MY MEMORIES OF KNOTTINGLEY
Harker Street, Knottingley (select to enlarge)
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.
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.
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.
Photographs supplied by Mike Edwards (select to enlarge)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
12 November 2002
Also by Mike Edwards:
More Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley II
Stranger Things Can Happen At Sea
Teachers of the 70's
Africans and Communists