My Life in South Leeds: A Beeston Childhood

My Life in SL copyI had a fascinating chat with Mrs Lillian Turner (nee Sykes) last week. She had got in touch about the drinking fountain on Holbeck Moor, but we spent most of the time talking about her childhood growing up in Beeston and Hunslet.

Lillian TurnerShe was “born and bred in the middle of the motorway!” More precisely at 1 Busk Street, but that is long demolished and lies somewhere under the central reservation of the M621.

At school, Bewerley Street Juniors off Hunslet Hall Road and also demolished, she got into trouble for mentioning that they had a bathroom when writing about her home. Most homes then didn’t have a bathroom, a tin bath would be filled with kettles of hot water, but Lillian had a plumbed in bath in its own room. She ended up taking eight classmates home with her after school to prove she wasn’t lying.

1-7 Busk Street. Photo: Copyright West Yorkshire Archive Service
1-7 Busk Street. Photo: Copyright West Yorkshire Archive Service

They could afford a bathroom because her mum ran the fish and chip shop on Coupland Terrace. They also bought a television for the coronation of the Queen in 1953. Lillian remembers watching the event through the legs of her grown up neighbours who crammed into their sitting room.

She still has the commemorative New Testament that was given to all the children at West Hunslet Central Mission Sunday School that week and the special edition of the Yorkshire Post. They were due to have a street party, but it rained all day. Instead they moved Dobbin the coal man’s giant shire horse out of his stable, cleaned it out, put fresh straw down and held the party there.

The Malvern Cinema in Beeston. Photo copyright West Yorkshire Archive Service
The Malvern Cinema in Beeston. Photo copyright West Yorkshire Archive Service

Lillian remembers sledging in the snow on the Brickfield, or “Brickie Hill” and collecting tea chests from Rington’s tea factory for bonfire night. They went to the Saturday matinee show at the Malvern Picture House for 5d (5 old pence – about 2p) and raised the money by ‘donkey stoning’ people’s steps. The donkey stone was a yellow sandstone and everyone used it to scrub the front step of their house. The children would offer to scrub old people’s steps for a penny.

Then there were the trips to Middleton Woods, up past Clarksfield, across Farmer Josh’s land and over the “Cuckoo Steps” footbridge to cross the railway. They would nick some rhubarb stalks from the allotments and dip them in the bag of sugar and cocoa powder that they had cadged from mum.

As Lillian’s father worked on the railways they could travel for free. Holidays were spent in “camping coaches” old railway carriages converted into a holiday chalet. The family, seven children, mum, dad and grandma, went all over the country for their summer holidays.

She performed at the Leeds Children’s Day celebrations in Roundhay Park four years in a row in the 1950s. Brenda Hines, a fellow pupil at Bewerley Street was chosen as Queen for the day in 1956 or 57, so Bewerley Street were at the front of the gymnastics display that year.

Children's Day in Roundhay Park. Photo: Copyright Leeds Library & Information Services
Children’s Day in Roundhay Park. Photo: Copyright Leeds Library & Information Services

“Every family went to Children’s Day. I did gymnastics, maypole dancing, skipping and we all formed ourselves into a tableau at the end, one year it was a soldier and I remember a train too.”

Having left school at 14, Lillian’s first job was at Petty’s the printers on Whitehall Road. She worked on a conveyor belt putting leaflets into magazines, but she lived for dancing at the Mecca just off Briggate. Lillian and her friends would be pressed against the doors waiting for them to be opened at 6pm. They didn’t go near the bar, it was coffee and dancing to skiffle and rock’n’roll records (the DJ was one Jimmy Savile). Lillian even went dancing in her lunch hour, rushing to get back on time.

Lillian remembers her childhood days fondly:

“We played in the street, we knew every family and every woman on the street was your ‘auntie’.”

3 Replies to “My Life in South Leeds: A Beeston Childhood”

  1. I agree Eve, it’s one of my favourite parts of my job speaking to older people who have such different memories of growing up. I’m no spring chicken but it makes me want to be able to go back and quiz my grandparents about everything that happened to them… don’t realise how valuable those memories are until it’s too late! I think we need more events in the area to bring older and younger people together so these amazing things are not forgotten.

  2. What did Lillian have to say about the Holbeck Moor drinking fountain? Can she describe it? Does she a have a photo of it? Does she have any idea what happened to it or when it was removed? I’d love to hear from her (or anybody else who remembers it).

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