‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – My Grandmother’s House – Two-Up, Two-Down. Guzunders, Ranges, Coal Men, Cellars and Outside Privies! Seems so Old Fashioned Now.

David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 Cup of Tea Tales

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://davidmcameronauthormusician.com/2022/10/02/davids-bookshelf-issue-2/ — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/david-m-cameron/message
  1. David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
  2. David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
  5. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.

Regent TerraceI have many memories of my childhood, as I suppose most other people do of their own. In my case, the memories are all good and it truly was a magical world for me. One splash of colour though, was my grandmother’s house. Not the house itself, as that was a mix of stone and brick, but my grandmother herself and her kitchen. My grandmother was very short, very plump, and she dyed her thinning hair a fairly vivid orange. Her dresses were shapeless and often of floral design, but quite colourful. Her skin was bright pink, and she had hands that were amazing in hindsight. She had the ability to plunge her hands into almost boiling water to wash up. Her incredible hands showed no sign of pain, but my brothers and I felt it, particularly when she washed us. She would scrub our bare skin mercilessly and after one of her washing and drying sessions, we emerged like lobsters, pink, buffed and scoured. Dirt-free, we could bring no shame to the family. I loved my grandmother and her hugs were smothering and comforting in the way that all grandparents’ hugs should be, and she was always kind to me.

Anyway, I should tell you about the house. It still stands all these years later and hopefully will continue long after I have left the Earth. It was a two-up two-down terrace in Chapel Allerton in Leeds, in the North of England. There were about eight houses in the row and the road was, and still is, unmade. For some reason, it is a private road and despite there being some large and quite grand houses in the street, it is still unsurfaced: no cobbles, no bitumen, just dirt. It sits opposite a beautifully kept park, bowling green and a large number of allotments. In the past, the hillside of the park had air-raid shelters, but these were infilled in before I ever went. There was a bit of wasteland, with some large trees set on a small hillock opposite the park and I vividly remember a tiny bakery built into the hillside. It was like some sort of Hobbit building but unfortunately is no longer there. I remember with great pleasure going with Grandma to buy tiny freshly baked loaves. They were individual size and when cut in two, spread with jam and butter and eaten whilst still warm, were delicious. Another delight was the bilberry and cream individual pies, and I can still taste them as I write this. The little bakery was dug into the hillock and there was a rough stone wall holding the hill in place. A chimney vented fumes from the oven and there was only a small counter, but a strong smell of bread and baking.

The ridges are all that is left of the air-raid shelters in Chapel Allerton Park

Another vivid memory was the slugs that would appear on this wall at times. If there is a world record for slug size, then Chapel Allerton must have it. They were monsters, at least seven inches of black, slimy creatures, the subject of nightmares. They also inhabited the stone wall opposite the back entrance to grandma’s house and her garden. My Grandma was not overly sentimental, and she dealt with the slugs without mercy. Salt was the chemical weapon of choice. After a liberal dousing by my grandma, I watched in fascinated horror as the creatures writhed in a slow agony, frothing and foaming as the salt dehydrated them and ensured they never trespassed into her domain again. Ever since, I have never resorted to using this approach to dealing with the pest.

Back to my grandma’s house! The little house was a marvel to me. Outside on the dirt road was a gas street lamp, just like the one in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the toilets were not in the house, but in a row at the bottom of the lane. The houses didn’t have toilets at that time and my brothers and I were amused by the Guzunders. These were large chamber pots, ready for those times when a walk down the lane was either too much of an effort, or the thought of the weather, the cold and the dark proved too much of a barrier. Each house had its own loo and there was a large iron key on a piece of string for when nature called. They are not there now. Another conquest of modernity and the passing of hygiene and sanitation laws.

