bank on one hand or the other – then the bottom ticket or card would be turned over in each hand. If he had banked on the hand bearing the larger number of the two then he would win the cards in that hand. If he had banked on the lower number then he would lose his cards to his opponent.  As school bags were a

‘no – no’ in those Victorian schools a lad’s pockets would often be bulging obscenely with all his winnings.

Marbles or ‘tors’ as we called them was another favourite game.  There were several different types of marble: ‘allys’ (coloured marbles), ‘bottle-washers’ (clear glass), and ‘stonkers’, (made out of stone.)  Some lads were real experts with calloused knuckles to

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prove it.  These experts would have a favourite marble, which they always used when playing – normally it would not be a pretty one but rather a gnarled old thing, which would give a good grip.  They would surrender any of their stock of marbles rather than their ‘player’ should they lose the game. The rules of the marbles game we played to were as follows: two lads would normally play with a marble each – more could play if required – a small hole was excavated in the earth and called the ‘knack’, the idea was for the lads to take it in turns to try and hit his opponents marble.  After a ‘hit’ had been made it was still necessary to ensure the marble was not a ‘needer’.  A ‘needer’ meant their opponents marble still ‘needed’ to be hit more than two shoe lengths away from the hole, big shoes were an advantage if you were the one wanting to be a ‘needer’ little shoes if you didn’t want him to be a ‘needer’. To win the game it was only then necessary to roll your own marble into the hole.

The girls had their own playground, a raised concrete affair higher than our dirt ‘field’.

From this lofty perch they would carry out their skipping games: ‘pitch -. patch  – pepper’ etc.  Or dance around singing their traditional songs:  ‘The wind, the wind, the wind blows high, the wind comes scattering from the sky, she is handsome she is pretty she is the girl of the golden city.  The wind the wind the wind blows free, please can you tell me who it can be?’    Then they would shout some lad’s name, say ‘Tommy Johnson’ then continuing: ‘Says he loves her’ then they would all let out a great scream (silly Beggars) – ‘All the boys are fighting for her’ and so on.  The lad in question probably playing football in the field would blush to the roots of his hair but be secretly delighted – alas it was never me!  Sometimes much to the annoyance of the girls we would sing along with a much ruder version.

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Sport was always king, every year we would have the school sports incorporating track and field although the field sports were only the simple ones for which we had the equipment: long jump, high jump and throwing the cricket ball   Winners at the school sports would represent the school at the District Sports, where more names of schools spring to mind: Prince’s Field, Green Lane, Primrose Hill, Harehills and Brownhill.

Those talented enough to win through at District Level earned the honour of competing at Roundhay Park on ‘Children’s Day’ This was a big day in the calendar and included the crowning of the Queen of Children’s Day’ who had been selected after elimination from the whole of the Leeds school areas.  Those who won an event at Children’s Day proved to be the best in Leeds and earned cult status with their peers.

Football remained the jewel in the crown for us.  Because schools were so much smaller then, perhaps only fifteen/twenty boys in each year and remembering too that the school life terminated at the end of the fourteenth year (it had only shortly risen from the end of the thirteenth year) – it was not unusual then for young footballing prodigies to be knocking on the door of the first team aged eleven or twelve, which was very exciting for them. To be able to ‘dribble’ well was the benchmark against which all these prodigies were measured: Kerrigan at Corpus Christie, Sedgewick and Whitehead at St Hilda’s and Monk at Ellerby Lane are just a few names which fall easily into this category. 

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Victoria had a boy’s own character who transcended all, not in the art of dribbling but in pure power.  He was the amazing Willie Knott; best in Leeds at every sport he put his hand to. Already complete with a moustache and legs like tree trunks at age thirteen he could hit those size four balls the length of the field and woe betide any schoolboy goalie that tried to stop them. He was also king at cricket, swimming, sprinting, and fighting.  When Willie walked by we would just stand aside and gawp.

