The Woodhouse Moor Ghost

At the time of our story Woodhouse Moor did not present the “muddled and meddled” appearance it now presents. It was then very much as nature had left it. Not blessed with a superabundance of earthy soil, it still struggled, in the teeth of the fierce gales from the west and the north ― which sweep over it at times with relentless violence ― to afford a restricted nutriment to the gorse bushes and half-starved trees which here and there dotted its undulating surface. It also afforded precarious sustenance to the numerous geese, goslings, fowls, horses and donkeys which were depastured upon it, by some unwritten but prescriptive ” right of common” which belonged to the residents in the neighbourhood. We say “belonged,” though the right was more than once questioned before the Leeds Corporation stepped forward and, with the object of settling the difficulty, cut the gordian knot by purchasing the moor, and dedicating it to the public service for ever.

When our story had its brief history in the traditions of Woodhouse, the moor was badly lighted, badly drained, untended and uncared for, and was altogether in a state of vagabondish independence that delighted the hearts of the semi-gipsy population which battened on the fringes of the common, and appropriated the lower part of it to their own wild devices of profit and enjoyment. Certainly the moor was intersected by one great thoroughfare – that stretching from Leeds proper to the township of Headingley – but with this exception the cottages on the lower and the Ridge side of it were only approached with difficulty, over the vagrant paths and passages, and especially in wet weather, when that part of the common was no better than a swamp; and respectable house-occupiers, who had found breezy homes in that quarter, were greatly concerned how to reach again the confines of civilisation without being either engulfed in the morass, or bespattered with mud and boggy soil up to their necks.

It was when Woodhouse Moor was in this condition ― a common uncommonly dirty, disagreeable and dilapidated ― that our ghost story came into public existence. James Lee, a substantial yeoman, then resided in Brambles Cottage, a neat little domicile on the north-east side of the moor, and in a locality now occupied by several rows of cottages ― his nearest neighbour being Mr. Henry Spence, a retired cloth dresser, who lived in a good house closely adjoining the present White Heifer tavern. Mr. Lee was blest with a charming daughter, Eleanor Lee by name, but who was more affectionately and familiarly known as Nelly Lee; whilst Mr, Spence rejoiced in the possession of a son, called Richard, Now Richard was a steady but somewhat self-conceited young man, who assumed important airs because of his comfortable worldly position as a commission agent, and also because he had been systematically spoiled and humoured ever since his birth. Nelly, on the other hand, was a fine well-grown girl, who had been rather more than superficially educated, who professed a fair share of common sense and intelligence, and who was, in addition, so exceedingly fond of music that she not only took a leading part in the congregational singing at the Methodist chapel in the adjoining street of St. Luke’s, but was also in great request at school and amateur concerts.

Now it had for years been the leading ambition of the elders in the Lee and Spence families that they should be more nearly allied by marriage, and this earnest hope appeared to show signs of realisation when it became known that Richard Spence was paying his attentions to Nelly Lee. Though the Spence family attended church and the Lee family the little Bethel, it was often found that Richard Spence was among the congregation at St. Luke’s Reformers’ Chapel, though whether it was because he was fond of real hearty congregational singing or of Nelly Lee ― who always appeared in the prominent singing pew in front of the organ ― it is not for me to say. But it is certain that he always gallantly squired Miss Lee home after the services, and was always ready to escort her either to flower show or concert in the bargain. Nelly was not, of course, insensible to the assiduous attentions paid to her by young Richard, and if her heart was not yet fairly caught her feelings were flattered and her courtesy developed by the ardent warmth and sincerity of his devoirs. As the winter season of the year 186― approached, concert giving set in with unusual severity in Leeds, owing to the fierce musical war that was then raging between Mr. Robert Turton and Miss Dock, the two opposing maestros. Miss Nelly, who possessed a sweet though not powerful voice, had early associated herself with the Turtonites, by whom her vocalism was much admired. In November a grand miscellaneous concert was given in the Music Hall by Mr. Turton, and in this entertainment Miss Lee not only took part in two trios, but was also persuaded to undertake a solo, and this none other than ” Angels ever bright and fair,” from Handel’s Theodora. The hall was crowded; and Nelly, who was suffering greatly from nervous timidity, did not display her musical talent at its best until after the trios were over. But in these concerted pieces valuable assistance was rendered her by her intimate friend, Miss Bella Snowden, the contralto, and Mr. Herbert Bracken, the tenor. The latter was a comparative stranger to Nelly. She knew him only as a member of the Choral body, though she also was aware that he lived at Raghorne, on the opposite side of the moor to her father’s house. She had also ascertained that he was serving his articles with his father, a lawyer, and that he was just about to go up to London to pass his examination.

