West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections


Stan Briggs, Carleton Homes, Pontefract




In my early education, I attended Carleton School. The headmaster at that time was Mr. McQuarrie and we nicknamed him 'Gaffer'. Two of the teachers I remember were Miss Wilson, who lived on the right hand side of Pontefract Road just past the old Parish Hall, and Miss Hanson, who was a very good likeness to Vera Lynn. I remember the school dentist was called Mr. Fisher.

My classroom was upstairs at the back of the building with a view of The Rookeries and farm. There I very quickly learned to read, write and spell. Apart from the 'Homes Boys', as we were known at school, there was also a number of local children. A few names that spring to mind are David Mercer, Bill Brewster, Cliff Lambert, Colin Hawlor, Philip Bowler, Archie McIntyre and Keith Brogden. A few of the girls were Yvonne Briscoe, her sister Eunice and Bill Brewster’s sister, Eileen Brewster. I still see some of these people in Pontefract.

When you incurred the wrath of Gaffer McQuarrie, he would try and talk in a Yorkshire accent and say something like, "By gad lad, tha's thick". We all thought this was hilarious but one day it was my turn, and I started laughing. He didn't give me the cane; the black look he gave me was sufficient punishment.

We had a pretty large playground at school where we played all the usual games in summer and winter. The playground was about a yard higher than the pavement alongside the Pontefract to Darrington road. This gave us a vantage point and enabled us to ambush and snowball the soldiers (I am told they were the reconnaissance corps) who were billeted at The Grange during the war. The soldiers got wise to our barrage and wore their tin helmets down over the left side of their faces for protection when marching past us. They used to march towards Darrington between 8pm and 9pm. One morning, as they were marching towards us, we noticed that they weren’t protecting their faces with their helmets which baffled us somewhat. Then, just as they got level with the playground, their Sergeant bellowed out, "Squad halt, left turn, fall out to snowball". They were bigger than us so we retreated very quickly but it was great fun.

When we were old enough, we were marched to church for Sunday school. The vicar was Father Gabb, whom we nicknamed 'Daddy'. I remember him quite vividly as he had a full pot-leg, which left him with a kind of rolling, jerky manner when he walked. I enjoyed Sunday school as it gave us a bit more 'freedom'. The organist at the church was a silver haired lady called Miss Gray, a very small diminutive lady with the proverbial cigarette dangling from her mouth as she made her way to church from the Carleton Green area. I remember Father Gabb used to give us a passage in the Bible to recite and when we had learned it, our reward was a small Mother of Pearl crucifix with a silver figure of Christ embossed on it.

One day while we were singing hymns, Father Gabb was walking up and down the aisle, stopping every now and then to bend down and listen closely to different boys singing. I was puzzled by this and asked my friend what he was doing, he said, "He's listening for singers to sing in the choir". Although I wasn't blessed with an academic brain, I had the common sense to know that if I could get in the choir, that would mean I would get another two or three hours 'freedom' for choir practice every Wednesday night and evensong every Sunday night. When he got close to me I gave him a good earful of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' and by the next week I was in the choir. My ploy had worked and I was elated. I had a memorable time singing in the choir and I remember one Palm Sunday, all the choir boys had a large palm leaf to hold as we marched and sang hymns out of the church to the wooden crucifix situated on the corner of the school lane. I was on top of the world, singing my head off, it was a great feeling of freedom!

After choir practice we used to go scrumping apples from the tree near the wall that separated the vicarage from the graveyard. We scrumped pears from Stringer's Farm and turnips when they were in season. We thought we were criminals, but we must have been angels compared to the present day youths antics. The choir boys also helped at all of the garden fetes that were held at The Grange.

One Sunday war-time evening I noticed a soldier in uniform was in the front row of the congregation. Later on he made his way into the pulpit and related his experiences in a German prisoner of war camp, from where he eventually escaped and made his way back to England. His name was Joey Howarth, does anyone remember this man?


