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A Nostalgic Look at my Grandma's Youth and Life in Early 20th Century Leeds

Updated on May 15, 2018
My grandma Ivy Trigg (nee Garnham) in her youth in a studio photograph.
My grandma Ivy Trigg (nee Garnham) in her youth in a studio photograph.

Grandma was one of four siblings

My grandma, Ivy Garnham, was born in 1908 in Leeds in West Yorkshire.

This photograph was taken when she was about 12 years old, according to mum. It is the earliest photo we have of grandma.

She was one of four siblings, two boys and two girls, whose births spanned around 20 years. Their mother and father were Albert and Laura Garnham (whose maiden name was Tomlinson).

Albert and Laura had met at Sunday school, on a special day to celebrate the end of the harvest in the late 1890s. An outing was held on a huge, open-top carriage, pulled by a horse. As was the norm in those days, they soon started courting and married quite young.

They wed on 4th August 1900 at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel when they were both 21 years old.

Laura (my great-grandma) had their oldest child, Albert, in 1901, when she was first married. Then grandma came along a few years later.

There was to be a ten-year gap before her younger sister, Madge, was born in 1918 when Laura was 39 years old. Soon afterwards, their youngest brother, Dennis, was born. By this time, their mother was in her early 40s.

They grew up in Arthington Street in the Hunslet district of Leeds.

Grandma often told mum that it was one of the poorer areas of Leeds when she was a child, where youngsters went barefoot in the streets because their family could not afford to buy them shoes.

Grandma was one of the luckier ones. Although not well off, her family had enough money to manage and she was always smartly attired and never had to go without shoes.

Arthington Street in Hunslet, Leeds, the road where my grandma grew up. (This wasn't her house, incidentally - we believe it has long gone now, unfortunately).
Arthington Street in Hunslet, Leeds, the road where my grandma grew up. (This wasn't her house, incidentally - we believe it has long gone now, unfortunately). | Source

But throughout her life, she always had vivid memories of her youth and of those children less fortunate than herself.

She always appreciated what she had and never took anything for granted. She was also very generous and would give someone in need her last penny.

In fact, after grandma died, in 1992, mum donated what little money grandma had left from her pension to the children's charity, Barnardos. This was because grandma had always said, if she came into any money, she would like to help put shoes on poor children's feet.

So the images from her youth of children barefoot in the street had stuck with grandma throughout her entire life.

An old-fashioned bed-warmer which people used in the late 19th and early 20th century in the days before hot water bottles.
An old-fashioned bed-warmer which people used in the late 19th and early 20th century in the days before hot water bottles. | Source

Cold houses without central heating

Grandma's father was a brass finisher by trade and this came in useful in other aspects of day-to-day life too.

In those days, there was no central heating and the houses were freezing cold in winter.

So my great-grandad Garnham made brass hot water bottles himself, which were round and resembled what one might imagine a flying saucer would look like!

There was a hole in the middle of the top in which to put boiling water.

Prior to this, the only way of warming a cold bed was to use a long-handled bed warmer. The hot water bottle made by my grandma's father was vastly better than this. He should have patented it - he would have made a fortune!

In fact, a Croatian inventor, Slavoljub Eduard Penkala (1871 - 1922) patented the first hot water bottle that was filled with water. But my great grandad Garnham had actually made hot water bottles before this!

Coal fires heated the rooms. I don't think many people truly appreciate what a great innovation central heating is!

My great-grandad also utilised his brass-working skills to make huge sparklers for Bonfire Night, to the delight of the kids!

In those days, it was commonplace for multiple families in the same street to share an outside toilet. There were mostly big families - grandma's own family with only four siblings was relatively small in those days. (My grandad came from a family of ten siblings as an example, as documented in another of my Hubs). So it cannot have been very pleasant having to share a toilet with several big neighbouring families!

They did not have the luxury of quilted toilet paper, incidentally - they cut old newspapers into squares to save money and hung it in the toilet cubicle.

Grandma's fear of her religious grandfather

As a child, grandma's maternal grandfather, a Methodist, was deeply religious.

He was a clog-maker and had his own cobbler's shop in the Leeds City Bridge district in the early 1900s.

Grandma often told my mum how she found him quite frightening when she was a child due to his religious fervour.

In later life, he would walk around the streets quoting the Bible - grandma described him as having "religious mania". She was quite scared when he started doing this.

Sadly, his religious obsession led to his commiting suicide in his old age, as he said he wanted to "meet his maker". This must have deeply traumatised my grandma, who was only young at the time.

The town centre area where my great-great-grandfather Garnham had a clog-making and cobbler's shop in the early 1900s.
The town centre area where my great-great-grandfather Garnham had a clog-making and cobbler's shop in the early 1900s. | Source

My grandma was not a big church-goer and I don't recall her ever attending church in adulthood, except to occasions such as weddings and christenings.

