West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections




Grovetown Pontefract

This sketch depicts a general view of Grovetown and Bally’s Field. The Mission Hut is shown to the left on Grove Road near the railway bridge with the goods shed and signalbox above. The long barrow shaped hump in Bally’s Field is actually excess waste from when Swanhill railway cutting was being dug out. Baghill Station and All Saints’ Church are shown also. Sketch by Ken Fox.

A grand old couple lived next doors to us at No. 15. They were Willie and Nellie Clayburn, who were like an extension to our family and we spent some happy times in their company. Willie was a tall fellow with a rustic complexion and a white moustache and as toddlers we certainly looked up to him, while Nellie was small and quite thin. Both had a great sense of humour. They had a daughter, Elsie, who had married farmer Ball from Oxclose Farm just across the railway from us. They in turn had a son and daughter, Jack and Harriet, who helped with a milk round run from the farm and all were quite well known throughout Pontefract as a result. Oxclose Farm was pulled down by a firm run by James Wilby of Friarwood but at what date I do not know, nor, sadly, do I know of any surviving pictorial record of it.

Willie Clayburn had retired but worked part time for the Pease family of The Grove and also ran an allotment on which he kept hens. Quite often we would walk into their kitchen and see him busily preparing a dead hen he had brought home for dinner and he took great delight in showing us a few unlaid eggs he had extracted from it. They were no more than yellow yolk sacs which he would then swallow raw and treated them as a delicacy. Needless to say we kids stood well away and just gazed in both wonderment and disgust. When he offered us a taste of his delicacy there were no takers. Obviously it did him no harm for they both enjoyed extremely good health and lived to a ripe old age only to succumb soon after moving to modern premises at Blackburn Court when Grovetown was demolished.

The Pease family, who lived at the Grove, comprised two brothers, Charles (Charlie) and Francis, and a sister whose name I never knew. Charles was a local magistrate and also had connections with Pontefract Race Company. None of these ever married. During a recent visit to Pontefract cemetery I came across the family graves. They employed a man who we kids knew as 'Bobby' Turnbull, so we assume he was a retired policeman and we were always of good behaviour when he was around. One of his duties was that of chauffeur and he was often seen driving a large but ageing brown and black Austin saloon to and from the house.

The Grove was a lovely stone structure with bay windows on either side of a central front door and most likely of Georgian period. A former resident was a Mr. Trueman of Pontefract Bank fame and one time Mayor of Pontefract; Trueman was also responsible for erecting Cranky Pin, the leaning monument at one time standing on Chequerfield but pulled down just after the war. The main access to the house was along a drive via a gate on Grove Road and through what is now known as Peases’ field. There was also a rear access to brick stable blocks and farm buildings from Churchbalk Lane alongside the shop which was then owned and run by the Pickerings’. An orchard separated the house from Churchbalk. Regrettably, The Grove was demolished in the 1970s. and the only surviving remnant of the whole estate is a portion of stone wall marking the Grove Road entrance. I will forever regret not taking a photograph of the Grove, but I do recall seeing one printed in the Pontefract and Castleford Express quite a few years ago so if someone out there has access to the Express microfilm archives it should be possible to locate and publish it for future reference.

Chequerfield Estate did not appear until about 1947 so in our Grovetown years there were only fields between Churchbalk, Carleton, Willow Park and Eastbourne estates with all the usual arable farming taking place. Among my more pleasant memories was harvest time on Chequerfield when a faded red stationary threshing machine driven by a continuous belt from a steam traction engine could be seen hard at work while being fed with wheat by a small army of recruited farmworkers. Meanwhile a leisurely procession of horse and tractor hauled wagons carried the grain and straw away. Another memory is the curiously attractive smell of tractor exhaust while running on tractor vapourising oil (T.V.O), as they did as a wartime economy measure, mixing with either a sweet scent of new mown hay or even the earthly humus odour from freshly ploughed soil. All on a Grovetown doorstep. Three mature trees stood at the bottom of Peases’ field and remained there well into Chequerfield Estate days while the area across Grove Road and extending right up to the hill - which we knew as Burnley's Hill - was one mass of allotments.

