West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Memories and Recollections

GROWING UP IN GROVETOWN
PONTEFRACT


PART FOUR

by KEN FOX

Grovetown had essentially two shops, as there was a small affair operated from the front room of a house in Elm Street who just sold odds and ends, but the main shop occupied the corner of Oak Street and Elm Street This was run by the Fox family but when Mr. Fox died in the 1940s it was run by Mr. Nettleship who I understand was the son-in-law. It incorporated an off licence and on the gable end fronting on to Grove Road was the wording, 'Hammonds Tower Ales'.

Behind the air raid shelters alongside Oak Street was a fence of old railway sleepers set up on end which gave off the curiously attractive aroma of old creosote on hot summer days. This fence and the railway line formed the boundary of a long, narrow field which extended from near Swanhill bridge down to Grove Road and is now occupied by Ashleigh Avenue. We knew this as Bally's field as it belonged to Oxclose farm situated on the town side of the railway where Carleton Glen estate now is and was farmed by a Mr. Ball and family. This field was used for grazing up to four horses at a time. One of these, named Billy, was spooked by a passing train and became entangled in a wire fence breaking its leg in the process. We later witnessed the sad sight of him being put down and carted away. Billy was a friendly horse and a favourite of the local kids. Needless to say, Bally's field was one of our favourite play areas in happier days.

Swanhill bridge comprised of three arches and echoed the design of the viaduct still straddling Knottingley Road. It was a legend in its days, as the arch nearest Grove Lea developed a dangerously looking hump which lifted the parapet and road surface by about six inches in a 'sleeping policeman' formation. As kids we always sat on the back seat of any bus we caught from town as we enjoyed being thrown up out of our seats when the bus passed over this hump. The hump should have given cause for concern, particularly at the great height of the bridge above railway track level, but it had been there throughout everyone’s living memory and was accepted as being safe. However, when eastern extensions to mining activities from the Prince of Wales pit were proposed, the structure was deemed unable to accept the expected ground subsidence and so it was dynamited early on 27th March 1982 and replaced by the present characterless bridge.

As Oak Street was the longest street onto which all other streets opened, it became the natural selection for the Grovetown street party to celebrate the end of the war. As with most local communities of the day, tables belonging to every household were commandeered and positioned end to end along the street to be piled, seemingly sky high to us small ones, with all manner of sandwiches, cakes, buns and dish upon dish of our favourite childhood specialities - trifle and jelly. No one seemed to know from where all the ingredients came in order to home bake and prepare all these eats, bearing in mind food rationing was still with us and, indeed, was to remain in place well into the 1950s, and no one cared. There prevailed an overriding relief that the hostilities had ceased and even though our area escaped the worst of death and destruction endured by others, nevertheless the overall disruption to every day lives war can bring about was universal. Moreover, families were being gradually reunited as service men and women returned home. To us kids, blissfully oblivious to the harsh realities of wartime as we should rightly be, it was yet another happy day we were spending together and another precious memory to store away to recall in future years.

Along with the end of the war came the revival of bonfire night. A narrow strip of spare land between the backs of Elm Street and Grove Road came in handy to site the village bonfire which was always huge, and so were the stocks of home made parkin and treacle toffee; perhaps even a toffee apple from Pontefract statice fair which always coincided with bonfire night. At first, firework numbers were limited due to immediate post-war restrictions but they gradually built up over the years to a fine show. However, for us kids the following morning was just as pleasurable for we always managed to revive the fire and sat around it baking our potatoes in the embers.

Apart from Oxclose Farm, the site now known as Carleton Glen contained a line of allotments, about fifteen in number. These were to the rear of the farm and stretched uphill towards Swanhill with a beck and tall hawthorn hedge forming the farm boundary. After the war Dad shared one of these allotments with our uncle Jim (Kitch) Walker and on it they kept pigs and hens and, in addition to growing the usual vegetables, there were also rows of Carnations, Pyrethrums and Sweet Williams.

Our access to these allotments was gained by passing beneath the iron railway bridge, turning immediately left behind the present doctor’s surgery and on to a track which continued parallel to the railway for a 100yds towards Oxclose Farm gates. Here we turned sharp right then left and on to the allotments themselves. Lush pastures and horticultural nurseries were very much in evidence.

We always referred to this site as Cranky Pin but for what reason I do not know as the name refers properly to the Waterloo monument. This was the tall obelisk built by Mr. Trueman over on Chequerfield which during its existence developed a pronounced list to one side, thus acquiring the nickname ‘Cranky Pin’.

As a family we spent many a happy hour on the allotment, particularly on Sunday mornings. It was always sunny, rain only fell overnight when it would be more beneficial to the crops, while the only air movement was an occasional warm balmy breeze to waft the sweet scent our way from a silent Ewbanks liquorice works.

Another surprisingly pleasant odour on our allotment drifted from the stewing vegetable matter in the coal-fired, brick built boiler alongside the pigsty. The accompanying smells from the actual sty were quite another thing as Daisy paced up and down until her warm meal was eventually bucketed into her trough along with a few lumps of coal for good measure. Vitamin supplements?

One character, who cultivated the first plot, was a gentleman named Harry Potts who I believe lived on Friarwood. Harry, Mr. Potts to us kids, was the much respected patriarch of the site, being the secretary, and I think that he is pictured in the photograph on page one of the Digest No.20 in the left background. He was in a position to keep a watchful eye over other allotment holders but was very approachable and always willing to share his vast knowledge of all things horticultural.

