Friday, 25 September 2015

At the YMCA in Albion Place 1943-1946 (The homes of Leeds Rotary No 1)

Sadly, at present, no comprehensive record exists of all the places where Leeds Rotarians have met over our first century and one useful ambition in the centenary year would be to compile as full a list of these different locations as possible. Some would be venues for the regular weekly meetings, others would be where we held special events such as anniversary dinners or fundraising events.

One from the first category would be the local headquarters of the YMCA where the club met from September 1943 until May 1946. The move to the YMCA occurred after the Hotel Metropole - our previous home - announced that they could only do fortnightly lunches from August 1943.

The YMCA had opened in Albion Place on 9 February 1908 on the site of the former stock exchange. The architect of the four-storey baroque building in ashlar sandstone was W H Thorp - this firm was also responsible for the new frontage to Oxford Place Methodist Chapel and the Leeds Art Gallery. The YMCA stayed here until 1984 after which the interior was completely rebuilt and only the historic facade now survives. 

From Leeds City Council's website:
The new venue was not perfect but members seemed to make the best of it – at least initially. Said the secretary, Charles Davis: “The room may be dull, the sandwiches may be uninspiring, and the coffee may even be cold, but it is agreed on every side that the fellowship has never been better, and we have the added advantage of contacts with the Inner Wheel …” [Secretary's report 1944/05]

The enthusiasm for the YMCA waned however. In May 1945, the secretary reported: “Most members would prefer an hotel, and the sandwich, which is palatable in ones and twos, becomes less so when seen in its hundreds.” [Secretary's report 1945/05] It seems unlikely that the sandwiches so-described were those prepared by the ladies of the Inner Wheel – whose own meetings were at the YWCA in Cookridge Street. At least initially, the ladies provided simple lunches for the men. The presence of ladies was welcomed and they were said to be owed “a very great debt for making the present arrangement possible at all.” Instead, the offending food stuff is more likely to have been the YMCA's in-house sandwich known as the “Yorkshire Hussar”.

Despite such grumbling, Rotarians in Leeds did realise just how lucky they were. Charles Davis said, in June 1946, “We should be grateful that Leeds has escaped the worst horrors of war. Many clubs in RIBI were bombed out of their premises 5 or 6 times, and in one club in London the business or private premises of every member was damaged.” Thankfully, both serving members  of the Leeds club and those at home appear to have survived the war unharmed.

Club members hunted for over a year for a more suitable venue but without success: “nobody seemed to want us”, reported the secretary. Finally, on 15 May 1946, the club escaped the YMCA and Albion Place and held its first meeting in the dining room of the Leeds Co-operative Society in nearby Albion Street. Members were now said to receive “a meal which in these days of more austerity will stand a fair comparison with any at the same price and many at a higher one.” [Secretary's report 1947/04] On 13 May 1946, a carved lectern was presented to the ladies of the Inner Wheel to thank them for all their support during the war. 

President's Centenary Charity

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Leeds & Harrogate Children's Camp 1921-1957

Community service is a key requirement of Rotary and the Leeds and Harrogate Children's Camp was a major contribution by the Leeds and Harrogate Rotary Clubs from 1921 until 1957. It was the brainchild of Ben Collingswood of Leeds who built on a previous initiative by a Harrogate jeweller, James Ogden. Rotary club members paid an extra 30 shillings a year to finance the camp. 

The camp was opened in 1921 to allow children from poor families to have a holiday in the countryside around Harrogate. It began with two caravans and a small tent on land at Rosset Green kindly provided by Rotarian Ogden. Just five children formed the first complement. Subsequently, two army huts were purchased to provide sufficient accommodation for fourteen children and, in 1926, a dining hut was added. The sleeping quarters and dining hut were removed to a new site at Birk Crag in 1928 when a further £1000 was spent on additional buildings.

Camp re-opening 1925

By April 1938, 2680 children had been to the Harrogate camp - generally for a two weeks' holiday. By that time, 20 boys and 20 girls were visiting alternately and Rotary Club members drove the children there. On the children's applications, a note was made of the difficulties faced by each child and these were reported in the club bulletins. Examples include: “Mother deserted”, “Father blind” and “Boy one of ten in family”. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The inaugural dinner 25 May 1916

The Rotary Club of Leeds held its first ever meeting on 17 February 1916 and had met for three months before receiving its charter on 8 May. Now it was felt that a more formal launch was appropriate and so a gathering was organised at the Hotel Metropole to be held on 25 May. However, since it was wartime, a celebratory banquet was thought to be inappropriate. So a simple dinner was provided followed by a meeting. 

Hotel Metropole Leeds

There was no evening dress or music but there was still a little pomp and ceremony. The Lord Mayor of Leeds was present in his chain of office and his mace bearer acted as the master of ceremonies. Many representatives from other longer established Rotary clubs attended to give their good wishes to the new club.