When we were old enough, we used to go to Skegness on holiday; it felt like we were going abroad. We were billeted in long wooden huts near the sea. We were always issued with new clothing to go on holiday, consisting of a new shirt, jersey, trousers, snake belt (two tone colours), socks and black pumps. The main snake belt colours were red and yellow, black and blue, red and green, black and yellow or green and gold, and we used to swap each other for our favourite colours; mine was red and green.

When we stopped half way, we used to smell the tyres, they would be red hot, I was frightened they were going to explode at any minute. When we arrived in Skegness there was always a welcome cold drink waiting for us. This was usually lemonade crystals in cold water in a big urn on the table in the hut. I remember the disappointment one year when somebody had turned the tap on and left it running. By the time we arrived, the last dregs of lemonade were disappearing down beneath the floor boards.

The first time I saw the sea, I thought it was a flood. During our 'holiday', we spent most of our time on the beach and making sand castles. This was a far cry from the dirty river Aire at Ferrybridge!


Just before Christmas we all used to sit round the large dining room table making paper chain decorations with which we trimmed up 'Home Three'. As we got older we were allowed to go down Moor Lane to collect some Holly. Every year we were taken to the Carleton Parish Hall for a Christmas treat of sandwiches, buns and jelly. We played all sorts of games, one in particular was putting a cut out of a fish, made from a sheet of newspaper, on the floor at one end of the room, and then we were given rolled up newspapers and had to waft the fish to the other end and blow it on to a plate. The first one to achieve this was the winner of a small bag of sweets.

On Christmas morning we had the proverbial new penny, an apple and orange, a few sweets and games. When we were older we were allowed to go carolling. Some people invited us to go in the house and sing, and on one occasion we must have been in good voice because they gave us another penny each. One Christmas, I cannot remember the year, the authorities could not afford Christmas trees for the homes so all the foster mothers clubbed up and bought trees for every home. We all made an assortment of trinkets out of paper and hung them on our tree; it all looked magical to a ten-year-old.


I woke up one morning in August 1942 and within a couple of hours I found myself in Northgate Lodge workhouse with my sister Marion waiting to be collected by my mother. My elder sister Mary had already left Carleton Homes and was in service at Dr. Hessle's. The air in Northgate Lodge Workhouse was so thick with the smell of carbolic soap (large red blocks they used in those days), that you could have cut it with a knife; no germs could live with that!

My mother arrived and said she was taking us home to Knottingley. We arrived at a cottage in The Holes at around 5pm. It was situated next to the Vale School and opposite a house where Mr. and Mrs Robinson lived with their three daughters. As I stepped over the threshold, even though it was daylight outside, the tiny low room with overhead open beams was very dim. Through the murk, my eyes focused on what I thought was a giant with his legs fully stretched out in a rocking chair. To say I was terrified was an understatement. I dashed out and just kept running and running until I was completely exhausted. I came to my senses and found myself looking at the iron railway bridge which runs across Pontefract Road near Greenwoods Tyres. I wonder what the record time was from The Holes to that iron bridge in 1942? Whatever it was, I must have broken it that day!

As it turned out, the giant of a man was called George Coney (who turned out to be my mother’s, husband's, stepfather), who was a ganger in charge of a threshing machine which used to travel around local farms and thresh their corn. He was over six feet tall, had about a month's stubble on his chin, and his face was covered with threshing dust. He was wearing a thick, felt, heavy overcoat covered with chaff and tied round the middle with binder twine and was wearing very large lace-up rubber boots. As I made my way very slowly back to The Holes, I remember thinking "I know there is a war on but this is ridiculous".

For the next four years I often wished I was back in Carleton Homes! Now instead of the bread and lard sandwiches that I used to have, I now got a threepenny ground rice tart dinner bought from the Co-op on Hill Top.

And so it was back to poverty, until I met my wife Dorothy in the air-raid shelters in Newgate, Pontefract in 1946.. but that's another story.

Stan Briggs



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