I wonder whether her experiences with her own grandfather had deterred her.

The wedding of my grandma Ivy Trigg's cousin, who was a singer. I do not have her name. The groom played piano in the cinema in the days of silent films.
The wedding of my grandma Ivy Trigg's cousin, who was a singer. I do not have her name. The groom played piano in the cinema in the days of silent films.

Grandma's musical talents

As a child, grandma had a beautiful singing voice and could also play the piano.

She asked her parents if she could go to singing lessons and "have her voice trained", as she put it, as she wanted to be a singer.

But unfortunately, her dream was never realised. I'm not sure why.

Grandma later found out her cousin had gone to singing lessons and she felt quite envious. The cousin later married a pianist, who played in cinemas in the days of silent films. But we don't know whether the cousin ever became a professional singer.

Either way, grandma wished she had been given the opportunity to train as a singer and she carried on playing the piano all her life, until she was no longer able to do so in old age, sadly, due to arthritis in her fingers.

Older brother had mental health problems

Grandma's older brother, Albert, did not have a very happy life, unfortunately.

Mum was unsure what the problem was, but in those days, before proper psychological assessments were the norm, there was no diagnosis nor drugs to keep his condition under control and enable him to live a normal life. He also suffered from epileptic seizures.

Grandma's memories and mum's re-telling of them are somewhat jumbled on this topic. However, it would appear he was often naughty and as he grew older, his behaviour worsened considerably, until he was out of control in his teens.

Today, with the benefit of medical help, I would imagine some kind of mental disorder would be diagnosed, as grandma's last memory of Albert at home was of him at the age of 14, going crazy and chasing their mother round the house brandishing a carving knife. This would have been in about 1914. She was running for her life.

The family could no longer cope with his outbursts, as he was a threat to himself and everyone else, so reluctantly, they placed him in a nursing home. It was not a "mental home", as they were called in those days, but a privately-run nursing home, where he would have the best of care.

He was still in the nursing home when my mum was a child and she recalled going in the car with her grandparents to visit him every Sunday in the 1930s. By this time, Laura was elderly and mum recalled she had to wear some kind of surgical boot. She became disabled in later years.

Laura would remain in the car most times. I believe it was because she was so upset at her son being in a home and "not in his right mind". It had been her husband Albert senior's decision to put their son in a nursing home.

It must have cost them a considerable amount of money to put him in a privately-run facility in those days and not the "asylum", but they wanted the best of care for him.

My mum (pictured as a child in the 1930s) recalled visits to a private mental health facility in Leeds to visit her uncle Arthur, her mum's older brother, where he lived from the age of 14.
My mum (pictured as a child in the 1930s) recalled visits to a private mental health facility in Leeds to visit her uncle Arthur, her mum's older brother, where he lived from the age of 14.

Mum remembered well their visits, even though she would have been under ten years old at the time.

On arrival, she and her grandfather would knock on the door, as it resembled a large private house, although some of the residents' windows had bars on the outside. It was somewhere out in the countryside, on the outskirts of Leeds.

When they knocked, mum recalled some of the young men who were residents looking out of their windows.

My great-grandad always took gifts for all the residents, including sweets and cigarettes, which he handed out on arrival. Everyone was always grateful.

When they visited Albert, they always took him a food parcel of treats that they knew he liked. They would sit and talk. However, on one occasion, mum recalled young Albert having an epileptic fit during their visit. It was very frightening and her grandad told her to go straight back to the car while nurses at the home tended to him.

Mum remembered seeing another resident, an older gent, wandering round on their visits. He was not a danger to anyone and was allowed to wander freely around the home and grounds. He was labeled as "backward" and was nicknamed "Old Cootie". He was a loner and used to spend his days outdoors bird-watching.

Albert junior remained in the home until his untimely death in 1939. Mum's grandad Garnham told her he had died of a broken heart because he missed his mum. However, I would imagine his death at such a young age was connected to his epilepsy.

Children queue up for vaccinations - something grandma, mum and I never had to do.
Children queue up for vaccinations - something grandma, mum and I never had to do. | Source

No vaccinations for any of the siblings

One thing grandma recalled was the fact that her parents thought the smallpox vaccination might be to blame for young Arthur's health problems.

In those days, it was compulsory for children to have this vaccination in school. However, it appeared to be after this that Arthur's health and other issues began.

As a result, my grandma and the other younger siblings did not have any vaccinations.

In order to be excused from the mandatory jabs, they needed a letter from a church official or some other similar official, including a doctor, to state the children were not to have the vaccination.

Incidentally, this is a tradition that has continued in our family to this day on my mum's side. She did not have any vaccinations in school herself and nor did my older brother and I.

Grandma's sister Madge

With there being a ten-year age gap between my grandma and her little sister, Madge, grandma always looked after and looked out for her young sibling.

