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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories




Kath Spence has told me I must send you some of my memories of life in Knottingley as I remember it and your article on the history of the Green House Fields and the Cenotaph’s in Knottingley and Ferrybridge were so good and contain such important facts about community life and sacrificial living which should be handed down that I feel pushed into action and enclose two pieces I have written which you may or may not find of interest.

In fact we must congratulate you on so many fascinating pieces in each issue, many of which kick ageing memory into gear with surprising results. The articles on Aire Street by Maurice Haigh and Louie Hayes, the story of the ‘K’ Sisters, the articles on the Feast and others - all brought back memories of so many families who became part of our extended family that it is sometimes difficult to draw a distinction between relative and friend and neighbour. I am glad to say that we are still in touch with quite a few folk from the ‘old town’, and that St. Botolph’s together with ‘Knottler’ and its people will always remain a very important part of our particular story.

I would also add that as the photograph on the inside cover of Issue 15 was taken only a few days before my 3rd birthday, I have no recollection as to why we were standing outside ‘uncle’ Jimmy Hollingworth’s shop. I can only presume that with it being Christmas he must have again provided one of his special window displays, and some record was being made of it. This unfortunately doesn’t explain why we were looking at the camera and not at the windows so I’m open to suggestions. Besides Mary, her sister Betty (now in St. Albans) and myself, can anyone else remember Jimmy having said he was a window dresser at Harrods before coming to Knottingley? We still have a mantlepiece clock and a wall plate that ‘Auntie’ Ida (Jimmy’s wife) gave to us after he died. One other thing I remember from the photograph, and that is the fact that dad’s trousers record it being taken in the days when both he and my wife Mary’s Dad (Billy Haikings) were travelling around the countryside in their horse drawn vehicles with their produce and wares.

One memorable accident in Aire Street involved May Spiers. One day while cleaning the inside of the big plate glass window of their newsagent’s shop, she slipped on the steps and fell through onto the pavement. Fortunately she was given the right treatment and survived. Both Alfie and his wife (nee Wray?) were lovely people and it was always a delight to go for a paper. Her accident revives memories of my grandmother, Mary Hannah, whose own mother had once owned the Spiers property where she made and sold sweets. One day, standing in front of an open fire stirring a pan, her long skirt caught alight and she ran into Aire Street with her clothes on fire. She didn’t survive. Somehow, Aire Street, my family, sweets, vehicles, and accidents, seem to go together. Early in the war it soon became a great treat to be given sweet coupons and a few pennies. On one memorable occasion I was given mine and immediately ran out of our shop door straight across the narrow street to Lyons sweet shop immediately opposite. Whether it was the long wartime queue outside our shop restricting my view or my own carelessness and lack of thought, I never saw the funeral cortege travelling up from Marsh End to St. Botolph’s and ran into the front of the hearse. Fortunately it was in the days when such processions travelled very slowly and people stood still as a mark of respect, so there were plenty of folk around to witness my stupidity and carry me inside. Apart from some bruising and a slightly dented chest, there was no damage that Dr. Kehelly said wouldn’t soon heal. He was right, but I think the sweet shop was out of bounds for some considerable time.

Other memories, too many to mention, have been stirred by your articles over the months. At the moment Andrew Bell’s story of his Dad Les, having been saved by the Prince of Wales when he was conscripted as a Bevin Boy, reminds me that my dad was also conscripted for duties at the same colliery. By then dad was 38 and I remember how he would come back from his shift, go to the wholesalers in Pontefract or Castleford, or Leeds, or to some outlying farm to buy the fruit and veg, fish, poultry, game, eggs and flowers, or whatever was needed – and available – in the way of stock for the business. Only when he had finished his shop work would he have a rest before once again setting off for the colliery. Needless to say my sisters and I were sometimes called on to do what we could to help, but it was mum who carried the main of the work and I always remember that no matter the job or how tired she was she was always smiling and singing. And in the days of extended families, ours was indeed extended for as Louie Hayes recalled in her reminiscences, not only did our household include grandma, mum, dad, me and my two sisters, but also grandma’s eccentric brother Jack Shaw and dad’s brother Charlie, who worked at the Malt Kiln in Ferrybridge where another brother, Albert, was in charge.

