Pontefract Memories and Recollections
of TANSHELF, PONTEFRACT
moved to Tanshelf in 1954 at the age of four-and-a-half with my mam
& dad, the same week as I started at Tanshelf C of E Junior School.
We’d moved from my Gran’s house in the Potteries in Castleford; a
very similar area in that the houses were small and terraced and the
community was close-knit.
house, at 7 Anderson Street, was three doors up from Sam Pugh’s fish
and chip shop and during the first few days when we were still getting
the house scrubbed and putting our home together, we had our tea from
there. Fish and chips for us were usually a Saturday treat and the
standard of Sam’s fish & chips has never been bettered for me, and
probably never will; eat your heart out Harry Ramsden! The peas alone
were heaven. (I don’t remember them being called "mushy"
then, I think this was an epithet which came along with the
dissemination of other previously unknown (to us) colloquialisms such as
"by ‘ecky thump" in the sudden popular interest in all
things working class and northern during the 60s.)
a few years my mother worked at Dunhill’s and, in common with many
other children in the area, I ate as many liquorish allsorts as I wanted
until I was sick of them – and haven’t really regained any desire to
eat them again. The women she worked with were my "aunties"
and they all wore the same pink cotton overalls, white turbans and all
smelled deliciously of sugar. Because Dunhill’s was at the top of our
street, sometimes they would all come round to our house, eat chips from
Pugh’s for lunch; I loved listening to them gossip and laugh about
things that had happened at work.
short walk down Park Road across the railway bridge, stopping to get
enveloped in the smoke of a steam engine passing below if we were lucky,
took me and most of the other children from Tanshelf to school. The head
of the school in the 1950s was Mr Wright. Not only did his wife also
teach in the school but his daughter Catherine was a pupil when I was
there. Even then as a small child, I felt that they had little
understanding of the way of life we led on the other side of the bridge.
The school was mainly a mix of children from Tanshelf and from Park Lane
over the road, where, as anyone who knew the area then will remember,
was very definitely a completely different kettle of fish, with detached
houses in big gardens. My main impression from going to play with a new
friend in Park Lane was the sumptuous bathroom. The fact that it was
indoors was impressive enough but given my 5 years exclusive familiarity
with whitewashed outside lavatories and tin baths, the shiny bath and
pink tiles were a bolt from the blue.
school, now demolished, was a Victorian single storey building with high
ceilinged classrooms with windowsills so high we couldn’t even see out
of them when standing up! I think this architectural quirk was a
nineteenth century educational theory intended to keep the children’s
attention fixed on their slates and prevent attention wandering but
compared with the lively and open classrooms of today, the rooms were
stark and, although built for this use, not well adapted for primary
school children. I am sometimes startled to remember that out of our
class of ten-year-olds, only four passed the eleven plus. That said,
there were nevertheless some very happy times at Tanshelf C of E. I was
a member of a wonderful school choir and choral verse speaking group
which regularly won prizes at the annual Musical Festival held at the
Town Hall; we also went to church at St. Giles’ at times and I always
enjoyed these crocodile walks into town and being in the beautiful
church. Despite the emphasis on religious teaching at Tanshelf and St
Giles’, I haven’t retained any particular Christian faith but I do
have a deep appreciation of church architecture and the beauty of much
religious art and music, which I attribute partly to going to Tanshelf C
was a warm and homely place to be a child in, the opportunities for
adventure seemed limitless then: we climbed the trees at the front of
Railway Terrace, had expeditions to the park , dug up clay in the little
stream under the bridge at the bottom end of Stuart Street and made
winter warmers (does anyone else remember doing this?) without actually
ever using them as far as I know and on dark early evenings in autumn
and winter we tied rope to the gas lamp outside one of the shops on
Stuart Street and swung round until we were dizzy.
night preparations started weeks before and all our after school time in
October up to the 5th November was spent collecting and subsequently
guarding our wood from raiders from other streets. One year our bonfire
in the back street of Anderson St was so huge it blistered the paint on
our back door!
holidays were bliss, we went on every club trip we could squeeze onto,
usually embarking from Tanshelf station and heading for Bridlington. On
one summer outing to Brid it was pouring with rain to such an extent
that our first call when we got off the train was to buy everyone a
plastic mac. When we were at home during those long holidays we rarely
hung around the house, we organised our own activities: to the spooky
Castle; to Purston Park (same swings, different town); down to the field
to see the poor ponies, let out for the two weeks pit holidays. Some
brave kids would ride them bareback but I always felt too sorry for them
to ride them, on their holidays.
and my parents would often go to the pictures at the Aleck and I
remember seeing all those wonderful technicolour musicals from the 50s
there: The King and I, Carousel, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and
what I remembered as hilarious Jerry Lee comedy films (until I saw them
again as an adult!). Less romantic were the Saturday morning trips to
the Aleck with my friends, when chewing gum and peanuts would rain down
on your head if you sat downstairs!
moved away from Tanshelf in 1964, well before it was demolished, to
Purston, to a house with not only a bathroom, but a garden as well!
Despite really appreciating the luxury of my new surroundings, there was
a lot I missed about Tanshelf and I have very fond memories of it. I
have always felt lucky that I spent much of my childhood there and
experienced a happy and mainly carefree childhood in such a warm
©Janette Birch 2005