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Years in Focus 1970




Knottingley in the 1960's as seen in the Pontefract and Castleford Express

15th March 1970 

Yorkshire Television’s ‘Stars On Sunday’ - probably the first religious programme to make any impression on the TAM ratings - returns to our screens this Sunday after a three month break. It was a surprise success. YTV received over 1,000 letters the day after the first programme and there were 28,000 requests for favourite hymns and Bible readings during the programme’s 16-week run. Sunday’s programme features James Mason, Harry Secombe, June Bronhill, Vince Hill and Violet Carson.

The staff of the programme compiled a list of most popular songs and the producer, Jess Yates, found that top of the charts was ‘The Rugged Cross’ while second was ‘Bless This House’. Promised items for the new series are ‘The Bell’s of St. Mary’s’, Handels ‘Largo’, and ‘Oh For The Wings Of A Dove’.

YTV assure us the successful formula won’t be changed, and regulars like Moira Anderson, Sir John Geilgud, Sir Ralph Richardson and Maggie Fitzgibbon will be joined by newcomers Tricia Noble, Matt Munro, David Hughes and Dame Anna Neagle.

19th MARCH 1970 

Peter B. Draper, who signs himself as a linguistics student, a member of the Students Union, Bangor, but whose local address is St. Ive’s Close, Pontefract, writes of a death "that does not qualify for a mention in the obituary column - the Knottingley dialect". He recalls that when he was a boy (not so very long ago) his father was the licensee of the Railway Hotel in Knottingley. "Well do I remember the sounds of the clientele - those harsh but nonetheless beautiful tones of true Yorkshiremen."

"When I returned to my home town this year I went into the same pub, expecting to hear those Knottingley tones but where were they? All I could make out were attempts at imitation by people from North of the Border - the Yorkshire border. Obviously the pits are to blame, but we need modern pits and the people to work them, even if they have to be imported; that’s progress."

"The same thing is happening all over the country; regional dialects are being replaced by socio-regional ones. What a loss that is to the country as a whole. I appeal to those natives of Knottingley who are left and whose accents are free from foreign influence to make a conscious effort to preserve a waning dialect - keep for Knottingley a linguistic heritage..."

19th MARCH 1970 

Two Ferrybridge sisters, Mrs Sally Popplewell and Mrs Lily Baker, retired on Saturday from the fish-and-chip-shop their grandfather opened in 1915. The business has been bought by a former Leeds licensee and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. L. Nottingham.

The reason for the retirement, Mrs Popplewell told ‘The Express’ is: "We are getting older and none of our children are interested in selling fish and chips." She added that she would look back on her 36 tears in the business without regret: "I loved every bit of it."

The fish and chip shop was started by Mr. Joseph Hubbard, who was helped by his daughter, Mrs Sarah Shepherd and Mrs Florence Law. Both women, although not recently active in the business, have kept an eye on things. Mrs Shepherd recalls; "When we started, fish was 1s.9d a stone. We had to take the heads off and do the filleting ourselves. Nowadays, fish costs more than 2 a stone and all the filleting is done before delivery." Mrs Popplewell believes the demand for fish and chips is continually rising despite the increase in prices. Mr. and Mrs Baker started working in the business after their father, Mr. Tom Hubbard, took over in 1934.

2nd APRIL 1970 

Mr. Derrick Hall, the proprietor of Randolph Backhouse, Bakery, Knottingley, is sticking to the "same old-fashioned baking methods." The firm is still using recipes handed down over the years. Mr. Hall, who is 45, says that Knottingley people, especially those from the old part of the town, still like home-baked confectionery. "They demand something of quality rather than the cheaper stuff which is mass produced in factories," he said.

And Mr. Hall’s customers today have been patronising the shop and buying home-baked foods for many years. He feels they are good judges in this respect. From where they stand in the shop, customers can see the bread and pastry being taken out of the oven, "Plant bakers will never beat us," boasts Mr. Hall. He says conditions have not changed much over the years. "The work is still very hard, even though we have the odd machine to help. For me it is just a 12-hour day most days." Mr. Hall also feels that the small family bakery will survive in the future. He believes that where a grocer can be put out of business by a supermarket, a baker cannot.

Mr. Hall is very proud of his staff of 12. "Most of the staff have been with us from leaving school. It is important that there is no discord between staff. Most of our day is spent at work, so we try to make it enjoyable." he says.