Herbert Bracken, who was a tall, handsome young fellow of two and twenty, had noticed that Miss Lee suffered greatly from the excitement consequent upon a first public appearance, and did not further embarrass her by preaching up courage or philosophic forritude. On the contrary, after the second trio was over, he escorted her to her seat on the orchestra, and contented himself with calmly and quietly complimenting her on the success which had attended her performance. In the course of the interlude which followed, Nelly regained her composure, and when she was again led to the front by Mr. Turton for her sacred air, she felt fully equal to the spirit of the occasion.

The result was that the spirit of resignation and cheerful hope which the piece so expressively portrays was rendered with an appreciative religious type of execution which evoked a profound sensation in the audience. There was no encore, no disturbance for the moment of the delicious impression that had been created; but when the fair girl was handed back to her place the enthusiasm which had been so long repressed burst all bounds, and the hall rung with the plaudits of the excited audience.

After that evening Nelly began to feel more decidedly interested in Herbert Bracken. In her heart of hearts she could not help comparing him with Mr. Richard Spence, much to the disadvantage of the latter. And so it came to pass that a mutual affection sprung up between Nelly and Herbert, much to the annoyance of Miss Lee’s parents, as well as those of Richard Spence.

When it first became evident to the respective heads of families that Nelly was becoming attached to Herbert Bracken, the first obstructive step adopted by them was the one of disparaging that young fellow’s candidature. It was pointed out to Miss Lee that Herbert was a wild young scamp, that be was attached to a roving band of medical students who played games of deep mischief on and about the moor, that though he might have a taste for music it had not endowed him with many other humanising influences, that he was known to smoke cigars and even short cutty pipes, and that it would not be contrary to the truth to affirm that he might occasionally be found at the Oak Inn, Headingley, indulging either at bowls or billiards. But all these not carry any weight with them to Nelly Lee. Interview after interview followed, and it was not long before emotionally-sincere views of affection had been plighted by the lovers. Then the devoted pair had to resolve themselves into an important committee of ways and means. At first this committee was limited to two members, but as its deliberations were not attended by discriminative and prudential discussion, it was judged advisable to extend its area. The first new deliberant called in was Bella Snowden, and a very faithful and discreet coadjutor they found her. Next was summoned to the board a clever maiden aunt of Nelly’s. This was Miss Ann Lee, who, although she had been wrecked on a lee-shore herself ― speaking in a marriage sense ― was still one who took a deep interest in promoting the matrimonial engagements of her friends. Now Miss Ann Lee lived at Lilac Cottage, near Hunslet Moor, and being a person who was liberally endowed with worldly substance as well as cosy personal attractions and warm family affections, her odorously-named cottage at Hunslet naturally became a haven of rest for all the distressed squires and damsels who were honoured with her acquaintance. One afternoon early in December, at this estimable lady’s residence, a conspiracy of deep cunning and ambitious consequences was entered upon, but it was so sacredly protected by secrecy that we do not feel ourselves warranted in disclosing the plot at this stage of our narrative.

