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Lives of Knottingley Folk

1909 - 1979

JEAN NORFOLK (nee Hobman)

My father was Charles Burton Hobman, born 29th January 1909, and my mother was born Martha Maria Sargent on 21st February 1908.

My dad was essentially a quiet unassuming man on the surface but a lion in reality when it came to protecting and providing for his family. His love for us was unconditional and although he never expressed his feelings for us outright, we always felt totally encompassed by his love. He was our rock and our strength. He genuinely cared, not only for us, his family, but also for his fellow man. I think the most fitting description of my Dad would be "He was the kindest, most caring man I’ve ever known."

In all my childhood years I don’t recall him ever hitting or smacking any one of us – I had two brothers and a sister – even though at times we thoroughly deserved a clip around the ear! Just a firm "No" from dad coupled with the glare he gave us when we knew he meant business, was enough to persuade us to behave.

My mother, God bless her, now she did wallop us occasionally, but if Dad was present he’d swiftly put out his hand to protect us and say with a smile "Don’t hit them Ma" and her anger would subside.

My Dad was one of seven children, three boys and four girls. When they were young they lived with my grandparents in Kershaw Row, a small terrace of stone cottages off Simpson’s Lane near to the old Jackson’s Glassworks, where all the brothers in the family, and my grandfather worked in later years.

My grandfather was Arthur (Danny) Hobman and he originated from Hull where he was a butcher. My grandmother was formerly Faith Burton and my father was named after her. She was a devout Methodist and attended the now closed Holes’ Chapel in Forge Hill regularly.

Dad related many stories to me about their lives in Kershaw Row and when I see the privileges that we simply take for granted nowadays, food in abundance, cars and a wealth of modern technology at our fingertips, it makes me wonder how our parents and grandparents survived back then. No Sickness Benefits or Dole Cheques, if you didn’t work you didn’t eat because you had no money. A doctor’s visit was out of the question, unless you were desperately ill. Then it would be a struggle to find the money to pay back a little each week until the doctor was paid.

Uncle Herbert, Dad's youngest brother, told me once how he and Dad, along with Uncle Dick (Rowland) the eldest, would walk to Pontefract when the Statutes Fair arrived, (we knew it as ‘The Statice’). It had been discovered that Dad could box quite well so he would fight in the travelling boxing ring for five shillings a time. Sometimes he fought two bouts in one evening which meant they could walk back home triumphantly with ten shillings for "their old lady", as they affectionately referred to their mother, my grandmother. A princely sum then, it kept the family fed for a few days. During the 1926 General Strike sometimes their only hot meal in a week was a bowl of pea soup from the Salvation Army soup wagon when it visited Headlands Lane. In later years Dad would always donate willingly to the Salvation Army, claiming that it was the only religion that actively cared for the poor and needy.

He often said that there was no pain worse than hunger. I think this was the driving force behind his desire to keep us from ever experiencing what he and his siblings had endured in their childhood and teenage years. Indeed, even though we were poor when I was at school we never went hungry. We always had plenty of food – thanks largely to my Dad keeping chickens, rabbits, ducks and growing all his own vegetables.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Dads family on Kershaw Row though - not by any means. They shared deep friendships and companionship with neighbours and workmates and Dad often talked about them, including:

Mrs. Lilley, who had a reputation for wonderful baking and when finances permitted would treat them all to "the best teacakes and vanilla slices in the whole world!"

The Foulds family, and a good friend of Dads, Tommy Chapman who in later years had a house built on Simpsons Lane.

A little further along the lane past Kershaw Row lived the Morris family and opposite the glassworks was Annie Rayner’s sweets and tobacco shop.

Open fields on the other side of Kershaw Row led to Simpson’s Farm, and beyond that Throstle Farm and Doveroyd Farm. Idyllic surroundings that unfortunately did little in those days to relieve their hunger, except to produce the occasional, yet very welcome, wild rabbit or hare to supplement their meagre food supply. However, in spite of the harsh times they endured, their sense of humour never deserted them and they all seemed to possess an indefatigable sense of survival and strength of character.

