Here stood the Marsh lane tenements, three storey brick buildings with iron-fenced balconies on the upper two floors, built around a central courtyard that also housed a bin store and staircases to the upper floors. The flats were built in the first decade of the 20th century to provide good quality housing for tenants of the slum properties on land vacant as the result of earlier slum clearances. Along with the Smiths Arm pub, which was directly over the road, they stood until the late 1980’s, demolished less than a decade before ‘inner-city living’ became fashionable again.
Here in 1983, when I was in my late twenties, I fell in and out of love, with a 2nd year student of Fine Art & Print-making – since, by then, with the exception of a few long-standing residents, the majority of the flats had been given over to students. In April I became unemployed again, read my way through the Poetry section of Leeds City Library and over the summer, with student grants long since gone, I fed four people on a giro meant for one, buying our groceries every day from Kirkgate market, and spending the evenings nursing pints with the market traders, scrap-metal merchants, and mechanics from the garages and workshops under the arches of Railway street, who all frequented the Smiths arms.
I remember many impromptu parties, in cramped flats, dancing to cassettes of David Rodigan’s ‘Roots Rockers’ show, that Trevor, a Jamaican student, used to have posted up from London by an accommodating auntie, inevitably nipping over the road to the back door of the Smiths to knock the long suffering landlord out of bed in the early hours to sell us another crate of bottled lager. Or, on one glorious occasion, dancing in the open air under a giant paper butterfly strung up across the court yard, while we held a barbeque and all night party for all the residents.
For a year I rarely slept in my own flat 2 miles away, along the York road, but spend day after day stalking up and down the A64, dressed in army surplus, Dunlop green flash and a second hand grey overcoat that went down to my ankles, doing my washing in Gipton and then in the early evening, walking across Harehills and Burmantofts to Leeds Polytechnic to meet my girlfriend working late, in her studio space.
Here in 1983, laying in bed and pulling back the curtains to tell the time from Leeds Parish church clock obscured in the mist, I fell in love, and in love with poetry, with art, with the deserted, run down, city centre streets after dark, the romanticism of wet cobbles, and the poetry of everyday life.
Photos of the tenements are viewable here : http://www.leodis.net/display.aspx?resourceIdentifier=2002315_55288333
Do you remember the tenements?
What stories do you have to tell about them?
What do you see now?