West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



I was born down ‘Tansh’ on the 20th of November 1939, the second daughter of Simon and Emmie Clarkson who lived on Princess Street. My Mother’s family at this time, consisted of my eldest sister Doreen and elder brother Ernest. I was number three to join the family, later to be followed by two other brothers, Ronald and Joseph.

My years of living within the Tanshelf community brought me a great deal of joy and happiness sharing the good times and the bad with our fellow neighbours and school friends.

For the first few years of my life I did not see my father Simon, for he was away serving with the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment as an anti-aircraft gunner. He was based on board a Naval ship in one of Orkney Islands harbours, so in effect, like so many wartime mothers, my mother was fully occupied raising her four children.

One of my most earliest memories was during air raid alerts when soldiers who were stationed at the local Tanshelf Drill Hall would come through the bridges and offer assistance to many of the Tanshelf families to go and occupy the local air raid shelters. The mothers would always offer their appreciation for their help.

Another early memory to spring to mind was seeing the Italian POW’s working to repair the railway lines running past Tanshelf station. The prisoners would call out to us, "Hi Bambino’s" but we were in fear of them as our mothers had told us we must not speak to them. One of the main thoughts to pre-occupy our young minds was the shortage of food supplies - in our case, fruit and sweets. It was a rare sight indeed for us to spot any fruit or sweets in the shops and so just like everybody else in wartime Britain we had to survive on our ration book allowances.

In the early years after the war and with rationing still in force, one of the pleasures we enjoyed was when our mothers would pack us condensed milk sandwiches and bottles of water and send us to play in Pontefract Park. The children’s paddling pool, now no longer there, was fenced off as it was full of broken glass and bricks, so we only had the sand-pit to play in, but like all children we had a hidden side to our visits. We would sometimes sneak out of the house with our costumes and swim at the far side of the Lake along with my elder brother Ernest and other Tanshelf kids for company; that is until we were chased off!

At the bottom end of the park a local farming family, the Townsend’s, grazed their dairy herd and we as small children thought that there were also bulls in the herd, though of course there were not. However, in order to get to ‘Monkey Island’ to pick blackberries we had to pass through the herd of cows. A lad called Derek Lambert, who was four or five years older than us, had a butcher’s type of bike with a basket at the front and he would put us in it and take us across. To us he was a hero. In later life he was to become the Mayor of Castleford.

Looking back, summers were lovely and sunny, winters were freezing cold, maybe because we only had a single source of heat, the living room fire. There were small fireplaces in the front bedrooms of all the houses but times were hard and if your son or husband did not work down the mines, you had to rely on Joe Broadhead the local coalman to drop you one or two bags of fuel. Many of the young mums who found themselves in this position would take an old pram or pushchair to the nearby coal stacks and sort out the coal from the ‘Dross’. I remember going once with my mother when I was only about four years old, and you had to keep an eye out for the pit ‘bobby’ who would chase you and try to take your pickings off you. I recall it was cold and snowing the day I was taken, which was a great adventure to me at that age. I sat on the two sacks of coal like Boddicea. This opportunity to collect coal from the stacks was a very important task, as none of the houses were equipped with cookers. Some families might have been lucky and owned a gas ring, but most of the folk living down Tanshelf depended on the good old coal fire to heat the oven and boil the pans etc. Our mothers were brilliant cooks; they had to be with the shortage of appliances. One of our luxuries was porridge oats made with water and milk, with the added attraction of a spoonful of treacle to stir in; what bliss!

In 1944/45 I started at my first school which was the Tanshelf Junior and Infants School. The headmaster was Mr. Joe Lee and one day he was conducting the choir whilst standing on a desk and he got so carried away with his conducting that he fell off, though nobody was brave enough to laugh at his plight! During the winter months my father would come down to the school at playtime bringing with him some buns and a flask of hot tea for my brother Ernest and me.

