MEMORIES OF THE 1930S
by WILLIAM WOOD
I was born in Pontefract
in 1933 and lived in the Headlands Lane Social Club with my mam, dad Ben
Wood, (steward of the club) and my two sisters. Directly opposite the
club was the swimming baths. The superintendent in charge was Mr.
Colley, an ex-military man who had a waxed moustache, twisted into sharp
points at each end. I often wondered if those points were sharp! He
was a good friend of my father’s and indeed the whole family.
Many events were held in
the baths in those days (the early thirties) such as swimming galas or
water polo. I would attend these events with my sisters and sit up in
the balcony to get a good view. I went there twice to have swimming
lessons but could never get the hang of it. My swimming could be
likened to a house brick.
Behind the baths was the
fairground. At the top end was the rear of South Yorkshire Motors.
Their buses would be parked outside in neat rows when they were not in
service. As most of them were hand cranked for starting, an easy way to
start them was to roll them down past the fairground and then put them
in gear. When they did start they emitted a huge cloud of white smoke,
rather like a fog, which took a while to clear.
Once a year a large
showman’s steam engine would appear, pulling up to three trailers on
which would be fairground rides. The STATIS (Statutes Fair) had started
to arrive. The engine would be followed by all manner of lorries
carrying the various attractions. Over one or two days the fair would
be unloaded and assembled, until it filled the fairground. Some of the
rides were rather scary, especially the flying chairs. This was a
roundabout with chains suspended all the way round, supporting a chair.
You sat in this and an attendant fastened a safety chain across your
lap. When it revolved the chairs would swing upwards and outwards. The
faster it revolved the farther out the chains would go. Quite dangerous
if you unhooked the safety chain!
There was of course, the
usual dodgems, helter skelter etc, and numerous sideshows and stalls.
One of the most amazing sights was that of the steam yachts. Two large
gondolas suspended on arms and connected to a central pillar. These
could seat twenty or thirty people. The only cover was a canvas
canopy. When they started they would swing backwards and forwards,
getting higher and higher. To make the whole lot stable, as one swung
forward, the other would swing backwards, and all driven by steam.
We could not see the fair
from our bedroom window as it was obscured by the swimming baths but we
could hear the music and see the glow of the lights. At this time the
showman’s steam engine was a sight to see, as it would be in steam, and
a large fly wheel on the left hand side would be connected by a belt to
a large dynamo on top of the boiler, just behind the smoke stack. This
generated electricity for the rides and also powered all the lights that
were round the edge of the engine canopy. Sadly a sight no longer
A favourite attraction at
these fairs was the gypsy fortune-teller in a real gypsy caravan. My
mum was a believer in fortune telling and on one occasion she took me
along with her. I cannot remember what transpired, but just before we
left, Gypsy Rose Lee told my mother that her little boy would one
day go to a foreign land, across water on a large ship. Nothing more
was thought of this until many years later, when I joined the regular
army and was posted to Germany!
Next to the destructor,
going towards the town, was the council yard where all the machinery for
repairing roads etc was kept. At the top of the yard, next to the road,
were some single storey buildings, presumably offices connected with
housing repairs and such like. Set into the outside wall was a
cubbyhole that could be opened. This was the council weighbridge which
was set into the road outside. A shire horse called Major was kept in
the yard. He and his handler would take a two-wheeled farm cart around
the town to collect all the waste cardboard from the shops and take it
to the destructor. Major was always immaculately groomed with his
harness and horse brasses polished. When the handler came to retire, as
Major was getting on in years, he was retired too.
The council offices were
next to the council yard and on the opposite side of the road was a
place where you could buy disinfectant (similar to Jays Fluid). To the
left were some large wooden huts where the market stalls were kept. To
the right was a short sloping drive flanked by metal railings, similar
to scaffolding poles. This was the ambulance station, with a mortuary
at the rear. In those days each town had its own ambulance and fire
engine (the Pontefract fire engine was kept under the Town Hall
arches). The driver of the ambulance also had to keep the vehicle clean
and polished. The Pontefract one was, if I remember rightly, painted
pale grey and the mechanical bits were made by Morris Commercial. The
caretaker/cleaner of the council offices lived in a small flat at the
top of the building.
