MEMORIES OF A KNOTTLA LAD
I only have very vague memories of my first years at school. By now we had
moved into our own home in Vale Crescent, Ferrybridge. Dad had left the army
and was working at Newsome's Oil Refinery in Ferrybridge.
School began when I was about three-and-a-half-years-old. I started at St.
Catherine's School, which was on Mill Hill in Pontefract. The large detached
building was later to become famous as the headquarters of the architect John
Poulson, and the ensuing scandal. I recall Mum taking me to school; the next
memory is of cutting up paper with coloured plastic scissors. I later found
out that I cried for ages, thinking I had been abandoned. Getting to school
was a journey, both to and from, by the blue South Yorkshire bus. Various
family members used to take me to and from school.
Our school uniform was dark green, later changing to red, yellow and green
stripes when the school became part of Wakefield Tutorial. I remember the
headmistress being Mrs Ford, whose family kept a fruit and vegetable shop on
Priory Road, Featherstone.
I was at this school for about three years, getting the “could do better”
remark consistently on my school reports. I do remember having a school
photograph taken, which involved the whole school. My friend of the time,
Timmy, and myself were on one end. The camera I think was on a clockwork timer
and as it passed us, we ran round the back and had our picture taken at both
ends of the photo.
There were three young girls at that school, Sarah, Adrienne, and Gaynor. They
regularly brought me sweets to school, so I must have had something even then!
Now the pattern of my school life was set. Full of mischief, regularly from
one scrape to another. I left after about three years, having lost my
Knottingley accent. Not that I was in any way ashamed of my accent, but at
that school I remember the emphasis was on speaking clearly and properly.
There was one occasion when I couldn't go to school as I had something wrong
with my ‘lug hole’; my sense of humour has got better I hope.
It was whilst living in Vale Crescent that I tried my hand at arson. We had a
separate outhouse at the back of the house, in which we kept the coal. One
day, out of fascination, I built a fire in the coal store. Why, to this day I
don't know; I just did it. Needless to say I started the fire going nicely,
before the outgoing smoke was discovered and my lovely fire was extinguished.
The punishment was swift and painful; I never did it again.
Christmas time was always a fascinating time. I always received a pillowcase
full of presents, which included books, coloured pencils, soldiers, an orange,
and selection boxes. No matter how long I stayed awake, Santa always managed
to get in and leave my presents without me noticing. He was very clever that
Santa! I didn't understand though why he left the presents in one of my Mums
best pillowcases - the one that matched the others on hers and Dad’s bed. If
Santa had all those toys, you would have thought he could have brought sacks
for everyone. I often thought I heard his sleigh bells, but I never saw him.
The down side to Christmas Eve was that I had to have a bath and put on clean
pj's. After all, we couldn't have Santa seeing me as I normally was, with
grubby knees, and a tide mark around my face.
The next few years of my life hold more vivid images, my years at Weeland Road
Primary School, Knottingley.
WEELAND ROAD PRIMARY SCHOOL 1958-1962
My first recollection, when I think of Weeland Road Primary School, is of a
grey Victorian building, with iron railings across the front and milk crates
stacked by the side of one of the gates. It had high windows, under a grey
slate roof, and behind it, acting as a backdrop, was Bagley's Glassworks,
belching smoke and fumes into the air. Boys and girls had separate entrance
doors, but I cannot remember if we had to use separate entrances. The school
had a strange mixture of smells. One that will always stay with me is the
acrid smell of the coke, used for fuel; a smell all of its own.
Thus began my encounter with the infamous Wilfred 'Chad' Radley, a stern,
harsh, disciplinarian, who always seemed to be accompanied by his beloved
cane. He was a tall thin man with receding hair and spectacles who always
seemed to wear pin-striped suits. It was with fear and dread that we
encountered him on his prowling around school. The cane was used frequently
and without mercy. The ultimate fate was to be sent to his office, waiting the
inevitable that you knew was coming. Not a journey to make too many times; a
quite painful experience. Morning assembly usually consisted of a bible
reading, a prayer, and then an hymn, which I can only remember "Onward
Christian Soldiers" featuring more times than not. After Chad's address to the
school, it was not uncommon for culprits to be caned before the whole school.
