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Also by Terry Spencer

The following studies by Terry Spencer are now available on the Knottingley website:

KNOTTINGLEY CARNIVAL
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the August Bank Holiday period at Knottingley abounded in fun and frolic with the Feast as the hub of the festivities. The fair was supplemented by community sports and of the sporting element within the town none was more prominent than Knottingley Town Cricket Club.

KNOTTLA FLATTS:
Situated on the southern bank of the River Aire, to the north side of Aire Street, lies Knottingley Flatts. Today, the Flatts occupy only a small portion of the original layout which comprised the greater part of Knottingley Ings.

KNOTTLA FEAST:
The modern image of the fair is one of outdoor entertainment for pleasure seeking people but such a concept is one which has developed over the last two centuries being born as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

HOSPITAL SUNDAYS:
Prior to the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 local people relied for health care in the event of sickness or serious injury upon charitable institutions such as Pontefract Dispensary and Leeds Infirmary.

KNOTTINGLEY COAT-OF-ARMS:
The application by Knottingley Urban District Council for a grant of arms was made to the College of Arms, London, in mid 1942.

FERRYBRIDGE GLASSWORKS:
That there was a glassworks at Ferrybridge is indisputable for it was both documented and photographed. That it was situated on the north bank of the River Aire "..where the Parish of Brotherton merges into the Parish of Ferrybridge" is confirmed by map reference. The doubt lies not in the existence or location of the furnace but with its origin.

NINETEENTH CENTURY KNOTTINGLEY:
The township of Knottingley, situated three miles north-east of Pontefract in the Wapentake of Osgoldcross, developed from a 6th century Saxon settlement in a forest clearing on the south bank of the river Aire. By the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066 the settlement had acquired the status of a manorial vill

KNOTTINGLEY PLAYING FIELDS:
As the process of industrialisation and urban development gained pace in the second half of the nineteenth century the provision of public spaces such as municipal gardens and parks for the purpose of public recreation and amenity became increasingly desirable.

CAPTAIN PERCY BENTLEY:
Percy Bentley, scion of a prominent Knottingley family, was born in that town on the 18th January 1891, the son of James William and Helena Bentley, and was baptised in the parish church of St. Botolph on the 11th February.

KNOTTINGLEY WAR MEMORIAL:
On Wednesday, 25th September 1918, a committee previously sanctioned by Knottingley Urban District Council in meeting assembled, met in the Council Chamber at Knottingley Town Hall to consider the form of memorial to the men who had fallen during the Great War.

FERRYBRIDGE WAR MEMORIAL:
No less than the citizens of its larger neighbour, the inhabitants of the village of Ferrybridge decided to honour those drawn from the community and slain in the Great War.

THE 'K' SISTERS:
For approximately a decade from the mid 1940's the 'K' Sisters, Marjorie and Pamela Kellett, were prominent throughout the town and district of Knottingley as all-round entertainers who harnessed their talent to providing public enjoyment and in so doing raised large amounts of money for local charities.

THE PALACE CINEMA:
The new cinema, one of the earliest purpose-built picture houses in the country, was situated on an oblique strip of land some 560 square yards in extent, adjacent to Ship Lane at the junction with lower Aire Street. The hall was designed to seat 600 people: 500 in the area and 100 in the balcony.

KNOTTINGLEY PUBLIC HOUSES & BREWERIES:
In 1752, eighteen residents of the township of Knottingley in company with John Mitchell, the Parish Constable, agreed to be bound over in the sum of £10 each to observe the legal and moral obligations attendant upon being granted a licence as an innkeeper.

KNOTTINGLEY TOWN HALL CLOCK:
In the Spring of 1994, the recently deceased and much lamented Edwin Beckett arranged for the installation of a clock at the top of the Town Hall turret. The event was celebrated in verse by Mrs Joyce Bell who concluded her eulogy by stating that her mother, Dolly Lightowler, had always wished to see a clock set in the "bare face" of the Town Hall - a wish which had now come true.

STATUE OF THE BLACK PRINCE:
Awareness of a link between my native Knottingley and the Prince's statue came quite recently when Mrs Shirley Bedford of Knottingley informed me that her great grandfather was the master of a barge which had transported the statue from Hull to Leeds in 1903.

