I used to play a ball game called Donkey with other girls. Our skirts would be tucked up into our fleece-lined, elastic-legged, navy knickers. The game was that you’d throw the ball as high as possible, then you had to jump over the ball on one bounce only. The winner had to complete all the jumps spelling the word out or you were Donkey. There might have been more to it but we enjoyed it at the time.

The problem was the Varley Square house back wall at the bottom of our street Bridges Place: where Cross Bridges cut across, an old lady called Old Mariah  lived in the end house. Although we tried to play ball games on that high wall only when we thought she was out, sometimes she‘d pop her head out of an upstairs window. She would call us various names and utter expletives. We would apologise and stop, as we would be in trouble if she told my mam, and the old lady needed her rest. Mothers did not let you get away with cheeking neighbours and playing where you shouldn’t in those days, I am very glad to say.

Old Mariah was a knocker up for several people around our area and received only a pittance for her trouble, perhaps 6d or 9d a week. When she put it up a couple of pennies people would complain, so she said wake yourself up and see how much you lose when you’re late for work They soon paid up!  She would be armed with a short piece of broom pole with a large brass bed knob as a doorknocker, and a longer pole similar to a clothes prop; this was for the bedroom windows.   Old Mariah was very enthusiastic and vigorous when she banged the doors; she split the panels in our old front door. She would shout up at the window if she didn’t get a reply she’d warn them she wouldn’t be back later on unless she was paid extra. That always got a reply!  Mind you she got a few other answers from angry neighbours who also shouted out of their windows complaining she’d woke them up as well. 

Old Mariah started at 4.30 in the morning and later in the day she would look after the Bates children at 7 Varley Square as the mum Nora had to work. Mariah was a crabby old soul. I liked her as she knew everything and everybody, and could spin a good yarn. I would sometimes help her baby-sit the Bates boys and she’d fall asleep with deep puffing snores, as she was exhausted.

Old Mariah never married, and looked old (about 60 or 70). She was a little wizened woman with very black long fingernails, which both fascinated and horrified me and others. She always wore a filthy flowered wrap-around pinny. She had stick-like legs, with Norah Batty wrinkled lisle stockings and enormous feet, so she wore men’s checked material slippers and only wore boots or shoes when it was snowing or belting it down.  Her hair was sparse and slightly dyed and scalp showing. She had six large dinky flat curlers all round her small long head, with a hairnet to stop them falling out. She was very sallow skinned.   All the years I knew her I never saw her with those dinkies out. The only difference was she would put a turban over the curlers. I feel so sad that she had to work so hard to buy coal, to eat and buy sweets for Brian Bates whom she adored; she practically brought him up from a baby, as his mum worked most days. It was a hard life for such as old Mariah. I feel even sadder today as she reminds me of the people you see in poverty traps in old films and third world countries today.
Hunslet remembered
Home and around  (3)
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© Audrey Ann King (nee Naylor)
Old Mariah
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A knocker
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I lived in Hunslet from 1954 until it was demolished in about 1962. My late grandma and mum ran Proctor's newsagents and tobacconists at 220a Hunslet Road and we lived in the attached house which was 3 Elm Tree Street. My grandma and granddad bought the shop and house some time in the 1920s and we lived in it till it was demolished in about 1962.

I went to school at St Silas's (Goodman Street) and then South Accommodation Road. The house was always eerie to me; there was no electric upstairs, but there were gas mantles sticking out of the walls. We were posh: we had a bath and a toilet in the house, but no light. If you wanted a bath in the winter my mum used to light a candle, and the bath was a cast iron one. The kitchen was underneath the house and below street level. We had a coal fire with an oven at the side. The coil-oil (coal hole) was at the side of the kitchen, a metal grate being used on the pavement, as the hole the coal was delivered through. It had to be secured from the inside, though, as people started breaking into the houses by lifting the grate up and dropping into the coal hole and then into the kitchen. Beneath the kitchen was a cellar which I was convinced was the way to hell and never went near it.

My mum and grandma knew most people, as they owned the shop. If I ever went near the top of the street a woman would shout out 'Geoffrey get back home or Ill tell your mam what you are doing'. It was an early form of neighbourhood watch, where people in the street looked out for each other. The pavements were of Yorkshire stone slabs and the roads of cobblestone. There was smog, and in winter the smell of coal from the coal fires. I remember bonfires were held where houses were missing, my dad saying they had been bombed in WW2 when German planes returning from Manchester dropped the last of their bombs on the area, as it was an industrial area.
Hunslet in the 1950s
I remember Hunslet Station and crossing the bridge to get to Hunslet Moor to kick my football around. We went swimming at the Joseph Street Baths, which always smelt strongly of chlorine. I went there when I was a Leeds City Police Cadet when the baths were part of the Leeds Athletic Institute. My dad and I used to go for a walk by the canal and I remember half submerged old barges there and the water was filthy.

At the top of our street to the right was an old cinema, The Strand. We went one week and I was looking forward to our next visit but we never went again. I thought my mum said teddy bears got in and destroyed the screen, I was confused as I'd never seen a bear in Hunslet and didn't realise they would damage things. It was years before I realised she meant 'Teddy boys'. I remember Hunslet as a friendly place. Swift's the butchers was next door, and next door to them was the doctors of Drs. Mcfarlane, Shapiro and Brown, in a basement. At the junction with Joseph Street was the Yorkshire Penny Bank and I remember handing over my old pennies to open an account in the days when there was no glass partition. In the opposite direction was a Co-op and on the opposite side of Hunslet Road was a cobblers run by Sid Runton, who was my godfather. A few shops from there is still an old Midland Bank and a wallpaper shop called Stephenson's. There were still tramcars in the 1950's and they made one heck of a noise when they passed the shop.

I was christened at Hunslet Parish Church which was huge. I had my hair cut at a barbers called Salmond's that had the Hunslet Nelson cricket club at the rear of it.

I came to Leeds in March 2013 and decided to have a walk around Hunslet but it's gone. The shop would have been somewhere in the middle of the widened Hunslet Road. I only have fond memories of Hunslet but sadly the Hunslet I knew has gone.

Geoff Wright (b.1954) now lives in Aberdeenshire