Yorkshire Diary: 55 years of clubbing

John Richardson is one of Leeds's longest serving Rotarians – he recently received a long-service award for being a member of the Rotary Club 55 years.

He followed in his father, Norman's, footsteps by joining the club, which raises money for charity, in 1954 and recalled: "I was 20 years younger than most of the members and after five years they decided they wanted some daughter clubs.

"I was asked to start one at Roundhay. I remember we got our charter through on June 8, 1961, co-incidentally my birthday."

But there is much more to Mr Richardson's life than the club.

Leeds-born Mr Richardson, 86, was the son of a tanner and educated at Moortown Preparatory School, Stonegate Road, Moortown, and later attended Pocklington School in East Yorkshire, after which he had intended to go to university, but fate had other ideas...

Scout

Mr Richardson, who lives in Wetherby with wife, Joyce, 81, said: "I was a keen Scout and had gone with my troop to a Scout rally in Switzerland for a couple of weeks during the summer holiday. I had every intention of going to university when I returned but our stay was cut short.

"We had been there eight or nine days when the British consulate called and said we had to go home because war was imminent.

"We travelled from Basle to Ostend over the Maginot Line (the line of defences constructed along the Franco-German border). It was terrible actually and it took about 24 hours but we eventually got back. I knew I wouldn't go to university, so I got a job with an estate agent until I turned 18, then enlisted."

One of his jobs entailed driving tanks and on one occasion he was asked to drive a Churchill tank from Bawtry Station to Ollerton – about 15 miles, single-handed.

Mr Richardson recalled: "If you imagine that as a tank driver you only have an aperture about four inches by three to look out of and there is normally a man on the turret telling you if you were going to hit something, it's not easy, but I got it there."

Mr Richardson was due to join a regiment which was being sent to fight Romel in Northern Africa but a twist of fate spared him – and possibly saved his life.

"I was recalled and told I was going back to England to train as an engineer. It saved my life. Everyone in the regiment I had been in lost their lives, right down to the cook and the clerks."

After he left the Army, he went to work in tanneries up and down the UK, spending a period at Pittards, Yoevil, where he ended up having a hand in the royal wedding.

He said: "I got to work with the man who made several pairs of kid gloves for the Queen's wedding."

Mr Richardson met his own wife, Joyce, when he was a lad of 11 – he recalled the story.

"My brother Bill and I built a bungalow. Bill was 16 and it was made of wood at Appletreewick in the Dales and it's still standing today.

Climbing

"We were there one day when this couple came walking over with a little girl to take a look at it and I can remember climbing up the nearest tree as high as I could at the time, because I didn't want to see any more visitors. That's the first time I saw Joyce."

The couple married and will celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary in December next year. They have two children, Martin, 52 and David, 54 and four grandchildren.

Mr Richardson had been working at a tannery in Leeds but was forced to leave and ended up working for a furniture maker, which led to him opening his own store, Richardson's in Moortown, which he ran for many years.

Mr Richardson has also served as president of the Leeds Chamber of Trade and previously served on the Leeds Art Collection Fund, which bought paintings for the city.

Our Majestic treats

Your Letters...

I was a 12-year-old girl when the war was declared in 1939. I would like to share my memories of a different kind.

I started work in the tailoring trade, where I met my friend Irene.

Fun and laughter was shared when we used to save a shilling a week for our birthday treats in September and October.

Our special treat was going to the Majestic cafe at City Square. Five shillings bought us sausage and chips or beans and chips.

When we look back, the waitress in her black and white uniform reminded us of Julie Walters when she was the waitress in Acorn Antiques.

We then went to the Empire Theatre in Briggate to see our favourite stars of the day. City Square had a large sign up telling the progress of funds for the Ark Royal ship which was adopted by Leeds. During the war, I joined the Sea Rangers and enclosed is a photo (above) when in 1945 I marched with other regiments and felt very proud. The Duchess of Kent took the salute outside the Town Hall.

The glamour of the Hollywood films which we saw at various cinemas helped to block out the sadness of the war shown on the news reels of the suffering of the troops and the Holocaust. But on the day in 1945 when the war ended we celebrated by dancing and singing outside the Town Hall.

Luckily, my friend and I are still celebrating birthdays, but now at different cafes.

Betty Pope, Ganners Lane, Bramley, Leeds

Guess the year

Mark Altman (1876-1951) came to Leeds and opened his famous ballroom on Great George Street. He also bought the old Vicar Lane Post Office and a house in Headingley, which was also used for dancing. His son, Dennis, took over and changed the name of the ballroom to Dennis Altman School of Dancing but the school closed in 1990 and the building was demolished. In what year did Mark Altman first open his ballroom? Answer next week.

Last week's question: Rylstone, north of Skipton, became world famous when members of its Women's Institute peeled off for a risque calendar to raise money for leukemia research. The story was turned into a film in 2003, starring Julie Walters and Helen Mirren. However, in what year was the infamous calendar first published? Answer: April 1999.

Did you know?

In 1934, Hunslet battled their way through to the final of the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, which was played against Widnes at Wembley Stadium. The Parksiders had beaten Leigh, Castleford and York in the rounds leading up to the semi-final, where they squared off against Huddersfield, eventually winning 12-7. In the final, centre Cyril Morrell scored Hunslet's first try in the 26th minute, but broke his collar bone in the process, forcing him to withdraw from the match and leaving Hunslet down by one man. Despite the disadvantage, they went on to win 11-5.

EP 30 Jan 2010