No tears or howling if you wanted to keep your street 'cred'. After
punishment, parents were rarely, if ever told, as the response would have been
"you must have done something", so we didn't bother but simply took our
I remember on one occasion having my name called out in assembly and having to
take that walk to the front. All eyes were on me and I was trying very hard to
be brave. I looked straight ahead, but inside, my stomach was doing
somersaults. I set my face and didn't utter a word. I don't even remember what
it was for now, not that it matters anyway. Some minor misdemeanour no doubt.
I took my punishment without a sound. It stung like hell, and that short walk
back to my place in the line was the longest I have ever had to make. I didn't
cry or utter a word, but suffered in silence, in a sort of dumb insolence.
The school had a large playground at the rear, ideal for hordes of young boys
chasing footballs and cricket balls. Of course, there were girls skipping and
such, but in our world, girls were there, but not something to bother with at
that time. Woe betide anyone, foolish enough to become over enthusiastic and
smash a window with a ball. The result was the usual punishment from Mr.
Radley. In one corner of the playground was normally a large mound of coke,
used by the caretaker for heating, and not for little boys to explore and go
Outdoor toilets were the order of the day, situated at the bottom of the yard.
They had the inevitable sweet smells in summer and slippy floors and frozen
pipes in winter. As far as I recall, at playtime we were not allowed indoors,
even in rain and snow. At some point there appeared a prefab climbing frame.
We were allowed to use it by class, but only under close supervision in case
somebody fell off.
I don't remember ever having school dinners at Weeland Road though I do
remember running home at lunchtime, grabbing a quick jam butty, and then
galloping back before the afternoon session started.
How often she came I don’t recall, but we seem to have had regular visits from
the 'Nit Nurse'. This involved standing in line, to be examined about the head
for lice. It seemed that anyone unfortunate to have them, had part of their
head painted with a bright purple coloured solution. I'm not sure what this
evil smelling solution was, or even if it worked, but the nurse did seem to
come very regularly. I well remember Mum, after the weekly bath and hair wash
on a Sunday night, setting about my head with a small plastic comb. The 'nit
comb', as we called it, was an implement that ran through the head, very close
to the scalp. The teeth were very close together, so any little visitor was
caught and ejected in one sweep of the comb. Mum was very good at it and I
don't ever remember having a purple painted head.
I was in Mrs Hargreaves’ class in my first year. I remember her as a kind
lady, but one who had her moments. It was in her class that I first had smelly
egg sandwiches, during the Christmas party. I have loved smelly egg sandwiches
ever since. Every function I have been to that has had egg sandwiches has
reminded me of that occasion. That first year passed quickly and didn't really
leave any lasting impression, other than smelly egg sandwiches.
In year two I went in to Miss Cherry's class. Her classroom was directly off
the hall with brown and green tiles and high windows. I don't ever remember
her smiling at all. She was a very serious person, strict on discipline. We
were rarely allowed to talk in class, and if we were, it was to be done
quietly. She was always, always in charge, and she commanded obedience at all
times. She used to read to us, and we in turn, read a great deal. She told us
stories, to describe the meaning of words. She was a classic teacher of the
old school. We learned a great deal from her, giving us a knowledge of the
English language, and the basics of many classic stories. It was only many
years later that I appreciated how much she had done for us.
It was about this time that we moved to Forge Hill Lane, as my sister was now
two years old. In fact we moved into a house two doors down from Miss Cherry.
My next class was in the prefabs. Our teacher was, I believe, new about that
time. She was Mrs Coward and she injected a breath of fresh air into our
school life. I well remember her bright red hair and orange lipstick. To me
she looked like a film star, very glamorous and I think I had my first
schoolboy crush. She was a good teacher and we loved her in the nicest
At this time I got my first long trousered suit. It was single breasted, with
turn ups and charcoal grey in colour. Dad and I went to Burton's in Pontefract
to be fitted for it. I wore it with a cream shirt and red tie, with a red
handkerchief for my top pocket. A real 'Bobby Dazzler' if ever there was one.