I am not sure exactly when it happened, but probably very early in the 1960s, the government removed the external row of toilets at the end of Regent Terrace and converted one bedroom in each house into a bathroom. This meant that my grandma’s house had one large bathroom and one bedroom. It was a real improvement and saw the end of the ‘Guzunders’ and trips down the lane to the outside toilet. I never liked going with the key to visit their specific toilet as they were cold, damp and dark, as they had no lights. This was a real step into the modern world and was part of the development of the welfare state and improving the lot of the poor. My generation has reaped the benefit of this societal change and it is with fear I see it being steadily eroded. I remember the range in the kitchen being removed, and a modern tiled fireplace installed. As the water was heated through an immersion heater, it made the kitchen a much more pleasant room. The need to bring out the tin bath, or for us the ignominy of a bath standing in the sink, was behind us, which was good now that we were getting older.

Anyway, as a child at my grandmother’s, my older brother and I were set to work on assisting this movement by painting the cellar. The house had a coal-chute under an iron cover on the pavement, underneath where the kitchen sink was. On coal delivery days, a truck would reverse into the entrance of the lane and big strapping men, with leather aprons, would back up to the truck and grab hold of a sack that someone positioned on the edge of the platform. With a grunt, they would lift it onto their backs and march down the street with a hundredweight of hard coal. The covers had already been removed and they would tip the open sack down into the chute. There was a great crunching noise, and the coal landed down into the cellar. I loved watching the delivery and they would ensure everyone got the right amount before they left. The men were covered in black coal dust and their white eyes stood out as they chattered and joked and made light of their work. I wonder now how their bodies put up with the treatment. Dust on the lungs must have caused a lot of bronchial problems and as they got older, they wouldn’t have been able to carry such weight. I know how well they earned their Christmas boxes when they came for the last delivery before Christmas. The boxes were a tip for workers at Christmas and the origin to the naming of Boxing Day, when servants and tradespeople were given gifts, usually of money. Milkmen, postmen, bin men and coalmen all would come around for their Christmas box. All just about gone now.

Me when I was a little boy outside our first home in Lawrence Avenue.

The painting of the cellar was a job that never made a great deal of sense to me as the coal dust formed a black film over all it came into contact with. The coal was kept in its own section of the cellar, but there was a large opening with no door. The floor was stone flags, and the air was cool all year round and had an earthy damp smell that I have only ever experienced in cellars. Caves don’t have the same aroma, even though they are often damper. Cellar walls had to be white! I seem to remember that they were painted with distemper. (I have just checked this and distemper is a water-based paint that allows water to pass through it, so it can be used on damp surfaces.) It was thin paint that needed a good stirring, and we would paint the walls with a wide brush. It didn’t seem to cover well, but it certainly brightened up the older white paint. I can only think the white would produce a lighter effect when the electric light was on and brighten up the cellar. Washing was still done down there and food was stored in the cool temperatures, as there were no fridges.

We spent a long time painting and my brother and I toiled away, with the best enthusiasm we could manage. I remember almost collapsing by the time we had finished with sore arms. We were given a quick going over and luckily, the distemper paint washed off. Grandma was quick to revitalise us with some of her cooking and a few coins as payment. Starters were tinned tomato soup with an added dose of milk, followed by her legendary Yorkshire pudding. It was frightening to see her make it. Large meat trays of near-boiling fat were lifted off the stove, pudding mixture poured in, sizzling, popping, almost exploding, and then they were placed back in the oven. In a few minutes, they were revealed, vast pillows of crispy and thin Yorkshire pudding, with bubbles of delight. I had onion gravy and my brother had golden syrup on his. This would quickly fill us up before we had the meat course, but just in case she had missed any space, she produced her Ambrosia creamed rice pudding, or if we were lucky sponge pudding from a tin. My favourite was chocolate, but often we had treacle pudding. You can still get them, I believe. You had to pierce the tin and then heat them in boiling water for a while. With custard, they were magnificent and something to die for, and such a diet probably contributed towards many an early death, but what a way to go! One thing I really loved was when she had fresh peas in their pods and we had to pop the pods to get to the peas. Some were so tasty and sweet that I couldn’t resist eating them. If I did it too much, there would be a mild scolding, but I knew she never minded.

