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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories





One day in summer when I was very young, still at the age where I still had to hold a hand when traffic was about, I remember going on the bus to Leeds then catching another one out to Otley with my mother and grandmother. To me it was a journey to the Venus or Mars of the Dan Dare stories. I had never been this far from home except when we went on our annual holiday to Filey. Gran was always pleased to go and see her younger sister Ada, whom as a child she had virtually brought up herself because of the size of family they both came from. I understand this was a late Victorian early Edwardian tradition in large family groups, where the older sisters would take the responsibility of raising the younger ones, these being Ada and my Uncle Tom, of whom we shall hear more of later. However, this was the first time that I had visited Otley, just the place for Uncle Dick and Aunt Ada I thought, they surely fitted well into the local community, Methodism and church social life.

For those who do not know Otley, it is on the North side of Leeds and the first town one encounters when travelling from Airedale into Wharfedale. In those days it was one heck of a journey from Knottingley by bus. It took us a least two hours and we would arrive just in time for dinner. Now on this, my first visit, when we were all sat down to our Yorkshire puddings which by household tradition always came first. There I was knife and fork in hand and well into my first mouthful and ready for the next one when…"For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful"…Pause…"Aaa m e n". This eulogy and long amen came from Uncle Dick who sat eyes closed and motionless at the end of the table complete with clerical collar and handle bar moustache. He could easily have doubled as one of the Earp brothers with that moustache, although I could not see him with guns blazing at the OK Corral. There I was with a mouthful of Yorkshire pudding and with another piece stuck on the end of my fork ready to follow. Mother and Grandmother did not think to warn me of this, but boy, was I ready for the next prayer after we had eaten, hands together and with one eye open I saw my grandmother smiling, accompanied by a sharp tap on the shins.

As to the Yorkshire pudding, I asked my aunt Ada why it was that we always had it before the meal and never to finish with like normal people. She said that the tradition went back as far as the Wars of the Roses which were fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York. "This was some time ago, well before I was born", she said, not quite remembering when. In those days the pudding, in this case Yorkshire, like all others desserts, was left until after the meal. "Anyway, whilst the brave Yorkshire soldiers were eating their roast beef, mashed and baked potatoes and two veg with gravy, those thieving, cowardly soldiers from Lancashire crept into the kitchen and stole all of the puddings which was a bit of a blow. So, to prevent that ever happening again, we always eat our puddings first, this being the best part of the meal and too good to be stolen".

It is funny now looking back that I was brought up on these quirky little stories from one or the other of my older family. However, she assured me that it was true and Aunt Ada being a good Methodist and closer to God than anyone I knew, I always believed her and still do to this day. Especially, as Uncle Dick wore a dog collar.

The car my Uncle Dick drove was, I think, a black pre-war Austin Seven, with discoloured yellow glass in the windows and leather interior that smelled of Aunt Ada's mothballed fox fur that she always wore when visiting and Uncle Dick's pipe tobacco. How I wish that I had this old heap of metal today, but unfortunately the car and Uncle Dick came to a very sad end.

Aunt Ada went to the ladies sewing meeting at the Methodist church in Otley every Friday morning. Uncle Dick would always drop her off in the middle of the town and then drive home. Now, I knew that he was not a well man because he had a foul chest and was always coughing, I was told later that he had congestive heart failure. However, on this particular morning having dropped my aunt off at the church he set off back to the bungalow. On the way he had a major heart attack at the wheel from which he died instantly. The car went out of control, ran across the main road and through the Co-op Funeral Parlour window where it parked itself neatly in the showroom. Whether they got the job or not I never did find out but aunt Ada sold up and came to live in Knottingley where she settled for her few remaining years.

I remember the house on Carter Square very well; it was once part of the old Knottingley poor house. It must have been quite a change for her from living in peaceful Otley were everybody appeared to be the same age, either elderly or just simply very old. Aunt Ada had what at sometime must have been very good and expensive furniture. This made the house look dark and gloomy, although it was decorated throughout when she moved from Otley. It had an outside toilet, but my old Aunt was having none of this, she told me…"I haven't used an outside toilet since I lived with my parents in Castleford, and I am not going to have one now". So there, I thought, that's telling you.

The first thing she did was to have one corner of the kitchen converted and a toilet plumbed in under the stairs. Those stairs were so steep even I had to use both hand rails to climb up them. Goodness knows how my aunt at ninety managed, but she did until the time came that she was ill and her bed needed to be brought down into her front parlour, as she always called it. I believe she was the only one in our family to have a parlour; everyone else had a front room that was only ever used on Christmas Day. I remember my Dad carrying hot coals from the living room into the back room on a shovel and after several smokey attempts, managed to get a blazing fire going. All this had to be done before the dinner and in time for King George's Christmas Speech on the radio.