In a garage on these allotments Mr. Nunns, a Grovetown resident, kept his immaculate light brown Ford Anglia car - the only Grovetown-owned car at the time. Between these allotments and the railway line (where Gents factory now stands) was a long, narrow field which extended right down to the station boundary and was overlooked by a signal box. A beck ran between this field and the allotments. At the top of this field adjacent to Grove Road stood a wooden mission hut run by the Knottingley Salvation Army branch. Its interior was immaculate with walnut veneered wall panelling, highly polished bench pews and the obligatory pedal operated harmonium. We attended the weekday evening service as these were designed for us young folk and were well attended. At 7.20pm, however, I confess to my eyes and mind being more focused on the railway signal, which was visible through the window, being 'pulled off' in readiness for a Bristol to York express train to pass as it was always hauled by a 'Jubilee' class locomotive! The field was neither fenced or cultivated in our early years and came in handy as yet another play area. In later years, however, it did become fenced off and was used for a while by a horse riding school run by a Mr. Thornton. Burnley's Hill came in handy during winter time as an ideal sledging track along with a smaller mound in Bally's field.

Beyond the signal box and adjacent to the railway goods yard stood a long goods shed. One hot Summer afternoon we heard a train pass Grovetown which had just restarted from Baghill Station and soon afterwards heard a loud crackling sound. On looking out we saw that the goods shed roof had been ignited by a spark from the locomotive. As the roof was covered with bitumen felt, already at melting point due to the heat of the sun, the flames quickly took hold and within minutes had spread along the whole length of the roof. The resulting inferno did considerable damage before it could eventually be brought under control.

Another large fire we witnessed occurred late one dark evening and involved the liquorice works of Hilaby's in Front Street. Although situated on the other side of town from Grovetown the flames from the vast amounts of sugar stocks were so high we could see them from our own doorstep. We were taken to the scene the following day where firemen were still damping down. All that was left of the factory was a blackened empty shell. Fell carpets repaired part of the building but when they eventually moved out the site was cleared to make way for the Kwiksave store - now used by Asda.

As a rule doors were not locked even though the front doors opened directly onto the pavement and illumination throughout the village amounted to only a few well scattered 4-mantled gas lamps. And, yes, we had a lamplighter who walked the whole district each evening armed with a long pole carried on his shoulder with a small flame and hook on the end. At each gas lamp he would use the hook to pull down a chain hanging from below the glass cage to open the gas valve and then use his flame to ignite the mantels before moving on to the next lamp. The following morning a return visit would be required to turn off each light. Regrettably, modern technology crept in on the scene as each lamp was eventually fitted with a clockwork timer. Then, literally overnight, Mr. Lamplighter became Mr. Winder-upper of clockwork timers and enjoyed more socially acceptable working hours, though to many it seemed yet another sad loss of a romantic scene. The song, 'The old lamp lighter of long, long ago', aptly portrays the sight and atmosphere of those lamplighter years.

Another less romantic figure walking Grovetown streets who most definitely did not work socially acceptable hours was the village knocker-upper. His day would start at around 4am. calling at selected houses by appointment carrying a long pole, usually a clothes line prop, and tap at the bedroom window continually until a sleepy-eyed miner slid open his sash window and showed his face as evidence that he was indeed out of bed and so ready for work. If he got no response from his pole tapping, the Knocker-upper would resort to throwing a few choice stones at the window and shouting until he got a response. Not long afterwards came a clip-clop sound of hob nailed pit boots trudging along the pavements. Initially one pair, then two, then many more as the miners met up to walk to the Prince of Wales pit together. Two hours later hob nailed boots would be heard again as the night shift wearily made their way home to bed and woe betide anyone to make a noise for the next few hours and awake them from their slumber. Door slamming was definitely banned.

