AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF ALWOODLEY
Now quietly down ‘neath the umbraceous wood towards the Seven Arches
Between 1841 and the beginning of World War 1 the Meanwood Valley became a haven for walkers, botanists, photographers and the uniformed organisations. It was an area of unspoilt beauty, somewhere that was within easy reach of the citizens of Leeds thanks to the introduction of a tram route to Far Headingley in 1873 and an embryonic bus service to Adel by 1902.100 This popularity led to the creation of several tea shops and local farmers benefited from the additional income brought by campers, who not only paid for the privilege of using part of a field but also purchased milk, butter, eggs, ham, brawn and cheese from them. The Lane Fox family proved to be tolerant landowners, allowing their tenants to improve their incomes without any commensurate increase in rent.
In 1913 the proposed extension of the tramway to Lawnswood Cemetery became a major cause of concern for the wealthy residents of Adel who were already tired of the noise, litter and nuisance caused at weekends and Bank Holidays by these ‘city-dwellers’ who made their way from Far Headingley in increasing numbers. In their view the new line meant an end to tranquillity. The residents case was championed by Dr J.E. Eddison of The Lodge, Adel, who in January 1913 approached Mr. G. R. Lane Fox with a firm offer to purchase about 300 acres of his estate to the west of King Lane. He was determined to stop the abuse of the area arguing that ‘repeated acts of vandalism, horseplay from well-dressed hooligans, and unseemly conduct on the part of some of the campers’ had caused considerable annoyance to residents.101 Eddison stated that the bugles of the Boy Scouts regularly made an unholy din and that four times during his lifetime the moors had been set on fire. In summer it had become difficult to sleep as the tinned music of the ‘tent dwellers’ made an ‘unhallowed noise until the early hours of the morning.’ 102
The local newspapers reported that he was determined that the public would have to stick to the rights of way, barring them from the moor which ‘is not public at all.’ 103 Little could have prepared Eddison for the massive public outcry against the sale, in which he was vilified by a wide cross section of Leeds communities.
The Yorkshire Evening Post encouraged the campaign for Leeds City Council to purchase the land but Sir Charles Wilson, Chairman of the Finance Committee, stressed that it was outside the Leeds boundary, adding ‘…We cannot buy the whole earth…we already have a good many parks.’104
Throughout February 1913 the campaign gathered pace with letters of support coming from as far away as North Elmham in Norfolk, where Edith Downes put pen to paper ‘…the moors ring with happy children’s voices every fine Saturday, and on long summer evenings groups of girls botanising and culling the sweet wild flowers, tiny ferns, gorse, heather and the like.’ 105 This letter provoked an immediate response from the botanist, F. Arnold Lees of Meanwood who clearly viewed such activity with disdain. He was vociferous in his support for limited public access:
‘…those who have registered the facts, carefully and fearsomely since 1860, have had to bewail real (plant) disappearances. In one spot, remote and hid away, too wet for lovers’ couch, the sun- dew lingers, but the Marsh St.John’s Wort has succumbed, and so has the Fringe-Flower (Buck-bean). It is idle to argue that numbers, when great and frequent, do not do harm to the wildwood and the heathland. Last August ‘cartloads’ of ling in aggregate were carried away by the handful. And the pretty Petty Whin, that used to make such a foil of yellow to its pale rose purple, has not survived the heath-fire of a few years ago.’106
But Eddison and Lees were in a minority, the majority view being ably expressed by ‘Open Air’ in his letter to the Leeds Mercury of the 15 February:
‘To roam the woods, to picnic on the moorland , to climb the crag, or sit by the stream in the shade, and to have found no barbed wire entanglement, no post-and-rail redoubt, and no frowning notice-board casting its shadow upon enjoyment, has bred a happy illusion. Cottagers and farm folk have bound the magic spell upon visitors by adapting their parlours to serve as tea-rooms. Every class can find pleasure…and, alas, there is one class who know no other holiday resort than this. To how many a poor urchin from the dark places of the city is this is a Blackpool, a Scarborough and a Bridlington in one? A visit to the moor is their only change of air, and from their distant homes the boys and girls will tramp in little parties in the summer months, with a bag of blackberries, a glass jar for sticklebacks or if a day’s outing is intended a bottle of Spanish water for the midday refreshment.’ 107
Unfortunately, the gathering storm clouds of war diverted attention away from the debate. Moreover, this was not the only part of Alwoodley used by the citizens of Leeds. Many ramblers would take the tram to Moortown, walk across to Eccup, go round the reservoir, call for tea at the cafes located just off King Lane, before heading back to the terminus for the ride home. Some decided that they would like a more permanent ‘holiday home’ in the district and a shanty town of old railway carriages, former gipsy caravans, wooden huts and purpose built chalets began to appear, particularly on land just to the east of King Lane near the junction with The Avenue.
100. D.Hall, Far Headingley, Weetwood and West Park (Leeds, 2000) p.47; D.Soper, Leeds Transport Vol. 2 1902 – 1931 (Leeds, 1996) p.319.
101. Yorkshire Evening Post, 14 February 1913.
102. Yorkshire Evening Post, 14 February 1913.
103. Yorkshire Evening Post, 14 February 1913.
104. Leeds Mercury, 15 February 1913.
105. Leeds Newspaper Cuttings, Volume 6, p.76.
106. Leeds Mercury, 24 February 1913.
107. Leeds Mercury, 15 February 1913.
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