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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories





On leaving school, Margaret and Joan Ross and I all found jobs in Pontefract. Margaret worked at A.P. Smith’s (Bon Marche) at the top of Horsefair, whilst Joan was employed at W.H. Smith’s the bookshop in Market Place. I worked for Mr. F.H.W. Holmes the printer and stationer in Gillygate.

At lunchtime I would occasionally meet up with Margaret and Joan and we would go to the Blue Line café in Finkle Street where the smell of stewed tea permeated everywhere! Although it was the most repugnant smell we still went back there quite often, (we drank Horlicks or orange juice). We always vowed to find a new haven for our lunch breaks but we never did. It was the least expensive place in town and as none of us earned much (about £3 per week) our choice of venue was rather limited.

Sometimes we would visit Hagenbachs bakery shop and buy something to eat whilst we walked around town. I can remember their delicious ‘japs’ and chocolate cup-cakes.

In those days, Mr. Holmes ran the printing business and the shop entirely on his own, while his son John was serving in the R.A.F at that time. I remember the first time I met him. He came into the shop to buy a pen and I sold him a Waterman’s fountain pen for twelve shillings and sixpence. I had no idea who he was until he asked "Is Daddy in?" I said "Yes" and he disappeared upstairs into the office. Later when he left the R.A.F. he joined his father in the business.

A young girl of ‘sixteen’ from Featherstone who had just left Pontefract Girls High School came to join me at Holmes. She came for her job interview accompanied by her father, and she started work almost immediately. We soon became the very best of friends. Her name was Marina Jarvis.

Together we must have walked or cycled the road leading to Featherstone dozens of times after an evening at the cinema or a visit to the swimming baths. I would stay at her home in Beech Tree Road, Purston almost every weekend. She had a brother and two sisters, all younger than herself. Later, they moved to Leatham Park Road. We went to dances at the Miners Welfare Hall to dance to Norman Longbottoms dance-band. We danced at the Lister Baths and would cycle to the swimming baths early on Sunday mornings either in Featherstone or Pontefract. Marina’s mother would bake huge trays of coco-nut cake which she would cut up into squares and serve to us with mugs of hot, very strong tea when we got back. Her tea was so strong you could almost stand your spoon up in the middle of the mug!

Later we would be sent to the out-sales at the Junction pub for draught beer (we took our own bottles) and lemonade to make shandy to drink with our roast-beef and Yorkshire pudding lunch. Marina’s Dad took charge of mixing and serving the drinks.

Marina visited Cattle Laithe quite a few times and she was an instant hit with my Mum and Dad. She had gorgeous light auburn hair, which was naturally curly and my Dad would pull her leg whenever she arrived.

"It’s that lass from Featherstone with the ginger hair!" he would say, and she would just laugh and pat Dad’s bald patch and say "It’s better than being thin on top!"

One day at work, Marina told me that she wanted to leave Holmes, and was going to apply for a job as a dental nurse/receptionist where the pay was a couple of pounds a week more. She got the job, and after a few weeks she persuaded me to leave Mr. Holmes and join her at the dentists. However, I hated it and after a few weeks I went back to Mr. Holmes to ask for my job back, and I remained there for a couple more years. Marina and I still remained friends though.

I remember her Saturday afternoon visits to my home so clearly. Our lives were far from luxurious at Cattle Laithe but Mum always ‘pushed the boat out’ in Marina’s honour! Best white damask tablecloth, and the place spick and span. She would prepare a lovely tea with pork pie, ham, and sometimes a huge bowl of salad along with home baked bread-cakes, followed by tinned fruit and Carnation milk. If the weather was cold there was always a huge fire burning in the freshly polished range so whoever was seated with their backs facing it would feel the heat penetrating through their chairback!

Later, Marina and I would sometimes walk to Aire Street to visit her Aunt Minnie (her mother’s sister) who was married to Percy Baines and lived in King’s Houses opposite Spires newsagents. On hot, sunny days, we often watched the local lads swimming in the river just off the Flatts.

One year, Marina and I went on holiday for a week to Blackpool, and it seemed that half the lads in Knottingley had decided to do the same thing. When we boarded the train in Featherstone it was already filled with half the male population of Knottingley! It was our first proper holiday and our first venture into the big wide world without our parents.

We managed to find a couple of seats and compared notes with some of our fellow passengers on where we were staying. We even made an attempt (not very successful!) at playing cards and dominoes with a group of Knottla’ Lads to while away the time. Fortunately, we were only playing for half-pennies.

In those days I was quite adept at making clothes from ‘Blackmore’ patterns sold by Mr. Holmes. I cut out and tacked the dresses together and Marina sewed them on her Mum’s ‘Singer’ treadle machine. We made ourselves a couple of nice dresses each for our holiday. Marina’s Dad had given us £10 as a parting gift to keep for emergencies.

We were booked in at an hotel in Charnley Road and our eager expectations were knocked for six when we discovered that our room was not only very drab and mediocre, but was shaped like a wellington boot! I slept at the top whilst Marina’s bed was at the toe end. We called it the map of Italy.

Beneath one of the beds was a huge chamber pot. The toilets were at the end of the long corridor outside our door. We decided "What the heck – we only need somewhere to sleep!" We discovered that the food wasn’t too bad. We booked tickets to see Alma Cogan, Ken Dodd and I think David Whitfield.

After two or three days disaster struck! We had been in the sea and then sat out sunbathing in deck chairs. Marina, having auburn hair was so fair skinned that she was taken ill with bad sunburn and heatstroke and was ordered by a doctor to stay in bed for a few days. One of the Knottla’ lads was actually kept in hospital with the same thing for almost all of his holiday. I can’t remember his name off hand but I recall he was a Council employee. With Marina confined to her bed, I was left on my own.

