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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories





The Kids of Cattle Laithe circa. 1947

The Kids of Cattlelaithe (select to enlarge)

For a couple of years, number 4 Cattle Laithe was occupied by Miss Elizabeth Wainwright who was in her fifties then and known to us all as Lizzie. Her brother George was a friend of Dad’s.

I had a regular Sunday afternoon ritual for some time when I was about 13 years old which meant that I would be called by Lizzie to go next door to her cottage to help her with the crossword in her Sunday newspaper. She bought the News of the World or the Sunday Despatch. In those days they were broadsheet newspapers as were most, if not all, of the others. Tabloids were almost unheard of.

It was the age of ‘Forever Amber’ and ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’ All rather tame stuff by today’s standards but very daring and evocative in those days.

Dad used to remind me every time I went to Lizzie’s,

"Remember! Just do the crossword!",

meaning of course that he didn’t want me to read the weeks instalment of the latest outrageous novel. He needn’t have worried though, Lizzie nearly always had the paper neatly folded in readiness so that only the crossword page was visible. Although she posted off our joint effort religiously every week we never won a prize.

Lizzie eventually left Cattle Laithe and went to work as housekeeper for a man who lived and owned a garage in Pontefract and eventually they were married. Some years later I visited her on numerous occasions following the death of her husband.

I used to spend my lunchtimes with her when I worked in Pontefract. I would take my packed lunch with me to her house near Baghill Station and she would make me a cup of tea. Then we would both eat while we talked, she was always keen to hear the latest news from Cattle Laithe.

The wireless set my Dad had bought had been our only form of entertainment for some time until one day he arrived home with a second-hand piano accordion. Later he acquired a concertina and finally, joy of joys, a piano!

He couldn’t read a note of music but my Dad was quite an accomplished musician. He could play a tune on almost anything. He always had an harmonica in his pocket and I can remember seeing him play the organ in Aunt May’s front room on a few occasions.

I look back now and remember some lovely summer evenings with my Dad sitting on our doorstep playing the accordion whilst a group of children, attracted by the music, joined in and sang along.

We used to have sing-songs in our cottage too with Dad playing the piano and everyone else either singing or playing ‘paper and comb!’ The good old days!

It was Dad who taught me to do what he called ‘cork work’, I think the correct name is French Knitting. Dad nailed four small tacks into an empty cotton reel and taught me how to loop the stitches over until I had yards and yards of brilliantly coloured tubing. I don’t think I actually ever made anything but it kept me occupied for hours! Mum taught me to knit and when she could afford the wool she produced some nice jumpers and cardigans for us.

We made rag rugs from old hessian sacks and brightly coloured ‘clippings’ from unwanted clothing. All the family, Mum and Dad included, would sit around the latest effort and prod away with a sharpened wooden clothes peg until the rug was finally completed.

One day, Dad came back from an outing to Selby and presented me with a book he has bought in a shop there. It was entitled ‘Lambs Tales from Shakespeare’ and had an attractive cover with a colourful picture on the front. However, I soon realised that it wasn’t as appealing as it first appeared to be. It was an adaptation of some of Shakespeare’s works and far too ‘heavy’ for my taste in reading. Dad had thought he was buying me a book of adventure stories.

He compensated for it a short while later when he bought me a copy of ‘Hollywood Album’, filled with stories and photographs of top American movie stars. I started collecting photographs of film stars when I was about twelve or thirteen years old and over the next two or three years I amassed hundreds of them from both Britain and America.

Dad would laugh and say "Not another one!" when I showed him the latest addition to my collection. My poor Dad must have paid out a small fortune in postage to feed my hobby for I sent hundreds of letters.

Mrs Belton who lived at No. 5 would ask me,

"Got any new photographs Jean? Bring them round for me to have a look at?"

She was in raptures one day when I showed her a picture of Robert Mitchum that had just arrived. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why, to me it was just another photo for my collection.

I got a lovely letter from Bing Crosby and a large signed black and white photograph. I wrote to every film star I could think of and most of them replied eventually. A request I sent to Frank Sinatra however was returned to me with ‘Not Known’ written across the envelope – maybe if he had tried harder he would have become famous – who knows?

I ended up with boxes literally filled with photographs and letters, my pastime certainly kept the postman busy!

Sunday mornings often meant a visit from Granddad providing Dad was not at work. He would walk across the fields past Simpson’s Farm and Doveroyd Farm to our home. On Sunday he wore his best suit and trilby hat and he always brought us a large bag of sweets and would give us half-a-crown each.

Granddad had served in France during his army days and I can remember him teaching me to count up to ten in French when I was very young.

