THE MEMOIRS OF JACK AARON
My friend, Derek Barnsdale, was a couple of years
older than I was and he lived at the end of Brewery Lane directly opposite the
present day swimming baths in the building better known then as Stirling's
One day, with nothing else to do we decided to see what we could find inside
an old trunk that was tucked away at the back of the garage.
"Look here", Derek said laughing, as he held up a pair of breeches and
a pair of leather boots that fitted him perfectly.
Derek's father was a fighter pilot and that's probably where the clothes came
from. I heard that he even used to land his aeroplane on the Marsh and travel
across the river on Barney Rhodes's boat.
"Wow! Have a look at this Jack", Derek said, brandishing an old service
revolver that weighed a ton.
"Put it back Derek", I said, "we're not playing with that." It
was so heavy I couldn't even hold it at arms length.
One beautiful summer's day we decided to have stroll around
Carter's brewery just to have a look around - in those days there was never
any thought of smashing things up like some young people do today. I found a
real treasure for a ten-year-old, a real live .303 dum-dum bullet.
A few days later my mother said "You want to get rid of that thing - it's
dangerous", so I gave it to her. Off she went to the dustbin - one of
those old fashioned metal ones which was barely half-full at the time, and
disposed of it.
My Mother should have joined the bomb disposal unit! Picking up the copper
shovel, she shoved it under the coal fire and came out of the house with a
shovel full of red-hot ashes and placed them in the bin on top of the bullet.
With the lid replaced we retreated to a safe distance. Suddenly, there was an
almighty bang that made the lot of us jump. The dustbin lid flew straight up
into the air by some twenty-feet and great big holes were blown through the
side of the bin. There were ashes everywhere and I said, "well that's the
end of the bullet." "That's the end of the dustbin too!" said mum.
She was a lovely mother!
"Go and get a bucket of coal Jack", my father said one day. There I was
in short pants, rumpled stockings and runny nose, picking up the bucket and
little copper shovel. I opened the cellar door, which rattled the grappling
irons hung up out of the way behind it. They terrified me and never failed to
make me jump. Down the steps I went, bucket and shovel in one hand and candle
stick in the other and started to fill the bucket while glancing across the
cellar, which was pretty spacious inside. There was a wooden and wire mesh
hutch containing a pair of ferrets and as the candlelight caught their eyes
they shone like rubies. "I hope those buggers can't get out", I
thought, because as all the kids knew, rats and ferrets always go for your
throat. Filling up the bucket mighty quick I flew up the steps convinced that
the ferrets were snapping at my heels! I don't know why he kept ferrets and
grappling irons for both brought me out in a cold sweat. The rattling of the
irons always reminded me of skeletons. I suppose that with my grandfather
being a boatman he would have kept grappling irons onboard, so my Dad probably
picked them up from him.
The old man used to line up the younger end of his brood every Friday night as
he sat there with a spoon loaded with brimstone and treacle. "Come on -
open up, it'll do you good", he used to say.
One day a large dog bit me on the leg whilst I was riding my bike. "Let me
look", he said, before getting a small bottle of iodine and pouring it
straight into the wound. His bite proved to be far worse than the dogs!
Normally, come 8 o'clock at night, at whatever time of year, mother would say
"Come on, up aloft. It's time for bed, and make sure you wash behind those
ears - you could plant 'taties there!"
After much chuntering and grumbling and a quick swill we climbed into bed. I
think this was a load off my mother's mind because she liked to have a quiet
hour to herself reading the evening paper or listening to the radio.
Having got to bed we could still hear the other kids out playing in the
street. It might be a beautiful night with bright evening sunshine, quite
galling really because there we were tucked up in bed. Waiting a while until
the others got off to sleep I found that if I pushed the bedroom window to one
side it would leave me enough room to clamber out, hang on to the window ledge
by my finger tips and then let go and drop to the ground. There wasn't any
danger as it wasn't a long drop down. I did this on a number of occasions
before I stopped it, feeling some remorse. I felt I was cheating on my mother,
which of course I was.
On Sunday evenings in those days, my mother and some of her friends used to
get together to play a game of cards, which was a perfectly pleasant way to
spend the time, though their quiet little world was about to be shattered.
I was sitting by the fire with nothing else to do when suddenly the door
opened and in trooped my younger brother's along with some of their friends.
"Look Jack, we've got a cracker here but we haven't got any matches",
one of them said.