Modern educational policy has seen a sweeping away of these small Victorian senior schools in favour of the huge comprehensives, so colossal that although probably educationally sound it is unlikely a twelve year old lad will ever again have the magical thrill of seeing his name on the first eleven team sheet.

Inter school football had generally been suspended during the war and even after the war non-essentials such as footballs and football kit could only be obtained on ‘permit’ and permits were as hard to land as rocking horse dung.  This meant that unless footballs and football gear had been stored since before hostilities had begun then improvisation was a necessity.

Our improvisation was to elect to play in white.  This allowed the lads to use their own white shirts when playing for the school team. Not all lads managed to get hold of a pair of proper football boots either and were forced to revert to playing in ordinary black working boots. In spite of this rag tag outfitting I recall with fondness those who formed that first post war school football team in their white shirts and sugar bag blue shorts.

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Those lads were giants in our eyes.  I don’t think they won many matches, we were a particularly small school even for the day, but it seemed their charisma as well as their boots were hard to fill.   Should I meet any of that old team, now well into their sixties – I always try to mention how they were our heroes which invariably brings a glow of pride to their cheeks.

Eventually we did manage to obtain some proper football jerseys and treated  them like gold.  I think this was after a fund rising campaign.  They were green with lace up fronts.  The girls made it a project in their sewing class to sew a red ‘V’ onto each jersey accompanied by a monographic ‘SH’ for St Hilda’s

Because changing accommodation was almost universally un-available on school playing fields we were allowed to wear the football jerseys to school on the day of a match.  Odd lads could be seen dotted around different classrooms proudly wearing the green jersey with the red ‘V’.  Some seemed to drag it out to wearing the jersey to school for a week before the teacher had to tell them off.  Visits to all away fixtures were undertaken by public transport. Few teachers aspired to cars before 1950. Once at the pitch we had to leave our togs on the grass, rain or shine and often had to travel home on the bus with clothes dripping wet.

It seems that schools traditionally kept the same style and colour jerseys year after year – perhaps this made more economical sense in that they could replace the odd worn jersey rather than replace a full set. It also had the effect of setting a tradition, an expectation of

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what was in store when you saw that particular jersey. For instance I recall St Mary’s

played in all green, Coldcoates in green with red sleeves and Osmondthorpe in all red. Squares were very popular, Ellerby Lane played in red and white squares, Corpus Christie in light blue and dark blue squares and Victoria in blue and gold squares which were extra glamorous being near to the blue and gold halves sported by Leeds United at the time.

Numerous school football competitions were on going for Leeds schools at the time.  Those that come to mind are: The Meadow Cup, the Teachers Shield, the Denmark trophy, the Daily Dispatch Shield and perhaps the most prestigious, The Schools Cup, the final of which was played at Elland Road, every lad’s dream.  The Catholics had an additional competition: The Bishop’s Cup which produced many hard fought finals between St Mary’s and St Charles’

I recall Osmondthorpe winning, in addition to the Leeds schools trophies the Yorkshire Cup in the 1940s and understand that Stourton a tiny school just south of the river, swept the field of all the Leeds school trophies year after year in the 1930s. Finally one year to become all England School Champions.

As the school years roll by a close knit relationship develops among the group of lads and lasses destined to spend their whole school life together from start to finish from (age five to age fifteen) without the hindrance of moves to middle, or senior schools etc.  The girls develop from bairns to beauties and the lads gel together in a good climate of Esprit de corps.

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At age eleven a loss is sustained to the whole as the brightest half dozen or so in each year are successful in passing their eleven plus examination and leave the comfort of those small Victorian schools to become elevated to the larger secondary or private schools.     Alas I did not number among these successful students, but would have been proud to have sported the brown and gold blazer of Cockburn, the royal blue of the Central High, navy blue of West Leeds or the red and black of Leeds Modern at Lawnswood.  Not to mention the green and black of Roundhay High School that seemed to be outside our catchment area and of course the numerous private schools.  The girls of Ralph Thoresby (all girl’s school) looked good in their maroon.

