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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

MEMORIES OF

CATTLE LAITHE, KNOTTINGLEY


JEAN NORFOLK

PART TWO

I remember how daunting it was to move on from the infant’s school at Ferrybridge, up to the ‘Big School’ next door for the first time.  Who could forget Miss Cherry, Mrs Barton or the headmaster Mr. Pilgrim? Of course one of the most familiar figures in those days was Mr. Wrightson, or ‘Daddy’ Wrightson, as he was known by all his pupils.

Coincidentally, my youngest son and his wife are friends of Mr. Wrightson’s son Josh and his partner Lynne. The paths of our lives still become entwined through the generations don’t they?

I recall Mr. Wrightson for two reasons. Firstly because he always smelled of glue! There was always a pot of glue bubbling away over a Bunsen burner in his classroom.  Secondly, he was the one who always carried me outside to plonk me on the steps of the girl’s cloakroom to recover after I had fainted – yet again – during assembly. I lost count of the number of times I would begin singing a hymn, only to come round and find myself sitting on those steps with Mrs. Barton holding my head down between my knees to hasten my return back from oblivion!

I recall visits to Birkin Parish Church with Mr. Wrightson in charge. He used to organise concerts there and rehearsed us for weeks in his chosen hymns.

Mrs. Bartons passion was needlework; a subject that I wasn’t very good at to say the least! She taught us other subjects too of course, including English and I remember once when she asked us to write an essay about Joseph and his coat of many colours. That evening she went into my desk to get my English exercise book and take it home with her. Unfortunately, she picked up my Maths book by mistake and when she returned it to me next day I cringed with embarrassment. I was hopeless at Maths!

After Mrs. Barton’s class, the last step up before leaving school was the headmaster, Mr Pilgrim’s class. If there was one teacher who put the fear of God into most pupils it was him. He terrified me, even though I never incurred his wrath as some others did.  I remember him chasing a pupil round and round the girls cloakroom until she managed to escape through the door and run home. She had been reprimanded for some misdemeanour and was about to be caned on the hands, so she threw a full pot of ink at Mr. Pilgrim, hence the chase around the cloakroom.

He never offered praise for anything. He would give us dictation by selecting a passage from the political columns of the ‘Yorkshire Post’ newspaper. I don’t ever recall him saying ‘Well Done!’ if you got the spelling of every word correct, but Mrs. Barton would peep around the screen that divided the two classes and give you a smile and a ‘thumbs up’ sign.

Mr. Pilgrim’s great love was gardening. If we were not outside weeding, digging or planting we would have been busy doing lino cutting – making signs for the dozens of flowers that he grew, with our help.  I learnt that you can plant nasturtium seeds in dry dusty soil, then jump on them until the ground was rock hard and they will grow. Mr. Pilgrim actually had us all jumping up and down on them once, just to prove his point.

To his credit, the garden was beautiful. An article on his work in transforming it from a rubbish dump was published in the ‘Pontefract and Castleford Express’. Each year a tree was planted by some local dignitary and the entire school would sing ‘Non Nobis Domine’ during a service of dedication. Now of course, the garden has disappeared and been replaced by a housing development.

Moving up to the ‘Big School’ of course meant I was allowed to walk to and from school with all the other Cattle Laithe kids and no longer needed Mum or Dad to accompany me. Mum had her hands full anyway looking after my brother David who was born when I was five years old.

Each morning a small band of children would set out on the long walk to school. During the war years, each child, including myself, had a small square cardboard box in a satchel on our back that contained our gas mask. I don’t know about anyone else, but I recall always having my identity card at the bottom of the box.

My Dad was an A.R.P Warden for Cattle Laithe and was presented with a helmet and a stirrup pump. I never saw the stirrup pump used – except as a plaything for us kids! Dad had to report for duty at Glasby’s garage at the crossroads and they had ‘practice nights’ two evenings per week.

We didn’t have an air raid shelter at Cattle Laithe; we were considered ‘low risk’ as far as being bombed was concerned. I remember the night that German bombers came a little too close for comfort when they dropped a bomb on Pontefract, which failed to explode. It stood for some years afterwards in front of the Buttercross where it was used to collect money for Pontefract General Infirmary.

On the night of the air raid I think even my normally unflappable old Dad was sorely worried. We usually stayed inside whenever enemy planes were overhead, but this time Dad got us – and the rest of Cattle Laithe - out of our beds and outside into the shadows in front of the coal sheds. I remember sitting huddled up in a blue eiderdown to keep warm. Dad uncharacteristically shouted angrily at some of the residents who were standing out in the brilliant light, marvelling at the unexpected display of flares and searchlights, to get back into the shadows. To enemy planes passing over, they would have been sitting ducks.