Anyway, Aunt Ada's house was full of what eventually would become known as "Victoriana or knick-knacks" as she called them. The display cabinet was packed with China ornaments and other prized bits that I learned came from her parent's, my great grandmother's house. There was one item that as a child always fascinated me. It was a carving of a stags head with antlers. I would stare at it, nose pressed against the glass every time that I went, until one day she must have noticed me, that or the wet marks that I was leaving on the glass. Unlocking the glass door Aunt Ada took it out. "Do you know who carved this?", she challenged, thrusting it in my face. I shook my head. "N…No Aunt Ada." She always did scare me a bit. "Your grandfather did, one Christmas from a mistletoe bough. Jim was always whittling."

I remember thinking that he must have been bored if he spent his Christmas carving bits of old wood. "I will leave it to you in my will", she said. I was thrilled at the time and naively I believed her. Thinking back, for heavens sake, who would leave a carved bit of wood to someone in their will? Needless to say, I never got it when the will was read. Like the glass walking sticks that my granddad made at Bagley's Glassworks. There was a cupboard full, all of different colours; blues, greens and one in clear glass with multi-coloured sweets called hundreds and thousands in the shape of a mace. I was supposed to get those as well, but she must have forgotten. Mind you when the Last Will and Testament was read no one got anything, even my mother who looked after her during her last five years of life was missed off the list. It all went to the Methodist Church and other more needy charitable causes. That is except for the bits that got nicked - and a lot of that went on I can tell you.

When she finally went off to the old people's home her so-called long lost relatives descended on the house from everywhere just like removal men, complete with hire vans. They came from Castleford, Townville; even the Ashington gang came down from Northumberland. There were relatives and friends who had not been seen for years and have not been seen since, most of them were complete strangers to me. Oh, I had heard talk of them. "This is your Aunty Alice from Ashington." She was known in the family as Alice from Ashington. "And you have heard me talk about Uncle John and Miss May - Aunt Ada's best friend. Oh, and this is Cousin Bill, you remember him don't you? He gave you half a crown to go on holiday with". “Oh did he? Thanks Cousin Bill".

No, I didn't remember him really, I just pretended that I did. He could have been Adam for all I knew. Or Miss May come to think of it, who was supposed to be Aunt Ada's best friend. She really got things together; she was the appointed executor to the will and boy did the gang pull the wool over her eyes. That furniture must have been worth a bob or two, judging by the way it disappeared. As I said previously there were a few choice items that on today's market would fetch a sizable sum in auction.

My young ears overheard a conversation between Alice the self-appointed matriarch of the Ashington Gang and the gentle religious Miss May. "Now when Aunt Ada is a little better, and when she is settled in her new home, she can come up to stay with us in Ashington for the weekend". S'funny they had never invited her before, who were they kidding. "All of her favourite furniture will be in the small room we have set aside; it will be like coming home." It certainly sounded like a good idea and very generous to the poor befuddled executor. "Oh, that would be nice", she was a real lady and very polite. "Just take what you think she would like". And they did, enough to furnish a small house, never mind a small room. I often wonder how much they got when they moved it on. Certainly everyone was more than a little disappointed when the will was read. By some pure chance I now have Aunt Ada's will, found in my mother's deed box after she died. Charities did very well, the Methodist church best of all, I guess it paid for the new roof on the old place in Otley. She would have liked that.

I have a green glass walking stick to this day. I took it when no one was looking. Well, Aunt Ada said I could have it, didn't she? Although I searched I never saw the carved holly bough; I suspect it must have got thrown out, with all the theology books and the Victorian wind up musical box that I rescued, the green glass paper weight that was blown by my Grandfather and the oil paintings by the Wainwright brother of Castleford who courted my grandmother and Aunt Ada when they were young lasses all those years ago.

When I arrived on the scene with my mother, everything was piled high in the garden, ready for the bonfire. Quickly letting go of her hand I started to rummage through the stack and eventually carted off some choice items away on my own. "I don't know what you want that for”, the folks would say, “it’s just a load of old junk." This was a time when the old saying, “If I knew then what I know now”, would have come in most appropriately.

Childhood is a funny time; everything looks so big from down where you are. I suppose that everyone is aware that there is a small person around, but they do not really take you seriously. It is a time when you can easily pale into insignificance and get away with almost anything, so long as you do things that are not childish but more adult. Like walking down the garden path with an oil painting tucked under one arm, a glass walking stick under the other and mum carrying an old Victorian musical box that did not play a single tune because the comb was broken. It all took several discreet trips, but in the end I did okay and to this day I am pleased to say that have several pieces of Aunt Ada's so called old junk.

