From Woodbine Lizzie to the busking horse of Briggate: five of Leeds’s most memorable characters

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As Bradford lays to rest Geoffrey Brindley – the city’s so-called Jesus Man – we look at five of the most recognisable characters in Leeds, past and present.

Perhaps the best known Leeds character of them all, Woodbine Lizzie – or Alice Porter to use her real name – was a familiar sight in the city in the 1930s and 1940s.

Legendary Leeds character Woodbine Lizzie.

Legendary Leeds character Woodbine Lizzie.

She was a bag lady who tramped the streets tapping up people for cigarettes and sometimes making a nuisance of herself.

Legend had it that she was the illegitimate child of a nobleman and had been disowned at birth.

She died in Wakefield’s Stanley Royd Hospital in 1947.

With his mass of white hair and bushy beard, baritone busker Danny Freeman was regularly to be found outside Marks & Spencer in Leeds city centre belting out songs to raise cash for charity, particularly the children’s cancer unit at St James’s Hospital.

Danny Freeman.

Danny Freeman.

He raised more than £250,000 for good causes in the area before his death aged 83 in 2004.

Among the mourners at his funeral was the then MP for Leeds West, John Battle, who said Mr Freeman lived for other people.

Mr Battle added: “Danny Freeman was an inspiration and he ought to be an inspiration to everyone in this city.”

Italian restaurant Pasta Romagna’s Gilda Porcelli won a place in the hearts of Leeds folk by singing snatches of opera as she went about her work.

Gilda Porcelli.

Gilda Porcelli.

She has also been credited with helping create Leeds’s now booming cafe bar culture.

And her position in local folklore was confirmed in 2000 when performers from the city travelled to London’s Millennium Dome to stage a show representing the best of Leeds.

One of the key characters in their piece of musical theatre was called La Donna and based on Gilda herself.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing, however, with Gilda receiving a letter from council bosses in 2001 asking her to keep the noise down.

The mysterious busking horse of Briggate. Picture from @DrJohnOakland.

The mysterious busking horse of Briggate. Picture from @DrJohnOakland.

Indulge us, please, while we pay tribute to one of our own – Eric Simpson, a genuine Yorkshire Evening Post stalwart and true Leeds character.

He arrived at the YEP’s Albion Street offices in 1969, helping manage more than 40 street vendors who between them sold more than 15,000 copies of the newspaper every day.

Eric would become an instantly recognisable figure in Leeds, whizzing around the city in a frenzy of activity as he dropped off papers to shops and sellers in his trademark blue coat – all the while gathering gossip and stories for the grateful editorial team.

His dedication to the job also saw him taking Leeds news to homesick holidaymakers in Blackpool as well as Paris for Leeds United’s European Cup final date in 1975.

Eric retired as sales supervisor in 2014.

And finally... the busking horse of Briggate.

Yes, if you haven’t seen him already, you read that right.

A man – at least we think it’s a man – in a horse mask sitting at a keyboard on Briggate, playing merrily away.

The effect is at first slightly odd, then amusing and finally mesmerising.

Mr Horse and all the other characters who have added to the merriment of the city over the years – we salute you.