My Dad would wear his best suit too on Sunday’s and a shirt with a separate collar that needed collar studs. It was years later before Mum could persuade him to wear shirts with collars attached. Mum would help to put in his cuff-links and then dad would don his jacket and best Sunday cap and off he and Granddad would go. Sometimes to Hill Top Working Mens' Club where they would have a ‘couple of pints’ with Uncle Herbert and Harold (Daddy) Wrightson. This was the only time my Dad ever went out for a drink. His limit was a couple of pints of beer and if he drank any more he would come home and say, "I feel as daft as a brush!"

He didn’t really enjoy drinking. Sometime he and Granddad would go to Beal to visit Aunt Hilda and Uncle Norman (Pattison)

One Sunday afternoon after Dad arrived home following his outing with Granddad, I went with him for a bike ride and we pedalled off down the lane towards the crossroads. When we were almost there we saw that there had been an accident. Two cars had collided head-on. Dad told me to stay where I was and he ran to help get the drivers and passengers out. I saw a man with injuries so horrific that I had nightmares about him for weeks afterwards. He was lifted out of the car and propped up against the railings of the field next to Gregg’s Foundry. As he sat there he asked my Dad for a cigarette. Dad lit one for him and placed it gently between the mans lips. I saw a couple of puffs of smoke rise up into the air and then the mans head lolled to one side and he died. An ambulance had arrived by now and Dad walked back to me shaking his head with tears running down his face. "Come on love – let’s go home", he said.

Although I loved English and spelling at school and wouldn’t have regarded myself as a ‘numbskull’ I didn’t ever see myself as ‘Grammar School’ material. I was surprised therefore, to say the least, when I discovered that Mr. Pilgrim had nominated me, along with Joan Gilligan, Brian Shepherd and Derek Draper, to take the Eleven Plus examination. My Dad regarded it as a total waste of time though. He didn’t approve of education for the working classes and would never have allowed me to go to Grammar School even if we could have afforded to, so I knew I was on a hiding to nothing. We had to sit the examination at Ropewalk School in Knottingley and on the morning of the exam we all met at Joan Gilligan’s house in Fishergate, Ferrybridge. I remember on the walk to Ropewalk, one of the lads gave me an orange which I lost somewhere along the way.

It was the first time I had ever been inside Ropewalk School and I was terrified. I shook like a leaf right through the examination. I can’t recall whether any of my three companions on that day passed, I know I didn’t.

When I was thirteen my sister Carol was born. Like lots of babies in those days she was born at home. Mrs Scott (Beattie) took charge of everything. She ushered Dad and us kids next door out of the way and I remember wondering what the heck was happening. At about ten o’clock in the evening Mrs Scott came back and told Dad to stay where he was whilst she put us to bed, for it was school the next morning. We were quickly hurried through our living room where we saw Mum lying in a bed which had been brought downstairs, and the midwife Annie Roberts standing beside the fireplace. Mrs Scott tucked us up in our beds and went back downstairs. We had no idea what was going on, no-one told us anything.

Next day, Mrs Scott got us up and dressed for school, gave us our breakfast and whisked us off out of the house without so much as a word from Mum or an explanation of what it was all about. Dad was at work I think. It wasn’t until later that evening that I discovered our family had increased and we had a sister. Next day at school Mrs Scott's daughter Hilda asked me rather angrily, "Why didn’t you tell me yesterday that your Mum had had a baby?"

"Because I didn’t know she had", I replied truthfully. How different things are nowadays!

Around the same time my sister was born, Mrs Belton gave birth to her second child, a daughter Lorraine.

In those days it was impossible to buy a new pram unless you put your name down on a waiting list months in advance. Consequently, second-hand prams were much sought after and quickly snatched up once they were advertised. My Dad was too late in his response to numerous advertisements. Very few people had telephones then so it was very much a case of how far and how fast Dad could travel on his bike!

He spotted an advert for a pram one day and asked me if I wanted to go with him to Rookhill in Glasshoughton. This time we were lucky. Dad bought a nearly new burgundy coloured pram for four-pounds-ten shillings, with a nursery fireguard thrown in for free. Mum was delighted and the pram survived for some years. I believe it was eventually passed on to someone from Ferrybridge later.

By now Mrs Jessie Skinner had become Mrs Hardingham and she and her family lived in a cottage at Throstle Farm. At the rear of the cottage was a garden with apple trees and I can remember sitting there one lovely sunny afternoon with June and Olive, eating Bramley Cooking apples. To this day I still prefer a tangy chunk of Bramley to a desert apple.

At Doveroyd Farm, the home of the Ross’s, there was an orchard behind the barn and we kids were ‘roped in’ on numerous occasions to help with the fruit picking. There were apples and pears which were handled carefully and stored away in boxes and luscious golden plums which were bottled or either eaten or used up in cooking. Right at the top end of the orchard was a crab-apple tree that produced a brilliant show of pink and white blossom.

I remember Jessie Hardingham’s visits to our house when she brought items of clothing (second-hand) that she had obtained in Leeds. When June and Olive had ‘taken their pick’ Jessie would bring things for Mum and I to try on and see if we could find anything to fit. In those days, if it fitted it didn’t much matter what it looked like or what the colour was! New clothes were very few and far between and I can only recall ever having one or two items as a child which were brand new.

