Leeds’ Valentine Fair memories

1974: Shoppers in Leeds city centre enjoyed the spectacle of a 1904 horse drawn roundabout.

1974: Shoppers in Leeds city centre enjoyed the spectacle of a 1904 horse drawn roundabout.

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THE thrills and spills of Leeds’s Valentine’s Fair came to town two decades ago ago and the event has steadily grown into the spectacle it is today.

Sitting in the shadow of the Elland Road stadium until February 27, up to 100,000 people are expected to pass through during its 11-day stretch.

The fair dates back to 1992 when it made its home at the heart of the city centre. Snaking down the Headrow, through Cookridge Street and onto Portland Way, Leeds folk simply loved, or loathed it.

Street closures and diversions brought traffic to a standstill and the city centre loop took the strain. It was once dubbed the St Valentine’s Massacre by Tory opponents on the city council and hundreds of office workers complained about the noise.

But the grumbles didn’t deter council chiefs either who press on with the event year in, year out.

Among the white knuckle rides was a 100-year-old helter skelter and a sedate steam carousel to satisfy the appetite of the visitor seeking a calmer experience.

Ten years ago, it was decided the fair had finally outgrown the city centre and it became a permanent fixture on Elland Road each February.

The Valentine’s Fair is one of Leeds’s most modern fairs but there have been many over the years known locally as ‘feasts’. The most well known were held at Woodhouse, Armley, Holbeck and Hunslet and attractions were more traditional.

Hook a duck was one of many traditional games, and brandy snap a favourite treat then as now.

The Easter Fair at Woodhouse Moor was a big favourite and began in 1936.

Jayne Greenwood said: “When I was a youngster living in Armley the annual feast was incredibly exciting. It used to be on land just off the top of Armley Town Street and I can still remember the excitement of walking to the shops with my mum and seeing that the vans had arrived to set up the rides.

“After that I would pester the life out of her to take me there , even though I also used to find it quite frightening. I remember the smell of it even now, with the brandy snap and candy floss. I used to love a ride that was like a swingboat with a rope you pulled yourself to make it go higher.

“I’m sure the feast would look very small to me now but then it seemed like an amazing thing. I was always very disappointed when it went away.

“We never called it a “fair” back then, it was always the feast and it was definitely a highlight of the year.”

l If you have memories of the old feasts of Leeds, Yorkshire Diary would love to hear from you.

PIC: James Hardisty

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