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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

MEMORIES OF KNOTTINGLEY

EARLY YEARS

MICHAEL NORFOLK

Despite spending almost 43 years of my life living in Knottingley, I feel little qualified to document my memories of the area or of my younger years within it, believing there is little of significance that would be of interest to anyone other than myself. However, I know that even the slightest mention of a particular local haunt or of one of the local town celebrities is enough to rekindle the memories of those who choose to read that far. I have known and become acquainted with many people that I feel are deserving of a mention and in a way this could be my opportunity to renew some of those friendships and make contact with people I may not have seen or contacted for many years.

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My Family Me, my brother and sister

It seems not that long ago that as young boys full of the innocence of our early childhood years, we would frequent the streets of Knottingley in its entirety. There seemed to be no limits to the places we would travel to and appeared to be no dangers involved in doing so. We were completely oblivious to the fact that our parents might be worrying about us, wondering where we were or what we were doing. In our minds we held no fears and in our innocence, were too young to understand any concerns that our parents might have held. Only when you endure those same concerns as a parent yourself do you understand what a worry we must have been to our own mother's and father's.

I was born in 1959 to my parents John Darlison Norfolk and Jean (Hobman). I became their second child, already having an elder sister Julie and we would be joined three years later by my younger brother Steven David. Tragically, my father died in 1966 when I was just seven years old and my recollections of him are very few and far between. My memories of him are simply sourced from the few photographs that remain and despite not seeing them for a number of  years I can still visualise those images. It seems that we led a normal family life, there are photographs taken on our holidays along the east coast resorts and those taken at home in the garden, seemingly always with some comical or amusing involvement, the sort of thing that most dad's tend to introduce into those occasions frequently.

I remember two cars that my father owned and I can even recall the registration numbers of both, something I have not been able to achieve with my own car. The first car I remember was an old Austin with a raised central section or bulge on the bonnet, registration number ' KPY 166'. It had a wonderful smell of leather from the internal upholstery, a gear change lever mounted on the steering column and those quaint little side indicators that popped up from between the two side doors. Weren't they a wonderful invention? I doubt that it is still in existence, but it would be a wonderful treasure if it had been saved and lovingly restored. Our second car was an MG Magnet, registration number RKU 119, more modern than the old Austin but not with the same characteristics, charm or appeal. It had the registration number etched onto a small key ring, something that would not be advisable if you were ever to lose your keys but would certainly help with the difficult task of remembering it.

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Two of my fathers motor cars

We lived in Broomhill Square, Knottingley, in a small semi-detached three-bedroom house owned by the local council and for which my mother paid the weekly rent. I remember the rent collector used to visit each week and through my young eyes the rent book always appeared to be a document of great importance. The house originally had just an open coal fire in the living room and a smaller one in the front bedroom which used to give us such a thrill when it was lit just before you went to bed at night. The house  was later modernised during the early 1970s to include full central heating. The front bedroom was my mothers room but during those periods when, as most youngsters do, we needed to feel safe from harm after a bad dream or when we were not feeling too well, then we would share the bed with her and urge her to light the fire so we could lay there watching the flickering from the burning coals dancing around the room and across the ceiling.

Fortunately today it seems most people provide for the future in some way in order to safeguard their dependants in case of tragedy, but it was quite obvious that my parents had not seen the same importance in that or perhaps that the benefits in those days were not so great as they appear today and our circumstances in the years immediately after my father's death were very difficult for my mother. She was resigned to finding employment to make up the deficit left by the loss of my father's income and this in turn led to me, my brother and my sister having to learn to care for ourselves when she was not at home. Fortunately for my mum, she lived next door to a wonderful lady called Mrs. Holman, who helped her tremendously in those days and could be relied upon without fail to care for us whenever the need arose.

Mrs. Holman was a member of the Salvation Army in Knottingley and I remember her living room contained an upright piano and that she used to sing hymns while carrying out her household chores. At regular intervals, the Salvation army band, resplendent in their uniforms, would make a Sunday morning tour of the estate, stopping off along the way to send out their songs of praise and collect donations for their good causes. Although my mum would never have refused their request for donations, they no longer called at our home because they were aware, through Mrs. Holman, that my mother was a lone parent trying desperately to raise her family under difficult circumstances.

Despite my young age it was clear that assistance for my mother from any corner was not forthcoming and she was left to survive alone and at times our situation would lead to people taking advantage of her with no sense of compassion. With my mother out at work all day she was resigned to placing her trust in other people and our coalman was an example of this. He would make his deliver of coal to us during the day, often while my mother was at work as he had done for some years. On one occasion, obviously in the belief that no-one was home, I watched carefully as he delivered two sacks of coal into our coal bunker and then through our letter box posted his invoice for three.  I was about 13 years old at this time and mathematics was one of my favourite subjects at school, one that I felt comfortable with. I was certainly able to count and entirely confident about the number of bags that had been delivered.  How long that had been going on and how many empty sacks of coal my mother had paid for we just don't know. But it just goes to show how some people can take advantage of those less fortunate than themselves for their own personal gain.

