My blog posts are like buses – nothing for ages then two come at once.
This is another pic found on my sons’ machine. Dad, outside his house, in Leeds, would be early 1930s. This house was technically a ‘back to back’ so it had two addresses. This side of the house I never saw once as everyone came and went the back door way. This side’s address was Vicar’s terrace – but the more-used side was Bankside Street, Harehills, Leeds. Elderly people have told me that when they were young, Harehills was where the ‘rich people’ lived. How times change!
By the 1960s this was a ‘slum clearance’ area and at one point the council were threatening to forcibly buy this entire street – so they could knock it down. This house was sold in the mid 1970s – for £150. It had an organ built into the attic by my grandfather – literally built on site. Somehow, even that had been stripped out and stolen when we came to sell the house.
In my dad’s childhood, it had been the Jewish area of town. Down the road they had theatrical digs where all the acts playing the Leeds City Varieties, and the Empire etc, would stay. Before it belonged to my grandad it had belonged to his father-in-law, Tom Boothman.
The house was built for Tom. He had come from Shadwell on the outskirts of Leeds, and still owned Bradley terrace (off Roman Ave) and the big house on the left at the very top of Roman Ave (now renamed Birchwood Hill). He also had a 1930’s house built for him on Roman Ave. Although he lived at Bankside St til my great grandmother died.
My dad was born in one of the stone cottages at Bradley Terrace which was and remains pretty idyllic-looking – but came here to Bankside St when my grandad took over the dairy business from his father-in-law, in the 1930s. He was an only child and very happy.
My grandad used to say he once saw Houdini do his underwater escape off Leeds Bridge… He also used to say he was friends in later life with one of Houdini’s locksmiths. I’ve often wondered if Houdini stayed at the digs up the road on one of his several visits to Leeds.
My grandmother would have enjoyed watching the music hall and occasionally film stars staying up the road, just to check out the fashions! Dad used to say she could look at an outfit and make a copy – without a pattern. As you can see, she liked to look good:
More recently, I’ve wondered about Houdini’s props. The most famous of his underwater escapes was using a milk churn, after all – and we had a dairy…. I wonder now if my grandad didn’t know Houdini’s mysterious locksmith, via his father-in-law, Tom Boothman – original owner of the dairy? I think my grandad was led to believe that the padlocks were doctored (they weren’t). But I do wonder if he was also visited by someone on Houdini’s tour who’d maybe stayed up the road and spotted the dairy?
My grandad would only be a teenager when he saw the Leeds Bridge stunt. But I knew he knew the locksmith in later life and Houdini had an affection for the North of England, returning on tour several times.
A Houdini expert, writer and magician, tells me:
He did have a mechanic who travelled with him, Jim Collins, and he used a big trunk, Trunk No 8, which contained all manner of equipment to make or repair the special apparatus Houdini used on tour.However, there would have been times when he didn’t have what he need in that trunk, so he would call upon a few selected locksmiths local to the area that he was working to either repair things, or use their workshops.He struck up friendships with these men, and would sometimes visit them when in the area, so it is entirely possible that your grandfather could have known one of these locksmiths.There was one particular handcuff maker in Birmingham that he had a 20 year friendship with, Thomas Frogatt, and it is a fact that he repaired handcuffs for Houdini, and made a “special” set to try to fool him. I have been researching this chap for a while. As far as I know, Froggatt did not have any Derbyshire connections, but there would have been others I am sure.In Buxton, Derbyshire, there is a museum, housing a collection of Houdini padlocks etc. I can’t remember the name of the man who the collection belongs to, but he could be the man you mentioned. A call to Buxton Tourist Informantion should put you in touch with the museum.I hope this information is of use to you. It is always very nice to hear from people with a possible Houdini connection.Yours sincerely‘Mr X’PS…Houdini performed a few times in Leeds. First in 1901 (your grandfather would have been 2, so I don’t think it was then!)
Probably 1914. He was performing at The Empire Theatre there between February 16th to the 21st. Your grandfather would have been 15, so there’s every chance he saw Houdini perform then. Sometimes he would jump in the river shackled, and escape, as publicity for the theatre shows, although what he did at Leeds is not in my records. As you now have the dates, Leeds Local History Department could maybe help. If you find out, please let me know and I’ll include it in my Houdini diary.
Next time I get to Leeds – I’m going to try and find out!
And for more info about hidden/forgtoten aspects of Leeds history, check out: