THE MEMOIRS OF JACK AARON
I first saw the light of day at the
former Rising Sun public house on Jackson Lane, Hill Top, Knottingley,
on 1st June 1919. I was the fourth of seven sons to be born to my parents
Joe and Ethel Aaron and all seven of us saw active service during the
Second World War.
My brother’s Walter, George, and Herbert served in Europe and took part
in the D-Day landings while I myself served in the British Expeditionary
Force 1939. Harold (Mick), Bill and Jeff served in the Far East but
Bill was captured at Singapore and forced to work on the notorious 'Railway
of Death', which was built as a strategic railway between Thailand and
Burma. Bill said every sleeper they laid represented a human life lost
and in total the sixteen-month long construction of the railway cost
the lives of 16,000 allied prisoners and 100,000 slave labourers.
My mother was a trained dressmaker
who was well known around Hill Top and especially by Miss Hunter who
lived just down the lane and who owned a haberdashery shop on Aire Street.
With all due respect to the lady concerned, Miss Hunter was a large
built lady similar in appearance to the actress Hattie Jacques.
My mother was also a very good baker
and she made some "exceedingly good" raisin pastry, currant jam, and
date pastry as well as bread, scones and teacakes. Looking back I find
it hard to imagine how she found the time with seven growing lads and
a poorly husband to care for, but she did.
My father had been ill for some time
and I remember going to the doctor's to collect his medicine for him.
It was a white liquid, which helped to ease his complaint for a short
The old Rising Sun public house was situated at the junction of the
main A645 road through Knottingley and the entrance to Marine Villa
Road, which in those days was known as Jackson's Lane. The Rising Sun
pub had been in existence since the early nineteenth century but time
was finally called on the 21st December 1907, after which the premises
No longer serving the needs of the local population as a place for refreshment
the building was converted into shops and cottages. When I was very
young the property consisted of a fish and chip shop facing onto the
main road, which was rented by my uncle Herbert Aaron and his family,
and then there was a small shop facing onto Jackson's Lane which belonged
at one time to Mr. Everett.
We lived in the first cottage along Jackson's Lane and my mother's sister,
Auntie Chris Williamson, lived next door to us. Auntie Chris had lost
her husband Jack, whom I was named after, during the First World War.
The Gill family lived in the next cottage and then the Foster's while
the next building along was the Old Hall, which at this time had been
converted into three dwelling apartments. On the right of the Hall lived
Dr. and Mrs Bell, while in the middle lived two sisters and to the left
was Miss Burns.
Dr. and Mrs Bell had a son named Roland who kept chickens in an allotment
behind the Hall where he would spend the best part of the day in retreat
from everyone. He would set off with a basket full of eggs over his
arm, which I think he sold to the Co-op. After walking for a short distance
he would suddenly increase speed for a short time, and then revert back
to his original walking pace. He dressed in a pair of old knee-length
breeches, with long thick stockings up to his knees, and wore a battered
old woollen hat on his head. Though I never once heard him utter a word
he was actually a very nice man, and he must have led a very peaceful
life in that paddock with his hens away from everyone else. I've often
wondered what happened to him.
I remember back at the Rising Sun cottages, Auntie Chris owned a beautiful
big black shiny tomcat named Nig. To keep on his best side I used to
sit by the fire stroking his shiny fur. Sometimes I wondered if old
Nig ever had a good side because every time I'd finished grooming him,
just before he jumped off my knee, he would dig his claws in hard (beware
the dagger in the velvet glove they say!). Anyway, old Nig had his favourite
spot for sunbathing outside on the window ledge. He'd close his eyes,
but he was always very alert and aware of everything that was going
on around him.
