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.

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