The Silverdale Children’s Holiday Centre by Frances Brody

Frances Brody reminisces about the Silverdale Children’s Holiday Centre and how it was the inspiration for two of her earlier books. Frances, along with Oliver Cross and Richard Wilcocks will be recounting Extraordinary Tales from the City at the Big Bookend festival on Saturday 6th June.

Say the name Silverdale and generations of Leeds residents will be transported in imagination to a holiday centre on the Lancashire coast. The name conjures sea breezes, brisk walks and, for some, sore feet and misery. Regardless of dangerous sands, this was the bracing spot chosen 112 years ago by the then Lady Mayoress of Leeds, Mrs Helen Currer Briggs.

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Leeds Poor Children’s Holiday Camp, as it was originally known, was the brainchild of concerned citizens who wanted to improve lives. Speaking in 1910, Dr Cameron, Medical Officer of Health for the city, reported that more than one-fifth of the children born in South-East Leeds died during their first year. The families whose children benefited from two weeks’ holiday had an income of considerably less than a pound a week.

‘Poor’ was dropped from the name in the early 1950s after two comedians visited and pointed out that labelling children wasn’t polite.

The original camp was militaristic in style, constructed of wood and corrugated iron. Remembering her holiday at the age of seven, during the Great War, Wynifred Price, daughter of a serving soldier, said: ‘I got into trouble for running too far along the beach. And I asked for more sweetener on our porridge. I was a bit of a rebel. … I didn’t like it at Silverdale. We were too regimented, like a little army.’

The holiday committee adopted a pragmatic approach. They measured results by weighing children before and after their holiday, calculating how many pounds in weight were gained for each pound of money spent. This was the practice as late as 1956 when I went on a fortnight’s holiday there, one of sixty girls; girls one fortnight, boys the next. We were weighed in the office on Great George Street. On arrival at the camp, we were supplied with print frocks and blazers.

We were allocated dormitories along religious lines: Catholics in the Blue Dormitory, Protestants in the Red Dormitory. On Sundays, Miss Farrar took we Catholics to mass in a coach paid for by the Leeds Diocese; Mrs Farrar took Protestants to the local church.

By the mid-fifties, old structures had been replaced by the art deco building that stands today. Leeds Amateur Operatic Society funded an outdoor pool. On fine days, Mr Farrar led us on long walks. On rainy days, we produced pantomimes. Mrs Farrar lent her wedding dress as a costume for Sleeping Beauty.

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The holiday centre is run on very different lines today. Groups are much smaller and go for shorter periods. With a higher staffing ration, there are plenty of outings, a safe play area and organised activities. The pool is now heated and enclosed.

silverdaleholidaycampFPIn 2004, I produced a book to mark the Leeds Children’s Holiday Camp centenary. The title comes from a thank you letter written to Mr Farrar by a boy named Frank who, was taught to swim: ‘When I was in the pool I was learner. Now I Am A Swimmer.’ I was also taught to swim there. Mr Farrar wrote to my mother to say he taught to swim as a reward because I produced three large cast pantomimes and kept children entertained.
Sixpence in her Shoe, a novel published in 2006, draws on research for the Silverdale book and is set in Leeds, Silverdale and Morecambe.Sixpence In Her Shoe





Find out more by visiting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrances Brody, crime author, will share stories from her Frances McNeil book Now I Am A Swimmer, the first one hundred years of Leeds Children’s Holiday Camp at Silverdale, and the novel it inspired, Sixpence in her Shoe, on Saturday 6th June, £3.00, at the Big Bookend festival.

A limited number of copies of both books will be on sale with proceeds going towards holidays for Leeds children at Silverdale.


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Download the programme – click here



Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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