When grandma was in her teens, Madge fell quite ill after falling off her bicycle. She had gone flying through the air and landed on a metal pole, which was used to hold up the washing line. It cut her leg open quite badly.The cut soon went septic and Madge used to scream in pain. Her leg was very inflamed and swollen.

There were no antibiotics and my grandma used to apply a poultice of bread soaked in boiling water to the wound, squeezing out some of the hot water to "draw" out the poison. This agonizing treatment had to be carried out several times a day, until the inflammation subsided and the wound healed.

Afterwards, Madge always said that grandma had saved her leg.

My grandma Ivy Trigg (nee Garnham) as a young woman in the 1920s, when she was credited with having saved her sister Madge's leg when it was septic and she was very ill.
My grandma Ivy Trigg (nee Garnham) as a young woman in the 1920s, when she was credited with having saved her sister Madge's leg when it was septic and she was very ill.

When Madge was at school (early 1920s) the little girls wore boots that fastened up the leg with many buttons and metal hooks at the top. There were no boots with zips at that time and it was a long, laborious task putting the boots on and taking them off again.

When the weather was wet, the school teacher had to take off the pupils' coats and often their boots to dry them when they arrived.

There was no central heating and they would have been freezing had they sat in wet clothes all day.

In the classroom was a large coal fire. This would probably not be permitted today for health and safety reasons!

But the pupils' outer clothes were hung around it to dry out in the winter. Then the teacher must put the children's boots on again. Madge said the teacher hated doing it, as it was such a time-consuming job.

Grandma's little brother, Dennis

By the time grandma's youngest sibling, Dennis, was born, after the First World War, grandma was growing up fast.

I am not sure when exactly Dennis was born, but it was quite soon after Madge (who was born in 1918) so I would estimate grandma was about 12 when he came into the world.

Unfortunately, he suffered from asthma all his life and was never 100 per cent well.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when Dennis was a young man, he desperately wanted to join the Army and go abroad with the troops. But he failed the Army medical due to his asthma and was upset that he wouldn't be able to join up.

Determined to aid the war effort somehow, he became involved in civilian duties - I am not sure if it was the Home Guard , but he was deployed to London, where he became a fire-fighter. He was usually found putting out the fires in bombed-out streets and houses, rescuing the survivors.

It was hard work and with London being the capital, of course, it was frequently bombed quite heavily, so Dennis was continually working in a smoky environment. Needless to say, this made his asthma worse. It was ironic that he could not join the Army due to asthma, yet ended up doing a civilian job which was probably far worse for his health.

He never recovered from asthma his entire life, but had been so determined to help the war effort that in a way, he sacrificed his health for his country.

My grandma as a young woman (exact date unknown)
My grandma as a young woman (exact date unknown)
Hunslet Mills, site of many of the district's industrial premises when my grandma was growing up in the area in the 1920s.
Hunslet Mills, site of many of the district's industrial premises when my grandma was growing up in the area in the 1920s.

Going out to work at age 13

My grandma left school at the age of just 13 in 1921. This was the average age for leaving school in those days. There was no chance of progressing to university for someone such as my grandma, from a working class background.

Grandma had wanted to work at the local woollen factory, but her mother wouldn't let her. Although grandma quite fancied working there, it wasn't a particularly well-paid job, nor was it one held in high esteem.

So my great-grandma Laura put her foot down and said no! (My mum said afterwards she felt Laura was a bit of a snob, really). Laura herself was a tailoress, according to her marriage certificate.

Instead, my grandma had to find work in a sewing factory, where the pay was higher, but it was very hard, monotonous work.

There were many industrial premises in Hunslet and my grandma was never out of work in her younger days with her sewing skills.

It was a skill which came in useful throughout grandma's life, as she was a skilled seamstress. She also taught herself to knit and made many of my outfits when I was a child.

Incidentally, grandma's lifelong admiration of the late singer, Frankie Vaughan, began when she worked in the sewing factory, as one of her colleagues was the young Frankie's cousin. She always followed his career with interest and went to see his show many times, particularly in old age.

I have documented this in more detail in my other Hub about grandma's life as a seaside landlady in the 1950s.

My grandma during World War Two, when she worked in a munitions factory
My grandma during World War Two, when she worked in a munitions factory
Women working at a Yorkshire munitions factory during World War Two.
Women working at a Yorkshire munitions factory during World War Two. | Source

Working life

My grandma continued with factory work throughout the 1920s, although she met and married my grandad, Frank Trigg, in 1927, when she took time out to start a family - my mum Audrey (born 1928) and my uncle Ken, born a couple of years later.

As mentioned earlier in this Hub, my great-grandfather Garnham was a skilled brass finisher, who worked for many years for a small firm run by two brothers.

