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Growing up in Victorian & Edwardian Leeds

Growing up in Leeds in the 1930s and 1940s

These are memories from people who were children in 1930s/40s Hunslet and Stourton. They were recorded as part of Hunslet Remembered, a small community exhibition at Thwaite Mills in 2017.


  • “Lads were adventurous and would walk to Temple Newsam. Girls would play in the streets with their dolls and prams.”
  • “When we were 8, my friend and I started up a rabbit breeding business with Giant Flemish bucks & English does. The litter would be 7-12 and we got 2 shillings for each rabbit.”
  • “Saturdays you went to the pictures for the penny rush. Some people paid with jam-jars!”

“I used to go swimming at Joseph Street baths. People would go and bathe in the slipper baths because they didn't have baths at home.”

First Class swimming certificate with drawings of people swimming outdoors
Swimming Certificate


  • “We liked to go and play in Stourton Park on the longboats.”
  • “Catching the Tram to Leeds to go to the Art Gallery or the Museum to see the dinosaur bones. Tram tickets were a 1d.”

A double decker tram with the number 5 on the front.  It has a round light at the front and an advert painted on the front.
Tram Photo


photograph showing a Leeds tram (no.399), route no. 5 to the Corn Exchange via Meadow Lane, with advert for Cephos, in residential street probably in Hunslet or Holbeck

  • “Kick Out Can was a favourite game along with rounders; skipping; hopscotch and whip & top.”

Whip and top consisting of a wooden stick with a string tied to the end and a wooden spinning top.
Whip and Top


  • “I was in the Rothwell brass band from the age of 10 playing the trombone. Christmas morning we went round the houses and on Boxing Day round all 101 pubs.”
  • “Made rafts out of barrels and pieces of timber we found lying around and paddled backwards and forwards across the river.”
  • “Swimming in the river and getting the odd leech on you.”
  • “Making rag rugs or proggy rugs was a family pastime in the days before TV. Every house had a new one for Christmas. Some were exotic with a tiger on or a precise design.”
  • “We used to dig tunnels near Dandy Row [houses at Thwaite Mill] because it was very sandy but we would have to shore up the roof to stop them caving in.”
  • For Bonfire Night “we used to go out chumpin’ and some-times you might ‘raid’ at night with your bogey if you spotted someone else’s chumps in a garden!”
  • “The boys would throw bangers and jumping jacks and once my friend and I got chased to her house and they threw a penny cannon in the open door & burnt a big hole in her mums clippy rug!”
  • “At the Copper Works there were fish ponds where you could catch newts; perch; sticklebacks; gudgeon and tommy ruffs. We had rods of cane with a bit of sting and a bent pin.”

“Trips from the working men’s club to Blackpool or Scarborough. You had to wear a cardboard label in case you got lost! On the bus you got pop and crisps and 10 shillings to buy your dinner.”

  • “We went apple scrumping in the orchards [at Thwaite Mill]. They had the finest apples and pears in the area with some ancient varieties.”

Children crowding onto a roundabout in Woodhouse Moor playground.  Paving slabs are underneath the roundabout.
Woodhouse Moor Playground


  • “We started school at 3 years old. We had to sleep on a camp bed after lunch.”
  • “I went to Stourton Infants then Stourton Primary. At 11 I went to Rothwell Secondary Modern. A school bus picked us up for free unless the weather was bad, then we had to walk to Stanley about an hour and a half.”
  • “School trips to Kirkstall Abbey; Knaresborough and Bridlington. Children’s Day at Roundhay Park, maypole dancing and the school May Queen.”
  • “I remember in winter walking in dense fog & having to put a white handkerchief to cover my nose & mouth then wrap-ping my winter scarf around to hold it in place. The boys would slide on the playground ice”

“We had to learn Latin; composition; scripture; domestic science; singing; handwriting; sewing; personal hygiene.”

  • “At 10 years old I played rugby in the Cripps Cup & had to use my brother’s football boots which were too big. I battled to run but we won 7-2! The newspaper headlines were “Littl’uns lick bigguns”. Bewerley Street were our opponents.”

Family life:

  • “Whitsuntide you got new clothes which you showed off to your grandparents who gave you money.”
  • “Usually only one present... Once I should have had a pair of roller skates but by Christmas time the wheels were broken because my brother found their hiding place.
  • At Christmas, “we usually got three books to share with my brothers and sisters – Dandy, Beano, and Film Fun” and “Lewis’s in the city centre was the highlight of Christmas. Their windows were always beautiful and you had to queue for hours to see Santa but he always had elves and fairies and unbelievable grottos.”
  • “No supermarkets in the 50’s and we didn't have a fridge so mum shopped every day. Nettleton’s for fruit, veg and loose biscuits; Curtis the baker; Co-op for your divi; Marshall’s fish shop for the best fish and chips and Robertshaw’s for your Sunday joint for 10s.”
  • “Father and I used to have our hair cut at Salmons on Highgate overlooking Hunslet Nelson Cricket Ground.”

“Mum and I used to go for coal bricks to a shop a few streets away. They were compressed coal dust wrapped in loose paper.”


Most families would not have had one of the newest domestic appliances available: a washing machine. For the vast majority, washing clothes and bedsheets was all done by hand, and was very time consuming and hard physical work. For those that could afford it though, a washing machine was a great help.

Colour photograph showing a washing machine. There is a large drum section on the bottom and it is top loaded. Over the lid is a small mangle.
1940s Washing Machine

A washing machine like this one, made in 1939 had to be filled by hand using buckets of water, and emptied by a pump. The machine didn't rinse or spin the laundry, so everything still had to be rinsed by hand and then have the water squeezed out using the mangle on top of the machine.

Listen to the audio recording of this machine's last wash, along with some historical background information:


Mary’s story:

Mary remembers going to her Grandmother’s flat in Quarry Hill.

A large building of flats on the left hand side of the photo with a road running past them with cars on.
Quarry Hill Flats

The film below includes Mary’s plan of the play areas in the middle of the flats. Watch from 0.36 – 3.40 for Mary’s memories of sending her uncle to the Second World War. The rest of the film talks about Quarry Hill during the Second World War, about soldiers using empty flats, the nursery to allow women to work, the bomb shelters under the central courtyard and meeting Sikh soldiers from India.  



Joe’s story:

Joe grew up on Temple Newsam Estate where his father was Head Gardener. He recalls climbing trees and running across the estate. 


Marjorie’s story:

Marjorie grew up in Leeds and remembers making go carts, and going out on Sunday afternoons. 


Children's Day

The first Leeds Children's Day took place in 1920 and the event ran until 1968. See Supporting Links for a MyLearning resource featuring archive film footage from Children's Day.


Black and white photograph showing lines of girls in PE kit
Leeds Children's Day PE Display