“It were paradise, absolute paradise” was Ken Westmoreland’s reaction when his family moved into a newly built council house at 34 All Saints Road in Woodlesford in 1951. They’d lived previously in a “one up, one down” cottage in Barwick Yard in Mickletown, with no electricity or hot running water and an outside toilet, so a two bedroom house with “all mod cons” on the new estate was an exciting prospect.
An only child, Ken was born in 1941 and has mining roots on both side of the family. Most of the Westmoreland men were miners and one researcher has traced them back to a Phillip Westmorland, born in Scholes in 1656. Nearly two hundred years later a Joseph Westmoreland addressed a mass meeting of 3000 striking miners from Leeds, Rothwell and Methley at Stye Bank near the John O’ Gaunt Inn in 1858. As well as being a union activist he was known as “Preacher Joe” and was a leading member of the Primitive Methodist congregation in Rothwell. He helped to build a chapel in 1838 which later became part of Seanor’s match factory.
Ken’s great grandfather, Squire Westmoreland, was born in Rothwell in 1845 and appears to have moved to Methley in about 1878. Ken’s father, also Joseph Westmoreland, grew up there and worked for the Henry Briggs company at Methley Junction and Whitwood collieries. He continued to work at Whitwood after nationalisation of the industry in 1947 ending up as an onsetter at Savile colliery in Methley.
Before the streets were named the new post war council houses in Woodlesford were known as the Lawrence Villa estate. Adjacent to a group of worked out stone quarries, they were built on fields which had been developed as market gardens growing rhubarb and other crops.
In the early 19th century the land belonged to Sheppard Dobson, a farmer who lived in a large house on the site of what is now the Beechwood Centre. He died in 1835 with his estate passing to his only son, John Dobson, a solicitor with offices in Leeds. He built and lived in Lawrence Villa but never married and died childless in 1883 after drowning in one of the quarries off Eshald Lane.
After the Second World War the Dobson land was acquired by the Rothwell Urban District Council as part of the Labour government’s plans to provide more affordable council housing. A similar programme after the First World War, dubbed “Homes for Heroes” by the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George, had led to the building of the first council houses in the area on Green Lea, North Lane and Holmsley Field Lane in the 1920s.
They were followed in the late 1930s by more houses connecting the older properties on Green Lea with Oulton Lane. Two of the cul-de-sacs, Bryngate amd Margate, were named after the children of Albert Roberts who was elected as a Labour Party councillor for Woodlesford in 1937.
He continued on the council until his election as M.P. in 1951 and referred to the post-war housing crisis in his memoirs: “A terrific housing problem existed. It must be borne in mind that no houses had been built during the war, so there was a terrific backlog. Many young men returning from war service soon married, and were obliged to live with their parents. In some cases there were four families in one household. Council house building developed at a fair pace. Private building was allowed under licence, but was very much restricted. One had to bear in mind the demand for materials was extremely heavy, owing to the rebuilding of the areas damaged by enemy bombing.”
After negotiations with the Ministry of Health by the housing committee, chaired by Tom Salmon Dawson, a Rothwell colliery miner who himself lived in a council house on the John O’ Gaunt’s estate, approval for the first of the new houses on the Lawrence Villa site was given at a meeting of the full council in February 1950. 32 houses were to be built under contract by F. and C. Leach Ltd. at a total cost of £38,520. In other words each house was built for £1203 15 shillings, approximately £37,000 in 2015.
At the same meeting the clerk said the Ministry had approved the acceptance of a negotiated tender from Dunhill Brothers for the erection of another 32 houses on the site for £39,570. The go-ahead was also given for 10 “old persons bungalows.” 104 houses had been built by January 1952 when the council architect reported that the greater part of the estate had been completed and roadworks were finished.
The rent for the new houses was about 16 or 17 shillings per week plus 7 shillings for rates. They were allocated under a points scheme but were more expensive than some of the pre-war council houses so it was agreed that if a selected tenant couldn’t afford the rent then they could arrange to swap with an existing R.U.D.C. tenant from a cheaper property who could afford it.
Although they appear cheap today the cost of the new council houses was not without controversy. During the general election campaign in October 1951 Albert Roberts’ opponent, Conservative and National Liberal candidate Thomas Heseltine, a chemist in Normanton, complained that municipal schemes were a costlier way of providing housing. He claimed that the average council property was costing £1,550 whereas private builders were erecting homes for about £200 less.
When Ken Westmoreland arrived on All Saints Road only about a third of the houses had been completed. As time went by other families from Oulton, Woodlesford, Rothwell, Ouzlewell Green, Carlton and Methley moved in and Ken made many friends playing sport and trainspotting at Woodlesford station.
The Ritz cinema on Aberford Road was another attraction, especially the Saturday morning matinees showing Hollywood cowboy films and episodes of the science fiction drama Flash Gordon. In October 1952, under the Sunday Entertainments Act of 1932 and despite protests from Methodist and Anglican clergy, villagers voted by a majority to allow Sunday opening of the cinema.
Eventually, after about 8 or 9 years in Woodlesford, Joseph and Mary Westmoreland decided to move back to Methley taking advantage of the council’s house swapping scheme. Before that though in the 1954/55 season Ken was a member of a cup winning Woodlesford school football team built up and coached by teacher Frank Warrington, an ex R.A.F fighter pilot.
Assisted by fellow teacher Alf Howells, the 54/55 team won the Rothwell Charity Cup in front of a large crowd at the Rabbit Trap ground in Rothwell. In 2006, just over 50 years, after their memorable victory most of the members of the team were reunited at the Midland Hotel and have continued to meet every year since along with others from the post-war Woodlesford and Oulton community.
Click on the links below to listen to Ken Westmoreland talk about moving to All Saints Road in 1951 and the reunion of his school football team.