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Two photo's of my Mother in her younger days

I remember the very first record that my mother bought for me, it was Des O'connor's  'One, Two, Three Oleary'. (God bless you mum! We played it on a stereogram with a lift up top which contained the record deck and with the radio display and controls on the outside.  It was sort of like a coffee table with integrated speakers at either end.  Does Des look any different today than he did back then?

Milk in bulk containers from the supermarket was unheard of back in the mid-sixties, it appeared that everyone had deliveries made to their door and our local milkman was Mr. Clayburn of Womersley Road. I remember him well as he was the only milkman who never seemed to require the assistance of youngsters in performing his morning deliveries. I once plucked up the courage to ask him for work but my offer was very politely refused.  In the end I did manage to find myself a milk-round and it entailed getting up at 6am to deliver milk before being dropped off at the school gates each morning. If I remember correctly, I earned a mere 1.10s per week for the six days, though at the time I felt rather proud to have my own hard-earned money in my pocket.

Sunday afternoon was normally the time you would see the man from Walls pushing around his refrigerated blue barrow full of ice-cream and lollies. We would run up to him just to take a look inside at the steaming dry ice it contained and on some occasions we might just be lucky enough to be treated to one of the treasures within.  Once you had tasted that lovely yellow Wall's ice-cream it seemed there was nothing better.

Occasionally we would be treated to a miniature mobile carousel touring the estate offering pleasure rides to the youngsters, an attraction that used to bring children from all corners of the estate hurrying to greet it.

Football was our big passion throughout childhood and we would replicate our favourite teams and players on the grassed areas around the estate, much to the annoyance I guess, of the local inhabitants. Despite the lack of technological wizardry and computer games, we adapted well to what was available to us and rarely did we find ourselves unable to think of something to occupy ourselves with.  We shared a lot of our childhood days with Barry and Stephen Greenwood, (Baz and Duffy)  the grandson's of Mrs. Holman our next door neighbour. Being much more outgoing than me and my brother, they taught us the skills of ditch jumping, took us along to all their local haunts and introduced us to the delights of being young boys in an big adventurous world.

We would often be up at the crack of dawn, our bicycles overloaded with tackle, as we cycled what felt like many miles to our local fishing pond the 'Doylee' at the side of the A19 just south of Whitlet Bridge. I am not quite sure how it got that name or what the correct spelling of it might be, but that's how we always referred to it. My grandfather, Charles Hobman, had collected Embassy cigarette coupons and exchanged them for a wicker fishing basket for me. This was duly, but very dangerously, strapped to the rear carrier on my bicycle with my fishing rods and umbrella along the crossbar and there I was looking like some old west cowboy straddling all this gear in an effort to keep my feet in contact with my bicycles peddles. But it felt good to be independent for the day, it was an adventure and we had some great times without causing annoyance to anyone. We would pack our lunch and fill our flasks, often with hot soup and stay out for the whole day.  We caught very few fish, I doubt that we even knew much at all about the art of fishing, but the many hours spent watching that little plastic float in the hope that it would give some sort of twitch and allow us a 'strike' were some of the most enjoyable times I can remember.

Our bicycles were our transport around the local area and we must have cycled several hundreds of miles on them. I had a racing bike, while my brother had a 'chopper', with those 'bulls horn' style handlebars, the gear change lever along the central column and the rear wheel larger than the front.  They were all the rage at the time, all the kids seemed to want one and maybe they were the first product aimed directly at youngsters to create such a demand.

A little later on I remember the craze for 'clackers' the two balls attached to a plastic handle that you used to somehow make alternatively come together both above and then below your hand by using a swift up and down movement. I believe they were eventually removed from sale due to the number of injuries they were causing to peoples wrists!.

Some of our favourite board games at this time were of course Monopoly, Subbutteo Football, and one of our own favourites, Subbutteo Angling.  Yes, a fishing board game, full of fun and excitement and without the mess or smell of maggots. I also remember one Christmas when me and my brother woke early, believing it to be Xmas morning and time to get up and open our presents.  We had persuaded my mother to leave all our presents in the bedroom for us this particular year and after going to bed much earlier than normal, we woke and began excitedly tearing off the wrapping paper to discover what we had been given.  My Gran had bought me a 'Dizzy Bug' a plastic board with a circular central section and  a housing or depression in each of the four corners, into which hopefully your 'bug' would come to rest.  The bug was a mechanical, wind up affair and the idea was to run its wheels along a flat surface which would wind up the mechanism and enable it to spin frantically once placed in the central area of the board and hopefully come to rest in one of the housings or depressions. So there I was, wrapping paper duly removed to reveal my Dizzy Bug and I began running it along the bedroom wall before dropping it onto the board where it would spin like crazy.  It was really great fun, but alas, not to my mother at two o'clock on Xmas morning and she duly ordered us back into bed, our presents completely exposed and devoid of all wrappings.  Xmas had sure come early that year.

