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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories





When I was six-months old my father, after months of fruitless searching, found an empty cottage at No. 3 Cattle Laithe, Knottingley, and this was to be my home for the next 18 years. It was reached by what was then no more than a muddy track leading from the roundabout and the crossroads.

Although we, like most other folks in those days, had very little money, I can truthfully say that they were on the whole very happy years for me. Living at Cattle Laithe may have seemed like a last resort to many people but I remember the years I spent there with great fondness.

The very last cottage, the largest dwelling in the row, was occupied then by Mrs Lawrence who was our rent collector and her husband, and their two sons Stan and Cecil (Tish). Mr Lawrence died whilst I was still very young so apart from a photograph of him with his dog ‘Rags’ I have no recollections of him at all, but I remember Stan and Tish very well. In later years the Seaton’s took over when Mrs Lawrence moved away into a bungalow.

Our other neighbours included the Skinner’s and Hardingham’s, June, Olive, Ron, Bert, Alan and Pauline and of course their mother Jessie; Fred and Mary Bugg and their children George (Barker), Margaret, Terry and Christine; the Oldfield’s, the Wilkinson’s, the Wainwright’s, Mr and Mrs Belton and their children Lorraine and Edward, and the Wakefield’s, to name but a few.

The Wakefield’s were evacuees from London during the war and included Mrs Wakefield along with her children Ernest, Dorothy, Tommy, Johnny and Douglas. Mr Wakefield was a serving soldier.

Further along the lane leading to ‘The Valley’ (as mentioned by George Barker in his article in the March issue of 'The Digest') at Beehive cottage, lived Mr and Mrs Bamford and their son and daughter Frank and Lillian. Lillian later married Eric Tunningley. Mrs Bamford ran a tiny sweetshop from her kitchen and I once got a nasty bite from their big black dog ‘Boss’ when I was about six or seven years old. It grabbed my leg when I went to buy sweets. There was no hospital visit or doctor though, Mr Bamford sucked out the poison and spat it out and then Mrs Bamford put some iodine on the wound and bandaged it. In later years the Brett brothers Jim and Jack, together with their wives Margaret and Barbara, moved in to Beehive Cottage.

Further along the lane and across the valley lived Mr and Mrs Bill Ross with their children Ann, Stuart, Linda and Jennifer, and around the corner was the home of the Scott’s. I always remember the huge crossed whalebones that marked the entrance to their garden. We were told that a seafaring man had once lived there before the Scott’s arrival. Peter, Brian and Hilda Scott are the three that I recall most vividly. Two older sisters, Madge and Irene, married two American brothers either during or shortly after the war I believe.

These are just a small number of the people that I remember. There were many more of course who touched my life in one way or another and I shall recall them later.

The cottages at Cattle Laithe were reputed to have been used by Oliver Cromwell’s men at some time as a sort of ‘barracks’ whilst he (Cromwell) was staying at Pontefract Castle, and they were turned into cottages at a later date. Another theory was that they had been used as stables for Cromwell’s horses. I rather think the latter explanation is more feasible than the first, although my father (and I’m inclined to agree with him) said both ideas were a load of rubbish! He thought they had simply been farm workers cottages at some time, considering the fact that there were at least half a dozen farms then within a radius of a few miles.

Mum and Dad had hardly any furniture whatsoever then so they went to Jay’s Furniture shop in Cornmarket, Pontefract and bought a bed, a sideboard and a table and chairs ‘on tick’. I think my mum told me they should have paid five-shillings a week for them, but they were purchased on credit against all dad’s principles, and he paid more than double that amount each week, just so that he could clear the debt as quickly as possible.

I can’t remember him ever buying anything on credit. He hated debt. "If we can’t afford it then we either wait until we can – or we do without!" was his motto. Dad always seemed to have a tiny ‘nest-egg’ tucked away for a rainy day. Not a colossal amount of course but we were never totally ‘skint’. Indeed, Dad’s canny year long saving of a couple of shillings a week at Deacon’s toy shop in Middle Row, Pontefract, created some of the most magical Christmas’s for us as children, even during the bleak times of war.

My brother Ken was born on 13th March 1936 and was named Kenneth Arthur after my grandad Hobman.

I have vivid memories of when we received new bikes for Christmas one year. Ken got a blue three-wheeled tricycle and I got my first ‘two-wheeler’ – a blue fairy cycle. I remember Stan Lawrence dressed in army uniform, teaching me to ride by running along behind me, holding the seat until I was confident enough to ‘go it alone’. Ken and I were more thrilled though with two tiny clockwork mice that Dad gave us and we spent hours chasing them around under the beds!. Another year I was thrilled to get up on Christmas morning and discover a much longed for desk and chair. I lifted the lid and found the entire surface inside covered in bars of chocolate, Mars Bars, Milky Way, Smartie’s etc. Underneath were books, crayons, pens and pencils – sheer heaven! I’ve never forgotten those wonderful childhood Christmas’s and I still recall how dad used to always have another surprise tucked up his sleeve for later. When all the excitement was over and we were having our tea he would produce yet another little gift for us - a book or another small toy, something to keep the magic of Christmas going for just a little while longer. Mum said that when we moved to Cattle Laithe Dad was like a teenager. He was the most undemonstrative of men really, but having his own home at last was a joy to him.