On Front Street, conveniently placed on the miner’s run, was a barbers shop run by barber Lowe. He was an ex-army barber and quite a dab hand at basin cuts or short back and sides - regulation style, of course. He obviously did not require much sleep, just like our knocker-upper, for he opened his shop at 4am. It was not uncommon for miners to call in for a haircut on their way to work when on the 6am. shift, let alone on their way home from a night shift, as he worked on them like greased lightning.

Race days were special occasions as our granddad on my mother’s side would be sure to visit us. He lived just outside Rotherham and would catch one of the race special trains into Baghill Station then walk from there straight down to the park, calling afterwards at our house for tea before catching a later train home. Granddad was a smart chap at the best of times but really looked the part for a day at the races in his green tweed sports coat, a light brown flat cap, carefully creased flannels and highly polished sturdy brown shoes. His broad South Yorkshire drawl really fascinated us kids as we sat around listening to his 'if only' accounts of near misses with the day’s betting. "Only donkeys been running today", he would say, "How could you pick a winner from a field like that?" But when he was called to the table for his tea and started downing large portions of the pound of raw tripe, soaked in vinegar, that mother had specially bought earlier from Schofield's tripe stall for him, there was a quick exit through the front door by us kids. I cannot recall us actually sitting down at the table for tea with him but we soon reappeared when he had finished, for deep down we were very fond of him in every other respect. We always looked forward to visiting him, usually on Bank Holidays, for not only did we like to see him personally but the journey to Rotherham meant a combined ride on the train and a trolley bus. It also gave us a chance to see again Granddad's pet border collie dog, Pete (or should it be Peat?) who Dad brought down from the Orkneys to Grovetown as a pet for us kids when once on leave, but he proved too boisterous for us toddlers so Granddad took Pete home with him. Both lived to a grand old age.

No one travelled about much during the war years so entertainment for us young'uns was very much localised and centred on playing out in the fields or street games such as a football kickabout and Levi Hi Ho, which lasted for hours. Marbles lasted a long time too as we spent a lot of time retrieving them from gutter drains as we could not afford to buy replacements. The girls took to skipping with lengths of broken clothes lines. Hide and seek was very popular as there were plenty of hiding places in the village ginnels and also in back yards if we happened to find a gate unlatched.

On pancake day (Shrove Tuesday) out came whip and tops - sometimes it was actually referred to as whip and top day. These had been stored at the bottom of the lumber cupboard from the previous year along with coloured chalks to decorate the tops. Pavements were full of them and their owners, but we did not miss out on the actual pancakes themselves which were laced with sugar, orange or lemon juice, while others were served up with a smattering of jam or treacle. Needless to say all the street games were played well away from lines of washing that were strewn across the streets as there were some women in the village who we would not dare to fall foul of by dirtying their whites or any other colour come to think of it.

On certain warm summer evenings one teenage lad, who lived in Elm Street, would sit on his front doorstep and give an impromptu medley of popular tunes on his harmonica. He would soon be surrounded by other villagers of all ages who united in a communal sing-a-long, especially with the sentimental ballads of the time. Moths appeared to dance in time to the music in the gas lamplight while the occasional spooky firefly, as we called them, winged their way out of a dark ginnel opposite towards Bally’s field.

House gable walls were popular with us kids on cold evenings as we soaked up the warmth from raging coal fires within.

Saturday mornings were spent at the 'flicks', usually the local Playhouse, but sometimes venturing to foreign parts of town like the Premier and Alec, down Tansh, or the old Crescent for the usual helpings of cowboy serials. Personally I found these boring especially the inevitable cliff hangers at the end of each episode as the following week’s outcome was far too obvious - he always managed to climb back up! - but we had a good laugh all the same and thought it a tanner worth spent. Some of the 'smart' kids paid less and were made to sit on the front rows seemingly willing to risk permanent neck damage by having to look upwards at near vertical angles through being only a few feet away from the screen, but when the lights were dimmed they would crawl under the seats to rows further back. They were easily picked out soon afterwards in usherette torchbeams for they were the ones whose jackets or pullovers were thick with dust, fluff, discarded chewing gum, fag ends, stale apple cores and other unmentionable matter from a not too clean floor and were promptly dispatched back from whence they came, much to our amusement.

