West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections




Following the recent request in the Pontefract Digest by Virginia Asquith about what it was like to live in Grovetown in years past, the following recollections may be of interest to her. Hopefully, they will also be of interest to others who might perhaps have heard of this long gone village but have no knowledge of it’s somewhat unique position and character. It’s a small world we live in for an Asquith family were our immediate neighbours who lived at number 11 Oak Street. It would be nice to think that they were actually Virginia’s in-laws but there was also another Asquith family who lived for a time in Elm Street.

Sadly, I possess no photographs of the village and it’s environs but with the aid of a few drawings and maps I may be able to conjure up a general picture as I journey down the proverbial memory lane. I choose to use a terminology contemporary with my recollections in order to maintain the atmosphere so please ask the old folk for an interpretation if deemed necessary.

My grandparents, James Fox, a miner who originated from the Dewsbury area, and Mary Jane, originally from Kent, married in 1886 at Dewsbury Moor. A few years later they were lodging with in-laws at 11 Elm Street, Grovetown but by 1901 were at 14 Ash Street. My Granddad died in 1942 and grandma in 1946 when living at 27 Oak Street.

My dad, Fred Fox, was born in Ash Street in 1907 but mother Marjorie (Madge) hailed from Rotherham. After their marriage they first lived in Huddersfield before moving to 13 Oak Street in 1939 along with my brother Roy and my sister Eileen. I was born in 1940 followed a short time later by another brother, Alan. The maternity home in Banks Avenue was evidently full up at the time I was due so I was born at home in 13 Oak Street. It’s a good job I’m not superstitious!

Grovetown Pontefract

Grovetown Village, submitted by Ken Fox

Grovetown originally consisted of 55 terrace houses and was built in the 1870’s as, I understand, accommodation for the workforce who were employed in building the railway line which ran alongside. The railway was opened for traffic on 1st July 1879 after which the village was sold off and the houses rented out up to the demolition of the entire village over the winter of c.1962/3.

The streets were named Oak, Elm, Ash and Beech. Oak Street ran parallel to the railway and included a general grocers and off-licence. When built Grovetown was indeed surrounded by fields and the nearest properties would have been on Mayor’s Walk and Friarwood Lane with ‘The Grove’, the Pease family home, just a short walk away over towards the Chequerfields. This rural isolation was maintained until the 1930’s when the present semi-detached properties were built on Churchbalk Lane including two blocks of identical houses on Beech Street – our posh neighbours!

Most of the houses were of the usual Victorian style basically of two up and two down and had a small enclosed brick floored back yard - ours was devoid of sunshine - with a coal house and adjoining toilet. This toilet, although a flush one, had no heating or light other than the candle taken with you but always had an ample supply of ‘Daily Heralds’ neatly torn into squares and hung on a piece of string within easy reach. There was none of your new fangled Andrex rolls and it was certainly not the place to linger on a winter’s night. There was a full-length solid gate in the yard wall, usually a discarded house door, giving access to a series of ginnels linking the backyards of all the houses. A pleasant feature of these ginnels was that even the gate doorsteps were neatly scoured in smart yellow edgings to match the doorsteps and windowsills of each house. We may have been poor but we were certainly proud.

The front door of the houses opened directly into the living room where once over the mat well with its coconut mat you were always welcomed by a roaring coal fire with an equally warm invitation to sit in front of it for a ‘cuppa. It was comfortable for a while but then the front of your legs would turn an odd shade of red through a degree of burning. At the same time the backs of your legs and torso would be turning blue due to the permanent draught as the cold outside air whistled in through ill fitting windows and doors to replace the hot air shooting wastefully up the chimney. They would call it chill factor now.

Polite conversation was impossible due to the noise made by rattling spoons on cups and saucers as you shivered in your chairs and the coughing from smoke frequently billowing out into the room from the range. We really appreciated a saucer for spillage but not the black blobs of soot that floated around in the air and left a sulphurous taste as they landed in your cups of tea.

