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Sandstone secrets revealed

Thursday 3 January 2019

Old girls from Leeds Girls’ High School met recently in London and were taken on a trip down memory lane by actress and author, Jane Bower (OG73). Jane’s talk entitled ‘Sandstone in my Blood’ was inspired by a deep attachment to her childhood home, Ashwood, in Leeds which was just across the road from the school, although it was completely hidden behind a wall with hedges, shrubs and trees preserving its secrets!

What followed was partly reminiscences, partly history and partly a magical journey back to Jane’s childhood in a grand Headingley sandstone house called Ashwood where she wandered in the large garden like Alice in Wonderland, meeting interesting characters (the house had been divided into four residences by the 1960s). Her descriptions were well illustrated by atmospheric black and white photos of the impressive house and grounds, and of some of the characters.

Jane began her talk with a poem by Alfred Austin, Poet Laureate from 1896 to 1913, who was born and brought up in Ashwood in the 1830s and 40s. His father Joseph Austin was a wealthy Leeds wool merchant who had the house built sometime around 1834. Jane thought the house was designed by an architect called Chantrell and that Headingley was little more than a few grand houses at that time.

Although Alfred Austin was Poet Laureate for 17 years, Jane read us a few passages from his poems that illustrated a quote she read that Austin was ‘a victim of the voice of his times’. She told us he was also lampooned as a ‘Preening Yorkshireman’!

Jane’s parents were artists (her father taught at Leeds College of Art) so their part of Ashwood was decorated with murals and dark blue ceilings.  The coach house was lived in by a Mr Copp, who kept the huge garden immaculate – but ‘didn’t like children’! The Petersons lived at the back – Mr Peterson was a suede dyer!  Most mysterious was a small wooden house in the garden with pointy stained glass windows (you saw a shadowy photograph) where a Danish neighbour ‘dried tobacco’ and everyone sensed Jane’s childish fascination.

The OGs were most intrigued as most of them share a Leeds childhood, so this was a fascinating insight for all.

The London branch of the OGC meet twice a year and all OGs and their families are welcome to attend. The next meeting is on Saturday 23 March at Lady Solti’s (OG55) London home at 2pm, where the guest speaker will be Judith Blake (OG71), leader of Leeds City Council. If you would like to attend please contact the organiser, Jackie Chalmers (OG65), jackie.chalmers@ntlworld.com.

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