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The Middle Classes

The standard of living of the middle classes continued to rise during the first half of the twentieth century. Provided that is, that they remained in employment during the inter-war years, and that their businesses survived.

Some of the more affluent moved to live even further out of city in places like Harrogate, Wetherby and Ilkley. The Leeds Guide of 1909 says that: 'There are a score of places within easy reach of the city, which are growing in popularity as residential quarters for businessmen. Most of these places are sufficiently far from Leeds to be really 'in the country' yet at the same time they have splendid train services (late trains home after the Theatre and the Concerts are special features) that they may almost be regarded as suburbs of the mighty city'.

Just as the council was building new housing estates, so the private sector was building houses for the middle classes. An advertisement appeared in ‘Yorkshire Homes’ in June 1925 for new houses being built in the village of Bardsey, north east of Leeds. Nearly two thirds of all houses built between the wars were built by the private sector. A new semi-detached house in the 1920s would have cost £600-£750. Many of these new houses were built in Headingley, Gledhow, Moortown, Alwoodley, Roundhay, Oakwood, Weetwood and Adel, which were all established as middle-class areas.

Middle class parents could afford to send their children to private schools such as the Grammar School. The new secondary schools, like West Leeds Girls High School, although built by the council, charged fees, and were mostly attended by children from middle class families.
After secondary school, many middle class children went on to higher education at college or university, whereas most working class children left school at 14.

There was still a vast difference in income between the middle and working classes. In the mid-1930s a man working in a factory earned around £130 to £180, a railway clerk £225, a business manager £450 a year and a doctor £1000.

This meant that the middle classes could afford to shop in high quality city centre shops. like Marshall's in Bond Street, Hart’s on New Briggate, and Denby and Spinks furniture shop on Albion street. The tired shopper could buy a delicious lunch at Schofield's café, and relax to the sound of the resident quintet of musicians, the all star Versatiles. The working classes meanwhile were shopping in the Market, Woolworths, and Lewis's.

The cinema attracted people from all backgrounds, and there were numerous cinemas built in Leeds in the 1920s and 1930s. One of these was the Scala Theatre at the corner of Albion Place and Lands Lane, and it was clearly designed to attract the middle classes.  It was opened in 1922, and the souvenir brochure shows a lavishly decorated interior. Apart from the auditorium there was a tea room, and the cinema had its own orchestra, and the most up-to-date projection equipment

One of the most important influences on middle class life in the early twentieth century was the advent of the motor car. This gave people a new freedom to travel when and where they liked, if they could afford it. The car in the advertisement, the Standard ‘Pall Mall’ saloon cost £495. A new Ford ‘Tudor Sedan’ cost only £190 and would have been in reach of many middle class families. Those really wealthy could afford a top-of –the-range Daimler at £1,125. The middle classes had long been able to afford an annual holiday, now they were able to travel there in style.



Click images to enlarge
Advertisement for houses at Bardsey, 1925
Advertisement for houses at Bardsey, 1925
Private housing, Scott Hall Road, 1935
Private housing, Scott Hall Road, 1935
West Leeds Girls High School, 1907
West Leeds Girls High School, 1907
Advetisement for Marshalls, 1920
Advetisement for Marshalls, 1920
Advetisement for Harts, 1924
Advetisement for Harts, 1924
Scala Cinema, auditorium, 1922
Scala Cinema, auditorium, 1922
Scala Cinema, tea room, 1922
Scala Cinema, tea room, 1922
Advertisement for 'Standard' car, 1924
Advertisement for 'Standard' car, 1924




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003