West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



Around 1930 the council were building some new houses up Baghill and with their names on the waiting list I suspect my parents were optimistic about getting one, since their rented accommodation in Tanshelf was somewhat crowded. Well their luck was in and in about 1933 we moved to Eastbourne View. It was a brand new house overlooking fields where cows munched grass, liquorice root filled other fields, while in the distance stood Ferrybridge power station. On the horizon were two hills close to Selby with the faint outline of the Wolds behind. It was very different to Tanshelf.

Our new house had a front room and in the kitchen cum living room there was a big iron range with an oven which provided hot water and warmth when stoked up with coal. Washday was a steamy affair, with a fire lit under a boiler which stood in the corner of the kitchen. Lighting was by gas which was kept lit by putting pennies into a meter. Our toilet was outside. A small garden at the front was for a few flowers and the bigger rear garden was where Dad grew a few vegetables. It must have seemed like heaven seventy-five years ago.

As I grew up, this rather rural spot was my playground and my hunting scene into which I roamed in ever growing circles. First memories can rarely be dated but I remember having a three-wheeled bike with pedals on the front wheel when I was probably about three years old. Around us, other families were settling in with their offspring so there was no shortage of kids to play with.

By the way, an old rent book showed that we paid 3s/7d (17p) in the 1930s, which was just as well for Dad wasn't always in work. An early memory was of walking into town with him to the Labour Exchange as he signed on the 'dole'. On the way back he would carry me on his shoulders if I became tired.

About a mile away in the opposite direction was Darrington and we would walk there along one lane, take the Great North Road past Waterfall's Garage, then return along another lane to reach home.

Eastbourne had a mixed bag of families. Some had kids of differing ages who no doubt helped fill the schools. More kids meant more hands when we all went pea picking in summer, for this was an absolute must for many to earn a few bob extra. The reason was that many Dad's didn't have regular work so seasonal work on the farm helped finances. The only chaps with good jobs up Baghill lived in a quiet avenue behind our estate or on the hill which leads to the estates.

Being poor meant devising ways to get by. Though my parents would never resort to stealing, they certainly resorted to finding ways of utilising any item which presented itself. Our floor coverings were a good example of this. Mum and Dad used any old garment which would be cut up into strips of material and made into clipped rugs which had Hessian as a backing. We grouped colours together to create patterns but there was always a 6" black border to our rugs.

Mum baked our bread and made buns in the oven as well as making stew or meat and potato pie. I would be sent to Turton's shop down the road for a bag of flour and a pennyworth of yeast to make the bread rise which would be eaten thick with plum jam or pork dripping. Rice pudding was often on the menu.

Dad worked when there was chance. At one time he went on his old bike all the way to Barnsdale Bar as road improvements were carried out. At other times he worked on building sites on Love Lane and on Nevison. He never worked at the pit as many local men did. He had done so when younger and must have had a belly full of it. Another way of make do and mend was the use of old socks which were worn on the hands as gloves.

As I grew up I went on expeditions with Ken and Colin Fox, lads older than myself, who lived next door. We explored Cobbler Lane, a true lane in those days with high hedges. Our dog, Floss, always came along with us. We walked Grove Lane to the A1 and one which reached Carleton church. We wandered in the Darrington area collecting blackberries and conkers each autumn. Always, I would arrive home tired out and hungry.

Bird nesting was a pastime as was throwing a rope over a tree branch to play Tarzan. On an evening we congregated around a lamp post playing hide and seek and waiting for the lamplighter to come along to light the gas lamp.

We made trollies out of old prams, sledges out of any old timber that presented itself, but the most desirable of transport in those days was a pair of ball bearing roller skates. They were the kids' Rolls Royce. Toys would be handed down in families with kids, as indeed was clothing. Me being an only child meant I never had that privilege. It was a long time before I got a two wheeled bike; I bought it myself from money earned on a paper round when I was twelve in 1943.