He developed a passion for auction sales and my poor mum used to wonder what on earth he would bring home next on the carrier fixed to the rear of his push-bike. Sometimes she was pleased, as she was the day he brought home a box of kitchen equipment, pans, cutlery and crockery. Another time he returned triumphantly with a couple of flat irons, a toasting fork and a small wooden stool. The stool was really unstable and through the years Dad constantly warned us not to stand on it or it would topple over. I don’t know how it survived for so long, but it did. Mum used to take it with her when she went pea-picking. One day mum was speechless when Dad returned home from Selby on Uncle Dick’s horse and cart with two huge watercolour paintings. Too big to fit on his bike, they depicted Angels with outstretched wings standing guard over tiny babies in their cribs.

"For goodness sake Charlie!" she protested " Take those bl***y things down!" when Dad hung them on the wall opposite the fireplace, but he thought they were great.

Mum often said that for someone who claimed to be non-religious he had a strange choice in paintings and they remained on the wall for quite a long time. Dad even used to hang holly and paper chains on them at Christmas!

One day in exasperation, my Mum ‘accidentally’ knocked one off the wall so she took the other down too and that was the end of the angel pictures. Some weeks later Dad brought home an oil painting of a racehorse. Although my mum wasn’t too keen on it she admitted that it was preferable to the angels. I loved it and I remember marvelling at the expertise of the artist in capturing the sheen on the horse’s coat. I don’t know what happened to it or where it ended up, but it hung above our fireplace for some years.

Our cottage had one room downstairs dominated by a huge black range. A brick built copper with a grate underneath stood on the right hand side and a brown earthenware sink with a cold water tap on the left. When we first moved in there was no water inside, everyone used a communal pump in front of the dwellings. Mains water was added when I was about two years old.

A door from the living room led through into a large walk-in pantry and the stone stairs that went up to the landing and bedroom. Next to the stairs was a back door which was never used simply because it didn’t lead anywhere! The cottages rested against a backdrop of limestone scarp, which meant a couple of feet or so between the limestone facing and the cottage rear walls. When you sat in the tiny window seat on the landing, which served as a second bedroom, you were on the same level as the fields and as a child I spent many hours watching ploughs, tractors and harvesters come within a couple of yards of the landing window.

The front bedroom had a tiny fireplace with a grate for a coal fire and a window that overlooked the garden and the flagged path that led from the front door to the gate in the grey stone wall. Across the lane beyond the grey stone wall were the coal sheds and behind them the communal ‘midden’ and the toilets. The toilets were simply wooden seats with a hole in the middle and a bin underneath. A nightmare when you needed to ‘spend a penny’ at night. The number of times I’ve sat on the loo in pitch darkness with my Dad standing guard outside the door! He would shine his torch on the ground to reassure me that he was still there and if ever that beam of light disappeared for a second I’d call out "Dad?! Dad?!" and he’d swiftly shine his torch under the door again saying wearily "I’m still here, I’m not going anywhere."

There was no gas or electricity and when we first moved in to the cottage the only form of lighting we had was candles. All the cooking was done on the big black range and my Mum produced some wonderful meals in that oven and some delicious baking – homemade breadcakes were a treat!

Dad came home one day with an Aladdin paraffin lamp from Selby market. It was the kind of lamp that needed a ‘mantle’ which I think we used to buy from the local ironmongers shop. You placed it in the lamp, lit the mantle with a match and the protective film on it burnt away in a flash leaving an extremely delicate oval shaped mesh that produced a brilliant light. Each mantle lasted a couple of months or so if you were careful but woe betide you if you accidentally touched it. It would either end up with a hole in it so that its performance was impaired or just totally disintegrate into a small heap of white ash. My parents got wise to the fragility and learned to always keep a couple of spares on hand.

Dad’s garden and his livestock became not only a means of providing food but a labour of love for him. I remember when I was about 5 years old, he sectioned off a tiny patch of garden and told me it was mine…"My Garden!" It was not much bigger than a hearthrug but I was thrilled to bits when he planted pansies and forget-me-knots around the border and put a small rose bush in the middle. Over the years the rose bush gradually took over in spite of being cut back frequently and eventually my garden disappeared beneath it, although it was breathtaking in summer, a mass of pink blooms!

Directly in front of the cottage was the small flagged yard and the flower garden. Across the lane, behind the coal sheds and the toilets was the large back garden where Dad grew all his vegetables and kept his livestock. He was in his element, he loved it. He built chicken runs and rabbit hutches and put down an old tractor tyre that he’d scavenged from somewhere, cut in half and filled with water to create a makeshift pond for half-a-dozen ducks.

He got most of his chickens and other livestock from Selby market, brought home of course on the back of his bike! Sometimes he brought a couple of rabbits or another time half a dozen Rhode Island Reds. Mum got quite used to having a cardboard box standing on the hearth with two or three tiny yellow chickens in them – weaklings from his latest batch that needed warmth to keep them alive. Sometimes they made it, sometimes not. Dad always planned ahead and when the hens produced lots of eggs during the summer laying season, it was a common sight to see half a dozen buckets of eggs covered in Isinglass to preserve them, standing on the pantry floor. They kept us going right through winter most years.

