If you’ve read any of the Tom Harper books, you’ll know that Tom and Annabelle live above the Victorian public house, near the bottom of Roundhay Road in Sheepscar in Leeds, where she’s the landlady. But what was Sheepscar like in the 1890s?
The answer is: like a sea of sooty brick. Everything was brick – houses, wall, factories. What wasn’t made of brick was made of stone. The streets were cobbles and flagstones. What you really wouldn’t find was grass or trees.
The Victoria’s address was 8, Roundhay Road, just up from the junction of Roundhay Road, Sheepscar Street, Chapeltown Road and North Street, with the bottom of Meanwood Road very close by. In those days there were a couple more buildings below the pub, by they’d gone by the time this photograph was taken.
You’ll agree, there was nothing elegant about the Victoria, even if it had made Annabelle quite comfortably-off financially. Even the later picture can’t make it look charming (I was in there once, in the 1990s, before it closed; it still had a spare, Victorian quality).
This picture shows the street earlier, with the Evening Post satellite office on the corner.
The 1898 directory for the bottom of Roundhay Road. Always shocks me that Annabelle wasn’t wasn’t really the landlady of the Victoria.
Still, it was better than Noble Street in the Leylands, where Tom grew up. In his youth, it was a very working-class neighbourhood. By the time this picture was taken, the Leylands had become the home for the influx of Jewish refugees escaping the pogroms in Russia, and Yiddish was the main language you’d hear.
Manor Street runs by the Victoria, a mix of back-to-back housing and small yards for businesses. Some were demolished early in the 20th century, as in the first photo; others remained longer.
The final photo show the junction of Manor Street and North Street, covered in hoardings. The Pointer Inn lies just past them. Roundhay Road would be off to the left. Even the main streets were cobbled back then.
In The Tin God, Annabelle address an election meeting on Cross Stamford Street. Like almost everywhere in Sheepscar, it was a mix of working-class housing and small businesses. A gathering of women and children gives an idea of how crowded the area could be, while, beyond a wall – of brick, naturally, lay Sheepscar Beck, in a trick on it’s down towards Mabgate and eventually the River Aire.
The first meeting Annabelle is due to address in the book is in the church hall at St. Clement’s church. This image from the early 1900s shows the church steeple in the distance up Chapeltown Road.
Tom often takes the tram to work (electric by this time), and at that time it would have looked like this, open-topped, grinding along the rails on North Street.
If he was walking, he might have stopped off at the Golden Cross Dining and Tea Rooms along north Street for his breakfast.
Every day he would pass this house on the way. It had been the home of a man named Hodgson, a famous resurrectionist (a body snatcher, a man who did a trade in bodies dug up from graveyards) in the 1830s. Sadly, the house no longer exists. It was replaced by the strange, triangular Northwood House, which stands smack in the middle of the Sheepscar interchange, across from the hand car wash place.
By the time this new book opens in 1897, Tom and Annabelle’s daughter Mary has start at Roundhay County Primary School, about 200 yards up Roundhay Road, where Enfield Street crosses. It was a board school, quite grand compared to most of the buildings around it. Like much of Sheepscar, it’s long since demolished.
One area that remains, at least in part, is Roseville Road, parts of which were almost middle class. Note the larger dwellings in this picture and the front gardens these houses possess. One close to here was occupied by a bank manager, a man of real status.
There was, though one small area of green, a tiny triangular park that ran between Roundhay Road and Roseville Road. Its ghost lives on.
And there was one other area, Sheepscar’s little secret – the rhubarb fields that occupied the empty land between the dye works and the mill pond. Those remained well into the 20th century; my father remembered going through them as a boy in the 1920s, on his way to the Victoria, which his grandfather ran, and where he could play piano for hours upstairs.
One thing no pictures can convey, though, is the smell. Sheepscar must have been horrific. The dye works just down the street, chemical plants and tanneries along Meanwood Road, the gasometers close by. The air was heavy and foul, and on top of that, all the rank stench of industry drifting over from the west. A constant haze that blocked out any real sunlight. The amazement is that anything would grow at all.
Sheepscar wasn’t a large area, as this map shows. It was where so many other neighbourhoods came together (the Victoria is marked with a black dot). Working class, and quite bleak; wall hoardings were the real sparks of colour. But for Tom and Annabelle, it’s home, and they have no intention of leaving.
All the wonderful old images are from Leodis.
The Tin God is published on March 30. You’ll discover much more of Tom and Annabelle’s Sheepscar – and Leeds – in there.