‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Modernising Houses, Crazes, Comics, Space Hoppers, Roller Skates. The Mad World of the late 1950s and1960s, but a Great Time to Grow Up

‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students! Cup of Tea Tales

  1. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students!
  2. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Ashworth’s Sweet-Shop, Harehills. Sweets, Victory V Lozenges, Sweet Cigarettes and Other Delights We Have Lost Over The Years. 
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A’ Levels, the Final Year at High School, Planning to Leave Home, Getting into College and Growing Older if Not Wiser.
  4. David’s Bookshelf Issue 5
  5. ‘Cup Of Tea Tales’- Remember, Remember the Fifth of November – Bonfire Night Shenanigans! Not Fun for Everyone!

Having two brothers and no sisters limits my memories of growing up in Leeds in the 1950s-60s and so I apologise for the one-sided view. However, we played with girls at times, so it is not all boys only. I am sure we had left Lawrence Avenue for Gipton Wood Crescent before I started at Harehills School, so these memories are mostly up to the age of seven, but a few are from my Gipton Wood Crescent days.

I remember clearly playing out in the street with my older brother and wandering around the local area. I believe there was the wreck of an old scout hall behind where our house was and I have a memory of jumping and snapping sections of broken asbestos. This was a time before we all were alerted to the dangers of the material, and had it removed by men in space suits. At high school we had crumbling asbestos boards to put lab equipment on. It came in Chemistry Sets and was part of ironing boards. There was also a ‘slag heap’ along Lawrence Road, and the remains of the pit tower that would have lowered the miners underground, but I assume they are all long gone. We used to climb up the steep black slopes and look over the tops of the houses in the area. It was fenced, but there were gaps where the fence had been cut or trampled down.

There was also a beck that ran behind the houses across from our house on Lawrence Avenue and we used to spend many hours building dams and generally getting muddy and wet. It was a little wild strip, and we had lots of fun. Some houses in the street were beautifully kept with greenhouses and beds full of flowers around manicured lawns, but ours was our playground and had a rockery and row of trees across the back. I remember once my parents inheriting an old grandfather clock and as they wanted things modern, not old, we were allowed to play with it. It was laid flat in the garden and we used to sit on it, as it would become a canoe or raft in some adventure we were having. In retrospect, it was a real shame, but generally people wanted things that were modern. I remember games on TV having competitions where there was a race with two teams and they had to smash a piano up into pieces and the first team to pass all the pieces through a foot-square hole were the winners. I think it was the start of the ‘It’s a Knockout’ type game show. When we moved to Gipton Wood Crescent, the house had colourful leaded windows, and my father spent weeks removing them and then fitting plate-glass panel windows. He did each window at a time, removed the glass, blow-torched and scraped all the paint off. I can still picture him doing it, and I was fascinated. The blow torches were not gas then and I think they were paraffin and had to me pumped to get the pressure of the flame. The paint would bubble, burn and then peel off in curly pieces. I am sure it would have had some lead paint underneath the top layer, so I don’t think it would have done us any good breathing it in, But I can still remember the distinct smell. The glass and lead strips were removed, and the lead sold to scrap merchants, but the stained-glass pieces were just thrown away. It now seems such a shame, but the leaded windows made the house dark and the new ones made it much brighter and more modern. Nowadays, they would not suffer the same fate, as people pay fortunes for the restored panels and people would treasure them, but times now are very different.

There were certain things we wanted as children, and one was a scooter. Scooters then had big wheels, unlike the modern small wheeled varieties. The metal frame was bright red, and they had a small wooden board that you stood on and a brake at the back that you pressed with your heel to slow it down. My pride and joy, though, was a tricycle. This was quite a big wheeled one, and it had proper bicycle brakes. I loved it. I rode it with pride. It probably belonged to my older brother, but I didn’t care. I was the bee’s knees and the envy of all around, at least in my own mind. They were common, but you don’t see them very often today. We all played in the streets, but we kept to the pavement and would fly down the slight gradient and woe betide anyone stepping out of their gates without looking.

It was at about this time that I remember the first Hula-Hoops appearing. We must have had one, as I remember giving it a go, but failing miserably. Even my mother tried to do it.

Another of my loves was comics. Dandy, Beano, Topper Beezer, Eagle and Hotspur and the girls had Bunty and Judy. They were fascinating reading. Who couldn’t be captivated by Lord Snooty and his pals, Dennis the Menace, The Bash Street Kids and the others? The best editions were ones with free gifts and amongst these were the Thunder Bang and the Skimmer. The Thunder Bang was a folded piece of cardboard with a brown paper insert. If you held it by the corner and flicked it in a downward motion, the brown paper section shot out, causing a loud bang. We loved it, but I’m not so sure about the neighbours. Another freebie was the twirler. This was two circles of card and you threaded string through the holes and you twirled the cards around whilst holding each end of the string. When it was wound sufficiently, you pulled on both ends in a concertina motion and the card circles whizzed around, making a loud humming noise. Great fun! One of the comics had a ‘did you know’ section and it would have interesting facts from history and science. I remember cutting out these sections and pasting them into a scrapbook. I can still remember the tallest spire in Britain is Salisbury Cathedral, 404 feet, and that Hans Holbein painted a portrait of Sir Thomas Moore and many other useful pieces of information. Well, useful if you are a boy. The girls had their own comics, and Bunty and Judy were two of the main ones. They had their free gifts, but theirs tended to be rings or bracelets. Life was seen simply then, and you were a boy or a girl and that was it. Having said that, Enid Blyton books used to have their Tomboys.