When he retired, they were so pleased with the loyal service he had given them during his working life that they gave him a pension for life. This was unheard of in those days and meant financial security for the family into old age.

After the birth of Audrey and Kenneth, my grandma did return to work and at the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, she chose to work in a munitions factory to help the war effort. My grandad, in the RAF, was serving abroad during the war, as detailed in my earlier Hub about his life.

My mum told me grandma didn't have to go back to work, but she wanted to "do her bit" for the war effort. The factory made detonators for torpedoes. She worked on a drilling machine. However, it made her ill.

A white liquid was poured on to the shells during the process - I presume it was the coolant I have seen described when I researched this - and it gave grandma a bad chest and bronchitis, which she suffered for the rest of her life.

Her health became so poor that reluctantly, she had to leave the factory.

She then took a job at a grocer's shop on Balm Road, Hunslet, called Gallons. It was not far from where grandma had grown up. The shop was managed by a lady who had two children, whose husband was away with the troops.

It was also near to where her mother-in-law, Anne Trigg lived. My grandma would visit Anne, a widow, at lunchtime and take her food.

The shops on Balm Road,Hunslet, in the 1940s. Gallons, the food shop where grandma worked, was on the left.
The shops on Balm Road,Hunslet, in the 1940s. Gallons, the food shop where grandma worked, was on the left.

One day when grandma arrived, the Catholic priest was at the house. He asked grandma to leave and come back later because she was not a Catholic, while her mother-in-law was.

Grandma's mother-in-law, Anne Trigg
Grandma's mother-in-law, Anne Trigg

Grandma found out that as well as looking after people and praying with them, he also asked them for money for the church, which was presumably why he had asked grandma to leave!

She felt he was taking advantage of an old lady and told him off in no uncertain terms!

Grandma was always like that - very forthright and straight talking!

She stayed with her mother-in-law and refused to let her hand over any money. She was fuming that the priest had asked her to leave her own mum-in-law's house!

Family wedding

Grandma had been married for some years and had two children when her younger sister, Madge, met the love of her life, Bill Brown.

Their romance was not without its problems - mainly caused by their mother, who already had a beau lined up for her youngest daughter! He was a wealthy local man called Alan Stokes, who had a car and who wanted to court Madge.

Madge Brown (nee Garnham) who was my grandma's younger sister, pictured in later life on a holiday to the seaside.
Madge Brown (nee Garnham) who was my grandma's younger sister, pictured in later life on a holiday to the seaside.

But Madge was quite headstrong and was determined to marry for love and not money. This was in the 1930s, before the Second World War.

So Madge started dating Bill in secret. Madge borrowed her father's car and told her parents she was taking her young niece, my mum Audrey, out. But she was meeting Bill secretly and instead parked the car up and hopped over a wall to go for a walk with him, leaving mum sitting in the car and sworn to secrecy!

Eventually, Madge married Bill, whose mother was French and very pretty.

They were wed for many years and had three children, Sandra, Shirley and Paul.

During a holiday to France, to visit their son, Paul, who lived there when he grew up, Madge and Bill were stunned when they saw a statue of a French princess in a museum and it looked just like their daughter Sandra! They often wondered after that if Bill's mother had been descended from the French aristocracy.

Bill had a problem with one ear and as a child had a serious operation and had lost his eardrum. He had to wear cotton wool in that ear for the rest of his life. Yet during the Second World War, initially he was put on the guns and searchlight. The noise gave him problems with his other ear and eventually, he was taken off the frontline duties and became a "batman".

This was the term used for a soldier or airman who was assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant in the offices.

In civilian life, Bill worked as a compositor for the Yorkshire Post newspaper. He would arrange the type ready for for printing into a composing machine in the days of "hot metal", long before the modern, computerized production of newspapers. He worked from around 8pm until the wee small hours getting the paper "off the press" and ready to deliver to the news stands.

Eventually, he went after a better job, still in the newspaper industry, which led to the family moving to Timperley in Altrincham.

Mum recalled her Aunty Madge once took her to see Bill at work and she was fascinated by the newspaper press, seeing each completed page come off the end of the line of machinery.

My grandma Ivy Trigg (nee Garnham) as a young mum with her youngest child, my uncle Ken, who developed scarlet fever as a youngster.
My grandma Ivy Trigg (nee Garnham) as a young mum with her youngest child, my uncle Ken, who developed scarlet fever as a youngster.

Family illness and the isolation hospital

When grandma was a young woman in the 1930s, her son, my uncle Ken, fell very ill with scarlet fever. He was only about six or seven at the time.

It was a serious illness in those days which caused a sore throat, high temperature and a rash. It is not as common today and with antibiotics is much easier to treat.

Complications due to the spread of the infection could occur and may include ear infection, throat infection and possibly an abscess, sinus infection and even pneumonia.

