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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories





We all thought from the start that Mr. Wilfred ‘Chad’ Radley was very formidable. Clearly he was new and the first thing you are taught as a teacher is start as you mean to go on. It is possible to relax on discipline but difficult to tighten up on it. He lived by that rule and on our first morning as fresh new juniors we were made to tremble, and I guess every one of us wished they were back in the tender clutches of Miss Wake at Chapel Street School.

Morning assembly was even more formal at Weeland Road. A bible reading, a prayer, a hymn of which Onward Christian Soldiers featured regularly. This was followed by the head masters morning address to the whole school. His mood changed from day to day depending on whether there was a problem or not. Such issues usually meant misbehaviour and it was not uncommon for the culprits to be brought in front of the whole school for punishment. This usually resulted in a front of school caning and as the parable goes, the rod was certainly never spared.

Once again on a sunny September morning I found myself in a strange new environment. I recall things were not as bad as three years previously. The majority of the class was still together; the others had gone to the new school and its indoor toilets. I already had one older friend at Weeland Road, his name was Leonard and he immediately took me under his wing, at least he did on that first morning. I learned in later years that it was not accepted protocol for older boys to be too friendly with the new juniors. Len and I were great pals out of school but it did not serve his image to associate in the playground with those who were younger than himself - cricket and football being the only exceptions to this schoolyard rule. I recall being shown around by him and feeling very grown up because I had a friend who was an older boy.

Miss Cherry was our new teacher and unlike the brief encounter that we had with Mr. Treadgold, I can only ever remember her smiling once at her class. She was strict on discipline; she did not allow talking in class or discussion unless it was in the free expression sessions and then only quietly. Her manner commanded obedience and eventually our greatest respect, although I think that came very much later as it always does with school children. Rarely do we ever think why our teachers in those days needed to be so detached, but as we so can frequently be heard to say now…"It did not do us any harm at the time".

For the first time we started to do real lessons, as we called them. Arithmetic replaced sums, English, and my all time favourites, history and geography of which I was passionate. The boys did art - the girls did needlecraft. For the first time, I learned that our ancestors, the ancient Britons lived in caves and dressed in animal skins. That had never occurred to me before; I thought that we had always lived in houses. School children of that age are so timeless, don’t you agree?

We also read more. The majority of us devoured every book in sight. Some we read twice, simply because we enjoyed them. Miss Cherry read to us, to describe the meaning of words, she told us short stories…"On Sunday, I went for a walk, it was an ambling walk." Why I should remember that one word and phrase I do not know but it stuck in my mind. She gave us a good grounding in English and English Literature and by the end of the first year we knew the simple outline of many classics stories that in my case have remained with me to this day.

They are now starting to call that period from 1945 to 1955 The Lost Decade, whether that is the correct term by which it should be known only time will decide. It was a period of transition because most of the accepted values were still pre-war. The majority of teachers trained before the war, and most of the senior male staff had served in the war. Those who were new out of teacher training college had been trained in the style of teaching that belonged to pre conflict era, one of strict formality. The classrooms were old and smelled of previous generations of pupils. It is impossible to reproduce that smell in the modern schools of today but it is one that most of us will never forget.

The old Victorian schools like Weeland Road were dark and gloomy and it was impossible to see through the windows. If we chanced a sneaky look up from our books we took the risk of being caught and punished. If we did and were successful all that we were able to see was Bagley’s smoking chimneys. We had central heating that was coke fired hence the enormous stack of fuel in the playground, which we were not allowed to climb or use as missiles. Several times a day Mr. Dawson the school caretaker came through the door, no knock, no excuse he just came in with his bucket and stoked up the fires. There would be some crackling and spitting and if the day was wet, great clouds of steam filled the room with an acrid yellow sulphurous stench. "Good for the lungs", old Mr. Dawson would tell us as we coughed, "Clears the tubes". We were told that he had lost an eye serving in the First World War. This made him a hero to us youngsters.

I know now that there is nothing wrong with these old methods and the way by which we were taught. This was a time of pre Beatles and the Bob Dylan - Jean Baez’ songs of freedom and the Vietnam protests, we did not have a young attractive blond haired teacher, fresh out of college strumming her guitar whilst we sang along. We had traditional songs, Early One Morning, Barbara Allen and the British Grenadiers. We enjoyed them, but how I wish now we had sung Strawberry Fields or Blowing in the Wind to a guitar accompaniment of a delicious blond.