The business was originally in Aire Street, but because of the re-development scheme Mr. Hall transferred to Racca Green. In 1900 the shop and bakery in Aire Street was owned by two sisters, Polly and Hanna Peckitt. An oven, which was probably used at that time, was in the shop right up to it being demolished last year. Mr. Randolph Backhouse started working for the sisters as a boy in 1914. After a period in the Royal Navy in World War One, he went back to the bakery.

In 1922 the sisters retired to Filey and Mr. Backhouse and his wife, Marion, now a retired schoolteacher, bought the business. Mr. Hall, who was a draughtsman, joined as a junior partner in 1951 when he was 25. He married Mr. Backhouse’s daughter, Ursula, and in 1955 when Mr. Backhouse retired, the couple took over the business. Despite having retired, Mr. and Mrs Backhouse frequently visit the shop and bakery to "keep an eye on things," and occasionally help out at busy times.

21st MAY 1970 

After 48 years in the fish-and-chip business Mrs Ivy Ibbotson is still "frying" at the age of 70. Further, she is eager to continue in this line of the catering business. She was born in Knottingley, one of a family of five, and took over a fish-and-chip shop at Racca Green, Knottingley, with her husband, Alfred, in 1922. The couple built up the business with the help of their two daughters Betty and Freda, and served three generations of customers until 1964, when Mr. Ibbotson died.

Mrs Ibbotson continued to use coal fires for frying until that time, because she felt fuel-fried fish-and-chips were more tastier than those fried by gas. Because of the six-day working week there was little time for relaxation. When her husband died she went to live with her daughter Freda, at Norton, but although she had sold the business she enjoyed her work so much that she wanted to continue in it. She now works at a shop in Finkle Street, Pontefract. Even after such a full and busy working life she says she intends to carry on.

28th MAY 1970 

Britain’s heaviest man, Arthur Armitage, of Northfield Avenue, Knottingley, made a surprise presentation to Mr. and Mrs J. Beckett of Foundry Lane, on Friday, when they celebrated their golden wedding. He gave Mrs Beckett a large bouquet, subscribed for by friends, the presentation being at the Red Lion Hotel, Low Green.

Mr. Beckett, who is 72, worked for most of his life as a bottle ‘gatherer’ at the old Bagley’s glass works (now Rockware) The trade was extremely skilled and there are not many veteran ‘gatherers’ left. Mr. Beckett also served in the Royal Navy in World War One. His hobby is keeping poultry. His wife Violet, aged 71, considers that youngsters today do not know what it is like to live in a strict society. She remembers as a girl being terrified of the ‘bobbies’ who kept youngsters on the straight and narrow. She said: "If you just stood in the street, especially up Hill Top, the bobbies would move you along. They gave you a flick with their capes and you knew what it meant and you were off like the wind."

11th JUNE 1970 

The story about Ben Thompson, the Knottingley born gun-slinger who became a famous lawman, which appeared in ‘The Express’ on March 5th created a lot of interest among Knottingley people. I find that descendants of the original Thompson family still live in Knottingley and I have discovered how many people have conflicting ideas of Thompson’s birthplace and where he worked in Knottingley.

Mrs Mary Dearden, aged 50, of Broomhill Square, Knottingley, tells me that Ben Thompson was her great-uncle. She said "I am proud to say that Ben Thompson still has descendants living in Knottingley - myself, my sister, Mrs Ivy Aaron, and my brothers, Mr. Leonard Knapton and Mr. Charles Knapton."

Mr. Charles Knapton, now retired, was a detective sergeant in Oxford City Police. Mrs Dearden says; "Ben Thompson was my mother’s uncle, so he was our great-uncle. My mother used to tell us that he went to Texas as a young man, and she was told by her mother, Ben Thompson’s sister, who stayed in Knottingley when the family emigrated, that he was shot in the back in a Texas saloon when somebody switched the lights off."

Mrs Dearden believes the Thompson spirit and wanderlust still exists in her family. She also says that the family have Ben Thompson’s concern for law and order. Her eldest brother, now deceased, was Inspector George Knapton of the West Riding Constabulary; another brother was in his younger days a member of Birmingham City Police. "My son Paul must have the wanderlust, because on leaving school he joined the Merchant Navy. He travelled all over the world until he married and settled in Knottingley for a few years before emigrating to Australia. There is a bit of Ben Thompson in all of us, in one form or other, and I for one am proud of him. I am also proud to have been born in Knottingley where many good men have been born who have fought for their country, especially at sea." adds Mrs Deardon.