KNOTTLA NICKNAMES:
It was in the course of a recent conversation with Roger Ellis that the subject of nicknames arose, following which, in an idle half-hour, I casually began to compile a list of those I recalled. My list quickly exceeded fifty in number and I was seized by a natural desire to list as many more as I could obtain.

KNOTTINGLEY SILVER BAND:
The origin of Knottingley Band is obscure. In 1980 the Band celebrated its conjectured centenary year, the date being taken from an old letterhead of 1880.  However, a subsequent documentary source has been located which indicates that the genesis of the Band may lie much further in the past.

KNOTTINGLEY TOWN HALL:
The burgeoning spirit of civic pride found practical expression on 29th October 1864, when a group of prominent citizens of the town formed the Knottingley Town Hall & Mechanics’ Institute Company Limited.

FIELD SYSTEMS AND PLACE NAMES OF OLD KNOTTINGLEY:
The purpose of this study is to consider the topography of modern day Knottingley and formulate a theoretical model concerning the development of the settlement during the medieval and post medieval eras as reflected in the field systems adopted.

GAZETTEER OF KNOTTINGLEY PLACE NAMES:
An A-Z listing of Knottingley field and place names.

LIME GROVE AND THE CARTER FAMILY
One of the most impressive and graceful houses ever built at Knottingley was Lime Grove. The large attached house was the residence of the Carter family and was built to the orders of Mark Carter at Mill Close, Hill Top, about 1808.

WAR SAVINGS WEEKS:
Conflict is fuelled by finance so it is unsurprising that following the outbreak of war in 1939, local savings committees were established to encourage people to curb personal expenditure and invest surplus cash in the National War Savings Scheme in order to assist the cost of the war.

SELECT VESTRY RIOTS 1874:
The township of Knottingley became a semi-autonomous parish in 1789 following the ecclesiastical reorganisation of that period but remaining under the patronage of the Vicar of Pontefract until it became an independent parish in 1846

 
Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History

THE 'K' SISTERS


ENTERTAINERS EXTRAORDINAIRE

The K Ssiters The K Ssiters

Dr. TERRY SPENCER B.A. (Hons), Ph D.

PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2000

For approximately a decade from the mid 1940's the 'K' Sisters, Marjorie and Pamela Kellett, were prominent throughout the town and district of Knottingley as all-round entertainers who harnessed their talent to providing public enjoyment and in so doing raised large amounts of money for local charities.

The girls were born at a time when films and radio had largely displaced the long tradition of the parlour piano and family sing-song. (1) Nevertheless, the girls were raised in a homely musical atmosphere with their mother, Elizabeth, improvising at the piano as she and husband George sang in harmony and many were the evenings when the young children were lulled to sleep by gentle melody. (2)

The subliminal influence was reinforced by the desire of Elizabeth Kellett to provide her daughters with opportunities denied to herself by social and economic constraints during her own formative years.

It was natural, therefore, that when the sisters began to exhibit a latent musical ability their mother should encourage and nurture its development.

The increasingly popular cinema provided early inspiration for the girls with child stars such as Shirley Temple, and slightly later, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and the glamorous 'Blond Bombshell', Betty Grable, revealing the potential for success via hard work and dedication.

It was against this background that the girls were enrolled at a Pontefract Dancing School when Marjorie was eight years of age and Pamela three.  In tandem with the acquisition of ballet and tap dancing skills the girls musical ability was developed.  Both girls honed a natural talent and as a result became accomplished musicians, supplementing mastery of the piano with equal expertise on a variety of instruments including the accordian and xylophone.  In addition, both girls had inherited natural singing voices from their parents.  In short, by an early age the sisters were gifted, confident and accomplished entertainers.