I don't recall wearing it to go anywhere though except on one occasion when
dad and I went out to the cinema. We saw Yul Brynner in "Taras Bulba" at the
Crescent Cinema in Pontefract. As a treat for the day we had a meal at the
Valley Gardens Café.
Whilst in Mrs Coward’s class I became a milk and biscuit monitor. This
entailed taking the class numbers and delivering that amount of 1/3rd pint
milk bottles for the morning break. I also sold biscuits, four biscuits for
one old penny. I seem to remember the biscuits were 'morning coffee' type.
They were square, tasting of a substance called 'arrowroot' I believe. The
biscuits were sold in class to the pupils and then the money was taken to Mr.
In my final year I was in Mr. Hargreaves’ class. He was a jovial red-faced
man, usually smiling and funny in his own way. He always had a piece of chalk
in his hand, which he threw with great accuracy at anyone day-dreaming or not
paying attention. He used to stand, leaning on a revolving blackboard, gazing
off into the distance when delivering his lesson. I believe he was the
conductor of a choir in his spare time. He was always very expressive with his
hands, usually waving them about to emphasise some point or meaning.
This class stays in my mind because we seemed to have a group of gypsy
children who occupied one end of the room. I don't remember why, they were
just all together. They were all dark-haired, and the boys all wore boots, not
shoes. It's surprising what stays in your mind. They rarely seemed to ail
much, but always had runny noses. They stuck together, so the rest of us
didn't have much to do with them. I don't think it was for any other reason
that we just didn't mix.
Among the group there was one boy called Ronnie. He and I didn't like each
other, though why I can't recall. The book cupboard was at the back of Mr.
Hargreaves’ favourite revolving blackboard and to get books from the cupboard
we had to go behind the blackboard. If Ronnie and I were there at the same
time we always ended up pushing and shoving, even scuffling, at every
opportunity. The gyspy children were a strange bunch who kept themselves to
themselves. I think they lived in a row of terraced houses near to the Jolly
Sailor pub. I had as little as possible to do with them although Ronnie and I
went for each other at every opportunity.
About this period, for some reason lost in time, it was decided that the boys
and girls should all have dance lessons. We had to go into the hall, where the
unthinkable happened; the boys had to ask the girls to dance. We had to line
up and ask very politely. I was always scared to death in case the girl said
"No, thank you". To say that I had two left feet and was awkward is an
understatement. The number of girl’s feet I trod on in my awkward way left me
with few partners. Most of the girls had enough the first time round, but
there was one girl, Marie, the poor thing, who ended up with me more times
than not. She was very kind and didn't complain too much.
Although I wasn't in his class, there was also Mr. Smith. I thought of him as
being something of a rebel. He seemed a youngish man, and sat behind an old
fashioned high desk. He had a motorbike and sidecar and I joined his art
class, so that I could get out of school some lunchtimes. We piled into his
sidecar and set off to Cridling Stubbs with a roar and a rattle. I don't known
how many of us were in the sidecar but it seemed like a lot. We would tear
along Womersley Road to Stubbs, Mr. Smith in his goggles and old fashioned
crash helmet. He also owned a large brown overcoat, often wearing it when on
his motorbike. We were supposed to be drawing Eggborough Power Station, but
each time the location was slightly different and we never did finish those
drawings. I couldn't really draw anyway, but not that it mattered. I was to
meet Mr. Smith some years later when I played rugby for Pontefract. We became
good friends and often recounted tales of Weeland Road School. D.C. Smith was
an unusual man, one I remember with great fondness.
D.C. also took us for games; football in winter and cricket in summer. We
didn't have a playing field, and the football pitch was at England Lane
School. There was no love lost between the two schools and we were deadly
enemies. Games between the two schools were played with fierce
competitiveness. Football was a do or die event with no quarter given. It was
not a game for the faint of heart. In those days, footballs were the hard
leather ones with laces and when the ball got wet it was like heading a
concrete brick. One slip and it was very painful. Many a young lad ended up
with the imprint of the laces on his forehead because he didn't time the
header right. There were also wooden studs that knocked into the boots. Many a
happy time we spent walking in pairs from Weeland Road to England Lane School,
by way of the England Lane railway crossing and the sidings. I played for the
school a couple of times. I was put at full-back because I could tackle. We
wore yellow shirts I think. Cricket was not really my game. and I couldn't bat
to save my life. If I hit it, it flew away for a six or a four but most times
I was out for a duck after only a couple of balls, depending how good the
At this point I will digress for a while to recount a couple of memories away
from school. The Knottingley Library was at the top of Aire Street, opposite
St. Botolph's Church steps. The lady librarian was a real terror, who ran the
library with military precision. Woe betide any child who was caught putting a
book back in the wrong place. In her eyes it was a grave offence. No noise, no
speaking, except in hushed whispers, was tolerated. It was unthinkable to
return a book back late; to face her wrath was a brave person indeed.
