Last night I was considering what I might tell you about life in Leeds in the 1950s-60s. As I thought about these times, the memories came pouring out. It was like taking the top off a pop bottle that had been shaken, and it came frothing out uncontrollably. The interesting thing is that one memory leads to others that you had long forgotten. The tastes, the sounds, the smells come back and take you by the hand to those times of youth and innocence. Oh, how the world has changed! My father used to tell me that he wrote on slates at primary school in Scotland and I thought he must have lived in the stone age and here I am doing the same. My children will think just the same of me.
I was born in St. James’ Hospital in December 1954 and I can’t remember that, but I do remember my first home. We lived in a house, 26 Lawrence Avenue, which was on the right as you reached the top of Easterley Road just before the roundabout at Oakwood Lane. The street consisted of small semi-detached houses and ours was two bedroomed. It backed onto the large council housing estate of Gipton. Our family at that time consisted of my parents, older brother and me.
I have memories of sitting with my mother when ‘Listening With Mother’ was on the radio. The stories and songs used to entertain me and my mother would have a few minutes of quiet time. Afterwards I would sit playing with toy cars, soldiers or something similar. My mother told my wife that when I was little that all I needed was a cardboard box and I was happy for hours. These were pre-school times and I started at four years old.
At the top of Easterley Road at the junction with Gipton Wood Road (Thank you Julie)were shops on both sides of the road. I remember going with my mother to the green grocer’s and she would ask for two pounds of potatoes and the shop keeper would scoop them out of a sack of potatoes, or sometimes out of a box arrangement which was open at the bottom, a little like a giant bird feeder, so when potatoes were removed they were replaced from those stored above. The scoop was a silver bowl and the keeper estimated the order, placed them on the scales, added weights and maybe added or removed a potato or two. He would then pour them directly into my mother’s shopping bag. Carrots might be next and the same procedure took place and the vegetables were all loose in the bag. There were no fridges and so shopping was an everyday occurrence and as we walked to the shops, you could only buy what you could carry.
Other shops that were there were two butcher’s, one on either side of the road. I remember they were Dewhurst’s on the left side as you looked away from Harehills and Dyson’s on the right. Dewhurst’s was the bigger of the two. Both had large wooden chopping blocks, and I was fascinated to see the butcher chop meat whilst we waited. Sometimes they wore a chain mail gauntlet and they sliced and cut the meat with razor sharp knives. They both had bacon slicers and I am not sure which of these caused Mr. Dyson to lose a finger, but he had certainly lost most of one. As a young lad I used to listen with interest to the banter between the butchers and the women shopping. It was always good humoured and probably, looking back with adult eyes, a little cheeky.
There was also fish and chip shop. The name came back to me last night and I believe it was called Youngman’s. It was similar to the one at Oakwood in the fact that it was decorated in the art deco style. There were highly polished finishes and counters and leaded windows. I remember the one in Youngmans depicting the tale of the Pied Piper in bright colours. Looking back it seemed an odd tale for a fish shop, but it also had brightly coloured tiles, windows and mirrors, most of which had fish or fish scenes. I remember that people would queue out of the door when it was open as it had a good reputation and was very popular. Who could resist, haddock or cod and chips, with scraps? Our arteries must have loved it.
There was a Post Office and it was here that my mum would wait to collect her family allowance, have her book stamped and then be given the cash. I would often be allowed a Lucky Bag, if I was good and I remember the excitement of opening it up to see what mysteries were inside. It was usually a couple of tattoo transfers, skull and crossbones, heart with a knife through it, a few sweets and a gob stopper. I can’t remember there ever being much.
There was a grocer’s and here biscuits were bought out of large biscuit boxes and again they were spooned into the silver weighing dish, weighed and then poured into large brown paper bags. The shopkeeper would skilfully hold the corners of the bags, twirl the bags around to fasten them and then add them to the growing collection of shopping in the shopping bag. There was no plastic of any sort at these times. There was also a bakery and, on special occasions, Mum would go in a buy me and my older brother a gingerbread pig. I loved them. She would also buy a fresh cream cake and that would carefully be carried home to share out later.
You never bought milk at the shops. It was delivered daily and sat outside your house on the doorstep. It was full cream milk and the cream would float to the top. I loved the top of the milk on my cornflakes. In winter the milk would often freeze, expand and force the foil cap off the bottle, or the tits would come and peck through the foil to get at the milk. I remember the milkman knocking on the door each Friday as he came to collect payment for the milk and to check for the order for next week. Notes with changes to the regular order would be left in an empty bottle so that the milkman knew each day.
Where we lived was probably an area for up and coming families. The houses were privately owned and my father was an engineer. He worked at Catton’s in Black Bull Street, Hunslet and he was the Chief Inspector of Steel Castings at one time. He was doing well and I remember that when we got our first car it was one of very few in the street and I believe that when we got our first black and white television, it was the first in the street and neighbours would come around to have a look at it. The television was a large piece of wooden furniture with quite a tiny screen. The picture quality would be laughable now as it would flicker and you would need to adjust the vertical and horizontal hold on the cathode ray tube. What it did bring into my, and my older brother’s world, was children’s programmes. Who could forget Muffin the Mule, Rag Tag and Bobtail, The Woodentops and the spottiest dog you ever saw, Andy Pandy, Sooty with Harry Corbett. What joys! parents must have loved it! We would sit and watch Children’s Hour and there would not be a sound. Is there anyone who hasn’t walked like Spotty Dog?
TV was very different in those days. The voices of the presenters were so posh it was unbelievable. There were intermissions, test cards and services would be broken and you were informed they would be resumed soon. Variety shows were the main adult entertainment and there were quiz shows, such as Double Your Money and Take Your Pick. Fillers were the Westerns and Roy Rogers and Trigger, Champion the Wonder Horse and The Lone Ranger which fulfilled our boyish dreams of excitement. Robin Hood with Richard Greene and William Tell gave another angle to the American influence. Who could resist booing at the Sheriff of Nottingham or Gessler? We spent our childhood scalping, shooting apples off others heads, at least in our minds and riding horses. Cap guns, bows and arrows, cowboy hats and suits were all that you needed to have to be in heaven.
Who can forget the joys and frustration of early television!