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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



I must state at the outset of this, my third account of recollections, that my wife is not as keen as myself in nostalgia. On a personal note I find thinking of years past affords me with a cloak of comfort against the mindless vandalism and violence we read and see so much of these days. Much of this is attributed to a minority of our younger generation, as experienced by the loyal team of workers who constantly try to maintain the old Town Hall. It is a building held very dear in the hearts of old Knottla' folk who, like me, share warm memories of happy times spent inside so once again, no apology for nostalgia.

My thoughts turn to my friends from Croft Avenue, namely Kenny Burdin, Richard Rhodes, Richard Birch, and Ralph Pogmore. We all spent happy days going down to the Willow Garth past Dole Bank. That was a great playground for young lads where, from the willow trees, we were able to cut wood to make a strong-bow. The trees also supplied us with good straight arrows and Robin Hood and his men were truly born.  The Garth abounded with tall reeds and if you cut and shaped the willow branches, it was possible to braid the rushes through the structure and produce a fine hut to sit in. In those days many birds visited our Garth, there were Blue Tits, Jays, Owls, Thrushes, Blackbirds, Wrens and Bullfinches, not many of these species do you see today.  Onward from here we had a pleasant walk towards Beal and the Fishing Plank a very solid thick plank across a wide stream. Once when walking I found a German leaflet in the bottom of the hedgerow apparently dropped by a German plane, but why over Knottingley?, he must have been off his course.

When we were down by Dole Bank we would help the lock keeper, Bill Doubtfire, to open the lock gates by winding the gears operating the water level and then putting our backs against the gate arms and pushing them open. He always appreciated our help and he was a very pleasant man.

Down at the bottom of the croft were some small brick built air raid shelters and these provided a place to play and have fun, If those shelters could talk what stories they would tell, but not I, my tales are to remain untold. I suppose being young during the war we found it all exciting but we did not experience the blitz like London, Portsmouth, Southampton, Hull, and Liverpool people did. Our war was Vera Lynn and war films.

My school life started in 1940 at the National Church School and I remember crying for my mother the best part of the day. They had underground shelters beneath the playground and when sirens were sounded we went down an iron ladder and sat on wooden seats. Many people from Aire Street made use of these shelters. I stayed but a few weeks here before moving to Chapel Street school. I remember particularly in the main hall there were a row of cot type beds and we used to be put in these for a sleep during the day, great Eh! My next move was to the Weeland Road boarding School. The head of school, Mr Treadgold was a man of small stature with dark rimmed glasses but to us his pupils he was Tarzan. I think we we all terrified of him and to this day I do not know why but his school was always touble free. I stayed here until 1945 and then made my final move to Ropewalk Senior School where Mr Leonard Luke was the Headteacher and a very fine one he was. His passion for poetry knew no bounds and often he would enter into any classroom without little regard for the lesson in progress and give an impassioned reading of the Fighting Temmera and Playup, Playup and play the game quotations. He was very much admired by staff and pupils.   Mr. Billbrough was the art teacher while Mr. Barton taught science. He in fact was a relative but he did not acknowledge the fact. His Mother was my Great Aunt Annie.  Mrs. McMichael was my form teacher and a keen one she was too. There was also Bull Coward, Proddy France, Dot Wilson, Mary Wilson and Miss Lang. It was at this school that I learned the Valitta and the Barn dances. We had dance evenings a few times and brought sandwiches to eat. We also, I think, had our first girl crushes!

Online readers will smile at these names if they were at school when I was there. Mr. Jessop joined the staff after his release from the services. One of his duties was R.E. but you could soon sidetrack him and have him tell tales of his time in the service. After a couple of years at Ropewalk School he courted and married Mary Wilson. About this time there was a Camp in North Yorkshire called Beuleu Park. It was a adventure type of place with activities such as walking, rock climbing and so on. All schools were offered places for pupils who had parents with the money to send them. I was fortunate in some way that my mother was a widow and I was able to go free of charge. We lived in wood dormitories and had meals in a large central building in ablution blocks. We bathed and washed and after ablutions you were lined up to have your throat sprayed with antiseptic spray.

I left School in 1950 aged 15 and started work at Bagley's glassworks as a yard lad. Our boss was Charlie Walshaw and he made us work hard but he was also fair with you. Our job required us to unload boxes from the lorries and supply them to the sorters for refilling. I then moved to The Press and Blow Machine as a taker-in and I know a lot of Knottla lads will know what I mean. The machine made the 5lb sweet jars and I carried them to the ovens for baking one at a time, and bloody hell did they make my legs ache. On the night shift at 15 years old when we stopped to have our sandwiches we sat near to the furnace and I often fell asleep and refused to start work. After a few sharp kicks from Nommie Rhodes the gatherer I would be persuaded to resume. Later I worked on the Monish Machine again taking in.  This was a faster producer of bottles so we worked 1 hour on and 1/2 hour off. John Horton ran this operation and when he gave an order you jumped and did it. Sonny Swales was the man in charge of the sorters and his office was located next to one of the large chimneys. During the war Bagley's received an allowance of cigarettes for the workers and my mother would send me to queue for her Woodbines. Sometimes I got them other times I was not so lucky. My half sister Irene worked in the office for him, so we had a little help.  I worked here until I was 18 years old.

The following paragraphs will apply to many Knottla' lads of my generation.

I enlisted for National Service with the local labour exchange situated on Racca Green. The Building is still there today. I attended a Medical Centre on Woodhouse Lane, Leeds for a medical and was enlisted with the R.A.S.C. as driver 22915083. After my training at Blenheim Barracks which lasted three months I took embarkation leave for two weeks and armed with a railway warrant I travelled to Borden Camp, Hampshire. The old Barrack Blocks were built in the First World War and were heated with wood burning stoves. Thousands upon thousands have passed through this camp.

I spent Xmas 1953 here and on Christmas morning at the lovely hour of 6.30am. we were awakened by the Staff Sergeants bringing round a large tea urn from which they served tea. At lunch time we were given a choice of a lunch menu which in fact was a good one. The lunch was served to all ranks by the commissioned Officers. Later after we had eaten, the Officers entertained us with poetry readings, songs, jokes and stories of army life. We were later transported to Harwich Port and embarked on one of the troopships sailing to the Hook of Holland. Many of the lads will remember The Wansbeck, The Vienna, and The Empress Pakistan. Then we endured a full days train journey to a small German village called Fallingbostell. Although only a small village it housed a large garrison of troops from the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, The Queens Bays, Reme and the Rasc. My CO on arrival was Major Horrocks but he left and was replaced with Major GCH Morant who had previously commanded Indian Regiments and had played polo a lot. After some discussion with the Tank Regiment CO it was agreed that he could stable two horses there so long as he provided a groom. I was elected to take care of the horses so in addition to driving 3 ton Trucks I was also a groom and for this extra service I was paid 2 pounds a month.

Upon leaving the army in 1955 I still lived at Anchor Yard and worked around Knottingley. I met a Pontefract girl, Kathleen Clarkson, in 1955 and we were married and I left to live with her family in Tanshelf, Pontefract. I have never forgotten my roots and I think myself fortunate that I did not see the demolishing of a great community and history.

Maurice Haigh

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Also by Maurice Haigh

Memories of Knottingley
More Memories of Knottingley
Conclusions of Knottingley
Second World War Knottingley

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