Secrets of the Palm 3: What to Do on a Wet Thursday Night in Harrogate

  • Leeds Libraries Heritage Volunteer Tony Scaife delves once more into the pages of The Palm, the magazine of the old Leeds Central High School, which is archived in the Local and Family History Library at shelfmark L 373 PAL.

In late August of 1920, four Central High School boys decided to go On a Holiday, leaving a record of their adventure in The Palm (December 1920, p.21). Two of the four have been tentatively identified as J.W.L. Crosfill and D.C. Ramsden, the authors of the article, but history only knows the other two as ‘H’ and ‘M’. Given that Ramsden and Crosfill had joined the ranks of the CHS Old Boys by December 1922, they must have been about 16 years old at the time of the trip.

From Kelly’s Directory of Leeds, 1920, which devotes three pages to bicycle retailers, repairers, wholesalers and equipment suppliers (all offering just the same lists of ‘essential’ kit that fill modern cycling magazines)

The boys cycled from Leeds to somewhere around the Pately Bridge/Harrogate area to take possession of a two-roomed cottage, loaned to them for a week, described as barely furnished and “at least five miles from anywhere”. In fact, they had to make two trips from Leeds to carry all the gear they took with them. But this was no glamping holiday: they washed in the “unsympathetic” horse trough across the green (“a bit chilly a first but we soon got used to it”), cooked on a Primus stove, and slept on uncomfortable beds of heather, which were softened by bracken but still prone, apparently, to stick in your back like a six-inch nail. They said nothing about the toilet facilities. For which we may be fastidiously grateful.

Their equipment list appears quite spartan in comparison to a modern cycle camping trip:

1920 List (deduced from Crosfill and Ramsden’s article) Today’s List (from defunct cycling blog
4 bicycles (makes unspecified) 2 GT Zaskar Expert mountain bikes
4 Acetylene bicycle lamps 24 items of bike and repair kit
Clothing (unspecified) 19 items of clothing
Blankets Tent, thermarest mattress, sleeping bags and liners. Emergency space blankets
3 billycans, 1 frying pan, 1 dish 18 items of washing and eating kit including a folding sink (no stove)
1 Primus stove Camera, mobile phone and charger, credit cards, bike computer
6 chairs and a rickety table (provided) Passports and driving licence

The boys had arranged to get milk, eggs and bread from a nearby farm, and got through eight eggs and a gallon of milk per day. There was also a village shop where you could buy “anything from corn plasters to confectionary”. When not cooking – and they complained about how much time they had to spend cooking – they devoted most of their week to cycling around the district on roads presumably as deserted as this photo of Killingbeck Garage, York Road, in 1929:

A petrol station, paint and repair shop are shown to the left; the site on the right was later used a booster station to provide extra power for trams to travel up Halton Hill to the right, down Selby Road. The clock tower of Seacroft Hospital can be seen on the horizon (image from Leodis).

The rural roads were in a poor state, while wayfaring at unsignposted junctions was a lottery. A midweek trip to Pately Bridge enabled them to escape the cooking drudgery by having tea out, and gave them an opportunity to decry, rather snootily, the overabundance of pubs on Pately Bridge. Finally escaping to Dacre, they were then, in Wodehousian terms, “exhorted by the village arm of the law to apply a lucifer to our lighting appendages” (those Acetylene lamps again) before finally heading home by a circuitous route.

It is not surprising, given that the boys were writing for a school magazine, that they present a uniformly wholesome picture, though there are occasional hints of rifts in the lute (H and M were dispatched one day to Pately Bridge for fresh supplies but returned home late and empty-handed). Furthermore, on several occasions, the standard of cooking fell short even of that usually acceptable to four very hungry, energetic boys. But of drinking, smoking or girls there is not a mention.

The cottage’s sole entertainment system being two copies of the Illustrated London News for 1867, the boys felt compelled on a wet Thursday evening (2 September 1920) to cycle the 14 miles to Harrogate in search of fun. According to the Harrogate Advertiser (Saturday 28 August, 1920) they could have gone to the Beechwood Hotel for a thé dansant, where a Miss Harkins directed Mr Gordon Williams’ Dansant Orchestra. But, at 4 shillings, this was a pricy option and possibly unappealing to adolescent aesthetics.

With prices ranging from 4d to 1/-, however, the picture houses were a better fit for pocket and taste. They could choose from The Picture House (“the pick of pictures perfectly projected”) which was showing Tom Moore in the romantic photo-play Just for Tonight, supported by a two-part comedy, a news reel and two travel shorts. Or there was the Palace Theatre, showing Priscilla Dean in She Hired a Husband, supported by the Charlie Chaplin short The Flirts and a topical Fox News reel. Finally “a crowded house” at the newly-opened Central Cinema enjoyed The Spider and The Fly, a “strong love drama” followed by Dustin Farnum in A Man’s Fight, all the while being entertained by Mr William Elbarne on the organ. Since they make reference to a Wild West thriller in their article, we can assume the boys went to the Central but, wherever it was, they were making their way home by 11pm, only to get lost again on the dark, signless roads and not arrive back till 1am.

By United Picture Theatres of America Inc. - Motion Picture News (Jul. - Aug. 1919) at the Internet Archive, Public Domain,
By United Picture Theatres of America Inc. – Motion Picture News (Jul-Aug 1919) at the Internet Archive, Public Domain,

By and large, though, it was an age when people made their own entertainment… but not always successfully it would seem. On Saturday 4 September, the boys were invited to a neighbour’s sing-song and the “unsuspecting mortals” accepted. Having found that the neighbour was a poor piano player, they then discovered “she also thought she could sing. Up to a certain point she could but after that she slipped her moorings and got adrift. Her nerve-shattering attempts to reach notes two octaves higher that Nature intended … The awful strain of having to control an overwhelming desire to howl for two hours on end is enough to drive a sane person to lunacy. However, all good things must come to an end and when this one did we trooped home, locked the door and laughed”.

The holiday itself came to an end on Monday 6 September when, with justified foreboding, the lads went to the farm to settle the bill and “paid up under protest. Then we loaded our cycles with our goods and chattels, said good bye to our friends and returned home without mishap”… leaving us a fascinating glimpse into the good old days, where everyday activities like cooking and washing were pretty hard and unglamorous, and holidays definitely weren’t for wimps.

Previous Posts in this Series:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.