No doubt the successful students who embarked on life in these schools of higher education have their own tales to tell.  I can only relate the story of we who were left, generally destined to be the ‘factory fodder’ of the next generation, with no opportunity to take the School Certificate which was the then gateway to university.  No chance to learn a foreign language, work out in a gym or compete in the ‘House’ teams of which they talked so enthusiastically.

There were compensations: no new big informal schools to break in with associated new smells and hundreds of new faces. No homework either – but not, thankfully, no hope!

In my personal opinion our teachers never gave up on us. They were a continuing inspiration for which I am eternally grateful. and I am only saddened by the fact that by the time I realised this they were all gone and I will never be able to thank them for igniting in me and I imagine many others, a love and thirst for knowledge.

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Generally it is true to say, that our teachers were, for better or worse, stricter disciplinarians than their modern successors.  One has to remember that they were either Victorians themselves or had been educated by those who were.  In addition they had suffered the rigours of two world wars.  With this in mind it is not hard to understand that the world was a harsher place in the 1950s/60s and expected different standards of behaviour than we do today.

In view of this transgressors expected and received the cane.  This seems to be a horrific way of administering punishment to twenty-first century society, but for us it was no big thing, one would normally have preferred to face the cane than miss a sports session given the choice. Life has many hardships in store and taking the cane might well be seen as preparing for this.  If you could take your punishment without rancour then your stock rose with both teacher and peers. Sometimes a teacher would congratulate a boy for taking his punishment like a man. (Girls were spared the cane)   In fact the cane was only a problem for those who made a fuss about it!

There were other compensations too for staying on at those old Victorian schools, not least playing great inter schools football (many of the high schools played rugby union) and perhaps even trying out for Leeds City Boys.  Better still the chance to spend a week at the Leeds schools camp at Langbar, near Ilkley. Where one could become a blue-eyed boy or a green-eyed boy at the dinner table, take your first girl to a dance (compulsory) and climb Beamsley Beacon, so becoming an honourable member of the League of Mountain Men.

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Eventually like all golden ages school days trickle away and the close companionship of schoolmates has to end.  Only perhaps to be re-kindled again some three years later for National Service.  Meetings now become rarer but a chance encounter with an old school mate or indeed any member of that old street corner society is a red-letter day for nostalgia.

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 A Victorian School on Every Corner.

During the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period  the district of East Leeds was epitomised by its warren of back to back terrace houses, pubs, picture houses, church and chapels and especially memorable a myriad of great old high windowed, Victorian schools complete with even higher ceilings and primitive plumbing.

These schools were colloquially referred to as: ‘Mary’s,’ ‘Hilda’s,’ ‘Vicky’, ‘Ellerby,’ ‘Saville,’ ‘South Accomm,’ to mention but a few and served the Anglican, Catholic and secular preferences of the local population. ‘Ossy’ and ‘Corpus’ were schools on the periphery of the district and slightly more modern in character. Although the pupils of these schools were fiercely competitive towards each other, especially at sport, in the evenings all were merged into the homogenous street corner society of the district.  A further school Richmond Hill, had of necessity re-located its pupils after being hit by a stray bomb seeking the adjacent railway line.  Folk law relates that partisan crowds in excess of four figures would flock to East End Park when Richmond Hill and Mount St Mary’s played each other at football before the war. These tales are embellished by accounts of mothers running onto the field wielding umbrellas to excerpt vengeance on the opposition for rough play on their sons.

Schools had been closed completely for a while during 1941/42 either for renovations to combat air raids or the air raids themselves. As early as I can recall however, which would be 1943, most schools were already back in full swing with wartime precautions installed.

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These precautions included a brown ‘gungy’ material, that covered the windows in order to contain the glass from being blasted in from an exploding bomb. Black out curtains were also installed to dampen light as seen from above. The kids themselves carried gas masks in brown cardboard boxes slung around the shoulders. From the point of view of the children, who had never known anything else, this passed as the normal way of life and was in no way frightening.

