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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



Buck Yard was an early 1900's open square surrounded on four sides by plaster rendered cottages and I was born in one of theses cottages on the 14th June, 1935. I was the youngest of three sons born to Benjamin and Ada Haigh (nee Holt). My older brothers were William and Raymond.  My parents married at Christ Church, Knottingley on the 27th November, 1927. My father originated from the local village of Little Smeaton where he was born to Mary Haigh and Ada, my mother, was his second wife. He had previously married Elizabeth Byrom, a Knottingley woman who tragically died aged just 25 years. They had one daughter together, my half sister Irene who was adopted by relatives of the Byrom's and who did not in fact ever live with her fathers side of the family. My father served with the RNVR based in Plymouth at Victory Barracks and was posted to France where in 1917 he fought on the frontline. He suffered chest problems from a gas attack which affected his life in later years and upon his release from service he found employment as a glassworks labourer at Bagley's Glassworks in Knottingley. My father died in June 1936 leaving my mother with the task of rearing her three boys.

In 1940 we moved up the street to Anchor Yard and lived next door to our new neighbours the Turner family. They used to race greyhounds at the Knottingley dog track, one of their dogs being named 'Canny Lad' which I believe won a couple of races. Our Anchor Yard property was like many others around us. The toilet was situated at the furthest corner of the yard, a good thirty yards from the house. I mention this fact as through the blackout's during the war and also the cold winter months, you never forgot crossing the yard with a torchlight and at my age thinking of ghosts, monsters and other frightening things.

The main public meeting places were the Palace cinema and the Town Hall.  The owner of the Palace was Mr. Wood, a plump man who wore thick black framed glasses and was without a hair on his head. He was very proud of the cinema and always had pride of place on the top stair to the entrance. He was always dressed very smartly with a fine suit, shirt and tie and shiny footwear.  The balcony price was one shilling and sixpence which in the 1940's was a lot of money to pay. Belonging to the 'riff raff' so to speak, we sat in the first three rows of seats which were constructed of wood and very uncomfortable on your bottom.  We paid sixpence for the privilege though it did not spoil our entertainment. My mother would take me to the concerts held during the war in the Town Hall. Local people who had some talent for singing, whistling etc.. entertained us although without doubt the stars of the concerts were the Kellet sisters, Pamela and Margery, better known as the 'K' Sisters. They always had the best makeup, dresses and hairstyling. In later years they performed professionally and went into the theatre and on radio. The majority of the concerts held during the war were organised to help the war effort by raising money to pay for a spitfire or tank and so on.

When I was 15 in 1950 my brother Bill bought me a floor chart which had black painted footprints showing various dances, modern waltz, quick step and tango. It was on this chart that I honed my skills to have the confidence to ask the girls to dance. I have the most wonderful memories of the Town Hall dances. We danced to a band called the Silver Chords with Henry Cooper on piano, Bill Hayes on the trumpet and other band members whose names I cannot recall. I also have sad memories too as I remember a girl I grew up with called Doreen Temple. She was the elder sister of one of my best friends, a few years older than me. She had joined the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps and was home on leave. One evening we had some dances together and she was enjoying dancing in her bare feet. After she had left the service she went to London working as a nurse in one of the London hospitals and it was there that she died at a young age. Doreen was a lovely girl both in looks and in her nature and it was a very sad loss to her family and friends.

On waste ground behind the cinema we played football, rounders and cricket. Our favourite game was cricket which we played with a bat made for us by Billy Roberts brother-in-law Henry. It was kept at the Roberts house and we always had to knock at the door to borrow it. If Henry was in he would only lend the bat if he could bat first. We also played marbles and piggy. In piggy you had a piece of wood about five inches long and carved at one end into a point. You placed this over a stone and hit the pointed end tossing it into the air and then giving it a good clout while in midair to see who could hit it the furthest. Whip and Top was also a well played game but all these are much out of favour these days, so much for progress but happy days all the same.

Another looked for event was the Fair which always set up on the Flatts. This was a long area of land located by the river. There used to be coconut shy's, guess the fat mans weight, the bearded lady, the waltzer and finally Billy Boscoe's boxing booth. This was the ring in which his boxers would challenge anyone from the audience to a contest. If they managed to win he would give them half a crown. One morning I remember going onto the Flatts and it was filled with army trucks and soldiers who had stayed the night. One of them asked if I would fetch him some hot water for him to wash and shave, so I took his enamel bowl and brought him the water, he was very grateful.