Speaking of that time of year, wasn't it a wonderful sight to wake up and discover a heavy covering of freshly fallen snow on the ground?. A magical occasion it seemed to us. When was the last time you can remember a blanket of snow sliding off your house roof to the ground below? Was that simply our childhood minds or have our winters really become so much milder that we no longer experience such an event with any sort of regularity? It seems we are no longer greeted by 'Jack Frost', discovering the whole landscape covered by his magical white trademark and carrying in washing lines of frozen solid towels that would suffice as surfboards and pairs of trousers that were able to stand up unaided. No more do we wake and find we are unable to see through the windows because Jack Frost had painted the insides during the night and we would spend half the morning etching our names across it until it thawed out. No longer are there images of snowmen with carrot noses and coal black eyes standing proudly at the top of the garden and large boulders of snow being rolled down the street by excited youngsters. Those were special times in our lives and the memories remain with us forever. As parents today we can only imagine the thrill our children and grandchildren would gain from experiencing those events and it is our loss too that we are unable to share with them what made our childhood years so very special and wonderful.

There always appeared to be a sense of spirit within the community and bonfire night was an occasion where neighbours and families would come together to enjoy a neighbourly display. Several weeks beforehand, we would be out calling at all the houses around the estate collecting material for our bonfire and storing it all safely back at home until the night duly arrived. We would build our bonfire and be joined by neighbours and our family in an enjoyable evening. One year, my grandmother, who had left it rather late to purchase fireworks, called into Charlie Tate's on the way to our house to obtain a supply. On discovering that they only had some larger exhibition style fireworks remaining, she duly purchased them and brought them along with her. The time came to witness what promised to be a marvellous display as one of these large fireworks was eventually lit. A few seconds of eager anticipation and it duly exploded, sending a shower of hot ash into the sky which ultimately fell back onto the head of Mrs. Addy who lived two doors away from us. Quickly she was brushed down and what could have been an horrendous accident was over, although the damage to her hair would take a little while longer to heal.

A collection of photographs sent to me by Mrs. Dures of Lincoln recently, reminded me of one of our most well known personalities over the past 30 to 40 years. It featured Arthur Armitage, once recorded as the largest man in Britain and who I believe featured in the Guinness Book of Records.

My education began at Chapel Street school under the headmistress, Miss Wake.  I did not take readily to being left at school and there would be the morning ritual  of me gripping onto the railings of the school gates in an effort not to be taken inside. This caused far more distress to my mum than it did to me as I would normally settle down quickly once I had been released from my grip and taken indoors, but my mum was left to wonder just what I was going to be like for the remainder of the day. On leaving Chapel Street I moved on to Weeland Road School for a short time until it was finally closed down completely with the  pupils and staff being transferred to Ropewalk School just a short distance away.

This is where I remember my first encounter with Mr. Ward.  He is significant because of his wonderful style of handwriting which must have adorned many thousands of school reports throughout his career.  It was at Ropewalk School that I achieved my first success in life, winning a shield for being the most helpful boy in school of which I was duly very proud. I remember Linda Gallagher winning the trophy for being the most helpful girl, something which was a little embarrassing to me at the time as I remember having a crush on her and felt it ironic that we should win similar prizes together. However, the shield was to be the only prize I would be sharing with her. I followed up that success by achieving my cycling proficiency certificate, another major triumph in my youth of which I was rightly overjoyed.

Despite the difficulties we faced financially as a family and the strain of having a working mother and no father around, when I look back at our lives and see how things have evolved, I have to admit that my mother did a wonderful job of which, through her seven beautiful grandchildren, she should be duly proud. We were able to share with my mother in the things that make your childhood years so memorable and had the unfailing support of my mothers parents and several close friends and neighbours. My mother would spend each evening relating tales of her own childhood and her experiences through the difficult years of the second world war. We would sit enthralled, eagerly asking questions and urging her to continue until it was past the time for us to be in bed. I guess a lot of that family togetherness has been lost today with the pressures of modern day life leaving precious little time for sharing those special moments together. But those moments shared together are the root to a more peaceful life and bring about respect for others and a feeling of well-being and should not be ignored.

So there we have a few memories of my childhood years, a little muddled maybe and with a sense of dismay that I feel unable to recall so many events that clearly influenced my young life in some way. I hope that it may encourage more of you to write in with your own experiences and show that there is nothing to be afraid of, no need to feel embarrassed about not being able to express yourself clearly. We simply want to hear about the things that were special to you or had some impact on your outlook on life.

Michael Norfolk
6th June 2003

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