Posts Tagged ‘dreams’

A Lifetime’s Happy Relationship with the Leeds City Centre

April 1, 2020

A Lifetime’s Happy Relationship with the Leeds City Centre.
As life moves remorsefully on so does ones demands for the delights of the city centre. I aim to divide these demands into the evolving phases of ‘going down to town.’
My earliest memory of ‘town’ was of being taken at my mother’s hand at the tender age of about three or four years old. It was wartime and there had been some bomb damage. The huge Burton’s tailoring outlet on Briggate had been on fire and I could see through into the interior where a mannequin had not been removed it was all blackened and blistered and I thought it was a real person. That vision has stayed with me for almost eighty years and one must flinch for those children in the war zones today who are seeing such sights for real.

My next memory is a happier one. We had been under blackout restrictions for the duration of the war but in 1945 we had ‘VE Day’ (victory in Europe) and on one particular day all the lights in the centre of Leeds were to be switched on together. I was taken down to see the event by members of the family, the idea was to get to City Square but the crowds were so dense, shoulder to shoulder down Vicar Lane and Briggate, we never got past the Corn Exchange and as it was such a crush public transport was not able to run we had to walk all the way home but what a sight when all the lights went on together I had never seen a neon sign before it was well worth the long walk home.

The next phase in my relationship with the city centre was of being ‘taken to town’ for treats by my lovely aunties. They would do a bit of fashion shopping and then we would go for a meal in one of the restaurants, I recall Atkinson’s on Eastgate, Hitchin’s, Collinson’s Betty’s Scofield’s Mathias Robinson’s Marshall and Snelgrove’s, all the large department stores had a café some even had an orchestra. These trips usually ended up with a visit to one of the city centre cinemas there were many: The Paramount/Odeon, Ritz (ABC), majestic/Scala (they played the same film), Tower, Assembly Rooms, Gourmont, Tattler, Gaumont and the News theatre which showed the news and mostly cartoons. There was a wonderful selection. Once again I have a lasting memory of a film on one of those, film going occasions about a ventriloquist and his dummy and the dummy gradually took over.

Moving to schooldays we would often be bussed to town to take in a symphony concert at the Town Hall or the Belgrave Hall or for things like road safety demonstrations. Sometimes a friend and I would catch the number 61 bus which stopped outside the Leeds Central Public Library and we would haunt the shelves for early science fiction books: H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne and in particular I remember our favourite: The Angry Planet by John Keir Cross about a trip to Mars. Around the end of the 1940s I managed to get selected for trials with the Leeds City Boys football team which were held at Oldfield Lane but for the first four or five weeks the ground was frozen hard so we could not play instead a whole group of us went back down into Leeds and had pea soup in Lewis’s department Store (magically we remained friends for life) This was not the John Lewis Store that is newly in the centre of Leeds, It was a huge four or five story store on the Headrow, which often had exhibitions, I remember Mussolini’s armoured car being on display and another time there was thousands of budgies in cages. Lewis’s also had a boy’s club who wore badges and went on trips. It was the centre point we all made for. It was a bit like Grace Brothers in ‘Are You being served?’ but the staff were rather more normal. It was said that at the time it was the largest department store in Yorkshire. It’s a beautiful building and still there but the ground floor is shared by a number of outlets: Sainsbury’s, Argos, TK. Max, Home Sense etc.
For the next phase I’m going to say, theatre going. There were four major theatres in central Leeds in the 1950s: The Grand Theatre, The Theatre Royal the City Varieties (The Verts) and The Empire. They all held pantomimes around Christmas time. The Grand was probably the ‘glossiest’ with its high class décor including the beautiful crystal chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling. I recall the smell of expensive cigar smoke and a usual chorus line of tulip haired girls ‘sunbeams’ The Theatre Royal usually showed repertory company plays, it was only five pence for the opening night on Mondays and was usually attended by gaggles of girls of our age which dominated our attention.
The ‘Verts’ was the risqué one which showed nude tableaus. The artists had to stay still which they said made it classical but ‘if they move it’s rude’ We used to flock in to see Phyllis Dixie who did her act behind a union Jack and Jane with her dachshund, who had a cartoon strip in one of the daily tabloids and did her act behind strategically held feathers. The Empire was our favourite; we would queue down King Edward Street every Friday night to see pop stars of the day perform: Frankie Lane, Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Steel, Billy Daniels, Billy Exstein, Jonny Ray, Alma Cogan, Lita Rosa, Ronnie Hilton, Dickie Valentine etc. They all wore smart Barathia suits in those days. We never saw Elvis Pressley he never performed in England but we did see the Beatles perform at the Queen’s Hall; an old tram shed in Swinegate, around 1963/64. Incidentally they had some of their equipment nicked while they were performing.

Of course the favourite phase of all was the teenage years of dance and booze. I have related the pubs of central Leeds elsewhere on this site so I will concentrate on the dancing years here, wonderful nights under the glitter ball at The Scala, The Majestic, The Mecca, 101, Mark Altman’s, The Central School of Dancing. Of course preceded by a lubrication in the: King Charles, The Vine, The Horse and Trumpet, The General Elliot, The Piccadilly bar or wherever you met up with your mates. (The Astoria, Capital, and the public baths had great dances too but they were outside the city centre.)

