Archive for the ‘St Hilda’s’ Category

Good Old Snakey

July 1, 2013

Good Old Snakey

A love affair with two tatty old football pitches.

By Pete Wood

‘Snakey’ is a field but not just any old field Snakey is the field for generations of East Leeds lads. What with the football and cricket not to mention the courting we probably spent more happy hours on that pair of scruffy pitches than any other piece of ‘God’s good earth’

My early recollection recall ‘Snakey’ – proper name ‘Snake Lane’ – as being bounded by: Black Road, Red Road, Cross Green Lane and the winding track which was Snake Lane itself and from whence came its name. My own introduction to ‘The beautiful game’ was when my mam finally allowed me to walk up the tiny ‘Red Road’ from Knostrop to watch those great giants of the late forties who graced its pitches. St Hilda’s in their claret and blue squares and Mount St Mary’s in their white and green squares shared the bottom pitch Saturdays about. Bob Bates ran the St Mary’s teams for years, years and more years. Bob was ‘a prince among men’ I can see him now marking the pitch out in lime before a Saturday match – they didn’t play on Sundays in the forties. Bob was a tailor by trade and always well turned out. On windy days the lime would be blowing back into his eyes and a white residue would cover his good suit. He was the type of guy who really deserved the MBE.

The ‘Yew Tree’ in their blue and white vertical strips and the ‘Bridgefield’ shared the top pitch followed in the nineteen fifties/early sixties by teams from the East Leeds Working Men’s Club’s teams who did old Snakey proud in their black and white. Their lads lovingly christened it; ‘The Snake Pit’, not many teams took points away from the Snake Pit.

Rhubarb fields covered the areas later dominated by the school (that too now gone) and the industrial estate. This left just enough room for the two football pitches and beyond them the ‘Paddy line’? The bottom field was my own personal favourite, our school played its matches on there and on sports day we ran our races on there. Some older folk even referred to Snakey as; ‘St Hilda’s field’. I believe at one time the field had probably been under church ownership and they had held a big ‘Whitsuntide’ field day on there, annually.

I can still remember some of the names of that St Hilda’s open age team of the immediate post war period: Denis Wardle, Bill Sedgewick, Alfie Duckworth, Freddie Earnshaw, Chic Reynard, Kenny Cope and Jewel in goal. Sometimes the team sheet would be put up in the sweet shop window opposite the school. These guys were giants without shin pads and had to wear huge boots in order to propel the rock hard leather footballs, often stretched far too large by over inflation and a potential health hazard to the poor centre halves whose job was to head them away from goal. Do I just image that everything was so much bigger then? Certainly those huge leather balls made a mighty ‘thwack’ when they hit the woodwork. When you watched them play on very cold days your toes took an electric shock if the ball came your way and you took the opportunity to kick it back into play. On very cold days it was not unknown for the ball to sprout icicles. One particular day a tiny little chap in a flat cap was standing on the touchline – the poor old lad was only about five foot tall and must have been quite as cold as us kids, someone took a swipe at the ball and it caught him full in the clock eclipsing his head altogether, such was the power of the kick that it spun him right over like a Catharine Wheel. It’s an awful long time ago now but the sight of it has stayed with me all this time it looked so painful.

That forties side looked so big they made the pitch look small and how powerful and hard tackling they were! The lads who play on Snakey today look big and powerful too. The strange thing is, that in between when our generation were custodians of old Snakey – and I played for six different teams on there – we didn’t seem to be big or the tackles hard at all! I suppose when you are actually playing you don’t notice the ferocity of the game.

Back to the forties – Snakey had two dressing rooms – one in the bottom corner and another at the top near to the prize-winning bowling green – infamously churned up one night by Peter Smith’s greyhounds. Both dressing rooms were made out of pink terra cotta tiles and inside a bucket of water provided the extent of the first aid kit and a half time drink. There was a drinking fountain springing out of the wall on the top dressing room, it had an iron cup chained to the wall, everyone and his dog drank out of that iron cup – can you imagine the germs? But I don’t think anyone ever went down with the plague. Without light the insides of the dressing rooms were as black as Hades. Three or four grass tennis courts ran parallel with the ‘Paddy line’ at the top but they were at the tag end of their lives as early as I can recall. The bowling green and the putting green are of course long gone as is the sigtht of the puffing Paddies: Kitchener, Dora, Jubilee and later Antwerp and Sylvia. Where are they now? The line of trees which shielded the bowling-green from the south-westerly winds are all but gone, the exposed ring system on their stumps hark back to the early fifties when the whole recreation ground was a thriving piece of paradise.

In early spring we had the odd special day for school sports day and Whitsuntide finery but for us Snakey was more than just an occasional day; it was the staple diet of our lives broken only by the odd intrusion for things like; The War for older lads and National Service for us, otherwise we played on consistently throughout the years from the age of about ten years old until well into our thirties.

We would play fifteen/twenty a side and more, if you turned up you were always sure of a game. It didn’t matter how good or bad you were nobody was ever turned away from old Snakey. We would begin by a couple of lads electing themselves as captains. They would toss a coin for first pick and then take it turns to select the rest. It made way for good equal and competitive sides and you got to know how good you were on account of how early on in the selection process you were picked; there was no hiding place for big egos with this selection process, especially when those who thought they were the ‘bees knees’ were left until nearly the last to be chosen. Lads turning up after we’d started would be paired up one for each side. Of course those turning up late had to deal with the fact that as all the players were atired in a rag, tag and bobtale aray of gear  it took quite a while to suss out who was on your side and who was the enemy. There was often a great gulf of difference in ability and often a full generation gap in ages. If you were a young ‘un you were likely to get ‘flattened’ but you didn’t worry and it was all good therapy and although we hadn’t benefit of a referee it was engineered that anyone who was consistently dirty would meet a sticky end. In the event of a foul we’d likely have a committee meeting. The score would begin to mount until it got into the late teens or twenties when it became easy to loose count of the score, someone would say, ‘What score is it?’ If you had a convincing voice you might say, ‘Twenty three – twenty two to us’, at which the outraged reply might go, ‘How did it get to that score, we were winning nineteen eighteen a minute ago?’ If it got too one-sided someone on the losing side would say, ‘Swap us so-and–so for so and-so, we’ve got a real load of old rubbish on our side.

