Watching the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games with its transformation of the landscape from agricultural to the industrial revolution transported me back to childhood Hunslet. As I sit today on the terrace of my house, surrounded by fields and woods, the only sounds I can hear are country sounds, the occasional mooing cow, crowing cock, singing birds, the buzz of crickets. Whoa! Where did the last 50 years go?
In the 1940s and ‘50s Hunslet was just like that scene of the mountain of industry portrayed in the Olympic Stadium. Hundreds of chimneys dotted the landscape, pumping out their vile fumes over a coughing, spluttering population who lived in between them. It seems incredible today that companies such as Laporte and Yorkshire Chemicals could ply their business in the midst of so many people.
We lived in Pepper View off Pepper Road. The engineering works and mills and supporting industries belted out constant noise. The steam hammer at Claytons next to the Cuckoo Steps was a place I was always glad to get past, as though some giant beast was about to devour me. Every minute the shsssss of the machine could be heard right across the Pepper Road Park (variously known as the Red Wall or the Top Field). A huge, deep clanging came from Depledges shed at the other side of the Slag, and banging, booming, hissing, ringing, belting noises from scores of factories.
The 1893 map below shows that the Rochefords has just been built and the Peppers, Spring Groves, Sussex Avenue, Warwickshire Street, Leicestershire Street
and Derbyshire Street were soon to follow (Pepper View is listed in 1894 Kelly’s Directory). The Steelworks has now appeared.
These two 1847 maps show that this part of Hunslet was distinct from the village centre around Church Street. Most of this part of Hunslet was occupied by the Grove Brewery (where the Spring Groves were shortly to be built) and Grove House (where the Top Field is now), both surrounded by trees. There were only a few houses and businesses, on either side of Low Road. The Peppers area was partly open fields, and partly a brewery, with what were probably fine houses: White's Directory of Leeds and the West Riding (1870) listed "Dickinson & Co., Grove Brewery", and "Joseph Bower, manufacturing chemist", at Grove villa. Low Road Chemical Works is marked on the map, so possibly Joseph Bower owned it and also gave his name to the future Bower Road which connected this area to the village centre. The Midland railway line from Derby to Leeds had opened 7 years earlier and in 7 years time a station was to be opened at Balm Road. This would prompt the industrial and residential development of this area. The Leeds Steelworks can be traced to the 1860s.
Future site of Steelworks
Future site of Top Field
Low Road Chemical Works
Pepper Lane area (2)
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I was just coming up to six years old at the start of World War Two. My father went along to to enlist in the Army, which on finding out he had worked in the local coal mines directed him back and sent him to Bell Hill Colliery at the top of Wakefield Road just before Wood Lane (Jawbone Lane), at Rothwell Haigh. As an extra duty he was appointed the Street Firefighting Party organiser for the Rochefords. He went off on a course on dealing with any incendiary bombs that might be dropped; this explained the steel helmet with SFP stencilled on the front, the stirrup pump, two buckets (one for sand and one for water) and an axe which lived in our cellar. He was expected to give demonstrations of how to deal with the bombs which explains why I remember dad crawling around the street and putting out little fires.
Workmen came around to built brick pillars in cellars and put up steel H section girders (RSJ's); these gave each house their own shelter in case of air raid. Dad decided he would go one better and took up the cellar floor flagstones to build a "proper" shelter dug down into sub-strata.
Next morning he found that he had tapped into the water table and created a mini swimming pool.
Dad's youngest sister, Annie, lived opposite to us. Her husband Charlie Turner was in the Merchant Navy on the Australia food run. When he came home on leave from time to time he arrived with loads of fruit, oranges, bananas etc., all of which were rationed if obtainable, and I can remember people around his door begging for just one of whatever he would give them. Uncle Charlie, Aunt Annie and cousins Pauline and Anne went off to Australia in 1947 as "£10 poms" as the Aussies called the Brits who emigrated (this was the boat fare) .
Static water tanks sprung up all around the place for fire-fighting purposes: two spring to mind:
The first was in the grounds of Waddingtons. One winter in the early 1940's the water iced over and one of the local boys on seeing this said "I like ice" and without checking the thickness jumped onto it. Unfortunately it was only half an inch thick. He was pulled out in time and
thereafter Ernest Deighton was known to many as "I like ice".
The second was in the "Top Field" or "Red Wall" because it was enclosed by a six foot brick wall for safety. One day I was with friends when one of them pushed a stick, with a piece of string and a worm attached, through a gap in the fence and pretended to be fishing. When he lifted the worm out of the water, claiming to have caught one, he found it had been bitten off. We climbed the fence and looked down into the water to see perch, roach and other fish swimming around. We found out that "Titch" Handforth, an elder brother of one of our "gang", used to go fishing to Capewell's Pond, a fishery close to Bell Hill Colliery, where he had to pay. He realised that if he smuggled his catch back to the Top Field and released them he could fish for free and no bus fare to pay.
Harry Griffett was born in 1933 at Rocheford Place. He now lives in Cornwall.
I was born at 14 Spring Grove Mount in 1947. Four girls and myself were all born in this house. Mam was attended by the midwife who did her rounds on her bicycle through all kinds of weather. Sheila came into the world in February when the snow was thick on the ground and the midwife had to push her bike through the snow. It was bitterly cold but the midwife had to persevere and make her calls. Mam named the baby Sheila, after the midwife. I don’t know if it had anything to do with Sheila being born in the midst of such cold weather but every winter thereafter she would suffer from terrible bronchitis which got progressively worse each year. Had we not emigrated to Australia in 1960 she may not have lived much longer.
