West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



I 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.

Our 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.)

For 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.

A 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.

The 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 of E.

Tanshelf 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.

Bonfire 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!

Summer 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.

Me 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!

We 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 community.

©Janette Birch 2005


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