We never knew when to pack in; we’d play until it was too dark to see the ball. Someone on the winning side might say, ‘We’ll finish when the paddy train gets to the goal posts’. Someone on the losing side wanting more time to draw level might disagree and they’d almost come to blows, we were very competitive about the score. I was daft enough to try to think up methods of how we could play on after it got dark (no floodlights then of course) like putting a light inside the ball. How sad is that. We were gutted when the ‘dark nights’ came along.

Occasionally we would have an ‘away day’ and play on Oxley’s pitch which was down Black Road or on The Railway’s pitch at Knostrop or perhaps on East End Park. There was as many playing on East End Park on Sundays as on Snakey. They had a similar set-up to ours; sometimes you would get professionals joining in, like Jackie Overfield or Mike O’grady. I’m sure their clubs would have been aghast at the injuries they risked for they were offered no special consideration and were just as likely to be kicked up in the air as anyone else – but after all we all know how hard it is to resist joining in when you hear the ‘thud’ of a football and see a group of guys kicking a ball around.

Periodically we would have phases were certain lads would get a team together and if you were lucky they might ask you to play for them. I recall Ron Ellis’s team, Eddy Pawson’s team, Vic Wilson’s team etc. You had to keep well in with these lads to ensure you were picked. The Falmouth and Bridgewater streets ran their own team called ‘The Buildings’. One Sunday afternoon that I particularly remember we had an away fixture – I think we were playing for Ron Ellis’s eleven that day and we had arranged to play a scratch team miles away up at Adel on the pitches called ‘The Bedquilts’. We must have been daft attempting to go all that way in mid-winter, it necessitated two bus rides and at that time of year it was dark by four o’clock! It was nearly dark by the time we arrived there. Anyway, we made a start, we didn’t have any proper kit just boots and socks pulled over the bottom of our trousers. I bet we hadn’t had more than a dozen kicks at the tatty old football when it burst and not having a spare we had to turn round and make the long journey home again.

When the school team had a match we’d get changed behind one of the goals. They didn’t even bother to open the dressing rooms for us and as for showers; they were things of the future. If it rained our own clothes got wet upon the ground but we didn’t care you were just so proud to be playing for the school. There was an extra bonus if you were picked for the school team; you were allowed to wear the team jersey to school on the day of the match, some lads managed to extend the time they wore the jersey to a week before they got told off. The first match I ever played for the school team was against Mount St Mary’s, it was in the intermediate age group; I’d be about ten. All the previous week I’d dreamt about us winning and me having a great game, when the day itself arrived we lost six nil and I was rubbish – I usually was. There were no cars to take us to away games – we had to go by public transport.

I suppose everyone who ever played on old Snakey has at least one magic moment, mine was scoring a freak goal from my own penalty area, I saw the ball comingCapture.PNG paddy

towards me and I just hoofed it back up in the air and it dropped over the head of the little schoolboy goalie in the bottom goal. In the professional game the pundits go wild if someone scores a goal kicked from their own half but even a school boy can get lucky with a kick like that, a really skilful goal is when a guy dribbles past half the team like Sedgwick, Monk and Whitehead could do on old Snakey and Eddie Gray did for Leeds United against Burnley in the 19760s. But I digress; this account is to be in praise of old Snakey.

In summer we played cricket on the same pitch as we’d played football, in fact we pitched the wickets on the bald patch in front of the bottom goal – it was the only level bit on the whole field. Such was the state of the ground the ball could either fly in any direction or just ‘grub’ – grub means when the ball sticks tight to the ground. You usually had ‘em with a fast straight ‘grubber’. We once won the School’s Cricket Cup playing on Snakey as our home ground. Ellerby Lane School were our main rivals that season and their lads were so confident they were going to beat us (they usually did at everything) that they didn’t even bother to pad up, but we managed win on that occasion in a low scoring game and managed to bruise a few shins in the process for their audacity in not wearing pads. There were a few really low scoring games on Snakey; like the time St Charles’s were put out for three runs and another time when Kenny Holmes of Ellerby Lane took four wickets in four balls – all bowled – I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d were all ‘grubbers’.

One of the stranger rules of school cricket at our level was: if a team managed to score fifty runs they would ‘suspend’ their innings and let the other team go in. In the unlikely event of the other team passing their score the first batting side could resume their innings at the end. If the game dragged on one could observe the bizarre sight of lads having to leave the field of play in order to satisfy their paper round. Anyway winning the cricket league entitled us to receive the Livingston Cricket Cup. When the trophy finally arrived at the school we were all excited and readied ourselves to have the team photo taken with the trophy. We were expecting a huge cup for our efforts and couldn’t believe it when the headmaster laughingly produced it from his inside pocket. It was about the size of an eggcup. To be fair; cricket never held the same magic in our lives as did soccer but it just about managed to occupy us on old Snakey between football seasons.

One game of football which stands out in my memory, was a game played for St Hilda’s in the open age of the Church League. It was the last match of the season and if we won we won the league. The league officials were there with the shield in order to present it to us in the event of our victory. I always thought parading a trophy before it was won was tempting fate and there was a good chance of that happening on that occasion for if we failed to win then it would be Methley who would win the league and their lads had turned up in force to cheer on our opponents, who happened to be Pudsey. Anyway kick off time arrived and only seven of their players had turned up, you could start a game with seven so naturally we were eager to get started and crack in a couple of goals before the rest of their lads arrived. This would surely have happened if it were not for the league officials becoming involved. ‘We’re sure St Hilda’s, sportsmen that they are, would not want to take advantage of this situation, so we’ll ask them to hold the kick off until the rest of the Pudsey team arrives’, said their spokesman. So we had to bite our tongues and wait for the rest of their team to turn up. This was not what we had in mind at all! Worse was to follow, when their team was at last up to strength we realised that they were about to play their first team who didn’t have a match and normally played in a higher league than ours. This change in our fortunes delighted the observing Methley lads who could now see the trophy coming in their direction. In the event it all ended happily for we managed to beat them anyway and had a great booze up in the ‘Bridgefield’ that night to celebrate our victory. Later we were presented with a further trophy for being ‘the most sporting team of the season’ on account of our willingness to wait for the opposition to arrive in such an important match. It’s a good job they didn’t know what we really had in mind.