A huge brick built air raid shelter dominated the schoolyard in fact it managed to remain standing long after the war was over and to my knowledge was never used in anger. This was probably just as well as the interior was black as pitch and your nose indicated

That the shelter had found an alternative use as a clandestine toilet.

In the process of the school day we were given a free gill of milk in the morning to be sucked up through a straw and normally entailed much gurgling and blowing of bubbles much to the teacher’s displeasure. School dinners did not arrive upon the scene until around 1950.  Kids who were considered to be undernourished were force-fed castor oil or malt from a spoon in front of the class; one or two of these unfortunates regularly entertained the rest of the class with a show of resistance

As a result of the residue of chalk dust and spilled milk there was always a distinctive smell in the classrooms, especially on Monday mornings when the doors and windows had been closed over the weekend.  Such smells take me back to my early days at school unlocking a chest of memories some pleasurable others harrowing. School came as a

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shock to the system for me as I suspect for many others.  On the first day at school I found things very strange, for instance, they sat me behind two girls both sporting plaits – not having witnessed plaits before I was puzzled. When I arrived home I said to my mother ‘Mam I was sat behind two girls at school today and they had cracks right down the backs of their heads.’ (partings).   I recall too, that I immediately fell in love with a girl called Sylvia – and told my mother, ‘There’s a girl at school called Silvia and she has silver hair and silver glasses and where she lives they have a silver door knob.’

Other times are recalled as being rather more traumatic, like the time in Standard One when the teacher told me to go into the hall and tell her the time by the hall clock. Unfortunately I didn’t know how and stood there looking at that big round ‘Potts’ clock

on the wall, praying for someone to come along whom I could ask or alternatively hoping the floor would open up and swallow me up (There was no’ Scotty’ to beam you up in those days).  And all the time the teacher’s voice could be heard thundering through the partition.  ‘What are you doing boy? How long does it take to tell the time?

In addition to being unable to tell the time I must have been one of the children she called a ‘slow reader’ for, as it was her policy she sat me next to one whom she deemed as a ‘fast reader’. This lad usurped his authority and took it upon himself to grasp my finger tightly and prod it onto each word on the page. The – prod – cat – prod – sat – prod – on – prod – the. I recall a swift kick on his shins restricted him from reaching the word mat and that was the end of that, though it did spur me on to greater effort in the reading stakes.

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One final traumatic experience to relate: my mother had been hospitalised with appendicitis and I had been staying with a remote aunt miles away – hence I could not attend school for a period of around six weeks.  The Monday morning arrived when Mam was well again and I could resume school.   Whether or not her idea was to break me back into school gently or not I don’t know but I remember she said. ‘Oh go on as it’s the first day back you can start at dinner time.’  So she got me ready to start in the afternoon but we messed about until I became late even for the afternoon session. When finally I opened the classroom door after six weeks, half a day and half an hour the class were already heads down working. As I opened the door every head turned up in astonishment at my untimely arrival. It was as though I’d just dropped in from the planet Zog. The teacher was so surprised to see me she had apparently forgotten my name!

School yard games

Before school started in the morning and at playtime the school yard game culture reigned.  The staple diet in winter was always going to be football for the boys played twenty odd a side with a tennis ball and with coats for goal posts.  In the summer cricket took over the wickets being chalk marks on the wall and with three or four balls on the go at once.  The whistle for the end of playtime always seemed to blow when it was your turn for an innings.

I spoke to an old school mate at a reunion recently – he recalled playing football in that

old school yard (we called it the field) and how workmen had been mending the road

outside the railings at the time.  He said this old road mender had been particularly watching the game with a whimsical look in his eye and had finally come over to the

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railings and said to him, very sincerely, ‘Do you know son, these are the happiest days of your life’.  The old school mate said ‘I’ve remembered his words all these years and I think he was probably right.’

As an alternative to football and cricket and to suit the seasons more individual games were played. Ice on the ground meant a giant slide with everyone having a go causing the road to becoming like glass endangering un-wary pedestrians. 

