The first verse of Hue & Cry’s song Looking for Linda contains an intriguing railway mystery. Linda, the eponymous heroine/victim of the song is escaping from an abusive relationship when she meets the singer, a wandering railway troubadour presumably, on a slow train, heading – she hopes – for Paisley.
So far, so ScotRail, but things then take a strange turn, as Linda keeps on running away ‘straight down to Leeds Central’. Now, assuming the slow train connected at Paisley to a train, or trains, that could take Linda to Leeds, the choice of the Central suggests time travel, because that station closed in May 1967, twenty-one years before the song was released.
Leeds only has one main station now, the rather unimaginatively named Leeds City. It is the third busiest station outside London in the UK, behind Glasgow Central and Birmingham New Street, which rather suggests closing the Central wasn’t perhaps the smartest of Beeching’s moves, especially if you’ve ever had to wait on a stationary train until a platform comes free.
Pat and Greg Kane’s choice of Central over City for Linda’s arrival into Leeds could be down to the way the words scan – arguably the former fits better than the shorter four-letter alternative, and avoids repetition of the word ‘city’ within the space of two words. As with many artistic choices, this creates an image in my mind of something I’m not even sure actually happened but represents a very important first meeting between my much younger self and great aunt Vera, my grandma’s sister.
Vera lived in Dublin and her visits to Leeds were eagerly anticipated joyful occasions. In later years, she flew in to the then Yeadon Airport (now Leeds/Bradford), but her first visit of my lifetime was a sea crossing, from either Dun Laoghaire or North Wall to Holyhead, with a boat train bringing her the rest of the way. As Leeds Central closed when I was five, what follows could be mere wishful thinking on my part, but – like the song – actual reality isn’t as important as the impression. Great aunt Vera had to get off the train from Holyhead somewhere, and Leeds Central seems to be as good a place as any for me.
In my memory, my parents, grandparents and I, are standing on a long platform with buffers in front and some trains, steam trains, close up to the buffers. Down a long side platform, running the length of a train, my great aunt is walking towards us, a great beaming smile on her face and the light playing on her pale ginger hair.
Stations are evocative places; memories of arrivals and departures, families, friends, lovers reunited or divided. And Leeds Central would have been no different; it was a terminal station, so trains arriving here were going no further, this was the end of the line, and in 1967 those lines ended permanently.
The ground was cleared of all trace of the railway, with the exception of two stone-built goods lifts, that had been used to transfer mail and other freight from road level to the platforms above. For many years they stood marooned amid a scene of urban devastation. Eventually, the site became the Aireside Shopping Centre, which suffered from a chronic lack of parking. Too close to the city centre to be ‘out of town’, you took pot luck finding a place to park either in front of the shops or dodging traffic wardens on the surrounding streets.
Now the shoppers have gone, replaced by the Wellington Place Development, which means commerce and law have now moved onto the site. One of the three-storey goods lifts remains – a reminder of the station and all those who it brought into and out of the city.