A short video where I walk you through Chapel Allerton and see some of the places mentioned in the tale.

By the time we had finished, we would be too full to move. We would sit around and often play cards. A folding baize card table would sometimes come out, or we would sit in the front room at the small folding table. She knew a number of games and taught us ‘Pump the Well Dry’, pairs, snap and patience. We would play for hours and she seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. The only thing that annoyed me was when my younger brother started to play with us and my grandma would always ensure that he won. I thought that was unfair, but I am sure she did the same with me when playing with my older brother. Grandad would sometimes play, but he became ill whilst I was still little. When we were older, she taught us whist, and I really enjoyed it. I always liked cards. The feel and look of the cards were special, almost magical. Leeds was the home of playing cards with Waddington’s printing them from 1922.

Another interesting thing was her rug and embroidery. She had what she called a ‘peg rug’ and it was a doormat made up of lots of small pieces of cloth. I know they were quite prized and were very robust. In the early 1960s, she got what was called ‘Readycut Rugs’. These were a kit where you bought a base with a printed pattern on it. It came with bundles of wool of various colours. Each piece was about two to three inches long. You made a loop and hooked it onto a tool, pushed it through the base at the right colour spot, looped it through, and pulled it tight. It was a slow process, but eventually, you produced a thick rug that was serviceable and had a design on it. My mother also became interested in these and made quite a few. We even got some as a Christmas present one year and my older brother and I enjoyed doing them. My grandma also loved embroidery and she, and many other elderly ladies spent hours and hours producing wonderful tablecloths with exquisite designs and colours.

I loved watching her work at it. She seemed very skilled and worked at quite a pace. My mother did a little, but her real love was knitting. Many were the hours she would sit with the clicking of needles, the pulling of wool, the staring at the pattern and sometimes the unravelling, if she had made a mistake. Wool didn’t always come in balls. Sometimes it was in skeins, and we would sit with our arms outstretched with a great loop of wool as she pulled it out and rolled it into a ball. Many were the jumpers that my mother knitted and I would get them for birthdays or Christmas well into my middle age. I remember they made me itch and if we weren’t careful, they would shrink in the wash. I would never not wear one she made, despite some having pictures on the front. My sons became a new reason for her to knit and I have many photographs of them as little boys wearing her creations. Happy times!

If you are looking for some presents for Christmas, then maybe a copy of either of my Cup of Tea Tale books would make someone from Leeds or Yorkshire a memory invoking gift.

A fair bit older, but still me. Tales of the teenage years of growing up in Leeds.

6 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – My Grandmother’s House – Two-Up, Two-Down. Guzunders, Ranges, Coal Men, Cellars and Outside Privies! Seems so Old Fashioned Now.”

  1. Having been brought up in Chapelallerton in the 60’s your writing evokes nostalgic memories of my childhood. I lived my first 4 years in Harehills .My grandma lived off Roseville rd in a similar house to your grans but only one up and one down and a toilet down the street. Its a world away from our lives now and it makes me sad that the kids of today dont have the character building experiences we had and i wonder what sort of memories they will take into adulthood. They wont be as colourful or such a great snapshot of social history that we have been part of thats for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It seems a mile away from modern life, Laraine. I too think we were the lucky ones. I too have fears for the young, but maybe every generation does.


  2. happy memories, born in back to back, Hunslet. 2 up and 1 down with cellar. had small garden but had to share toilet under steps with next door. no loo rolls just newspaper in squares on piece of string. happy childhood. married and was a 2 up one down in Hunslet with loo down street, 4 families share 2 loos. kids do not know what they have missed, no gadgets just happy times with mates playing in streets

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Back in the early 60’s, my Dad was a coal miner at a pit in Wakefield. As part of his pay, he would receive coal. Every 4 months, half a ton of coal would be dropped in the front of our house on Hilltop Mount. It was then a mad dash to get it all shovelled down the ‘coal hole’ before it was pinched.

    Liked by 1 person

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