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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



Please find enclosed within this letter my humble offering to your periodical. I am a ‘Ferry-Lad’ born and bred, and extremely proud of my heritage, (indeed I always say I am a Yorkshireman, never an Englishman).

Through my Dad I sought different horizons from an early age, first with the 1st Knottingley Scout Troop (now there are a few tales to tell) and finally with the Royal Air Force. After seeing action in far too many Elysian Fields, my family and I emigrated to New Zealand, where we now reside. The move to New Zealand was not an easy one as we left relatives scattered round Britain. The passage, however, was made easier by my Dad, who not only oiled the financial rails but on asking him. ‘what he thought of the move’ was first to ask, ‘North or South Island’, and was then to say, ‘Follow you dream Lad’.

The intention was, that once we were settled my Dad and Mum would come out annually and spend the Northern hemisphere Winter months in the Southern Summer. Sadly my Dad unexpectedly passed away within four months of my move to the Colonies. My Mum still lives in Ferrybridge and has been for as long as I can remember a leading light in the Ferrybridge Town Women's Guild, associated with the Knottingley Mothers Union and still supports both the churches as well as a host of other charitable ventures around the area. It is with this background I now wish to regale a tale of my Dad, that will bring mirth to some and maybe embarrassment to others as the names should still be remembered. If I should win any accolades or monitory remuneration, I would not wish it for myself but request it be passed to the Ferrybridge Ladies Guild to help in some small way to the re-build of the Community Centre in the Village.

This story is dedicated to my Dad, the greatest influence in my life, untutored, a labourer by trade, he educated himself out of the coalmines and into the engineering industry. A lasting memory of him is a sentence he would work into all conversations, "Reach your potential". A simple statement but those three words encapsulate a whole universe of ventures, hazards and goals, not so simple to achieve. My Dad told me many stories of note. I have often considered committing them to print, as an epitaph, and a memory. This is an apt opportunity to relate one such story. The style is in the ‘first person’, though it would be hard to fill my Dad’s shoes, both mentally and physically:


The ball game I played when I was a boy was, I suppose, very much as it was originally played. There were no referees, and very few rules. What rules there were changed constantly. To start with, we had no ball. We would await the slaughter of a pig at the local butcher, and ask if we could have the bladder. We would then borrow someone’s old smoking pipe stem, enabling us to inflate the bladder; it would still have scraps of flesh and blood adhering to it. The bladder inflated, the openings tied and secured we were ready for a game. One advantage of this kind of ball, was that it was light, thus we could play near houses, without the risk of breaking windows.

The game was played with as many players as were present. There were no penalties for handling the ball, no free kicks or such. The points were scored by either side hitting the wall of the buildings, at the ends of the yard in which we played. The score did not seem to matter, just as long as we had a good rough and tumble, before the bladder burst. Sadly, this was always the end of the game, sometimes after only a few minutes.

Our ‘Circus Maximus’ was a yard, called ‘Fishergate’, there were windows and doors facing into the yard. Along the other side were outbuildings, washhouses and dry-earth toilets. The toilets had kitchen middens to the rear, in which household waste, was disposed. This was mostly coal fire ash which helped to cover the excrement. These middens were emptied weekly, as are rubbish bins now.

During one particular game, the bladder was kicked, in the direction of Enoch Thompson’s door; just as he was coming out. The wet, soggy, dirty bladder hit Enoch full in the face. It’s funny how age changes your perception. At the time I thought Enoch was an old spoil-sport for not taking the blow in good spirit, but I dread to think of my own reaction now in similar circumstances. The bladder made contact, Enoch let up such a cry; which scared the living daylights out of the lads, who, in response, ran off. I had not kicked the bladder, so I did not run. Being the only one left; Enoch caught me, giving me a welt across the face. You knew better than to go home to complain, as you were liable to get the same from your parents, so I kept quiet about the matter. In any case the welt was no worse, or caused no more pain, than injuries received playing the game, and you thought that was great. However, in the game you always had the chance of ‘getting your own back’, so that made the game seem fair. Now it was on my mind. How could I even the score in this event?

A plan was hatched and I drew two of my school pals, Bernard Hibbitt and Kenny Weatherill, into the plot. Over the next few weeks we watched Enoch and learnt his habits. He would come out of the house around, to visit the earth toilet. Plans were made around this event. Early one Saturday morning I cut an elderberry stick and a bunch of nettles. With some binding string from the farm stock yard, I tied the nettles on to the end of the stick, making a sort of broom.

All set, I collected my fellow conspirators and went to Fishergate. Bernard was in a position watching for Enoch, and Ken watching out for me. I climbed into the midden. Crouched inside, looking up I could see a row of one-hole earth toilets. I now had to wait for the signal from Bernard that Enoch would be making his visit. It wasn’t long before I heard the signal from Bernard.

I called to Ken,

"Is it all clear for me to get away?"

"OK Les" replied Ken, "There’s nobody about".

I now concentrated on the round hole above me; it was like a full moon in the sky. The toilet door opened; I waited for my victim. There were some muttering and shuffling, then a tearing of newspaper. I saw a shadow appear over the hole; which deepened until there was a full eclipse. At the sound of flatulence I hurried to my attack, thrusting the nettle broom up into the darkness. Up until this time, I had only heard the sounds of a jungle and wild animals on the radio, or cinema. Though nothing that I have heard since, compared to the bestial howl that came from above.

I did not linger; I was out of that midden as quick as my legs could carry me. Ken and I came out of the yard like scalded cats, into the adjacent fields, the adrenalin rush aiding our flight. We did not return to the village, until we were sure it would be safe.

Later that day, we met up with Bernard, who had run in the opposite direction, and found our plans had gone astray. Bernard greeted us saying,

"I was not signalling to you that Enoch was on his way. I was trying to warn you, that Bob Evans (a bull of a man), was going to use the toilet". Mortified we made a pact there and then to say nothing of the incident.

About thirty years later when working with Bob, I had occasion to bring up the incident, when we were talking together, during a night shift. Bob asked,

"What do you know about it, I never got to the bottom of this?"

We both smiled wryly, at this remark. I avoided the truth and told him, ‘He had been the victim of mistaken identity’. Understandable, when you consider that one behind looks very much like another. I informed Bob that a school friend, Bernard, who had died during the war, ‘knew something about it'. This of course was true, but I said nothing of my part in the plot. After all it was conceivable that Bob might have sought his revenge!

Andrew G. Bell

Dedicated to the Memory of George Leslie Bell, loving Husband, Scout Master, True Friend and Dad.

‘God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December’.
J.M. Barrie (1860–1937)

[Memories Index]

Also by Andrew Bell:

Echoes of the Past - Myth or History
Of Bowmen
Letter From the Front

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