GROWING UP IN GROVETOWN
by KEN FOX
With 55 households being concentrated into such a
small area you would expect a certain amount of friction between neighbouring
families but actual disputes appear to have been remarkably few. Most
village men folk worked together down the Prince of Wales pit, an industry
that demanded close comradeship at all times. This, coupled with the
fact that they even grouped up to walk to and from the pit together
at unsociable hours, and through all weathers, built up a strong bond
that extended beyond the pit gates and into their social and domestic
Most men were members of the nearby Grove Road Angling Club, regardless
of whether or not they actually fished, and therefore they knew each
other and their respective families well. Not surprisingly, quite a
number of families were related to each other, but irrespective of family
ties, every adult was regarded as an aunt or uncle by us kids and grandparents
were to be shared by all.
We felt as though we were not just members of a community but of a large
family and it seemed that while we were out at play, we were being constantly
watched over by more than just our actual parents. At times this could
be an unwelcomed nuisance for we could not get away with too much mischief
however, in retrospect I can see a definite advantage in this.
We were at war and food, money and most essential commodities were hard
to come by. This was another kind of bonding agent for it was not uncommon
to have a knock at the door by a neighbour who was after cadging a jug
of milk, a cup of sugar or half a bag of flour. True friendship was
judged according to who turned up on a later day to repay the favour!
Even Christmas time was a very austere scene. Stockings were hung up
overnight and in the morning we excitedly emptied the contents usually
consisting of small toys bought from Woollies for a few pennies and
a few items of fruit - even a banana or orange was considered a rare
treat - and a bar of Nestles chocolate. Any larger toy would have been
second-hand and shared between us. Nevertheless, we were just as thrilled
with our presents as today's kids are and probably more contented. One
thing was for certain - everyone around us was no better off.
Ash Street, Grovetown, Pontefract, c.1916
My dad was in the army for most of the war in the
artillery stationed in the Orkneys at Scappa Flow and therefore we only
saw him briefly when he came home on leave. Mother had to cope with
us four kids by herself during our early years.
I have heard it said that you cannot remember much that happened to
you in your first five years or so but I do distinctly remember certain
events from that period. For example the times we were ushered into
the air raid shelters after the sirens had sounded and sat on my mothers
lap in the darkness amid the humorous banter from other occupants while
we waited for the all clear siren. Fortunately for mother the shelters
were situated in a line along the front of Oak Street and therefore
within easy reach for her and her brood. On re-emerging from a shelter
one sunny afternoon I recall a neighbour drawing attention to a blanket
hanging amongst other washing across the street which had a large hole
in it and passed the comment, ''phew!, that bomb passed a bit too close
for comfort!'' In all fairness I reckon that most bedding and clothing
had holes in it in those days.
As kids we were very much amused at the sight of some old dears hanging
out their bloomers to dry containing a collection of large patches sewn
on in an attempt to make them last a little longer. There were often
more patches than original material.
Another vivid memory I can recall was on one sunny afternoon when my
older sister Eileen walked us younger siblings under the railway bridge
towards town and only got as far as the Angling Club when we heard a
series of distant thuds that stopped us in our tracks. A number of men
came running out of the Club and advised my sister to take us home immediately.
What we had heard was a daytime bombing raid on the ordnance works at
Thorpe Arch, nearly twenty miles distant, but it was near enough to
have the Pontefract air raid siren sounded and we spent most of that
sunny afternoon in the shelter.
Fortunately, Pontefract suffered only minimum attention
from the German bombers, but apparently, one night after a raid on Leeds
a returning crew caught sight of a train setting off from Baghill station
and dropped his remaining few bombs in its direction. They missed and,
sadly, fell on houses in nearby Midland Road with loss of life. One
bomb failed to explode and after it was recovered from the debris a
coin slot was cut in it and it was then placed near the Buttercoss to
be used as a 500lb. collection box for the war effort. Afterwards it
laid forgotten in the Corporation yard off Headlands Road for many years
until it found its present resting place in Pontefract Museum. Effectively
defused I trust.
Other memories were of standing on the railings at the foot of the railway
embankment, which we often did to watch the passing trains, and seeing
the frequent troop trains with servicemen crammed inside the compartments
while others leant out of the door windows. On request from us they
dipped into their kit bags and threw tins of food down to us. These
usually contained either corned beef or spam and were dressed up in
army 'house colour khaki with WD written all over them but, however
humble the contents, they were much appreciated by mothers as a welcome
surplus over and above the normal food rationing.
Other more poignant memories, however, were of slowly passing hospital
trains displaying large Red Cross emblems on their carriage sides with
bandaged soldiers gazing at the outside world and, no doubt, on seeing
us kids by the line side conjured up thoughts of their own families
back home who they were shortly to rejoin.
An amusing incident occurred in the village during the war when a few
armoured vehicles suddenly rushed in on the scene and mustered on spare
ground beyond Fox's shop causing great panic and a 'lock up your daughter'
paranoia. When the dust finally settled it appears that a convoy of
military vehicles had been travelling along the Great North Road when
one of their numbers, with some local knowledge, remembered the off-licence
in Grovetown and made a swift detour over Chequerfield’s from north
of Darrington. After quenching their thirst and allowing us kids to
climb all over their vehicles they retraced their tracks heading eastwards
in a cloud of dust and, belching black exhaust, soon disappeared over
the eastern horizon. Thus, with its wartime excitement now over, downtown
Grovetown, a sleepy village where nothing happens, slipped peacefully
and contentedly back into slumberland.
Further articles from Ken Fox:
Growing up in Grovetown Part One
Growing up in Grovetown Part Three
Growing up in Grovetown Part Four
Growing up in Grovetown Part Five