CATTLE LAITHE, KNOTTINGLEY
I wrote my recent articles about life at Cattle Laithe many years ago, it
has been lovely to hear from so many people how much they have enjoyed
reading and re-reading them and asking me to write more.
month seems to be an appropriate time to write about Christmas at Cattle
Laithe. Not the commercialised money making glitz we see nowadays, where
the true meaning of Christmas is largely forgotten, but the beautiful
spiritual Christmas that I remember. Even as a child I experienced a
joyous uplifting of my soul as the countdown to Christmas began, and the
magic lingered on until well into the New Year.
wasn’t simply the presents that we knew were secretly hidden away
somewhere, it was the way our entire way of life was transformed for a few
short weeks by the miracle of Christmas. I remember how I tried
desperately to cling on to each day, wishing it could go on forever.
think that to truly love and appreciate Christmas, you must first of all
believe in and celebrate what Christmas means - the birth of Christ.
Nowadays this seems to be incidental. Even though Dad proclaimed himself
to be non-religious he sang loudest of all when we gathered round the
piano to sing carols!
always knew that the festive season had begun however, when Dad produced
packs of coloured paper which was cut into narrow strips to make paper
chains. He would sit at the table with us and show us how to stick the
loops together. He made ‘shawls’ out of tissue paper which he draped
over the pictures hanging on the walls. He did this by folding over a
sheet of paper several times then snipping out small sections with
scissors. When it was opened out again it revealed a delicate lacy shawl.
Somehow we managed to fit a Christmas tree in the corner of the room and
Dad would bring out a boxful of well-worn tinsel and baubles. With our
home-made decorations and a little holly from the nearby fields, our
decorations were complete.
always baked enough to feed an army at Christmas. About a month before the
big day she would gather all the ingredients together for our Christmas
cake and we would all watch eagerly until it was well mixed and
transferred into cake tins. Then came our ‘treat’ as we jostled to
scrape the mixing bowl clean!
always baked an extra cake "just to try" before Christmas. It
was usually gone in a couple of days. Starting the day before Christmas
Eve she would bake dozens of mince pies, jam and lemon curd tarts and my
favourite coconut tarts, with a gorgeous dollop of raspberry jam under the
I wrote previously, dad would cycle to Pontefract every week to pay a
little money into a savings club run by Mr. Deacon at his toy shop in
Middle Row, Pontefract. He would tell Mr Deacon what he wanted at the
beginning of the year and I don’t think he ever let Dad down.
year I got a beautiful dolls house with lights that were powered by a
cycle lamp battery hidden away under the chimney. The lights in the
different rooms were tiny cycle light bulbs. Oh how I loved that dolls
got lots of other presents as well as our main gift, and one that I
remember vividly is the ‘Staring Doll that I always got. Does anyone
remember them? They were large stuffed dolls about four to five feet tall
with huge painted-on eyes and a permanently startled expression. Dressed
in bright coloured trousers and tops, the first one I got was taller than
me. As I grew, the dolls seemed to get smaller. Only when I was older did
I realise that in fact it was me who was getting taller and the ‘staring
dolls’ were still the same height. A ‘Stary Doll’ as Dad called
them, was an essential item at Christmas, as important as the chicken on
the table for Christmas dinner! I can remember seeing staring dolls at
Aunt Mary’s house too, presents for my cousins Betty and Joyce.
gift I always got was a kaleidoscope. As a child I used to look at all the
tiny bits of coloured celluloid through the window at the bottom and
marvel at how they could be transformed into such beautiful intricate
designs. I’ve sat beside Dad many time when he was maybe reading his ‘Daily
Herald’ and nudged him saying "Quick Dad – have a look at
this!" Not realising of course that by the time I’d passed it over
to him the design was totally different to the one I had seen.
was thrilled one year to get a torch as an extra gift. A torch might not
seem very exciting to a child nowadays but when you lived in a house with
no gas or electricity and no street lamps outside, a torch was very
welcome! I always got a few books to read, which were usually saved until
after Christmas when I could hide away in my seat by the window and enjoy
them at my leisure.
remember my brother and I playing with his gift of a toy fort with lead
soldiers. He also got a Bagatelle one year, which kept us occupied for
many months later.
year we got jigsaw puzzles, dominoes, snap cards, paints and colouring
books. We made planes from Airfix kits and built garages and hotels from a
huge Meccano set that was one of Dads more inspired gifts to my brother.
