West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



Tanshelf, a living thriving close knit community is no more. Those early 1870's terraced houses with their back alley playgrounds have been demolished and a community destroyed and disbanded. I speak not as a native of Pontefract, but in fact a native of Aire Street, Knottingley.

My connection with Pontefract, or more particularly Tanshelf, began in 1958 when I married a Tanshelf girl by the name of Kathleen Clarkson. She was a true born and bred Tanshelf lass, and Tanshelf people in many ways were very similar to the inhabitants of Aire Street, Knottingley. Living in close proximity to each other as they did, helped them to form a very strong bond with their neighbours. The main road through the estate was Stuart Road and the closely built terraced houses were situated on streets formed on either side of it. These street names were held so very dear to the hearts of a true Tanshelf person; Princess Street, Anderson Street, Victoria Street, and Colonels Walk, to name but a few.

I myself had the pleasure of living down in ‘Tansh’ and enjoyed the experience very much indeed. The community itself was served by local family businesses, much the same as Knottingley was, only the names were different. One of the oldest and best-known shops was that of Bernard Batty. He had most things a family would need and many of these families were the proud owners of Bernard’s ‘Tick Book’. This allowed you to have credit for your requirements, and you would settle up with him at the end of the week. My father-in-law Simon, held one book for himself and my mother-in-law Emmy, but my wife and I, and my brother-in-laws also used it, and Simon kept a record of what each one of us owed.

In addition to Bernard's there were other corner shops also well patronised by the Tanshelf families. There was Mr. Brookes, and Minnie Rose, who never seemed to close, and always had a kind word to say, and of course the traditional fish and chip shop owned by Mr. and Mrs. Sam Pugh. This was a regular meeting point for local residents to have a chat and catch up on the local gossip whilst waiting for their supper to be cooked. At the start of Stuart Road you had the largest of the shops, this being the Pontefract District Co-op Society, and I would think that even today the older Tanshelf people would still be able to quote their ‘Divvy’ number.

Most of the Tanshelf men-folk were colliers, and worked down the local Prince of Wales Colliery. The difference in the working environment of the Knottingley men-folk was that in Knottingley the majority worked in the shipping and glassworks industries.

One of the most common sights you would see in Tanshelf was the heaps of coal tipped outside the houses on the street, this being the concessionary coal allowance given to all colliery workers; ten deliveries per year.

It was inevitable that the old terraced properties would have to be demolished, the houses were small and cramped, having mostly only two bedrooms, one small scullery, and one living room, with others a little larger having three bedrooms. There was no indoor bathroom and the toilet was situated in the back yard. Open coal fires provided a source of heat while the lighting was by gaslight and candles. We lived with my wife's parents when we were first married, as so many young couples had to do in those days. One of my fondest memories is of my father-in-law, Simon, toasting thick slices of unsliced bread in front of a large fire and then smothering it with best butter. He used to send me to work on this breakfast and I have never to this day been able to emulate his knack of making toast.

It would be true to say that Tanshelf houses were certainly not ideal as living accommodation, but with a good cheery coal fire in winter and cosy gaslights, you were somehow able to feel comfortable. Despite these difficulties, and there were some it would be true to say, most Tanshelf people would tell you how distraught they felt when the time for demolition came. It was often asked "why not build extensions to the rear, rewire the electric’s and include a small bathroom"; an understandable attitude you might say, but, with a feeling of sadness and a sense of sympathy a totally impractical idea.

Having myself experienced living in Aire Street, (I was born in Buck Yard), I think I could say with a degree of honesty, that had the folk from Tanshelf and Aire Street ever been presented with the opportunity of living alongside each other, they would have got on admirably. Bearing in mind the normal human behaviour of arguments, fallout’s, and reconciliation’s, that you would expect to find within any community, it would be unacceptable to paint a picture of Utopia, but overall I think they would have enjoyed a common respect for each other.

Maurice Haigh

Further Memories of Maurice Haigh:

More Memories of Pontefract


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