West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections




Taken on Cranky Pin Allotments Pontefract

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 lives.

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, about 1916

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.

Ewbanks Liquorice Works Pontefract circa 1950s

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.

Ken Fox

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


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