AT CARLETON HOMES, PONTEFRACT, 1935-1942
PART ONE |
I was sitting in the Catholic Club recently enjoying a pint of Tetley's
when I overheard Jim McVeigh say "When we misbehaved at our house, mother
used to say if you do that again I will send you to Carleton Homes".
I asked Jim if this was true as you never know whether he is joking
or not. He assured me it was true and when I told him I had been in
Carleton Homes for seven years he was interested.
I related a few of my memories and he said, "Why don't you write them
down and send them to The Digest”. I decided to take his advice, so
with the help of Tony Kelly helping me out with names that I had long
forgotten and Mr. Van Riel, the Curator of Pontefract Museum, who helped
me obtain photographs, here goes ….
I was born on the 5th April in 1931; the second child of Alice Briggs
who lived on Doncaster Road, Ferrybridge. It must have been a virgin
birth because on my birth certificate, my mothers name is shown as Alice
Briggs, but the column for the fathers name is blank? I have never known
my father’s name. I suppose you can choose your friends but not your
My birthplace - Ferrybridge Square
I wasn’t off to a very good start; we were a very
poor family. You could call it poverty, because up to being four years
old all I can remember is eating bread and lard or bread and sugar sandwiches.
My playground was the A1 Edinburgh to London road which ran right past
our front door. No wonder I finished up as a lorry driver and later
a HGV Instructor/Examiner.
A paraffin lamp was the only means of illumination, and when I was old
enough, I used to accompany my older sister Mary to bring the paraffin
from Amery's Hardware Store in Ferrybridge Square. I remember the layout
of 'The Square'; there was the Three Horse Shoes pub, the Old Coaching
House and the quaint cobbles, but particularly the old gaslight in the
middle which us kids would play around. Home entertainment came from
a dilapidated cylinder gramophone which you had to wind up.
A football field was at the back of our house behind a limestone wall
with what we used to call 'crozzles' on top, they were like giant cinders,
I think they came from Browns Pottery.
ARRIVAL AT CARLETON HOMES
In 1935 I was uprooted from Ferrybridge and taken into care at 'Eastwell
Lodge'; I believe this is what they called ‘The Homes’ then. Subsequent
names were 'Carleton Cottage Homes' and ‘Carleton Homes'. I don't remember
who took me there or by what means. I was only four years old at the
time, and I guess it must have been a big shock to me but I was too
young to understand this large, drab, draconian place.
I was taken to what was the infants home, as I was under five. The first
thing I remember about going there was being taken to the bathroom to
be confronted by a huge bath. I don't know why I wanted to have a bath,
maybe it was because I couldn't remember ever having been in a proper
one before. Later I was kitted out in Carleton Homes grey; this was
the trademark of children who lived in Carleton Homes. Our 'uniform'
consisted of grey jersey, white shirt, grey short trousers and a snake
belt. We stood out like a sore thumb.
I have only vague memories of my first year there, mainly good food,
good clean bed and a nice garden to play out in with lots of playmates.
But I do remember that in that first year I used to cry and try to follow
my older sister Mary whenever I saw her.
CARLETON HOMES CONSTITUTION - PART ONE
The homes were made up of six separate residences; two detached houses
stood each side of the Moor Lane entrance of the Pontefract-Darrington
road. (See diagram)
The right hand side house looking into Moor Lane
was the infants, (infants meaning up to five years of age), and the
left hand side house was The Homes Headquarters, run by Matron Hoyland.
We called this 'The Top Home'.
The other four homes consisted of two blocks of semi-detached buildings;
we called these homes, 'Home One', 'Home Two', 'Home Three' and 'Home
Four'. 'Home One' and 'Home Three' were boy's homes and 'Home Two' and
'Home Four' were for the girls, each housing sixteen children. (See
When a child reached five years of age, he or she was moved from the
infants to one of the four homes mentioned; I eventually went into home
three. If you reached the age of fourteen, you were drafted up to the
'Top Home' which acted as a transit camp until they found foster parents
and a job for you.
A number of boys were fostered in Keighley and worked in the mills there.
I was fortunate this didn't happen to me as my mother married a Knottingley
man in 1942 and took me out of the homes. My older sister Mary went
into service at Dr. Hessles in Camp Mount, Pontefract. I presume this
was the normal procedure for girls. My other sister, Marion, came out
with me also.
Some people in the past have referred to 'The Homes' as an orphanage.
For some people it may have been, but quite a few of us had either one
or two parents, so for us we had been taken 'into care'.
CARLETON HOMES CONSTITUTION - PART TWO
It was a care home and well appreciated by us kids who were whisked
away at an early age from poverty into an environment that kept us clean
and well fed, but one that was also very harsh at times.