I looked at the cracker and saw that it was a 'Little Demon' that could make a
terrific bang. I thought that if I could just light the touch paper on the
fire it would smoulder long enough for us all to get out through the door and
into the garden with it. However, this little blighter wasn't playing by the
rules and as soon as the touch paper came into contact with the embers it
started fizzing straight away - panic stations! I quickly threw it to the back
of the fire and with no time to lose, along with all the other kids we made a
bolt for the back door.
Now my mother was wearing a beautiful white blouse and all her friends looked
really nice and were dressed in their Sunday best. "Hey, what's going off?"
exclaimed one of my mothers' friends who had been quietly involved with the
"That cracker will be in a minute…" was about all I managed to say
before there was an almighty bang and I thought the roof had fallen in. Clouds
of ink black soot engulfed the room and you couldn't see the cards, the card
table or even the players. I thought Jack, you're going to get killed for this
but then suddenly everyone started laughing. I suppose it was funny in a way -
you could only see the whites of the ladies eyes! Jack, you got away with it.
I remember on one occasion when the circus came to town my youngest brother
Herbert came running up the passage, his eyes almost popping out of his head.
"Mam!" he cried, "there's some animals coming along t'road with
tails at both ends!" They were of course circus elephants and my dad
actually played football against them during a performance and was presented
with a trophy for scoring a goal - though I don't recall what happened to it.
No one else would dare go near them. This event was later recorded in the
My Dad's brother, Uncle Laurence Aaron, was a keen fisherman who won the
Witham Trophy. He was once asked "How is it Laurence that you always catch
more fish than anyone else?"
"Well, before I go fishing", he replied, "I get the wife to prepare
the bait because the fish know the difference you know." That's his story.
Having gained a certificate for swimming at Pontefract baths, along with two
friends who had also passed, we decided to try and visit every Saturday,
walking there from Knottingley of course. Having told my mother I didn't like
the swimming trunks issued at the pool, being a first class knitter she
decided to knit me a pair using the finest Merino wool. I tried them on and
they fitted perfectly, nice and snug.
"I'm going to show off in these", I told her, but as it turned out I
ended up showing off without them. Arriving at the baths I ran down to the
deep end stroking and patting my new trunks - they were so beautiful. I dived
in and shot right through them, leaving them floating on top of the pool. My
Mother laughed and laughed when I told her about it later!
Walking back home from the baths we passed a field of liquorice and feasted on
some of that charming root. Further down there was a field of rhubarb and we
certainly didn't need a laxative for some time after that!
In those days winters seemed more severe than we experience today and after a
fresh fall of snow all the kids would join in the fun of sledging on the mill
fields. The best sledges were made from the undercarriages of prams with one
particular pram being far superior to the others. After a few runs the slope
became as slippery as a sheet of glass and if your sledge went down the hill,
across the field, and ended up in the horse drinks you were declared the
winner - providing you managed to get off in time!
Another similar game that we enjoyed was a dry weather game. It involved the
use of a big used rubber tyre borrowed from Sam Maeers garage. While your
friends held it upright you climbed inside and tucked your head in and then
they would push you off down the mill fields. You felt like some kind of test
pilot but once you got some speed up you had no control over it and you never
knew where you would end up - probably in the middle of the canal with a
rubber necklace! We had to stop this game however, as it was becoming too
dangerous but what happy days!
Cutting across Bob Glen's quarry and scrambling up a small slope we came up
against a limestone wall running the length of Spawd Bone Lane right down to
the farm. Who should be coming down the lane from the Jackson's end with his
donkey and cart but Billy 'Cush' whose real name was Billy Appleyard. It was a
home made cart with wringing machine handles for wheels. For some reason
Billy's donkey decided to sit down just as I popped my head over the top of
the wall and I received a stinging cut across the face from Billy's whip as he
tried to get the donkey moving again. It wasn't his fault really as all his
attention was focused on the donkey. I don't know why it had chosen to sit
down there - perhaps it was just fed up!
During the autumn I used to go 'tenting' sheep with old Ned, at least that's
what we used to call it. Ned's sheep were in a field eating turnip tops, which
had been chopped off before the turnips themselves had been carted away. The
fields were opposite old Mill Hartigen's, Throstle Farm, on the site of the
present day Rockware Glassworks, but it was long before the glassworks were
even thought about. Ned would go along the hedgerow and cut a suitable piece
of elderberry: not the new growth but a piece of old wood, which he would cut
into five-inch lengths with his old knife. He used the same knife to trim
sheep's feet, castrate young pigs and also to cut a piece off the Sunday
joint. It was all the same to Ned!
