West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



Readers of the Knottingley and Ferrybridge Digest will recall my stories in the memories section of my life and times living down Aire Street, Knottingley, where I was born on the 14th of June 1935. It was there that I continued to live until 1958.

It was on August the 16th of that year that I married a Pontefract girl named Kathleen Clarkson. We had met only about four months previously in the Pineapple Pub on Gillygate, Pontefract. This was a very popular meeting place for young people, it wasn’t very grand and in fact did not have a lot going for it, other than an upstairs room with a few seats around the edges with a juke box in one corner and a small bare wood floor area for ‘bopping’.

Old favourite numbers from Lonny Donegon, Bill Haley and the Comets and Little Richard had the little room like a sauna with sweaty young bodies, but what fun it was; nothing grand just simple enjoyment. We spent quite a lot of nights there.

The Gardners Arms, where a live jazz band would be playing onstage, also attracted some dancers.

Although I personally do not have much of a connection with a dancehall cum coffee bar called the ‘Embassy’ situated down Ropergate, this was an extremely popular venue. My wife has often spoken to me of the many happy occasions she has spent there with her friends flirting with the boys, supping coffee, and dancing. Without question many of the Pontefract younger generation of the time will remember this hall with great affection and nostalgic thoughts. I think it would not be out of place to state that many a courtship started at this meeting place and continued on into marriage. It would be interesting to read of your own times spent at the hall.

It was very popular in those days to catch the Pontefract bus at the Town Hall, Knottingley, and have a ‘boozy’ night on a pub-crawl round town. I myself often went with my friends at this time, Ralph Pogmore, Kenny Burdin, my brother, Raymond Haigh, Roy Blakeston, and others. Also at this time you would often find a fair amount of soldiers to mix with in the pubs. These ‘squaddies’ were all based at what was then a very busy Pontefract Barracks which housed the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and many of the civilian pub fraternity will recall many a fight to gain the affections of the local girls.

In the fifties the cinema industry was thriving and Pontefract boasted four of these, one of the oldest being the Alexandra down Tanshelf, which started its life as a live theatre. Next door virtually to the ‘Alec’ was the ‘Premier’, a more modern building. In the town itself was The Crescent, mark 2, the original one having caught fire and being burned to the ground. It was rebuilt and re-opened about 1946. I remember this because one of the first films to be shown was ‘Scott of the Antarctic’, starring John Mills and we were taken from the Ropewalk School by bus to see the first showing of the film. Another of the older cinema’s was the ‘Gillygate’ where I recollect my mother taking me to see ‘Gone With The Wind’ when it was first shown in the British cinemas.

Another favourite social meeting place was Pontefract Park, a lover’s paradise for secret trysts. The gardens with their flowerbeds of roses were kept in immaculate condition and were a pleasure to see. The boating lake was very popular and in the fifties all the boats were of the rowing kind with large heavy oars, no life belts, and a bloody big queue always to wait in if you were intent on impressing your current lady love with your rowing prowess.

Pontefract really was a fortunate town with regard to social and economic opportunities, with a strong and healthy mining industry. The town’s sweet manufacturing factories employed not only local labour but many people from Knottingley and the surrounding area’s, and its glut of varied pubs were a magnet for young courting couples and also hopeful singles as proved by myself - meeting and marrying my wife of 46 years and still going.

When we first married and spent our early days living down ‘Tansh’ with my wife’s parents, I always felt it was akin to my time living down Aire Street in Knottingley, with its village kind of environment and the feeling of living in close harmony with your neighbours. Apart from that, taking Pontefract as a whole, I cannot recall in my later years, moving and living in various locations in and around Pontefract, the same kind of close knit community which perhaps on reflection is down to its overall size.

These, I must point out, are my own personal views as an adopted ‘Pomfret’ son and if any readers find my views incorrect then please take this opportunity to write in and correct my perhaps flawed perspective.

Maurice Haigh

Further Memories of Maurice Haigh:

Tanshelf: A Bygone Community


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