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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



Reading Maurice Haigh's account of growing up in Aire Street in the Knottingley Digest, September 2006, prompted me to add my own recollections of Knottingley. I too grew up in Aire Street, and Maurice mentioned our family in his article, but referred to us as the 'Rathmills'.

I was born at Island Court, Knottingley on 30th August 1930 to Richard and Doris Rathmell, and was the second of five children (the oldest son died in infancy). I had a fairly average childhood for my generation, I went to Primary School at Weeland Road, followed by Ropewalk Modern School until I was 14 years old. I had my first fight with George Murfitt at Ropewalk School, but hasten to add that we were always good mates after that!

As children we created lots of fun. We used to go down to the 'Ganna', a three cornered field, to birdwatch and at Willow Garth we would cut pieces of willow down to make bow and arrows. We used to pay one penny to catch the ferry across the River Aire and then walk along to Sherrads Farm where my friend Tommy Ruckledge's father used to work, and we'd take him his 'snap'. We used to walk for miles bird nesting and exploring. I used to often play with Raymond Haigh, now deceased, of Taylors Yard (he was Maurice's brother). I recall that he was the best shot with a catapult in Knottingley! Two brothers John and Harold Trevellyn of Clays Passage (evacuees from Bradford), Ian Marchant and Billy Goulding were also good friends of mine at the time. We enjoyed lots of harmless innocent fun.

We used to spend time watching the water wheel going round at Kings Mill. At Womersley Road railway crossing we used to run up the bridge when a steam train was coming to get a gust of warm steam up our short trouser legs! At Shepherd's Bridge we used to watch Matt Burkett, the village Blacksmith, working at his forge, overlooking the towpath.

When I was seven I remember us schoolchildren waved flags on Weeland Road to welcome the Royal visit to Rockware Glassworks of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

I went fishing for the first time when I was 14 years old with my father. My first rod was homemade from a piece of willow stick. I caught a pike with it on my first day. I've been a keen fisherman ever since, although my equipment has vastly improved!

I remember seeing coal boats and 'Tom Puddings' being towed up the River Aire by another boat or by a horse on the towpath. In those days there were no fish in that river.

Every Friday I was sent to George Taylor's pawn shop on Chapel Street, opposite St. Botolph’s church, with a couple of items to get some cash for the family for the weekend. I had to return to collect the items on a Monday. We used to go to the annual fairs on 'The Flatts'.

As a child I was also sent to Tom Taylor’s butchers on Aire Street for a fresh pork pie which had hot gravy jelly and tasted delicious! I had to carry it home carefully so as not to spill any of the gravy - if I did I got a good hiding from my Mam!  My Dad used to give me one shilling to buy five Woodbines and 10 aniseed balls, and I had to come home with the one penny change.

We used to buy all our groceries from Ernest Clay's shop, and our newspapers from Alfie Spiers. Alfie used to deliver all the papers himself and collect the money each Friday. When we had our hair cut at 'Sweeney Todd's' in Marsh End, we asked for a ‘straight over top’! All the main shops were on Aire Street. I also remember Horncastle’s and Blackhouse’s bakery. There were some real characters around in those days.

We were encouraged to learn a trade by apprenticing. I had been offered a job at Armitage's Foundry in 1944 as an apprentice draughtsman working in the office, as I was good at technical drawing. However, I was much disappointed as on the day I was due to start my first job my Mother needed me and the older children to help her in the fields picking peas. As money was tight I had to help and therefore lost the job.

So at just 15 years old I started work at Shaw Brother's Iron Foundry at Forge Hill, Hill Top, close to where we now live. Some lunchtimes Alan Ridge (now deceased), and I used to jump over the wall to Charlie Hawthorn's or Jack Brown's fish and chip shop for our dinner. I was an apprentice moulder there for seven years, which was broken by a spell in the Army for National service from 1949-51. I was posted to Austria, Dorset and Aldershot.

In 1951 I returned home to complete my apprenticeship and by this time my family had moved to Taylor's Yard, next to the old cinema. I used to go to the 'Picture Palace' every week, usually with Raymond Haigh. The cinema manager was Mr. Wood.

We used to go drinking to the Buck Inn in Aire Street, where we used to call a pint of Tetley's 'Dragon's Blood'. We sometimes went to the Bay Horse pub in Knottingley to drink 'Bentley's Yorkshire Bitter'. I joined the Hill Top Club after my National Service and was a member there for more than twenty years.

In 1958 we moved to a new house in Springfields for two years whilst Aire Street was being redeveloped. When we moved back to a flat in Aire Street I was married and still living at home like many other young couples at the time. I'd met my future wife, Anne Hughes, in Pontefract in 1956 and we courted at the fairs and cinema. We also used to walk along 'Dish Hill' in Brotherton like many other couples, and we sometimes went to the Winston pub on Womersley Road for a drink.

We married at Ferrybridge Church on 1st August 1959, when I was 28 years old. Our only child Ian was born in January 1966.

During my time at Shaw’s I was involved in an industrial accident in 1960 which resulted in a broken leg. Health and Safety was unheard of in those days. I left Shaw’s in 1962/3 to work at Rhodes Foundry in Castleford where I worked as a moulder for two and a half years. By this time I had my own transport - an NSU Quickly moped!

Following this I got a job working shifts at Rockware Glass, Knottingley, where my mother had previously worked. I worked hard there for two and a half years before moving on to Eggborough Power Station in 1968. I started there as a labourer but was promoted to a Plant Attendant. I really enjoyed my time and the responsibility at the power station. I took early retirement in 1990, at the age of 59 and was given a microwave for my 21 years service!

I am still a keen fisherman and birdwatcher, and have been a member of the RSPB for many years. Anne and I remain in good health, our families live nearby and we have been very happy here. I can honestly say that I'm a true 'Knottlerite'.

Ernest Rathmell

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