The war did have its humorous side though. One day Dad had to organise a ‘Mock Air Raid’. He was told to gather volunteers to act as casualties, who were then bandaged or had limbs put in splints and were daubed with fake ‘blood’. They were then all laid out on the grass roundabout at the crossroads where ambulances picked them up to take them to Pontefract. Dad and a couple of other men were left behind at Glasby’s garage.

Annoyed at being taken to Pontefract, the ‘casualties’ were even more annoyed to discover that their destination was The Barracks on Wakefield Road. They were kept there until after midnight and then told that they would have to walk back home as there was no transport available to take them back to Knottingley. Next day my Dad wasn’t exactly the most popular man in Cattle Laithe although everyone did see the funny side of it later.

I can remember seeing women who worked in the munitions factory and asking my Mum and dad why their skin was so yellow. Mum would hurriedly tell me to ‘hush!’ At Cattle Laithe we had a couple of Land Army girls who for a short time worked on local farms, and I recall a German prisoner of war who worked on Fisher’s Farm. He was known as George because no one used his real name. Ostracised by most folks, I think my Dad was his only ‘friend’. I remember him coming home one day and saying to my Mum; "The poor beggar has been showing me photo’s of his wife and children. He’s just an ordinary bloke really, the war’s not his fault".

Mrs. Lawrence, our landlady, had got herself a little dog to keep her company now that her two sons were in the forces. A wire haired terrier named Nellie who, as soon as she was let out in the morning would run straight round to our cottage where she would sit on the step until she was allowed inside. She simply adored my Dad. If he was working on day shift she would sit on the wall in front of the cottages at around 2pm, staring intently down the lane until she spotted him cycling home. She knew instinctively when it was time for him to return. As soon as he came into view her tail would wag furiously and she would race to meet him.

She stayed with Dad from early morning to late evening every day until Mrs. Lawrence called out "Nellie, Nellie!" and Dad would say "Time to go home old girl, she’s calling you."

One day Mrs. Lawrence said "Charlie, she spends more time with you than she does with me, would you like to keep her?"

"Are you kidding?" said Dad "There’s nowt I’d like better!"

So Nellie came to live with us. Mum wasn’t too sure – she wasn’t used to dogs, but Nellie soon became not only a much-loved family pet but a brilliant little working dog too. Mr. Bugg and other neighbours would knock on our door and say "Charlie, we’ve got a rat under the sheds, can you bring Nellie?" and off Dad would go to help. Nellie always caught the unwanted visitors. She was Dad’s constant companion for 14 years, wherever he went, she would follow him.

I well remember the lovely walks with my Dad and Nellie, and how Dad never came back home empty handed. He would sometimes have a sack rolled up in his pocket to carry logs back home for the fire. On early mornings he would come home carrying his flat cap filled with mushrooms! Occasionally we would walk to Darrington woods and collect hazelnuts. We would glean peas when a field had been freshly harvested and dig up a root of new potatoes left behind from the previous crop. Nothing tastes quite so delicious nowadays!

If you took the path that led in a westerly direction from the Scott’s house towards Grove Farm you reached what we knew then as ‘The Glade’, a small wooded area that stood on the outskirts of the farm which was owned by the Fisher’s. I remember the field next to ‘The Glade’ was forbidden territory to us children then, if you dared to venture out that far, because of the huge bull that was sometimes released into the field.

Dad would say "Shall we go and see if the Bluebells are ready?" and off we would go to ‘The Glade’

The beauty of that brilliant blue carpet beneath the trees was a joy to behold. Even as a child, the sight always took my breath away. I used to wonder how Dad always knew when they would be in bloom. I remember gathering armsful to take back home for Mum and for days afterwards we had jam-jars full of them all over the place.

George Barker mentioned collecting rosehips in his recent article in ‘The Digest’ During the war an appeal went out across the country for people to collect them to be processed into rose-hip syrup, a rich source of vitamin C. (Due to the war, oranges and other citrus fruits were virtually impossible to buy) Ferrybridge School held a competition to see who could collect the most. My Dad, through the very nature of his job, working shifts, had lots of time off during the day, so he began collecting them for me to take to school, and we lived in the ideal environment, out in the open countryside. Dad went into the fields at Doveroyd Farm, Simpson’s and Fisher’s, and even out to Darrington. When the competition closed some weeks later, I had taken 57lbs of rosehips to school. I won the ‘prize' – a badge to pin on my coat. It should have been Dad’s badge really, he picked most of them, not me.