In later years we made the Crescent our weekly venue as the Star group who owned it employed a compere who was known to us as Uncle Tony. He did a great job of leading us in a sing-a-long and even on occasions a local talent session during the film interval which we thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards we ran our way (we seemed to run everywhere) to Woollies biscuit counter where for a penny we could get a large paper bag full of broken biscuits. On some occasions there were no broken ones to be seen but there was always a sympathetic assistant who would have a clumsy spell with the biscuit tins and in next to no time there would be enough for all.

Our run home took us down Gillygate, with a quick diversion straight through the men’s urinal, and a call at the adjacent newsagent for our Dandy and Beano comics. This was later augmented by the Eagle comic for our weekly space adventures with Dan Dare versus the green egg-headed character from Venus known as the Mekon.

On passing the fish and fish shop at the bottom of Gillygate we would pause to view a model lighthouse in the window with a flashing light illuminating perspex beams bearing the wording - Fish Fryers Federation. Hung up on a screen behind was a framed verse which read - 'Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean, but when it came to fish and chips, they licked their platters clean'. We were curiously fascinated by these items.

Also on our way home we ran down Slutwell Lane with its steep, cobbled road, passing on the left a large house with its front door opening direct onto the pavement with a wooden canopy over it. This was Sarminjo Lodge, a former All Saints’ Church vicarage, named by a previous vicar who composed an anagram from the first letters of his three daughters names, Sarah, Minnie and Josephine (Sarminjo) one of whom spent her last days in the family home. It was demolished and the land absorbed into the Hospital grounds. Slutwell Lane most likely derives its name from sloath or slow well - not as is usually suggested.

Sarminjo Lodge, Pontefract
Sarminjo Lodge, Slutwell Lane. Sketch by Ken Fox

Further down on our left stood a joiner’s workshop and the large wooden cattle market complex now occupied by part of Friarwood car park and Stringers’. This was an extremely busy place on cattle market days with even special cattle trains into Baghill goods yard.

Whereas the present Slutwell Lane terminates at a 'T' junction with the re-modelled Friarwood Lane, it used to continue straight down to the still extant Mayfield Avenue terraced houses before turning sharp right immediately in front of them and onwards to the present junction with Grove Road. This section was narrow and pretty much hemmed in by high brick walls on either side with overhanging shrubs while the frontage of No.1 Mayfield seemed precariously situated being right at the bottom of a very steep hill.

About 100 yards along Grove Road, a narrow stone stile was built into the stone wall at the foot of the railway embankment which provided a short but clumsy footpath route to Station Lane and Baghill Station. Initially, this led us around the boundaries of those Mayfield properties, marked by a row of old railway sleepers stood on end, before opening out into a mini valley flanked by an embankment, above which stood the cattle market on one side and a deep cutting with a stream flowing at its base on the railway side. Further along, a row of allotments stood between the path and the railway goods yards. On reaching the foot of Station Lane embankment, a wooden kissing gate was passed through which led straight on to a flight of very steep wooden steps to reach road level. This was the clumsy part, for it was quite a task to negotiate these two obstacles armed with bulky luggage when dashing to catch a train, but it was either this or Slutwell Hill! However, this path became a popular short cut to the Senior Boy’s School in Back Northgate during later years.

Ewbanks 'Eagle' liquorice works stood on the right of Grove Road with its odd profiled square sectioned black chimney belching out equally black smoke. This did not detract from the deliciously sweet aroma wafting from the open windows as the also black substance of liquorice along with accompanying sugary ingredients were being processed into delicious confectionery inside. The deep, sweet root of natural locally grown liquorice had long since been superseded by a liquorice extract in concentrated cake form imported from Spain thus we referred to it as Spanish. In that form, as a raw material, it resembled lumps of coal in appearance and was so strong to taste that it was totally unpalatable and not at all sweet. Strange how Pontefract’s economy became dependent on black liquorice and black diamonds both of similar appearance.

