West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Memories and Recollections

MEMORIES OF PONTEFRACT


JOHN B. ASHWORTH O.B.E.

My first thirty years were spent in and around Pontefract and were undoubtedly the formulative period of my life. In 1966 I moved away from the area and was fortunate enough to end up as European General Manager of a large North American drinks company which had the benefit of constant world travel from my home on Loch Lomond, where I still remain, 10 years after my retirement.

Having just been on holiday with my best man Peter Featherstone and his wife Joyce, who was our chief bridesmaid, and who still live in the Pontefract area some 48 years after our wedding, they gave me my first ever glimpse of the Digest which brought memories flooding back after all these years. I would now like to briefly record some of these in the hope that they may remind others about the area.

For the first 10 or so years of my life, we lived in Mayors Walk; my father Godfrey Ashworth was Company Secretary of Jackson Bros. (Knottingley) the glass bottle manufacturers. One night in 1942, the Germans were attempting to bomb the main east coast railway line and two bombs fell on Mayors Walk Avenue. One blew our windows right across the bed I was sleeping in, but the second one failed to explode and buried itself 25ft in the garden. We were evacuated for the two weeks it took them to disarm it. I vividly remember being carried into next door's cellar and seeing that the whole sky was as bright as day from flares descending on parachutes.

Between the ages of 5 and 8, I went to Miss Ebutts school on the corner of Mayors Walk and Ackworth Road. The building is now offices known as Churchill House. Between the ages of 8 and 11, I went to Wakefield Grammar School which involved walking down to the new road to catch the one bus per hour to Wakefield; remember, this was 1944 and the war was on. Returning in the evening was a nightmare as the adults would push the kids out of the way and fill the bus and so we had to wait for the 6pm bus, thus getting back home about 7pm. One can't imagine it being safe, or indeed allowed, for an eight-year-old to do this today.

I progessed on to Ackworth School and left there at the age of 17 to take up a five-year articled apprenticeship, and it was during this period that sport became a big passion in my life. I was one of a very small handfull who played both rugby and cricket continuously for Pontefract. The cricket club played on the colliery ground and put out two very good teams in the Yorkshire Council and West Riding Leagues and for a period of time I played in the same team as my father. I was very sad to see from one of your previous issues that the cricket club is no longer in existence, particularly when you consider that before the war, up to 2,000 spectators would watch the Yorkshire Council matches. A collection would be made around the ground for any notable performance and even in the 1950s I can recall collections of £20 for a score of 50, in days when a labourers weekly wage was around £10.

When I stared playing rugby we were known as ‘The Old Pomfrecians' and played in the park, changing in part of the boat house and thereafter going to the Malt Shovel for 'refreshments'. In the late 1950s we obtained a pitch in Carleton, where the current club now is, and changed in two rooms in what had been The Grange, but by then was the Community Centre. In the 1930s, a great aunt of mine, Mrs Florence Robinson, owned and lived alone in the The Grange.

The club made progress by scrounging a very large wooden hut which we amateur tradesmen converted into a clubhouse with a bar, and it is from those primitive beginnings that the renamed Pontefract Rugby Club developed the excellent ground and club house facilities you see today. If I remember correctly we used to do a lot of our early Friday night training in the Red Lion, supervised by the landlord, Louis Smith, before moving on to Wordsworth's Ballroom where a proper live band with trumpet, trombone, drums and vocalist performed with great gusto under the supervision of the redoubtable Jack Wordsworth. Jack was at one time my next door neighbour and is still with us and living in the East Riding, and I continue to have lunch with him each year.

In those days before television we were well served by the four cinemas in the town; the Premier and the much smaller 'Flea Pitt' down Tanshelf, the Playhouse down Gillygate and the opulent Crescent at the end of Ropergate, where unless you had booked a seat for a Friday or Saturday night, you very often could not get in.

In those pre Doctor Beeching days, we had the use of two busy stations at Tanshelf and Baghill, where sometimes famous engines such as the streamlined Gresley trains, would occasionally pass through.

Reading the Digest has rekindled my memory after 40 years in foreign parts, although throughout that time I have been in contact with my rugby playing pals, Terry Leach and Peter Featherstone, and their wives Lilian and Joyce. Peter tells me that many other of my ageing friends are active at the golf club and having been a member in my youth it remains an ambition to play there again, utilising the finely honed game I have develeoped at my local Loch Lomond golf course, to remove some of the pensions from my old mates!

It has given me pleasure to recall all this and to place it on record.

John B. Ashworth O.B.E.


 

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