When Ken fell ill, he was taken away to hospital and had to be put in isolation, as it was highly contagious.

The family expected my mum to develop symptoms of the disease, as when she and Ken were small, they used to share a bed.

But amazingly, my mum escaped the infection, although Ken was away at the isolation hospital for some time. He made a full recovery and suffered no lasting effects.

For less serious ailments, my great-grandad Garnham used to make his own remedies, such as cough mixture. Mum did not know what the ingredients were (apart from she said one was made with liquorice sticks!) but he would boil it in a big pan over the open fire.

He had a cure for almost everything. As a child, mum had ear-ache and grandma put some kind of hot liquid solution, made by my great-grandad, in her ear. This softened the wax and made it come away, which cured the ear-ache, but I don't imagine it felt very pleasant!

Over-the-counter cures for ailments

In those days, the family would pay the doctor out of their own pocket, as the National Health Service was not launched until 1948.

The chemist's shop was useful too for over-the-counter cures for everyday ailments.

When mum and Ken were little, they both caught impetigo on their faces. This is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection, causing blisters and sores. It was very painful.

Mum's infection was on her chin and because it could be spread by touch, the school nurse used to cover it with a white sticking plaster (mum said it was more like a piece of carpet tape). This was very painful and gave the infection no chance to heal. When it was pulled off, it was agony and made her chin bleed.

Grandma marched the kids off to the chemist's, where they were prescribed some kind of ointment, which worked. They were going on their holiday to the seaside and she asked what they should do with regard to going in the sea. The chemist, a lady, said playing in the sea would be good for their skin and would help clear the infection.

In those days, the 1930s, mum said the sea was lovely and clean (no pollution) and the salt water helped the infection heal properly.

As an adult, mum read an article about the Dead Sea and how it cured a variety of ailments and remembered how, as a child, she had been cured by sea-water.

Chased by protective geese!

Grandma and grandad had moved to an area called Southleigh Estate in around 1937.

It was a lovely area for the children to grow up, as it was on the outskirts of Middleton Woods and there were plenty of adventures to be had.

When grandma was young, Middleton Woods had been private land. The owner was a lady she knew as Miss Maud, who lived in a huge mansion house on the land. She was very well-to-do and had never married.

She had planned on leaving her estate to her nephew, but tragically, he was killed in the 1914-18 war and she had no other relatives. So Miss Maud had given the land to Leeds Council and it became a local beauty spot which members of the public could now visit.

The grounds were properly maintained by the council gardeners and included a rose garden and mum remembers the beautiful displays of bluebells to this day.

The huge house became the golf clubhouse. There was also a boating lake and shrubberies.

The old gamekeeper's cottage in Middleton Woods.
The old gamekeeper's cottage in Middleton Woods. | Source

During a family day out to Middleton Woods, mum recalled they saw a small cottage nestling amid the greenery.

As they approached, a lady rushed out and told them not to go near her gate. Suddenly, there was a terrible commotion as all her geese, protecting the property, started running at the gate to warn off the intruders!

It transpired the lady was a widow who grew her own fruit and vegetables and sold them to make a living. Her geese were better than any guard dog!

She was complaining that kids kept stealing her apples, which she needed to sell.

At one time, it had been the gamekeeper's cottage when the woods had been a private estate.

On this particular day, the Trigg family heard some terrible news. As the widow stood in her doorway, chatting, she suddenly told my mum to, "Sshhhh!" and be quiet. She was listening to the radio.

The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was making a broadcast to the nation on the BBC at 11am. It was 3rd September, 1939, the day he announced that a state of war existed between Britain and Germany.

The stunning bluebells at Middleton Woods.
The stunning bluebells at Middleton Woods. | Source

On another occasion, also in the 1930s, grandma's sister Madge took her nephew and niece, my uncle Ken and my mum Audrey, to Middleton Woods to go "chumping", as they called it - which was collecting bits of wood for Bonfire Night.

But a park ranger spotted them collecting wood and made them take a log back. He said they were not allowed to take any wood away with them.

Mum recalled they were on a hill and as they looked below, she saw a road with houses alongside and children running round playing. These were the coalminers' houses, as there was a colliery nearby. At one time, the trams ran a service through the woods to serve the coalmine.

Her mother and father told her that when she was walking in the woods - as she used to walk through to visit her dad's mother - she must stick to the country lane and not to climb any of the hills because they weren't safe. She realised, later, that this was because the area was in the vicinity of the coal mine.

Trams used to run through Middleton Woods to take the workers to the nearby coalmine.
Trams used to run through Middleton Woods to take the workers to the nearby coalmine. | Source

Mum recalls many happy family days out at Middleton Woods when she and Ken were kids.

They would go on the boating lake, play on the swings and go in the café.