A group of three girls from Lochgelly in Fife, Scotland, occupied the room above us and we had become quite friendly with them, chatting at mealtimes etc.., so they invited me out with them in the evenings. I can remember going with them to the Tower Ballroom and to a show on one of the piers.

Thankfully after a couple of days Marina was feeling better, although still covered in terrible blisters. She got a proper ‘ticking off’ from her parents when she arrived back home, for venturing out in the hot sun.

One day Joan Ross from Doveroyd Farm asked me if I would go with her to Leeds on our half-day (Thursday) She needed to buy a new dress for the Young Farmers Dance at Wordsworth’s ballroom in Pontefract. Joan bought a burgundy coloured taffeta dress from C & A. I recall her visiting my home later to borrow nail-varnish remover when she was getting ready for her big night out. Funny how little insignificant details remain locked in your memory.

Gradually, families that had been neighbours and friends began moving away from Cattle Laithe and into new council houses. Mr and Mrs Bugg and their children went to the Vale Estate, and the Wakefield’s returned to London. Before long only two or three cottages – including ours – remained occupied.

I think my Dad must have been the only person then who genuinely didn’t want to leave. He loved it there. He loved the peacefulness and the freedom of the countryside. He loved birds and animals and he loved nature. Living on a council estate surrounded by lots of other houses held no appeal for him at all.

His beloved old dog Nellie was buried in a quiet spot at the end of the garden, next to the field where as children we had gathered handsful of cowslips and trudged to the pond at the far end to wade through the mud and fish for tiddler’s and tadpole’s.

His pigeon-hut (not the one at my grandad’s – but a small shed where Dad had kept two or three white fantails) now stood empty. The birds had been given away to someone else along with the rabbits and most of the other livestock in readiness for the day we would have to go.

The dreaded letter finally arrived. We had been allocated a council house on the Vale Estate and would have to move out of the cottage that had been my home since I was six months old.

My Dad, although loathe to leave the place, had been concerned for some time about the circumstances we now lived under. The cottages were in a poor state of repair, so much so that even the owners appeared to have given up on them. For the last few months we lived there, no one even bothered to collect the rents anymore from the one or two cottages that were still occupied.

My Dad, who always insisted on doing things honestly and strictly by the book, thought it wasn’t right that we should be staying there rent free. Although the move to a new house held no joys for him it did at least put an end to the worrying problem of our missing landlord and unpaid rents!

When we finally left, I took with me a million memories and more, and I left a part of me behind. We had lived sometimes in extreme poverty yet I was always aware of being surrounded by abundant love. We had lived in a place that I regarded as heaven on earth, just like my Dad did. I wouldn’t have chosen to have lived anywhere else.

Throughout my life I have treasured the love and feelings of total security that my parents conveyed to me then through their every thought and deed. Their love was total and unending. I wasn’t poor, I was deeply blessed.

I give thanks for all the love and companionship I shared with my Dad, the lovely walks with Nellie and the bike rides – even though not all of them were stress free. I remember once cycling home from Selby into a very strong headwind and crying my eyes out because I couldn’t keep up with my Dad!

I give thanks for all the friendships I shared over the years, especially June and Olive, and the happy times together. All the wonderful friends and neighbours, some sadly no longer here.

All things come to an end and we all knew that in the name of progress, Cattle Laithe would eventually disappear. For me however, time can never erase the memory of that stretch of lane in front of our cottages where a young soldier ran up and down with me as a little girl on a blue fairycycle, and taught me how to ride a bike. Or how the huge hinge on the top of the gatepost at Carrs Field was the handle on the bacon machine for a group of us children when we played ‘grocers shop’

I will always remember a visit to Grove Hall with June Skinner and being invited by Major Atkinson’s wife to take a peep into the ballroom. We weren’t allowed to go in, but we stood in the doorway and looked across a polished wooden dance floor that was shiny enough to see your face in. I recall seeing one or two beautiful ball-gowns hanging in an open cupboard.

I’ll never forget the remnants of a greystone wall in ‘The Valley’ where a patch of violets and celandines grew year after year, or how if I hear the crowing of a rooster, I’m immediately reminded of our evacuee neighbours from London. As a child my Dad jokingly told me that our rooster was calling for ‘Mrs Wakefield’ who lived next door, and if you listen – its true! Indeed, all the roosters in the land call out her name ‘Missus Wake- field!’

As an eight-year-old child I can remember how I discovered that Santa Claus really did not exist then. I was determined on Christmas Eve to stay awake and see him and I recall holding my breath when I heard him coming upstairs. As I opened my eyes for a crafty peep I saw my dad placing a box containing a doll dressed in blue beside my bed.

"Has he been?" I asked,

"Yes" he replied "He’s downstairs having his mince-pie, so go back to sleep"

I knew of course that he was kidding, but it didn’t matter, my Dad was my very own Santa Claus, and much better than the one in the red coat!

Nowadays most people would be horrified to even think of living in a house with no hot water, gas or electricity, and a primitive toilet a hundred yards away from the house, but my heart will always be there even though the cottages are long gone. I spent some of the richest years of my life there with some of the best people in the world.

Home to me meant Cattle Laithe, a place where I was infinitely happy and truly blessed. Who could have asked for more"

I have enjoyed sharing stories of what Cattle Laithe was like for me, and there are still many that remain untold. I think though that it is time to call a halt and let someone else take over. I hope my recollections have brought a little enjoyment to readers of ‘The Digest’ and visitors to this website.

Why not send in your contributions and let people know about your childhood years in Knottingley and Ferrybridge. Perhaps there’s even someone else from Cattle Laithe with a tale to tell?

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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