West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



Our family moved into Pontefract when I was four and my brother Melvyn was a toddler, we moved in just before Christmas 1948 I think. We lived at the bottom end of Grosvenor Avenue in the cul-de-sac and my memories of that time are as follows:

Our neighbours when we moved in were Mr. and Mrs Haigh and their son John on one side, and the Byford’s on the other. When the Byford’s moved, first Mr. and Mrs Van der Pump and then Mr. (ENT Consultant) and Mrs Mayall lived there. Over the road from us were Mr. and Mrs Hoyland and next to them were Mr. and Mrs Rowland and their son Keith. Mr. Rowland had the men’s outfitters in town. Then there were the Hayes family, Philip and two sisters.

Further up the street lived Mr. and Mrs Wright (he was the headmaster at Tanshelf Junior School), Joan Atkinson and the Holdway’s – John had two or three sisters I think. Graham Holt and his sister lived next door to the Holdway’s. Round the corner in St. Michael’s Avenue lived Margaret, Joan and Graham Smith and further along St. Michael’s Avenue lived the Watson’s – they had a dog called Mickie who spent all his time asleep in the middle of the road.

After his discharge from the army, my father worked as a farrier in the pits, having been a farmer before his army career, and gradually moved up to become a safety officer. I can remember him cycling home from work still covered in pit dust. My mother was the night sister superintendent at Ackton Hospital. She worked nights for twenty-two years and my whole childhood was spent whispering, as she woke up if there was the slightest noise.

I can remember us having the freedom to play all across the street, as very few people had a car. We used to tie a long skipping rope to the gas lamp on the corner of St. Michael’s and use the full width of the road for skipping games.

In those days we had access to the whole of the Park Hill and we could bob under the hedge directly opposite the end of Grosvenor Avenue. From here we could play on the hill, sledging in winter (I always fell off half way down the hill towards the racecourse) and in the summer on race days, we would sit on the brow of the hill drinking spanish water (home made in a small bottle from a hard spanish stick floating in water) and playing roly-poly down the hill between races. We always used to choose who we thought would win by the colour of their racing shirts. One of our other usual haunts was under and around the water tower.

We often went to the park lake, especially during the summer. In those days the lake was clean and I can remember there being swimming races across the far end. It was the highlight of the day if we could afford to hire a rowing boat and go out on the lake, although we dreaded hearing the "No. 4 come in please" after our half-hour.

I went to Tanshelf Junior School (my brother eventually transferred to Love Lane Junior) and I can remember Jane Wood, who, although she was at our school, I seem to remember her parents lived in North Featherstone. I also recall Helen Hartshone, who lived in the row of houses opposite the Alexander Cinema where Harratts Car Sales now is, and Elsie Pursglove. One of my main memories of Elsie is that on the days that cheese pie was on the menu, I used to sit next to her at lunchtime as she didn’t like it and she would let me eat hers as well as my own! Then there was Albert Wilson, Valerie ?…….

Every year we did a reading test – often/usually a long list of words, and I can remember working out the syllables in my head before saying the word. Evidently I had a reading age of thirteen at the age of eight. As far back as I can remember I have walked along with a book in my hand and my nose in the book. I have a feeling that English was the only subject I was really good at!

I can remember vividly walking over the railway bridge to Mr. Brookes’ paper shop instead of going straight home from school. Standing outside where the boxes of old comics were and reading my way through the pile, I was utterly convinced I could not be seen through the window because of the rows of sweet jars and stuff blocking his view. It was only when I was grown up that he told me he had always been aware I was there! Mr. Brookes’ daughter, Hilda, also worked in the shop. Once when it was raining very hard, she served a customer with cigarettes by putting them in a paper bag on the end of the window pole and passing them through the car window. Hilda went on to marry a milkman and for years they had a milk round in Pontefract. If I remember rightly, Mrs Brookes was killed in a road accident involving a bus near the shop.