Somehow I could not see Mr. Hargreaves strumming a guitar or Mr. Whitehead playing I am the Walrus on the piano. That song in particular would have been most inappropriate because of John Lennon’s unsubtle words, but it would have amused us, as it eventually did in the 1960’s. Instead we had the school percussion band and we made one hell of a racket. Our pianist was Mr. Whitehead a portly stiff man for his young age and a very good piano player. He made our Gilbert and Sullivan rendition of Behold the Lord High Executioner and Dance a Cachucha sound very robust and extremely professional. We were proud of our performance and I am sure it cultured a sense in music that influenced a whole generation because eventually our era was to hit the 60’s - bang on!

I think I first noticed the changes when names such as Lita Rosa, Dennis Lotis, Ronnie Carol, Dicky Valentine, and someone called Elvis Presley started to be talked about in the schoolyard. Our own young Jimmy started to sing these songs and shake his hips, which I could never see my father doing when he sang in the Knottingley Male Voice Choir, which incidentally was also conducted by Mr. Hargreaves. But that’s another story.

Into this turbulent scene came Tommy Steele, Bill Haley and Lonnie Donegan. The songs in the National Songbook would never sound the same again and neither would our school lives and those of others. By 1957 it was time to leave Weeland Road and the course of our impending teenage lives would be etched in stone forever. We were not the part of the Lost Decade anymore and didn’t our parents know it? We did in fact play our part in preparation for the decade to come when suddenly on 01.01.60 everything changed.

Now back to school matters.

Chad, for that was Mr. Radley’s nickname, burst into our classroom one rainy morning brandishing a cane and looking furious as he glanced around the room. "Come out you", he called, eyeing his victim across the room. Everyone looked alarmed and in the direction of this notorious class member, someone whom we all respected but feared. He was the archetypal rebel, destined one day to become the Cock of the School, a title that was not earned easily. Basically this meant that he was the best fighter. "Come out", Chad called again as he slapped the stick, as we always called, it into the palm of the opposite hand, proceeding to then bend it almost double with both hands. Hey up we all thought, something’s wrong here, this could be good. Everyone was trembling in silent anticipation at the drama that was evolving before their eyes.

"Come out!", he called again, totally ignoring our teacher Miss Joan "Betty" Davies who must have been as alarmed as we were. Slowly he stood up and advanced in the direction of the headmaster. "Hold out your hand, you know why don’t you?" Thwack! the cane descended and connected. "Now the other". The cane came down but instead of connecting our hero caught it in his hand and in one sweep wrenched it out of his assailant’s hand. Then, quick as a flash he snapped it into two pieces, uttered some appropriate expletive that cannot be repeated in these pages. He dodged around the dumbfounded Chad, turned at the door, threw the pieces across the classroom and disappeared down the gloomy corridor and out of the school door. His departure was accompanied to the sound of cheering that I feel sure must have been heard at the Police Station next door. That was enough excitement for one day, but remembered for a long time to come. We never did find out what prompted this incident but I suppose it could have been where The Caine Mutiny got its name.

Enter the Kid Catcher.

Now in those days, truancy was the exclusive domain of one man whose job it was to ensure that we all went to school. It was a rare occurrence in the 1950’s and the 60’s for any pupil to be absent from school without good cause. This much feared Lone Ranger rode around Knottingley on his cycle and if you were caught, you were dragged back to school and punished. Needless to say it was a lonely and thankless job. Once hauled back, the cane usually did the trick, pain being the quick and most effective deterrent for every misdemeanour. The cane almost always worked, as each one of us found out sometime in our school lives.

So this School Child Finder General was launched on the trail of our hero, and it took him two days to finally track him down. He managed to avoid the police and the Kid Catcher but was eventually found living in Buller Wilds Cave in the Womersley Road Quarry. Forty-eight hours later he returned to school amidst cheers, triumphant a hero to the entire school. The only punishment that he received was the one stroke of the cane on the hand for which it was originally intended. That is how legends are born.

Like all schools, Weeland Road was full of characters. There were the studious ones and those not so clever. We had a good soccer team and a very good cricket team. Hardly surprising really as the main schoolyard game of the winter was football and in the summer months it was cricket. This was played with an old skellowed bat that must, like everything else have been pre-war. A brittle yellow sponge ball that appeared to get smaller with each season and wickets that were painted on the wall. The rules were simple. The person, who fielded the ball bowled, if he then got the batsman out, or who so ever caught the ball, he then batted.

These were very fair playground rules, unless there was an argument between batsman, bowler and catcher. In the absence of an umpire this usually resorted in fisty-cuffs. If the duty teacher needed to intervene then the headmaster became the umpire and we all knew what the meant. Need I say?

