Sheila Exley's Story
I came to live in a Seacroft when I was 5 years old in 1938. I moved away after I lost my dad in an accident after he came home from the war. I always liked Seacroft because I felt that it was my home.
I got married and at the time I was married I couldn’t get a house or a place to live and we were hopping from one place to another and I have been in some horrible places but eventually we got a place in Seacroft and this was in 1961. We moved in on March 18th 1961. When I was taken away it wasn’t a good time in my life.
We moved into Moresdale Lane, into a 4 bedroom house, which was luxury as we had moved from Polls Street behind Becket Street where we were in a one bedroom 3 cornered house next to the Crystal Fountain Pub. The lady next door to the Crystal Fountain wanted to adopt my brother. I have a photograph at home of both of them sat on our step. Obviously my mother wouldn’t let her.
When we moved up to Seacroft to the four bedroom house, my brother had a box room of his own, but he could not settle so he went to live with my grandma back down on Dragon Street near Becket Street. Unfortunately he was a bit of a bad boy. Us three girls were okay. We all had to sleep in one bed until we had enough beds and bedding to accommodate us. I remember my mother scrubbing a stone floor up on Robson Street and playing dressing up in the cellar with my sisters. We had a long cradle and we used to rock it. I remember getting dressed up with curtains on May Day as the May Queen.
There was a steep incline towards Moresdale Lane on the field where the Killingbeck police station is now. They were like big grey hills. When we were kids we used to run down them but obviously it was a man made path and we used to cut across there and I used to watch out for my mum, as when we were older she was working and we would watch out for her and put the kettle on when we saw her coming home.
When I got home from school when I was 14 years old I used to light the fire in winter and we used to have a metal blower that you stood against the fire place and I put newspaper round it to get a draught and we had that up in my mum’s house when we moved because she had a coal fire because her second husband was a miner.
On Sunday afternoons we were allowed to go to Seacroft Village and a couple had a soda machine and it worked by some kind of gas and penny drinks and sweets were sold. There was always a big queue. They held it in their room in a row of cottages just behind St James’. It’s all gone now. The council houses were built behind St James church.
The other side of York Road was a man and he had all kinds of things like bicycles and he would mend them. A post office was near the Village hall where the post office box is now. Across the road was a Dentist, gift store, butchers. I remember Foxwoods where we used to go pick blackberries and years later Foxwood School was built. There were farms around. All milk was delivered by horse and cart with measured milk churns.
My eldest sister and I went to Ascension church, a wooden hut where a nursery is situated on South Parkway, Rob Ethson was vicar, and eventually he became bishop before he died. Dad came out of the Army after being in the army (went in 1945) he couldn’t get a job for a while then he became a waiter. He was a waiter before he went into the Army. 18 months later he was knocked down by a car, he died early the next morning. He was crossing the road with a group of people having got off the tram in Crossgates. The terminus was right outside Chiltern Mills. There was the Regency cinema where the Mecca is. Before that it was Gem. I remember attending a party for VE day at the front of our house. A year later mum moved over to Leeds. I always wanted to return to Seacroft and moved in 1961 to North Parkway.
Everyone was welcome but only people of a certain age were allowed to come and sit down and when all the younger ones finished they let the big ones eat. They were stood waiting and watching. A remember a boy called Brian and he got a fever because he stayed out in a tent. And it was raining so he wanting to go back home and he couldn’t get in so he came back again. He ended up in hospital and he died of a heart attack. He was only 9 years old.
I moved into North Parkway in 1961 and one day my daughter came home at 6 years old and she said will you find the church because I want to join. She’d made a friend at school and she still writes to her around once a year. So we walked up the road and found St Richards. There was a number 45 bus there years ago at Kentmere Avenue. She joined the Brownies. I was asked if I would like to be a unit helper and ended up being an Assistant Commissioner. I still have all my badges and I am still in that group. I have Guardian and Trefoil pictures where we had gone away for the weekend. It used to be the LA. We used to go to Birk Crag where the Brownies house was and we used to go away for the weekend in November. It was lovely, we had our own entertainment, and we fed ourselves the lot. We used to go into Harrogate on a Saturday after the chores were done and go to the charity shops. I have put a lot of time and effort in to the Church. I have been church warden 3 times. I have done a lot of work with the Good Neighbours Scheme. I used to wash up for them but I can’t wash up anymore because I have broken my finger and cut an artery in my hand. In my spare time I sew and make blankets that go abroad. I’ve made some that are going to Romania.
I started work in tailoring: the year I should have started work the government had put the age up to 15 my birthday is the 6th of September. Because I had a job to go to with my sisters I was allowed to leave school in July but I couldn’t start work while September. So I had all the school holidays off and started work on the Monday on my birthday. I started off as a hand sewer. I hand stitched clothes. Vest necks, lining, over locking by hand. Then I went up onto the tailors’ table and did the evening wear, tuxedos and dinner jackets. When I was married I left there. I did raincoats, and you had to stand up at a table so my mum said you shouldn’t be standing because when I was 15 I started with varicose veins in my legs. I told the boss that I wasn’t allowed to stand up so he said “you old woman you’re like a big baby”. I said make your mind up I’m either an old woman or a big baby. So he said I think you better go home, so I got my coat and went home and got myself another job.
I told the new employer that I had to work my notice and had a week off. Gary and Gail and I had to go to the doctors when I moved up to New Wortley on Wellington Road. In came the secretary from Conlkey’s. She said “oh your there. Your neighbour told me where you are”. Because back then you were neighbourly. You know what each other was doing. So she said Jack Hirst wants to know if you will do some work at home. Vest necks 9 pence a dozen. The van driver used to bring them. One day our Gary got in it at three years old and pulled the hand brake off and it went down the hill into the toilet wall. The headlight was smashed. We offered to pay the van driver but he said that it didn’t matter.
I worked from home for quite a while. Previously there was a Lewis down water lane and I went there and stitched big jackets but it was a bit rough and I wasn’t satisfied. While I was in that street I was making dresses for my little girl out of a piece of material from the market. A woman down the street had three little girls and she was impressed with the dresses I made and asked if I could make her some for her girls. So I made her a couple of each for the kids. She paid me half a crown for the material and I charged her half a crown for doing it. I put a notice for work in the shop window and got work on mending an Airforce’s jacket and a wedding dress.
I’ve been on the committee for the group council and I have a photograph of that as a group in the room downstairs. My dad spent a lot of time at home through the day and worked in Skegness on a night as a waiter. I have a photograph of him with a trophy.
Seacroft is my life, I am happy to be here. When my husband died, the night he died my daughter stayed with me and the fire engine came to the back road and where the dentist is they used to be a wooden hut there, like a garage and these kids must have set it on fire.
Shiela spent a lot of time working with the local Girl Guides association.