Suddenly a great change came over the social atmosphere of Woodhouse Moor. At first a mere matter of rumour, the idle tale gathered strength and consistency as it spread. But as its dimensions enlarged so did the alarm of the residents. It was some time before the rumours reached the point when the could be openly broached. The old-fashioned terror of witches and warlocks had not yet died out of the land, and certainly had never become extinct in the half-gipsy encampment on the moor. By day, at church and chapel door, as well as at the shop and the mangle, old wives alarmedly hinted at weird and uncanny things they had seen and heard in the purlieus of the moor. What these goblin imps were after, or what was the material shape they assumed, was not very clear. On the contrary. One peculiarity, however, marked these warlock outbreaks of a character so decidedly humorous that the inference was irresistible that the evil thing whatever it really was ― was more of a Puck than a demon. For it was told that drouthy matrons were robbed of their bottles of gin; maliciously-disposed gossiping wives thrown down in their pattens, and their mouths forcibly closed by wheaten-paste or doses of blacking; and thirsty sons of Adam waylaid on their road from the White Heifer and deposited in the nearest horse-trough. Mrs. Molly Brown, a regular mischief-maker on the Carr, was taken bodily off her feet by the goblins and deposited on Squire Lee’s dungheap near the byre. Sammy Swilltub, a determined toper, had been one night carried up to the Headingley-road, and there heaved into the half-empty well near the police-station, where he was found an hour afterwards by a “bobby,” and charitably extricated. These instances will sufficiently typify the character of the attacks made by the goblins. But when sober-minded people came to hear the detailed statement made by Richard Spence, they were perfectly staggered. Richard deposed that he was in the habit of visiting regularly at Mr. Lee’s house, and that on one occasion after he had indulged in a glass of currant wine, he was proceeding homewards along Church Gate, when he became aware of a couple of sprites who were waiting upon his footsteps. He declared these imps of darkness were some seven feet in height, paced along by his side without any noise of footsteps, were breathing forth fire and sulphur, aud were evidently embued with supernatural strength, for after carrying him nearly a dozen yards, they swung him into the air with such malicious propulsion that, when he descended, he found himself on the grave of a newly-interred infant in St. Luke’s church-yard. Richard further declared that as he fell he heard a horrid scream of laughter, and a sepulchral voice warning him against going to “court” Miss Nelly Lee any more, on fear of consequences. The testimony of other witnesses was to the effect that the lower portion of the moor was almost nightly disturbed by sounds and sights of a character too dreadful for human endurance. It was asserted that the whole of the surface of the common was lighted up by nearly a score of ghostcandles, which dandered about and flickered with extremely eccentric divergence of movement, though no doubt seemed to be entertained that they were beating time to some infernal ghost-melody. The general opinion also seemed to be current that there was a directing spirit, or “chief devil,” under whose orders the rest of the warlock crew madly and wantonly disported themselves. This “chief” among them was asserted to be a ghost of supernatural stature, wearing a conical hat, at the peak of which there flared a phosphorescent light, and the angles of whose body were also sharply defineil by lines of fire. This primary spirit of evil was described as having a most diabolical cast of features, the saucer-eyes being lit up by unlawful lights, and his weird-looking locks, moustache, and beard being similarly illuminated.

At length so intolerable became the ghost nuisance that respectable householders prepared to evacuate their tenements in that quarter. Mr. Lee was one of the first residents who suffered by the ghost-panic. He remembered the jaunty behaviour of ” Spring-Heeled Jack ” and the stories about the nightly incursions of the ” boggards,” in times long past, but was unable to imagine what had led to the conversion of Woodhouse Moor into a kind of modern Brocken, where witches of a more recent fashion of style kept up an eternal Walpurgis-night. Not the least part of the annoyance was that the enjoyment of his family circle was almost entirely broken up. He could not persuade any of his own friends to come and partake of his hospitality, and the social board was consequently nightly deserted. The only exception was Bella Snowdon, who found her way still regularly to Brambles Cottage, and whose merry laugh was a cheering though only temporary antidote to fear. The most surprising instance of all in connection with these mysterious visitations was that neither Bella nor Nelly appeared to be in the slightest degree frightened about the goblins. On the contrary, they were so little penetrated by superstitious alarm that they were in the nightly habit of walking over the moor in the direction of Headingley, and of returning smelling most confoundedly of spirits, phosphorescence, and sulphur. In fact, to the rest of the alarmed family, they almost appeared to transport all the vile smells of the devilry from the outside to the inside of the house.