21st JUNE 1970 

Mr. Tom Taylor is so disgusted at a raw deal he claims he has had concerning the Aire-Street re-development scheme, that he has sent his five Second World War medals to the K.U.D.C. in protest. Mr. Taylor told the ‘Express’ about what he describes as the unfair attitude of the Council in making compulsory purchase orders. He said: "I suggest that property-owners are not paid out on the face value of their property, but on how their faces fit. Some owners have got four times what their property is worth whereas others have been offered only one fifth."

"Some property in Aire Street is worth six times as much burnt down as it is standing, according to the council’s valuer. After more than 11 years war service between us, my wife and I are stunned to think we are to lose all we fought for. When I left Northern Italy in 1945 I thought we had seen the last of Hitlerism, but in the past ten years we have been subjected to nothing else. In fact, it is even worse than the war from my point of view. In the desert we could fight back, and we did, but we cannot fight back at the council, they hold all the cards."

Mr. Taylor ardently believes that Aire Street has become a battle-ground. On the Aire Street project, he said the council had wasted thousands of pounds. Ratepayer’s money had gone on abortive plans and architect’s fees as they had on another housing estate in Knottingley, where 200 houses were still empty.

"In Aire Street, four shops have been built. It is a sin that the tenants were indirectly led to believe that more were to be built, more houses, more multi-storey flats, a new road an open market and a bus service which would flood the street with shoppers. After ten years we have nothing but eyesores. I was born and bred in Aire Street and my family for 200 years. It is sad to see the massacre of old Knottingley."


In June 1920, a 16-year-old Knottingley boy emigrated with his family to Canada. Last week, almost 50 years later to the day, he returned to his birthplace. He is Mr. Harry Johnson, who came over with his wife Dorothy, to visit Mr. and Mrs. Walter Miller, of Aire Street, Knottingley. Mr. Miller is an old school chum. Throughout the 50 years Mr. Johnson and Mr. Miller have kept in touch by letter. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson returned to Canada on Saturday after visiting many places of interest in the area and reviving a few old friendships.

However, Mr. Johnson, although pleased to see familiar sites again, said he was rather disappointed in Aire Street’s deteriorated condition. He remembered the many shops that used to sell virtually everything when Aire Street was the undisputed centre of the town. Surprisingly, after such a long time, Mr. Johnson, who is now 66, can also remember many of the old Knottingley personalities. He has distinct memories of his school days at the Church of England School in Primrose Vale, and of his years as a choir boy at the Wesleyan Church, Ropewalk. In fact, Mr. Johnson re-visited Church School and even looked up his name and that of a brother, in the school register. He also visited the Wesleyan Church and sat in the choir pew which he and Mr. Miller used those years ago.

As a boy Mr. Johnson used to live in Weeland Road, opposite Knottingley police station. He worked on a farm at Byram Park when he left school and can remember walking all over the Marsh to work each day.

When he emigrated to Canada he worked on various farms for a while until he could afford to buy his own. The farm he bought was in Alberta. He sold it after 25 years and went to work at the Department of Agriculture, Victoria, British Columbia where he met his wife Dorothy, who worked in an office on the other side of the corridor from his own.

Mrs Johnson was born in Worcestershire and her family emigrated when she was two. In Canada Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are very good friends of two Knottingley brothers who emigrated shortly after the turn of the century. They are Alf and Harry Tranmer, who live about 70 miles away from the Johnson’s. Mr. Johnson can remember the brothers from when he was a boy; he said he used to watch them milking cows on Cow Lane. Mr. Johnson spent a little of his time trying to trace some of his nephews and nieces who are members of the Sweeting family. Said Mr. Johnson, "I’ve tried all over to catch up with them, but nobody seems to know where I can find them."

17th SEPTEMBER 1970 

Whenever Mr. George Reginald Lodge, of 45, Pontefract Road, Ferrybridge, sees an aeroplane streak across the sky, or hears talk of the Concorde and supersonic bangs, his thoughts go back to his own flying days. Those were the days of the open cockpit; when top speeds were around 100mph; and when pilots, often facing atrocious weather conditions, relied entirely upon their own judgement for take-off, manoeuvre, and landing. Forced down into an orchard during a snowstorm when snow lay four inches deep inside the cockpit... shot down over no-mans land in France Those were but two of Mr Lodge’s hair-raising adventures during his service in the old Royal Flying Corps.

After joining the R.F.C. in October 1914, Mr. Lodge was sent for training to Brooklands where many of the scenes for the film "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" were shot. Then followed a course of instruction in aeroplane body and engine maintenance at Bristol. In February 1915, he became an Airman First Class and was placed in charge of a flight. By September he had been promoted to Flight Sergeant. "I flew such machines as the Bleriot monoplane, the Maurice Farman biplane, a two-seater R.E.8 biplane, and the F.E.2b biplane," Mr. Lodge told me. "Most of these machines were powered by 160h.p. Renault engines and flew at 100 mph."