Weeland Road had always been renowned for its choirs. This was due to the experienced teaching and musical skills of Mr. Harold "Gaffer" Hargreaves, who in partnership with Peter "Mr. Piano" Whitehead became the influential force in our musical education. The schools sole aim in music each year was to win at the Annual Pontefract Musical Festival. Therefore recruitment into the choir was considered to be a prestigious aspect of school life outside the daily drudges of academia.

The method of recruiting new singers into the choir started early and every pupil was made to sing solo in front of their mates. I can remember now that the set piece was always Early One Morning, this being the first song one turned to in the National Songbook. Now, I found it difficult to stand up their and sing this song with 30 pairs of eyes watching and audible sniggers coming from the back row. I was told that I had a good voice but this did not help one bit. It must have been sheer torture for those who had never sung a note in their lives. Several pupils just stood there and never opened their mouths and who could blame them. Surprisingly, young Jimmy never made the choir.

So, the new choir was formed and we started to have daily practice. The first year that I joined the choir was probably 1956 and up until then the school had an excellent record at the festival. The choir always won at least one of the three classes. There was the set piece, the hymn and the song of the choir’s own choice. We had never won the hymn and 1956 was no exception. There was also the boy’s solo class of which three soloists were chosen that year to represent the school, Geoff and Tubby and me. The absurd song we sang was a simple piece of nonsense that went...

"The post man, the paper boy, the piano tuner too, they all come the front way like visitors do, but cook’s friend Emily who’s ‘fraid of growing f...a...t, pops in the back way…pop’s in the back way and has a little chat." And so on...

There were four others in the class from various schools in the Pontefract area. Tubby went first for Weeland Road but finished last, I went next, stumbled over a word and finished second and Geoffrey bless him came first. We were pleased with that result but poor old Tubs was inconsolable.

In the choir class we took the two moth eaten pre-war banners for the set and chosen piece but missed the hat trick by loosing out again on the hymn. We had to wait another year for that to come our way. But come it did in 1957 when we relinquished the two tatty banners and for the first time in the schools history won the equally moth eaten pre-war banner for the hymn. But, who cared what it looked like, we had won it and the school was happy. For us, we had made history and for a while we were treated as celebrities. Photograph in the Pontefract & Castleford Express, acclamations in morning assembly and a visit from the Vicar of St. Botolph’s who wanted to hear us sing. I cannot remember which hymn it was, it could even have been Onward Christian Soldier, but who cared, we had won.

Life was good at Weeland Road, it was hard and well disciplined and with that we had no regrets. In the early to mid fifties this style of school life was the expected form. If we got into trouble, we faced our punishment and came back smiling the following day. I can remember getting a real old "jacket warming" as it was called from Chad because I opened the main hall door as he was coming through, hitting him on the forehead. It was accidental, but the red lump on his forehead and the bruise that formed the following day made the thrashing much easier to bear.

If you were unlucky enough to get the cane it hurt at the time, but then you forgot all about the pain by the time you went home. It was never worth going home and saying "I got the stick today dad" to gain sympathy because the majority of parents only said…"Well, you must have done something wrong". In certain cases some children would get an extra thrashing from their father for misbehaving at school. There was a certain justice and it was tough but all part of the game.

Mr. Radley forbade us to snowball in the school playground because he said it was too dangerous. Anyone caught throwing a snowball was…you have guessed it… caned. One very snowy winter’s day whilst waiting for the bus at the bend on Weeland Road, myself and three other droogs waiting for the green West Riding bus were having a snowball fight with those on the other side waiting for the blue South Yorkshire bus. This fight continued until the two buses arrived simultaneously. Unfortunately, a snowball struck one of the open bus windows and showered the passengers sitting inside or so we were told. Someone complained and after dinner we were all tracked down and escorted quick march to the office.

"So, you were all snowballing eh?" Our knees knocked and we each shook our heads and tried to look innocent. "Form a line", he commanded giving us a menacing look. There were about fourteen of us all lined up, including two of the girls. What we expected was a sound lecture delivered in a loud ferocious voice, but from nowhere he produced the whippiest cane I have ever seen. It simply just appeared as if it came like magic from up his sleeve or down his trousers. "Hold your hands out, both of them", he commanded. We obeyed. He then proceeded to cane the hands of each boy and one hand of each girl. Geoff was on the end; he came out of the office last with a broad smile across his face. "I was on the end, so by the time he got to me old Chad was tired, so it did not hurt half so much." At that we all forgot our pain, even the girls, who mainly through shock were crying, now started to laugh. Oh happy days.