We did get washed every day, had three meals a day, and had clean clothes,
an education and a holiday at Skegness now and then. Actually, I thought
it was Utopia, because for the first time, I got the love and affection
that had been missing since I had been born.
Life was very strict in the homes, as it had to be. Imagine the staff
having to look after about eighty-five children! To give you an idea
of the strict regime, my two years National Service (1949-51), with
all the bull and discipline, was a 'doddle' after spending seven years
in the homes.
In 1974 I was appointed HGV instructor and driving examiner for the
Wakefield M.D.C. On one occasion I was sent to Carleton Homes to test
a number of Social Services minibus drivers. I believe 'The Boat People'
were in residence at that time. I knocked on what I knew as the 'Top
Home' door and the principal answered it. He beckoned me inside and
ordered coffee for the two of us. He had a North East accent, but I
don't remember his name. I started the conversation by informing him
that I had spent seven years in the homes and this was the first time
I had ever set foot inside the 'Top Home'.
I explained the years I was there and within a couple of minutes he
had disappeared and then come back with a very large ledger, he found
the recorded years from 1935 to 1942. Mary, Marion's and my name were
all there, he even told me the date, time and year I was taken to Pontefract
PGI to have a boil lanced. I have since contacted the archives department
at Wakefield but have had no success as to the whereabouts of this ledger
now (I would be grateful if anyone reading this could help me locate
The Carleton Homes draconian look mentioned in
the article. This photograph was taken from the area of Pontefract Rugby
Union Club entrance. This photograph must have been taken before 1935
as the indoor swings shed had not been built.
CARLETON HOMES STAFF
All the staff were female except for the gardener, Mr. Nurse, who originally
came from Norfolk. I have only recently found out that his first name
was Alf; we had no idea back then as we all had to address him as 'Mister
Nurse', no first names were allowed. Matron Hoyland was the administrator
for all the homes and we called her headquarters the 'Top Home', she
was the boss and we all knew it! As I remember she was a typical matron
I can't remember all the names of the staff as they changed from time
to time. The names I do remember are Mrs Randall (Girls Home Four),
Mrs Hough (Boys Home Three), Mrs Hope and Mrs Murray. Head Girls were
always residents of The Homes.
Each home had a 'House Mother' and a 'Head Girl'. They were responsible
for food and hygiene and organised jobs we all had to do. Some of the
tasks were cleaning the bath and wash basin taps, polishing the lino
on the dining room floor with a bumper, which consisted of a large stick
with a block of wood attached at the bottom with a blanket material
tied on to it. We used Ronuk Polish first, and then changed the blanket
material for a duster to put a finishing polish to the floor. We were
told we had to do this chore in stocking feet, and woe betides you if
the House Mother found any scratches. When the floor was nice and shiny,
I used to take a running jump onto the bumper and ride the entire length
of the room.
Most winter nights were spent indoors, sitting around the very large
table, sewing buttons on and darning with a mushroom. Mrs Hough said
I was the best darner in 'Home Three'. A couple of years later when
I was about seven, Miss Hough was tearing her hair out because someone
had made a right mess of cutting the huge eighteen inch to two foot
loaves we had delivered. I had a go and cut the loaf into perfect slices.
Guess who got the job for a very long time after that? Sixty-seven years
later, I still have this job, only now I am straightening the loaf up
at home after my wife Dot has had a go.
In the summer evenings we used to collect horse chestnut twigs with
sticky leaves from down Moor Lane. These were put in glass vases and
called our 'flowers'. We collected nettles in wartime for the kitchen,
where they were boiled up and served as vegetables; we called these
nettles our spring cabbage!
ENTRY TO ‘HOME THREE’ FOR BOYS
In 1936 I was drafted into 'Home Three' for boys; this was the second
phase of my life in 'The Homes'. The house mother was Miss Hough, a
strict disciplinarian. I spent six years here, but I thought I was going
to be here until I was fourteen; you just did not know what was around
The food was adequate and nourishing, there were certainly no obese
children in 'The Homes'. I do remember every pudding we were served
with seemed to be very starchy, with rice pudding, sago and tapioca
always high on the menu.
Our regular hairdresser was Barber Lowe, who had premises in Front Street,
Pontefract. He was a rotund figure with a military wax moustache. We
all lined up in a downstairs bathroom and he gave all sixteen of us,
a short back and sides with military precision, in double quick time
We were taught to pray every night before we got into bed. I remember
my prayer was always the same, "Please God send someone to take me out
We were allowed to play out in good weather on the playing fields which
ran along the bottom and right-hand side of 'Home Four', as far as the
air-raid shelters (see diagram). If it was raining we spent the time
on the swings and skipping in the shed which separated the infants home
from the playground. In all my time in the homes I never encountered
any child abuse; I wonder if this could have been due to the homes being
run by female staff only.