"While flying from Brooklands to Northolt in an F.E.2b, which was powered by a Beardmore engine, with a Captain Summers as pilot, we had to land in an orchard after being forced down in a snowstorm. By the time we managed to land, there was four inches of snow in the cockpit. To start the engine one man had to twist the propeller four or five times to ease the engine, then the pilot switched on the engine and shouted ‘contact’. The prop was given a gentle swing and with luck, the engine started."

In 1917, Mr. Lodge was posted to France to serve with a night bombing squadron. "During the day a spotter plane would go out and take pictures of German troop concentrations," he said. "It was then the job of the bomber crews to find and bomb these troops after dark. F.E. 2b’s were used. These machines were pushed by a rear engine and were fitted with Lewis guns." Mr. Lodge continued: "As observer and gunner on these aeroplanes, I sat in front of the pilot. The observer was the one who dropped the bombs. In the cockpit there were levers to release each of the nine bombs carried. A 112lb bomb was slung under the undercarriage and there were four 50lb bombs under each wing. When the observer dropped the bombs he had to look over the sides of the plane and guess where the bombs would land. There were no landing instruments in those days. We had to look over the side to see how high we were and watch where we were going at the same time."

While Mr. Lodge was stationed at Northolt, a friend, Corporal Motteshead, shot down a Zeppelin airship. "It was claimed as the first airship shot down," said Mr. Lodge. "Corporal Motteshead was observer on a B.E.2b piloted by a Lieutenant Robinson. The Lewis guns on the B.E.2b’s had a tracer shell every sixth round. It was with the tracer shells that the Zeppelin was shot down. Although Corporal Motteshead was the one who actually shot down the Zeppelin, he received the Military Medal, whereas the pilot received the Victoria Cross for his part. Corporal.Motteshead would not wear his medal and got into a great deal of trouble, but he thought it was unfair that a man who played the major part in an action should get a lesser honour because of rank."

While on night bombing mission, Mr. Lodge and his pilot were shot down over no-man’s land. "We were forced down among the thousands of shell holes which made up no-man’s land," Mr. Lodge recalled. "We were lucky to get the plane down - it was pitch black. It’s a wonder we didn’t end up at the bottom of one of those holes."

After being rescued by men of the Gordon Highlanders, Mr. Lodge spent three days on a stretcher on his way to hospital in Dundee. Six months later he left hospital and was posted to Andover where he was placed in charge of the R.F.C. wounded who were awaiting discharge.

"Pilots today don’t know they are born," said Mr. Lodge, "They fly in comfort, with every electronic device imaginable to help them. In my day we had nothing; in everything we did we had to rely on our own judgement. Planes of today have the speed to carry them through air pockets; if we hit an air pocket at the speed we used to fly, we were in great danger of dropping to the ground like a stone."

Last in an aircraft in 1917, Mr. Lodge often feels the urge to "reach for the sky," but he is resigned to the fact that his flying days are over.

3rd DECEMBER 1970 

Knottingley’s Arthur Armitage, formerly Britain’s heaviest man, has lost a further three stones since his "big slim" was reported in the ‘Express’ ten weeks ago. Now weighing 26 stones, Arthur has shed a total of 14 stones (his top weight was 40 stones) and he says he is feeling fit and well. On Saturday he received a visit from 28-year-old Canadian student Angus Goldie, who is at present working in the film industry.

Angus sketched Arthur at his present weight and the end product will be a painting of Arthur. He is also working on a painting of Arthur at his top weight and hopes to paint him if and when he reaches 16 stone. Arthur has also been able to help a lecturer and three students with the production of a play. The lecturer, Noel Witts, of Leicester Polytechnic Theatre Group, visited Arthur with the three students and asked his opinion about the "joys, horrors, uses and inconveniences of being fat."

Arthur told an ‘Express’ reporter: "I tried to explain things and they said I had helped enormously." Noel Witts, with the help of Peter Brady, also from the Polytechnic, has written a play simply called "Fat." The play was performed for the first time this week and is a fantasy on the life of Daniel Lambert, the famous heavy-man of Leicester. Lambert, who was born 220 years ago, was said to be the fattest man in Europe. He weighed 55 stone at his death, which makes Arthur sound like something of a ‘Skinny-rib’s’. 

Years in Focus is researched by Maurice Haigh and reproduced 
with the permission of the Pontefract & Castleford Express.

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