Posts Tagged ‘Cross Green’

The Infamous ‘Navvy’

January 1, 2018

The infamous navvy
The three areas that formed our ‘Old East Leeds’ (and still do) are: Cross Green, Richmond Hill and East End Park. These three areas are neatly divided into three by two great gashes of railway cuttings. To the north dividing East End Park from the other two is the main Leeds/Selby railway line.

‘click’ on pictures to enlarge.

Built originally as long ago as the 1840s it was so deep that it was firstly built into a tunnel – one of the first tunnels to admit passenger traffic. Later it was opened up to an eighty foot plus cutting with six bridges of varying types. When you look over the retaining walls you see a 60 degree slope followed by a fifty foot vertical drop, with express trains shooting along the bottom. This was far too dangerous for even our notorious local nutters to contemplate a descent. But it did not deter them racing across the bridge parapets on the way to the Princess Cinema, one on one parapet at one side of the road and another on the parapet at the other side, when a fall would have surely meant certain death. The thought of it makes you cringe. Sensibly they have now put pointed top stones on the wall to render this practice impracticable.
I have been told, although I cannot authenticate this, that a guy being pursued thought vaulting over the bridge wall – thinking it was just a common or garden wall – would facilitate his escape. Some say his fall was fatal others that he only broke his legs and his back (only!)

The other cutting built in 1899, which spurred off the main line at Neville Hill and ran on between the Glencoe’s and the Fewston’s on one side and the Copperfield’s, Cross Green’s and St Hilda’s on the other side, on to Hunslet Goods Yard and then over the hills and far away to join the main London line. This cutting was colloquially and affectionately known as ‘The Navvy’. The Navvy at about fifty feet deep was still dangerous but not as deadly as the Selby line cutting, you would be maimed rather than killed should you fall all the way down unless you fell from a bridge, then you would be surely killed. But like all dangerous places it attracted us lads like a magnet and provided an adventure playground for us. It had five bridges with brick parapets and one – the one that allowed the paddy train to traverse across The Navvy to disgorge its coal at the coal staithe in Easy Road – this bridge had metal, horizontal, rail barriers that daredevils including sometimes girls, would dangle over and use as a trapeze. Not unnaturally, this acquired the name ‘The Monkey Bridge’
It became a sort of badge of courage to at least once descend the Navvy and stand on the lines (not many trains came along this cutting). Yes, I have my own virtual badge. The beauty of The Navvy was they were a number of quite easy descents that had developed names, Ginner Rock, The Town Hall Steps if you could get down the first vertical twenty feet in some places you could hurtle down the last part on screed. One descent, a bit more dangerous, was ‘The Devils Drop’ on the Glencoe side of The Navvy. This one meant you had to descend with your back to one wall and your legs to the other side like descending a chimney. Some got into more mischief by pinching the wooden blocks that secured the rails for their bonfires. The Glencoe kids had a game where they set a can on the line and then fished for it from a bridge with a magnet on a long string. Of course there were many cases of broken arms, shoulders and legs; lads would usually tell their mams they had done it in some other way as nobody was allowed to officially play in ‘The Navvy’.
The construction of these two great gashes into East Leeds has long past living memory and all is calm again but can you imagine the disruption to life in the area when they were under constructed, the deep cuttings being dug out by hundreds of navvies (I suppose that’s how our navvy got its name?) and carted away by horse and cart. Where did they all live for those years while the digging was going on and where did all the spoil go? I suppose it’s lucky that with railways no sooner is a cutting completed than they come to a place where the railway needs the spoil to construct an embankment.

The Devil’s Drop

There is a famous tale – which I know to be true – that one daring but foolhardy lad, David Wilson, jumped all the way down The Navvy for a bet – I think it was near to the old Bridgefield Hotel – for a bet, six pence and some comics. He broke his arm and to add to the chagrin it is said that he didn’t get the sixpence or the comics but he got much more, he is remembered as a legend – look I am writing about him here although David is long gone from this world, how much is that worth, to be a legend? If you’re looking down, Dave, congratulations you jumped the navvy, you’re a legend!
The Navvy is still there, old East Leedsers come back to look down and remember their daring doo’s. The ‘Town Hall Steps and Ginner Rock’ are overgrown now; no lads climb down there today. ‘elf and safety have now totally encased the Navvy and the bridge parapets with great pointed metal railings that would probably damage a lad more than the Navvy itself.
But this only emphasises the great freedoms we had in the forties and fifties that are denied to our counterparts today. Now they have only virtual adventures on iPods and Xboxes!

See also March 2014 ‘The Glencoe Railway Children’.

