RECOLLECTIONS OF PONTEFRACT
by KEN BRIGGS
I have just been loaned issue 20, October 2006, of
the Pontefract Digest by Peter Chapman - ex Pontefract, now of Grafton
NSW. The Digest is the finest publication I have ever seen and I am
sorry that you still have 'Pommie Whingers' complaining about the price.
I think it's worth much more. I am past 81 years but your Digest has
helped me put this letter together - any mistakes are mine.
My father, Billy Briggs, was a member of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light
Infantry. He married Elenor Watts whose family lived, and had a garden,
just 60 yards from the Barracks wall. Billy was a postman for many years
and my mother worked for the Prudential or Pearl insurance, about 30
yards round the corner from Boots the Chemist.
I remember growing up at 168 (I think) Halfpenny Lane. Jim Smith lived
next door. Twenty yards towards Tanshelf Station was Tom Abbot the jeweller.
I used to play with his son Walter and also Eric King, whose family
had a sweet shop nearby. In a street opposite lived the Haigh family
and opposite us were the Boococks who later moved to Sheffield but we
still communicate with Irene Boocock. I also remember that one of the
Hewitt brothers from nearby worked in the post office. As I write this
I can visualise walking to Tanshelf Station.
Later we moved to 3 Queen Street and I attended Love Lane School where
I played with Ginger Evans, and Granville Gardiner, whose parents had
a fish shop near South Yorkshire Motors. On Saturdays I worked for Billy
Holt on his fruit stall at the market. I got an apple, an orange and
twopence for working from 6am until 2am the following morning, when
I was allowed to take the empty boxes home for firewood, after clearing
up the market.
One Saturday morning Willy Holt took me to Leeds market for fruit and
vegetables. Returning home, I had to sit on the top of the load to hold
everything on. We didn't have ropes and sheeting in those 'good old
days'. We came to a bend in the road under an arched bridge where another
lorry was coming towards us. Willy shouted, "Hang on!", but I could
see me losing my head. He swerved and I dived over the tomatoes. I then
found myself on the road amongst the load. We quickly loaded the truck
up again and were on our way (after a few choice words!), opening the
stall an hour late.
My dad was injured by a post office van and was put in the workhouse
when his health worsened. He made me have piano lessons with Louis Walsh
for which I am now very grateful. He died in the workhouse and my mother
After leaving school I had a six-week trial at Dunhill's but then went
on to work at Wilkinson's Liquorice Works where Alf Fox was my boss.
However, I did not get on with manager Wally Harrison. Unfortunately,
one day, I was cleaning the top floor windows, outside on a plank, when
Wally was walking below. My bucket of water slipped and fell right on
top of him. Neither Alf Fox nor his brother could save me from being
I forgot to mention that after leaving school I worked at Boots the
Chemist and Halfords, and before I left school I did a milk round towards
Ackworth, and also a newspaper run for W.H. Smith. My last full time
job before joining up was with John Hardcastle who made a man out of
After my stint in the Navy I went back to work at Hardcastle's. By now
I no longer had a home in Queen Street, so to all those good people
with whom I lodged, my heartfelt thanks go out to you. I'll never forget
Mrs Shay crying when she told me that the council would evict her from
her rented house if she didn't get rid of me. Anyway, a few nights sleeping
on Hardcastle's flour sacks and a good breakfast from Nellie Hardcastle
didn't do me any harm.
We Hardcastle men played cricket for Johnson's Bakery (a good team in
those days). We were beaten in a final, played in Pontefract Park, by
South Yorkshire Motors - all because of 'Tiny' Martin who was over 6ft
3in tall. I remember him once hitting the ball into a passing bus?
Some time down the track I was playing piano at Normanton baths (I would
do anything for a quid) and had a dance with the ‘Local Bike’. Fortunately,
I was rescued by a lass who was laughing at my discomfort. Three years
later we were married (more lodging); Dorothy Beardsmore was her name.
The best wedding present we had was a coupon for two gallons of petrol.
I had a mate, George Bakewell, from Banks Avenue, who let me borrow
his car on occasions. He drove for Harry Sheard, a haulage firm on Nevison
Leap. I never got a honeymoon but we did get to Sherwood Forest and
back in one day.
One year later in the middle of a snowstorm she informed me that she
was pregnant and wanted her own house. In an auction at Carleton Rookeries
I bid for number 6 Carleton Green. I was told by two local lads, George
Moffatt and George Hartley, that I had bid far too much, but I was pleased
with the outcome because my bid won.
To earn extra money I played the piano in most of the pubs in Pontefract.
The longest job was at The Greyhound opposite the police station where
there were two Ernies; one who played the drums and the other, who played
the fiddle or violin. Through the week I would play at the Gardiners
Arms or the Red Lion. Does anyone remember nine RAF men crashing into
a wall after a night in the Red Lion? Sadly they all died on their way
to Pollington RAF Base.
My wife has just found this navy parade photo with Arnold Snowdon leading
the parade. Behind him, carrying the flag, is Frank Woofenden and immediately
behind him is Derek Wallace. I cannot recall any more names and I don't
see Roly Darley or Ken Agar on this march.
Many, many thanks to The Digest for bringing my brain to life.
D. Day Landings