So we progressed from being young lads who had to leave Snakey and go home when the church bells rang at half past seven into young men turning up in motor cars, still to play twenty a side on old Snakey but then retiring to the pub. I seem to remember ‘The Prospect’ being a favourite watering hole after training for many a year. By the time the sixties arrived Sunday morning football was in full swing. Playing on a morning usually meant the weather would be brighter than Saturday afternoon football, but occasionally there would be morning fog, we were so keen that the game wouldn’t be cancelled that I can recall running around waving my arms about trying to disperse the fog. Being Sunday morning it obviously followed on from Saturday night. Lads would turn up after having a heavy night on the town, there were certain lads who could spew their hearts up at the side of the pitch before the game began and still turn in a performance that I couldn’t have matched even if I hadn’t had a drink for a month. These are just a few of my personal memories, I bet every lad who played on old Snakey has his own nostalgic ‘Boy’s Own’ accounts.

As the years went by and I moved away from the district I imagined my love affair with Snakey had finally run its course until joy of joys by a stroke of luck my lad started playing for a club whose home pitch was Snakey. Quite a coincidence, I’d go along there and enjoy watching him play sometimes. Trouble was I became a bit outraged when they complained about the state of the pitch. ‘Pitch is rubbish’ they would say. Well bloody hell! They’re out of order. If Snakey was good enough for us and for those heroes who came before us then it was certainly good enough for them and the tripe they turned out. Anyway I would regularly go along and enjoy watching their matches, sheltering when it was a wild day behind the trees that still bowed away from the southwesterly wind. Sometimes I’d be seeing the game being played in front of me and sometimes my mind would wander off and I’d be watching those twenty a side games played a long time ago between lads whose worlds were still young and their futures still an adventure in prospect and I would ponder where were they now and did they too, spare a thought now an then for old Snakey?

The bottom pitch has gone completely now, sacrificed to the new East Leeds Express way but there is a beautiful new rugby pitch on the site of the ‘top pitch’ – all levelled off and complete with a barrier to keep spectators at bay. I’m still regaled to watch sport on there, occasionally, as the East Leeds Amateur Rugby League Club plays its matches on there and I watch in wonderment, along with my peers, at the size and fitness of the present generation. They are bigger and fitter than ever and the game is played at such a ferocious pace you wonder how you ever managed to play the game yourself – albeit a long time ago – and take all those knocks!

snakey today

Last month’s picture? Ellerby Lane School of course.

How about this building? Did anyone else meet their life’s partner here?brenda majestic

I’m sadened to announce the passing of Gerry Thrussell – he was a great guy. His tale is on here on february 2011

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ALISTAIR’S TALE

January 1, 2013

ALISTAIR’S TALE
Alistair is a true Scot who now lives in America but in the late 1940s/early 50s we had the honour of having him as part of our little East Leeds gang.

Exile from Fife to East Leeds
And
An introduction to cricket
By Alistair Duckworth.

When I came to Leeds at the age of 10 in 1946, it was to enter a very different world from the Fife of my childhood. In chauvinistic Scotland, the English were the auld enemy. At school in Cellardyke my friends and I compelled a new pupil from England to forsake his allegiances. We made him admit that the thistle was better than the rose, that Wallace and Bruce were the true heroes of history, that Bannockburn was the greatest victory of all time, and that the saltire of St Andrew was a superior banner to the red cross of St George. We even made him agree, against all evidence, that the Scottish football team was better than the English team and–incredibly!– that Wullie Waddell was a better outside right than Stanley Matthews. When one day my mother casually told me that we would soon be leaving for England (so that my father, on leaving the Royal Navy, could find employment in Leeds), I was horrified, believing it would now be my turn to give up my most fervent beliefs.

Of course, nothing of the sort occurred. In Leeds I learned that though the Scots were aggressive towards the English, the reverse was not true. Coming from cold, bleak Anstruther, where fights were common in the schoolyard, to warm and friendly Leeds where fights, as I recall, were nonexistent, was a revelation. My father was from Leeds, and I had visited the city at an earlier age, even attending St Hilda’s school (Mrs Duckworth’s class). But the change was great nevertheless—from a Presbyterian kirk to a high Anglican church, from John Knox and Calvinistic austerity to Pusey and Anglo Catholic ritual, from fishing village to industrial city, from bracing ozone to pea-soup fogs, from the “taws” as an instrument of punishment to the cane.

In Leeds, I was introduced to fascinating new games that changed with the seasons: conkers, top-spinning and marbles (another kind of taws) for boys; jacks and rope-skipping accompanied by songs for the girls. I encountered boys with amazing skills. “Bools” in Fife had been a mild affair played on a concrete surface with vividly coloured glass marbles. Taws at St Hilda’s was played on a dirt surface with stone-hard, dirty-white marbles that had little aesthetic appeal. But in the knuckles of Harold Sedgwick, the game was played at a level of skill that had to be seen to be believed. Rather than rest the marble on the middle joint of the index finger and propel it with his thumb nail, Harold (in a way I could never repeat) lodged the marble between the knuckle of his thumb and the point of his index finger. He could then propel it with astonishing speed and accuracy at the target marble, which would be sent into the middle distance far beyond the circle drawn in the dirt. Harold’s marble, meanwhile, would stay, rapidly spinning on its axis, in the spot once occupied by his opponent’s marble.

Leeds at that time was a dirty city with more than a passing resemblance to Dickens’s infernal Coketown in Hard Times. Born in rural Fife, I at first missed grass, trees and fields. Stone-slab pavements and tarmac or cobbled roads seemed to cover the earth everywhere. From the soot-covered windows of our red-brick house I saw a Lowry landscape of chimneys belching out smoke and carcinogenic particles. The actuaries put the early 60’s as an average life expectancy for men. Soon, however, I found that fields existed, only minutes from St Hilda’s church. To the east Snake Land had two football pitches, a bowling green and tennis courts. And to the south was the village of Knostrop, which time seemed to have passed by. At the bottom of the hill leading from Cross Green Lane, and close to the River Aire, the hamlet was, I believe, a part of the Temple Newsam estate. Its Jacobean hall was still precariously in existence and inhabited by a man named Benn.

