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LONDON has a Hyde Park and so has Leeds. They are not the same size; and
though this local edition of the Park carries on its notice boards a yard of
by-laws dealing with bathing offences, it has no Serpentine. It has not
even a proper claim to the title of Hyde Park, for though that is the name
of the suburb in which it stands, its real name is Woodhouse Moor.
But for all that, the two Hyde Parks have a common bond. They both have the
same spirit of cosmopolitanism, the same air of life at its most vital that
you can find only in a park on Sunday mornings.
In Hyde Park, Leeds or Woodhouse Moor if you will there is a permanent
atmosphere of Sunday morning petrified.
It may be one of the smallest and is certainly one of the scruffiest parks
in Leeds for it tapers off on one side, into that piece of land which is
the real Woodhouse Moor, in the tradition of Hunslet and Holbeck Moors.
Circuses and swings
But on Woodhouse Moor Lord Mayors land in helicopters, circuses come to town
and feasts pitch their swings and roundabouts. And at Hyde Park Corner,
which is about the nearest Leeds will ever get to Marble Arch, there is one
of the busiest traffic corners outside the city centre. It all helps with
It is difficult to find out why this particular park is different from the
other Leeds parks. The same women wheel the same prams and the same old men
play bowls. The same couples spoon behind the rhododendrons, and about the
bandstand the small boys frisk like puppies. But Hyde Park is one thing and
Roundhay is another. How is it so?
One reason is the nearness to the city centre a mile away, which gives the
park that bustling touch. The other is that Hyde Park has a past.
It is a red and gold past, written in the clip-clop and rumble of a coach
and pair trotting through the trelliswork of avenues; and the secret of Hyde
Park's individuality is that some of the past is still alive.
To the crumbling fringes of its grassland there still clings some of the
majesty of Queen Victoria's day.
There is still the belt of trees by the roadside painted with white
circles, like lamp standards, but still there - still the Grammar School on
one side and the barracks on the other. And set in a bed of lupins, a
statue of Victoria herself to help your vision of the sons of gentleman
walking out in mortar-boards, and soldiers of the Queen with red coats and
Even when you dwell in the past there is the same Sunday morning atmosphere
that haunts the park today. From the centre of the road you can see the
spires of seven churches.
How long this little bit of Leeds will keep its past around it in the face
of progress is difficult to say.
The great levelling will take Hyde Park as it took the country house and the
top hat. The trouble is that strolling through the park on a Sunday morning
in Autumn it is difficult to believe it. There is a milepost there to say
that London is 187 miles away; but none to say that Victoria and all her
golden age is 50 years away.
"Park with petrified air of Sunday" by Keith Waterhouse (Yorkshire Evening Post 25.8.50)