As Christmas approached, Mr. Lee’s perplexity and apprehension became more painfully intensified. One night, when the family were assembled round the supper table, the worthy yeoman poured out the whole of his troubles on the ghost question, and at length became so pronounced in his fear as to offer a large proportion of his fortune to anyone who would rid him of the elfin rows and rackets that disturbed his peace of mind as well as his rest. Nelly, who was listening with considerable interest and some amount of concern to her esteemed father, here ventured to make a suggestion. She said that she had heard there was a wise woman, who lived near Pinder Fields in Wakefield, who had a reputation for exorcising ghosts, whether spirits of evil or of good, and that, if the proposal met with her father’s approval, she, Bella Snowden, and Aunt Ann Lee, would go over to that once merry town, and see what the oracle in question had to say on the delicate yet aggravating and alarming subject. Mr. Lee at first decidedly objected to such a proposed consultation, partly on moral and partly on physical grounds. But though he emphatically declared that he did not himself believe in. either ghosts, warlocks, or witches, he was evidently in such a disturbed mental condition that his wife, as well as his daughter, urged him to consent to the uncanny expedition. After making many arrangements with the view of securing complete immunity from any perilous consequences, Mr. Lee gave his reluctant assent to the proposition, and Miss Bella Snowden was then escorted on her way homewards by Nelly Lee, after promising to meet her feminine friends at the Great Northern Railway Station at ten o’clock on the following morning.

The next day was the 24th December, and Nelly and her two friends duly departed on their important mission. Night came, but they did not return, and the Christmas-eve rejoicings passed off without their accustomed participation. Singularly enough, too, the evil spirits of the moor did not that night indulge in their accustomed riotous revels. Towards noon on the following day, as the Lee family were about to sit down to their Christmas dinner, a carriage, in which were a couple of sprightly grey horses, drove up to Brambles Cottage, and there shortly alighted therefrom in a high state of interesting excitement, our friend Nelly, Miss Bella Snowden, and Aunt Lee, and — Herbert Bracken. It was at once observed that the party were sporting wedding favours, and the happy secret at once disclosed itself.

“Father and mother,” cried out Nelly, with bright dew drops of tears swelling over her eye lids, ” forgive me, and give me and my husband your blessing,”

“Yes,” said Bella, “the visit to the wise woman has been successful, and has resulted in the addition of an affectionate son to your happy family.”

“And one,” cried Herbert, “who will guarantee that the Lee family and Brambles Cottage are no more troubled with the ghosts that have so long disturbed Woodhouse Moor. Pray forgive us, Father Lee, we could not help it.”

Mr. Lee looked with some evidences of emotion at the happy group before him, then took his daughter to his arms and kissed her, following up that action with a similar compliment to Miss Bella Snowden. and Aunt Lee, and finishing by shaking hands with Herbert Bracken.

Then they all sat down to the cosy and comfortable family dinner.

Is it needful to say another line? If some of our readers are wishful to know more about the warlocks and ghosts that had flittered their brief time on Woodhouse Moor, it is only necessary to add that they were composed of a merry and mischievous band of medical students, that Herbert, their friend and companion, was the presiding devil; and that his sole object in thus disturbing the peace of the inhabitants of that lonely district was that he might have the pleasure of winning an angel to his loving arms. In this he succeeded, and though the Brackens are again flourishing on the Moor, the corpse-lights and ghosts are now things of the distant past

A. Howlett (The Yorkshireman, Christmas Number 1878)

Atkinson’s Farm

Farm 600

The relentless expansion of Leeds is sweeping away, one by one, the landmarks which, for the older inhabitants, are peopled with friendly shades, and in whose stones are often writ the the history of the foundation of the city. To-day the cry is for more healthy and less congested areas, and wide streets capable of safely accommodating a traffic that is not only more voluminous, but is also carried on at a much higher rate of speed than in our forefathers’ days.

At Hyde Park Corner there stands an old farmhouse of stone, with slate roof and old-fashioned many-paned windows. Beside it is a butcher’s shop, where for three generations a family named Atkinson have continued to trade. It is this property that is next to be sacrificed to the schemes of the Improvement Committee.

In the year 1800 the farmhouse was built by Nathaniel Atkinson, upon lands he rented from the Rev. Richard Fawcett, vicar of Leeds, that stretched away to Woodhouse Ridge, and whose cattle were wont also to pasture upon Woodhouse Moor. With his farming operations he also incorporated the business of a butcher. This Mr. Atkinson met his death at the horns of a bull in a field upon which Lidgett Park Villas has since arisen. He was succeeded by John Atkinson, the father of the recent occupier of the shop, Joseph Atkinson, who, he has seen nearly 80 summers, is still strong and healthy, with almost the fresh complexion of a youth.

