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Preserving our community heritage – Can you help us map Dyson & Sons benches?

Preserving our community heritage – Can you help us map Dyson & Sons benches?

Last month, as we revealed our Take a Seat project, we received a message from Daniel Sykes, aged 17.

As well as creating new benches, he asked, what could be done to preserve those that are already there?

Across Leeds there are still many Frederick Dyson & Sons benches in various states of disrepair, they are beautiful, hard-wearing, and connected to Leeds, and are steeped in history, in personal memories both happy and sad, and have become an integral part of communities. They have seen generations come and go. Surely something should be done to save them.

Dyson & Sons Ltd were based on East Street between 1847-1912 and examples of these benches can still be found across the city.

We need your help!

If you spot a Dyson & Sons bench whilst out on a wander please take a photo of it and send it to us at office@leedscivictrust.org.uk or tag us in on Instagram @leedscivictrust You can also find us on Facebook, Linked in and Twitter!

We would like to create a map of where these benches are located and in what state of repair, they are so we can get to work on a plan to restore them.

Below are some examples of benches and the original letter from Daniel.

Dear Leeds Civic Trust,

I hope you are all well.

As you probably know, there are old red-and-green benches all over Leeds, wooden with cast iron ends. There are a few in Farnley Park in West Leeds, and before lock-down, when my grandma and Grandad used to regularly walk around the park, they enjoyed sitting on one in particular as they rested halfway around – they called it “our form”. A few months ago, I noticed that it had become quite dilapidated, and last week, as I walked past, I was sad to see that it had been taken away and replaced with a new plastic seat. Most of the other old benches in my local area are as run-down as Grandma and Grandad’s was (I’ve attached photos of these, but I’m not sure if the ones in other parts of Leeds are in the same state). I’m concerned that they all might soon be removed as well. Can anything be done to save them?

The main reason why I’m writing to you about this issue is that the benches are aspects (important despite being small) of Leeds’s heritage that are being unnecessarily removed, when they could be preserved for future generations to enjoy. I hadn’t realised until recently that the ironwork is stamped with ‘Frederick Dyson & Sons Ltd East Street, Leeds’, and I found a local history article about the benches and their manufacture. I think the benches must be at least 80 years old.

http://www.oakwoodchurch.info/Oak%20Leaves%20Part%2012%20-%20A%20Roundhay%20Iron%20Founder%20Frederick%20Dyson%201847-1912%20and%20his%20work%20by%20Tony%20Dyson%20and%20Graham%20Hills.pdf

I think a very important reason for the benches’ preservation is their special value to the elderly. I’m sure my grandparents weren’t alone in preferring the old benches, probably because of the familiarity they provided and the memories they evoked (something particularly pertinent for people with dementia). They were useful for them before the pandemic: resting while walking around the park like my grandma and Grandad, when going to the shops, or waiting for the bus, for example. However, when they were restricted to their own homes during the period of shielding last year, lots of older people stopped doing these things for themselves, and as a result some have lost confidence and independence, which will be damaging for their mental and physical health, as well as our communities. I think it would be an encouragement to them, hopefully helping them to regain some confidence to return to something like normal life, if their favourite benches were repaired, renewed, and reinvigorated.

The attachment that our wider communities, not just the elderly, have for these benches, is emphasised by this touching poem, fastened to the back of the Hall Lane bench:

A Poem for Rob…

It’s a trusty old bench to spend my hours.

To hold the weight of one man’s world.

To levitate the lost soul.

To join the hands of friendship and love unknown.

It’s a broken seat grasping broken dreams.

Many a night of unsettled heartbeats.

But it’s the calmness, clarity and playing bats,

Let a man be whole, still, and free from all that,

Talk freely of loss, love and finding oneself again.

To laugh with the darkness and the twinkling lights,

To chat openly, putting it all to rights.

Oh, it certainly is a trusty old bench to spend the hours.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Best wishes,

Daniel Sykes

If you can help us with this project, please do get in touch.

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