Another craze that came in at various times during my childhood was Clackers. These were two plastic balls on string and by holding the string in the middle and moving your hand up and down, the balls would bounce off each other and become a blur and produced a loud clacking noise. These became such big news that there were reports of wrist injuries. A second craze was alien antennae. These were sparkly balls on springs that fitted on a hair band. Children and some adults would walk about wearing them with pride. I believe these came from the TV series My Favourite Martian, which ran from 1963 to 1966. Probably the most famous craze was the yoyo. These became popular on many occasions over the decades and if you could master the skill of ‘Walking the Dog’ and other tricks, then you became a legend. Unfortunately, despite several yoyos and hours of practice, I could only achieve the very basic up and down and then for only a short time. Just another one of my failures in life.

Another joy at this very young age was the collecting of PG Tips cards. Each packet of tea would have a card and these included British butterflies, explorers, wildflowers, wildlife, and many others. I think they were a child’s version of the cigarette cards and I loved to collect them. You could send off for the albums to stick them in and these were full of additional information. I did manage to get a full set of British Butterflies, but I think that was my only one. There must be something genetic about collecting things. Some people have it and others don’t. Two of my four sons have definitely inherited it. I did start collecting stamps, but that was when I was at Harehills C.P. School and I remember buying packets of stamps from the sweetshop across the road from the school. There was great anticipation and delight in opening the packets and gazing at stamps from exotic-sounding countries I had never heard of and some with brilliantly coloured illustrations. I still have some stamps and albums from these days stashed away. I had a theory and still think it is true that the least desirable countries often have the most enticing stamps. My uncle went to Russia with work in the early 1960s and he brought back Russian stamps that showed their cosmonauts and even their first dog in space. I saved up my pocket money to buy the Stanley Gibbons’ Stamp Catalogue in 1967.

Breakfast sometimes brought excitement with the cut-out animal heads on the back of Cornflake packets. I could only have them when the packet was empty. I loved breakfast cereals: cornflakes, Rice Krispies and Honey Smacks, with the cream off the top of the milk, and I still don’t think there is anything nicer, but now it is all low fat, low sugar, due to misspent youth. The animal heads, tigers, zebras, elephants, hippos and lions were two-dimensional models that, when cut out, tabs folded and glued in place, produced a three-dimensional head. It wasn’t the end product that I liked, but the process. Some were abject failures, but like most things, you get better with practice. I did once buy a book from Varley’s that was a much more complicated kit of cardboard templates that made a pirate galleon. I spent ages making it, was frustrated by my lack of skill scoring along the folds with a scissor blade and glueing, but in the end I produced a reasonable model. Blue Peter had a lot to answer for! They made everything look so easy. ‘Here is one I made earlier!’

Before the age of seven, my greatest pleasure was my toy soldiers. I had a wooden castle, and I fought many battles between the knights. Varley’s Toyshop at Harehills also used to sell little boxes of Airfix soldiers. These soldiers were tiny, but you got lots of them and there were so many kits. You had to separate every figure off the plastic frame, and they ranged from World War II soldiers, to knights in armour, foreign legion, cowboys and indians. There were many on offer and they allowed the young mind to live out adventures. You could take them outside and hide them amongst the rockery and plants and fight out any battle you wanted. Trenches could be dug, mines and tunnels built with supporting beams of twigs or little forts with twig stockades. There really was no limit.

Other toys that had their day were roller-skates. We all seemed to have them and some girls were fantastic on them, but I was a plodder. The problem was that when you hit a stone on the pavements, the skate would stop dead and you fell flat on your face. The space hopper came in for a while, as did the pogo-stick, but these became very popular and then disappeared again.

I am not sure that it is any different for children nowadays. Yes, they are provided with so much more, but really, they disappear into their own world if given half a chance. Technology is a good child-minder, but not necessarily a great mind stimulator. Playing outside was the first option, but this has sadly been taken away. Oh, what we got up to in the streets and woods, but that will have to wait for another day!

4 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Modernising Houses, Crazes, Comics, Space Hoppers, Roller Skates. The Mad World of the late 1950s and1960s, but a Great Time to Grow Up”

  1. Had forgotten about the animal heads on cereal boxes!! My uncle worked for Kelloggs so I often got the plastic toys from him. I was also like you an avid collector of anything…..Tea cards, bubble gum cards, stamps, loved the whole process and feeling of satisfaction when you got the whole set! I loved the comics, read them all Beezer, Beano, Dandy, Judy, even the boys comics Valiant, Hotspur etc. The Annuals were always full of useful information on history or geography. Remember Look & Learn?? Free gifts in comics were great, I had a set of ‘diamond’ rings and various bracelets, they were wonderful times to be young. I also had a 3 wheel scooter which I was forever falling off, but loved it. I was also rubbish at skating. Thanks for the another trip down memory lane David.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This really takes me back I was in Varley’s Toy Shop all the time so much so that when I married in 1973 Miss Varley came to watch the wedding. She retired shortly after.

    Liked by 1 person

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