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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



Harker Street, Knottingley

Harker Street, Knottingley (select to enlarge)

My Family moved into Knottingley in the mid sixties, I’m not sure of the exact year but I remember hearing ‘Michelle My Belle’ by the Beatles on the radio. We arrived at 3 Harker Street in style, my father had an Ariel 650 motorbike, attached to it was a homemade sidecar from old planks of wood. It looked incredibly like a coffin, the type you might see in a western.

We were poor for one reason, my Father. As an ex soldier, he rejected any type of conventional work and pursued his vocation as a full time thief. Most of his army pension was spent on booze and this was pure fuel for his violent streak. Our terraced house was three storey's high with sash windows and each with twelve individual panes. I remember this for two reasons; they used to collect snow in the winter and have ice on the inside. There was no electricity on the third floor and the only toilet was at the bottom of the back yard. The house to the right was derelict, it had windows missing and the front door was jammed half open. Across the road from us was a large triangular piece of land, beyond that was a pub called the Red Lion.

Before long my three sisters and mother arrived in a van borrowed from my auntie Hilda. We didn’t have much stuff (my older sister, Sue, had informed me later) as we’d left Wakefield in a hurry. All I can remember taking into the house was our tin bath. It was the mid to late sixties and apart from our huge black and white TV and gas oven, we lived like someone out of a Dickens novel.

photos by Mike Edwards photos by Mike Edwards
Photographs supplied by Mike Edwards (select to enlarge)

That first night we had the luxury of flannel sheets, old coats covered the rest of the bed. It was ok as we knew no different but it was always annoying to feel buttons sticking into your legs.  I always seemed to end up with a duffle coat. There’s nothing worse than waking up with a toggle up your nose at two o’clock in the morning.  With my sisters asleep I remember walking to a window at the front the house. If all was quiet and no one was speaking you could hear a strange sound coming from Gregg’s glassworks, which was behind the Red Lion. It sounded like a cross between the distant sounds of cymbals punctuated by short bursts of escaping gas. It was too subtle to be annoying and yet rhythmic enough to put you to sleep. I saw my father coming out of the Red Lion, I knew it was he due to his bad limp he had received whilst in the army. He was a rugged handsome man with a jet black DA. To most people he met he was known as a charming man, the reality was that he had little time for us children, and God help anyone who got in his way.  As I scurried back into bed to steal some warmth from my sister (who I shared a bed with) my foot banged the porcelain chamber pot that was sticking out from under the bed.

Getting up on a morning was always a trial, we soon discovered our house was freezing. Our mother was always the first up, and God bless her she’d always light a fire. Although the house was a tad Spartan our fireplace was incredible. It was very large affair with two beautiful gray marble pillars. There was a similar stone plinth at the bottom and a big mantelpiece at the top. The marble was a subtle gray colour with strands of white running through it. The whole thing resembled some type of Greek/Roman altar. I remember this well as we worshiped at it every morning and most evenings. Most of the time we burnt coal, when that was short my father took his axe and started chopping up the derelict house next door. In later years I always saw deep irony in this, as Kellingey was one of the largest collieries around.

My father began his ‘work’ as soon as possible.  Over the next few years he tried to rob the safe at Gregg’s, stole the bells from Christchurch, cut up and sold huge propellers from Harker’s as well as breaking into the Palace Cinema to steal the quicksilver from the old projector. I particularly remember this job, as the mercury wasn’t shared out equally, a fight ensued. One of his accomplices got hurt to say the least. I won’t mention any of his collaborators names as they have children still living in Knottingley. While he practiced this type of inept stupidity we went hungry and cold. If anyone reading this has ever been hungry you will know that hunger is not a word to use lightly. Tomato sauce sandwiches and tea with a lot of sugar in to make you feel full, is not the healthiest diet for children.

I was soon attending Church school, that was where I met most of my childhood friends. The most amazing thing was the food. We also had a bottle of milk in the morning.

In those early years I remember the headmaster (Mr. Woodall) saying ‘whatever you do, however much you learn, there is no qualification higher than common sense.’ His words have stayed with me for years.

Once a week we were all marched up to St Botolph's Church for a service. I always thought I’d dozed through Mr. Pearson’s sermons. Years later whenever I attended weddings or funerals it took me ages to figure out why I knew almost every reading.

I learnt to read at Church school, after that I spent most of my spare time in the library, which in those days was a gorgeous Georgian house in Chapel Street. The reference room overlooked the old graveyard in front of St. Botolph's.

My dad’s thieving was really paying off; within a couple of years we had our electricity cut off. A Victorian slum is extremely spooky when illuminated by candles, the shadows and alcoves become alive with a million flickering figments of a child’s imagination. Our Glorious 'telly' lay dead in the corner, we didn’t need ‘Boris Karloff’ or ‘Bela Lugosi’ so it was back to worshiping the God of warmth at the Greek altar.

I spent many evenings walking up to Screw Bridge to watch the barges and tom puddings sail by in the darkness. On the way back towards the Red Lion there was a corner shop on the same side of the road. It was called ‘Nancy’s’. Next door lived a wonderful old man called Mr. Harker. He wore a waistcoat and had a pocket watch on a chain. Underneath his flat cap were the kindest pair of eyes I’ve ever seen. He once gave me a penny the money was large in those days, it nearly filled my palm. I spent it in Nancy’s and ate like a king. Very often I would walk to Shepherds Bridge. If you went down the stone steps on Bridge Court side there was a blacksmiths. This was like peeping back in time.  I would gaze over a half open stable door and see this huge man in thick spectacles bashing away over a raging fire.

Things changed when one day there was a loud knock at the door.  My father gave me one of his terrifying looks and growled, "Answer the door. Get rid of him. Right?". I opened the door trembling.  Before me stood a policeman, he smiled and asked if my dad was in?. In my panic I said  "I don’t’ know. I’ll have a look." I walked out momentarily pretending to search. When I returned, to my horror my father was in handcuffs. He just glared at me. "Your mum will be home soon. I'll deal with you later." A shiver went down my spine as he left. I needn’t have worried though, he did not come home for six months. I don’t know how my poor mother coped. Christmas was approaching and she was a single mother with four kids and no electricity.

I am not quite sure why I cherish these early memories of Knottingley. Looking back it seems to have been so hard. Whenever I visit I always walk the streets to visit the places and ghosts of old Knottingley, I always leave smiling.

Mike Edwards
12 November 2002

[Memories Index]

Also by Mike Edwards:

Knottingley Compatriots
More Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley II
Stranger Things Can Happen At Sea
Happy Days
Teachers of the 70's
Africans and Communists

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