On the roadside was a loading bay and if the right person happened to be on duty he would, by request, disappear into the factory and return with hands full of spice for all. Why we ever used the term ‘spice’ when referring to sweets I will never know. Ewbanks employed mostly female workers and it was fascinating to watch a whole army of them streaming out of the gates at each shift ending, cascading in all directions. Some would still be wearing green smocks, and the obligatory turban, but all would be covered from head to foot in starch. These girls were, literally, the sweetest girls in town. Mother worked there part time when we kids started school and often spoke of the happy atmosphere that prevailed. A result of aroma therapy?

Near to the factory gates stood a pair of semi-detached houses, formerly Eagle Villa, which Ewbanks used as their offices and it also incorporated a sweet shop. However, by the time we passed this, our pockets would already be filled with spice! In any case the chip shop was just a block away where we could get a bag of chips for threepence. It never failed to amuse me at the way some lads poured so much vinegar on them that when they got outside they had to tear off a corner of the bag and let the surplus drain out onto the causey. Obviously some food items were plentiful even in rationing days.

After the war, during some rough shunting in the railway sidings overlooking Grove Road, a wagon full of scrap aircraft parts shed a plane wing. Whether Spitfire or Hurricane mattered not for it still became the focus of attention to us kids for fun and games. We managed to drag it to the top of the embankment, sat in the undercarriage recess, and used it to slide down the slope in. Unfortunately the trip was a short one and ended abruptly against the stone wall but we enjoyed the new found toy for a day or two until it was reunited with its counter parts in the wagon. The embankments were completely clear of shrubs in those days - they would not have a chance to generate due to spark throwing by passing steam locomotives. Railside fires were quite common.

On another occasion a group of us took advantage of the goods yard locomotive turntable and used it all too briefly as a roundabout. We were soon chased off but one of the kids was caught and gave all our names to the railway bobby. The result was that those of us who were eight years old and over, later appeared in court before a magistrate who happened to be a Mr. Pease from nearby The Grove who knew us all very well. There was an air of humour prevailing in the courthouse that morning at the spectacle of a dozen apologetic looking youngsters lined up in front of the bench - not enough room in the actual dock - while Magistrate Pease did his level best to keep a straight face and deliver a stern message to us about the dangers of railway trespass, before passing his judgment. The maximum fine for trespass on the railway was forty shillings then, but we got a ten shilling fine, a good lecture and a damn good hiding, all of which obviously worked for we were never in trouble again. At least not on railway property.

However, trains have held a lifelong fascination for me and some of my most pleasant memories are of watching them from the lineside in the Grovetown locality including witnessing a one-off arrival of Bertram Mills Circus train which unloaded at Baghill and formed a procession - animals, keepers, performers and all - which later threaded its way through town and on to Pontefract Park. There was always a large variety of trains along the 'Baghill Line' with an equal variety of steam locomotive workings as both the L.M.S. and L.N.E.R. were still operating engines originally built in the 1800s.

Fortunately for Pomfretians, most of these scenes have been captured for posterity through the camera lens by Peter Cookson, who, in his own quiet style, also stood by the lineside watching the same trains. We are eternally grateful to him, especially as he has allowed his photographs to be shared by all in past editions of the 'Digest' and elsewhere. Nevertheless, even Peter will agree that no picture will ever truly record the delightful experience of actually being at the lineside and watching these workhorses, either ambling by on goods trains or thundering along hauling a smart express train. The sight, sound and smell are unique to this machine and will ever be at the forefront of my memories of Grovetown and later when I lived in Chequerfield.

So captivated by these machines was I, that on leaving school I got a job at Normanton engine sheds on the footplate, and loved working on them so much that I thought nothing of pedal biking the seven miles to work and back from Chequerfield at all times throughout day and night and enduring all weathers. Thunderstorms, ice, fog and snowdrifts while biking to work did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for them. But that is another story.

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 Four
Growing up in Grovetown Part Five


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