On one occasion, some gypsy children came in, trying to loan books. She
refused to let them have any and ushered them out. A short while later, some
gypsy adults appeared and there was a real commotion, resulting in argument.
We watched the incident with great glee, watching her get her come-uppance. I
still don't know whether the gypsies were allowed any books.
In those days Aire Street was a thriving business area where you could buy
almost anything. My favourite shop was the Habro. An unusual name, I have no
idea of its origin. Many hours were spent looking longingly through its window
at the array of toys within. My favourite was the Airfix plastic model kits,
which for some unknown reason were suspended in brown paper bags from the
ceiling. Any handful of pennies would burn holes in the pocket waiting to be
deposited in the Habro till, in exchange for some toy or other.
My other favourite place was the Palace Cinema. This was at the low end of
Aire Street, a short distance from the Cherry Tree public house. I believe
that the building is still there today. It was known to us kids as the 'Bug
and Scratch'. I think the name originated due to its none-too-clean interior.
The Saturday morning matinee - now there was a treat to savour. Hordes of kids
making their way to the cinema along Aire Street and if you had a few pennies,
a call into the sweet shop or warm penny rolls from the bakery. The noisy,
boisterous queue waiting outside for it to open. Cowboy hats and guns were the
order of the day. The eager anticipation of seeing what happened to the hero,
from last week’s episode. The doors were opened to loud cheers. I think it was
5d to go downstairs and 7d if you were flush, to go upstairs. Us little ones
rarely went upstairs. It was for the older children who got up to all sorts of
mischief, and not a place for us. There was a card system at one time and
everytime you went, the card was stamped with a star I believe. Once the card
was full you got in for free.
The matinee was supervised by grumpy adults whom I am sure were employed for
the fact that they didn't like children. The badge of office was a little red
torch and it was their job to try and keep order. I'm not sure that they did;
it was like trying to stop the sea coming in. The place was always full to
bursting. I'm sure there was no such thing as numbers restricted by fire
regulations etc. We were packed in like sardines and then some. When the
lights went down, the fun started. It was general mayhem until the
Many's the time we would be up to some mischief, when out of the gloom would
appear a red light, followed by a "What are you lot up to?" A quick shuffle,
and we'd be sat like little angels, with dirty faces. The light would flick
from one to another. If you were caught doing anything at all, you were
grabbed and unceremoniously thrown out. I'm sure they had a quota or a certain
number of kids to eject each week.
One of our favourite pranks was to wait until the light moved on, then quick
as you could, streak to the end of the row, run around the cinema, and back to
your seat without getting caught. I've done that run many times, and was
nearly caught on several occasions. I had to dive into a mass of bodies to
escape. The red light would sweep across, trying to locate you, but nobody
gave you up. The light holder, in frustration, would pick on some poor
innocent and eject them instead. We learned very quickly, not to be at the end
of the row when the light came on, stay in the middle. It was those at the end
that normally were grabbed and ejected.
There was another prank, which was usually pre-planned. It entailed a couple
of conspirators paying to go in, and going downstairs. A group would go to one
of the fire exits. The location was changed weekly, and only the conspirators
knew which one was the target. They were sworn to secrecy. When the lights
went down, those inside would charge the fire exit in the gloom, pushing the
door open from the inside. The waiting hordes would charge in, scattering to
the four winds to escape eviction. A few were caught, but most got in. If you
got caught, out you went. That was the luck of the draw, such was life.
