West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



The two letters appearing in your April edition of the Pontefract Digest magazine, referring to the Cranky Pin and Growing up in Grovetown, were of particular interest to me for I was born in Grovetown back in 1940, actually number 13 Oak Street, where I was to live for the next seven years.

At that time there was already an older brother Roy, and an elder sister Eileen. Another brother, Alan, appeared a little later on. My Dad rented an allotment on the 'Cranky Pin' site in the years following World War Two and so no doubt the remnants of pig sties recalled by Dave Barry, would undoubtedly, also be amongst the ones used by my Dad and my Uncle ‘Kitch’ (Jim), both now passed on. Apart from the usual vegetables, rows of Sweet William's and Pyrethrum's were a feature of the plot. These were gathered by us kids and were exchanged for discarded foodstuff and peelings from local households in an attempt to bolster to the ravenous appetites within the sty enclosure. Fair exchange is no robbery!

I can recall now the aroma from the boiling waste vegetables, simmering away in the coal fired brick-built boiler alongside the sty and the way our old, seemingly to us already overweight ‘Daisy’, would impatiently pace up and down up to the very moment her meal was finally bucketed out of the boiler and into her trough along with a few lumps of coal for good measure – vitamin supplements are nothing new!

Very vivid memories came flooding back of those early years on the allotment with the family, and the happy, contented days we spent there. Of course, the sun always shone in those days. It only rained overnight, when it would be more beneficial to the seedlings, whilst the only air movement comprised of a warm balmy breeze, it’s sole purpose being to waft sweet scents our way from the nearby Ewbanks Eagle Liquorice Works.

Hens were also kept on our plot along with the proud and beautifully coloured cockerel who’s crowing we could hear from the house on early mornings. I regret I cannot recall Gerald Barry on the site but in all fairness we were but bairn's at the time, but one character who does spring to mind was a then elderly gentleman named Harry Potts who I believe lived on Friarwood Lane. Harry, Mr. Potts to us, was seemingly the allotment Patriarch, possibly the secretary, to whom everyone went for help and guidance when it came to allotment matters but, however stern his appearance may have been, he was always willing to impart his overwhelming and diverse knowledge of horticulture to all and sundry. No secrets were held back by Harry. I could do with him around now as I struggle with my vegetable patch even after all these years!

Another sentinel who forever stood watch over us while we were on the site was the faithful tower of St. Giles church, the quarterly chimes from which kept us tuned into the other world beyond Friarwood orchards. There was not the vast conglomeration of hospital buildings then so the tower was always in view and its clock face truly in focus – not that time mattered to us as kids but for my mother the later Sunday morning peal of its ten bells accompanied by those of All Saint’s meant it was time to gather some fresh vegetables and head home to prepare Sunday dinner ahead of her own hungry brood who would not be too far behind her.

Lunchtime was not part of the working class scene then. Midday was most decidedly ‘dinnertime’, especially Sunday dinnertime when we would start off with a Yorkshire Pudding filled with gravy followed rapidly by a plate full of whatever meat was available and vegetables accompanied with roast spuds ending with rhubarb crumble and custard. No wonder we were close behind! Needless to say there was a much needed scrub-up after our allotment capers but not too much as mother's always pointed out in those days that "You have to eat a little bit of muck in your life." In their own sweet ignorance was this a way of unwittingly boosting our immune system in the days before mass consumption of antibiotics?

Grovetown was separated from the allotments by a field (now occupied by Ashleigh Avenue) and the railway line. The field was used as grazing land for three or four horses and was fenced off from the front street of Grovetown – Oak Street – with a palisade of redundant railway sleepers set up on end and giving off that curiously attractive aroma of old creosote when warmed by the sun. There is nothing new about aromatherapy!

One sad day we witnessed one horse, I believe named Billy, having been spooked by a passing train become entangled in a wire fence breaking his leg in the process. The poor creature was humanely put down almost immediately, then carted off to the knackeryard before our tearful eyes. We always referred to this narrow strip of land as ‘Bally’s Field’ due to it being owned by farmer Ball who lived at Ox Close Farm, a then small farm albeit of ancient origins, which was situated on the town side of the railway sandwiched between the said railway, the allotment and Swanhill Lane. Conveniently, there was an overbridge taking the railway over Grove Road through which we gained access to the allotments.

Immediately through this bridge was, and still is, Grove Road Angling Club. Dad was a member of this popular little club. Alongside this was an old wooden shed housing a small printing works. Adjacent to this was Ellam’s fish and chip shop – a popular venue for us kids – now in the guise of an Oriental ‘take-away’. There was an orchard behind this shop where we would occasionally play, along with the son Peter Ellam and daughter who I believe was called Rita? Now it is a car park – a familiar story.

Next up the road was Ewbanks Liquorice Works preceded by their registered office. This was an acquired former semi-detached house having been converted to offices. In a ground floor room, obviously an adaption of the front parlour, was set up a sweetshop run by Ewbanks to sell their produce. Another popular venue for us. Running alongside this was the main works roadway and entrance gates. However, on the left hand side of the club the still existing paved footpath continued on a straight course across a beck and between two fields towards a long row of tall poplar trees planted many years ago to form a windbreak for nursery gardens close by. The path was paved for its entire length to its termination near a row of terrace houses on Mayor’s Walk opposite where Valley Gardens entrance is, though the gardens were not developed until 1951. We always regarded this route as a most picturesque one to town and readily took it as a pleasant alternative to the one up Slutwell Lane. Incidentally, we always called the steep steps up to Southgate alongside the Infirmary ‘Bluebell Steps’.

On retracing our footsteps to the railway bridge on your left you will see a short cinder track running parallel to the railway and behind the doctors surgery complex acting now as a short cut to Carleton Glen (the surgery actually stands at the bottom of what was a small field used exclusively for hay making). This track was the start of a lane up to Ox Close farm which itself was accessed through a gate about 100 yards ahead. At that point the lane to the allotments took a sharp right turn and after about 20 yards, sharp left, bringing you out into the allotment area. The plots were all on the left hand side and backed onto the farm boundary and buildings, being separated from same by a hawthorn hedge and the same beck crossed earlier on our way to Mayor’s Walk. This beck was fed by springs higher up the hill towards Swanhill and was used effectively by allotment holders as a faithful supply of water for their thirsty crops and livestock; each plot had a water hole dug alongside the beck and these were always full to the brim. Needless to say, the rainfall supplying the springs would have fallen overnight!

Although we as kids knew the allotment site as ‘Cranky Pin’ I was later informed that the name was actually a reference to the Waterloo Monument at one time situated in the Monument Lane and Chequerfield area. It comprised of a slender brick built obelisk set upon a square plinth surmounted by a stone urn. Apparently, due to the use of sub standard materials during its construction, the obelisk acquired a decidedly precarious list to one side thus taking the form of a ‘Cranky Pin’. It was therefore deemed unsafe and pulled down but I understand that a large fragment of the urn is set into the ground adjacent to Monument House. How the name became transferred to what is now Carleton Glen I cannot say but photographs of the monument, list ‘n all, and the surviving urn portion, are to be found on page 91 of ‘Battye’s Pontefract’ by Tom Cuniff.

Ken Fox
Kelso, Roxburghshire.


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