When I was a child and after we’d moved to the posh suburbs from the terraced rows of houses of my infanthood, our mother used to take us on the bus from the posh suburbs into Leeds to “do the shopping” on a Saturday.
These were the days when suburban supermarkets were not yet invented, any supermarkets that there were were located in the city centre for everyone in the city shopped in the city centre, those halcyon days before supermarkets had the good idea of relocating to where the people lived rather than where they currently shopped.
The number 33 bus would travel from our leafy suburbs through the formerly leafy suburbs of Headingley, I say formerly for when Leeds was developing its industrial might in the late 1800s everyone lived and worked in the city centre, the likes of Headingley was the leafy suburb of its time and it was in Headingley that the extremely wealthy Victorian mill owners built their houses.
These men were the multi-billionaires of their time, these were the Richard Bransons of their age, the Bill Gates of Victoriana times probably lived in Headingley and these men of importance built their stone mansions on ten and twenty acre plots with long driveways, coach houses and quarters for the servants – some of those magnificent houses still exist and they certainly still existed in the 1960s of my childhood when we would urge our mother to “go upstairs” onto the top deck of the bus so that we could peer through the foliated high walls of these former Victorian estates and seek out the opulence of the dwellings beyond, even though by then they had been divided into dozens of flats (or “apartments” as we grandly call them now)
We always sought out one house in particular, a house set well back from the main road, its pillared driveway gated and rusted shut, the house beyond obviously inhabited still by a single well-to-do family as they always had nice cars in the long driveway, and nearer to the road than the house, located on a huge front lawn was an old wooden Victorian summer house, a proper summer house built to last by Victorian craftsmen, not one of those tongue-and-grooved things you get in B&Q these days, situated right there on the front lawn.
And in that summer house lived a tramp.
You’d see him some mornings sitting on the front step of his summer house home, warming his hands over an open fire on the lawn waiting for an old blackened kettle to boil, an old man dressed in raggedy tramp clothes, an old army greatcoat his constant cloak, tied around with string in cold weather, hanging casually off his shoulders during the summer in the manner of a man of wealth on his way to an evening function, this was a proper old tramp in the old tradition of tramps, his age could have been anything from 35 to 105, skin like leather, long unkempt beard uncombed for decades, small mammals probably lived inside that beard, or his clothing.
He became so well known that newspaper articles were written of him, the family in the large house who were inconvenienced by not having a summer house any more were very proud of their tramp, for they had something that their equally rich neighbours did not have, they had their own private tramp in residence.
He occupied his time by doing a bit of gardening on his hosts property and would scrounge food and a few coins from the wealthy neighbours by picking up litter in the streets around but most of the day he just did what all traditional old tramps used to do in the days before they became known as “homeless people” and took to begging on inner city streets, the tramp just tramped around the district until it was time to return to the summer house and light another bonfire for the night.
Its not like he was cheating a bit either by living in a summer house year-round for as I’ve said the summer house was a proper old Victorian summer house built of huge timbers and decorated ornately with timber carvings, but without glazing for a summer house was intended for use in the summer, intended for wealthy families to sit outside in their garden during long hot summer afternoons, to take tea on the lawn with the summer house as a focal point or backdrop, those wealthy Victorians had no need for glass in the gaps where the windows should have been so the tramps summer house was open to the elements, he was a proud traditional tramp, he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.