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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



Knottingley was always thought of by Knottingley folk as the smallest town and the largest village in the country. In any event, it was a close knit community especially to those people living down in Aire Street, the heart of Knottingley. There were council estates at Broomhill and Englands Lane but to us who were blessed to inhabit the streets, they were outsiders living on the periphery of the village.

My birthplace was named Buck Yard which was centrally located within the street. At the end of the yard was The Buck Inn, a well frequented Tetley pub. To the side of the Buck Inn underneath an archway was a door leading into the Jug and Bottle. Wives and mothers would stand in the little passage supping their gills of bitter. They would also collect beer to take home to be served to their husbands returning home from the afternoon shift at the local Bagley's and Gregg's glassworks. These were the towns largest employers and I worked there myself as a boy of 15 years earning 2.10 shillings per week.

Aire Street was the heartbeat of Knottingley mainly because all the shops were located there. The farm shop selling all dairy and grocery goods was a national company. Next up was Carvers shoeshop who shod most of the people in the street and then Firbanks bakery and shop where you could purchase lovely fresh cakes and bread. During the war they placed tables and chairs in the shop and started a cafe for locally based soldiers and visiting troops. My auntie Dot worked as a waitress there and in fact met her future husband, Albert Carlisle, a naval petty officer born in the neighbouring village of Beal. He was a very good looking young officer and they married after a short courtship, first sharing lodgings with some other folk before renting a small one up and one down in Racca Green.

Next to the shoeshop was Smiths, a family butcher for over 50 years. Frank, the son, carved and chopped the meat while his sister Annie served it to their customers. Frank knew my mother was a widow and he would occasionally give me an oxtail which he called a 'woofer' and say "take this home to Ada and tell her to make some oxtail stew for you all". This was a treat because meat was on ration as all food was at that time.

Further along was Spires shop run by Alfie Spires. He sold us the Daily Herald along with all our writing materials, Christmas cards and crepe paper. On we go to Willy Wray's a quality greengrocer selling fruit and vegetables as and when they were available. On a row of hooks outside his shop he would hang locally caught pheasants, hares, rabbits and pigeons, all shot in the surrounding fields, though only those people with the money could afford to buy them so we were denied the opportunity to supplement our diet.

Lyon's, the next shop, sold sweets which were very much in short supply and if news got out that Mrs. Lions had received a delivery a large queue would form all hopeful of obtaining a Mars Bar in its brown wrapper. Her shop always had a lovely smell of chocolate and when you were young your memory of smells seemed to be better remembered. Much like Wrays' which was always fruit tinged but which also had the smell of paraffin from the shop heaters.

On the opposite side of the street was Sam Doubtfire's greengrocers shop.  Sam was an unassuming man and his wife was a slightly built, blonde haired, very pleasant woman who helped her husband serve the customers. They had two daughters, Olga and Dorothy and a son named Sam. Both daughters were very pretty and always nicely dressed. Sam junior in later life became the vicar of St. Botolph's Church in Knottingley.

Continuing along the street after Lions sweet shop came the Yorkshire Bank and the Midland Bank. The majority of the people able to make use of these services were the local shop owners as the working class folk never passed through the doors. Next to the bank was Jimmy Hollingsworth's outfitters. He was the saviour of the working class Knottingley folk. He dressed our family and a whole lot more of our neighbours too. He was a marvellous character, always with a cigarette hanging from his mouth that would have an inch or so of ash at the end. I will always remember him this way. A lot of the working class families would purchase a provident cheque from the insurance company. This was normally for one pound and you would pay 21 shillings back at a cost of one shilling per week. With cheque in hand you would go to Jimmy Hollingsworth's and buy the family clothing. Jimmy was also involved with the organisation of the Knottingley carnival. I remember the innocence of this annual event with the Cowboys and Indians and their feathered headdresses, the dancing girls and the jugglers.

Another family butchers in the street was Taylor's. Arthur, the father, had a slaughter house at the rear of the shop and I often watched him kill beasts purchased at local markets. They were truly butchers in those days. Next door to him was McDonald's grocery store, quite a large shop employing about four girls, a wharehouse man and a manager. Despite being only a boy of about ten, I remember arguing with the manager about the quantity of food he weighed in accordance with the ration allowance but I never won the argument. On one egg, 2oz butter and 3oz bacon per person, we lived well!

Robinson's, the pork butcher made the most wonderful tasting pork pies and cooked meats and I can honestly say I have never tasted better since then. Ada Downes shop sold sweets and remedies for all your health problems. For coughs you would take Indian Brandy which she measured out from a large bottle into a cup you would normally take along with you. Returning home with your cup of Indian Brandy it was mixed with hot water to eases the symptoms of coughs and fever.  Beecham's pills were a small white, round pill wrapped in a screw of paper and these were taken for flue, colds and headaches.  Fennigs Fever Cure was available for bouts of fever.