I don’t actually remember being told we were doing the eleven plus exam, but at the same time, I can remember that on that day I added up the sums on my fingers under the desk so no-one could see me! Alec Butler, Margaret Jarrat and I were the only ones to pass the eleven plus. Also, possibly on that same day, it was snowing and as we walked up Park Lane at lunchtime, Terry Price threw a snowball at me, which went down my neck. We used to sit at double desks, and because of the large number of pupils in each class, two double desks were put together, then an aisle, then two more double desks. One horrendous day I can vividly remember sliding along the seat to get to where I sat, and getting an enormous splinter in my posterior and not daring to tell the teacher because he was a man. Mr. Hall was actually a very nice teacher and very popular with the children. In sewing classes we used to embroider sacking with coloured wool in patterns, and then make them into cushion covers. We also knitted kettle holders in thick wool. My next attempt at knitting was at the High School, where we had to knit gloves on four needles (what a culture shock!)

I can’t remember who organised them but we used to go to ‘junior dances’ at the Drill Hall in the early fifties (for some reason I link this with drinking 7-up), and later as teenagers we went to the ‘Tanner Hop’ at the Assembly rooms on Ropergate. It ended at 10 o’clock but because I had to be home by 9.30pm, I had to race up the road to catch the bus outside Hague’s shop by 9.15pm. It was run by someone from the church and we had one record which would be something like Gay Gordons or a Valeta, and then one record which was ‘pop’ music. We used to try and spin fast enough to get our skirts to twirl – oh the innocence of youth!

Also when I was young, Mr. Machin had a fruit and vegetable business which he ran from a horse and cart. The pony was stabled in a field halfway up Park Lane, next to the High School. One reason I remember this horse was because it always managed to do a ‘pooh’ outside our house or next door and my father expected me to go and shovel it up for his garden.

I can remember as a young teenager walking home up a gas-lit Park Lane, with no fear of passing strangers as there is now. I can also remember the old Tanshelf Station, accessed from a road next to the Queens Hotel, and the presence of soldiers from the Barracks was a regular sight in town, presumably all members of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

I had a serious operation at Pontefract Infirmary when I was two years old. This was back in the days when parents were discouraged (forbidden?) to visit their children, because the child cried when its parents went home. My mother used to say that she had only been able to check up on me by telephone, even though it was thought that I might die. It was only after my operation when I was well on the way to recovery that I was allowed visitors occasionally (this is actually my first memory).

I also remember having my tonsils out when I was seven, on the day of the hospital open day (gala?) and there being no nurses around to hear my painful croaking for a drink. We went home by taxi from outside the old dispensary door (by the roundabout).

A very big event in Pontefract was the arrival of a deal whale on a flat-bed truck. It was parked on the old cattle market and there were queues of people waiting to walk round a platform to examine this whale at close quarters. I would imagine this was in the late 40’s or very early 50’s.

Even though I had thought that Tanshelf School was a big building I can remember being overawed by the size of the High School. We all gathered in the school hall, which also served as the gym, and which in those days was opposite the main front door. It was two storeys high and FULL of children. We were introduced to all the teachers – Miss Beard was my first history teacher, and Miss Killip was our form mistress as well as our English teacher. She came from the Isle of Man and wrote stories for Jackanory and Children’s Hour on radio. Mrs Mendham also took us for English later on.

Among the names I remember from the High School are: -

Marcia Tilly and Delia O’Reilly who lived in The Mount, Christine Hanson and Christine Gill who lived in Featherstone and often attended the same chapel services as myself; Judith Glasby who lived at the top of Linden Terrace, Margaret Tomlinson, Sylvia ?, Barbara Croft, Jennifer Eggington (who lived in Doncaster) and Margaret Kay (I was always fascinated by her name, as my brother would have been called Margaret Kay if he’d been a girl!).

During our first gym lesson, Barbara Croft, who went on to play hockey for England, climbed the rope all the way to the ceiling. All I could do with that same rope was cling on with both hands and lift my feet from the floor for a millisecond!

Christine Gill confessed to me recently that she became very jealous of me during our second year, simply because I had a very smart ruler made from diagonal pieces of Australian wood (a gift from family who live out there). My apologies, Chris!