HOME THREE - MEMORIES
One summer’s day, one of the boys stole a banana off the dining room
table. The House Mother must have previously counted them because she
announced to us all that one was missing, and if the boy owned up, only
he would be punished (which meant going to bed early). No one owned
up so we were all sent packing to bed without food at two o'clock. This
didn't bother me so much because our bedroom overlooked Mr. Nurses garden
and Carleton Cricket Club. I liked to watch them play evening matches,
and I must have spent hundreds of hours watching their matches. The
field was about a hundred and fifty yards away, so you couldn't recognise
their faces but you could see the bowler’s and batsmen's actions. I
never dreamt back then that I would end up playing cricket for Pontefract
CC in the Yorkshire Council League in 1958. (Doctor Hough later bought
However, back to that day in our bedroom. One of the boys started crying
and said it was him who had taken the banana. Another boy owned up for
him and he had to go back to bed while the rest of us went down at 9pm
and had our tea. Needless to say we all concealed some food and took
it up to him later. He finished up with more to eat than we had.
There seemed to be a lot of long hot summers from 1936 onwards, and
I remember my Grandad Briggs visiting me one day with a present of a
cricket bat, ball and wickets set, which I loved, but they very quickly
disappeared. The next time I saw them was on the playing fields. I wandered
over to the boys who were playing with them and was invited to bat.
I accepted and I hit the ball to mid off. A huge lad asked me to fetch
the ball and so I obeyed even though I didn’t understand why. While
I was collecting the ball he ran behind the stumps and shouted "throw
it to me". Again I obeyed, and he knocked the bails off and shouted
"You’re out", and took the bat back off me. I remember thinking that
this was a funny game called cricket! That was about the only form of
bullying I came across in The Homes.
I have seen a diagram of The Homes layout drawn by Mr. William Baines,
showing tennis courts, outside swings, a children's slide, a roundabout,
football goalposts and a cricket wicket. None of these were there during
my stay between 1935 and 1942. (If you are reading this Mr. Baines,
I would love to have a chat and take a trip down memory lane). Whilst
I was there, the only things on the playing fields apart from the grass
were buttercups, daisies, mother-die and nettles! A hawthorn hedge separated
the fields from Moor Lane to the left and Stringer's Farm and fields
to the right as far as the air-raid shelters.
During the summer, as I got older, we used to go out on accompanied
walks to Darrington and Wentbridge. Talk about litter louts!; the pavements
were full of empty cigarette packets, but we didn't mind this because
we used to scramble for them as almost all of them had a cigarette card
inside. There was a good selection of cricketers, footballers, army,
navy and air-force flags, aeroplanes and ships, one company even had
silk flags in their packets but I can't remember which it was.
When war broke out in 1939 we were schooled not to tell any strangers
what the village was called or any other local places. We were all issued
with gas masks in brown cardboard boxes with a long piece of string
for carrying over your shoulder. We were escorted about one hundred
yards to Carleton Lodge, the home of Mr. Vaughan, the Chief Constable
of the West Riding, who was regularly seen riding his horse down Moor
Lane. Once there, we were told to put on our gas masks and were guided
into a nearby portacabin to test them. We all came out alive, so they
were passed okay.
One of my chores was going to Miss Hibbert's shop, which was close to
the off-licence of today, to bring the 'News of the World'. By this
time I could read very well and spent the walk back to 'The Homes' trying
to read every page. On Sunday evening I used to try and solve the puzzles
as we were listening to ITMA (It's That Man Again) on the wireless;
Tommy Handley, Harry Korris and Enoch were some of the characters. One
year we went to the Alexandra picture house. I cannot remember what
the main film was, but the Sand-Dancers were the second feature. I have
never laughed so much; we all thought they were hilarious. On our walk
back to the homes I was knocked down on Woolworhts corner by a car (Valley
Road had just been completed in 1938/39). The car driver was going very
slowly, about five miles a fortnight in those days, and so I was uninjured.
During the war, air-raid shelters were erected practically behind 'Home
One'. They were made of the concrete arch type with earth piled on the
top. There are still some standing today in Knottingley railway station
yard, and I am amazed they haven't been carefully unearthed and taken
to a museum - after all it is sixty-seven years since they were built.
Whenever the siren sounded, we all had to get out of bed and make our
way across the backyard into the shelter. I can still remember Mrs Hope
ushering us all in, the smell of creosote was very heady. There were
only a few wooden benches inside, so we all had to sit down huddled
together until the 'all clear' was sounded, then we would go back to
our beds. One night we were crossing the yard to go in the shelters
when this very low flying aircraft passed right over our heads, I was
too scared to run, I just stopped and looked up but it was pitch black
and I couldn't see anything, then the noise disappeared away towards
Darrington and it was gone.
PART ONE |