My favourite teacher when I stared school was Miss Kathleen Atkinson and my most special time at the school was during December when each classroom would make paper chain decorations in order to decorate the room. These were nine-inch strips of paper about two inches wide in different coloured pastel shades, and we would take these strips and paste the ends of them together to make long daisy chains which we would hang in the classrooms. Every year at this time the school would have a jumble sale, which was organised by the staff to raise funds in order for the school to provide a Christmas party. After the party we would all assemble in the main hall to have a concert. Staff and pupils alike who had a talent to sing or recite nursery rhyme poetry did so and sometimes we would join in with the singing of children’s songs and seasonal carols and hymns.

Back at home we followed the seasons around. At Easter time we played whip and top, marbles and buttons in the street. They were simple pleasures for a child of those times but unfortunately unseen in today’s technological age of computer games and such like.

On Sundays, our parents would join in the games, skipping in and out of a large skipping rope strung across the street, also rounders, which they played with us, and at other times in competition with the men folk. At various times throughout the year a second-hand clothing lady would visit Tanshelf travelling in a lorry from which she would take a large tarpaulin and display all the clothes for the mothers to rummage through. Times were still hard, and clothing remained subject to clothing coupons, so they were a godsend to our mothers. Often the lady would shout, "where is Kathleen, come here my little darling," and on one occasion, said, "I’ve got a hat for you" and she produced a Victorian straw hat, which you tied underneath your chin. You can imagine a child’s joy upon receiving a gift such as that.

When the woman had gathered her clothes together and left the street, we would be dressed and swaggering about in our latest ‘new clothes’ showing them off to all and sundry. As we grew a little older, one of our pastimes at the weekend was standing at the top of Princess Street to watch all the young couples and young lads coming home from the towns pubs. They were always laughing and sometimes having a skirmish or two as they walked down Stuart Road.

When one of the neighbours had a fall out with another neighbour, it would attract an audience from the surrounding streets to egg them on. It was common to hear some old women say, "Hold mi teeth" or "Hold mi glasses", and they would slog it out in the street.

Our local coalman was called Wilf Lindsey and he had an allotment on which he kept a few chickens and pigeons. A lot of the Tanshelf men would collect there to indulge in a good old natter. Wilf was often known to give away his pigeons and quite a few found their way to my Dad. He would bring them home and they were cooked in the oven and all the family would enjoy eating them, especially the gravy, which you could dip up with slices of bread.

During my early adolescent years I became a constant worry to my mother as I was becoming a bit of a tomboy, and often suffered cuts, bruises and broken bones. One of the most serious accidents to befall me was the time that I fell about a 30 feet drop from the railway bridge and badly injured myself all down the left side of my body. My mother took me to the Infirmary and when Joe Blackburn the radiographer lifted the blanket and spotted me, he said, "Welcome home Kathleen." Unknown to me at that time was how that particular accident was going to leave a lasting impression, which would be with me up to the present day

Upon reaching the age of eleven my friends and myself were transferred to the Northgate Church of England School, which is now the Mamma Mia Restaurant. We felt so grown up when we discovered that we had to move about the school from classroom to classroom to be taught the different lessons as at our previous school we had remained mainly in the one room for all our lessons. Across the road from the school was the Northgate Junior School, now Inglebrook School, and once in the week we were marched there to have our cookery lesson. The teacher was called Miss Clayton, but we knew her better as ‘Fanny Clayton’. Some lunchtimes if we had a few coppers to spend we would go to Bullocks corner shop and buy sherbet dabs and liquorice laces. This popular corner shop was managed by Florence Bullock assisted by her aged Mother. A little further up the road from Bullocks was a tiny bakery shop owned by the Horner family and if you were lucky you could buy a halfpenny cob there. At other times during lunch break we would go into the town in the company of some of the boys from Northgate Senior’s School, where Morrison’s Supermarket now stands.

When we had reached the age of thirteen we were considered old enough to attend the Old Church dances held in the Church Hall. To us it was the highlight of the week and much looked forward to because it was where we learned a variety of dances, which paved the way some two years later to be allowed (as working girls of 15) to attend the dances held at the Embassy Dance Hall located in Ropergate. Eureka! – It felt as if the world was our oyster.

I went to the dances four or five times in the week usually in the company of some of my friends, to name but a few, Joyce Healey, Madge Ward, Brian Lill, Terry Long and Harry Wilson. The Embassy was owned and managed by Mr. and Mrs. Senior ably assisted by their daughter Doreen, who still teaches dance to this very day. They also had a son called Barry who was a decent sort of a lad. Quite often many of the soldiers who were stationed at the local Barracks would come to the dances at the weekends; being starved of female company they would try to ‘get off’ with the girls.