Someone gave my Mum a catalogue once to look at. Not the thick glossy catalogues that we see nowadays though. This wasn’t much more than a small A5 booklet really, printed in black and white. The name of the firm was J.G. Graves of Sheffield and when I peeped inside I fell in love with the description and photograph of a pink silk dress. Totally impractical for everyday wear, it had a velvet rose pinned on one shoulder and another just below the waist. I was overjoyed when Whit Sunday came around a few weeks later and discovered that Mum and Dad had secretly bought it for me.

Once, a bus trip to Belle Vue in Manchester was organised and almost everyone from Cattle Laithe went. I didn’t have anything suitable to wear so Mum bought a length of blue cotton material and Mrs Belton made me a skirt with two straps that crossed over at the back. I wore it with a white short sleeved top and I remember having a photograph taken with Olive (Skinner) in a dodgem car whilst wearing my ‘new outfit’

In my later years at Ferrybridge School a small canteen was built and hot meals were transported from Ropewalk School each day and served up in our classrooms. Pupils were given ‘monitor duties’ each week on a rota basis and ‘Dinner Duties’ were now included and quickly became the favourite task!

It involved helping out at mealtimes, not only in the classroom, but in the canteen too and more importantly, it meant that you ate your meal with the dinner-ladies, when all the other pupils had finished theirs. Mrs Curtis and Mrs Wilson would serve us up gigantic helpings of Shepherds Pie followed by Ginger Sponge pudding or some other culinary delight.

After dinner I would sometimes go for a walk with Audrey Bairstow, maybe to her home in Houghton Avenue or to see her grandmother Mrs Sinfield in Doncaster Road. Sometime a group of us would go into the village where we could buy a scrubbed carrot for a halfpenny at Masterman's fruit and vegetable shop, or sometimes we called at the stone cottage just behind the garage that stood opposite the school. There we could get a bagful of apples for a couple of pennies. Really like the proverbial ‘Coals from Newcastle’ really, considering where we lived but at least they were healthier than sweets, and sweets were hard to come by. We bought Horlicks tablets from the tiny chemists shop in The Square and occasionally a pupil would rush back to school after going home for lunch and shout, "Street’s have got Smarties/Mars Bars in!", and providing we had sweet coupons and money to buy them we would join the stampede to get to the shop and join the queue.

When I had almost reached school-leaving age, I was mortified to discover that the age limit was to be increased and I would have to stay on until I was fifteen. Even worse, I had to go to Pontefract Senior Girls to complete my school-days.

All the girls I knew at Ferrybridge left school at the start of the August holidays but I couldn’t leave until the following Easter because my birthday fell in September. I was literally thrown into a totally alien environment amongst complete strangers and I hated every minute. The teachers were far stricter that they were at Ferrybridge and I still shudder when I recall one very belligerent school-mistress angrily firing mental arithmetic problems at me and getting angrier by the second when she received no response. I was so petrified of her that my mind went totally blank.

Then I was ‘hauled over the coals’ by the Domestic Science teacher (a subject we were never taught at Ferrybridge) when I forgot to take an item of clothing for washing and ironing. I was made to stand in front of the class and watch everyone else do theirs. I was the happiest girl in Knottingley when Easter 1948 finally arrived!

Leaving school made me feel ‘grown up’ at last, and the outings I had enjoyed with Dad became less frequent, as did the visits to Granddad, and time spent gardening or looking after our livestock. We had cycled out to Wentbridge on many occasions previously, dad with a basketful of pigeons on his bike. We would release the birds then pedal back to the loft, hoping Granddad had managed to coax them all back inside. We went to Wentbridge every Boxing Day to see the hunt set out, an event Dad wouldn’t miss.

Now that I had left school I suppose I thought it was ‘childish’ to go out for bike rides with my Dad. I was too old for that kind of thing now. One of my fondest and most lasting memories of feeling ‘grown up’ will always be of June (Lodge), Olive’s sister. Whenever we went for a night out in Pontefract – just to the cinema of course- I remember how we would stop halfway down the lane to secretly powder our noses and put on a little lipstick, hoping we wouldn’t see anyone we knew in case they told our mothers. Then on our return we would wipe it all off before we reached home again!

We used to secretly borrow things from our mothers too. I can remember wearing my mothers clip-on pearl earrings on a couple of occasions until I lost one and had to own up to her what I’d done.

June and I both longed for a coat in the latest ‘New Look’ fashion and when we finally got almost identical coats in pale blue, we couldn’t wait to wear them and show them off. Mine was courtesy of my Dad of course. We though we looked the ‘bees knees’ as we dressed up in our ankle length coats with the nipped in waists to catch the bus to Pontefract.

I can still see June in hers with her matching navy handbag and shoes.

Lovely, lovely memories!

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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