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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

THE 1970s IN KNOTTINGLEY
GROWING UP ON A BUILDERS SITE


NIGEL HUBY

I was born in a small village between Selby and Knottingley called either Whitley Bridge or Eggborough, depending on whom you ask!

In 1968 my parents moved to Knottingley so that Dad could be closer to his work as an insurance agent for the Pearl Assurance Company. We moved into a brand new house on a brand new housing estate to be called Downland Crescent which was being built by Knottingley Builders Ltd. Our house was the first one to be built and was adjoining the show house. Next to this was a different style of house, like a Swiss chalet, that sat at right angles to the other houses and next to that there was a bigger semi-detached house with four bedrooms whereas our house had three.

My first memories of the new house was of the wooden floors that had a certain springiness about them when uncarpeted. Of course, being a three-year-old I had to race up and down the long open plan living / dining room much to the consternation of the sales rep next door trying to sell un-built houses.

Outside was of course a mess to start with because we lived on a building site for about two years as the estate was built up around us. Now being a young boy at this time wasn’t the same as it is today - there was very little to keep you occupied indoors. There was no television, no video games or computers, and so most dry days were spent outdoors footloose and fancy free.

The builders were totally off limits to me and I can remember them being quite scary as they went about their days’ work. In the evenings however, the place was all mine (for a short while) and exploring was the prime pastime. Every day a new bit of building had been done either deep trenches for foundations or a new layer of bricks or a new levelling of the access road that swept down the hill from Womersley Road.

One of my most vivid memories of these early years was of the hunt rushing towards the old quarry that still to this day stands behind Downland Crescent. Dad heard them coming and rushed us up stairs to look out over the empty fields behind the house to see a pack of hounds and a long line of horses with riders in red jackets and white breeches. I couldn’t see the fox but I remember the huntsmen’s horn and the rumble of hooves on the ploughed fields. No sooner had they appeared than they were gone, down into the old quarry that I had been banned from visiting as it was still full of water and abandoned machinery. Where they went next was a mystery to me and Dad didn’t go to find out either, but it left a lasting memory to me of the ‘Badsworth’ as someone once said much later.

As the housing estate was at the top of Womersley Road it was always a long walk for young legs but my Gran lived at the bottom of the road in the Kingsway Fisheries at the top of Broomhill Avenue. I can remember a lot about my early years in the shop - being scalded for being in the way and for stealing small sweets like McIntosh’s Highland Toffee bars, Black Jacks, Fruit Salad chews, Mojo’s and Liquorice Allsorts etc. However, the best times were behind the shop front with a little old lady called ‘mam’ who was of course my Great Grandmother. She was a short lady and a lot closer to my height and a lot closer to my head to give me a swift clout round the ear’ole too! I can’t say she was mean or nasty but some days she was understandably cranky and I never knew how she would be with me whenever we would go to help Gran Fozzard in the shop.

My favourite memory of her is being able to pull her apron strings and run away or hide under the large kitchen table. One day I innocently asked where the little old lady had gone, only to be met with tears from Mum and Gran alike as she had recently died.

My Granddad was a large man who fried fish in giant stainless steel boxes called the ‘pans’ and he would always wear a white nylon jacket and a white trilby hat. He seemed to know everyone who came into the shop and was always busy cooking or filleting the fish that he would swish in a bowl of batter then drop into the pans to a loud sizzling sound. He had a distinctive swish of a long handled see through (wire) shovel and would bring out a pile of hot chips, one of which he would nip between finger and thumb to see if they were done. Then he’d dump them in a glass fronted tray in front of Gran who would start to serve the customers with their ‘one of each’.

Granddad had a large, tall, round tub in the back yard that he would fill up with potatoes and switch it on to make a loud rumbling noise. At the bottom there was a chute and after a few minuets he would open a slide and catch some miraculously cleaned potatoes in a large white plastic bucket. The ‘rumbler’ was in the back kitchen but the back yard was a playground fit for a king. It was long and overgrown in places with a run down chicken coup near the bottom. A clothesline ran diagonally across the one small patch of grass and high thorn hedges ran on three sides to hem the yard in. When it was sunny the place was hot and good for sunbathing but being three or four there wasn’t time to lie down and do nothing! My cousins would also come into the yard and we would race each other up and down the flagstone walkway.

In the kitchen Granddad would fillet the fish by hand – a smelly job in a morning and I always remember the fish being delivered in white plastic trays either covered in white ice or grease proof paper. The ‘tatties’ always came in brown paper sacks which were twisted at the top with a wire closure with two neat loops sticking up like little rabbit ears. They were really heavy too at a catch weight of 8 stone (or 50 Kg nowadays) but I can’t remember where they were kept.

After Granddad had a heart attack my Gran did all the cooking and mum had to help out more. This was soon too much for Gran and they sold the fisheries in the mid-seventies to move into a bungalow just round the corner from us in Downland Crescent.

It’s a long time ago now but I can vaguely remember other families moving into the new houses that were being built further and further away from our house. The new next door neighbours were called Sandra and Allen Cooper and they are still to this day really good friends of the family. On first meeting us as a family though Allan upset mum by giving me and my new brother nicknames - Nidge and Codge - even though we were given names that couldn’t be shortened – Nigel and Colin.

The one good friend that I remember really well was Mark Campbell who lived a few doors down the avenue. We spent most of the time playing out in the many old limestone quarries that surrounded the new housing estate, most of which have now been filled in and built upon. The main quarry was directly in front of No. 73, as our house was now known, and access was almost easy as there was a good ten-foot drop down into it straight opposite our driveway.

A small hawthorn bush had started to grow in the wall of this quarry and before long it was big enough to climb around its roots and trunk to get down into the quarry floor. The walls were good places to climb as the local limestone is extremely soft and is ‘stratified’ In other words it is layered but is easily cleaved and dug out to form tiny platforms or steps to climb up. Many hours were spent forming handhold’s and pulling out the horrible stinging nettles that seemed to grow back every week.

At the top of the quarry a narrow strip of land separated the road from a deep drop of about twenty feet near the top of the avenue. It was always overgrown but never fenced off; there was just a drop! In the corner of the deepest part of the quarry was our hardest climbing area and also the scariest as the sun didn’t shine down there and it was dank and damp. But the bloody nettles always grew and it wasn’t a good place to be after dark.

Nigel Huby

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