Belle Isle history tales from Canada

I received the following letter this week from Canada:

Dear Ken,

My name is Kathleen Bok. My maiden name was Hobson. Since 1960 I have lived in Canada. I am the daughter of the Hunslet Carr teacher, Harold Hobson, whom you quite frequently mention in your writings.

Recently you have requested that people send information regarding Belle Isle since it is hoped to start a History of Belle Isle Society. The following information might add a little colour to the scenario.

My uncle was a schoolboy , circa 1912-1917, living in the Old Village in Middleton. Belle Isle quarry was a magical playground for the children of the surrounding area. Lots of rocks, mud, water and frog spawn in season, plus all manner of dumped articles and old equipment.

The adjacent ancient terraced cottages were often the target of the visiting children’s pranks. Access to the chimneys of some of these dwellings was relatively easy if you scrambled up the nearby embankment. The aim of their forays was to plop live fluttering hens down the chimneys of the unsuspecting households below. Within seconds the children’s villainous efforts were rewarded by the shrieks, screams and squawks which erupted in the living rooms of the surprised families below.

Uncle’s little gang of miscreants nicknamed themselves the ‘Belle Isle Chimney Sweeps’. Another prank he played was with a dray horse, which had been left standing at right angles to a quarry cottage which had its door wide open. He gave a resounding slap on the animal’s rump, whereupon the horse bolted into the house. What a kerfuffle! The gang later reported that the occupants of the house had had to remove nearly all their furniture outside so that the highly disturbed and nervous horse could be turned around and led out! I believe the kids’ behavior was known as ‘making your own fun’!

Belle Isle Junior School was the first school I taught at in 1955 when I left College. Classes of 43 were common and books and supplies were almost non existent. Though the school was relatively new it was already beginning to subside because of the underground workings of the nearby Middleton Broom Colliery. One year it was my turn to occupy the dreaded subsidence classroom. Every time I had to access the blackboard, I had to bob under props which were supporting the blackboard wall.

A number of the families in the area suffered severe social deprivation and their children came to school undernourished, dirty and unkempt and totally unready for the school experience. The school nurse was kept busy with cases of head lice, scabies and impetigo. There was a cluster of ‘problem’ homes near the school. You would be hard pressed to find a scrap of wood in these houses as doors ,cupboards and banisters were systematically ripped out to burn in their fireplaces. A gypsy ‘part time’ pupil had a huge piece of fatty bacon sewn into the chest part of his vest ostensibly to ward off winter flu and colds. Maggots were infesting the bacon before the stench emanating from the child was investigated and rectified.

Though today it would be thought to be non-PC, occasionally pupils with ingrained dirt and filth were encouraged to take a bath in an old zinc bath which was kept in the school. Their clothes were often scrubbed clean by their teachers who had provided the student with clothes from the Lost and Found box whilst their own clothes dried off. Happily most of the parents were doing a sterling job of trying to do the best they could for their children in those tough times.

After my three years of ‘baptism by fire’ at Belle Isle School , I went to teach at Clapgate School. It had just opened and it was a wonderful place to be. Mr. Hargreaves was the Head Master, he was a great pianist and had a wonderful sense of humour. A couple of days after the school opened a kindergarten pupil with his trousers around his ankles, wandered into the Head Teacher’s office and shouted out, “Hey you! Who wipes bums around here?”

Ex Middleton Infant School teacher, Mrs Sparks, was also was transferred to Clapgate. We lived near to each other on Town Street, Middleton and usually took a tram to where Belle Isle began, and then we trekked across open rough land to get to Clapgate. Frequently there was a group of the old type wooden painted gypsy caravans and their horses encamped there. Sometimes we picked plants and wild flowers for impromptu Nature Study classes.

Classes sizes at the new school numbered in the early 30’s and the teachers had more supplies and better facilities than most of us had previously experienced. School meals were made on the premises and were fantastic. Clapgate might have been a bit of a show school as we were always receiving visitors to look over the place. I believe that the ‘good’ tenants of the new housing estate surrounding Clapgate School had been hand-picked. The school uniform was silver grey and royal blue. Great kids.

Yours truly,

Kathleen Bok


Kenneth Ingram says.

What a fantastic Story from Kath in Canada, after seeing Julies blog on Belle Isle History. Kath’s dad, Harold Hobson used to teach me and my 3 Uncles and 1 of my Brothers, while at Hunslet Carr School. It would be in the 50s when he teached me.

Harold was well known for teaching Sport such as Rugby. Many of his pupils who learnt Rugby, went onto play for Hunslet Rugby Club, now called Hunslet Hawks. Harold also teached English and Music. No mater which Class you were in you could hear Harold playing the Piano all round the School.

In the 60s, me and family moved from Belle Isle to Middleton Town Street. We ended up living across the road where Harold lived. Want a character. Cant remember if he had an Organ or piano at the cottage, but would go across frequently to see him.

Harold also joined the Royal Association Of The Buffaloes, along with my Dad and Uncles. They used to meet up at the White Hart in Beeston, every Tuesday. What they got up to nobody knows, as  like the Masons all sorts of weird passwords and stuff.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. Will let Kath above, tell her story.

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