These cold days would see us attired in our ‘our long/short’ trousers and long socks, which left only a couple of inches of knee on show to catch cold. I suppose it would have been preferable to go the whole hog and let us wear long trousers but lads rarely did, for mothers kept them in the long/shorts until about the age of twelve. I was even more unfortunate as my mother thought lads in long trousers looked like ‘little old men’ and made me wear shorts until I was a monster fourteen.

Schoolgirls were limited to dresses or skirts, trousers or jeans were never seen on schoolgirls, although the land girls did wear slacks with the zips at the side.  To complete our somewhat bizarre appearance by modern standards our winter turn out included woollen Balaclava helmets that became shiny at the bottom from runny noses.

At Whitsuntide, mostly the girls, would play whip and top – colouring the top with chalks to make an attractive pattern.  In the autumn it would be conkers and bruised knuckles

each time you missed your opponent.  Each player kept score of how many conkers his

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conker had broken, the way this worked was: if your conker broke another which had in turn already broken, say two conkers itself then you added those two to the score as well, so if you broke the conker in this case three was added to the score.  

Lads would try to make conkers harder by baking or pickling in vinegar. Sometimes they had become tiny hard things like a walnut kernel but providing they had not broken away from the string hole they were still considered to be ‘alive’. When a crack occurred the shout was, ‘It’s laughing!’  Last year’s conkers were like iron and wouldn’t be played against if recognised. ‘It’s a ‘laggie’ I’m not playing that’ would be the cry.

Another game was played with cigarette cards or the big bus tickets of the day, which all had a sequential number on the back. In this game a lad would take a wadge of cards or tickets of roughly the same number in each hand and another lad would take a similar number in one hand and bank on one hand or the other – then the bottom ticket or card would be turned over in each hand. If he had banked on the hand bearing the larger number of the two then he would win the cards in that hand. If he had banked on the lower number then he would lose his cards to his opponent.  As school bags were a

‘no – no’ in those Victorian schools a lad’s pockets would often be bulging obscenely with all his winnings.

Marbles or ‘tors’ as we called them was another favourite game.  There were several different types of marble: ‘allys’ (coloured marbles), ‘bottle-washers’ (clear glass), and ‘stonkers’, (made out of stone.)  Some lads were real experts with calloused knuckles to

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prove it.  These experts would have a favourite marble, which they always used when playing – normally it would not be a pretty one but rather a gnarled old thing, which would give a good grip.  They would surrender any of their stock of marbles rather than their ‘player’ should they lose the game. The rules of the marbles game we played to were as follows: two lads would normally play with a marble each – more could play if required – a small hole was excavated in the earth and called the ‘knack’, the idea was for the lads to take it in turns to try and hit his opponents marble.  After a ‘hit’ had been made it was still necessary to ensure the marble was not a ‘needer’.  A ‘needer’ meant their opponents marble still ‘needed’ to be hit more than two shoe lengths away from the hole, big shoes were an advantage if you were the one wanting to be a ‘needer’ little shoes if you didn’t want him to be a ‘needer’. To win the game it was only then necessary to roll your own marble into the hole.

The girls had their own playground, a raised concrete affair higher than our dirt ‘field’.

From this lofty perch they would carry out their skipping games: ‘pitch -. patch  – pepper’ etc.  Or dance around singing their traditional songs:  ‘The wind, the wind, the wind blows high, the wind comes scattering from the sky, she is handsome she is pretty she is the girl of the golden city.  The wind the wind the wind blows free, please can you tell me who it can be?’    Then they would shout some lad’s name, say ‘Tommy Johnson’ then continuing: ‘Says he loves her’ then they would all let out a great scream (silly Beggars) – ‘All the boys are fighting for her’ and so on.  The lad in question probably playing football in the field would blush to the roots of his hair but be secretly delighted – alas it was never me!  Sometimes much to the annoyance of the girls we would sing along with a much ruder version.