It should be noted that the girls accomplishments were developed against a background of full-time schooling.  Not that the two spheres were mutually exclusive for a contemporary has recalled how during lesson breaks, particularly at times of inclement weather, Pam played the piano in the school hall whilst her fellow pupils danced. (3)

The K Sisters of Knottingley The K Sisters of Knottingley The K Sisters of Knottingley

Eventually the sisters attended a dancing class at Knottingley run by Miss Bentley and in order to give practical expression to their burgeoning skills and provide on-stage experience the girls enrolled with Miss Green's dancing troupe, a local group which produced variety shows in venues such as church halls, schoolrooms and public halls within and around Knottingley. (4)

The dedication of the sisters to the development of their natural talent is reflected in the numerous reports which regularly appeared within the local paper concerning their success in obtaining formal qualifications.  Early in 1944, for instance, it was reported that Pam had passed with distinction an examination set by the Royal Academy of Music. (5)  The outcome was merely a prelude to a whole series of such successes. (6)  Nor was success confined to pianistic ability for Pam also gained awards in examinations under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Dancing. (7) If the piano was literally Pamela's forte, then dance skills were the dominant sphere of Marjorie's accomplishment, with seven examination successes recorded by 1945 of which two were awarded with 'honours' by the Royal Academy of Dancing. (8)

Mrs Kellett, who had previously been the proprietress of several businesses in Aire Street, Knottingley, then the hub of commercial activity and social life within the town, had by the advent of World War II, moved to 'Morley Fisheries', Weeland Road.  Fish and Chips being a dietary staple of that period of austerity, there was no shortage of customers who, aware of the talents of the Kellett sisters, advocated that Marjorie establish her own academy of dance.  The demise of Miss Green's troupe occurred at a time when the Kellett girls were sufficiently experienced to fill the breach.  Encouraged by the public and propelled by their mothers energy and guidance, the teenage Marjorie established a dancing class within the Congregational Chapel Schoolroom.  The pupils were soon organised as a concert party, playing local venues for charity with Mrs Kellett acting as agent to the troupe, making arrangements, confirming bookings etc., whilst Mr Kellett served in a less prominent but no less important role as transport manager and general factotum.

Knottingley K Sisters Knottingley K Sisters Knottingley K Sisters

It was also at this period that Marjorie became the featured vocalist with the 'Melody Makers' dance band, singing at dance halls throughout the area.

Despite their accomplishments the sisters were still on a learning curve and by this time attended the specialist dance classes of Miss Avis Barbara Adelaine Tong at Doncaster.  Indeed, Pamela became such a regular traveller on the South Yorkshire Bus Company's Pontefract to Doncaster route that the bus conductors allowed her to collect fares and issue tickets to her fellow travellers.

It was not long, however, before the 'K' Sisters as their troupe was now known, became the foremost entertainers within the district around Knottingley, drawing reports of "full houses" and "delighted audiences" in press coverage. (9)  At a concert in January 1944, it was reported that the 'K' Sisters, supported by Winnie Bailey and Dorothy and Jimmy Spence, had provided an "excellent programme", comprising dance routines, vocal items (solos and duets), accordion music by Marjorie (including many request items) and sundry sketches, the effort raising £14 for the Congregational Chapel Organ Fund. (10)  Similarly, in January the year following, the 'K' Sisters and pupils gave a pantomime at Barwick in Elmet School which raised £30 to be shared between the Leeds and Pontefract Infirmaries. (11)

The Kelletts' could be relied upon to support any worthy cause.  When a concert by the Regimental Band of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, arranged as part of the Knottingley 'Thanksgiving Week' events was cancelled at short notice due to unforeseen circumstances, it was the 'K' Sisters whose concert party filled the breach and the Town Hall too. (12)

Young as they were, the 'K' Sisters made a valuable contribution to the War Effort, touring factories in the district and presenting shows for 'Workers Playtime' and raising the morale of the overworked labour force.  A typical response to the troupe's contribution is revealed by a letter from the Welfare Department of the  Blackburn Aircraft Co. Ltd., Sherburn-in-Elmet, dated 8th August, 1944, when Pamela was only nine years of age.  The letter of appreciation refers to the;

"fine show you presented to [the workforce] on Wednesday"

and concludes

"Having had many requests for a repeat show, we hope that we shall be able to arrange another date in the near future". (13)