One of our maths teachers was Miss Claughton. She had been at school with my father in Silsden, where her father was the headmaster, and I can remember being embarrassed when they stopped to talk to each other outside the school. Another embarrassment from school was that everyone else seemed to have graduated from knee socks to stockings and I nagged and nagged my mother to allow me also to have stockings. In the end she relented, but insisted that I wear what she bought. These turned out to be (horror of horrors) 30-denier crepe stretch (a la Nora Batty). I used to walk with my knees bent so that my well over the knee’s skirt would hide them. I am reasonably sure that I went back to socks quite quickly.

Miss Prince was our maths teacher and she had quite a large goitre which in those days would have been untreatable. Maths was definitely not my best subject – she must have struggled very hard to get even a tiny bit of algebra and geometry into my brain. One of the main things I remember about her was that in the middle of one lesson her knickers dropped to the floor, the elastic having broken. She calmly stepped out of them, took them to her desk, turned, and swore us all to silence. Naturally, within five minutes of class finishing, this story was right round the school.

Miss Wickens was the art teacher. Madame Tippets taught us French in the first year, but then left as she was ill. Her English was very difficult to follow, but what I found harder was following the totally different French accent of the teacher who took us for the second year.

Miss Roberts who became Mrs Marper was our needlework teacher. For some reason she found it amazing that I could sew with a needle in my left hand – little did she know that I thought it just as odd that she could sew using her right hand! That first term, we began by making an apron for cookery, and then knitted those (horrendously difficult) gloves for the winter term. The second term we did cookery. I remember the cookery teacher buying a left handed potato peeler specially for me, but I couldn’t use it as I had been used to peeling potatoes with a right handed peeler in my left hand, taking the blade forward like sharpening pencils. I still peel potatoes this way today.

Mrs Mountain was our biology teacher – she called us all ‘gals’ and carried pieces of string in her pocket to tie back any girl’s hair which was seen straggling in her face. She would also be angry with anyone who wore ankle socks in winter, instead of knee socks, and thus have bare, cold legs. She also used to organise collections of rose hips every autumn to be sent to make rose hip syrup for the little children. There was a prize for whoever collected most, but I can’t remember what it was, even though I won several times.

Every autumn the Statutes Fair came to Pontefract and in those days it was on the land which is now occupied by Tesco. Back in the days before bingo was a necessity of life, Judith Glassby and I went to the fair (we would have been about thirteen or fourteen) and had a game (was it then called housey housey or lotto?) It cost one penny a go, bottom row of prizes only to pull the punters in, and I won! - the only time I’ve ever done so. The waltzer and the whip were my favourite rides but the banana boat and the big wheel scared me to death.

As teenagers we used to congregate in small groups at the park gates (then at the bottom of Park Lane), boys round one gatepost and girls round the other. All conversations were done a road distance apart. Sylvia Dugdale lived at the house on the right corner (the one nearest the road into Castleford). It was answering one of Mr. Dugdale’s questions in his crossword puzzle that got me interested in doing crosswords.

Sylvia was my room companion when we went on a trip from school to Oberammergau in 1960, arranged by our German teacher, Miss Scherpf. We stayed for thirty-six hours in Oberammergau and then spent the rest of the fortnight in a village in the hills above Salzburg. Some of the class were in the small hotel while the rest of us were boarded out in local cottages – our hostess couldn’t speak a word of English. This was the first time we had ever come across duvets; they were so thick you needed a periscope to see over them.

We had four cinemas in Pontefract – the Crescent on Ropergate, the Alexandra and the Premier, both on Front Street, and the Playhouse on Gillygate. As a family we went to the cinema very rarely as it was classed as a treat and for special films only. In those days, two films were shown – a ‘B’ level one and then the main attraction. One early visit I do remember was when we had gone to see a children’s classic film and the ‘B’ level one was very scary for a small child. It was about a caveman found in a block of ice, taken back to the scientist’s house and left in a downstairs room. Later as the ice melted, the daughter of the house was upstairs playing the piano and the caveman woke up, climbed out of the window, up the ivy and into the upstairs room (as if!). That’s the only bit I remember, but I watched all that through the cracks in my fingers. As a teenager I went to see ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ and cried all the way home because it was so sad. Thank heaven for gaslights along Park Lane so no one could see me crying!

Mrs Anne Rhodes


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