Mrs Garner who lived at the Green House Farm on Spawd Bone Lane used
to visit the Co-op for whatever groceries or provisions she needed and
her route took her past the Rising Sun cottages where we lived. Crossing
the Greenhouse fields with her dog Bunty, passing The Grove on her left,
she would proceed up Jackson's Lane, past Miss Hunter's cottage on the
right, towards the inevitable confrontation. Old Bunty was truly quite
an inoffensive dog in spite of being very big and strong but she was
no match for Nig. He would wait until they drew level with him and then
simply roll off the ledge, claws fully extended, and drop down onto
old Bunty's back, which he regarded as his own personal landing strip.
Nig dug his claws in hard to get a firm grip and Bunty gave out a great
yelp of pain and spun round the way she had come. Then she ran hell
for leather back to the farm, with old Nig stuck to her back like shit
to a blanket, leaving Mrs Garner standing there.
Mr. Garner, who farmed out of the Green House Farm, once deposited several
cartloads of old potatoes in the Greenhouse fields, which we regarded
as our playing fields. I can never recall ever being chased out of the
fields. I suppose the old boy thought it was a waste of time and we
would only have made a game of it anyway.
Placed conveniently some fifty or sixty yards apart the piles of potatoes
were perfect as ready-made ammunition! Splitting up into two parties,
the younger kids mixed up with the older kids, we set to. It was great
In the group opposite ours was a big lad and he had started pinpointing
the younger end of the 'enemy'. After a short time I received a potato
'shell' right bang in the middle of the forehead - bullseye! What a
hit - I never saw it coming. The potato exploded into several fragments
upon impact but oddly enough I never felt any pain at all. The fact
that the potatoes were rejects and softened may have saved me from black
eyes and headaches or even worse!
Access onto the Greenhouse Fields, which I think must have taken its
name from the old Green House Farm, was gained from the far end of Jackson
Lane. For the neighbouring kids this was our recreation ground, where
we played football, cricket, kick-can, and peggy, long before the council
had acquired the land for provision of the town playing fields.
Peggy comprised a short piece of wood, about five inches in length,
which was tapered at each end. It was placed into a shallow hole with
one end tipped up and the idea was to hit the piece that was tipped
up with a stick, making it spin upwards into the air. You then had to
hit it again with your stick as far as you could knock it. I forget
the exact rules now but I think you had to guess how far it had gone
after you'd hit it - this was then paced out. If you'd guessed correctly
you'd won. Marvellous!
Separating the Greenhouse from the adjoining field was an old limestone
wall, which is still there to this day. One day a herd of cows were
grazing just beyond the wall in the adjoining field along with a young
bull. We found a sack and rammed it full of grass and, leaning over
the wall, we started to swipe the bull across its face with the sack.
It didn't like it but we weren't hurting it. Eventually it got fed up
but we felt we were safe behind the wall, when all of a sudden it jumped
straight over the top and chased the lot of us out of the field - sack
At the end of the field was Mr. Tom Jackson's residence, now re-named
The Close and used as the local council offices. Directly opposite was
the Gentleman's Club, as it was called in those days, with Mr. Titch
Tomlinson as the steward. Now of course we know it as the Conservative
The area around Jackson's Lane right up to Hill Top has changed considerably
over the years, certainly very different today from how it was when
I was a youngster.
On the other side of the main road, opposite the entrance to Jackson's
Lane, were the Lodge gates, with a pathway leading down to the brewery.
One day, crossing the road to go through the gates, I heard rifle shots
coming from within the brewery. Tommy Sides, who was a director of Carter's
Brewery, organised regular shooting parties along with some of his police
friends. On previous occasions we had received a few coppers for carrying
the dead rooks so we made our way across hoping to earn a few more.
Just off the main road, opposite a bungalow belonging to a Mr. and Mrs
Fletcher, was a steep incline with a fence at the bottom. While making
my way down this incline I lost my footing and slithered down on my
behind with my arms spread out in a vain attempt to stop my fall. I
felt my right hand pass through something greasy and glancing back I
saw that it was a dead cat and the smell was terrible! However, in those
days you didn't run home to wash your hands because you might get caught
for running errands, so having scrubbed my hands rigorously with long
grass I carried on.
