In 1941, shortly before my sixth birthday, I arrived at what was then a large branch of the National Children's Home & Orphanage, at Old Bramhope. To get there I had enjoyed an exciting (for me) train journey from Kings Cross (London) to Leeds Central Station. There followed a walk (I was carried) to Cookridge Street, then a bus to the bottom of Old Pool Bank, and then the long, steep climb up to the top of the hill, where the Home was situated.
Hilton Grange (as it was named) was an (almost) self-contained village on its own, with some external buildings for members of staff. There was a homestead for the Governor and his family (Mr Hodgetts was Governor when I arrived), a working dairy farm, an administration building, a large school, a small hospital, a chapel, five large semi-detached houses (sufficient for 150 girls and boys, and staff), small market gardens with greenhouses, swimming pool, tennis courts, football pitches, hockey pitch, joinery shop, cobbler's shop, and sports equipment store.
Originally, staffing in all the houses was by Methodist Sisters - blue uniforms were worn by full Sisters, grey uniforms for Probationary Sisters, and civilian clothing for candidates and volunteers. Over time, married couples were introduced into a few of the houses, to help the "family" feel within the large groupings.
As my eleventh birthday approached, I sat for and passed the "11 plus", so gaining entry to Prince Henry's Grammar School in Otley - joining a very small band of NCH&O pupils. Unfortunately, due to the whole organisation being totally dependent upon voluntary contributions, there was a good deal of passing-on of school blazers, grey flannels, and caps, so these were often a bit threadbare, or patched with leather on cuffs and elbows!
Being a Grammar School pupil got one out of the Home during the week, and we all soon learned to be independent travellers - long walk down the hill (in all weathers), wait for the West Yorkshire (or 'Sammy' Ledgard) bus to Otley, and then the walk through town, cross the bridge over the Wharfe, and then through the riverside gardens to school. Incidentally (and I may sound like an anorak now, but it is amazing what one can remember), there were two small cars that would always stop at our bus stop if they arrived before the bus did, and they would take us down into Otley as a kindness - AUB 443, and CUB 911. In atrocious weather, they were a most welcome sight!
In those days, we often walked to Yeadon, and it seems hard to believe that what is now Leeds/Bradford Airport was then the AVRO Works, building aircraft - indeed, I well remember the construction of a whole new bus terminal opposite the works, making arrival and departure much easier for the staff.
The Home's own Chapel was regularly used for services, but on fine days every house would organise a crocodile walk down into Bramhope Village, to attend the service in the Chapel there. On the way down the lane, there was a tree shaped like, and therefore named "the boxing glove tree" (I think it is still there today), and later on a distinctive bungalow (or house) named, appropriately, Green Tiles.
I can also remember the railings, behind the school (fronting the main Harrogate to Bradford road) being cut down, to await collection for converting into munitions. Then it was announced that the King and Queen were to pass by the Home on their way to the AVRO Works, and we were all lined up so that we could wave to them - that is, those who were not propping up the recently cut-down railings, held in place to make everything look ship-shape!
Special treats came at Christmas time, when all the major theatres in the area invited the children to attend dress rehearsals for pantomimes - the Alhambra, Bradford; Theatre Royal, Leeds; etc. We also had a full rehearsal for the "live" broadcast of "Have A Go" (Wilfred Pickles, and 'Mabel' at the piano), but at the eleventh hour we suffered an epidemic of Scarlet Fever, so the broadcast was transferred to Leeds Infirmary. Oddly enough, one of the 'guests' on the show was one of our boys, who had lost an eye in an accident involving a home-made arrow, and as a consequence of his story being broadcast, the public were most generous to him (one even started him off wish a substantial bank account).
I could write much more, but am running out of space. A couple of years ago, my wife and I paid a nostalgic visit to the former site, to find that it has been most tastefully redeveloped (by Redrow Limited) into a sought-after residential estate. The views across the Wharfe valley to Armscliffe Crag are still as beautiful as ever, and it was warming to note that the shells of a few of the original, very substantial houses had been incorporated into the new complex.
A memory shared byon Sep 30th, 2008.
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