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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



My first and earliest memory was playing down the lane with my brother Bob and some more children and the next thing I knew our Bob was taking me home because I had messed my knickers.

Bob was 18 months older than me, there were four in our family, Bob, Johnny, Mary and myself, Gertie. I was the second from the oldest. I was born down Marble Arch in Aire Street, Knottingley. I can tell you it was nothing like the Marble Arch in London. The houses were very run down and ours used to back onto the River Aire. We had just one door and my dad used to have to climb out of the window to see his little gardon on the river bank during summer. In the winter it was very bleak and would flood badly. My mother used to tell us they had to bang on the walls to frighten the rats away. Later on we moved to Back Lane although its proper name was Longwoods Walk. New houses have now been built there but it is still Longwoods Walk.

Gertrude Howarth, Johnny and Uncle Bob Gertrude Howarth's grandparents
A Photograph of Gertie, her brother Johnny and Uncle Bob Gertie's grandparents with children Percy, Charlie, Victor, Herbert, 
Gertrude and Helen

I have some lovely memories of Back Lane where everyone helped each other. With all of us living on the breadline when there was a confinement there was always someone to help. I can remember a lady called Mrs. Shaw who must have brought dozens of babies in to the world. She was also about when anyone died, to lay them out. We had to pay doctors bills in those days, my mum and everyone else would pay so much per week.  It was terrible when there was an outbreak of things like Diphtheria, Scarlet Fever, Tuberculosis etc..  There was a time when my mum used to send me to the Town Hall every Saturday morning. They used to give out free carbolic for which you had to take a proper poison bottle marked poison or they would not give it to you. It was used to clean out the drains to prevent diseases or at least to help.

The sanitation was terrible.; There were no proper toilets but things called middens. On one side we threw the ashes and on the other side was a door leading to a built up structure in which was a board with a hole in it for you to do your business on. Men would come once a week to shovel it out onto a cart. They would always call in the middle of the night and next morning when we went in everything was scattered with pink powdered disinfectant. It wasn't a very nice job for anyone.

At Christmas there were four corners on the table and our presents fitted in each corner. An orange, an apple, a few nuts, a new penny, a small present and a shilling selection box.  the selection box was from our granny. We were very excited and when we had finished our breakfast we would wrap up warm and go what we called 'Christmas Boxing'. We would call at all the posh houses in Ropewalk and Weeland Road. On Ropewalk there were people like Mr. Poulson the architect, so we were always sure to get something from him.  Then we would go home to Christmas dinner which was usually stuffed rabbit. We did not know what it was like to have chicken or turkey. I can remember my dad once winning a goose in a raffle. It was so big that we had to chop it up to get it into the oven, we had never had anything like it. When we had finished our dinner we would sit and play with our new 'Snakes and Ladders' or 'Ludo'. On Boxing Day we would go to the pictures feeling very rich with our Christmas Boxing money. Many fond memories!

My mum would sometimes allow us to go over the river with Barney Rhodes on his Cob Boat. If you had no money he would take you for a jam jar, it was always the latter for us. We would take jam and bread and a bottle of water, sometimes it would stretch to Kaili water. It was idyllic, the river being shallow and we would catch tadpoles. When it was time to go home my mum would shout us across the river.

On a summer evening we would all sit down with the grown ups, Ginger and Flo Daw who lived next door to us. George, one of the older lads, would sing and do the shimmy, he was a scream. He was very good and would give them a tune in the pub as he got older. There was also Emma, one of the older girls. She died and it was very sad, we all cried. We would go to the cemetery with Dog Daisies and Blue Bells and put them on her grave, then we would look up into the sky and imagine we could see her face in the clouds.

As I have said before, we were poor. When my dad was off work, I think it was during the big strike or something, we had nothing in the house to eat at all. My dad took a big basket and went blackberrying. He came back with a full basket and my brother Johnny and myself had to go out selling them. We called at all the posh houses and tried to sell them for a penny a pint pot. We cam home feeling tired and sad for our parents as we had not sold a single blackberry. Later my mum asked me to go to Mrs. Bramham's shop along the street and ask her if we could have bread, margarine, tea and sugar. She must have felt very sorry for us because she let us have the items on tick, of course we paid back at the weekend.

