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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories




The garage on the Great North Road was owned by Mr. George Walton and his brothers Sammy and Ernest. They started two bus services; one between Brotherton and Pontefract and the other between Brotherton and Sherburn. Sometimes, with my mother’s permission, I would ride in the cab with the driver.

I remember going to the garage one dark night, along with Edgar Hewitt, when into the garage came one of the drivers going to have his snap. Edgar and I climbed onto the bus to talk to him whilst he was eating. When he had finished eating he sat back, pulled out his pipe and lit it. He gave Edgar and me an old pipe each, filled them up and we all sat around smoking; soon you couldn’t see for smoke. When it was time for the driver to begin working Edgar and I tried to get up but we couldn’t walk properly and when we got out side the bus we were both violently sick. The driver thought it was hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing.

Dad was an ambulance man at Fryston colliery and on Sunday mornings he would use our front room to teach young miners First Aid. Frank and I were used as the ‘victims’ for them to practice their skills on.

It was Christmas, when I left school at the age of 14. My dad got me a job at Fryston Pit, working on the pit top. My first days work was on the afternoon shift, working from 2pm until 10pm. On that first day we were also moving home into Foxcliffe, which were new houses. Foxcliffe was built in 1932-33 and we were the first family in No 10; the rent was 5s2d per week.

When I had finished the shift I went to the pit baths, got washed and put on my clean clothes and set off for home. It was a very cold and dark night and I had to walk around the pit stacks, through the timber yard, along the side of the railway and up to the River, over the railway-bridge and down the other side. I was walking along the riverbank when I heard a loud splash in the river, which really scared me. I panicked and set off running. It was pitch black but I didn’t stop until I caught up with two miners who were also walking back to Brotherton and I followed on behind them until I reached Foxcliffe via Gaul Street and Saddler’s Lane.

On the day shift, I used to get up at 4am and walk to work with our next door neighbour, Mr. Townsley, who worked on the coalface. We usually left home at about 4.30am and we would meet his mate on the way. Occasionally they would give me half a cigarette to smoke - I enjoyed that.

I later got a job, working on the screens with Jesse Woodall, who could have been in his seventies. We would set off to work at 4.30am going down Cut Lane, over the ‘stacks’ and onto the pit. On these stacks were slurry ponds which were very dangerous soft ground. One day a miner was seen setting off back to Brotherton, but he didn’t arrive home and his body was never found. It was assumed that he had lost his way or had taken a short cut across the stacks and had fallen into a slurry pond and drowned.

I left Fryston Colliery in 1938 when I was 19 to work at Knottingley Lime Company, on Womersley Road, Knottingley. It was hard work; I drilled the holes for blasting. The wages were not very good because when the weather was bad we couldn’t work and we would spend long hours in the snap cabin and wouldn’t be paid. To make up our wages we would have to work Saturdays and Sundays. I worked there until 1942, when I left to have my kidney removed.

I had my kidney taken out by Mr. Robson at Pontefract Infirmary. He later left the Hospital to become a dentist in Ropergate, Pontefract. I was 24. After I’d had the kidney out, Mr. Bastow of Low Street Brotherton, who worked at the Pontefract Labour Exchange, advised me not to go back working in the quarry and got me a ‘green card’. This was a recommendation for a job. I took this to the Humber Works, Ferrybridge Road, Pontefract (where the Limetrees estate now stands) and got a job as a ‘fin grinder’ on aircraft engine cylinders. I did this for six months and then went ‘valve seat grinding’. I worked there until the war ended in 1945. I met Irene May Jones, my future wife there.

Later, I went for a job at the Copper works, in Hunslet, Leeds, but I couldn’t get any work because I only had one kidney. But I did get a job at Lightowler’s Engineering works, on the old A1 in Ferrybridge, working as surface grinder. I worked there from 1945 to 1947.

I then got a job at the John Rostron’s paper mills in Selby, working as a planer. One day whilst working in the machine shop, I got my ring caught in the metal. My hand was being pulled into the cutting edge, but fortunately, I managed to break the ring otherwise I may have lost some fingers or even my hand.

My workmates at Rostron’s were Bill Spencer of Tanshelf, Pontefract; Harry Hirst who was from Thorpe Willoughby; Arthur Hedley from Howden, a fitter; and Tommy Jones who was the headman in the tool room. Apprentices were Charlie Millar and Phil Hazell of Castleford. Phil used to bring me home on his motorbike. I later got a Francis Barnet 125 motorbike. Alan Burns from Balby was the charge-hand, Luke Shields was the Engineer, and Mr. Powell was the Managing Director.

Bob Staniforth, Bill Melbourne, and other drivers of Wilby`s Coal Merchants, would wait at the main gate to take the Pontefract and Brough men back home charging them a shilling (5p) for the ride. When Mrs Staniforth found out that Bob was charging me, she played hell and made him do it for nothing. I left Rostron`s in 1966 and started work for Precision Engineers on Southgate, Pontefract, where I worked until I retired aged 63 at Christmas 1983.