Hearing a little scream, we looked round and saw that one of the ladies
among the shooting party had stumbled while trying to climb over a wire
fence and was hanging upside down with both legs up in the air showing
off her white bloomers. We helped her back to her feet, dusted her down
and she was fine again, but I can imagine how embarrassed she must have
I remember our bare-foot days during the autumn time when the horse
chestnut trees along Hill Top were shedding their leaves and conker's.
If you were lucky you got a conker on top of your head! Underfoot the
leaves would be up to two feet deep from the area opposite the Bay Horse
Inn right down to the entrance to Brewery Lane. We kids used to run
through the leaves in our bare feet. It was a pleasant feeling with
the leaves crackling beneath us, but it didn't last long once my mum
had spotted us. "Get your shoes on, showing me up!" she would shout
In those days cattle used to arrive at Knottingley railway station,
being transported in four-wheeled cattle trucks. Legga Sweeting, as
we called him, and Charlie Holt, took charge of them.
On dark evenings Legga walked along in front holding a lantern while
Charlie walked behind in charge of the dogs as they herded the cattle
down towards Aire Street to a farm on Cow Lane opposite Billy Mowbray's.
In those days the streets were illuminated only by gas lamps, which
were lit by the lamplighter, Mr. Hart.
Legga and Charlie were always on the lookout for one or another animal
making a diversion and creating havoc but the dogs would normally bring
One night though one of the cows broke away from the herd and as it
came along on the path, it turned around quickly and headed up the passage
at the rear of our house, clearing it in no time. What laughs we had
watching them trying to manoeuvre it round and get it back with the
others. I don't know if it was the same cow or not but one went through
the door in the Meadows Dairy shop and came back out through the window!
On another occasion, Jim Marshall was coming out of Jackson's Lane carrying
a pile of gramophone records in his hands. He met some cows at the corner
head on and down he went, along with the records. Some wag remarked
afterwards "You broke the record that time Jim"
I was only about ten years old at this time and the cows scared me to
death so I always retreated back into the relative safety of the passage
when they drew level.
As a lad I used to collect fish packed in ice from the station for Mrs
Athorne who owned a fish and chip shop on Hill Top, next to the Bay
Horse Inn. I used a sack barrow and I remember the way the icy water
used to seep out of the wooden boxes as I made my way back to the shop.
Mrs Athorne rewarded me with twopence in old money, which was very generous
of her in those days, as fish and chips were threepence at the time
if I remember correctly. The fish were transported from Hull or Grimsby
by rail to Knottingley station. Tommy Millward used to collect the fish
for General Barker who owned a fish and chip shop adjoining the Wagon
and Horses Public House in Aire Street.
Just behind the Rising Sun Cottages there was a passage leading to a
large yard where the Austerberry family lived along with old George
'Snuff' Shaw and his wife and family. George was a miner and their children
were Nellie, Harold and George junior. Young George, like me, was taken
prisoner of war and endured the same death march as myself although
we never met during that period.
On the other side of the passage lived Mrs Miller and her two sons,
Sydney and Herbert. I believe that Sydney was killed during the war.
Next door to the Miller's lived Joe Hepworth with his wife Ada and his
family of Dickie, Florence, Jimmy, Alice and Joe Junior. Joe was an
old soldier and I remember when he died soldiers came down from Pontefract
Barracks to give him a military funeral. As the cortege made its way
towards the cemetery on Womersley Road all the kids raced off ahead
and arrived there before the procession. I was there when they lowered
his coffin into the ground and the soldiers fired three volleys over
his grave. It was a very sad occasion.
Next door to the Hepworth's lived Mrs Brown who brewed some very tasty
herb beer. Her husband Jackie, like most of his fellow workers, wore
clogs for work and you could always hear the miners setting out to catch
the train at Knottingley station early in the morning. I think it was
called the Paddy Train but I don't know why. They had two sons, Stan
and Harold. Stan was killed in action in Normandy and Harold was taken
prisoner of war.
