Reminiscences of Thorpe House and Lees Hall

My mother (born 1904 in Portsmouth) and father (born 1898 in Burton on Trent) met in Sheffield and were married in 1934.  They purchased a new-build house in Thorpe House Avenue for £370, backing onto the woodland and almost adjacent to Kidnapper Lane (which we only knew as ‘The Gennal’).  At this point, Kidnapper Lane was a very steep track, between overgrown hedgerows; a continuation into the woods, of Lees Hall Avenue.  It made for adventurous sledging in winter!

They moved from their house to a larger property in Lees Hall Place, to accommodate my Grandmother (born 1860 in Pensnett, Staffs.) who was suffering from dementia.

I was born in 1940 in the house in Lees Hall Place.

In the Sheffield blitz, the house was badly damaged by the blast from a nearby bomb.  We had taken refuge in the coal cellar and fortunately, although badly damaged, the house did not collapse and we escaped uninjured.  But then, we had to be evacuated to Hillsborough whilst the house in Lees Hall Place was made fit and safe to live in once more, and the cellars were reinforced to withstand any further bomb blast!

I recall the celebratory bonfires for both VE day and VJ day in 1945, held on the corner of Lees Hall Place and Carfield Place.  On the former occasion, we burned an effigy of Hitler atop the bonfire, seated on a two-seat privy toilet.  I clearly remember an elderly lady, Mrs. Bishton, who, dressed in Victorian apparel, greeted all the children with caramalised, almost burnt bonfire toffee which she had generously made from her own precious sugar ration.

We lived and played in Lees Hall Place and the adjacent allotments, including winter sledging in the ice and snow, down the unmade road.  We ventured into the valley of The Meersbrook and Car Wood, to Heeley and Heeley Green.  We even reached as far as the fairway of Lees Hall golf course, above and behind Lees Hall.  I started school at nearby Carfield Infants School. In the winter, the snow reached up to my shoulders!

My Grandmother died in 1945 and subsequently, in 1947, we left Lees Hall Place to take up occupancy in Thorpe House Avenue, in the house my parents had purchased in 1934.  I progressed through Carfield Junior School and KES Grammar School until I went away to University in 1958.

Meanwhile, we played cricket and football with other local kids, in Lees Hall Avenue, in the middle of the road.  We didn’t have to hold up play very often, for passing cars were so few then!  (My parents never owned a car.)  We also met and played on a small extent of flattish ground above the confluence, and between to streams in the woods, close by the Gennal of Kidnapper Lane.  We dammed the rivers and we climbed the trees.  We dug out fossils of pieces of Lepidodendron, a prehistoric tree, from the banks of the streams.   We ventured through the woods, farther and farther afield, to Norton, to Heeley, and even to Gleadless and Arbourthorne.

We encountered the farmer who lived in Lees Hall, a gruff (to us), burly man, named Farmer Earp.  We kept out of his way!  But Farmer Wade, who lived with his wife in Cockshutts Farm was altogether more friendly.  He walked daily down through the fields into the woods and on, up Kidnapper Lane with a basket of fresh eggs, which he sold door-to-door to the residents of the Thorpe House estate.  It was Farmer Wade who constructed a stepping stone crossing of the stream at the bottom of Kidnappers Lane.  I also recall an incident when Farmer Wade’s wife was accosted there, in Kidnappers Lane.  As children we simply learned to be wary of strange men!

Either Lees Hall itself, or Cockshutts Farm was also known as ‘Pearl Farm’.  There was a story of the trackway between the two farms having been ‘paved’, or at least strewn with Mother of Pearl fragments in celebration of a wedding.  When that could have been, I do not know, but I do remember collecting small pieces of Mother of Pearl from the mud of the cart-track!

Don Anderson (May 2020)