Yet another faithful sentinel who watched over us was the tall crowned tower of St. Giles whose quarterly chimes kept us tuned in to the other world beyond Friarwood. There was not the conglomeration of hospital buildings in those days so the clock face could be easily read - not that time mattered to us kids, but the later peal of St. Giles ten bells in accompaniment with those of distant All Saints meant to Mother that it was time to gather some veg and head off home to prepare Sunday dinner. Her hungry brood would not be too far behind.

Sunday 'lunch' was not part of a working class scene then as midday was definitely dinner time and Sunday dinner was always special with traditional Yorkshire pud served of course as a starter, followed by the freshly picked veg with whatever meat our rations would allow, finishing off with, perhaps, rhubarb crumble. No wonder we were close behind!

Had we carried straight on from under the railway bridge, which was prone to flooding, the footpath that still runs alongside Grove Road Angling Club would take us along a leafy glade route past idyllic Ashcroft Cottage, across a small footbridge over a beck, and then out into an open section between fields towards a row of tall poplars. This path was paved throughout its route and terminated at Southfield Avenue terrace on Friarwood Lane opposite where Valley Gardens’ gates are now situated, but of course, these gardens were not developed to any extent until the early 1950s. This walk was very rural, quite picturesque, and a more popular route to town than the alternative one up Slutwell despite having to ascend Friarwood steps which, incidentally, we always called Bluebell steps. The path from Friarwood Lane to the foot of the actual steps was attractively laid in sandstone setts and bounded by orchards on either side with stone fronted Friar Wood Cottage half way along on the right.

Had we turned left on to Mayors Walk and trod the elevated footpath on the right hand side, now very much overgrown, we would reach the base of a high stone retaining wall near Button Park. Built into the foundations was a stone projection that formed a convenient low bench which we kids would visit in early May and look over Cranky Pin listening for the first calling of the Cuckoo in answer to our own calling. On some occasions we were lucky but more often than not the only Cuckoos calling were the ones seated on what we appropriately called the Cuckoo stone!

When we grew older and wandered further afield, the lanes from Carleton towards Hundhill became popular for us and a favourite venue was the 'Brick Pond'. This was situated between the railway line and the footpath that still runs from Hardwick Road bridge towards the rear of Carleton High School. Originally it was excavated to extract clay for use in brick manufacture, hence its nickname ‘Brick Pond’, but was eventually abandoned and in time filled up with rainwater, thus becoming a haven for wildlife and well stocked with fish. On its eastern side, seepage occurred, swamping the grassland amongst which dwelt large numbers of frogs and newts. In later years Pontefract Corporation angling club obtained sole fishing rights there but it suffered the same fate as Barstow's pond near Monkhill by being filled in for safety reasons. Fortunately it survived throughout our Grovetown years and I'm sure all who played around it will treasure the memories of days we spent there together.

In January 1947 along came the snowfalls which lasted into Springtime. Every night brought a fresh covering of a few inches. Grovetowners went outside each morning with shovels to clear their respective portion of causey and roadway but, naturally, the first priority was to clear a path to the backyard toilet. To slam your front door was taboo as the accumulated snow on the roof gradually slid down the slates to hang precariously over the wooden guttering in deep sheets that sometimes covered part of the upstairs window - and right above the causey! Slam or no slam, the inevitable avalanche did occur and unsuspecting pedestrians would have to be dug out and revived after receiving a smattering of icy snow down their backs. Opening the front door was also done slowly to prevent built up snow from falling inwards. Soon there was no more room for fresh snow to be piled up along the streets for there was no daytime thaw as the freezing temperatures persisted round the clock. Frozen pipes, especially in outside toilets, were inevitable and buckets of hot water provided the first flush of each day with, perhaps, more throughout the day.

Getting about became a lonely experience for us little ones because we could not see each other above the heaped up snow. Grovetowners started their schooldays at Willow Park which normally entailed a trek along cinder tracks over Chequerfied to school but now it was necessary to locate each track under fresh snow coverings before attempting to forge a way forward. Little bare legs (long flannel trousers were only for the older lads) had to be lifted high before being plunged into the snow ahead and wellies soon became snowbound inside as well as outside as we slowly trudged schoolwards, but we always managed to get there. Fortunately, our return trek was all downhill and became yet another opportunity for fun and games.

Buses serving Grovetown were single deckers operated by B. & S. (Bullock & Sons) until that company became part of the West Riding in 1950. They managed to negotiate the downward route from town but the return uphill journey along Churchbalk and Swanhill in thick snow was another matter and on one occasion we had no less than four of their buses stuck in Grovetown streets along with an unsuspecting bread delivery van. Any vehicle not fitted with wheel snow chains was sure to succumb and soon they were fitted to all service and delivery vehicles as well as many cars.

The bitterly cold conditions lasted into March but at long last faithful Spring arrived, as she always does, and a rapid thaw set in. Cuckoos winged their way into Cranky Pin answering the calls from we native ones, soon to be followed by a glorious Summer bringing a welcome relief from months of hardship which by now had evolved into yet another collection of memories.

Ken Fox, 2006.


Further articles from Ken Fox:

Growing up in Grovetown Part One
Growing up in Grovetown Part Two
Growing up in Grovetown Part Three
Growing up in Grovetown Part Five


 

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