Looking back on the place, I see Knostrop as a cross between Cold Comfort Farm and a Grimm’s Fairy Tale landscape (it had a “humbug house”). But I enjoyed going down to this other, rural, world. In the autumn we gathered chestnuts to pickle into conkers. We also played rugby in the pond field next to the old hall. Jack, Benn’s dog, would accompany us. He was the wicket-keeper when we played cricket and the goalkeeper when we played football. But he disapproved of rugby. The ball was the wrong shape, and he was left with nothing to do. Jack is long dead, and so is Knostrop, swallowed up by industry and business parks. But it has an enduring existence in the published memories, written and collected by Peter Wood, an old friend at St Hilda’s School.

An Introduction to Cricket

When I came to Leeds, I was introduced to cricket, a game not often played in Fife and never with the skill and enthusiasm displayed by my new friends in the summer of 1947. When we had time, we played with stumps and a proper cricket ball (but not pads) on a grass pitch at Snake Lane. More usually we played in the streets (still mostly free of traffic) with a tennis ball or a solid composition-rubber ball. If a box or similar object were to hand, it would serve as a make-shift wicket; if not, a man-hole in the tarmac would do just as well. Someone would supply a bat, sides would be selected, and the match was on. On Sundays we played outside St Hilda’s church both before and after Sunday School. I was surprised by the lack of bickering over “out” decisions. A catch was obvious, of course, but appeals for lbw, if credible, would be accepted by the batsman without demur, and if he were beaten by a ball that passed over the manhole within the imagined dimensions of the stumps, batsman, bowler, wicket-keeper and fielders would generally concur that it was an out. A basic fairness prevailed.

Cricket was a topic of much interest in my father’s family, particularly to my Auntie Alice, who followed the fortunes of Yorkshire and England throughout a long life, at first on radio, later on TV. From my father and my aunt I soon acquired a strange new vocabulary; I learned about cover point, long on, and silly mid-off, about off drives, hooks and late cuts, about yorkers, googlies and chinamen, about in-swingers and out-swingers. I came to understand the importance of the weather in determining whether the pitch at Headingley would be favorable to batsmen or bowlers on a given day, and if to the latter, whether it would be best to use fast, medium-fast, or slow bowlers. If slow bowlers, the question would then be debated whether to use an off-spinner or, much more dangerously, a leg-spinner.

But it was not only the terminology of cricket that made it fascinating to me. The history of cricket was also a common topic of conversation. The Duckworth adults knew about the great players of the past stretching back to W. G. Grace and Jack Hobbs, and held strong opinions about the best opening partership (Hobbs and Sutcliffe), the best all-rounder (Wilfred Rhodes, a Yorkshireman, of course), and the best fast bowler (grudgingly conceded to be the Australian Lindwall). They told me about England’s controversial (“bodyline”) tour of Australia in 1932-33, in which the fast bowler Harold Larwood had aimed “bouncers” at the bodies and heads of the Australian batsmen. In an attempt to disarm persistent Australian criticism of England’s tactics, the MCC banned bodyline bowling and called on Larwood to apologise. Larwood refused on the grounds that he had been told to bowl in this way by the team’s captain, Jardine. Jardine, in common with all captains of England until Len Hutton, was a gentleman amateur, whereas the working-class Larwood was a professional. In consequence of his refusal to apologise, I was told, Larwood was never picked for England again. For my father, uncles and aunts, this was a deplorable action on the part of the establishment.

In the late summer of 2009 the Enland XI won the test match over the Aussies at the Oval and by so doing regained the Ashes. Living in Boston, Massachusetts, I was only able to follow the state of play on my lap-top. Even so the thrill of England’s victory was palpable. I was taken back to England’s Ashes victory in 2003, which my wife and I followed on TV while living in London (my wife was in Trafalgar Square when the England team, featuring a very drunk Freddie Flintoff, appeared on the top-deck of an open double-decker bus). Even more evocatively, I recalled an earlier series, the tour of the Australians in 1948. At that time I was a fervent fan of Yorkshire and England. Len Hutton, master of the cover drive, was my hero. And when matches against Yorkshire were not at issue, I could also enthuse about Cyril Washbrook of Lancashire (who opened with Hutton), Bill Edrich of Essex who came in number three, and the dashing Denis Compton of Middlesex, who came in number four.

When my aunt Alice asked my cousin Peter and me if we would like to go to see the Australians at Headingley, I was ecstatic. That summer the Aussies had a formidable cast of players: the legendary batsman Donald Bradman, who had played in the bodyline tests, the charismatic all-rounder Keith Miller, the fast bowler Lindwall. We went on the fourth day and were allowed to sit on the grass next to the boundary opposite the pavilion. Australia’s first innings’ tail was quickly dismissed in the morning, and then Hutton and Washbrook opened England’s second innings. They made an excellent 129 for the first wicket. By the fifth morning, whenYardley declared at 365 for 8 wickets, Australia were left with what seemed to be an impossible target of 404 runs for victory. But Bradman and Morris made a very fast and record-breaking partnership of 301, and Australia won the test, with Bradman scoring 178 not out at the end. I did not see Bradman bat, but he was in the field on the fourth day, not far from where we were sitting, and as captain he could be heard directing the fielders where to position themselves.

In the final test at the Oval, Bradman needed only 4 runs to end his career with an average of 100 per test match innings; ironically, he was bowled out for a duck. No subsequent batsman, however, has come anywhere close to his Test Match batting average.

A great tale, Alistair – thanks for letting us use it.

Did you guess last month’s picture? I know many of you did. It was of course the remaining front façade of York Road Baths and Library

Now for this month’s pic – a power house for boy meets girl – especially on Sunday nights in the 1950sStar York Road

Eileen’s Tale

October 1, 2009

Eileen’s tale is a delightful little tale of life in East Leeds in the 1940s, including time spent with her grandmother in Knostrop New Hall and as a pupil at St Hilda’s and Ellerby Lane Schools.

