A Walk With My Ancestors

Yesterday I took a walk with my family. To anyone who saw me, I was on my own, but my family was there – the ghosts of my father, my grandparents and great-parents. By the end even my great-great-great grandfather had joined us. They were showing me where they’d lived as I walked through Leeds, from Hunslet over into Cross Green and back down through what used to be called the Bank (properly Richmond Hill) and down to Marsh Lane.
It was a way to connect the threads, but far more, my chance to thank people I’d known and those who were dead long before I was born. They gave me Leeds. They set themselves here, coming down from New Malton back in the 1820s and they stayed.

It’s not a great dynasty. No mayors or distinguished citizens. Just people who got by, probably by the skin of their teeth. But a couple of the places where they lived are still standing. To walk up to these house, to have the voice whispering in my ear: ‘Do you see that room up there? That where me and me brothers all slept. It was freezing at night when we had to go down to the privy’ or ‘It were right there. You should have seen it, lad. A proud place was the Royal.’

Garton Street. East Park Road.


The small fragment that’s the only remnant of Sussex St.


The Allied Brewery that fills acres where the Royal Inn (where my maternal great-grandfather was the landlord) once stood on South Accommodation Road. St. Saviour, still there, still in use, where some of my relatives were married.


And the space on Marsh Lane that was once, long ago, Garland Fold. By the time Isaac Nickson – the first of my family to live in Leeds, bringing his wife and children with him, to work as a butcher – lived there (where the 1841 census places him) the ‘fold’ (once a place for keeping sheep) was slums, one of the worst part of Leeds, where the police were afraid to walk on their own and where, after a heavy rain, the roads were ankle deep in mud and slime used to run down the walls of the cellars where the poor lived.


And, by some synchronicity, or some guiding hand, or whatever, very close to where I had the home of my character Richard Nottingham, back in the 1730s. A kind of full circle, from my real family to what became my fictional family of sorts.

Completing the circle? I don’t know. But I am certain that this family walk was exactly that. We were never more than 15 minutes’ walk from the centre of Leeds, but it was a journey that managed to take in many lifetimes. It told me stories. It gave me a little more of my own history. I hope I haven’t exorcised them. I want them with me until I become just like them, my invisible family in Leeds.