Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Dewsbury YMCA and other youth clubs catered for all interests

YMCA ROVERS: Under-18 rugby team at Mount Pleasant in 1949 after beating Batley Boys, Mr Carter, top left, was the coachYMCA ROVERS: Under-18 rugby team at Mount Pleasant in 1949 after beating Batley Boys, Mr Carter, top left, was the coach
YMCA ROVERS: Under-18 rugby team at Mount Pleasant in 1949 after beating Batley Boys, Mr Carter, top left, was the coach
My article last week on the Dewsbury YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) brought back memories for many local men who attended in the 1940s.

Margaret Watson writes: But the YMCA wasn’t the only organisation in town providing young people with something to do in their spare time.

I was born in the 1940s and I remember the abundance of facilities and youth clubs available which were nearly always free.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Most were provided by schools, churches, the local authority and voluntary organisations like the YMCA, the Boys’ Brigade, Scouts, Girl Guides and amateur dramatic societies.

There were youth clubs all over the town, the most popular venue for young men in the 1940s and 50s, was undoubtedly the YMCA in Leeds Road, of which I wrote last week.

It catered for all interests, particular for those who loved sport, and not only did it keep youngsters off the streets at night, it also helped develop character, discipline and social skills.

One former member, Bill O’Donnell, who used to live in Ernest Street, Eastborough, and who joined as a youngster in 1944 aged 14, always spoke highly of it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I interviewed him some years ago and he always credited the YMCA with fostering in him a love of sport which eventually led him to play professionally for Dewsbury Rugby League Football Club.

Bill, who attended Eastborough School and Dewsbury Technical School, later went on to be a successful businessman.

He always paid tribute to the people who helped run it, including Jim Ogden and Harry Smith, a champion wrestler, who was also the local school bobby.

Members were able to take part in football, rugby league, cricket, snooker, table tennis, boxing, handball, quizzes swimming, debates and gardening.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Anyone interested in gardening was provided with a small plot of land and given all the help and advice they needed, at a time when most people didn’t have a garden at home.

There was a team set up for every branch of sport, both in the junior and senior sections which were able to take part in local competitions and yearly internal tournaments.

Another former member, Ray Brace, who supplied the picture on this page, remembers the many sporting activities available.

They had three rugby league teams in the under-18 league - The Rovers, Rangers and Wanderers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The picture shows his team, the Rovers, who had just beaten the Batley Boys at Mount Pleasant in 1949, but he cannot remember the score.

Bill, like Ray, also remembered the camping holidays every year – alternatively to the Lake District and Douglas in the Isle of Man.

Members saved sixpence a week throughout the year which went towards the cost and the rest came from YMCA funds.

One year when they went to the Lake District quite a few members were awarded certificates for swimming across Lake Windermere.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They also competed with great success at the weekly swimming gala at Port Erin which took place in an open air swimming pool.

They camped in tents and dined in a static large hut and occasionally had barbecues outside followed by sing songs.

Former members of the YMCA, who I have spoken to, remember it being a friendly, happy place where everyone knew each other.

They cannot remember there ever being any trouble, and if there had been, it would have been settled in the boxing ring in the gym attached to the main building.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There was also plenty of entertainment and places to visit, and everyone felt safe because there was a strong police presence in the town both night and day.

I know don’t have to keep reminding people of the many theatres, cinemas, dance halls, pubs and restaurants which once existed in the town, but I will because we have such happy memories of these places.

There were five of them – The Pioneers, Majestic (later called the Rex), The Regal, which had several name changes including Essoldo and Classic, the Playhouse and Tudor.

There was also the Empire Theatre in Dewsbury which put on all the top acts in the country, including stars like Morecambe and Wise and Anthony Newley to name just a few.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Before the Empire came on the scene, there was also another popular theatre which our parents and grandparents would remember called The Dewsbury Hippodrome.

It was affectionately known by them as the “Hipp” and was situated between Cloth Hall Street, where Dewsbury Market now stands, and Foundry Street.

It was one of the most popular theatres in the district and attracted some of the top acts of the day.

An old article in the Reporter archives gives an insight into how important these theatres were to the lifeblood of Dewsbury and how they provided lots of local jobs.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The article referred to a refurbishment of the Hippodrome in 1909 which included an imposing new frontage, and which employed local labour to do it.

The report added: “The arena will be fitted with tip-top seats, upholstered in plush, and while the stage is being removed to a much better position, some of the heavy columns have been taken out to give a splendid view from all parts of the house.

“The principal feature on opening night will be a series of animated pictures, and four or five really good turns.

“Popular prices will be retained and every effort will be made to maintain the wholesome class of entertainment for which the Hipp has gained a reputation.

There will be heaps of fun, but no vulgarity.”

Happy days!

Share your memories. Email: [email protected]

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.