Back to the presentation. It usually consisted of a couple of cartoons,
followed by the daring exploits of the black and white serial; Captain Marvel,
Zorro, and Flash Gordon, were my favourites. At the climax of some exciting
moment, our hero would be knocked out or tied up; the stagecoach would go over
a cliff or there would be an explosion. The screen would flash, the narrator
would say in an excited tone, "Is this the end of [hero’s name]? Come back for
next weeks thrilling instalment!" We nearly always did, to find our hero had
woken up, found some hidden knife, or had jumped free before the fateful
plunge. This was greeted with cheers by all. When the villain came on the
screen it was to whistling and jeering. In retrospect, all the villains had
German accents. Were all the criminals in the world German? We thought so.
There would be an interval, then the main film, which was normally forgotten
as soon as it came on. It was usually some B movie, only half watched.
At the end the lights went up. Aire Street had been going about its normal
Saturday morning business when suddenly, the doors of the Palace crashed open,
and hordes of kids swept up Aire Street like a wave. The exploits of our
screen heros were re-enacted many times over. Gunfights, swordfights, and fist
fights, were the order of the day. If you were lucky enough to have a coat,
off it came, swung around shoulders, and the top button was fastened. It
became "Captain Marvel’s flying cloak" or "Zorro's cloak". Eagerly grabbed
sticks became "The Sword of Zorro". Many a duel was fought on Aire Street on
My way home was through the farmyard behind St. Botolph's Church. A quick eye
round for the bull that was sometimes in the field, followed by a quick gallop
across that field just in case. Along through King’s Mills, over the canal
bridge and onto Forge Hill Lane.
Talking of the canal, in those days there was a myth circulating around the
area about the Iron Man. It was said that he lived in the canal, somewhere
near to King’s Mills. This monster lay in wait for naughty children going too
near the edge or swimming in the canal. He would rise from the dark murky
depths to carry the poor child down, never to be seen again. An old wives
tale, but just to be sure I never swam in the canal. For many years I didn't
dare go near it after dark. I wasn't afraid. I didn't believe in the story!
My everlasting memory of those days is of a fair-haired little boy; one sock
up, one sock down ; one or both knees grubby, and a none-too-clean face with a
mischievous look in his eyes and a smile on his face. Life was what it was. It
was a lot simpler than today, not a must have. There wasn't a great deal to
have. Play was simple and enjoyable. We made our own enjoyment and used simple
things that became something else with a little bit of imagination. To
illustrate, I had become interested in model soldiers and I had at that time,
a few thousand. When it came time to set them up and battle, a book I had
read, or a film I had seen, gave inspiration to a vivid imagination. I had a
couple of castles/forts at the time. One was a large wooden castle that had
been built for me by an uncle while the other was a plastic fort. Put the two
together, at either end of the room, add empty boxes and cartons, and I had a
battlefield second to none. Where else could Knights exist with cowboys,
indians and army soldiers where the boxes became houses and pillboxes, except
in the fertile imagination of a child of that time. I doubt very much that a
child of modern times could find such enjoyment as I did. No doubt a
psychiatrist could have a field day with such imagination. To this day I still
have the same fascination for all things military, although I have never
served in the military myself.
To return to school matters, around that time we had a couple of visits to
John Harker's shipyard to watch the launch of the barges. They were launched
sideways, as the canal is quite narrow. Knottingley has had a strong
connection with sailors, boats and the sea for generations. That seems strange
when it is some 50 miles from the sea.
I learned a valuable lesson whilst at Weeland Road; stay on the good side of
the 'Cock of the School'. This was the boy who was the best fighter. A school
in those days was a pecking order. To rise to the dizzy heights of being the
'Cock' usually meant having to fight your way up this pecking order until you
took the crown off the previous holder. It also meant that you had to fight
your share of battles. Now and again another boy would fancy his chances so a
fight would take place, winner take all. Anyone who went to school in those
days will remember the call of "Fight.. fight" being shouted in the
playground. Most times it was just a couple squaring up to each other over
something or nothing. Punches weren't common; it was mainly pushing and
shoving, with a bit of wrestling. The 'cock' fight was different; honour was
at stake. For the winner was the title, for the loser nothing. Although I
tried to stay on the good side.
PART ONE |
PART THREE | PART FOUR