The final phase of my relationship with the Leeds City Centre is occurring right now in the present. In retirement I park up a couple of miles out of town and wander down on foot untidily clad in boots and anorak with my knapsack on my back, the shirt and tie is long discarded to the wardrobe. The Trinity Centre and The John Lewis Centre are far too rich for my apparel now, I’m sure the commissionaire would have a fit if I dared to enter Harvey Nicks dressed like this but I’m comfortable in The Merion Centre, The St John’s Centre the Pound Shops and the Pound Bakeries and I go enter one of the beautiful central squares: City Square, Park Square, Queens Square, Blenheim Square or perhaps the Parish Church Gardens and unzip my haversack and enjoy my flask of coffee and whatever goodies I have acquired at the shops along the way and I’m as happy with the good old Central Leeds as I have ever been and the cycle is complete.


Oh Dear! Temporally on hold for Coronavirus.

Sights, Smells and Sounds: Memories are made of these

March 1, 2019

Sights, Smells and Sounds – Memories are made of these
The name of this site is East Leeds Memories, well sights smells and sounds – memories are made of these.
My old school teacher, should she be trying to put over a difficult concept to us, would say; ‘See it in your mind’s eye.’ Well even today I still try to see things with my mind’s eye. I tend to see different places in two separate states, as they are today and as they used to appear in the past. For instance: when I think of Knostrop where I spent my childhood I see it as a semi-rural ideal with its fields, farms, ponds, rhubarb, woods, Grand houses and pleasant little lanes. Not as it is now a concrete industrial estate with barely a blade of grass.

Similarly when I see the former Snake Lane playing fields, now cut by the East Leeds Express way and dominated by a builders car park. I see in my mind’s eye how it used to be: A football pitch with its two terracotta dressing rooms and us playing football twenty a side, three grass tennis courts, a prize winning bowling green complete with drinking fountain and a grove of poplar trees. We remember these sights but when we are gone who will remember them then? Sometimes I turn a corner and expect to see a familiar friendly old building but it’s been swept away and something new and unfamiliar is in its place. I suppose those who were custodians of the area a hundred years before us would have seen an even more rural scene I wish I could look through their mind’s eyes and see what our area looked like in the 19th century

And folk: I see them as they are now with the age of years upon them but in my mind’s ye I see them young and virile, handsome or pretty
There are other sights our generation experienced good and bad that are etched into our memories and although we didn’t realise it at the time they were special occurrences and unlikely to be repeated in the future: for instance the sky filled from east to west with winking Lancaster bombers off on a thousand bomber raid, a special sight for us but not a happy outcome for their destination. The liberation of Paris, Good but awakening awareness of the concentration camps, not good the mushroom cloud, bad, our lovely old paddy engines: Kitchener, Dora, Jubilee, Antwerp and Sylvia, dressed in their green livery, lovely. Fond memories of congregations beneath mellow gas lamps great.

I find it amazing how much the memory has stored which you thought you had forgotten: a film you thought you hadn’t seen until a scene comes up and jolts your memory and you realised you had seen the film before after all, I remember coming across a type of stile I hadn’t seen or even thought about for years but I was reminded where it was that I had seen a similar stile years before.
And have you noticed the amount of folk you dredge up in dreams. Folk you have not even thought about for years, where had they been hiding?
Now we come to smells: The smell of worked pine has me back in Cleggy’s school woodwork department at Victoria School.
Cattle smells and chicken bran and I’m back at Aunt Nelly’s cottage on my short wartime evacuation.
The smell of the ‘dope’ used in powerful motorbikes and I’m back at Odsal Speedway in the 1950s.
The special smell of wartime chocolate (which due to shortages had to be made without sugar), and the delicious smell of fresh wartime green paint and I’m back in wartime.
Chalk dust and sour milk smells, it’s Monday morning at primary school.
The smell of engineering soluble oil reminds me of my overalls hanging behind the door. I’m an engineering apprentice and Monday mornings is approaching.
Finally Sounds: they waft you back to places where you used to hear them.
The ‘All Clear’ siren – it’s safe to come out of the air raid shelter.
‘Moonlight Serenade’ by Glen Miller – introduced me to grown up music.
‘Jumbalay’ (and a cod fish pie etc.) waft to back to my first job where a lad sang it from dawn to dusk.
The beautiful purring tone of a Spitfire’s Rolls Royce Merlin engine, I’m looking up into the sky while at play.
‘I talk to the trees’: a song I would sing to myself, walking my bike up the hill to ‘Miggy Clearings’ to play cricket. I was very happy.
‘Volare’: a holiday with good old mates in Austria.
‘Every day’; sung by Buddy Holly: ‘Every day it’s a getting closer going faster than a rollercoaster’, winding down to demob from National Service.
Fifties ballads and I’m back under the glitter ball at the Scala Dance Hall
Last Night of the Proms: is still ongoing: Nimrod, Jerusalem, the Maritime pieces, Elgar, Rule Britannia. Their magnificence has an enormous capacity to lift the spirit to a higher plane. I’m proud as a nation we still seem to be able to do these grand ceremonial occasions so well. I suppose the generation before us: the greatest generation – would have looked back to the sound of horses hooves on cobbles, miners clogs, factory hooters ands steam train whistles.

And not forgetting unique statements: sounds that we heard for the very first time they were ever spoken:
‘One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.’
‘Never Before in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.’
‘They think it’s all over – it is now!’
‘Mafeking has been relieved’, no not even I can remember that one but the staid Victorians let their hair down for once when they heard the news in 1900 and it’s a statement that rings down the years
I hope by substituting your own sights sounds and smells you can empathise with mine.