Shared Moments: IVY BENSON CONTINUED….. by Pat Tempest


I enjoyed reading the story about Ivy Benson (article in South Leeds life shard by Lynne). A pity she wasn’t a Woodhouse girl, we could have added her as one of the local heroes of Woodhouse and Little London in a recent project some of us at Caring Together took part in.  I heard about her in the 1950’s, when I had been taken from the Midlands to live on the Isle of Man where Ivy had begun to establish herself as a seriously good jazz musician.

In the Villa Marina, Douglas’s marvellous new municipal entertainment centre, her band entertained the visitors who came over when mills closed for two weeks in the summer.  The band played the afternoons in the Villa gardens, if it wasn’t raining.  Joe Loss, Ronnie Aldrich or Ted Heath had bands which played in the evenings, under the sparkling silver balls either at the Villa or the Palace Ballroom.  Ronnie Aldrich in particular used to drive along the Prom in the afternoons in an open top sports car, waving at all the girls.  It was different for Ivy’s young musicians from Leeds and Manchester. She clucked after them like a mother hen, making sure they were well fed before they performed for the crowds lounging in deck chairs, swigging beer and coke, smoking their heads off.

My future mother-in-law ran the Esplanade Chip Shop across the road from the Villa, in a little square at the head of a snicket off the Prom. The then world champion motor cyclist Geoff Duke had a motor bike workshop next door. The midday atmosphere for three months a year in that corner was thrilling – the exciting smell of motor bike fuel and handsome Italian men in tight racing leathers; the throttle roar of gleaming carburettors.  The Benson band had to queue for chips – cooked in best beef dripping. Ivy, worried about her girls taking a shine to Geoff and his exotic admirers, asked Caroline Stowell to divert her son from his job of running the chip making machine in his Auntie Nellie Stowell’s wash house to chatting them up.  No chance.  He was such a swat, his only interest was starting a campaign to re-introduce Gaelic names to all the street signs on the island.

The girls, and sometimes their mothers, rented rooms in boarding houses behind the Prom, giving the landlady money to buy and cook their food. Caroline’s hated sister-in-law, Nellie, kept such a boarding house, and was alleged to feed herself on bits of her customers’ food.  A piece of washed up old vest hung over the sink to sieve the cream off the top of the milk.  Oh, the glamorous life on the road for Ivy’s girl band.

At Caring Together, we were entertained a few years ago by our own illustrious jazz musician – Annie Hawkins, double bass player from Australia – a very different character.  The smiling star, peering over her huge instrument, with a red flower in her hair.  More about Annie another time.

Written by Pat Tempest, Caring Together member and volunteer

This is great Pat, I look forward to hearing more about Annie. She played a few times for us, and joined me in one of my groups too to share her talents.

picture from