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.”