Mr. Joseph Atkinson, interviewed regarding “the good old times,” said Woodhouse Moor was covered with furze bushes, while in the centre of it stood the stables of a Hunt Club with the houses of the huntsman and whips, and the kennels hard by. A number of the hounds, however, were kennelled at private residences in the neighbourhood, and when a hunt was about to take place the huntsman blew his horn, and immediately the owners of these residences were seen galloping to the moor on horseback, each with a foxhound or two at the heels of his steed. It is interesting to note in this connection that there are several houses near Kirkstall Abbey to-day which go by the name of “Hark to Rover,” for this was the cry of the Woodhouse huntsman, whose own hound was called Rover, when forming the scattered hounds into a pack. The hunt over, its followers repaired to what is now the Hyde Park Hotel, but then the Red Lion Inn, kept by old Nannie Strickland.

It was a low house of two storeys, and was thatched with straw. There master and man revelled in the light of a “tallow dip,” for, notwithstanding repeated complaints from the gentry who frequented the house, Nannie could not be persuaded to provide a better illumination of her parlour. When the hunt was broken up the Master of it allowed the huntsmen to remain rent free in the houses on the Moor, and this they did for such a length of time as enabled them to claim the property as their own, so that eventually the Corporation had to buy them out.

The enthusiasm of the followers of this hunt was so great that Mr Atkinson can remember one old weaver who would stay with the hunt until dark and afterwards work all night to satisfy his employer, his wife sitting with him to wind the bobbins.

“So wild was the moor in those days,” continued our informant, “that you could not get across it in winter, and boys attending the Leeds Grammar School had to go by way of Reservoir-road. Close to the tree where the Woodhouse Moor orators now hold forth on Sunday, there stood a public-house, while further away were two white cottages, one of which was occupied by the local barber. Here you could see small boys sitting upon low stools, where they were polled, and provided with a slice of treacle and bread, for the expenditure of one penny.”

” Where would you consider Leeds proper to end in the days of which you speak?” asked our representative.

“Well, somewhere about Park-square, for where the Town Hall now stands there was then a large garden owned by Dr. Hobson, a well-known surgeon. With the exception of the old Manor House that was recently razed to the ground, I remember every house on Headingley-lane being built. I remember too, cock-fights, dog-fights, prize-fights, and pigeon shooting matches being held on Woodhouse Moor. That was 70 years ago. The last field on the farm to be sold was where Buckingham Villas now stand. It was sold to Mr. Kirk, whose daughter’s nuptials were celebrated there yesterday.

“It will be just about 70 years ago since the first funeral took place at Woodhouse Cemetery,” continued Mr Atkinson, “and I visited the grave only three months ago with a friend who remembers the incident. He said I could not find the grave, but I did. The funeral took place from the Leeds Barracks, and was that of a well-known Army surgeon.”

Hyde Park Corner, Leeds

Hotel 600

We have our Hyde Park also in the north, as in the south — in Yorkshire, as where the great Duke holds his marshal’s baton, pointing down Piccadilly, overlooking our world of tall chimneys, as the Duke sternly surveys the streams of carriages and omnibuses, of lolling rich and noble, and bustling chafferers, and ignoble ranks of the ragged. Why, there are Regent Streets in every county of England; there is a Portland Place in tumble down Sheerness — a Portland Place, it is true, of one-storied, three windowed houses, where weathercocks and figure-heads represent all the local activities. There, in the capital of Yorkshire, in thriving Leeds, which boasts the solidity of her merchants — the fineness of her woollens — the graces of her Briggate — the tall white columns of her town hall — the red-brick suburban villages, where she toils and spins, and pours out solid clouds of smoke, and feathers the scene with jets of snowy steam; in the great city by the black river, blackened by the invisible greens and indigo blues, which cockney Piccadilly sports with pomp and pride, why not a Hyde Park Corner? Competition, unrestricted, is the dear law of commercial England, by which she will rise or fall — by which it is her giant will to rise. To rise, and load her brave fleets of ships, and show the prosperous pink faces of her Saxon children amid sallow Frenchmen, swarthy Hindoos, chattering Chinamen — aye, and simple, kindly Japanese. Then why not a competition in Regent Streets, and Hyde Park Corners, in the county capitals? At least, Leeds will be forward in the matter.

