RECOLLECTIONS of PONTEFRACT
by FRANK H. W. HOLMES
Typed by him in 1971
expression to ‘get on the band-wagon’ has become commonplace today,
but there must be many using it who have never seen a party of bandsmen
with their instruments clustered on a massive wagon, drawn by at least
two horses, or more likely four, or perhaps an elephant, leading a
procession of human and animal performers in costume round the town and
back into the circus tent.
one occasion, as such a procession passed up Salter Row on its way back
to the fairground, an elephant paused and casually tore small branches
from the trees in the garden where the old Carnegie library now stands.
The house to which this garden was attached had then not long been
serving as Municipal Offices, for the staff had become too numerous to
continue to be conveniently accommodated in the rooms at the Town Hall
and Assembly Room. This house, having in turn been found insufficient
for the growing number of municipal office workers, was pulled down to
be replaced by the present building. It was during this change that the
staff found temporary accommodation in the old Congregational School in
Back Northgate, which at one time had been the largest school in the
town. This building in turn disappeared in 1974, when Stuart Road (named
after Stuart Lowden, a property owner and Mayor in 1904) was extended
from Tanshelf to Finkle Street.
picture of Pontefract of these early days would not be complete without
reference to the pawnbroker. There were but two, George Grandidge and
Wilfred Hutton Hydes. The premises of the former had display windows for
clothing, furnishing and jewellery in Woolmarket and Bridge Street, and
round the corner in Finkle Street a discreet entrance to a yard leading
to the door where many a Sunday suit or even tradesmen’s tools were
deposited, so many of them doomed to forfeiture if the loan they had
secured was not repaid in the statutory year and a day. The Hydes
establishment in Salter Row similarly had two entrances and did similar
liquorice industry is well known and has already been mentioned. So has
Pickersgill’s Brewery, almost opposite the South Baileygate entrance
to All Saints Church, but that was closed in the early twenties I think.
mat works was in one of the quarries on the north side of Wakefield
Road, with a row of stone cottages almost adjoining, and housing some of
the mat workers, of whom some could often in good weather be seen in the
yard outside their homes winding the material to be used in the mill.
were several builders and joiners of course, and Wilcock’s steam saw
mill, near Monkhill Station, ultimately grew and became Wilkinson’s
cabinet works. It was Albert Wilcock of this family, who built
Pontefract’s first cinema, the Picture Palace, near the Alexandra
old builders, I imagine, would be staggered to see how steel tubes have
taken the place of the scaffolding which they contrived with wooden
poles standing in barrels of sand, with other poles lashed to them
horizontally, and 6x2 putlogs.
the buildings in the town used for farming, with entrances broad and
very high to admit farmer’s bulky loads, one still exists in Northgate
– before a yard where some enterprising man a little before the Kaiser’s
war garaged four ex-London General Omnibus Company’s double-deckers
and began a service between Pontefract and Knottingley and elsewhere.
Another big entrance in Newgate, with a hayloft above it, survived until
the forties, and it was not much earlier that the last cow was
accommodated in buildings in Southgate (fronted by 29 Ropergate).
1 Market Place, by the way, had a two-stall stable, though whether it
was for horse or cow I cannot say. It went in 1906.
was on 29th October 1906 that a tram service was opened between
Pontefract Market Place, Castleford and Normanton Market Place. The
track was of the standard 4ft 8 1/2in gauge, but its route was not easy.
In Castleford it had to divide to make two one-way lines, whilst in
Pontefract the service had hardly begun when it was discovered that the
double line in Front Street brought the trams nearer to the houses on
the south-west than the regulations permitted.
was, however, a little spare margin on the other side, next to the
maltkilns, so the two tracks were amended, and ever thereafter the trams
had to make the best of the resultant kink in the rails – a distinct
slowdown and a jerk for the uphill vehicle, but not quite so bad for
those going down.
from their value as public passenger transport, the trams gave other
benefits, for in fog they were a trusty guide and in times of snowfall
they soon cleared the way for themselves and willy-nilly for all other
traffic. Costs of running and the competition of busses, however, proved
too much for the undertaking, and the last tram left Pontefract for the
depot in Castleford on 1st November 1925, marking the end of a rather
it was stated that at the height of the tramway period, it was possible
to travel by tram, with only two or three short gaps, from Pontefract to
Blackpool – and today, Blackpool has the only living tramway system in
bonfires merit a mention. The earliest I can remember was one on the
Park Hill in the celebrations of the Accession of King Edward VII (and
at my age at that time, I found it somewhat terrifying). There was
another in the same place and circumstances for King George V, and in
1919 to celebrate peace after the Kaiser’s war.
decorations for these events included, besides triumphal arches and
flags and bunting through the town, strings of coloured lights between
poles, lining the main streets. This was the last time, as far as I can
remember, when these lights consisted of coloured fancy glass jars in
which the illuminant was a wax night-light. These were the usual things
for such events, and some were set up in the castle on gala evenings.
Incidentally, Father bought some of these when the 1919 decorations were
cleared away, and we set up a line or two of them in the grounds of The
Priory when we had a private bonfire to mark the end of Hitler’s war.