During World War Two, when mum was about 12 or 13, she remembered walking in the woods one day on her way to visit her grandma Triggs (her dad's mother). She saw a number of young men working behind a barbed wire fence. Some of them called out to mum, smiling and waving to her.

She felt scared and ran like the wind till she was out of the woods. But years later, mum realised they were Italian prisoners of war, working in the woods. She thought they must have missed their family and were being friendly. But as a child, she was terrified.

While researching this Hub, I found there was an Italian POW interment camp, Lofthouse Park, during the Second World War. It was formerly an amusement park and was located between Wakefield and Leeds. So quite possibly these young men would have been the Italian prisoners of war out working.

Middleton Wood was a beautiful area and holds many fond memories for my mum of her childhood and of my grandma as a young woman.

Years later, in the 1990s, mum went back there during a family reunion one weekend. Although the woods were as resplendent as ever, the lane which she used to walk down as a child, at one end of the woods, had gone. Her old school, Cross Flats Park, was also demolished and a new school built there.

But she will never forget the splendour of the bluebell woods from her childhood.

A hazardous toy for a child!

Mum also recalled, when she and Ken were children, my grandma would send them to church on a Sunday with my grandad, who was a bell-ringer for some years.

She would have been distraught had she known how grandad kept them amused while he rang the bells!

Mum said she and Ken used to go up a long staircase to the top of the spire, where the bell-ringing chamber was located.

Grandad had to concentrate on the bell-ringing, which must be done with some precision - if he didn't let go of the rope at the right moment, he would have gone flying through the air with it and ended up hitting his head on the bells!

When Ken got bored and began misbehaving, grandad gave him a box of matches to play with and rattle! Luckily, when mum realised what was keeping Ken quiet, she had the presence of mind to take the matches off him. He could have burned the church down!

The neighbours

When mum was a child, she recalled their next-door neighbour was a widow who had three children - two boys and a girl. She was a very hard-working and proud lady.

Mum remembered the eldest sibling was a girl called Stella and the older son was called Keith. As a kid, mum used to see they had a rabbit in their garden and used to go in and stroke it.

She remembered that when he was about 17 or 18, young Keith, who was a junior reporter for a newspaper, had hitch-hiked to London with a workmate.

Years later, mum realised he was the now famous Fleet Street reporter, novelist and playwright, the late Keith Waterhouse, who was born in 1929 in Hunslet and died in 2009.

The world-famous playwright and novelist Keith Waterhouse, who lived next door to my grandma in Hunslet when my mum was a child.
The world-famous playwright and novelist Keith Waterhouse, who lived next door to my grandma in Hunslet when my mum was a child.

At the time - this was perhaps in the 1970s, I feel - mum wrote to Mr Waterhouse at his London office and asked if he remembered the kids next door and the little girl who had played with his pet rabbit.

He wrote a lovely, personal letter back to mum and said yes, he did remember her well.

He said the rabbit had belonged to his little brother, but he certainly remembered growing up next door to the Trigg family.

Mum was thrilled that some 40 years later, he still remembered her and had taken the trouble to write such a detailed, personal response to her letter.

She always followed his career with interest, as he was a local boy who had done very well for himself and gained worldwide renown for his writing talents.

Family holiday to Scotland

Grandma's father, Albert, had a brother who had only one arm. He had been seriously injured in the 1914-18 war and had lost his other arm in the fighting.

He lived in Grimsby in the South East. He had one daughter, Holly, grandma's cousin, who married a man called Eddie, who worked for Customs and Excise. Mum recalled a family visit to Grimsby to attend their wedding, at which Madge was a bridesmaid.

Their other cousin, Grace, was older than Holly and married a tall, good-looking Welshman, whom the kids knew only by his nickname, Taffy. When married, they moved to 47 Springboig Road, Shettleston, on the outskirts of Glasgow in Scotland.

On mum's 14th birthday, in August 1942, grandma sent mum and Kenneth on holiday to Shettleston by train, with mum looking after her little brother.

Springboig area of Shettleston, early 20th century
Springboig area of Shettleston, early 20th century | Source

Grace met her cousins at Shettleston Railway Station.

The journey in those days took 12 hours!

This was long before the days of mobile phones, of course, so they couldn't ring my grandma to say they had arrived safely, although they were able to use a public telephone box, operated by the GPO (General Post Office) in those days.

Shettleston Railway Station
Shettleston Railway Station | Source

Mum recalled her cousin Grace telling them, on arrival, that if they went out without her, they must not go to Sauchiehall Street at night, as in those days, it wasn't safe after dark. I know times have changed now, but this is going back around 70 years.

She also told them that in the area where she lived, Sunday was a religious day and children were not allowed to play out, nor even to read a comic.

My mum and Kenneth used to make up amusing songs about Grace's husband, that always started, "Taffy was a Welshman," which used to make him laugh.