It is some reflection of the devastating effects of war that from that
small yard alone there were four prisoners of war: Jack Aaron (myself),
Bill Aaron, Harold Brown and George Shaw while Herbert Aaron and Stan
Brown were both tragically killed in action.
A little further along Hill Top was the Working Men's Club or the Top
Club as it was known, where Tom Beavis was the steward. Tom had his
home next door to the Club but I don't recall much about him.
One day, in search of some amusement, we kids had a brilliant idea.
In those days on either side of the steps leading into the Top Club
there was a brick and iron-railing wall where the members used to park
their bicycles. We decided to remove the air valves from each wheel
and as you can imagine, there was hell to play when the members eventually
emerged from the club to discover that all their tyre's were flat.
Just past the club there was a narrow lane leading to a field where
Charlie Atmore used to keep his pony and milk float. I occasionally
accompanied Charlie on some of his trips and later that same day, trotting
up past the club with Charlie in his milk float, as we approached the
club we saw a group of men milling around in front. Suddenly one of
the men pointed at me and shouted; "there's one of them!" I immediately
crouched down to hide among the milk churns. "Gee up Charlie!" I knew
I was on the hit list of the cycling members of the club.
My Uncle Herbert Aaron kept pigs in an enclosure at the back of the
Club. It was an ideal place - isolated and secluded. One day he went
down to feed his animals and to his horror discovered that the pigs
had all been painted different colours! A group of kids, my younger
brothers included, had found some paintbrushes and tins of paint and
they had really gone to town, creating technicolour pigs! Uncle Herbert
was fuming but I'm sure he would have seen the funny side of it all
On the opposite side of the narrow lane was the butcher's shop of Geordy
Taylor. He was a very good butcher and when passing his shop around
dinnertime you could always smell his dinner on the go - something I
will never forget. His wife's maiden name was Minnie Fisher. My dad
once asked him "George, do you only kill half a beast at one time?"
as he never had more than a half carcass hung up in his shop. The other
half would be in the other butcher's shop in Aire Street.
Tom Taylor was one of the shopkeeper's on Hill Top and amongst other
things he sold paraffin. A lot of people had paraffin lamps in those
days and Tom had an all metal proper paraffin dispenser, which came
up to his waist. You placed your quart bottle under the spout and he
would work the pump handle up and down and any overflow would run back
down the drain. I can see him now pumping away with a lighted cigarette
in his mouth - in fact I don't ever recall seeing him without a cigarette
in his mouth!
Mr. Jimmy Sutton was the manager of the Co-op, a very nice man who sometimes
asked me to accompany his driver in his old Thornycroft lorry with its
solid rubber tyres and a top speed of about 20mph. You could certainly
feel the ride delivering groceries around the villages. Long before
it was demolished, we would pull in at the old George and Dragon at
Whitley Bridge for our lunch. Mr. Sutton would give me 1s 6d for the
afternoon runs and 2s 6d for the all day run around Whitley Bridge and
neighbouring villages. Sometimes I would be asked to go with old Bert
Spur with his horse and dray round Knottingley, which I enjoyed and
sometimes with Jim Rhodes in his fast Ford lorry. Ernest Newlove was
employed at the Co-op and I liked to be served by him. He had two charming
twin daughters, Joan and Audrey.
Next door to the Co-op, was old Tommy Burdin's cottage and in those
days people used to sit around outside during the hot weather. Tommy
would sit there smoking his pipe and enjoying the day's sunshine. He
spoke with a slight stutter and one day as we were passing by, there
was an old cat sitting on the kerb washing itself, licking its paw and
rubbing it over and behind its ears as cats do. Tommy said to someone
" I… I…I wish I could d…d…do that", but by the time he had got it out
the cat was licking its backside!