Some of the families who
lived on the Headlands at that time were Crumpton, Ponsonby, Beetham,
Rollason and of course our family, the Woods. The shop at the end of
the Headlands at the top of Tanshelf Hill was run by Patty Dunford. She
used to sell soap with the trade name “Betty”. It was made in different
colours for different jobs; i.e. white for hand washing, green for
washing clothes and brown for washing floors. When I went to the shop
for this soap, I always got the colour wrong and had to go back to
Ponsonby’s sold hot
peas. They always had them on the boil so you could buy them at any
time if you knocked on their door. On race days at the racecourse you
would always find Mr. and Mrs Ponsonby selling hot peas. Their stall
consisted of an old pram on which the container of peas would sit, with
a heater underneath. I can only assume that this was a paraffin
heater. They also carried small pots in which the peas were served,
plus spoons and the necessary washing up tackle, and not forgetting the
inevitable bottle of vinegar. There is nothing today that comes near to
the taste of fresh hot peas.
During winter when there
was snow on the ground, snowploughs would clear the roads but not the
footpaths. These were cleared manually, the snow being shovelled up
onto lorries, and then taken and tipped on the fairground. This made a
miniature mountain range for us kids to play on.
There was a field at the
side of the Headlands Club, with a wall built to separate it from the
road. Quite a few people had bikes in those days and they had a
tendency to ride very fast – down the side of the fairground towards the
baths, the only problem being that they had to make a sharp left turn
onto the Headlands. This turn, taken at speed, was a recipe for
disaster, which often happened. They finished up slamming into our wall
and going over the top. Mam had to administer to them. One thing was
certain – they wouldn’t do it twice!
It was during this period
that I first met Arthur Briggs. Arthur worked for the railways, driving
what I thought at the time was just a lorry. Later I was to learn that
the lorry was called a Scammel Scarab, and was designed to be very
manoeuvrable. Usually Arthur left his trailer backed into Dunhill’s
loading bay, and on the back was a railway container. While this was
being filled with liquorice etc. Arthur would go off to Monkhill and
pick up another trailer and go off and do other jobs. When the time
came to collect the trailer from Dunhill’s he would collect me when
passing the Headlands Club and I would sit on the passenger seat. The
cab had stable doors with no windows at the top so I couldn’t see out.
The trailer was collected and taken to Monkhill Station where it was
unloaded by crane and placed on a railway truck, ready to be shipped
out. Arthur would then pick up another container and trailer which he
would deliver to Dunhill’s once again.
On one occasion when we
arrived at Monkhill, it was Arthur’s lunchtime so he took me home with
him. He lived just through the Monkhill Railway Bridge. They had the
radio playing and I have never forgotten the tune – it was ‘Deep
We had many local traders
who would deliver to the door. Usually at the beginning of the week the
draymen from the brewery would roll up with the barrels of beer. At the
front of the club was a bay window with a girder with a ring in the end,
jutting out above it. The men would put a large padded bag on the
ground next to the lorry, dropping the barrels onto it. They would then
be rolled to a pair of large trap doors in the floor below the window
which would be opened. A rope was passed through the ring on the girder
and a pair of flattened hooks attached, which were then hooked under the
rim of the barrel at both ends. The weight was then taken and the
barrel pushed out over the trap door and lowered into the cellar below.
The empties were removed in the reverse way and then the doors would be
closed. It was common practice for the draymen to be given a pint when
they had finished, which would be frowned upon today.
In the early days they
would have used a ‘Sentinel’ steam lorry, but later they had a diesel
lorry. I was mad on anything mechanical so inspected the lorry at any
given opportunity. On one occasion I emerged from under the lorry with
a handful of nuts and bolts just as the driver came out of the club. He
seemed to think that I was capable of removing them from his lorry and
would not drive away until a mechanic had checked it out.
Another weekly caller was
the woman selling pikelets. She rang a large brass hand bell to let you
know she was outside. She carried a large wicker basket with the
pikelets sitting on a clean white cloth and covered by another one. A
man also came round selling fresh kippers. There was also the Rington’s
tea man. He arrived in a pony and trap which looked something like a
Hansom Cab. The tea was wrapped in strong paper and tied into a small
parcel with thin white string. The colour of the wrapping paper denoted
which blend it contained. The one my mum bought was in dark red paper.
Then of course there was
the milkman or woman. They also came by pony and trap. The milk was in
two large churns and was measured out in a tubular measure with a long
handle, curved at the end. It was tipped into your jug or basin.
A frequent passer by at
the club was a large green van (similar to a furniture van). This
belonged to Hardcastle Transport in Tanshelf. I seem to remember it was
a Bedford fitted with a Perkins diesel engine. They had contracted to
transport sweets from Dunhill’s to the docks – I can only assume that
these were either Goole or Hull docks.
||Memories of the 1930s by William
Wood was published in the Pontefract Digest Magazine, Issue 19,
Also by William Wood:
the War Years
Pontefract Senior Boys and