He nicknamed them the "Leeds Loiners" - this is a well-known name for natives of Leeds, though nobody is exactly sure of its origins - in the same way that "Taffy" is the nickname given to a native Welshman. I know, in these days of political correctness, one is not supposed to call someone a "Taffy". But back in the days of my mum's youth, it wasn't at all derogatory.

Mum said: "I can still see him now, laughing at us - yet today, it's a nickname that's not allowed."

Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, 1940s
Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, 1940s | Source
Shops in the Shettleston district of Glasgow, early 20th century
Shops in the Shettleston district of Glasgow, early 20th century | Source

On the subject of areas being unsafe after dark, mum remembered that when she was a child, City Square in Leeds had people sleeping on the streets. She recalled one lady known as "Woodbine Lizzy", who always slept rough in an alleyway, sacking tied round her with an old rope. It was rumoured she came from a rich family, but she lived like a vagrant.

At the end of their week-long holiday in Shettleston, mum and Ken were taken back to the train station by their cousin Grace to begin the gruelling 12-hour journey back to Leeds.

Mum recalled the train kept going on to the sidings all the way home to allow the troop trains to go through first. There were no seats left, so the youngsters sat on their suitcases all the way. There were some troops on their train and mum remembered a young soldier smiling at them.

At the end of their journey, my grandma was waiting for them. She had worried the whole time they were on the train and was very relieved to see them back in one piece.

Holidays to Hartlepool

Grandma's parents also had good friends, the Gallaghers, who lived in Graythorpe, near the seaside town of Seaton Carew in Hartlepool. They had been friends since Albert Garnham senior was young.

So my great-grandad and great-grandma would stay with the Gallaghers for a holiday - and the Gallaghers would go over to Leeds to stay with the Garnhams for holidays too.

The friendship actually spanned three generations, as they had a daughter, Dolly, who was a similar age to my grandma. When Dolly grew up and married, she had a daughter herself, Joan, who was a year older than my mum.

The families continued taking holidays in each other's hometown for years.

I recall as a child, living in a seaside resort, my grandma's friend, "Dolly from West Hartlepool", came over several times for a week or two in the summer for her annual holiday. By this time, she and grandma were in their 70s and had been friends all their life.

In her old age, grandma really looked forward to the visits from Dolly, as they could reminisce about the past and have a giggle together.

Seaton Carew in west Hartlepool
Seaton Carew in west Hartlepool | Source

When grandma was little, her parents had gone to visit the Gallaghers in West Hartlepool during the Great War of 1914-18. Grandma would have been about six or seven years old.

She never forgot a German plane flying very low over the houses - so low that grandma was afraid he was going to smash into them and she actually saw his face and said he was laughing.

He sprayed the house wall with a hail of bullets - then he rapidly gained height and flew off. He was presumably just trying to scare them, as he could have easily shot them, rather than peppering the house wall with bullets, had he chosen to do so.

Grandma never forgot this experience, as she was terrified.

Days out with the family

When mum and Ken were small, their grandparents would organise family days out to seaside resorts on the east coast, such as Scarborough and Whitby.

There was a hill en route and when they reached it, all the passengers except grandma's mum (who was disabled with a problem with her leg by this time) used to jump out of the car and walk up the slope. The car would not make it up with the weight of all the passengers!

Mum recalled seeing disabled First World War veterans making beautiful, intricate sand sculptures on the beach, decorating them with shells and seaweed and relying on people throwing them money so that they had a small income. Her dad always gave them money - she recalled seeing him hand them a silver coin.

They also enjoyed family days out to Hook Moor, a beauty spot near Leeds, where there were plenty of open spaces and woodland, which was a visitor destination and had its own ice-cream man, an elderly gent on a bicycle with a cold box on the front where he kept his ices.

Hook Moor in modern times
Hook Moor in modern times | Source

Also in the 1930s, there was an aerodrome on the outskirts of Leeds known as Yeadon Aerodrome. Founded in 1931, it is now Leeds Bradford International Airport.

In those days, the public could drive straight out on to the field to watch the aircraft take off.

Aerial view of Yeadon Aerodrome in Leeds in the 1930s
Aerial view of Yeadon Aerodrome in Leeds in the 1930s | Source

Mum and Ken would stand on the front seat of their grandad's car, with their heads poking out the top. It had an open roof which slid off. They enjoyed having a close-up view of the planes.

They were mainly single, open-top planes and not passenger aircraft in the 1930s.

On one occasion, a pilot flew his plane right over the top of the car, grinning down at them. Mum said he was only about eight inches above the top of their heads! They both ducked, thinking they were about to be hit by an aircraft!

Can you imagine this today? Health and safety officials would have a field day!

Accident caused my great-grandma's disability

Incidentally, Laura Garnham's disability (which I have touched upon briefly earlier in this Hub) had been caused by a medical blunder.