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Sport was always king, every year we would have the school sports incorporating track and field although the field sports were only the simple ones for which we had the equipment: long jump, high jump and throwing the cricket ball   Winners at the school sports would represent the school at the District Sports, where more names of schools spring to mind: Prince’s Field, Green Lane, Primrose Hill, Harehills and Brownhill.

Those talented enough to win through at District Level earned the honour of competing at Roundhay Park on ‘Children’s Day’ This was a big day in the calendar and included the crowning of the Queen of Children’s Day’ who had been selected after elimination from the whole of the Leeds school areas.  Those who won an event at Children’s Day proved to be the best in Leeds and earned cult status with their peers.

Football remained the jewel in the crown for us.  Because schools were so much smaller then, perhaps only fifteen/twenty boys in each year and remembering too that the school life terminated at the end of the fourteenth year (it had only shortly risen from the end of the thirteenth year) – it was not unusual then for young footballing prodigies to be knocking on the door of the first team aged eleven or twelve, which was very exciting for them. To be able to ‘dribble’ well was the benchmark against which all these prodigies were measured: Kerrigan at Corpus Christie, Sedgewick and Whitehead at St Hilda’s and Monk at Ellerby Lane are just a few names which fall easily into this category. 

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Victoria had a boy’s own character who transcended all, not in the art of dribbling but in pure power.  He was the amazing Willie Knott; best in Leeds at every sport he put his hand to. Already complete with a moustache and legs like tree trunks at age thirteen he could hit those size four balls the length of the field and woe betide any schoolboy goalie that tried to stop them. He was also king at cricket, swimming, sprinting, and fighting.  When Willie walked by we would just stand aside and gawp.

Modern educational policy has seen a sweeping away of these small Victorian senior schools in favour of the huge comprehensives, so colossal that although probably educationally sound it is unlikely a twelve year old lad will ever again have the magical thrill of seeing his name on the first eleven team sheet.

Inter school football had generally been suspended during the war and even after the war non-essentials such as footballs and football kit could only be obtained on ‘permit’ and permits were as hard to land as rocking horse dung.  This meant that unless footballs and football gear had been stored since before hostilities had begun then improvisation was a necessity.

Our improvisation was to elect to play in white.  This allowed the lads to use their own white shirts when playing for the school team. Not all lads managed to get hold of a pair of proper football boots either and were forced to revert to playing in ordinary black working boots. In spite of this rag tag outfitting I recall with fondness those who formed that first post war school football team in their white shirts and sugar bag blue shorts.

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Those lads were giants in our eyes.  I don’t think they won many matches, we were a particularly small school even for the day, but it seemed their charisma as well as their boots were hard to fill.   Should I meet any of that old team, now well into their sixties – I always try to mention how they were our heroes which invariably brings a glow of pride to their cheeks.

Eventually we did manage to obtain some proper football jerseys and treated  them like gold.  I think this was after a fund rising campaign.  They were green with lace up fronts.  The girls made it a project in their sewing class to sew a red ‘V’ onto each jersey accompanied by a monographic ‘SH’ for St Hilda’s

Because changing accommodation was almost universally un-available on school playing fields we were allowed to wear the football jerseys to school on the day of a match.  Odd lads could be seen dotted around different classrooms proudly wearing the green jersey with the red ‘V’.  Some seemed to drag it out to wearing the jersey to school for a week before the teacher had to tell them off.  Visits to all away fixtures were undertaken by public transport. Few teachers aspired to cars before 1950. Once at the pitch we had to leave our togs on the grass, rain or shine and often had to travel home on the bus with clothes dripping wet.

It seems that schools traditionally kept the same style and colour jerseys year after year – perhaps this made more economical sense in that they could replace the odd worn jersey rather than replace a full set. It also had the effect of setting a tradition, an expectation of

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what was in store when you saw that particular jersey. For instance I recall St Mary’s

played in all green, Coldcoates in green with red sleeves and Osmondthorpe in all red. Squares were very popular, Ellerby Lane played in red and white squares, Corpus Christie in light blue and dark blue squares and Victoria in blue and gold squares which were extra glamorous being near to the blue and gold halves sported by Leeds United at the time.