Coghlan’s forge was virtually at the bottom of the street and used to belch out huge amounts of smoke and soot from it’s chimney; if this happened on washing day the women were in an uproar and would run out into the street, drop the clothes props and quickly gather up the washing before it became covered in soot. Sometimes a car would come down the street and sound its horn and somebody would have to quickly run out and lift up the clothes prop so the car could go under the washing.
These were the days of the rag and bone man, the flower man pushing his hand cart, peas and pie man on Friday night, all manner of people roaming the streets trying to make a living. Sometimes the gypsies would come round selling clothes pegs and other nick-nacks and all the kids would run and hide because we were told that they would steal us and take us away. I can’t recall any one actually vanishing, never to be seen again.
The Red Lion Pub at the bottom of the street on Low Road was a popular spot. Three elderly women who lived over the other side of Spring Grove Mount would often be seen walking to or from the Red Lion with their cloth covered jugs containing a gill or two of milk stout.
I was a kid that most people in the street knew, mostly because I was always in trouble for doing something I shouldn’t have. However I was also the kid who was called upon to perform many tasks such as running errands, doing this or that or whatever. One night a neighbour knocked at our door and wanted me to help someone who had locked themselves out of their house get back in. Of course, I had to do it, particularly as a penny would be waiting at the end of it. I was told to meet the old man outside his house and he would show me what to do. I was petrified walking through an archway into the gloom but I could see the man waiting for me. I had to climb through the coal hole, into the cellar and open the cellar door from the inside. It was pitch dark inside and I had to keep talking to the old man outside; this gave me courage, as I made my way feeling and groping for the door. The whole mission was a success, I never got my penny and I never went near that place again.
Bonfire night was always something to look forward to. Spring Grove Mount had two separate cultures, them up top, and them down’t bottom. Of course this meant two separate bonfires in the street. Ours, down’t bottom, always had to be bigger and last longer than the one up top.
Penny for the Guy was a good little earner. Making the Guy and sitting him down the bottom of the street and asking people for a penny for the Guy always got results. Mick Shoebottom lived in the next street to us, Spring Grove Street, and inevitably he and his mates would try to steal the wood we had “chumped” for our bonfire; wood was a scarce commodity. We felt quite justified stealing wood from some other stockpile, that’s the way it was. Mick Shoebottom went on to play rugby for Great Britain. If you happened to bump into Mick and his mates you would always get your ears vigorously rubbed and then thrown into the privet bushes for good measure. Such was life.
My Dad worked at Braithwaites on Pepper Road. He was in the navy during the war, and mam helped make Lancaster bombers. I used to walk along the railway line between Pepper Road and Wakefield road picking up bits of coal that had fallen from the trains. If I saw a cabbage or turnip growing in the allotments beside the line, that would go in my bag along with the coal. Times were tough. I would envy the kids down Stourton way; they got a school holiday to go and pick potatoes and earn a bit of money. Many a time I had to run down to the off-license shop to get a couple bottles of Bulmers woodpecker cider or Tetley’s ale, usually late at night and in all kinds of weather.
I can remember the day we left Spring Grove Mount to go to Australia. For me, it was the happiest day of my life.
Dennis Ward (Low Road School 1952-1959, St Joseph’s 1959-1960)
The Leeds to London railway line passed under Pepper Road a couple of hundred yards from our house, with hundreds of wagons full of goods for the Cold Storage being shunted around, along with the express trains that regularly thundered by. The shunting carried on all night, and in the summer, sleeping in the attic of our house, we had the attic window open on the warm nights. As the lone wagon hit the rest, the ripple of clang, clang, clang, clang as the wagons hit each other went on incessantly.
Then there were the sirens signalling the start and finish of each shift at the various factories. One of them had a World War Two air raid siren, or it may have been the real thing being tested. Whatever, it put the heebie-jeebies up me. It still makes the hairs rise, because the villages here in France use them to call out firemen and doctors when there is an emergency.
Up to the early 1950s there were still lots of horses and carts around for transporting goods, and plenty of lorries, but not many private cars, so the clip clop of the horse was another sound to add. Along Low Road were the trams with their whirring sound as they accelerated.
Yes, there was plenty of noise around in Hunslet at that time.
The contrast was that, as kids, when we went out to explore, it took us ten minutes to get into the countryside. We used to walk up Pepper Road, down the track to the Cuckoo Steps, past the living, breathing beast of the steam hammer, past the allotments and on to Wakefield Road. There were cornfields and rhubarb fields, and a walk down a path to the six ponds, full of frogs and their spawn, sticklebacks, tiddlers, dragonflies; all life was there to be explored. Or up to Bell Hill (Jawbone Lane) and find a grassy field and roll back down it to see who could get furthest! Or down one of the various hidden tracks looking for blackberries, alive with nests of birds. Across Pontefract Road to the river with its ducks and mallards, until were reached the Tar Distillers and industry again with the new Skelton Grange Power Station being built which was to disfigure the Lower Aire Valley with its ash ponds etc. for the next 50 years.
Geoff Tebbutt, who now lives in France, was born in 1942 in the Peppers
Pepper View (1968)
Image copyright of Leeds Library and Information Services
Image copyright of Leeds Library and Information Services
Pepper Road from railway bridge (1974)
Railway, Pepper Road