We have been to the Hyde Park Corner of Yorkshire – we have lounged there — we have dined there. From Briggate went we forth: past the poetic tailor who gives a copy of his poems with every pair of Sydenham trousers purchased by his customers; past windows without number, with “Woollens” worked in their blinds; through throngs of sickly factory girls, with their gaudy shawls over their heads, in Swedish fashion; past crowds of dapper clerks, hieing home in one direction; and past Yorkshire agriculturists, sharp-eyed and broad-shouldered; through winding roads; against palings behind which houses were to be presently built — new houses with blinds in the windows, to present to us “Woollens,” “Woollens,” again, and still again. Houses building, where broadcloth shall be carried to cover backs of children still puling in their nurses’ arms; to cover backs that as yet are not covered with swaddling clothes, backs of babes whose parents have not met yet. This Leeds is to be a very vast place presently.

There are fine trees in the neighbourhood, under the graceful shades of which we have walked, that shall be presently sprawling upon the earth, to make way for new chimneys; there are larks singing above that must shortly wander hence, and find nestroom some miles off, away from the clang of hammers and the vats of active dyers. The houses now stand here and there apart upon the winding road — like isolated teeth in the mouths of babes — that shall presently find themselves packed densely by the side of new neighbours. We are marching out of the capital of Yorkshire, upon the black roads, leaving cosy villas and red-bricked houses, of pretentious but incongruous architecture, behind us. The ascent steep, but the trees are looming in the distance. Perhaps we are trudging to the very spot whence aerial Turner took his poetic view of this most practical centre of industry.

And now we burst upon a “moor;” — it was a moor. A broad, uneven, open space is before us. On our left, a white roll of steam speeds through the smoky landscape far beneath us; speeds towards London, it may be, bearing thither broadcloth for that very coat we ordered before leaving, and which we shall survey with no feigned admiration when we reach home. Let us turn off the road, even upon the patchy moor, with its coarse oases of grass, and its broad deserts of timber land between. Chimneys stretch towards the sky out of the cloudy valley around us, stretch in hundreds; some boldly unfolding fumes as black as coffin cloth, to defy any Smoke Prevention Act; others timidly emitting thin, grey feathers of carbon, in fear evidently of magisterial vigour. Hither come factory workers, to tread this mangy grass, and to taste a little pure air above the smoke of the busy valley; it may be to taste mugs of ale in the white house, which looks so uncomfortably white in the middle of the sombre moor, and standing in relief against the blurred sky.

But we are not bound for the white house; it forms no part our plan to loiter upon the damp benches that obtrude themselves upon our attention at every turn. We have made up our mind, and fortified our legs, to reach Hyde Park Corner. It is in this direction, and to the farther corner of the ragged moor, that we shall at once proceed.

We are looking about us too inquisitively not to be known as cockneys, by the streams of clerks and woollen merchants, who are also striding towards Hyde Park Corner (they live beyond, as becomes the woollen aristocracy). It is to be feared that our Cockneyism is no recommendation to us in their esteem. They are inclined to believe that we are insolently comparing their woollen capital with our universal capital. But we lift our hats to them, and assure them, on our honour, that we are grateful to them for their hard work, especially grateful when see the backs of our poorer brethren wholesomely covered by them, which, but for their skill and economy in manufacture, must have remained bare; all good men must be grateful to all ingenious and persevering workers, who have helped to give the mechanic of this present day many comforts which were beyond the reach of monarchs of the good old times.

Well, we are at our Hyde Park Corner. The corner of the moor marked by the homely hostelry, over which the familiar Red Lion swings, inviting passers-by to try the hospitality of Mr. Mould, landlord. A friend at our elbow has a partiality for Red Lions. At Red Lions, in out of-the-way places, he authoritatively assures us, you are certain to find that old-fashioned, solid, wholesome hospitality, which is refreshing to townsfolk. Cleanly sanded floors, a broad range, hams and bacon swinging overhead, thick, black rafters, diamond window panes, black-handled knives and forks, exquisite butter and milk, nut-brown ale in horns, and a fresh coloured buxom landlady’s daughter for a Hebe. There will be the stale fumes of yesterday’s smoking in the place possibly, but the air is too fresh and searching, the house too open, to leave even this faint odour intolerable. Near remarkable ruins or forests, sacred to picnics; against marvelous caverns, or healing springs; wherever, indeed, deep, natural solitudes, excursionists have set their restless feet; and where, consequently, prim new hostelries have been set up, if there be a battered Red Lion at hand, rampant or couchant, with Tom Thumb geraniums smiling through the window panes, and a miller’s horse (let us throw this in, to complete the picture) laden with sacks, and dusty with sweet smelling flour, at the door, let the artificial creature, who is sweetening the cares of the year with the freshening influences of green fields and blue skies, patronise this rural inn, as we shall most assuredly patronize Mr. Mould today, although a very fashionable and elaborately decorated hotel lifts its high, broad front, inviting us, at no great distance.

