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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

MY GRANDPARENTS


by MICHAEL NORFOLK

As mentioned in the first instalment of my memories of Knottingley, the sudden loss of my father brought with it great hardship and it seemed that we had been abandoned to face the struggle alone. My mother's meagre widows pension was supplemented by whatever income she was able to secure by taking employment but the drawback to that was the fact that we were left at home while she was out at work, often for most of the day.  But throughout that difficult period, my mother ensured that we did not want for anything and although there were few luxuries we were relatively happy and content with what we had. We did of course receive free school dinners but my mum was not a person keen to receive state handouts and she felt happier when able to finance everything herself.  The logic in our state benefit system defied belief at times and my mum soon discovered that even though in order to supplement the family income she could seek employment, what little she earned reduced the benefits she was able to receive. It was at times a no win situation and more often than not she found herself working almost for nothing.

We would certainly not have survived so well had it not been for my mother's parents. They supported us unfailingly and their home was like an extension to our own albeit a few miles away in Ferrybridge. My grandfather, Charles Burton Hobman was the nicest man I have ever known throughout my entire life and I looked upon him as my father figure. He worked in Knottingley's thriving glass industry, commencing work for Jackson's Glass on Headlands Lane as a young man before becoming part of the Rockware Glass group when they took over the Jackson's concern and continuing until his retirement in the early 1970's. He was almost always to be seen wearing his trademark flat cap, waistcoat, trousers with small turn ups at the bottom and a pair of braces seemingly holding everything together. He seemed to have great reserves of energy and although he cycled everywhere he never appeared to be over exerted or short of breath and he would dismount his bicycle as fresh as someone climbing from their car. He was a quiet, very reserved man, never wishing to be the centre of attention or to be made a fuss of.

With my younger brother Steven Relaxing by the seaside In his younger days

Photographs of My Grandfather, Charles Hobman

His passion was gardening and his main interest were his dahlia's which he tended with loving care.  I  remember that he used to cut flowers for us to take home for my mother and we would shake them vigorously to displace all the earwigs that had found a home in the flower-heads before they crawled out onto us  Each autumn he would unearth the tubers and pack them in boxes, neatly wrapped in old newspapers, before placing them in an upstairs cupboard away from the danger of frost until the following spring when he would carefully re-plant them, and so began the yearly ritual once more. Some years he would try his hand at growing vegetables but although always with great success it was never with the same intense interest or passion as with his dahlia's.

He also had a small collection of around half-a-dozen rose bushes which he nurtured with great devotion. He was such a gentle man that even with secateurs in hand, the task of pruning appeared an act of love and was accomplished with extreme care. He made the act of growing plants and flowers an art form and his actions mirrored those of the great artists as he strived to cultivate the final image.

Another interest he had were canaries and their melodious songs seemed to bring a sense of nature into the home. It just amazes me how he felt so much passion and held so much enthusiasm for everything he did. Nothing ever seemed to dismay him or be too much trouble and I remember him regularly visiting an elderly patient in hospital simply because the man had no family or other visitors. He would take him cigarettes or whatever the man had requested until the day came where upon calling to make his usual visit he discovered the bed empty and found the old man had passed away. He must have brought a little cheer into the old mans final few days and yet it was clearly obvious on his return home that he was deeply saddened by the loss.

On Sunday's he would make his weekly outing to the Hill Top club before dinner. Although I never saw him smoking a cigarette, this appeared to be the one day and the one place where he seemed happy to participate. He would dress in his best suit and don his best flat-cap and ensured that his shoes were always clean and polished. He always wore braces to hold up his trousers and had especially smart ones for his Sunday outing. His stay was never a long one and he would return home as a matter of routine within a couple of hours ready for his Sunday lunch.

Being the eldest son, I suppose he was able to spare more time for me than for my younger brother. I was old enough to accompany him on our regular bicycle rides and together we visited many seemingly, distant places. To be realistic I suppose we never cycled more than a few miles but he took me to places locally that I had never before visited and my small world suddenly became a much larger and more exciting place.  I used to help him with his gardening though whether I was more of a hindrance than an assistance he would never have dreamed of revealing. We worked together and he made me feel an important part of everything he did, never failing to spare the time for me and always eager for me to participate.

Saturday afternoon saw my grandparents settle down in front of the television to watch the afternoon's wrestling. It was the days of Mick McManus and Les Kellett, the hey-day of British wrestling when millions of viewers would tune in, and it was a real treat to see the way my grandmother got so worked up over the whole occasion even though even at my tender age it was obviously more akin to a theatrical show rather than a kind of sport.  Immediately after the wrestling my granddad would check his pools coupon as the football results were read out, though there were never any big wins forthcoming in the Hobman household.

My grandmother, Martha Hobman, was a lovely lady, and she always seemed to busy herself with something or other. She made the tastiest Yorkshire pudding, not the circular ones that we normally bake today, but a square one baked in a large oblong tray. Part way through cooking she would take it from the oven and turn it over to cook the other side and then it was cut into slices when it was ready for serving. Outdoors she had a regular routine of washing down the 'flags' and steps up to the house, always ensuring they were clean and presentable to visitors, the front edges of the steps emblazoned with 'donkey soap'.

My grandmother Grandfather and auntie Carol Grandmother at Cattlelaithe Cottages

My Grandparents

On Saturday morning she would set out to catch the Pottery Lane turn round bus into Pontefract for her regular weekend trip into town. My granddad would be waiting on her return to help carry back the bags of shopping. She appeared to shop systematically, seemingly returning each week with more or less the same items but at least we knew what goodies were in store. Marks and Spencer's was one of her favourite stores as even then they were renowned for selling only quality goods and their Chocolate Eclair's were always to be found in the basket. But along with the goodies came 'tripe', 'pig chap' and 'finny haddock' which she purchased from the market and we would sit watching in disbelief and with not a little disgust while they made a meal of them for tea.

My grandparents home seemed to be in transition between historical and modern day. There were modern day appliances interspersed with antique style utensils and other objects. The kitchen fire was an old range cooker with a double oven at the left hand side and an open fire on the right. Although I was never witness to the actual use of the ovens for cooking I imagine that it was capable of doing a pretty decent job.  The open fire itself I remember well because we used it regularly to make toast using an old toasting fork with a three pronged head and long slim extending handle. Bread toasted under a gas or electric grill is no comparison to that done over the embers of an open coal fire and smothered in best butter that my grandparents used to purchase loose in large slabs. In the outhouse was an old portable gas boiler which was used for washing the white's and an old style upright washing machine with a mangle for squeezing surplus water from the freshly laundered clothes and bedding.

Writing this short account, it is sad to look back over all the times we shared and realise that into our late teens it must have appeared to my grandparents that we had more or less forgotten them. Commencing work and gaining some independence in our own lives we certainly did not visit as often as we should have done and moving away from Knottingley for a short time meant I lost touch for lengthy periods. It was only when my grandfather was taken ill that I returned to see him in hospital after a long absence and unfortunately it proved to be the last time I would be able to spend time with him. After all the fun, the laughs and the love we had exchanged during my childhood, all of those special moments we had shared together, it was left to a parting touch of the hands as a final gesture and he died a few days later.

Sadly he would never live to see any of his great grandchildren and that is as much a loss to them as it would have been a loss felt by him.

Michael Norfolk
6th June 2003

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