We like many other families had lots of callers to our house. Bill Spires our milkman came with his shiny two gallon churn which had inside a one pint ladle and a one gill ladle. He would fill your milk jug as everybody had milk jugs. Bill Brown was our coalman when he had coal to deliver. He was a small man with red cheeks, flat cap and was always black with coal dust. Mr. Lightowler, the father of Joyce Bell, cleaned our windows and wore a jacket with large pockets in which he would keep his cloths. Mr. Beadle collected the rent for the Metcalfe family, local farmers who owned the property. He was a very tall man who always wore a brown trilby and a long dark macintosh, resembling a character from a Dickens novel. Another caller was the insurance man whose name I cannot recall but he was a portly gentleman with a large red birthmark on his face and a trilby hat. My mother paid sixpence a week on a death policy.

I can vividly remember a small Jewish man almost bent double who carried a large tied-up bag containing all manner of haberdashery, lace, needles, cottons and dusters. My mother always bought something from him because she was sorry to see he had such a hard and difficult life selling door to door. Times in those days were hard and money in short supply.

My mate Billy Roberts's father, Harold, was a skipper on the barges plying to Immingham. He lost his eldest son Harold on the beaches at Dunkirk when he was 19 years old. The last time I saw him was on his final leave home when along with him, Billy and some other friends we crossed over the river to the marsh and walked to the broken bridge. Harold climbed a tree and with his army knife carved his initials.

The broken bridge was a small limestone one which over the years had fallen into disrepair. We fished for sticklebacks and tadpoles with our nets. Bird nesting was another activity we enjoyed and we would enter Sherrards Wood in search of bird nests. We also cut wild rhododendrons to take home for our mothers. Sometimes if we found a water-hens nest containing eggs we collected them and took them home to put in the Yorkshire pudding for Sunday lunch. A man we called Gobby Gill bought old disused wooden barges and sailed them down the river from the Shipyard, mooring them on the river bank where we would help him dismantle them and he would then sell the wood to people for building sheds.

During the war a lot of people kept pigs. Ted Brookes worked at the chemical works but he had an old derelict cottage where he housed his pigs.  It had a coal fired copper to boil waste food and potato peelings and we spent hours in there boiling up the pigs dinners. It was always somewhere to keep warm in the winter when we were out playing. Old Tab Gardner had pigs and if you saved your peelings and waste food and went to his house with it he would give you a handful of Liquorice Allsorts as a thank you. That was a real treat when sweets were on ration.

Across from his house there were the remains of houses demolished years ago. A small brick wall remained and occasionally a very old Lady Tramp dressed all in black and wearing a large broad brimmed black hat would tell us stories of her travels. She also had a collection of small pot dogs which she would show us and was very proud of. Despite her wanderings she always appeared to be very clean.

Many times we would drag the river using a rope and a hook but the only treasure we ever found were old bicycle frames, dolly tubs and other rubbish. At the end of the Flatts facing the river was a cluster of cottages called Island Court. In one of these cottages lived Barney Rhodes.  He had strung a very thick rope across the river connected to a couple of stout posts and with a little cobble boat he owned he would transport Knottingley folk across the river to go on the marshes for walking, nesting and fishing.  For this service he charged a penny return fare. At times when the river was low a limestone walkway was accessible opposite Jackson's farm. Many years previously, boats had unloaded their cargo of coal there. If you went with a rake you were able to retrieve pieces of coal which over the years had been washed as smooth as glass but it burned on the fire and with coal on ration a lot of people did this.

Another errand I used to run was the 'coke run'. I would go to McDonalds shop and borrow a set of wheels and off I would trundle to the local gasworks. They were allowed to sell coke to people off the ration. I would take a large sack and the man weighed a hundred weight of coke on his scales for which I paid half a crown. I wheeled it back home up the street and mother would mix it with the coal to make it last longer. She would also send me to Murgatroyd's farm with a jug to buy extra milk and homemade butter. It was expensive because basically it was a black market purchase. On Hollingsworth Lane stood the vicarage orchard and on many a dark night myself and Frank Turner who had come out of the army, raided it and came away with apples, pears and plums. We also went with our bikes to a field belonging to Bagley's glassworks where coal was stored for use in the furnaces. We would fill a couple of bags and take them home. Mother never complained or scolded us, she was just happy to have the extra fuel.

Poor we may have been but we were happy and had no complaints.

Maurice Haigh

[Memories Index]

Also by Maurice Haigh

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

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