I saw Dad and Uncle Dick in the field behind our cottage one day as I looked through the landing window. Uncle Dick arrived with a sort of case made of wood and attached to it was a long length of string. I was told to stay inside and, curious as to what they were doing, I went upstairs to watch, though I was still none the wiser. After what seemed like hours they came back inside with two tiny linnets inside the cage. Even then it was against the law – and rightly so – to cage wild birds, but Dad hung a small cage on either side of the downstairs window and put a linnet in each one. I don’t think I have ever heard birdsong as sweet as that since then. Those two little birds sang their hearts out every day.

Occasionally the local Bobby cycled up the lane to Cattle Laithe and when he did, the local bush telegraph would spring into operation and someone would hasten to tell us that a visit from the law was imminent. The two cages would be rushed upstairs and quickly covered with a sheet to keep the birds from singing, until the coast was clear again.

Dad always reminded Mum on washdays to put the birds upstairs so they would be safe from the steam and heat. One day she forgot and was heartbroken some time later when she realised what she had done and discovered two tiny dead birds on the bottom of their cages. Dad never caught any more after that. He concentrated all his attentions on keeping pigeons and breeding canaries at my Grandad Hobman’s. By now, my grandmother had died and grandad lived at Good Hope Cottages, The Headland’s, with Dad’s sister Aunt May, her husband Bill Scanlon and their two daughters Joyce and Betty.

They were quite successful at pigeon racing and I spent some happy Saturday afternoons there, waiting for the first birds to come home. I pedalled along on my bike trying to keep up with Dad as we raced down to the ‘Lime-Keel’ pub with the pigeon clock and that precious ‘ring’ inside.

Grandad had two cardboard boxes full of rubber balls that he kept to throw up on the roof to persuade stubborn pigeons to come down. A pigeon still wearing his ring whilst sitting on the roof is no good to anybody!

I recall playing ‘houses’ with Joyce and Betty along the lane that led to Simpson’s farm. We were only yards away from Aunt May’s and she gave us old pots and pans, a couple of rugs, and a sheet to make our ‘house’ under the bushes.

Grandad bred canaries in a spare room and I remember someone offering him quite a lot of money for an old canary that had a foot missing. I was puzzled till my Dad explained that it was a hen canary that Grandad had used for breeding for quite a long time. In spite of only having one leg, it had bred some champion canaries. Grandad said he wouldn’t sell her for any amount of money.

Our cottage at Cattle Laithe had a sort of ‘bay’ window. Nothing elaborate of course, but there was a ledge behind the curtains, wide enough to sit on comfortably, and if you were very still and quiet, no-one knew you were there.

I used to look forward to Saturday afternoons when Mum came home from her weekly bus trip to Pontefract. She always brought me back a bundle of second-hand comics, such as ‘Film Fun’ or ‘Knockouts’ from Brown’s bookstall in the market hall. Oh the joys that two old pennies could bring!

I would sit behind the curtains until I had read every single word. Sometimes, if I was lucky I got a book to read.

Our neighbour, Mrs Lawrence had an ex-railway guard’s van resting on sleepers at the side of her house. It served as extra living quarters and her two sons slept there. Very comfortably furnished with curtains, armchairs, table and chairs along with two single beds.

Cecil, who was one of Dad’s best mates, was now in the army and was sent overseas to Sicily. Stan, his brother, remained in England I believe.

Cecil wrote to Dad whenever he could. Just a single A5 sheet of paper, always heavily censored with whole paragraphs blacked out so consequently most letters contained little more than "Look forward to going with you for a pint of beer when I get back Charlie" Sadly, Cecil never made it home.

Dad told me that he had been killed along with two other young men when their army truck ran over a land mine. After he died, Mrs Lawrence asked my Dad to go into the van and help her to sort out Cecil’s belongings. She asked me to go along too. Knowing I was an avid reader, she gave me a bookcase and a book on birds that had belonged to Cecil. I was totally enthralled by the story of the Albatross. I had never even heard of this bird until then, but to this day, whenever I hear of the Albatross, I remember Mrs. Lawrence and Cecil.

Jean Norfolk (nee Hobman)
February 2004

[Memories Index]


<PART ONE | PART THREE>


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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