Eileen’s tale

Eileen’s Tale

Mrs Eileen Ramsey (nee Tootle) is the niece of the legendary George Tootle and sister of Barbara who has herself written her tale in these pages.

Until I read the pages of this book I thought Knostrop was just my magic place and never realised there were other children like myself who understood the magic of Knostrop and the way of life of the community as well as me. Although Knostrop New Hall was a wonderful place for me the owners had left the property to rot and decay instead of the upkeep it deserved. Every flat should have had a bathroom, toilet and even the electric light was late to arrive although there was the massive Skelton Grange Power Station just down the road.  Why do they call it progress to allow small communities like Knostrop to be wiped off the face of the earth to make way for concrete monoliths? Lord Halifax had long resisted building on his land on the north side of the Aire. Industry used to be in Hunslet on the south of the river and the fresh air that the people needed on the north. What happened?

                                                        ******

This is my story. I was born on the 27th of April 1932. My father was Roland Tootle, whose mother was Charlotte Wright before her marriage. My paternal grandfather’s name was Christopher Howard Tootle. My first memories are of being looked after by my maternal grandmother, Ellen Maud Smith, whilst my mam, Hannah Tootle, went out to work at J.W. Plant and son Ltd (flag and bunting manufacturer), Elsie Crescent, Upper Accommodation Road. Leeds 9.

            My gran lived with her second husband, Thomas Smith. They had two children, a boy Charles and a girl Ellen, or Nellie as my mother used to call her and who tragically died of a mastoid in the ear aged ten. This is what was told to us when we asked Mother if she had only brothers and no sisters. She said Nellie was her half sister – she died in 1928 the year before my eldest sister, Celia, was born.

My maternal granddad Thomas Byron Holmes and Grandma came from York to Leeds seeking employment as they had a young family of six to support. My granddad was from Southwark in London and served as a soldier in the 26th Scottish Borderers. My grandma Ellen Maud Holmes had a position of nanny, at which she was very good. Granddad (Thomas Byron Holmes) was tragically killed in a freak accident at Waterloo Pit on the 8th of January 1913 aged 36 years. He had been working with another man on the surface, loading and unloading when a sharp gust of wind suddenly arose as they were untying a tarpaulin cover from one of the wagons; it snagged my granddad and carried him up to the wheel of the gantry, which took him round and round. When they finally got to him he was left in just his socks and boots. The inquest was held at the Irwin Hotel, Halton, Leeds. Compensation amounted to just £157. 2/- and 3d to be paid to his widow (my granny) at the rate of £2 per month. 

My gran eventually re-married Thomas Smith, who was a widower twenty years her senior, they moved into the big mansion, Knostrop New Hall, as caretaker and wife. Among their duties were: the collection of rents, upkeep of the interior, cleaning the upstairs and downstairs toilets etc, also the wash-house, hen-house and stables.  

A pony trap was kept in the stables and a gentleman would arrive with a horse, which was stabled elsewhere, and ride around the countryside in the pony and trap. There was a large weeping willow tree, with initials carved upon its trunk on the front lawn facing the lodge (better known as The Round House). I used to climb the huge tree and sit reading my comics within its branches and leaves. I would follow with my eyes the flight of birds into the thick ivy that covered the ten foot high boundary walls and then I would head unerringly and find the nest with tiny eggs inside, usually about four of eggshell blue. They were very high walls to a child and it was only when I was older and more daring that I managed to scale those high surrounding walls of the New Hall Estate and stare over at St Saviour’s Orphanage, where the children would emerge in a long crocodile with one lady in front and another behind.

            I had a sister three years older than I her name was Celia and somehow we only really got together when I was about three years old. She must have stayed with a neighbour while my mother went to work as a sewing machinist. Celia had an accident as a child after coming downstairs very early one morning and playing with matches. She had climbed up on a buffet and reached up to the high mantelpiece for the matches and her pyjamas went up in flames. Her screams brought my dad running downstairs but the naughty girl had slid the bolt on the downstairs door and it took precious minutes before he could kick the door open. He wrapped her in the fireside rug to douse the flames but she had to be taken to the infirmary as she had sustained bad scaring on her chest and arms.

            I don’t know why but I had lived with my grandma for as long as it was possible and I couldn’t pronounce my sister’s name properly, it was nearer to ‘Ceeley’ than Celia. I must have been a two year old at the time for I can remember my gran wheeling me up and down Knostrop Lane in a pram and then through the ginnel into Easy Road and up to Archie Place.

            It was Knostrop Hall that I regarded as home along with Grandma and Granddad Smith. My uncle, Charlie Smith married Ivy who became my aunt. Their first child, Brian, arrived and I had a cousin. Gradually I was taken back to live with my sister Celia and Mam and Dad in Archie place and began to attend Ellerby Lane Infants School. It was a really bad winter and when we were sent out to play Mam came to the school railings in the snow to bring us hot drinks of cocoa from a flask. She was more than loving towards us; she would give me a ha’panny to ask at the grocer’s shop at the bottom of Easy Road for broken biscuits for my morning break to have with my little bottle of milk.

            Mrs Nelson used to take the infants class and around two of the walls were little linen bags that had embroidered animals on them for us children to pop in our biscuits. Unfortunately for me I always forgot which bag I had put my biscuits in but Mrs Nelson wouldn’t wait for me to find them, she would clap her hands and usher us all out of the room at playtime no matter how hard I protested. Well, in my little mind I thought that was most unfair and I was also fed up of having to lie on a hard camp bed with just one grey blanket in the afternoons. So I decided not to go to school at all. I hid away in the passages and only joined the kids when they were coming out of school at tea time. My sister, Celia, said the teachers had played pop with her because I had not turned up at school and it was her responsibility for taking me to school. So my mam sent me back to my gran’s down Knostrop – or Knowsthorpe – to give it its posh name.  My sister thought I was causing her trouble and upset her, so any explanation of mine was unacceptable. I did eventually begin to attend school again and happily they had started giving us things to do in the afternoons to keep us occupied.