Next to Ada Downes was the small bakery and shop of Randolph Backhouse. Mrs. Backhouse served in the shop assisted by her two daughters, Monica and Ursella. They also had a son Phillip who joined the Royal Navy and remained in service long after the war. The smell of freshly baked bread and cakes was enough to make your mouth water.

One of the fondest memories I have of life during the war years was when my Auntie Dorothy, Auntie Selena, Auntie Cissie along with my cousins Harold, Mary, Rita, Christine and Anne would all come around to our house with teacakes and buns. My mother would put on the kettle and make tea and we would all be talking and laughing and really enjoying the company. I think families were much closer in those days. I remember one evening when Auntie Cissie was visiting with my cousins and the air raid siren sounded. Our mothers put us under the kitchen table with a candle for some light. We though it was a great adventure.

Returning to the street our next call was the very posh outfitters of Longley and Lees. They had carpeted floors, electric lighting, display cabinets and window dummies. There were large mirrors in which to admire your latest dress or suit and very elegantly dressed sales assistants. This shop catered for the monied classes and we were certainly not that fortunate.

Robinson's the chemist filled your prescription requirements, Horncastle's were Haberdashery and Clay's another family grocer. My mother had a book of 'tick' at Clay's which enabled her to buy groceries on credit until the end of the week when the widows pension was due at the Post Office. Ernest Clay, the father, always weighed to order. Butter and cheese was cut, tea would come straight from the tea chest, sugar would be in blue bags and bacon would come straight off the slicer.

Dickinson's sweet shop was located directly opposite our only cinema, The Palace. Young courting couples would use all their coupons on whatever sweets were available to enjoy in the pictures. Clayton's fish and chip shop was one of the most popular places on the street. In the winter it was warm and the smell of the food cooking was mouthwatering. The fryers were heated with coal fires and Carl, the husband, stoked them up from metal buckets. Fish and chips were not on ration and cost 2 pennies.  They were cooked in lard and to an hungry boy they were a real treat.

I must not forget Haikings Ironmongers who had everything for the house such as pans, buckets, crockery and paraffin which was stored in a large tank fitted with a hand pump. My regular job was taking our can to be filled with paraffin at the shop. Many families had paraffin heaters due to a shortage of coal, industries were the priority customers. All these shops had one thing in common, they were family businesses and it made such a difference compared to the shopping environment we have today.

Hidden away behind the Aire Street shops were the old plaster rendered cotages and brick built terraced houses. These were all recessed by ginnels and arched passageways. In 1940 my mother left our Buck Yard cottage and moved us to Anchor Yard some 100 yards further along the street. Originally our house had been a pub and lodging house called the Anchor Inn but it had been altered to form two three bedroom houses with a live in kitchen and best front room. All the cooking and heating of the property was by coal fire and a black oven range which my mother black leaded constantly. The lighting consisted of gas downstairs and the candles in the bedrooms. At the side of the oven was a built in tank and this provided us with hot water. My mother was an expert at turning out homemade teacakes, bread and on Sundays, Yorkshire puddings. Our neighbours were the Turner family, Frank senior, Sally and daughters Hilda and Alice. They also had a son Frank who was serving in the army in India.

Next to Anchor yard, separated by a ten foot wall was Downes Yard. Here lived the Watson's, Wilson's, Taylor's, Etherington's and several Horton's. One in particular was Gertie who was a very attractive young woman who enjoyed life to the full. She married a Canadian soldier who was tragically killed in the war. In Backhouse Yard lived the Turner and Allsop's families while Buck Yard housed the Hodgson's, Temple's Hardgrave's, Siddall's and Holt's. Further along we had the Dearden family, Dennis and Tommy, and the Smith's. Tommy Dearden in his later life became an Historian of Knottingley History. When we were kids he used to carve Spitfires out of perspex which in those days was used to make the cockpits for the fighter planes and bombers. At the bottom of the street lived the Ramskill's, the Rathmill's, the Askham's and the Robert's families. There were many more Aire Street families, in fact too many to recall.

As kids we all had one thing in common, we all loved our picture Palace. There were the western films with Roy Rodgers and his white horse Trigger and films with Randolph Scott, Tom Mix and Gene Autry. These were the heroes of the day from America while our homebred heroes were John Mills, Jack Hawkins, Eric Porter and Alec Guinness who usually appeared in most of the war films produced at that time. We enjoyed watching the Home Guard marching and parading on the Flatts with Sergeant Clegg in charge. They would march up the Gannah to the triangular field and throw pretend hand grenades and fire plastic bullets, but it was all very exciting to us.

I enjoyed living on Aire Street where everyone knew each other and used the same schools, shops and frequented the same pubs, the Buck Inn, Sailors Home, Cherry Tree and Wagon and Horses. Living closely together down the same little yards, we were a community.

Maurice Haigh

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Also by Maurice Haigh

More Memories of Knottingley
Final Thoughts About Knottingley
Conclusions of Knottingley
Second World War Knottingley

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