We may be served silver there, by deferential waiters in white neckcloth. Maitre de Hotel, Soubise, and Tartare, are within our grasp to tempt us hence; but we are in search of the homely, of the rough. It is by no means certain that, before we return to list the sound of Bow bells, we shall not have eaten dinner of fat bacon and black bread by the help of a clasp knife, swinging easily and cheerily upon a gate. Mr. Mould may be at rest, and set his chops to hiss and spit over his clear fire, for we shall be with him before he has cut a salad from his garden for us.

To sharpen the already fine edge of our appetite, we shall have our own little review in our Hyde Park, whereof the Red Lion is the Apsley House. The road broad enough; and the houses ! there are seven on our right, boasting five rooms each, we dare assert. Number One of our Hyde Park Corner is the residence of a greengrocer, whose window glows with ruddy rhubarb, golden oranges, relieved by the neutral tints of the Brazilian nut, dear to childhood, which we cracked in the hinges of our nursery door many, very many years since. In round baskets like gipsy hats (with the broad brim taken off; lies the pungent mustard and refreshing cress, also dear to our childhood, when we planted them in our garden (three feet by six), and dug them up on the morrow to see whether the germs had burst through the seed-shells. We may linger here, and look down the shadowy vista of the years that have gone from us, back boldly to the time when the ” Bonaparte’s ribs” in dusty bottles before us would have cheered our hearts, and contented our innocent palates, when the parliament (fashioned into brown monsters and edible castles) was more to us than Her Majesty’s Parliament, with all its gilding, its maces, black rods, and swords of state !

Confidently too, in our gingerbread parliament days, we should have confided our figure to the measurement and skill of the little tailor, next door to the greengrocer. His fly-blown fashions, his little dusty window, would have contented our judgment: so that he had given buttons for our straps, he might have wandered at his own wild will into any cut that caught his fancy. What cared we about the crease across our jacket, the pockets in front were capacious enough for our conqueror peg top, and our polished agate marbles? We pass the tailor’s next door neighbour, the pale staymaker; yonder crippled boy, hopping awkwardly in the mud, may possibly look with the wistful expression of the deformed, into this window, with its steel and whalebone citadels, wherein women are tortured and imprisoned by the vulgar tyrant Fashion. The child might bring a charge of assault and maiming against the builders of these whalebone citadels, with better reason than the careless will see at once.

And here is our Hyde Park post-office — not much larger than a Punch and Judy show — and we are at the end of Hyde Park Corner. Two or three houses are opposite us; but they cannot tempt us to cross the road. Beyond, the view is closed by a turnpike, hardly larger than a tea-chest, with a window cut in it, about circumference of a wren’s eye. Children, like “troutlets in a pool,” knuckle down here, and play at “taw,” there women peer over blinds to look at us, and wonder why we are so inquisitive; and still merchants and clerks trudge past us; home we trust, to dining-rooms closely curtained, and where waits a hearty welcome. Our host of the Red Lion expects us to do the honours of our Hyde Park Corner. In his painted sitting-room a snowy cloth is spread; but the painted walls dazzle us. May we always eat peas green as these trees; our castle (when we bring it down from the air) stand with a better regard for the perpendicular, than the vast building from which a lady has just emerged upon her prancing palfrey (the prancing has a rheumatic air about it), reined in by two streaks of pure vermillion, which reach from the lady’s hand to the horse’s mouth. The lady is saluting a cavalier with clearly false moustaches; and the bellrope which we pull dangles by the knight’s nose. The low ceiling is a sky of schirrous clouds yellowed by smoke. But the arm-chairs are roomy the chops as chops should be; the potatoes, balls of flour. And we eat with a better appetite than we gather as a rule, from any stroll of ours, under the nose of the Great Duke, at our London Hyde Park Corner.— Blanchard Jerrold, — Welcome Guest.