            I remember going for walks in a crocodile down Knostrop to the big house at the entrance to Jawbone Yard to see the monkey on its little stand and the parrot of many coloured feathers that her sailor husband was supposed to have brought her. They also had had a grey/white/brown/black sheepdog or collie with a blue eye and a brown eye {Rex}. Just around the corner on Knostrop Lane was the petrol station yard where huge tankers full of petrol would come and go. Grandma always taught me to walk on the pathway and listen before crossing the road.

            When I was back in Archie Place my sister and I would make numerous trips to The Premier Picture House down South Accommodation Road on Saturday afternoons to see Flash Gordon. The friends my sister had were: Teresa Towning, May Beckwith, Audrey Smith and Margaret Headley and they attended Ellerby Lane School. Jean Clapham attended Mount St Mary’s. Celia being three years older than I didn’t want me around her and her friends so I played with their younger sisters and my own school friends: Sheila Thrush, Maisie Wilcox, Dorothy Jackson and Marion Eastman. We bought two comics a week each and then we swopped them so that we managed to read them all eventually.

            When I was seven years old war broke out. Dad said it would begin with air strikes so we ran out and looked up at the sky but all we saw was a large barrage balloon. Then we had to practice putting on our gas mask, which we carried in cardboard boxes suspended by string around our necks. They smelt horrible and I couldn’t breathe down or up my nostrils anyway because I was a mouth breather like my mate Maisie Wilcox.  

            My sister and I were evacuated to Market Rasen along with lots of others. Celia and I and another two sisters who lived in the Cavalier House Flats in East Street were sent to a posh house. We were allocated attic bedrooms and after being scrubbed down in hot baths and given dry cream crackers and cocoa, with no sugar, we were sent to bed.

The house was owned by the misses Kelly and had its own orchard and lawns and a cook and servants. It was like living in a dream world, far away from all we had known. But the older girls were rebels and they said it was like living in a jail. They caused trouble and the Miss Kellys wrote to both our parents asking if they could keep the youngest sister of each family because we were the quietest. We attended church twice on Sunday and travelled in luxury in a chauffeur driven car with one, or sometimes both of the Miss Kellys (I think now it was probably a taxi).

            But no! Our parents would not split us up and my dad said Celia and I would have to stay with a young couple who had a baby daughter. They were Mr and Mrs Saunders, they were a lovely couple and I used to rock their baby daughter to sleep on Saturday afternoons. I was seven years old and I still couldn’t read but I promised to try harder if the teacher would try to teach me how to read. It was hard for me as I had missed a lot of my early schooling. Gradually though it sank in and I was over the moon it was like solving a very hard puzzle. It didn’t come easy for me because the classes were so big as a result of the evacuees, and most of the village children could read already, so the teacher just wrote things up on the blackboard and expected us to understand. what was expected of us.

My mum came for us eventually and took us home to Archie Place, Leeds.           We then attended Richmond Hill School; that was a great school. They put on a pantomime at Christmas. In 1941 the German planes bombed Richmond Hill School while we were sleeping in the cellar at home. We were frightened and Mam started taking us to the Princess or the Easy Road cinema just to give us some light relief from the war which was going on around us. We then had to attend Ellerby Lane School and as I couldn’t sleep properly on a night I often fell asleep in school. Miss Gibbins was the teacher in that all girl’s class. Then in standard three we had an awful teacher (we shall call Miss W) who caused one girl to wet herself because she would only let us use the toilet at play-time. On one occasion she sent me to see Mr Dennis, the headmaster, because I had accidentally broken my wooden ruler. He was teaching a boy’s class next door and I was so terrified, not of being caned but of being shown up in front of all those boys. I broke down a sobbed, but surprise, surprise, Mr Dennis realized it had been an accident and how dreadfully I felt about it all so he sent me away with a stern caution.

            Thank Goodness my next class was standard four and the teacher was Mrs Darnell, her husband was in the armed forces and we were all given wool to knit scarves for our soldiers, sailors and airmen. Ellerby Lane School for me holds memories of lads waiting to snowball us as we went out of the big gate.

My mam said that now I was going to go to St Hilda’s School so that I could take Barbara to school and bring her home at dinner time. Barbara was two years old at the time and I was eleven. That was 1943 and the war seemed far away from us kids but by that time we had become used to eating ‘specky’ apples, raw carrots, ‘tusky’ (rhubarb) and liquorish twigs from the chemists, cough lozenges were treats

My granny had us climbing the trees within the New Hall grounds and shaking down the fruit so she could store it for the winter months. While we were at Ellerby Lane School we had cooking lessons one day a week, I enjoyed that. We also used to march down to Joseph Street baths. Although Maisie Wilcox and I used to enjoy Joseph Street Baths we learned to swim at York Road baths after school. Then we were sent to the Dispensary because the doctors were doing a mass cull of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. When we came round the pain and the blood we had swallowed was horrendous. Our swimming days were over after that, water used to go up our noses and straight down our throats, that was something that had not happened to us before, we were choking and spluttering if we let our heads go under the water. Both Maisie and I were devastated. Maisie came to live in Cross Green Lane, so she started to attend St Hilda’s School too. Our teacher was Mr North. He wore a cap and gown and sat on a high chair at an Edwardian desk. Behind him was a bookcase filled with books and I enjoyed reading many of them. We could borrow them to take home but we had to return them for others to enjoy. There was no one checking the books in and out but we were honest and our parents knew what we were up to most of the time so we had to accept their code of honour.

            The one thing I look back with in sorrow was that some of the other girls caused Maisie and I to quarrel and we never really sorted it out satisfactorily and that makes me sad. I had another friend, Joan Hitchen, who lived across Easy Road; we called for one another to go to school together. Then she moved to Blackpool with her parents and little brother john. We also visited Easy Road Picture House together, regularly. Frank Sinatra had just started out in films (1943) he had a nice singing voice but from what we saw of him he was thin as a skeleton. It was four pence for children on the front seats, even in front of these were about six wooden forms where kids could sit for a penny at the Saturday children’s matinee. My favourite star was Mickey Rooney he played in a saga which would now be described as a ‘soap opera’ on television. In these films Mickey’s father was called Judge Hardy and Mickey had many different girl friends, one was Judy Garland. The seats further back cost sixpence and those right at the back for adults, nine pence.