Underneath the hall two old ladies had a pottery shop and they could often be heard complaining that the dancing was making their plates fall to the floor.

During the interval at the Embassy we would dash off to the Pineapple pub in Gillygate to have a quick drink and a dance before returning to the Hall. I met my husband in the Pineapple some 47 years ago and we are still going strong.

Boys who were at the Embassy dances would never ask you to dance with them, they just nodded their heads towards the dance floor as if to say "Come on, Gerrup!"

The lads and lasses who frequented the dances came from, Featherstone, Knottingley, Castleford and Airedale. It was the best meeting place around for meeting boys. One of the boys called Barry Bevitt, who incidentally met his wife Janet at the Embassy, was often entrusted to operate the turntable when the Senior’s were having a break. I hold dear, many fond memories of nights spent at the Embassy Dance Hall, as will many of the readers of the Pontefract Digest I am sure. The closing times of the Hall were the same as the public houses.

Many nights when we were on our way home we would hear a wailing and a weedling and recognise the voice of Seneca Bond crying after his long departed dear mother and clinging to the cemetery railings. "The gates are locked mammy and they won’t let me in." At other times he would be having a fight with his brother Luke. Tilly Holland another Tanshelf women whose photograph appeared in the August Digest, was generally known by the Tanshelf people as being their own midwife, because she was the first one to be called. Tilly was a women who spoke her mind and would not retreat from trouble, but was well respected by all, and it would be fair to say that if you had a conversation with Tilly, it would certainly be a laugh a minute conversation.

The Prust family of Tanshelf had a wooden box fixed to some old pram wheels and they would frequently be seen with it every Saturday about 4.30pm going to the market place and collecting all the discarded fruit and veg which they would return home with. You could visit their house and purchase it for a few coppers. Old man Prust was called ‘Droplip’ because he was never seen without a pipe in his mouth. Mr. Prust’s son was called Billy, but everyone knew him as ‘Bronco’.

Another Tanshelf family was old Mr. Plimley and his son Albert. He would be seated on a wooden stool at his doorway most days of the week, and you would hear him shout, "Albert, get that pot out", and he would come to the door with his pot of strong tea.

It was a common sight for the Tanshelf men to congregate outside Blood Smith’s betting shop to have a gamble on the toss of a coin game. One of the lads would toss two pennies into the air and bets would be laid on the outcome of the coins landing on the floor heads or tails up. Gambling at this time was an illegal practice and it was quite a frequent occurrence for the police to raid the gambling school. They would appear from their hiding place over the railway embankment and in support of them would be the ‘Black Maria’ speeding down Colonel’s Walk and coming onto Stuart Road. The kids would be shouting "it’s a raid," and the men would scatter in all directions. It was not unheard of for them to run through your house to escape the clutches of the police. Sometimes one brave lad would shout "it’s a raid" for a bit of fun, but it was not well received by the gamblers who were not in the mood to join in, and he would have to make a quick getaway.

One of the many side streets of Tanshelf was Coburg Street, and on one side of it lived Max Roberts, who would sit on his doorstep and play the Ukulele, quite brilliantly. On the opposite side, on Nutt Street, Mr. Tamms would play his accordion. Mr. Barker who lived on Stuart Road was a self-taught pianist and was an accomplished player of all kinds of music; behind his back he was known as ‘Piano Joe’.

When I started work at Hillaby’s sweet factory it didn’t seem too daunting as most of the women and girls were ‘Tanshies’. Alice Beaumont was the forewomen and Kate Parkin was her right-hand women. Kate took a shine to me and we would often work together while she sang all the old music hall songs. Eddie Armitage used to come upstairs from the ‘cream room’ where he would ask the works forewoman for a couple of girls to help out. I was always selected because he said I was a good little worker. Everyone who worked at Hillaby’s will remember Kate and Eddie, and Paddy Donnelly, the Irishman, who used to amuse us telling tall tales.

Kathleen Haigh (nee Clarkson)


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