3rd November 1944 - Leeds - Halifax

Wakened about 6 by the noise of clogs, horses hooves, iron shod wheels and trams.  Looked down into Briggate to see the great lighted trams, packed full, the lamps in the horse lorries and the dark shapes of work people hurrying along in the dark, under a dull grey sky.  Women in clogs and shawls like olden times.  Up at 8, breakfast very fair, but porridge nothing special.  Went along to Library.  Art Gallery closed, and Town Hall across the road, considerably damaged on the east side.

Took tram to Kirkstall, past acres and acres of devastated streets where nothing but the cobbles, kerbs and an occasional pub remain.  Difficult to judge how much of this is war damage and how much is slum clearance.  Apparently been done some time ago, as thick grass grows up between the cobbles and forms quite a mat on the sites of the houses.

Bought paper – News Chronicle.  Lot of stuff about closing aircraft factories in Lancashire, which will throw 10,000 out of work.  Can this be done by American pressure?

The sun was beginning to break through the mists over the River Aire, and when I got to the Abbey it was a huge bluey grey mass standing out against a dark green background, with the gaunt bare limbs of dripping trees all round.  A little old man came up from the bank of the Aire where it was chattering over stones to make a little waterfall.

“Wonderful old place”, he said “Wonderful!” I agreed. “You know”, he went on in a strong Yorkshire accent, “Those old monks knew what they were doing.  Look at those arches!  The thickness of the walls!  The height of the tower!  Part of that tower you know, fell down in 1779 I think it was, or may be 1679, I forget exactly, but I’ve got it all in a little book at home.  Now this here” (pointing to the nearest part of the building) “I’d surmise from my little book that this was the kitchens. Yes, you can see that circle there?  Well, that must be the great vat, and here’s the stone drain, just as it says in the little book.  Wonderful, truly wonderful.”

We went round to the door of the cloisters and into the great quad.  There was nobody except ourselves, no sound but the flapping of pigeons and drip of water.  The silent arches on the far side looped in procession like a stone serpent.  “On top there,” said the little old man pointing, “was the dormitories. They all slept together, just like boys in a school.”

We went into the church, with its huge soaring arches, massive columns, empty east window with the wet trees outside.  Everywhere the water dripped down on to the stones beneath.  The old man slowly took off his shabby hat, and stood quite quiet, until at last he said in a whisper “Wonderful, isn’t it, to think of them old monks worshipping here, all those years ago.  Of course, it wasn’t the same religion quite as ours, so they tell me, but you can't help thinking they must have been good men all the same.”

Going back through the cloister door he noticed how stupid and ignorant fools had carved their initials all over it.  “Now that,” he said, “makes my blood boil.  If I ever caught a person doing that, I’d strike him, I would, I’d really strike him,  it makes you feel you’d like to shut all these places up altogether.”  I agreed.  The door itself has fake antique carving on it, and at the top is the date II52, somewhat in 18th century style.

“Now,” said the old man.  “I always find it hard to believe that that date is really correct. Don't you think it likely that they made a mistake?”  Said I should think it more than probable, considering that at that date Arabic numerals were not in use.
“Ah,” he said “what were these Arabic numerals like?”
“Why, the same as we use now, those are called ‘Arabic’.  Before about 1490 only Roman numerals were known in England.”

The old fellow looked mildly incredulous, but seemed cheerful that his suspicion of the date was well founded.

Next we went across the main road to the Abbot’s House, now the Museum, and found Miss Crowther there.  She kindly showed me all over the collections, while the old man pottered off delightedly by himself saying “Never been in here before, all this is new to me.”

The collections are good though the cases are somewhat poor both in design and appearance.  Miss C. has done all the labels herself, white ink on black, (which is a rather outmoded method now).  A.G. Wright did an enormous number at Colchester, but in a mass they give an unpleasant appearance in a case).  There are some very good costumes, and they have many more which cannot be shown for want of space.  Several excellent Leghorn bonnets, about 1820.  The house itself is most interesting, being partly the gatehouse to the Abbot’s lodging, with later additions.  Miss C. said it was haunted by ‘friendly ghosts’.  She herself has sometimes seen what she calls “vague shadows” – “I always make a point of saying ‘good morning’ to them.  It only seems polite.”

Had the pleasure of pointing out two things – one that a papier-mache tray, showing the Abbey, which was dated mid 18th century, did in fact show the scene identical with that shown in a drawing by Nelson, which was dated 1836.  A group of three horses, 2 bay and 1 grey, appear in each.  The second was that for some inscrutable reason 2 donkey shoes (one actually on a hoof!) were labelled as “cattell-shoes”.

The topographical prints and drawings are excellent, and very well labelled.  One is surprised to find so much remaining of old 18th century Leeds.  Never knew before that the first railway act in the world that was put through parliament was made in respect of a line here in 1746, which crossed two or three public roads.  Leeds ware very fine indeed, said to be the best in existence.

This museum is most popular with Leeds people.

Got a tram back to the city just in time to catch a train from Central Station to Halifax, so had no time for lunch, and bought a bun and a glass of lemonade.


Quite the ugliest town I have ever seen.  Got there at 1.30 – filthy streets, beginning to rain, depressing looking houses, depressing people, Post Office simply packed, tried to phone Daphne Young, but got onto wrong place.  Then sent telegram.  Frustrated.  Walked up to Bankfield Museum – (The Curator, Mr Hodge, away in Newcastle, bitter disappointment) – an extraordinary ugly Victorian Mansion, home of Ackroyds.  The collections are nearly all art material and the display is very well done.

The main hall, which is approached by a flight of marble stairs rather like a Hollywood idea of an Italian palace, was set out with an exhibition designed to show how pictures are painted, full of excellent ideas.  There were photo enlargements of works of famous painters, done in such a way as to show each man’s individual style, and I should imagine that the whole show must be most valuable from the point of view of art teachers.

Museum founded in 1886.

From Hull, Hell and Halifax
Good Lord Preserve us.

Here they once had some sort of a guillotine in the 16th century, like the Edinburgh maiden. 

Excellent is a large weaving section upstairs, showing number of fine early looms etc, and very fine topographical prints and drawings.  Difficult to see why Halifax should be so well drawn.  Very good series of lithographs c.1870.  Wish we had some at Colchester.  Labels good.  They have made the most of a very awkward house and one got the impression that the Curator must be v. able and v. “live”.  Was told that he was in Newcastle at Museums Association Conference.  If only I had known.  Bitter disappointment to me.  Back down hill, over bridge, dirty stream far below, to café very second rate.  Then cinema and saw “Canterbury Tale” good in parts.  Out to find the hideous town a fairyland – lights all over the place, even on the outsides of cinemas.  Have not seen lights on cinemas for 5 years and 2 and a half months.  Leeds 10pm.  Wrote long letter to Father, posted it.  Bright moon, much drunkenness about in the streets.

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