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