We got marbles by the bagful, Hornby train sets and enough sweets and
chocolates to open our own sweet shop!
dinner was one of our chickens – killed by my Dad – which was the main
reason I couldn’t eat chicken for many years! As kids we knew all the
chickens and in fact had given names to many of them. I’d sat down on
occasions and fed them by hand, they took food from my fingers. I simply
couldn’t face eating a chicken I had fed and raced around the garden! It
didn’t worry Dad though, food was never wasted.
teatime we would eat the pork pie that Mum had bought at Riley’s, the
butchers in Ferrybridge, and there was always a big ham joint. We also
tucked into Mums baking, and the cake, which by now was iced and decorated
and had a crepe-paper frill wrapped around it.
always took us by surprise at teatime and handed each of us yet another
present. We would be so excited and engrossed in all the gifts we had
received that Dad’s last surprise of the day was always totally
unexpected – even though he did it every year bless him! Sometimes it
was a book or a game and once I remember getting a necklace from him. Not
expensive jewellery, but a simple bead necklace. I was delighted with it
to bed on Christmas day was always difficult. We were reluctant to leave
all our presents and do something as mundane as going to sleep. But we did
Day was the day Dad and I usually got out our bikes and rode to Wentbridge
to see The Hunt start out. There was always a huge crowd of sightseers,
but never any sign of protesters as we see nowadays. Once the huntsmen and
the hounds had set off we cycled back home.
would go visit Aunt May and then he and my Grandad would go for their
Christmas pint to Hill Top Working Mens Club.
would resume playing with our toys etc whilst Mum cooked Boxing Day lunch,
when we had a joint of pork. Afterwards I would begin counting down the
days until the Christmas holiday was over, and we had to go back to school
again. Somehow though, the magic of Christmas lingered on during the first
few weeks of school and then slowly normality returned.
Christmas Carol can sound so rich and poignant at Christmas yet somehow
seems flat and meaningless once Christmas is over. I always knew that
Christmas was over for another year when the sound of "Silent
Night" or "While Shepherd’s Watched" failed to inspire
always another year though when you are a child and before you know it you
are practising "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" again and making cards
for your Mum and Dad.
Dad never turned away Carol Singers and would always have coins ready and
waiting for their arrival.
didn’t realise at the time just how much scrimping and scraping my
parents must have put into our Christmas celebrations each year, and years
later when I had three children of my own their efforts continued
year on Christmas Eve, my three children would wait eagerly for the car
laden with gifts that my Dad sent to our house. They were not allowed to
open them of course until Christmas morning but excitedly sorting them
into three heaps became an eagerly awaited treat.
Christmas morning I was awakened about 3am by a strange loud noise. When I
investigated I found my kids all perched together on one bed playing ‘Dizzy
Bugs2, one of the games Dad had sent. It involved revving up clockwork
ladybirds and seeing who scored most points. Well it was Christmas
always sent me an extra little gift too, a pack of six bottles of Babycham.
I didn’t even like Babycham but I never had the heart to tell him.
realise now that Dad wanted to give me as much as he could to make up in
some way for what he had missed out on as a child. He was determined that
we would never ever wake up on Christmas morning only to discover that
Santa Claus hadn’t called at our house.
world has changed greatly since my children were small and even more so
since I was young. Christmas has come and gone more times than I care to
remember, yet I still hold dear all the happiness and joy my parents
created. They are in my heart every day, but especially at this time of
wish everyone a peaceful and joyous Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
Jean Norfolk (nee Hobman)
Other articles by Jean Norfolk
Memories of Cattlelaithe, Knottingley
Charles Burton Hobman
Mrs Madge Holman
Memories of Holmes Printers, Pontefract
M.L. Jennings, Ropergate
A constant Companion