Memory Lane: Leeds archive is a city treasure

Keith Barber with Sylvia Bartlett, (centre) president of Ladies Probus Club, and June Stockwell, past president, as they view an image of Gallons the Grocers.

Keith Barber with Sylvia Bartlett, (centre) president of Ladies Probus Club, and June Stockwell, past president, as they view an image of Gallons the Grocers.

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Steve Parsley talks to a man whose Leeds memorabilia is proving more popular than he ever imagined.

IT was only after Keith Barber retired as an area distribution manager for the Burton Group a little over a decade ago that he had the time to really study a legacy from his father.

A chronic “memorabiliac”, he’d accumulated a significant archive of old pictures, newspaper cuttings and family documents over the years, carefully filing odds and ends which all stimulated memories he enjoyed until the end of his life in the mid-90s.

The hoard was to pass to Keith, who also enjoyed revisiting family treasures which harked back to an era when life was very different from the hurly-burly existence we’ve become used to today.

But it was only when Keith retired from Burton’s and took a part-time job helping with funeral arrangements with Leeds-based Wm Dodgson and Sons that he first thought of sharing some of his father’s carefully archived material with others.

More as a hobby than anything – and with the backing of Dodgsons – Keith transferred much of his father’s archive onto computer disc and developed an half-hour presentation entitled a Journey of Nostalgia to show to clubs and societies around Leeds.

But he never expected the appetite there would be for his story of everyday life in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

What he saw as something to keep him busy once a week not only won an award for sponsors Dodgsons, it has virtually become a full-time job, with 450 presentations now completed over the past three years.

“I have to say, I love doing it,” said Keith. “It’s so rewarding to see people’s faces light up when they see something they recognise. I’ve even had to introduce a bit at the beginning of my talk to ask people to save comments and questions until the end.

“They see something they used to do or somewhere they used to go and, suddenly, everyone’s swapping stories and there’s no time to finish the presentation.”

Included in Keith’s presentation – now retitled A Trip Down Memory Lane – are photos of Leeds city centre at a time when trams and buses outnumbered cars, images of the foundations of the Queen’s Hotel being laid, the Quarry Hill Flats which used to stand on the site of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, children playing marbles and conkers or games of football, cricket and hop-scotch in the street.

There are newspaper clippings – one reporting petrol prices “soaring” to 1s 8d a gallon (less than 15p in today’s money) – and wartime ration books and coupons.

“It really is a pleasure showing people things which bring back happy memories and I’m grateful to Dodgsons for helping to get me going,” said Keith. “It also helps me raise a little money for the Alexander Care Home in Morley where my wife’s parents spent their last days.

“I give my presentation for free but, if anyone asks if they can donate to a charity in lieu, then that’s where it goes and, last year, that meant I was able to raise over £1,000.”

But, if Keith – now aged 70 – has any concern, it’s what will happen when he decides to call it a day.

“I’d love to think someone would take over,” he said. “It would be a shame if it was just forgotten so, if there’s anyone out there who may fancy giving a presentation and perhaps taking the reins one day, I’d love to hear from them.”

* More information about A Trip Down Memory Lane is available by sending an email to: keith.barber50@ntlworld.com

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