Now I will tell of some happy times we had collecting bonfire wood. We would start after the summer holidays going round all the shops asking for cardboard boxes and orange boxes. The we would go down the lanes collecting branches. We had to be quick with our collecting because what we called the Island Courties Gang were collecting at the same time. In fact there were occasions when we, from Back Lane, would get together in our gang and set out to pinch our rivals bonfire wood. We would run up and down the street shouting 'Raid um, Cow tail um'. Another year they would pinch ours!

In the winter it was very cold and my dad would put the oven shelf or bricks, that had been in the oven all day, in our beds, wrapped up in an old piece of blanket. We had a candle to light our way upstairs and it was then taken back downstairs once we were in bed. We would put coats on our beds in winter and some of us had clipping rugs on, it was very hard to keep us warm. I remember a time when we had holes in our shoes and we just had to keep putting a fresh piece of cardboard in. It was better than nothing and when we had no shoes at all we would have to stay off school. There were times when I wore my granny's shoes, she had very small feet. My mum was glad when summer came around as we could then have pumps which were much cheaper and lasted longer.

As we got older we would take our uncle's breakfast's to Bagley's and then we would take our granddad's dinner, though it was usually my brother Bob's task. Granny would give us 1s 6d between us but my mum would take it from us. Granny used to get angry because she wanted us to keep it. I remember granny coming round to say our Bob could not take the dinner anymore because he had eaten all the meat out of the basin. The dinner used to be in a basin with a saucer on top and fasten in a snap clout into four corners for easy carrying. "Don't spill the gravy" granny would shout as she saw us to the door. If it was raining she would tell us to run between the drops. I can understand my brother pinching the meat because it smelt so good. One good thing was that after we had delivered granddads dinner we could go back to granny's for ours, then run along back to school.

Feast week was a very big event, all the street was lit up and it was also shut off at the top because there was so much to fit in.  There would be stalls, side shows and roundabouts. My granny would bake batches of cakes and boil a piece of ham in the 'copper'. All our relations from South Elmsall would come for the event.

My granny had a big family and she used to have to rent two houses down Dickinson's Yard, Aire Street. The boys slept in one and the girls in another. Altogether there were five girls and four boys. They were very small houses. They each had a living kitchen with a coal range, a very small scullery and pantry. I don't know how she used to manage. There was a main bedroom and granny had a bed on the landing.

They started building council houses when I was ten years old as most of the old houses had been condemned. Families either moved to The Croft, England's Lane, Morley Avenue or Quarry Avenue. We were lucky enough to get one of my dads works houses on Hillgarth belonging to Jackson's Glass. It was bliss after the midden toilet, blackclocks, flies and bugs. When I say bugs I can honestly say that I never saw any but heard my mum talking about people having them.

In the new house we had water and electricity, we kept switching the lights on and off and running to our new bathroom. The house was surrounded by fields and we went for walks up the country lanes. There were cottages scattered here and there as well as Simpson's and Metcalf's farm. We had never seen fields like that before. There were Dog Daisies, Trembling Grass, Milk Maids and Cowslips. We could walk ankle deep in Bluebells in the woods. Our parents never had to worry about us, you never heard about children being accosted in those days. We soon made friends with other children on Hillgarth. There was the Mercer family, the Austerberry's and the York's, all with children around our age. The Fuller's lived next door to us and we all got on very well, but everyone seemed better off than us. Lily Mercer, who was about the same age as me, always seemed to be dressed nice because her mum was very good at dressmaking. Peggy Fuller, who lived next door to us, was the youngest and she seemed to get everything she wanted because all her brothers were working. Our mum and dad did what they could and it made us appreciate what we have now.

When the war came, along with the rationing, if we saw a queue then we joined it, whatever it was at the end. Everyone who had a garden had an air raid shelter, the people who lived in terrace houses shared shelters.

When I left school I started work at Jackson's Glass. I left school on Friday and my dad had me up at Jackson's for an interview the same day. I started work on the Monday getting up at six o'clock for a seven o'clock start. I was terrified as all the other girls were a lot older than me and the work was very heavy, but as I got older, I became tougher and would stick up for myself. I began to save up out of my pocket money and buy myself some tidy clothes. I then got married and rented a home of my own and that's about it, you know the rest....

Gertrude Howarth (nee Miller)
August 1999

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