The fire, however welcoming in cold seasons, was quite another thing on a hot, sultry summer afternoon but was entirely necessary as it provided the main source of hot water. The range always looked smart in a fresh coating of black leading; its handles and hinges gleamed like silver through constant use and polishing while a kettle simmered patiently on the fireside forever eager to top up those spillages. The oven was heated by sliding out a damper which drew heat from the fire. This could also be used as extra drawing power to enliven a newly banked up fire. Invariably, as with most modern technology, this damper usually malfunctioned by leakage due to warping so it was not always necessary to actually open it. It was always accepted that a coal-fired oven produced the tastiest cooking, especially Yorkshire puddings.

Underfoot, to insulate your feet from the cold quarry-tiled floor would be the most comfortable clipping hearth rug which had been handmade by all the family from cut up cast off clothes as they sat together by the fireside on those long winter evenings listening to the wireless set. Every now and then a live cinder would shoot out of the fire and singe the rug giving off that unique pungent smell that only burning rags can make. We took it in turn to quickly pick up the cinder and toss it back into the fire without burning our fingers.

The wireless would be tuned into the Light programme of the B.B.C. entertaining us with Tommy Handley’s ‘Itma’, Ted Ray’s ‘Raise a laugh’ and the Donald Peers show. Sunday dinner time would include ‘Billy Cotton’s Band Show’ and ‘Educating Archie’ featuring, would you believe -- a ventriloquist on the radio - don’t watch my lips move! ‘Forces Favourites’ - a record request programme to cater for servicemen stationed abroad always went down well with Sunday dinner.

The wireless set was a curiosity in itself because there was no mains electricity and it relied on battery power. This took the form of an accumulator, a series of wet cells in an open box of acid, positioned under the wireless set - very hazardous by today’s standards - and this was collected by a company called Ryan’s of Castleford every couple of weeks to be recharged. Their pickup vehicle was a three-wheeled one. Depledges of Willow Park also serviced these accumulators.

A central gaslight with mantles provided the only illumination in the front room. The table was directly underneath and proved convenient, for at dusk we kids insisted on igniting the mantle with a lighted spill and could reach it only by kneeling on the table. I hate to think how many mantles we broke in this operation but the corner shop was wise to this and always kept a large stock of them. Of course, the gas burned was the highly toxic town gas manufactured from coal at Pontefract gas works in Back Northgate as natural gas was not introduced until 1971. Gas supplies were pay as you go through a shilling meter.

The other downstairs room was a combined kitchen and washing room. Under the window nestled two red earthenware sinks, one shallow the other deeper, with a short draining board and a single mantled wall mounted gaslight above. There was a gas ring with flexible hose on an adjoining shelf and a freestanding hand operated wringing machine further along. Tucked away in a dark corner hid a brick enclosed coal fired copper boiler which sprang to life on washdays to provide a constant supply of boiling water for this purpose. On dry days the washing could be strewn across the street to dry as there was minimal traffic in those days but on wet days all the drying had to be done indoors, usually hung high up over the living room fire, another reason for a roaring fire in summer time. All ironing was done on the table using flat irons heated in turn on the fire. The rear room was also used for odd-jobbing on rainy days. Just off this kitchen a pantry comprising of a waist high stone shelf and bare walls was all you had to store perishable foodstuffs.

Upstairs was reached by a staircase directly from the kitchen - no hallway - and just a small, square landing. As there was no upstairs lighting, we were shepherded to bed by candlelight, having been got ready for bed in the light and warmth of downstairs. A comforting night-light was left by our bedside. No bathroom, toilet or, indeed, running water were to be found upstairs. There was a small fireplace in each bedroom but these were only used in times of illness and generally regarded as an unnecessary extravagance. On bath nights a metal bathtub or, when we were very small, the deeper of the two red sinks was brought into use but either of the two options had to be filled manually from the range or from a kettle heated on the gas ring. I must admit that the thought of a bathtub in front of a roaring coal fire seems like the height of luxury even in these days assuming, of course, someone else carries out the task of filling and emptying it for you.

From the front bedroom, where I was actually born, there was a lovely view over Bally’s field and across the railway towards Oxclose Farm with Swanhill behind it. There was a row of tall Poplar trees near Mayors Walk, the orchards of Friar Wood and the elevated Ponte townscape with, of course, the lofty crowned tower of St. Giles overseeing all - always regarded as a landmark symbolising homeland to me even in these days.

Ken Fox

Further articles from Ken Fox:

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


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