Our neighbours at Weeland Road School were the Knottingley police who occupied the station next door. They paid us the occasional visit, not to teach us traffic safety because there wasn’t any traffic in those days. If Sergeant Scott suddenly appeared in the school, accompanied by the Headmaster everyone shook until he finally disappeared back into the Police Station. We then awaited the outcome of the visit, which was always conveyed at assembly next day. Someone had broken a window or misbehaved on the bus home, nothing ever very serious.

I only had one brush with Sergeant Scott and his code of law and that was during one lunchtime. Living at the far end of Knottingley towards the crossroads I had permission, along with a few others to leave at five minutes to mid-day to catch the bus. This meant a quick dash to the cloakroom, grab my coat and scoot across the zebra crossing and down to the bus stop. The lollypop man was always "Uncle" Pat Driscoll who in his own inimitable way had ideas about discipline from another age. One certainly did not argue with him. He must have been brought up in the school of hard knocks too because rumour had it that he had been a sergeant in the army.

On this particular day, I knew that I was late and stood more than a fair chance of seeing the bus go before ever reaching the crossing. I shot into the cloakroom, grabbed my coat and cleared the three steps in one down into the front playground. I reached the first Beliesha beacon on my right, then dashed across the Zebra and took the short cut to the left of the beacon on the opposite side. In my haste I didn’t notice that the person on duty that morning was not Uncle Pat but Sergeant Scott. As I ignored the black and white striped post with its flashing orange ball, an arm shot out and grabbed me by the collar. "Now then sonny Jim and where do you think you’re going"? I must have thought it was a silly question because I gave him a glib answer. "For the bus, I’m going for my dinner". I answered, still trying to run while he still had me by the collar. It must have looked something like a Disney cartoon from Looney Tunes. "Oh no you’re not, go back, walk, and go around the correct side of the post". I was whimpering now. B...but, I’ll miss my bus", I stammered. "Go back" was his only unconditional answer to my pleading as he pointed across the Zebra. I glanced up to see the bus just rounding the bend.

I walked back across the crossing, turned dutifully at the other side and walked back. The bus had stopped and was picking up passengers. "My bus", I pointed. "Don’t you worry about the bus laddy", was the only sympathy I got. Still only halfway across I could hear the bus setting off, but I did not say a word. I rounded the post, this time on the correct side and then whimpered again I said. "Look I’ve missed it now". "No you haven’t son", the Sergeant said as he walked out into the middle of the crossing raising up one white cuffed arm. The bus stopped at the crossing in front of the sergeant "Now there’s your bus, you go and get on." He smiled. "Enjoy your dinner and in future, walk". All was well, but ever after that I always checked who was on duty before I ran across the Zebra crossing and cut the corner.

We were lucky, I suppose, as school children in the fifties. The sixties were yet to arrive and the radical changes that decade was to bring. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mike Jagger, they were still at school just as we were. Fred Trueman was taking wickets and allegedly telling the Indian High Commissioner to "Pass the salt Gungha Din". Schools were still in a very pre war mode, except for the new Englands Lane School of which we were all very envious.

Each year we paid a visit to the "New School" as it had become known, together with the other children from Knottingley schools to listen to the West Riding String Quartet. They played classical music that few of us could understand unless your name was Geoff. He did because by this time he was developing into a fine pianist. He was already into his fifth piano grade and clearly had his sights set on the Royal College of Music.

It was good to visit the school and see how the other half lived. It was modern, fifties standard and very different to our old Victorian surroundings. But, maybe we were all happy at good old Weeland Road School. The new school had a courtyard area where, if the weather was good we could sit and listen to classical string quartet music. If the weather was not so good the concert was held in the new assembly hall, complete with stage, potted palms and royal blue curtains. I imagined that it was just like the radio concert from Palm Court Hotel. Was it every Friday night? I don’t remember, but I recall my Dad listening to the programme each week.

The quartet concerts must have made an impact on me because I remembered them so clearly. Two violins, a viola, and a cello all professionally, performed by men dressed in black evening suits with black bow ties. The only time, I ever saw anyone dressed this way was when my Dad went out to sing with the Knottingley Male Voice Choir or at the Huddersfield Choral Society Concerts. But that’s another story.