Numerous school football competitions were on going for Leeds schools at the time.  Those that come to mind are: The Meadow Cup, the Teachers Shield, the Denmark trophy, the Daily Dispatch Shield and perhaps the most prestigious, The Schools Cup, the final of which was played at Elland Road, every lad’s dream.  The Catholics had an additional competition: The Bishop’s Cup which produced many hard fought finals between St Mary’s and St Charles’

I recall Osmondthorpe winning, in addition to the Leeds schools trophies the Yorkshire Cup in the 1940s and understand that Stourton a tiny school just south of the river, swept the field of all the Leeds school trophies year after year in the 1930s. Finally one year to become all England School Champions.

As the school years roll by a close knit relationship develops among the group of lads and lasses destined to spend their whole school life together from start to finish from (age five to age fifteen) without the hindrance of moves to middle, or senior schools etc.  The girls develop from bairns to beauties and the lads gel together in a good climate of Esprit de corps.

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At age eleven a loss is sustained to the whole as the brightest half dozen or so in each year are successful in passing their eleven plus examination and leave the comfort of those small Victorian schools to become elevated to the larger secondary or private schools.     Alas I did not number among these successful students, but would have been proud to have sported the brown and gold blazer of Cockburn, the royal blue of the Central High, navy blue of West Leeds or the red and black of Leeds Modern at Lawnswood.  Not to mention the green and black of Roundhay High School that seemed to be outside our catchment area and of course the numerous private schools.  The girls of Ralph Thoresby (all girl’s school) looked good in their maroon.

No doubt the successful students who embarked on life in these schools of higher education have their own tales to tell.  I can only relate the story of we who were left, generally destined to be the ‘factory fodder’ of the next generation, with no opportunity to take the School Certificate which was the then gateway to university.  No chance to learn a foreign language, work out in a gym or compete in the ‘House’ teams of which they talked so enthusiastically.

There were compensations: no new big informal schools to break in with associated new smells and hundreds of new faces. No homework either – but not, thankfully, no hope!

In my personal opinion our teachers never gave up on us. They were a continuing inspiration for which I am eternally grateful. and I am only saddened by the fact that by the time I realised this they were all gone and I will never be able to thank them for igniting in me and I imagine many others, a love and thirst for knowledge.

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Generally it is true to say, that our teachers were, for better or worse, stricter disciplinarians than their modern successors.  One has to remember that they were either Victorians themselves or had been educated by those who were.  In addition they had suffered the rigours of two world wars.  With this in mind it is not hard to understand that the world was a harsher place in the 1950s/60s and expected different standards of behaviour than we do today.

In view of this transgressors expected and received the cane.  This seems to be a horrific way of administering punishment to twenty-first century society, but for us it was no big thing, one would normally have preferred to face the cane than miss a sports session given the choice. Life has many hardships in store and taking the cane might well be seen as preparing for this.  If you could take your punishment without rancour then your stock rose with both teacher and peers. Sometimes a teacher would congratulate a boy for taking his punishment like a man. (Girls were spared the cane)   In fact the cane was only a problem for those who made a fuss about it!

There were other compensations too for staying on at those old Victorian schools, not least playing great inter schools football (many of the high schools played rugby union) and perhaps even trying out for Leeds City Boys.  Better still the chance to spend a week at the Leeds schools camp at Langbar, near Ilkley. Where one could become a blue-eyed boy or a green-eyed boy at the dinner table, take your first girl to a dance (compulsory) and climb Beamsley Beacon, so becoming an honourable member of the League of Mountain Men.

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Eventually like all golden ages school days trickle away and the close companionship of schoolmates has to end.  Only perhaps to be re-kindled again some three years later for National Service.  Meetings now become rarer but a chance encounter with an old school mate or indeed any member of that old street corner society is a red-letter day for nostalgia.

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