MEMORIES OF PONTEFRACT
by ANNE RHODES
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 ?…….
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!
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.
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!)
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.
the names I remember from the High School are: -
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!).
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!
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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