Summer was a young schoolboy’s dream, it meant long lazy days, I don’t mean academically because the pressure was always on for us to learn. I rarely arrived home before six o’clock in the evenings. Either I went to John’s, Harry’s or Leonard’s houses, had a game of cricket in the Greenhouse or went roaming around the quarries, which in those days held no dangers for youngsters. We caught newts, waterboatment, watched tadpoles grow into frogs and went bird nesting to the Valley Woods.

Then came the day when I was told I was to learn to play the piano. Shock? Excitement? I don’t remember. What I did know was that Mr. Whitehead was to be my teacher. This meant a journey up to Pontefract every Wednesday evening after school because he lived in Love Lane. Well, at least after the first lesson I was able to find middle C, not that I was ever asked to find it, much to my disappointment.

All went well for a while, or so I thought until one evening at the Pontefract Operatic Society production of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, Mr. Whitehead wandered across from the orchestra stalls during the interval to see my mother. He expressed doubts regarding my future as a pianist, saying that I would never become a piano player. Now that was no great disappointment to me but it was devastating news for my parents because they both played the piano, not well but they could play.

"I have heard Mrs Lilley is good", said my mother, ever the optimist. My father wasn’t so sure, thinking it was good money after bad. But I gave it a try if only to prove Mr. Whitehead wrong and for the next five years I did learn to play, achieving four grades in the pianoforte. Then came the sixties and more interesting music to play. The first piece of popular sheet music that I bought was Johnny and the Hurricanes version of Rocking Goose. I still have it today. Life was never the same again.

So that brought me to my last year at Weeland Road and eventually to school in Wakefield. I lost contact with most of my junior schools friends. They had gone to either the King’s School in Pontefract, Don Valley High or to Ropewalk. Ian, Roy and I remained friends throughout those adolescent years and beyond. The others eventually disappeared to University or college as eventually I did myself. Geoff did make the Royal College as had been the prediction so many years previously.

In many varied ways, early school years leave a lasting impression. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. There is little middle ground. School days are like most things in life, when you have it; you don’t appreciate it but when it’s gone you miss it. To most of us, Chapel Street and Weeland Road was something we each had to go through without question. There is no doubt that we were made to do things and we very rarely questioned why we were doing it at the time. There was also little point in grumbling at home because we had been taught that parents and teachers knew best. All that changed in the 1960’s a time of great excitement and dare I say a friendly revolution that will never be repeated.

School life for me in the late 40’s and 50’s was the ‘Golden Age’. Classic standards of teaching, firm discipline, certainly under the rule of Miss Wake and Mr. Radley, God bless both of them. Sadly, that system has gone, along with school blazers, caps, ties, corporal punishment; view that as you may, school milk, cod liver oil tablets and the dreaded Virol. We had free swimming lessons once a week at Pontefract Baths, football in the Greenhouse in winter and cricket in the Knottingley cricket field in summer.

At playtime we swapped comics, I bought the Eagle and eventually by exchange managed to acquire Comet and Sun from Harry for the weekend and by the following week I received the Hotspur from Ian. By 1957 all of this had changed to The New Musical Express and in the words of one caring adult who told me, "You are wasting your talents on that rubbish". Nevertheless, this networking of children’s comics was rife. I paid 4 pence and acquired at least four others. I suppose this was an early type of black market network similar to video piracy of today. Hey Ho! Long live playground law.

I can recall my school days well but I cannot remember my last day a Weeland Road. Did we all go in the morning as usual and have lessons in the normal way? I don’t know? Did we have a party or do something special, or did we simply run out of the school gates when the bell was rung never looking back or shouting cheerio to those friends we had made over the past seven years?

The sixties were before us with all the liberalisation that decade was to offer, in many ways the old guard and the establishment, whether they realised it or not helped to create those changes. The old pre-war school system as we knew it would go. Sound discipline would remain for a while longer, but teaching skills and the tools to achieve academia would alter only very slowly. Unfortunately, this transformation may now have passed but it is time that will dictate when it will change again, but change it will. Hopefully it will give rise to a newer fresher system somewhere between what we knew and what we have today. One that will allow free expression away from the hands of government control freaks.

It took me another six years to realise that the poem written by my old friend David Garrett about hating school and it being a dirge was not true. I am also sure that in his own mind David did not believe it either.

Chapel Street and Weeland Road were good schools. We were taught well and the teachers, although very strict, maybe unreasonable at times in our eyes, moulded us unwittingly into products of the 60’s.

But that is another chapter.

Roger Ellis

[Memories Index]


Also by Roger Ellis:

Sunday School Days
Legend of the Iron Man

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