Opposite the entrance to Forge Hill Lane was the Bay Horse Inn where
Archibald Frazer was the host. Jack Smeaton and Ned Foulds, two old
buddies, were passing by one day when they were accosted by Archie's
little terrier. It wouldn't stop yapping and so old Jack bent down,
picked it up and bit off its tail, which I thought was barbaric. I later
discovered that that's what the old dog breeders did to their pups.
They would feel for the joint in the pups tail and bite through - called
docking. The next day the pup would be running around perfectly okay
but I bet Archie's terrier wouldn't run after old Jack Smeaton again
in a hurry.
Jimmy Glendenning had the yard where Sam Maeers' Transport Garages are
now. You could go down to Jim's with some jam jars and he'd give you
a few coppers. What he did with the jars I don't know. One day Jimmy
and his brother Bob had a difference of opinions and started fighting.
During the fight Bob bit off part of Jimmy's ear and they never spoke
to each other again after that.
Also up Hill Top, at the entrance to Jail Yard, leading into the Holes,
was a cobblers shop owned by little Freddy Turton. I think that was
his name though I could be wrong. Anyway, my Aunt Ethel lived nearby
and she was always one for a laugh and one particular day Jim Marshall,
who had an artificial leg, came into the shop. The shop itself was elevated
about six feet from ground level and you had to go up some stone steps
to reach the door. Some people whom Freddy knew were allowed to stay
a while to get a bit of a warm and have a cigarette - Aunt Ethel being
one of them. Jim, despite having only one leg, wanted his shoes repairing
and while Freddy was doing the job Ethel went over and whispered to
him "Hey Freddy, turn the shoe on the artificial leg around so that
it points backwards." After Freddy had finished his work Jim tried on
the shoes and when he saw what had happened he was outraged. "Look at
that" he exclaimed, "I'll be walking round in blooming circles now!"
My Uncle Herbert Aaron, apart from owning the fish and chip shop at
the Rising Sun cottages was also landlord of the Old White Swan Inn,
next to Sculpture House for some time. Getting out the sack barrow,
Uncle Herbert used to give me twopence if I would bring him two sacks
of hops from the brewery for the pigs. These were hops that had been
through the brewing system but which were ideal as pig feed. I used
to eat some on the way back - they tasted a bit like potato crisps.
I remember the White Swan as a lad in my early teens when you walked
in onto a solid stone flagged floor. On your left was a small bar and
on your right after you had received your beer was a room with lovely
old wooden bench seats that continued all the way around the room with
tables set out for cards or dominoes. At the rear following the bench
seat were some wooden partitions about five feet high which I think
were to protect the customers from draughts. It was very cosy especially
with the Inglenook fireplace recessed into the wall with a little seat
on either side.
My grandfather, George William Johnson, used to take my sister and my
cousin down to Saint Botolph's Church every Sunday morning. On their
way home after the service the Old Swan was as far as my grandfather
would go. Giving the kids some sweets he would tell them to get off
home, charge his pipe and disappear inside the Swan.
As I recall there were only two rooms inside. Apart
from the room with the Inglenook fireplace there was the front room
which housed a piano and attracted the lads because one of them could
play it. This also attracted Charlie Bowers, one of the regulars who
used to regale us with his exploits as a brewery dray driver, delivering
barrels of beer all over the place. At each Inn or drop he would be
offered beer by the landlord - his 'allowance', as Charlie called it.
Once while delivering beer in Wakefield Charlie got into an argument
with a big man who wanted to fight him. Back home in Knottingley, Charlie
was well known for his exploits with the police and many a baton had
bounced off Charlie's head. He was really a very quiet man but extremely
strong and powerful. He was always ready for a laugh and he had us in
stitches on lots of occasions. Anyway, half way through the fight Charlie
said to the man "Hold it, tha's paggerin me, let's stop and have a drink!"
Charlie was never in any serious trouble with the law but the duty Police
Sergeant knew it was useless sending just a single constable to bring
him in when he was in his cups. He was a real character but a very happy