            My dad had started a large allotment off behind Knostrop New Hall with the help of Mam, Celia and me. He had made a hut, greenhouse, cold frame and a lean-to shed for the horse-muck we had to collect from the stables of a funeral director in Lavender Walk, Richmond Hill. He had huge black horses and we paid him five shillings for him to fill our wheel-barrow with horse-muck for us to wheel back down Knostrop. I wanted to go by way of the Long Causeway as I didn’t want my mates at St Hilda’s to see me wheeling a barrow load of horse-muck. I was ashamed in case they would laugh at me at school because unlike me they didn’t have to work at an allotment.

            We supplied quite a few of our neighbours with food produce. I had a list of customers to supply in summertime with: lettuce, radishes, potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, cabbages, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers. In winter it was Brussels sprouts before the first frost set in. And we grew beautiful chrysanthemums too. Dad had us working all the summer holidays clearing the land and double digging the soil. He said we had to carry the stones away in buckets and pile them up inside the twelve foot walls of the estate. There must have been a well because we moved so many stones they piled up to within three foot of the top of the twelve foot wall. We could then look over at Farmer Allison’s fine detached house and the little ‘Humbug House’ close by. We could also see the ABC Houses further down the road. When the farmer came home with his big shire horses he would let them out of the cart they had been pulling and into the field beyond the New Hall walls and they would kick they heels up and run about in a happy way because their work was over for the day.

My Uncle Charlie was a soldier who served in Burma during and after The Seconds World War. I stayed with my Aunt Ivy and Brian for a while after my tonsillectomy, while she was living in the Lodge or The Round House as we called it.

They had a tiny black, white and tan rough haired terrier called Paddy. Brian and I were sent into the Hall to live with Grandma when another baby was due.  I didn’t know any of Brian’s mates and Grandma would not allow me out of the gates of the grounds to seek new friends while I lived with her. When Grandma was busy cleaning she would often send me up to keep Mrs Barker company for an hour in her rooms upstairs. Mrs barker was a lovely lady who smelled of flowers and talked and talked about her family who had all died either in the First World War or later. The stories she told me about them meant she loved them and didn’t feel lonely talking about them it was as if they were still with her. She gave me a book to read, it was called ‘Little Women’. I really enjoyed reading that book: Mrs Barker was a grand lady, she died at Christmas 1952.

My father’s brother, George, lived in the Hall too. My dad told me George had      been brought up by his granny and his father made him chop up wood into chips and take them around the streets selling them to householders to start off their coal fires.  Later I was told he had been blinded by being repeatedly hit in bare knuckle fights. He took in stay dogs for company and he would walk them the front lawn every couple of hours. He was a giant of a man well known to all and always cheerful in spite of his blindness.

My grandfather’s name was Christopher Howard Tootle and he had a mule in a shed behind Ellerby Lane School. He would get wooden crates and chop them up for firewood then get an Ellerby Lane School lad, I think his name was Ginger Rhodes but I was never sure, to jump up on the cart and sell the chips to householders as they drove around the streets.

Life was full of people, some relatives that you didn’t really know and some you didn’t acknowledge as being related to you. It was very confusing to a child, especially if you were always sent out to play if mothers came to gossip together, ‘Hush! The kids are coming in.’

I had to go up and down Knostrop to collect the greens and potatoes from the allotment for the neighbours because Dad was working on the night shift and Mam said I would need my own bike as Dad needed his to go to work; he was head shunter at  Hunslet Goods Yard. On one occasion when I was about eleven or twelve I was sent to the allotment by my dad at dinnertime and I nearly ran down a string of children who were holding hands across the road just around the sharp bend on Knostrop Hill. I raised my head and prayed to anyone up there to help me for in the seconds that I saw them I realized I couldn’t stop the bike in time. Suddenly a gap appeared in the line of children and I managed to get through but I finished up down on the cross bar of my dad’s bike and crashed into the brick wall on the right hand side of the road. A panic attack or an adrenalin surge stopped my feeling the pain immediately and I ran back towards the little children who were only about six or seven years old, they were dazed too, apart from one little girl who had started to cry, with shock I suppose, because I examined her and there were no marks anywhere on her arms or legs and I didn’t see any marks on any of the other children either. They must have seen me, grazed and bleeding from the wall, and asked what they should do now. I told them to knock on the door of one of the little white cottages and someone might look after them for I still had to carry on to the allotment and get my dad the cabbages he was taking to work and I still had to get his bike back to him in time for his shift. If only I could have got the bike going again but the wheel was buckled and kept catching as the wheel went round. My arm, elbow and knee on my right side were hurting too but I carried on. Upon reaching home I was more worried about what my parents would say about the bike. They finished up arguing, Mam saying that Dad should have made the trip down Knostrop himself and not sent me. He said he would have to catch the bus now or he would be late for work and he would look at the bike wheel later. So Mam said to me, call at Benn’s shop and ask him to make you up a bicycle for ten shillings. I already knew Mr William Benn from Knostrop Old Hall and his sons, Alf and Bill. Bill had a shop at the bottom of Easy Road dealing with bicycles, batteries and tyres etc. So I called in and asked him about getting me a bike for ten shillings and he said he would see what he could do as he knew my granny and knew that if I had a bicycle I could do errands for her. Within weeks he had a bicycle for me; it was a light blue man’s bike with drop handlebars. I thought it was a beauty and I didn’t mind it having a crossbar as I was used to riding my dad’s bike anyway.

I started working full time on my fourteenth birthday. My mam got me a position at Lewis’s on the Headrow in the town centre. Monday to Saturday with a half day off on Wednesday for the sum of twenty two shillings and six pence. I thought I was in prison! I had to pay my own bus fares, for my dinners and still give Mam fifteen shillings. When I found out that I could leave at two minutes notice I took the chance after working for three months there just taking money out of the little containers and putting in the change then putting them back into the tubes that used to shoot them back up to the shop counters. I told my mam that I had been working in the cellars, where they took all the money and at first we used to get a break in the morning and an afternoon break as well as a dinner break but the adults conveniently forgot about the breaks and we were too young to speak up for ourselves so I left there at two minutes notice. My mam was furious with me and took me down to Great George Street Junior Employment Exchange and I landed a job at Joseph Kay and Son, Accommodation Road, as a junior clerk 9 am to 5 pm with one and a half hours for lunch, five and a half days a week. They also paid for me to go to Osmondthorpe Night-School to learn typing.