Mr. Bullock was the Landlord of the Ship Inn (date unknown) and after his death Mrs Bullock had a shop on Main Street at the bottom of Nancy Taylor Yard. She was known as ‘Nana Bullock’. She also owned an Airedale terrier.

Ben Moon was the landlord of the Old Fox when it was demolished and rebuilt. He also worked at Fryston Pit, working on the winding system, lowering men and materials to the pit bottom and hauling men and coal back up again. He was a smallish chap and a bit overweight.

John Richard Vause lived in a large house at the top of the entry to Manor Farm. When I was young it seemed as if he had a bit of money. He would ride around the village on a hunter type horse. He was a stiffish fellow with a round red face. He would wear polished leather wraps around his calves. He kept a horse in a field next to the ‘folly’, near to where it meets the old A1. On one side was the garage and on the other was a disused quarry where the Bridgland’s lived. At the bottom of the slope which led to their house, was a five bar gate which led into the field. This field stretched down to the railway.

Alfred Vause, (Scratcher) lived opposite Brotherton Hall near to the church on top of a hill, on the left hand side going along the ‘Nunnery’. He had a son who also had the nickname of ‘Scratcher’.

Louis Vause had a farm adjacent to the north side of Ship Yard. I would play in this yard with Louis’s kids. He used to thresh corn in the yard. There was also barns and an old mill in Nancy Taylor Yard, plus stables which backed onto Ship Yard (the mill was derelict at this time and was possibly an old steam mill). Louis was a well made big bloke of about 16 stones.

Young Vause lived in Pasture Lane with his kids, Irvin and Rene. They also moved to Foxcliffe when it was first built. Irvin later joined the Police force. When I was about 16 years old I would cut Young Vause’s hair. He gave me an old cutthroat razor, which had an ivory handle.

Harry Vause lived in the top farm in Brotherton as you go towards Fairburn, just above where Belmont now stands. He had land between these two villages. I would help him to bring in the corn crop. They would use four horses to pull the loaded wagons up the slope to the main road, near to the Bay Horse Inn in Fairburn. They would remove the first two horses, which would be taken back for the next load whilst the remaining two horses pulled the loaded wagons back to Brotherton.

When the wagons reached the farmyard the straw/corn would be ‘forked’ onto the thresher, which would split the corn from the stalks. The straw would be full of rats and mice, which all the kids and dogs would try to kill. Harry had a dog that had an accident with a threshing machine and lost part of a leg.

Ben Wales lived in the middle house of the three at the top of Nancy Taylor Yard. His wife was called Lucy Minerva. Ben was a smallish, fattish block, but also a nice chap. He often took a Clydesdale horse into the yard. His children were Doris and Irvin.

There used to be a well down Pasture Lane near to the ‘Cut’ and George and Billy Hartley would carry water from the well into the yard for the folks who lived there; their reward would be a few coppers.

We lived in the end house of three, which still stand at the top of Nancy Taylor Yard. Next door lived Mr. Ben Wales, his wife Lucy, daughter Doris and son Irwin. When Mr. Wales had a septic arm, my Dad would bathe the arm regularly for him, helping to save it from being amputated. Immediately in front of the Wales back door was a dry midden, a bit too near I thought. Around the other side, about four feet from the ground was a doorway without a door. When we were kids it was a bit unfortunate if, whilst playing football in the yard, the ball happened to go into the midden. Somebody had to go into get it back!

We had some happy hours down the yard kicking anything about. If we didn’t have a football we would kick an empty salmon tin around. Our shoes would have holes in the bottom that let water in and no toe-caps. It must have been hard on our mothers keeping up with shoe leather. My Mother used to buy leather from old Tom Schorah’s shop and resole the shoes herself. We used to play for hours with spinning tops and whips. We’d put different coloured chalk on the top to make lovely designs. Girls and boys would play together. We never got bored. On other occasions we’d play with a hoop, we used to call them ‘bowl and hook’.

We would run down the yard, along the street, up Gauk Street to the main road (the old A1), turn left and then back to Nancy Taylor Yard. Sometimes we would have a race with two kids running in opposite directions. The first one back was the winner. If we had an accident with the hoop the blacksmith would join it back together or if the hook was worn through he would repair it in a couple of minutes.

The Blacksmiths shop was at the top of Gauk Street, and it belonged to Mr. John Bromley. We used to watch him put iron rings on cartwheels. The rims would be put on red hot, then doused with cold water. The rim would shrink onto the wooden wheels and make a permanent fit. The wooden cartwheels were made by Mr. Horace Sharp, the joiner, in his shop down Gauk Street. Next to this shop was a hardware shop owned by Mr. Bill Lee. Sometimes I would be sent to fetch a bucket of ‘slacked lime’ for my Mother to whiten the cellar and toilet walls.

In the first house down the yard lived Old Billy Hartley with his wife Eliza and sons George, Billy and Albert. All three sons were a little bit ‘slow’. George and Billy went into an Institution, but Albert worked for Ben Wales, the coal merchant, at his yard in School Croft. (This Mr. Wales was no relation to the Mr. Wales who lived next door to us). When the kids were playing football, Albert would stand behind the goalposts and chase after the ball whenever it went past; he would end up soaked in sweat.