I have always been fond of animals, particularly cats and dogs. I can remember from being a very small child that if I found a dog wandering around in the avenue, I would bring it home even though it may have belonged to one of the neighbours. Or, if one wandered in looking hungry, I would raid the biscuit barrel and feed it. The thing about animals is, they remember, so there was always a constant stream of well-fed dogs standing at the door, tail wagging, trying hard to look as if they had not eaten for a month. I was told on several occasions that most of these dogs belonged to someone and I must not bring them home. Then came the day when a white terrier wandered into the drive and stayed. He and I sat in the garden all afternoon, probably because I kept giving him biscuits. My mother had to admit that he looked like a stray; he was certainly very thin and ate as if he hadn't eaten for months. "He's a bit like my old Nip", she said with misty eyes. Nip had been her dog when she was a young girl, she never forgot and always talked very sentimentally about him.

When I went to bed he had gone to sleep on the lawn next to a saucer of milk. I thought, if he's still there tomorrow he's mine. When I came down stairs the next morning the dog was certainly the hot topic of conversation, although one I did not want to hear. I heard my Dad say, "I will ring the police when I get to work, someone may be looking for him". I protested and it was explained again that stray dogs had to be reported just in case their owners were missing them. "If he was your dog, you would hope that someone would find him and return him to you. Wouldn't you?” I had to agree but only with a reluctant nod of my head. I was not happy that day and by lunchtime a young policeman arrived on his bicycle to collect my new friend. He tied him with a piece of string and rode off back to the police station. The dog looked back several times I was inconsolable for me it was a 'black dog day', as Winston Churchill would say.

I think it was when I was five that they thought a dog as a birthday present would be the best thing, at least it would reduce the steady stream that sat around by the back door waiting to be fed. Either that, or me doggynapping every stray that strolled past the gate looking hungry and forlorn.

It all happened suddenly one lunch time when a very smart car pulled up outside the house and an Alfred Hitchcock look-alike clambered out. Shortly afterwards there was a knock on the door and a large man with a Hitchcock sounding voice which I know now was due to him suffering like Hitchcock from myxoedema, asked for my father. I knew what he looked and sounded like by this time because of his scary weekly TV programme ‘Hitchcock Presents’. Above the conversation I heard high pitched yips and yaps. When he eventually came in he had in each hand two small tan pups. "This one is a boy”, he said holding out his right hand, “and this is a girl. Which one do you want?" Smiles all round especially when I was asked to choose.

I chose the male corgi of the species and we called him Kim. Five pounds that dog cost, a lot of money in those days. Kim was a Welsh corgi with a very good pedigree who my father took to every dog show in the area. He must have won him that fiver back in prize money time and time again. Kim was a true Pembroke, not having a tail, only a stump where it had been docked. We didn't have a car so we travelled to the shows by train, bus or sometimes taxi. I recall one summer going to the open air show at South Milford by bike and my dad riding with me on the child's saddle and me holding Kim who had both front paws on the handle bars, whilst Dad steered. Can you imagine doing that today? In India yes, but not in the rural West Riding of Yorkshire.

It is difficult to recall now how real those pre-school days were, but harmless and innocent they certainly were depending on which side of the neighbour's fence you were living on. I can still remember so much of how my protracted family first appeared to me because they were so numerous. Some of whom I was very close to, being those mainly on my mother's side. Others from my Dad's side were the true Knottingley folk; they were mere blurs, faces to which I never spoke or had conversation. They never appeared to acknowledge me unless I was with my mother or father. Strangely enough they have remained so, and do so to this day. Most of them are dead now, leaving children whom I know even less; sad really.

I vividly remember that day, the one before I started school. Little Alan Woodhead and me were sat on the kerb edge in wellies, sticks in hand splashing water in a puddle. We were wondering what this school lark was all about and to be honest not looking forward to it one bit. I was off to Chapel Street and Alan to Pontefract three miles away, which meant that his mother had to take him on the bus. Neither of us thought this was strange at the time but we were each to discover later the reason. Unknown to me and to my little pal, his parents were moving to Chequerfield and this was to be our last day of play together. We had been friends from the time I toddled up to his house and he found his way to mine, we probably caught the measles or whooping cough from each other. Certainly that day as we sat by the puddle was the last we ever had together.

What must have been several weeks later I found my way to Alan's side door only to be met by a strange face, to be told that Alan no longer lived there. So off I skipped back to tell my mum. She in the kindest way explained that Alan had gone to live in Pontefract to be nearer to his new school. What things parents don't tell you when you're young! I suppose I just shrugged my shoulders and went to find another pool to splash in and wait for someone else to come to join me. Kids are like that, aren't they?

Still, by this time I had started at Chapel Street School and had more than enough new pals to play with, but I really missed those carefree days of splashing around in puddles and making mud pies.

Roger Ellis


Also by Roger Ellis:

Legend of the Iron Man
Sunday School Days
School Days is Happy Daze

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