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John Sherbourne, 71, worked for many years as a professional photographer. He spent the first seven years of his life living in Burley, Leeds. Recently he revisited some of the places he remembers from that time and using an old 35mm film camera recorded a few of the things he saw. He shares his memories below.
I never did know Number 7’s real name, in fact all I ever knew was that I shouldn’t have anything to do with him. Nowadays Number 7 might be getting mental health support, but in 1952 he was simply someone to avoid. Number 7, the Milners, Mrs Woodhead: these were just a handful of the characters who lived in Graham Grove, a row of tough terraced houses that I’m pleased to report are still where I left them.
Mrs Woodhead (at number 9) was a widow, perfect in every way. The personification of respect and respectability. Her window nets were the colour of snowdrops. She drank tea from cups that sat on matching saucers. She went to church. She tore out and saved knitting patterns from Woman’s Realm. She had someone Dad called an insurance man call on her every Thursday just after five. And when she went out she wore a hat.
The Milners, who lived the other side of Mrs Woodhead, were great. Milner Junior was my age and had a permanent runny nose. He was scruffy in the extreme, he sucked cold bacon rind and he always had scabby kneecaps. My dad was terribly sniffy about the Milners. Even after I married and left home, whenever Dad
saw me looking anything other than what he considered neat and tidy he would say: “nay for goodness sake smarten up, you look like one of Milners.”
In the early days there
were real trains. There were trains that snorted like
We were at number 13, a through-terrace that boasted both a front and back door. However, in common with the bulk of the aspiring middle classes in those days, our front door was only ever used on high days and holidays. Round the back and separating the cellar steps and our coal house from some higgledy-piggledy allotments, ran Back Graham Grove. For me and Colin it was the Wild West, Treasure Island or Omaha Beach.
At the end of Graham Grove, hidden from view down a deep embankment, was a railway line. In the early days
there were real trains. There were trains that snorted like angry dragons, that spewed red hot cinders on to trackside tat and which at journey’s end announced their arrival with any number of huge self- congratulatory sighs. They also belched clouds of noxious smoke which (like one of Colin Milner’s much admired farts) all but made your eyes water.
An altogether more appealing tang was that of Mr Calvert’s greenhouse, in particular his tomato plants. When I was seven Mr Calvert was the oldest and wisest person in my entire world and he was lovely. Quite where the smell of that greenhouse went is a mystery. Perhaps when he died the old gentleman took it with him...
My first school was Spring Bank Primary, of which I remember little. But I do remember South Parade Baptist Church. Mr Palfreman lived at number 11; he was my first Sunday school teacher. I have a picture somewhere of me and Mr Palfreman with John Craven – yes that John Craven. Nowadays it seems that South Parade Baptist Church is better known as SPBC, and by the look of its overcrowded notice board has a finger in just about every pie going
Leaving South Parade behind and moving on to North Lane awakens no end of memories. Number 54 for instance. That used to be Public Benefit, a shoe shop that had a machine that took real life X-ray pictures of your feet! Quite what long term benefit to the public this state-of-the art feature proved to be is beyond me. Nowadays 54 is a fast-food outlet which in terms of aesthetic vulgarity ties with anything you might find on Blackpool’s Golden Mile.
No more than a short electromagnetically-zapped stride from the Benefit was a tiny sweet shop. Every other Saturday afternoon my big brother Michael and I would use our pocket money to buy Mum a Fry’s Turkish Delight. As a Type-1 diabetic this was probably the daftest thing on the planet she should have been eating but at twelve and four respectively our ignorance was Mum’s bliss.
Continuing our journey east we come to the Lounge. The Lounge opened in 1916 and for 83 years was one
of the city’s most popular out-of-town cinemas. Then one sunny day some bright spark came up with the idea of giving the old girl a multi-million pound facelift. It’s a block of flats now.
Across the road from the old cinema was Headingley Library. It was here (whilst trying not to slide off an unforgiving leatherette cushion) that I made some new friends: Janet and John, Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog.
R W Rundle on Otley Road
I can’t leave this area without giving a special mention to Bennett Road. My abiding memory of Bennett Road is a certain smell: the laundry. Come hail or shine, Monday was washing day. Galvanised wash tubs, giant tongs, Robin starch and dolly blue. Starched collars that gave every adolescent school boy a boil on his neck the size and colour of a ripe plum. Blue whitener that confounded logic. Rumour had it dolly blue arrived by tanker. The smell was as sharp and as clean as a knife edged crease. When I recently walked along Bennett Road I couldn’t even find the laundry although I swear l could smell it. The old Parochial Institute which I did find had become home to something called Vineyard Church, and its neighbour the former Victorian Board School is now a one-size-fits-all enterprise hub.
Other things have changed, but I think I’ll leave it here. I could continue along to Otley Road and tell you about how after eight decades time has finally caught up with R W Rundle, the watch and clock man. I could tell you that The Skyrack now doesn’t take cash or that The Oak, once the flagship of the Tetley fleet, is now an M & B. I could even make you salivate by describing the taste and texture of the meringue snowmen we’d buy from Mrs Pound’s bakery on St Michael’s Lane. And I could rant for Queen and country about how the great and the good at Yorkshire County Cricket Club have got away with turning parts of the Headingley stadium
into something that looks like the Jolly Green Giant summer retreat - but I won’t.
And the reason I won’t is because, as wise old Mr Calvert would have said, “Least said soonest mended.”
South Parade Baptist Church
We phoned John to ask him to tell us what happened after he left Headingley:
We moved when I was 7 to Cookridge. Me, Mum, Dad and my older brother Michael. Michael later emigrated to Canada. Went to school at Ireland Wood County Primary then Moor Gains County Secondary. Got a job as a messenger boy at the Yorkshire Post when I was 15. I had an obsession with news. I always wanted to be a writer but I had a school teacher who wrote me off when I failed the Eleven Plus. He said to me, “You can forget being a writer.” So I got more into photography. After about a year at the Post I got a job at a Leeds-based press agency. Then moved to a similar job in Bradford. I lived in Cookridge until I married in 1971. Then, in 1974, I got a job as a staff photographer for the Daily Mail, based in Leeds. I was with them for 23 years.
What did you take photographs of?
Everything and anything! Being a district photographer you were very much left to your own devices. I got a few assignments but you were expected to trawl through local papers and talk to contacts to come up with your own stories.
I left on New Year’s Eve 1998. I was diagnosed with glaucoma, which affected my peripheral vision. But it didn’t affect my photography. As my doctor said, “You don’t take pictures round corners”. But it affected my ability to drive so I had to retire on ill-health at the young age of 48. I had the time of my life! I went to Park Lane College to do GSCE English. Then a lovely lady there said I could go to university. I just laughed! With one GCSE and a Cycling Proficiency Certificate? But I did an access course and in 2000 I started at the University of Leeds doing a degree in Theology and Religious Studies. It was brilliant! I loved it For the last 17 years I’ve been involved as a volunteer with the church. Worked with Chaplaincy, at Jimmy’s Cancer Advisory Service. Loads of stuff.
You’re very busy!
I always say I’ve had two lives. Part 1 was between 15 and 50, working as a photographer. I consider all that as an apprenticeship for Part 2, working as a volunteer. You see all life in newspapers – man’s inhumanity and also his kindness. What I learned came in very useful for this part of my life. I’m looking forward to Part 3.
John Sherbourne in 2020
More Shine a Light Stories.
Older people share their memories of significant or interesting events in the history of Leeds. In partnership with Leeds Museums and Galleries.
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