It was about the Spring of 1944 that the sisters began to focus the bulk of their charitable work on the endowment of a cot for sick babies at the Pontefract General Infirmary.  The inaugural concerts were probably on the afternoon and evening of Thursday 11th April when the 'K' Sisters, assisted by Margaret Yardie, Shiela Meickle and Mrs Morrell and her son Harry, entertained at Knottingley Town Hall.  On this occasion the pianist was Mrs Benson, the troupes regular accompanist, the ubiquitous Mrs Lucas, being somewhat inexplicably absent. A further feature of the concerts was the participation of the 'Melody Makers' dance band under the baton of Mr. H. Reynolds. The concerts raised £52-10-0d for the Cot Fund. (14)

The same venue almost a year later, marked the conclusion of a hectic round of local 'tours' as revealed by a report in the Pontefract and Castleford Express,

"The 'K' Sisters, who about a year ago began to raise £500 for the endowment of a cot, visited Ferrybridge, Brotherton, Barwick-in-Elmet, Pontefract and Darrington, with a final effort at Knottingley Town Hall where a show was given to a crowded audience...Proceeds, £60". (15

In January, 1945, the 'K' Sisters and pupils presented a production of the pantomime 'Little Red Riding Hood' : first at Barwick-in-Elmet and a week later at Knottingley Town Hall.  Despite two evening performances at the latter venue, such was the demand that a repeat performance had to be specially scheduled for Ferrybridge residents.  The three shows raised £117 which together with a performance in the Congregational Schoolrooms shortly thereafter, generated the sum of £160 in less than a month, making the total Cot Fund £400. (16)

With the conclusion of the European War in May 1945, the sisters were in great demand to entertain at numerous local victory celebrations in factories and at street parties.  In May, concerts were given at Low (Fernley) Green and at Broomhill (17) and the following month the sisters entertained the residents of Gillann Street, Beulah Place, Weeland Road and Womersley Road at a party in the Congregational Schoolroom. (18) The same week the girls virtually presided over the Morley House celebrations at which Marjorie played the accordion for community singing conducted by Pamela. (19)  By the end of June it was 'business as usual' as the sisters gave a dancing display at the Barwick Vicarage garden party, raising £200. (20)

The invariably favourable reports featured in the local press increased the demand for entertainment which was reinforced by the collective public desire for pleasure following the rigours and restraints of the war years and also as an antidote to the continuing economic austerity of the immediate post war period.  With selfless dedication the girls raised huge sums for charity with £500 being amassed within the space of twelve months.

The presentation of the final £168 to enable the installation of a cot in the Childrens' Ward of the P.G.I. occurred in May, 1945.  Described by the Secretary - Superintendent of the hospital as

"the most remarkable effort of support that I have ever met in hospital life."

The endowment in perpetuity relieved the sufferings of many generations of sick babies and was marked by the presentation by the Hospital Committee of a commemorative plaque which was affixed to the ward wall where it remains to this day. (21)

K Sisters, KNottingley

Having attained their initial goal, the sisters immediately commenced raising money for a second cot, giving a 'turn' at the wedding in South Kirkby of a Mr Blount, at which Marjorie played the accordion and Pam danced. (22)  The following month 300 Dutch children were entertained at the Netherlands Hostel, Pontefract, with Mrs Lucas accompanying the girls in a show which closed with the singing of the Dutch and British National Anthems. (23)

Wider recognition beckoned the 'K' Sisters, however, and through the contacts of their dancing tutor, Marjorie made her professional debut in the 1947-48 pantomime season, adopting the stage name of Marjorie Kendall.  The venue was the Grand Theatre, Leeds, where George Formby was starring in 'Dick Wittington'.  The engagement was followed by a summer in a show named 'Happiness Ahead'.  The new engagement occurred in an almost incidental way.  One of Mrs Kellett's business contacts was a representative of Talbot's Ltd., a confectionary company.  The representative informed Mrs Kellett that he was aware that a producer was looking to cast a dancer in his show and gave a telephone number to Mrs Kellett as a result of which Marjorie subsequently successfully auditioned and joined the cast.

The association proved to be a long term one for Marjorie stayed with the show for six summer seasons.  Another member of the troupe, embarking on a showbusiness career which was to lead to celebrity status was Roy Castle.  Marjorie worked with Roy on joint dance routines and also formed part of a musical trio.