‘Private’ it might nominally have been, but scores of strangers from
all parts joined in. When the excavations in the castle took place, the
diggers were puzzled by the bits of coloured glass they were finding.
Were they part of the castle windows? What a disappointment when they
were put right!
noted one little contrast between the 1919 and 1945 bonfires. On the
former occasion I remember the crowding and jostling there was at a
stile from Park Lane to the park near the Girl’s School, but in 1945
at that same style I found a quite orderly queue on each side, both
going and coming. Could it be that the food shortage before 1945 had
been more severe than in 1914-19?
the early years of the century there was much more interest in elections
than there seems to have been in recent years. For many years the
municipal elections were held on November 1st and the Mayor-making on
the 9th, and although the elections were conducted in the light of the
Ballot Act of 1872 (which was first used in Pontefract that same year at
a Parliamentary by-election) the rules were interpreted more loosely
than they are now. For instance, an ‘Advertiser’ reporter was
allowed to visit each polling station each hour and note how many ballot
papers had by then been issued, so as to compile a table showing how the
voters had come in, early or late.
was no suggestion of disclosing at any time how anyone had voted, but at
the count it was possible for figures to be extracted to show how, when
a ward returned two members at a time, the candidates had been coupled
by the voters. The fact that such a statistic was thought to be
sufficiently interesting to be worth the trouble may be taken to show
what interest there was in elections.
flexibility in the interpretation of the law on elections was also
illustrated by the case of Mr. Quarterman, an estate agent, who had
reached the age of ninety or so and was not very mobile. Voters in his
ward had the Town Hall as their polling station, but as he could not
manage the steps from the street, a poll clerk and an assistant brought
one of the little polling desks down to the lobby at the foot of the
stairs, cleared out the candidate’s representatives, helped Mr.
Quarterman from his cab, and let him make his mark in solitude behind
the iron gates!
the counting too, there was some latitude. An ‘Advertiser’
representative would get himself sworn in as a candidate’s counting
agent, collect the results as soon as they were known in each ward, pass
them from a back window to a messenger outside, and so, by the time they
had been publicly declared from the Town Hall balcony, followed by a
speech or two, they were being printed in a special edition of the ‘Advertiser’
and were on sale to the dispersing crowd. All very enterprising no
doubt, but not particularly profitable.
elections were taken very seriously. At one of them, the retiring
Liberal Member, Sir T. Willans Nussey, was to be opposed by a
Conservative named Yate, who faded from the scene very early in the
campaign. Promptly the Liberals put out a poster ‘Nussy is on the
spot. Where is Yate?’ Almost at once the more frivolous Liberals
obliterated the first letter of the fifth word and added ‘underneath’.
Nussey was elected.
J. R. Shaw, coal-owner, seven times Mayor, was a candidate at one
election before which he came in for some criticism in a newspaper
article headed ‘A month for a cabbage’. This arose from a case in
which a defendant was sentenced by a Bench on which the Colonel had been
Chairman to a month’s imprisonment for stealing a cabbage from a
public comment gave rise to a libel action, which proved very expensive
to the proprietor of the ‘Advertiser’. This same proprietor showed
his enterprise at another election, when he announced that when the
result was declared he would pass the news to the suburbs by sending up
from his house (next to the Town Hall) a rocket with a yellow burst for
a Liberal win, or a blue one for a Tory victory. It turned out to be a
the 1911 elections (two in one year), he had an arrangement with the
Yorkshire Post to receive results as sent in to that paper and relayed
to him by telephone, and display them by limelight projection onto a
temporary screen fixed in front of his house. This naturally drew a
crowd and he knew what he could expect from it if the Conservatives
(whom he openly and actively supported) showed signs of gaining any
ascendancy. Consequently, during Election Day, the shop windows below
were cleared of their contents and the ground floor front was boarded
over with all doors fastened. He also prepared his revolver (a primitive
pin-fire type) – a weapon I never saw him use, except for fun in the
yard below or to pot at a rat gambolling round the ash pit.
of boarding up the shop reminds me that in my boyhood there still
remained, lying about in the back premises, wooden shutters which had
been in regular use on the shop front which existed on No. 1 Market
Place before the front was put on in 1897.
were at one time almost universal for shops. In fact, right up to its
closure in the early 1930’s, the establishment of John W. Hemmant,
draper and ladies outfitter in Beastfair, had a flexible continuous
shutter which covered both of his windows and the central doorway, and
slid with its runners on a track in the yard at the side of the premises
when not in use at the front.
1 also had hinged shutters (the slatted type) on all the upstairs
windows, and simple solid wooden hinged shutters were in regular use on
some of the old houses in Northgate and Horsefair, and, I believe, in
Front Street; but they have all long since gone.
with that I think it’s time I put up my own shutters.
Frank H. W. Holmes 1971.
Further reading from Frank Holmes:
Pontefract Part One
Recollections of Pontefract Part Two
One Man in His Time - A Short
2352 Sapper Frank H.W. Holmes