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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF KNOTTINGLEY


SUE GILSON

Reading other people’s accounts in The Digest of their memories of life in Knottingley has prompted me to put some of my own recollections on paper.

My childhood was spent in Knottingley in the 1950s, more than half a lifetime ago, but some memories are still as fresh as if they happened yesterday. I do admit, though, that my memory may not be as good as I think it is, so apologies to anyone who remembers things differently.

One of my earliest memories is the weekly walk with my mother ‘down Aire Street’. We always called it going ‘down Aire Street’. We would set off from home on the England Lane Estate and go under the railway bridge off Spawd Bone Lane into The Greenhouse. Just as you came out from under the bridge the road divided and my mother would take the ‘low road’ while I ran along the ‘high road’. This was just a track going up and down what were, to my little legs, hills but were hardly more than mounds of earth, however they did have marvellous old trees for climbing. I would meet up with my mother again where the paths came together near the ‘baby swings’.

We emerged from The Greenhouse at the gates into Glebe Lane, after perhaps stopping at the water fountain for a quick drink when more water went down the front of my clothes than in my mouth. We then crossed Hill Top near the bridge over the canal. It was always ‘Look Right, Look Left, Look Right again, and if all clear Quick March’, even though by today’s standards there was hardly any traffic about. If the wind was in the right direction we could smell the malt from the brewery up the road opposite the Co-op.

We might call at the library which at that time was at the corner of Hill Top and Bridge Lane. The library later moved to a building opposite St Botolph’s church on Chapel Street. The children’s section was upstairs and the adult’s downstairs. I remember how grown up I felt when I got my first book from the shelves downstairs. I think it was Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, but that was way into my future.

Continuing down Chapel Street we passed the pawn shop and the butchers and then turned down Aire Street. I cannot remember the shops at the top of Aire Street apart from one selling wool, but then it was down the hill to Carver’s. I seem to recall this was a shoe shop but might also have been a Post Office and sold bicycles as well!

We might call in to see my uncle who lived at the back of Aire Street and I remember he still had gas mantles for light. Then going past Spires paper shop we might call in Doubtfires for some fresh fish then – The Habro. Is there a child of the fifties in Knottingley who did not press their nose against the window of this wonderful shop and, if lucky, got a treat of a colouring book, jigsaw or small doll or toy car?

Then onwards to Backhouse’s, bakers of probably the best apple pies in the world. I recall a few years later a coffee bar opened a bit further down the street. This had the first juke box I had ever seen and I would always select a Lonnie Donnegan record to listen to while we rested in preparation for the next part of our journey.

Suitably refreshed we would continue to the turning into Cow Lane although we might detour to the pictures, the Palace, to see what was showing that week. The first film I remember seeing was Disney’s cartoon of Cinderella, and before the performance we might called at a little shop, I think called Dickinson’s, for a box of Neapolitan chocolates, just the right size for little fingers.

Over Cow Lane bridge we went, with a nervous glance at the doctors’ surgery in Ash Grove, recalling memories of a fierce looking, but actually very friendly Dr Kehelly . Then up Racca Green where the only shop I can clearly remember was Robinson’s shoe shop. This was also a Post office so there must have been some sort of connection between shoe shops and Post Offices in those days! I did not understand at that time why Robinson’s shoe shop was run by Mr. Cowling but I was told later that it was his wife’s father’s shop originally.

Opposite the top of Racca Green was the Club. Every year we had a day trip to the seaside, usually to Bridlington or Scarborough, but I think there were odd journeys to Blackpool as well. We also had Christmas parties there and one of my recollections is of a man impersonating Al Jolsen and singing ‘I’m looking over a four-leafed clover’. It would be very politically incorrect these days.

Further up we would cross the road near Bagley’s Glassworks. (Years later I worked two weeks of my school holidays in Jackson’s factory on Headlands Lane packing milk bottles onto palettes, and thought it very hard work.) There was a little sweet shop at the end of a row of terraced houses on Weeland Road, Shepherdson’s I think, where my treat would be a bag of jelly babies. One time I found a large piece of glass in the bag and we showed it to the shopkeeper. We did not actually complain because you just did not in those days, but on my birthday, which was a few weeks later, I received a huge box of jelly babies from the manufacturer.

We would continue up Weeland Road and into Spawd Bone Lane near Morley Avenue where there were a few shops, one of which was the cobbler. You could watch him through the window mending shoes and my mother often used the saying, when giving us something ‘That’s what the cobbler threw at his wife – the last!’

Then it was over the level crossing on England Lane, or if the gates were shut we walked over the bridge. Later when I was with friends rather than my mother we would stand on the bridge and wait for the train to come, then we would stand in the smoke as the train went by beneath us, because of course they were steam trains.

We would walk on up Spawd Bone Lane but to the left we would see England Lane Junior Mixed and Infants School, which I would later attend. I can remember at the age of eight or nine being frequently asked by the Headmistress, Miss Greenwood, to go to Mowbray’s Post Office on The Ridgeway to get stamps for her. This was during class time and that, plus the safety issues, would surely be frowned upon these days. I also remember we were taken into Miss Greenwood’s office in small groups to be shown how to use the telephone which very few people had in their own homes. Who would have thought back then that almost every child in every school would have their own mobile phone one day?

On the wall behind Miss Greenwood’s desk was a picture of old Aire Street which I loved to look at and try to identify which buildings were still there. We sometimes walked from school in crocodile formation down Aire Street and looked at the dove cote, or were told about the history of the buildings. I think this must have given me a strong feeling of identity with my home town, and perhaps this is why I still have great affection for the old Knottingley and mourn the passing of this wonderful street.

Later I went to Pontefract and District Girls’ High School, now New College, and one of the projects I undertook was about the industries of Knottingley and Ferrybridge. A friend and I chose Harker’s Shipyard, the Tar Works, Shaw’s Iron Foundry, Brown’s Pottery and Jackson’s Glassworks, all thriving businesses in those days and some at least have survived although in a different form. We spent some time in each place and I remember in the pottery watching a man blow blue paint onto the very distinctive blue and white striped crockery they produced. The man’s cheeks puffed out so much they were almost translucent and when he stopped blowing the folds of his skin hung loosely on his face. At the iron foundry we stood in intense heat watching molten metal being poured into moulds. I wonder what the Health and Safety Executive would have made of that!

But to return to my childhood, my mother and I would continue up Spawd Bone Lane turn into Northfield Road then Westfield Avenue and then through the snicket and home. A long round trip for a child but now packed full of memories of a time now gone.

So many changes have taken place in Knottingley, and in our way of life in the last fifty years. It would be such a shame to lose sight of the history and the way things were. I welcome The Digest as a superb way of keeping the history alive and the most surprising thing of all to me is that I am part of that history but I do not feel that old!

Sue Gilson
November 2003

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