With the short pieces of elderberry Ned would split them with his knife and
keep on splitting them until he had several pieces thinner than a pencil. He
would then smooth them down with the edge of the blade - and there you had it,
"Time to bed them down now Shack," said Ned. (Ned never called me Jack
it was always Shack) As we left the field a big flock of lapwings came and
settled where the sheep had been grazing, calling to each other. You don't see
flocks of lapwings now, at least not in Knottingley.
Along Headlands Lane, the sheep knew where to go - they didn't need herding. I
would get in front to open the gate into the field where they were to spend
the night. In the middle of the field, directly opposite the Hill Top Post
Office of Mr. and Mrs Cawthorne, there was a big limestone rock and rumour had
it that there was a horse buried beneath it. I didn't believe it because the
rock was as large as a bungalow and no one had the means in those days to roll
it over onto a horse's grave!
It was lovely autumn weather and once the sheep were secure Ned would carry on
down to Petty's the butchers with his meat skewers.
On some occasions I accompanied Ned on Saturday mornings down to Fred Smith's
farm where he would harness the carthorse to a flat cart, throw on a few bags
of potatoes and then we would go round Knottingley hawking them so much per
stone. All went well until we got to the Ropers Arms where Ned would put the
nose bag on the old horse to keep him quiet, pay me off with a few pennies and
then retire inside to his pint and a game of dominoes.
I remember going out one evening to the first house at the Palace Cinema in
Knottingley. It was after we had moved out of the Rising Sun Cottages to our
new home on England Lane. On my way back home I paused to look in the Morley
House fish and chip shop but not having any money on me I was just about to
head home when I received a terrific blow to the side of my head that almost
knocked me unconscious. I was stunned and for a moment didn't know where I
was. I had not sensed anyone sneak up on me from behind but I did just make
him out hot-footing it back to the police station. What a cowardly thing to
do. It put me right off policemen for years afterwards. I discovered later
that the owners of the shop had reported some young lads creating a
disturbance outside the premises but I have forever wondered since then how
much of a disturbance I was making that night, standing there quietly on my
Knottingley had its fair share of characters and one I remember was Buller
Wild. I only knew him when he was living rough and my first impression of him
was when he was walking through the Greenhouse fields followed by his little
white dog. "That's Buller Wild", someone said. I think this event was pre-war,
before he went native.
When we lived on England Lane, Buller used to stand against our fence and my
mother would always make him a pot of tea and also something to eat if she
could spare it.
When I returned home after the war I was surprised to hear him ask, "Have
you got a cigarette Jack?" I could never understand how he knew my name.
Sadly on that occasion I didn't have a cigarette to give him. "Have you got
a tab or a match then?" to which I also had to reply "No".
This event upset me for some time afterwards as I had been in that same
situation myself and my heart went out to him. I would gladly have bought him
some cigarettes but sadly I never saw him again.
There was also a man who lived in the Wake Wood, Darrington Ings. He had been
turned out of his house and home by his father for reasons unknown to me. One
very cold morning as I was passing the wood I saw Mickey leaning on the gate.
I pulled up to pass the time of day with him and I asked him if he would like
an army pullover that mother had bought me thinking it would help to keep him
warm. He asked, "Is it a roll neck pullover?" I said "yes",
thinking I was on the right track. "Don't want it then," he said. I was
flummoxed. I thought it would be ideal for him but there's no accounting for
Two more characters spring to mind, Clara King and Bob Bunks. Clara had a
favourite resting place at the entrance to Mr. Tom Jackson's house and gardens
with the gates set back from the road.
Bob Bunks was about as popular as the Iron Man who lived in the River Aire!
All the young kids believed in those stories and my mum would threaten, "I'll
get Bob Bunks onto you", if we misbehaved.
As soon as someone saw him approaching they would yell out "Look out, Bob
Bunks' coming!" and all the kids would stampede up the passage until he
had gone by. Bob had only one leg and legend had it that he had lost his other
one on the treadmill but how I don't know. To all the mums he was a ready-made
bogeyman to help keep the kids in check though in reality I suppose he'd be
just an ordinary kind of bloke as I never heard of him getting into any kind