My earliest memories are of Dad taking me to school on my first day at Ferrybridge Infants. The headmistress then was Miss Burton with Miss Alka and Miss Burns, the other two teachers. In those days, each pupil had a little fold up bed and every afternoon we had to take a half-hour nap. I think this was just an excuse to let the teacher have a break!

We got a bottle of milk each day, but unless there were any ‘spares’ we Cattle Laithe kids had to save ours until lunchtime – it was too far to walk home – so we could have a drink with our packed lunches.

I recall a brother and sister named Needham, who lived at Grove Hall. I forget their Christian names, but we used to swap sandwiches to vary our menus! No school dinners until a few years later.

I wonder if anyone remembers the two bridges that we passed under on our way to and from school each day before the A1 replaced the old Great North Road? I remember it as the place where my schooling began. Whenever we approached the bridge Dad would spell out the words on the advertising slogan displayed there; LOCKHEED HYDRAULIC BRAKES – BRITISH LABOUR – BRITISH CAPITAL – BRITISH MANUFACTURE. Ah – those were the days!

When I was eight, Ken started school too. Right from the very first day he hated it. He cried every day. Ken had to wear glasses which he was totally averse to. Whenever Mum or Dad walked us to school, as soon as they had turned their back to go home he would whip off his spectacles and put them in his pocket. When the teachers asked where they were he would say he’d ‘forgotten’ them until one day Miss Burns told Dad that he hadn’t worn them for about a week. He didn’t ‘forget’ them anymore. One day after Dad had left us at school Ken started sobbing heartbrokenly, but this time he seemed to be more upset than usual. I couldn’t console him so I waited until Dad had pedalled out of sight and said "Come on – we’re off!"

I walked him out of the school gate, back along the Great North Road to the crossroads and up the lane leading to Cattle Laithe, until we reached the field in front of Deveroyd Farm. We went into the field and spent a lovely sunny day laughing and joking together underneath the pear trees eating windfalls together with our packed lunches until it was almost time for school to finish. I had a wristwatch then which Dad had bought for me when I had measles. It cost him twelve shillings and sixpence. We reached home just as my Mum was setting out to meet us and told her we’d been let out of school early. We thought we had got away with it too until Miss Alka collared Dad next day to ask "Why didn’t Jean and Kenneth come to school yesterday?" That was the only time I ever played truant.

A short while later, one Sunday morning, Dad pedalled to Glasby’s garage to telephone for the doctor when Ken was taken ill suddenly. The doctor visited around 9.30am and said it was "just a touch of bronchitis", and that Ken would be fine. My parents called the doctor out again just over an hour later, knowing it was more than just bronchitis. This time, quite annoyed at having his Sunday ruined, the doctor said "Let him go out for a breath of fresh air – it’s a nice day"

When he had gone, dad jumped on his bike and went to call out a doctor from another practice in Knottingley who arrived around midday. He immediately diagnosed meningitis and said it was too late to do anything to help him. Ken died shortly afterwards; he was just six years old.

Jessie Skinner (later Hardingham) went into my home to help my Mum and Dad and left me outside with her eldest daughter June. I had been outdoors with June all morning watching the to-ing and fro-ing of doctors and my Dad and had no idea then what had happened, although I guessed it was something serious. I remember June tickling me and telling me jokes to try and make me laugh. Later I learned she had been told to look after me and keep me from crying. I didn’t cry then because I didn’t know Ken had died. It’s strange how some things remain locked in your memory still just as vivid and real as they were when you were a child.

Miss Burns, Ken’s teacher, brought flowers on the day of his funeral and I sat in a car with my Dad’s oldest sister Aunt Anni (Mrs. Ronnie Grayson) trying to comfort me as we drove from Doncaster Road Chapel in Ferrybridge to the cemetery. All the teachers and pupils at the school lined the pavement as we passed.

Miss Burn’s walked up to Cattle Laithe several times afterwards purely out of concern for my parents. Within a few months my poor mother’s dark brown hair had turned completely white. Dad always spoke fondly of "That young lass from Leeds" (Miss Burns) who cared enough to walk the long road from Ferrybridge School to Cattle Laithe, to see how they were coping with their loss and to offer her help.

I was only nine years old and I found it very isolating and hard to cope with the feeling of fear that death brings especially when it’s someone close to you. I didn’t feel able to discuss that fear with anyone, didn’t want to be a nuisance to Mum and Dad. It was a long time before I could accept that Ken was gone.

I have always been deeply grateful though for the one and only day I ever played truant from school and for that fact that I wiped away that little lads tears for a while, and Oh the times I’ve thanked God for that lovely day we spent together under the pear trees!

Jean Norfolk (nee Hobman)
February 2004

[Memories Index]


Other articles by Jean Norfolk

Christmas at Cattlelaithe
Charles Burton Hobman
Mrs Madge Holman

Pontefract Website:
Memories of Holmes Printers, Pontefract
M.L. Jennings, Ropergate
William - A constant Companion

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