Dad's family in Knottingley often bought my new clothes at Whitsuntide, the traditional time for getting them, and Grandma once bought me a smashing overcoat that I looked a bobbydazzler in. Most men and lads wore boots as they lasted longer and were more serviceable. The first shoes I wore was when I left school in 1945 and started work.

Holidays were generally non-existant for us in the 1930s though I did go to spend a few days in Bridlington. Again it was Granddad and Grandma who provided. They would take an old converted railway carriage to stay in for a fortnight at Graingers Camp on the south side of Bridlington and their offspring would join them one after the other for a few days. Dad was in work at the time and sadly missed out.
It was great. I saved up looking forward to going for ages. The camp stood close to the sea but quite a walk out of town. An old photograph shows an uncle and me on a boat in a small lake that is still there to this day.

Our immediate neighbours in Baghill were the Harrisons, the Foxes, Wilsons, Blowers and the Schofields. Other families were called Dodson, Turner, Higgins, Crashley, Elston, MacGurke, Gailey and Wilkinson.

Just down the road stood a farm and when small I looked through the gate at Mr. Cawthorne, his cows, horses and poultry. He grew vegetables to sell and delivered milk up and down the estate from a horse drawn trap which carried big milk churns. Later on I helped a bit with milk deliveries.

On a Sunday afternoon Mr. Wrigglesworth came round selling ice cream from his horse drawn cart. On not too frequent occasions we had a visit from a Castleford couple who had a circular children’s ride mounted on a horse drawn cart. In those days we didn't take jam jars to the bottle bank, they were our fare on this roundabout so we were ever green then.

Behind Cawthornes's farm, the Booth brothers had their farm. When the threshing machine came each autumn it was an occasion for us all. Lads were allowed in and given a hefty stick with which to kill rats and mice as they ran from the haystacks. We made a pile of them to get a few pence, or liquorice at Booths, since they grew it.

The world seemed a long, long way from Baghill and events rarely had an impact on us. On one bright day though, everyone came out to watch a German airship fly over. It appeared to be following the North Road. I read in the Yorkshire Post a few years ago that this was the Hindenburg, a huge dirigible with a cabin slung beneath and that it was flying to New York from Germany. Some time later it caught fire in the USA.

I recall the King Edward fiasco as he courted Mrs Simpson and then abdicated the throne. We sang a rather derogatory song about the pair. On a Royal note, I recall the jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary in 1935. I heard of Al Capone and American slang which was frowned upon by our parents.

You never saw any one truly black in those days even if colliers came home with black faces due to coal dust, but I have to relate this. Occasionally an Indian gentleman would come around Baghill wearing a turban and carrying a big suitcase from which he sold things, I know not what. He used to cause ructions with the kids as he would first be seen down the road some half a mile away. We would run home scared out of our wits insisting that the door be locked. It gave parents a stick, so to speak, to get us to behave. I really believed that he was coming to put some kid into that big case and it could be me.

If the world was distant from Baghill, the weather wasn't. We had some glorious summers as I recall. One year there was a story going round that a Nightingale could be heard singing somewhere between Baghill and Darrington but it wasn't confirmed so far as I remember.

Winters were a different story. They seemed to last a long time and we always had snow with some years being rather bad. There was a white Christmas in about 1935. Walking to Willow Park School was a nightmare in the deep snow. We would clear the paths which was often three to four feet deep. Icicles would form along our roof and we went to bed with iron oven shelves wrapped in an old sheet to keep our beds warm. Scraping ice from the inside of my bedroom window is a clear memory.

Snow used to lie around for weeks, getting down the tops of my Wellingtons if I wasn't careful. Global warming is said to be real enough today but those winters strike me as being an Ice Age and buses couldn't get up Bagill for ice and snow at times.

In 1936 I was five years old and my galavanting around Baghill and the lanes was heading for some disruption as going to school became a necessity. It would give me a wider set of pals and some challenges too. It didn't appeal to me but there was no way out, I would have to go.

Jack Downing

Digest Magazine - Pontefract and Knottingley in West Yorkshire Growing up in Baghill, Pontefract, by Jack Downing was published in the Digest Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1, July 2007.


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