In today's climate, with the glut of "no win, no fee" solicitors urging people to sue if they've had an accident that isn't their fault, I'm sure she could have won thousands of pounds!

But in the early 20th century, this just didn't happen.

When mum's brother Ken was still little, their grandma Garnham suffered failing eyesight. I am unsure what the problem was, although it may have been cataracts. Their doctor, a Dr Daly, advised she would need an operation.

However, after the surgery, she was taken ill and an ambulance was called.

At the time, my grandma had taken mum and Ken to the cinema and a message came up on the screen stating: "Ivy Trigg, go home, your mother is very ill."

Of course, panic ensued as they rushed home, where the ambulance crew were taking my great-grandma out of the house on a stretcher. It was a two-bedroom bungalow and the bedroom was quite small as they tried to carry her out.

Astoundingly, the ambulance crew accidentally smashed my great-grandma's leg on the door frame with great force. She was unconscious, although I am unsure if this was due to the fact the earlier eye operation had caused a blood clot, or whether it was the pain and shock of having her leg broken.

She was rushed to hospital, where she had an operation to remove the blood clot which saved her life. She also required a major operation to repair her leg. It was a terrible break and it was completely smashed.

In fact, it was such a severe break that it was impossible to heal it properly and she was left with one leg considerably shorter than the other after this. She had to wear a huge surgical boot with a very thick sole to enable her to walk at all and even then, she could not go very far.

Grandma used to say her mum was very petite and had an 18-inch waist when she first married. After her accident, she became virtually housebound and was able to go out only in the car. The inactivity caused her to gain weight and grandma believed she had a 60-inch waist just before she died at the age of only 59. It was very tragic.

Mum recalled my grandma, in old age, had failing eyesight (cataracts, I think) but she would not even consider having an operation to remove them. She used to listen to the radio a lot rather than straining to watch television. Mum said grandma was scared to have an operation because of what had happened to her own mother, with a blood clot after eye surgery.

End of an era

These are mum's memories of life in Leeds in the first half of the 20th century, compiled through her conversations with my late grandma and from her own recollections of childhood.

It was the end of an era when the family moved from Leeds in Yorkshire to Blackpool in Lancashire in the 1950s, when my grandma opened a guesthouse and became a seaside landlady. This is how I remember her in the 1970s.

The later years of grandma's life are related in my Hub, "Life with My Grandma: A Nostalgic Look at Growing Up with an Elderly Relative".

I hope readers have enjoyed sharing my memories of a wonderful lady, Ivy Trigg (nee Garnham) who was a massive influence on my life.

In loving memory of Ivy Trigg (1908-1992)
In loving memory of Ivy Trigg (1908-1992)


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    • K L Evans profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Evans 

      4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thank you, Joe, for your kind comments. I really enjoyed writing and researching this Hub.

    • Joe Fiduccia profile image

      Joe Fiduccia 

      5 years ago from Monroe County, PA

      I'm always fascinated by stories like this. You've definitely done your research and accounted for various moments in her journey very well. Nice job.

    • K L Evans profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Evans 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Grandma was indeed a marvel! She was always there for all the family and was so kind.

    • Mr George Martin profile image

      Mr George Martin 

      5 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts

      Thank you for sharing your memories. Your grandma sounds like she was a truly great woman who packed a lot into her life and always thought about her family first.

    • K L Evans profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Evans 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thank you so much!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      No problem. I will also review this story, take notes and start from what you have here. Blessings to you. Sherry

    • K L Evans profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Evans 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Brilliant, thanks very much. It is 1.50am at the moment, so I will get all the info I have together over the next few days. That is very kind of you.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Send me the basic info you have on Dennis, the parents and any thing you have. I have free access to my email is: laceroseayla@gmail. com.

    • K L Evans profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Evans 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Hi Ibidii, thanks for your comments. I have not been on here at all lately as I have been snowed under with other commitments and my writing has taken a back seat, unfortunately. But I am trying to get back into it again. I do have a number of birth and death certificates somewhere, but there are such a lot - and they are so old - I am having trouble going through them all. It is very kind of you to offer to find the birth records for me, though. How would I go about this please?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      What a wonderful story about your loving Grandma and her family - your Mom and all.

      How sad that the ambulance persons broke her leg! Having had eye surgeries myself, I know how delicate they eyes are. I am glad you have written this great story about your family! I love all the photos! I would be glad to help you find Dennis's birth records. I have access to the databases.

    • K L Evans profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Evans 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thank you both for your supportive comments. I have enjoyed writing this Hub. My mum had written down lots of information over the years about our family history, but I had only just found the time to pull it all together.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your mother's family history - an interesting and diverse story told about a very torrid age.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I really did enjoy reading this about your grandma's life and all the world events that were happening during those times. UUBI votes. She certainly had an interesting life!


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