Happy New Year to all our readers.



We Had to Eat Gravel!

February 1, 2017

We Had to Eat Gravel


When you look back along a reasonably long life you see that so many things have changed, most of the local pubs, corner shops and cinemas have closed down, open fires, decent ballads and lavies down the street are a thing of the past, church attendances are down, the coal mines are closed. The simple things we used to do in life have been usurped by modern technology. I find it hard to believe these changes have happened in just one life time. Perhaps most of all I remember how happily primitive general living used to be.

Do you remember that great old Monty Python sketch where a group of well healed old farts are sitting around in leather arm chairs supping their whisky and purporting how hard it had been for them on the way up, each one trying to outdo the last on the depth of the depravity they had endured in their early lives until it got brilliantly silly and towards the end one old fart said after the previous one had made maniacal claims.

‘Right, well listen to this then. We lived in a shoe box and all we had to eat was gravel!’

Not to be outdone the final guy said, ‘Shoe box! That would have been a luxury for us, we would have loved to live in a shoe box we had to live in the canal and every night our dad came home from work and murdered us.’


Well you know we East Leedsers who have been lucky enough to have had a reasonably long life can look back on times descending back to what now seems almost comic proportions of destitution. I’m going to put myself in the position of those old farts going back over my life. I’ll pretend to be different old farts getting more and more disadvantaged but really they will all be me and although it won’t be as exotic as Monty Python it will all be true.

Old fart number one. ‘When we were first married we never aspired to satellite television we just had a colour TV with the basic channels, no free view facility, just had an old dial  telephone on a land line, we were never  able to afford those magic mobile things that just about tell you what you had for breakfast.  And there were no ‘sat navs’ you had to know how to read a map. If your car wouldn’t start on a morning you had to swing it with a starting handle sometimes it kicked back and knocked your shoulder out Twenty pounds a week was a top wage – you could get a mortgage on twenty pounds a week we only had the one toilet of course and a galvanised dustbin.

Old fart number two. Colour television? You were lucky, we never dreamt of colour television. When I lived in Cross Green we had a 12 inch black and white TV which constantly rolled over and over and had one channel,  BBC one. We only had one electric plug to run everything off. We had no fridge or washing machine we had a keeping safe in the cellar to keep food going off and Mam washed our clothes in the sink.  If we wanted to telephone we had to go to the big red box up the road and I went to work for years on an old pushbike.

Old fart number three. ‘Television! We’d never heard of even black and white television. When I lived in Knostrop we didn’t even have electricity we had gas downstairs and nothing at all upstairs. You can’t run many appliances off gas so we had to make our own amusement. We had running water and a flush toilet but it was outside and froze up in winter. We had to sleep outside in an air raid shelter while the Germans rained bombs down on us. When it rained heavily, Knostrop being so low down in Leeds the water came out of the man holes instead of in and flooded us to the depth of about ten inches and floated everything about. Being a large old house I had a big bedroom but ivy grew on the inside as well as the outside walls, when I went to bed I climbed the stairs with a candle stick like Wee Willy Winky. The nearest telephone box was at the top of the hill so was school, where we always had to walk to on our own after the first day and where on a bad day we would expect to be smacked on our arms and legs by the women teachers and caned by the head master.



Old fart number four. Flush toilets! We would have loved a flush toilet. When I was evacuated to Aunt Nellie’s at None-Go-Byes Farm Cottage all we had was a dry toilet round the back that smelt terrible and was only emptied now and then when the midden men came round. We had no gas or electricity only oil lamps that smoked smelt terribly too. The only water was iron water from a tap in the yard. We had two bedrooms but you had to pass through one to get

To the other



there was no phone box at all you had to post a letter if you wanted to contact anyone and the post box was three miles away as was the nearest shop and bus stop. The Germans dropped flairs on us looking for the munitions factory. When the kids went to school they had to take their shoes off and walk in bare feet across the fields so they wouldn’t get their shoes muddy and be told off by the teachers.

Old fart number five. Two Bedrooms! We lived in The Humbug House, an old single story gatehouse. We never dreamt of having two bedrooms we had one room and one bedroom, neither gas nor electricity and it was so damp because it was below the water table that vegetation grew on the inside of the walls, I don’t remember what we did for a toilet perhaps we used a bucket?



Every word is true, it’s been a long road, when I look back and sounds as if it could have been unhappy but it never was. I never felt disadvantaged at any of those places.  Folk were all in the same boat getting themselves through the war, Mam and Dad were alive and love abounded. If I could go back to any one of those times I’d be there in a trice because I’d be young again and nowt fazes you when you’re young does it?


Comments welcome