Another memory stirred by Andrew and the connection his parents had with Scouting, reminds me that in 1954 Fred Fozzard (a coal merchant on Primrose Hill and very involved with Christ Church and St. Botolph’s) approached me about helping him reform the 1st Knottingley Scout Group. To cut a long story short I did, by becoming Scoutmaster. Fred was Group Leader, Arthur Ridge and Cliff Walker were Assistant Leaders and Marion Beaumont (who married Nelson Wright) became the Cub Scout Leader with Valerie McLeod, Molly King and Marjorie Nunns as her Assistant Leaders. Fortunately, we had a wonderful team of parent supporters and the Group soon took off to become a large and active Scout Troop with a good number of Rover Scouts and two Cub Packs. However, of all the folk involved in the re-formation, Fred was the driving force, with Mr. Bob Jackson who lived in the big house opposite the Cenotaph and who had been a scout leader in the 1920s/1930s giving good advice, and with Campbell Adamson, the District Commissioner giving strong support. All this was in the days when there was a thriving Youth Club and active Drama Group at St. Botolph’s. In fact Mary and I got married in one of the plays, ‘Tobias and the Angel’, and thought it such a good idea we did it for real in St. Botolph’s in 1959. It gives us a lot of pleasure to say that some of those involved in those church activities are still active members of St. Botolph’s and remain good friends.

They may remember how Fred and Campbell, myself and Michael Shaw (one of the first scouts whose parents and brother lived on Sunny Bank) all went into full-time Ministry in the Church and I was actually Ordained in St. Botolph’s by Eric Treacy, the Bishop of Pontefract, on 26th April, 1966. We then lived at Lamb Inn Road when our two eldest boys went to the Church School and I had the privilege of serving the Parish as Curate of St. Botolph’s with Christ Church until March 1968.

Of all the time I spent in Knottingley growing up in Aire Street surrounded by so many resilient and remarkable families either living ‘over the shop’, or in Kings Houses, East Parade, and down the many yards leading from the street, my time as Curate was the time when I began to discover the real character and community spirit that made ‘Knottler’ a place set apart. Over the years since we left it has changed. Perhaps with hindsight Aire Street might have become another conservation area to boast of. But change is part of life’s progress in which that seed of what is good and what is lasting does get carried along into and through succeeding generations until somewhere, sometime, it does bear fruit – as The Digest would seem to show in its articles and letters.

At this point I must thank you, Maurice and Louie (who I remember being much younger than they must be now – Louie’s sister, Elsie, was more my age) and Andrew Bell, Dr. Terry Spencer, and others, for stirring up memories now getting a little dim. Joyce (Lightowler) Bell was always a delight to see in the Habro and at the Town Hall dances when she and Olive Stanworth and so many others were such fun company – and I wonder, have I missed mention of Joan Barker, Molly Ellis, John Glasby and Jenny Schofield who were all ‘big names’ in the days of Marjorie and Pamela Kellett who, along with their mum Elizabeth, were among the leading characters of the entertainment scene. Perhaps my eyesight is worse than I thought! And of other names I recall of families in the ‘street area’, did I see Wallace, Benton, Bunting, Bierley, Kemp, Nunns?

Finally, and I do mean finally, thanks for the mention in issue 15 of Ambrose and Tom Askin (mums brothers) who both lived on the other side of Shepherd’s Bridge where their mother Nettie (Ellen – my grandma) had two adjoining shops, one a grocers and the other a fish and chip shop. While some of the Askin, Burden and Horton families must still be around, of the 40 or so immediate family members living in the area pre mid 1960, of the Askins on my mums side of the family, only my cousins Ellen Mowbray is still in the area, and of the Doubtfires on my dad’s side, only my sister Olga Cockroft and cousin Doris Gilligan (nee Spence – Uncle Charlie Spence and Aunt Emma (dads sister) had the Poplars smallholding on Womersley Road next to the cemetery) remain in the district. All the others like the Fairground relatives and the Haiking’s and Townley’s (Primrose Hill) are either no longer around or are scattered afar. What a salutary thought – I must stop! but with the hope that my complicated writings might make sense to any with long memories, and may be of some use to Maurice when he’s working on his excellent contributions.

Sam and Mary Doubtfire

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