Augustinian member Michelle Stephens has only lived in High Street for a short time but is enthralled by its history and is active in its promotion. Her talk, illustrated where possible with contemporary pictures of the properties, was a result of her researches looking at the 1911 census returns from the south side of this bustling street, that is all the odd numbers.
Michelle began with a brief review of national events in 1911. For example did you know suffragette Emily Davison hid in a cupboard overnight in the crypt of the Palace of Westminster, so she could be legitimately recorded as resident at the House of Commons on census night?
Michelle outlined the census returns house by house, from the soon to be demolished Royal Hotel next to the recently widened St John’s Street, to the Black Lion Hotel near Market Place.
It is clear from Michelle’s researches that High Street was a varied and vibrant community with shops, pubs, other business premises, and private houses. The licensed premises at no. 25 had in 1903 nearly lost its license being described by Alderman Sawden as “frequented by the worst class in the borough”. At the other extreme, Oakleigh, now known as The Toft, was occupied by John Hermon, a local auctioneer, with his wife, six children and a servant.
In the years since 1911 some of the larger properties have been split into flats, but also some of divided properties in 1911 have been combined again, for example Bestworth House.
More residents than you might imagine were from out of town. For example John Cordingley who ran a grocer’s shop at no. 13 was from Bramley near Leeds. At no.17, another grocer William Edmond was from Market Weighton. No. 31 was a shoe shop run by Tom Sharpe from Bradford who lived over the street at no. 28.
Some of the census returns entice you into further research and Michelle has done this and told us some fascinating stories. For example at no. 67 there was a agricultural implement works and iron foundry run by Edwin Dale following his father and grandfather before him. In the census his step son’s place of birth is reported as the Tower of London. It turns out Edwin had in 1909 married the widow of a London based soldier. She was Elizabeth Sidney, who at that time of her marriage to Edwin was the hotel keeper at the Black Lion. Sadly she died a few days after the census and the step son Ronald died in 1912.
The vote of thanks was given by Jane Payne. Michelle had brought the premises, characters, and lives of the residents to life.