Uncle Dick had acquired a horse and cart, not purely for pleasure, but also as a means of "earning a few bob" to contribute towards the family budget. By law he was required to display his name and address if he took it out on the street. Uncle Dick didn’t read or write very well so one day after asking his brother Herbert to chalk this information on the rear of the cart, he simply gave it a quick glance, climbed on board, and set the horse into a steady trot down Headlands Lane. My grandmother realised something was wrong when Dad, Herbert and their friends all burst out laughing. Then they admitted that Herbert had in fact scribbled ‘Ar**holes’ on the carts nameplate and not Uncle Dick’s name and address. Grandmother, outraged, promptly gave Dad a wet cloth and ordered him to jump on his bike and catch him up to wipe off the offending graffiti before the police spotted him!

Although my grandmother was a committed Christian, my Dad wasn’t religious, not in the accepted sense. He would only ever go to Church to pay his respects at funerals. He didn’t believe in God or life after death and often declared that the only place you were certain of going when you were dead, was six-feet underground.

The whole family was devastated when Ethel, the ‘baby’ of the seven Hobman children, died from tuberculosis aged 14. My Dad often spoke affectionately of ‘Our Netty’ (her pet name) and I suspected that her death was the trigger that resulted in his declarations of non-belief in God and religion. Now, when I look back and remember him I think that my Dad was perhaps the most Christian man I’ve ever known, although he didn’t even realise it.

I remember him pedalling to Pontefract on his bicycle week after week to visit an old man named Joe in Pontefract General Infirmary. (We never did discover Joe’s surname!) Dad had simply been visiting a workmate who was a patient there and had noticed that Joe, in the bed opposite, never seemed to have any visitors, so he went across to chat with him. Even after his friend was discharged, Dad continued to visit Joe, who had no family at all following the death of his wife. Dad took him cigarettes, papers and magazines and all he knew about Joe was that he was 86 years old and came from Featherstone. After weeks of visiting him every Saturday, Dad came home extremely upset one day and said that Joe had passed away the previous night.

When I was about 12 years old he took me with him one day to visit a workmate whose wife had recently died, leaving him with five children to care for. The man was seriously ill himself and unable to work. Dad took sweets for the children and I vividly recall the mans emotional outpouring of gratitude when Dad, knowing that he had no money at all, gave him two, one-pound notes. He truly was the kindest, most generous spirited man! But then maybe I am biased, he was my Dad.

My mother was born in Brotherton and her young life was probably even harsher than Dads. She too worked at the glassworks - this was where she and my father met. Dad told me he hated to see her working there for little or no reward and vowed that when they were married she would leave.

Mum pushed huge bogeys of glass around the yard for ten shillings a week and anyone caught talking or going to the toilet, had sixpence docked off their wages. They nicknamed their boss "Dock Yer a Tanner", because he seemed to relish discovering some poor young lass apparently ‘idling’ so that he could shout "I’ll dock Yer a tanner at the weekend!" Then he would claw back sixpence from the already measly wages he paid her. He knew they couldn’t complain. If they dared to, they were sacked, and in those days jobs were impossible to find.

My mother had to hand all her wages over to her parents, sometimes if she was lucky, she would be given a shilling back. But if old "Dock Yer a Tanner" had managed to get poor mum in his sights, then she knew she had no hope of getting a shilling that week! When her mother (my maternal grandmother) died in her early fifties, my mum had to give up her job to take care of her father and her two brothers and two sisters.

Dad worked on the huge ‘Press and Blower’ machine, making goldfish bowls and large sweet jars. Staring constantly into the white-hot heat ruined his eyesight in later years, and his hearing too was impaired by the terrific all encompassing din produced by the machinery.

By now though, Dad was earning about four pounds a week so was able to afford to treat Mum once in a while. He took her to ‘The Premier’ picture house in Pontefract to see the first ‘talking’ movie - Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer". Dad’s favourite singer was Gracie Fields, and any film with Charles Boyer was a "must" for my mum.

They courted on a diet of George Formby, Laurel and Hardy films at Knottingley ‘Palace’, followed by fish and chips from Claytons in Aire Street. When they married, Mrs. Lilley provided the catering and baked them a two-tier wedding cake. My grandmother Hobman set up a one-penny-a-week insurance policy with the ‘Refuge’ for them and treated them to a day trip to Blackpool. They went by train and my poor mum was ill all day. It was the first time she had ever seen the sea.

They had no home of their own so they moved in with Uncle Dick who by now was married to Aunt Lizzie. They lived in Victoria Terrace, a small row of cottages, which stood opposite the now empty newsagents on Hill Top, Knottingley - and it was there that I was born on September 13th 1933.

Jean Norfolk (nee Hobman)

[Knottingley Folk]

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