Jack Lane area (2)
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Hunslet Workhouse, to the west of Hillidge Road, was built around 1760. It was enlarged in 1867 when a separate infirmary was added, and again in 1872 with the addition of school buildings. The workhouse, with a capacity of 290 inmates, originally served just the township of Hunslet but in 1869 the Hunslet Union was formed by adding to Hunslet East, North and West the parishes of Middleton, Osmondthorpe, Oulton-with-Woodlesford, Rothwell, Temple Newsam and Thorp Stapleton. By the beginning of the 20th century the workhouse premises had become outdated and too small for their purpose, so a new workhouse was built at Rothwell Haigh, opening in 1903 (later St.George's Hospital).
The Jack Lane area in 1850, showing the Workhouse, the Crown Glass Manufactory, a woollen mill and two potteries.
Image copyright of Leeds Library and Information Services
Hunslet Workhouse: infirmary and school buildings
Often as a child if I asked my mother to do something for me or give me something, she would say (especially if she was particularly busy and tired) "You'll have me in t'workhouse". I didn't know then what this place was, although it seemed deeply forbidding.
Workhouses - places where the poor could work in return for food and lodging - dated from the mid-17th century. They were designed to deter poverty by providing harsh conditions akin to a prison. Overcrowding and disease were rife, and families were split up. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act required parishes to join together to form Poor Law Unions to be responsible for building and running workhouses. The workhouse system was finally abolished in 1930.
Research from Leeds Library and Information Services
Swimming is a skill I regard as one of the best that a person can possess. If you can swim you have a certain amount of safety around water, and a boundless field of leisure from swimming in a pool for pleasure or fitness to scuba diving, holidays or every day and this throughout your life from baby to old age.
My swimming life began at the wonderful Joseph Street Baths in Hunslet.. The building, like most of housing, schools, factories and churches in Hunslet, was built of bricks in 1897. Rectangular, with the narrow side facing the street, two doorways – entrance and exit – with the office in the middle. Behind the office were the slipper baths where people who did not have the facility of a boiler and tin bath at home could go for a weekly cleanse (I don’t know why they were called slipper baths but were always referred to as such, perhaps because the soap made them slippy? And to distinguish them from the swimming baths).
Down the corridor, through a small door and there was the swimming pool. The roof above the pool was one of angled glazed glass, the type of roof in many of the factories around to provide daylight, the floor and walls tiled, giving light from the roof and an echoing character rivalling the Swiss Alps. Peculiarly, it didn’t need just one person to get an echo: when the pool was filled to the rafters on a Saturday afternoon the echoes of scores of children bounced off the walls.
Although we occasionally visited the baths with school, the teaching of swimming was intermittent and basic. Eighty per cent of us seemed to spend most time in the showers while the teachers spent time with those of proven ability, who were like superstars to the rest of us, or maybe I’m being unfair to the teachers?
Like most children then I was self taught. I never really mastered the breast stroke favouring the front crawl which is hardly economic and you can only do for a limited period of time. I can do the breast stroke but not very well. I also like the back stroke.
When I went with my mates to the baths we wore a variety of swimming wear, which we called swimming trunks. The bought variety were of poor material which was ill fitting and clung to you, but the poor ones among us wore knitted swimming trunks, which obviously looked and were, once wet, so uncomfortable. Sometimes we had to have a safety pin in to hold them up because they were too big, having being handed down from an older brother.
We paid our 6d (that is 6 pennies, there being 240 pennies to one pound, or, in today’s money, two-and-a-half pence) for a swimming session. You walked straight into the hall housing the swimming pool and a man sitting on a chair took your ticket, then directed you to a cubicle, boys to the left, girls to the right. The changing cubicles were about the same size as a toilet cubicle with a wooden seat on the back and two coat-hangers. There were three to a cubicle. Because there were more people than cubicle places boys had to go onto the balcony to change, the balcony running round three sides above the cubicles, about 3 metres high. The balcony rails were wrought iron and benches were attached to the walls. When there were more girls than boys the girls were allocated cubicles on the boys’ side sending more boys onto the balcony. Getting changed on the balcony was an art as there was no privacy either from others getting changed or those in the pool, or from the girls! In those days there was complete separation of boys and girls at school.
There were about 30 cubicles each side so, plus the balcony, I reckon each Saturday morning and afternoon there were more than 100 children in the pool.
There was only one pool attendant to oversee all these kids! When changed we went to the pool attendant who inspected us, and, of course, we were quite dirty, some filthy, and we were sent straight into the showers where there was soap, thankfully, The mind boggles at all those children in the pool knowing the effect water has on the mind, no wonder it was full of chlorine! We spent a lot of time in those lovely, warm showers, not showing any urgency to get in the chilly (to us) pool. We had to pass the attendant once again to get in the pool, but plenty didn’t bother.
The pool measured 25 yards long by 10 yards wide and yes, it looked like one of those beaches you see where the Japanese are on holiday! It was 3 feet deep at one end and 6 feet at the deep end. 95 per cent of kids were in the 3 feet end. The noise was incredible, bounding off the tiled wall and roof, screaming girls, shouting boys, plenty crying because they’d been ducked (ducking was pushing someone’s head under the water).
The diving platform was 9 feet high and plenty jumped off onto unsuspecting swimmers below. A lot of the braver ones got onto the balcony rails and dived off there, frequently bombing (diving with your arms by your sides, head first). All this was forbidden, of course, as it was dangerous, but it happened and there were accidents, if someone dived on top of you it was no joke. Running was another no-no, but ignored. When in the pool, swimming consisted of, at most, the width of the pool. Amazingly there was a pattern when you were in the middle of it all, just like watching crowds of people walking and avoiding each other.
All life was there with their characters on view for all to see. Top of the list in my book were the out and out bullies whose pleasure was derived by ducking someone (generally smaller, younger and weaker), sitting on them while they were on the floor of the pool having a drowning experience. I had it done to me many times and a lot of kids took to a fear of water for life through it.
Other pursuits were more enjoyable. We played tigs where you tap someone and they are it, they have to chase everyone else playing the game to tap them, they can’t tap straight back; a simple game but great fun with lots of running, jumping, diving and swimming. Also having horse and rider fights where you got on the back of a mate and fought another couple to dislodge them into the water. Swimming underwater through the legs of your mate was another pastime, but they frequently sat on you, not for long like the bullies but long enough. Before the Ministry of Silly Walks came to the TV screens they were at Joseph Street Baths, pretending to walk along the street without a care in the world, straight into the deep end of the pool.
There were no water “toys”; I don’t suppose there was room for them!
Finally the whistle went for all out – and immediately everyone jumped in. As the attendant walked round telling everyone to get out, slowly the pool emptied. When it was finally empty and the green water absolutely still and inviting, there would be a splash as someone fell in, either pushed by a mate or claiming to have been. They would get a roasting. Then there was a scramble for clothes which were strewn all over; how anyone found theirs, only children know.
On the way out at the turnstile we bought four salt biscuits for 1d, some of my mates a cup of Bovril, and happily we went home having got rid of a certain amount of energy!