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Pontefract Memories and Recollections

MEMORABLE MOMENTS
AT CARLETON HOMES, PONTEFRACT, 1935-1942

Stan Briggs, Carleton Homes, Pontefract

STAN BRIGGS

PART ONE | PART TWO

FOREWORD

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 ….

INTRODUCTION

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 maker!

Ferrybridge Square, Yorkshire

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)

Map of Carleton Homes, Pontefract

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 diagram)

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 these ledgers?).

Carleton Homes, Pontefract

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 figure.

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.

DAILY JOBS

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 corner.

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 too.

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 of here".

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 that field)

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.

Stan Briggs


PART ONE | PART TWO


 

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