On fine days when we would be playing in the yard, George Hartley would be sat on a wooden stool on the other side of the main road. If a steam engine, a big lorry or if some gypsies were coming down the road, he would start shouting and creating and all the kids in the yard would run to the top to have a look to see what he was shouting about. Mrs Hartley would send me on an errand to ‘Nana’ Bullocks shop and when I got back she would give me a thick slice of jam and bread. Next door to the Hartley’s lived an old woman named Mrs. Sallise and her lodger Harry Rigby and then there was Mr. Billy Bellamy, his wife and family. I cannot remember the names of their children.

Then there were Mr. and Mrs Steels with their sons Alfred, Jimmy, Cyril and Dennis, and daughters Dorothy, Minnie and Maud. Next door was Mr. Nicholas Hargraves and his wife Barbara with their daughters Elizabeth, Hilda and Mildred. Then came Mr. and Mrs Kellet with their children John, Alfred, Ernest, Carrie and Caroline, who married Emanuel (Manny) Hunter. They had a shop opposite the ‘The Ship’ Next door to them lived Mr. Sammy and Mrs Charlotte Hargreaves and their children, Sammy and Cliff.

After them came Mr. Horton (Lark Horton) and his wife and children Elizabeth, Jack, Frank, Albert and George. They brought up Frankie Baker as their own son. Albert and George served with the British Army on the North West Frontier of India. At the corner of the yard lived another Mr. Kellet and his children, Joe, Stan, Wilson and Mary. Norris Kay and Miss Kay, who were schoolteachers, also lived in the yard.

As we move further down and around the bend towards the street, in the first house lived Mr. Late Wright with his wife. In the following three houses lived Mr. and Mrs Hodgeson and their son. Then Mr. and Mrs Harold Hewitt with their children Ernest, Edgar, Bessie and Annis. Then Mr. and Mrs Greenwood with sons Fred, Jack, Walter and Arthur and daughters Edith, Sarah, Hilda, Dorothy and a younger sister who’s name I have forgotten.

Ben Terry had the Post Office at the bottom end of the Yard where it met Main Street.

Jackson`s Yard was further along Main Street towards Fairburn from Nancy Taylor Yard, on the left-hand side. The top house was occupied by Tom and Emma Milner (my grandparents), the middle house by Mr. Jack Robson and his family and in the third house lived the Flaraty’s. At the bottom of the yard lived Billy Grace, who had a cock Skylark in a small wooden cage. It would sing its heart out in the springtime. Old Billy Kenyon also lived in Jackson’s yard. He only had one arm - the other had been lost in a shunting accident at Fryston pit.

When the Second World War broke out, the call went out for able-bodied men. I tried to get into all three services but because of the problems I was having with my kidney, they wouldn’t take me. As one doctor said to me "we need men but we’re not desperate", so I had to settle for being a first-aider working on the home front. At the beginning of the war, a searchlight battery was put in the field on the left-hand side of Dish Hill just along from the Fox. One night I was coming home with my mates when the guards stopped us and asked for our ID cards, but I didn’t have mine with me and had quite a job convincing them I wasn’t an enemy spy.

One foggy day I was late for work and set off head down peddling like mad. Unfortunately for me, the MO was visiting the Searchlight Battery and had left his jeep on the road. I didn’t see the jeep and ran into it. I ended up in the back with a bad cut to my eyebrow and a crumpled bike. The MO took me to their base in Jackson’s glassworks in Knottingley, where he put some stitches into my eyebrow and a bandage around my head.

The following day, the 13th October 1940, my dad died of lung cancer; the years of smoking and the dust in the pit had taken its toll; he was only 55. My brother Frank was in Withernsea with his Regiment. On the day I’d had my accident with the jeep, he’d had a boil on his neck lanced and had a bandage around his neck. On the day of Dad’s funeral, my Mother, Frank and I, all walked behind the hearse, but not before I took my bandage off as I didn’t want folk to think that Frank and I had been in the ‘Wars’.

We also had an Army sergeant ‘billeted’ on us and when he found out I could cut hair, he would take me along to either the Coach Road or into Byram to cut the soldiers hair. I earned a lot of my beer money that way.

One day our Frank was on a convoy passing through Brotherton on it’s way to Doncaster. He arranged with a sergeant, so that he could jump off and meet up with the convoy later. We both went for a night out at the Fox and got a little bit worse for wear. When we arrived home, Frank began showing off, doing the drills with his rifle. I tried to take the gun off him but unfortunately there was a bullet up the spout and whilst we were wrestling the gun went off. The bullet went up through the first floor and into the attic. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but we never did find the bullet and how our Frank covered up the loss of a round of ammunition I don’t know. So in No. 10 Foxcliffe, there is a 303 bullet lodged somewhere in the roof!

Another night my friends and I were coming home late and when we neared the Fox, we met Bill Webster armed with a shotgun. He was adamant that a parachutist had landed in the football field, which was in the triangle between Saddles Lane, the railway and Foxcliffe. We all had a good look but couldn’t find anything. The old school house in the churchyard was hit during a raid on Ferrybridge Power Station and bombs also dropped in the river and in Byram Park.

Robert Milner

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