History Comes Alive in Hunslet

The Hunslet Club has been providing activities and opportunities for children and young people for 70 years and is one of the largest youth clubs in the country. Anyone is welcome to come along today and take part in sports such as football, boxing and gymnastics, or arts activities including musical theatre, hip hop, ballet, cheerleading, breakdance and Irish dance at this hub for young people to reach their potential.

Working as I have done for this organisation for a couple of years, it never ceases to amaze me that this club has been at the heart of the South Leeds community since 1940, so many years through changing times, fashions and hairstyles this place has been meeting the peoples needs.

For a long time that history of the club was remembered only in a few photographs and history pamphlets, until one day a chance discovery set about a chain reaction of events that has changed all that.

As I was looking for something in the dark, cluttered storage space beneath the club stage, I chanced upon a long forgotten box containing what appeared to be old film reels. Intrigued I pulled these out into the light and found they were labelled with some very old dates, for example “1954 Christmas Party” and “Younger Generation BBC Radio Broadcast 1952”. Long lost film and radio footage, I was dieing to see and hear their contents, but where on earth could I find anything to play these ancient tapes on?

A few phonecalls and emails later, I had my answers to that question. Two of the films were of interest to the British Film Institute’s National Film Archive as the only copies in existence of footage of the Hunslet Club from a BBC Childrens Newsreel in 1956 and a 1950’s physical education training film narrated by Roger Bannister, the first man to run a 4 minute mile.

Other films were kindly transferred to a modern format by Adrian Sadler, a Leeds based film enthusiast and the Yorkshire Film Archive. These included a long lost recording of the Queen visiting a printworks in South Leeds in 1958.

The audio tapes, which included a 1952 BBC youth radio show, on which a young Richard Attenborough praises the efforts of the club as well as tapes of Christmas party speeches were transferred to CD by Bill Rowe who runs Bramley’s internet based radio station Radio Poplar.

Seeing and hearing this all of this footage for the first time was very exciting, to think that these moving images of people and places long gone had lain forgotten beneath a stage for so many years, and now here they were brought back to life on screen in front of my very eyes. Now I wanted to know more, who were these people? Are any of them still alive?

To try and solve these mysteries I hit on the idea of uploading the films to youtube and informing the local press of their discovery.  The story caught their interest and before long it was featured in the Yorkshire Evening Post  and also on BBC Look North. Overnight the youtube viewings went into the hundreds and people started coming forward.  “That’s me doing gymnastics in the 1950’s” “That’s my brother singing third from the left in that shot”

But the most touching communication that came in after the publicity about the footage was from 74 year old Alan Moore, who recognised his somewhat younger self performing magic tricks on the Hunslet Club stage on the television footage from 1958. It brought back wonderful memories for him and his wife Shirley, who met at the club all those years ago and are still going strong. Look North came back and did a follow up story on them a few days later and we were delighted to welcome Alan back for the first time in decades to be the opening act on our newly refurbished stage at the modern day club.

That we thought was the end of the story, until in preparation for the clubs 70th anniversary reunion, we learnt that another two former members held copies of  even larger collections of ancient film recordings of the club which they were entrusted with caring for almost 40 years ago.  These too are now being added to the Hunslet Club youtube channel.

These too are exciting finds and we need your help identifying people and places featured. Camping trips, Boys Brigade parades and church garden parties seem to feature, is that war time footage of people getting into the “dig for victory” spirit? Can you or your grandparents tell me? We would love to know.

Jason Slack is the Funding & Marketing Officer at The Hunslet Club

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