The summer seasons were punctuated by regular pantomime appearances.  In 1949-50, Marjorie appeared in the role of Baby Bear and gave a solo performance on a miniature xylophone in a production of 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'.  On another occasion, cast as the fairy, Marjorie, in true showbusiness tradition, was called upon to replace the Principal Girl when the latter fell ill.  The substitution was conducted with such assurance and brio that the following season Marjorie was 'promoted' to play Goldilocks.

More than a little evidence of the glamour, versatility and the showbusiness potential of the 'K' Sisters is indicated by the train of events concerning Marjorie in 1951.  Winner of a beauty competition at Castleford, Marjorie's prize was a week's holiday at Butlin's Holiday Camp, Filey.  To a country just beginning to emerge from the austerity of war time, holiday camps offered a wide range of activities with sound accommodation and good food at generally affordable prices.  Such camps were also an ideal training ground for many entertainers who subsequently graduated to find fame and fortune via the nationally organised circuit of variety theatres and the burgeoning television service.

With typical gusto, Marjorie carried all before her, winning every competition she entered, including voice, instrumental and fancy dress.  Such was the impression created that upon her return home, Marjorie received a telegram urging her to join the camps entertainment group (24)

Nor did Marjorie monopolise the beauty circuit for in 1951, Pam was chosen from twenty local beauties as an attendant to the Knottingley Carnival Queen, Pam's dancing commitments prevented her participation in the Carnival event. (25)

With the end of 'Happiness Ahead' in 1953, Marjorie joined 'Randle's Scandals' at the Hippodrome, Ipswich, and together with Norman Teal and Roy Castle performed a musical act, billed as the Norman Teal Trio, with Marjorie and Roy on trumpets and Norman Teal playing the xylophone.

The period was one in which prior to the cultural and social revolution of the 'Swinging Sixties' a staid public supervised by pompous and frequently, self-appointed guardians of public morality, were easily shocked by unorthodox situations and events.  This risque act presented by the celebrated comedian, Frank Randle, gained him notoriety which often resulted in his show being closed down by local Watch Committees.  Naughty words (quite innocuous by today's woeful standards) resulted in the show being banned at the Wood Green Empire which received widespread coverage in the national press.  However, the show trundled along and was still doing the rounds when Marjorie left it in 1954.

With Marjorie's professional career underway the dancing troupe continued under the tutelage of Pam.  At this time the family residence was Jefferson House, Womersley Road, Knottingley, where a large music room afforded ideal rehearsal facilities.  When Pam also embarked upon a stage career in 1953, the troupe continued under the guidance of the girl's mother with the sisters appearing as and when professional commitments allowed.

Pamela's professional debut was at the Windsor Theatre, Birmingham, as a member of the cast of 'The Old Woman Who Lives In a Shoe'.  Later Pam appeared with Frankie Howard at the Liverpool Empire and also appeared in the revival of the musical 'No, No, Nanette'.  In addition, Pam also appeared at the famous City Varieties Theatre, Leeds in a show based upon the exploits of the Daily Mirror 'Pin-up Girl', Jane.

With their professional careers successfully launched, the sisters sought to widen their experience and together in 1954, joined the Royal Kiltie Juniors, touring theatres at home and abroad.  The tours included, inter alia, visits to Germany, Italy, Turkey, Crete and Denmark, where the girls made their television debut.  When the Kiltie's disbanded in 1955, Marjorie and Pamela again went their separate ways.  Marjorie regularly appeared in pantomime until the end of the 1958-59 season when she decided to retire from full-time work.  Pamela did cabaret in London theatres appearing with three other dancers and she also undertook a tour of American servicemens' camps in Germany before returning home to announce her engagement and retirement from the stage as a preliminary to her marriage in 1959.  Marjorie also married about this time but, joining a local concert party, continued with a little stage work and only finally retired following the birth of her second child in 1968.

Apart from the instinctive desire for marriage and family the girls were influenced by general trends within the sphere of theatrical entertainment.  From the mid 1950's the rapid spread of national television services pronounced the death knell of the variety theatres as people at large opted for the passive pleasures of domestic entertainment in preference to 'live' performances.  Consequently, the long established variety agencies with their nationally organised circuits of variety theatres suffered a decline marked by the closure and, in many cases, demolition of historic venues.