At St Hilda’s School Vera Wood and Joan Dobson were in the same class as me and the twin sisters, Sheila and Shirley and the greengrocer’s daughter, Pat. As for the others I can’t recall their names only their faces. We were all in Mr Child’s classin1945/46. I recall a party at school when the war was over. Our mothers had been baking and spending their precious food coupons, there were jellies and custard trifles as well as sandwiches but I was appalled when the boys starting a bun fight after they had scoffed everything else. I thought what a waste of food after all that effort our mothers had put in and how they had deprived themselves of their precious coupons. I came away disgusted. I suppose boys will be boys but we girls couldn’t understand them at all and I thought it would be a long time before I looked at them in a different light.

About this time coloured plastic wire became popular at school. The girls would thread different colours into designs and made them into bangles for themselves. And I remember going to the St Hilda’s playing fields to play near the tennis courts.

Happy days!

It was disappointing to me when I returned to the site of Knostrop New Hall in 2008. I had hoped to take a photograph of that lovely old weeping willow tree but it had long gone beneath the concrete jungle.

So sad! 

Knostrop New Hall.

Drawn by Eileen from memory. On the left of the picture can be seen the northern servants entrance, carriage house, wash house, inner yard and backdoor entrance,

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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A Story of my Old School Hall

August 26, 2007

This is a little story of my old school hall at St Hilda’s in the 1940s

St Hilda’s School Hall 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOSTALGIA SERIES

 

NO 71

 

THE OLD SCHOOL HALL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE OLD SCHOOL HALL

The old school hall at St Hilda’s has had three tales told about it already: Eric Allen’s one about the old time dancing, Jean (Burrow) Lynley’s Swiss roll incident and my own previous tale about not being able to tell the time by the big Potts hall clock. The reason why the hall has so many tales to tell is probably because it was so versatile. Our first introduction to the hall as St Hilda’s pupils was when we had to get our heads down for an afternoon nap upon our reception into the infants or better known to us as the ‘babies’ class. Later it was our venue for assembly and when it was too wet for us to use the playground we would use it to march up and down – in serpentine lines: ‘The grand old Duke of York – he had ten thousand men – he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again – and when they were up they were up and when they were down they were down and when they were only half way up they were neither up nor down.’  I suppose it was the teachers’ chance to get us to let off a bit of steam after being cooped up in the classroom. You thought you were a real clever if you nipped from one line into another without the teacher spotting you.

              One afternoon a week we would have singing lessons in the hall. Mrs Duckworth would sit at the piano in her pale blue flowered dust coat, she would use the half moon shaped first aid box on the chair to elevate herself to the level of the keys. Miss Fewster would stand at the front behind an old wooden desk and tap out the time for us with a ruler. She would give us the key to start us of; ‘Mee-me-me-me’, tap–tap-tap. And we would be off, ‘Where have you been all the day Billy Boy, Billy Boy, where have you been all the day my charming Billy?’ Then she would spot someone misbehaving; say I was the culprit, she would shout, ‘Wood’ at the top her voice and bang the desk with her ruler. Mrs Duckworth would cease her playing and make some remark like: ‘I didn’t know Wood was a bad boy Miss Fewster’ and Miss Fewster would reply something like, ‘Bad! He’s darn right wicked!’ Tap, tap, tap with the ruler and we’d be off again: ‘I’ve been courting all the day with my darling, Nancy Gray and my Nancy tickles my fancy… Another favourite of the teachers’ was: A shepherdess was watching – ding dong – ding dong – ting-a-ling – ding dong, her flocks the whole night long – ding dong. We cleverly managed to substitute one of the ‘ding dongs’ for ‘stink bomb’. Occasionally the teachers’ would be really ambitious and have half of us singing: ‘row, row, row your boat;’ and then as we went on to sing: ‘gently down the stream,’ the other half would begin with, ‘row, row, row your boat’ at the same time. Complete chaos!

            If you behaved reasonably well in the singing lessons you would probably make the group who had the doubtful pleasure of visiting the Belgrave Hall or even the grander Leeds Town Hall to hear a symphony concert. It was pearls before swine!

Later a stage was built at one end of the hall the site for future school concerts and of course the nativity plays.

            Regarding the Saturday night old time dancing in the hall: I had a nasty experience one night while taking a breather from my pathetic attempts at the: Lancers, the Dashing White Sergeant and the Paul Jones. I was sat on a wooden bench (they were of course the same benches we used for school) someone came along and said, ‘Shuv up’.  I ‘shuved’ up and a spell went into my posterior; I say spell it was more a stake fit to kill a vampire. I tried to pull it out but it broke off with about three inches left inside me. My dad had to take me down to the dispensary on the back of his motorbike to have it removed and remove it they did but I always thought that they had left some still inside me; sometimes it would prick me when I was sat in the pictures. Fifteen years later I plucked up the courage to go back to the dispensary and they got another two inches out of me, it was bleached perfectly white from being inside me for all that time. No thought of compensation then of course.

            The church held its bazaars and jumble sales in the hall and we manned the stalls: cover the halfpenny and ‘housey – housey’, bran tub. On Thursday Evenings in the late 1940s early 1950s the hall was shared, half each by the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. We with our knobbly knees on show attired in our corduroy shorts that smelt like wet dog when it rained and the Guides who always looked a treat in their white ankle socks, blue tops and navy skirts.

            The school hall will probably be a block of flats by the time this is read but I wonder if sometimes in the calm of an afternoon the residents will ever hear the ghostly sound of ‘tap-tap-tap-mee–me–me’. ‘Can she cook an Irish stew Billy boy Billy boy, can she cook an Irish stew my Billy boy?’

‘She can cook an Irish stew fit for me and fit for you and my Nancy tickles my fancy….

‘You! That wicked boy there! – Stay in at playtime!’…tap-tap-tap.