Leeds Intelligencer – Saturday 24 November 1860

Ash Grove

Ash Grove takes its name from a villa that was located on a field immediately to the west of the current Ash Grove. The villa was surrounded by open countryside. There were no other buildings for quite some distance. In 1847, when the survey was carried out for this map, the villa was occupied by Thomas Judson, a retired builder and joiner, and his wife Maria.

The villa still exists, and so does its coach house. Its address is 63 Victoria Road. This photograph was taken on Victoria Road and shows the rear of the villa. The villa’s facade faces south and today looks out across the Chestnut Avenue playing field that until recently belonged to Leeds Girls High School. The field used to be within the curtilege of the villa. The field was sold to the school in 1924 by Edward William Dawson. Back then, it was known as “Dawson’s Field.” In 1847, Mr and Mrs Judson would have had an unbroken view across open fields. The villa today is still a very beautiful building. It’s easy to see why the road called Ash Grove was named after it.

The first houses on Ash Grove were built during the 1870s. There were only a few and they were built at the top and bottom ends of the road, on both sides. The author Arthur Ransome was born in one of these houses on the 18th January 1884. His house was number 6 Ash Grove, which is situated just five houses up the road from where the Club was built seven years later. Ransome is best known for his children’s novel, “Swallows and Amazons,” which appeared in 1930. Ransome had a very interesting career. The Guardian published a short account of it in 2009. The next phase in Ash Grove’s development took place in the late 1880s after Leeds blind-maker William Jones Howell purchased the large parcel of land that lay between the houses that had already been built.

The street we call Ash Grove was largely Mr Howell’s creation. It was he who built the terrace of houses that used to be known as Princess May Terrace on one side, and the Hyde Park Recreation Club on the other. After the street’s completion, Mr Howell received rent from his tenants in Princess May Terrace. When the company which managed Ash Grove Recreation Club was formed, Mr Howell gave it the land for the clubhouse and grounds for a nominal sum. The architect appointed by Mr Howell to design the clubhouse was Walter A Hobson of Albion Street. Mr Hobson also designed Princess May Terrace. In 1895, both Mr Howell and Mr Hobson gave evidence in the Leeds County Court as a result of two legal actions which resulted from an old drain having been inadvertently built over. The actions were for non payment of rent by two of Mr Howell’s tenants.

The Club was opened by the Lord Mayor Alf Cooke on Friday the 14th August 1891. The occasion was considered sufficiently important to merit an article in the Leeds Times:

The Hyde Park Recreation Club was opened yesterday afternoon by the Mayor of Leeds (Mr. Alf. Cooke). The club consists of large dancing and concert room, billiard room, with three tables, four card rooms, and other apartments. Outside there are lawn tennis grounds, a bowling green, a quoiting ground, etc. The proceedings commenced with a luncheon in the concert room, under the presidency of the Mayor. After the toasts of the Queen and the Mayor had been drunk, an adjournment was made and his Worship, from the verandah in front of the building, declared the club open.

At the time the Club was opened, Mayor Alf Cooke lived at Weetwood Hall and ran a firm in Hunslet which at the time was the largest printing company in the world.

The Club played an active role in the local community for many years with club members and their wives regularly organising children’s parties and other events for local people. A journal was produced on “matters of interest to the members.” It was called the HPRC Chronicle. A single copy survives: Number 4 from September 1897. Inside is a very interesting interview with Mr Howell, regarded by Club members as ‘The Father of the Club.”

On the 7th November 1996, the clubhouse and former bowling green passed into the hands of the present owner, who almost immediately began submitting planning applications which, had they been approved, would have seriously damaged the character of Ash Grove. At the same time, the character of the Club changed from being a respectable private club which got along well with its neighbours, to a noisy student bar. No heed was paid to restrictive covenants in the deeds which prohibit the use of the land for any “trade or business which could be deemed or considered as a nuisance to the neighbourhood” or for use as an “inn, public house or beerhouse.”

The change in ownership brought to an end the long and distinguished history of the Club. The break with the past became very evident when in 2008, the new owner threw out an historic photo montage showing the Club’s 1919 management committee. Fortunately, a local resident spotted the montage lying on a skip outside the Club. He rescued what remained of it together with the majority of the photographs it had included. The photograph alongside is one of the photographs that he rescued. It shows the Club president in 1919, Mr A Bouskill.