Following their retirement from the stage both girls took up residence in London, being joined there eventually by their parents who lived close to Marjorie's Ealing home.  With the death of Elizabeth Kellett in 1981, her husband, George, found it increasingly difficult to settle in the south and decided to return to live with his brother, Ernest, in his native Brotherton.  There, George stayed until his death, aged 98, in 1996.

Apart from her all-round ability, Pam is an extremely accomplished pianist and in 1983 commenced a second career playing for examinations at colleges and schools of music and dancing.  Although currently domiciled in Spain, Pamela leads a very cosmopolitan existence, her professional duties frequently taking her to various European countries.

Frequent visits by the sisters to their father and relations and friends ensured the retention of social ties with the Knottingley district.  Regardless of such contact, however, the contribution made by the family to local charities and the pure pleasure derived from their stage and social performances has left an indelible impression on the minds of their contemporaries.  The contribution was neatly encapsulated more than half a century later by the Knottingley Laureate, Frank Chambers,

"The 'K' Sisters I must mention
a versatile talented pair
Any good cause devoid of cash
and you bet your life, they'd be there" (26)


Terry Spencer
October 2000


'The 'K' Sisters - Entertainers Extraordinaire' is reproduced on Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online with the kind permission of the author, Dr. Terry Spencer

'The 'K' Sisters - Entertainers Extraordinaire' is copyright ©Terry Spencer and must not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the author.


Acknowledgements

Mr C. P. Dearden
Mrs M. Dearman (Marjorie Kellett)
Mrs J. Gill
Mrs P. Peters (Pamela Kellett)
Librarian and staff, Pontefract Library
Mr D. Ward, Editor, Pontefract & Castleford Express

Notes:

  1. Marjorie Kellett was born 3-6-1929 and Pamela 31-10-1934
  2. I am indebted to Mrs M. Dearman and Mrs P. Peters (the 'K' Sisters) for much information and their kind assistance in the compilation of this essay
  3. Marjorie was educated at Knottingley Ropewalk School and Pamela at Pontefract & District Girl's High School where the improvised entertainment referred to took place
  4. Miss Green's was one of several entertainment groups which existed in Knottingley during the late 1930's - early 1940s, all raising funds for local charities.  For reference to Miss Green's troupe c.f. Pontefract and Castleford Express 6-2-1942, p3 Re the 'Merry Makers Concert Group c.f. loc cit, 18-4-1941, p5 and for reference to entertainment by Millie Kitson & Friends c.f. loc cit, 6-3-1942,p7
  5. Pontefract & Castleford Express 19-1-1944, p7
  6. loc cit, 20-4-1945, p7 & 17-8-1945 ,p4
  7. loc cit, 28-3-1945 ,p5 & 1-6-1945, p7
  8. loc cit, 21-1-1944, p5 & 9-6-1944, p6 & 1-6-1945, p7
  9. loc cit, 19-5-1944, p5 & 12-1-1945 & 20-4-1945, p7
  10. loc cit, 21-4-1944, p5
  11. loc cit, 5-1-1945, p3
  12. loc cit, 12-10-1945, p4
  13. Letter from Mr G.E. Bush, Entertainments Officer, Blackburn Aircraft Ltd, Sherburn-in-Elmet, dated 8-1-1944, to the Misses Kellett
  14. Pontefract & Castleford Express 14-4-1944, p3
  15. loc cit, 20-4-1945, p7
  16. loc cit, 12-1-1945, p6
  17. loc cit, 25-5-1945, p7
  18. loc cit, 15-6-1945, p5
  19. ibid.
  20. loc cit, 29-6-1945, p3
  21. loc cit, 19-10-1945, p3
  22. loc it, 11-1-1946, p7
  23. loc cit, 1-2-1946, p7
  24. The Guide, 9-1-1953, p1
  25. Pontefract & Castleford Express, 11-7-1991, p12
  26. Frank Chambers 'Knottingley's War - Aspects of Old Knottingley recalled by Frank Chambers' - Book 5, p10. (1996)

 

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