PONTEFRACT SENIOR BOYS SCHOOL
by WILLIAM WOOD
During the 1940s I attended the Senior Boys'
School in Back Northgate, Pontefract. Living in North Avenue at the
time, I had to walk to school in the morning and back home again at
dinner time, and then back to school again for the afternoon and home
again at night.
You entered the school through a castle-like entrance and the caretaker
lived in one side. On the right, just inside the gate, was the
gymnasium. At that time the school provided the plimsoll's that had to
be worn, but you had to take pot luck as to what you got. This wouldn't
be allowed by today's Health & Safety standards. Next to the gym on the
right was the kitchen and dining hall. Then you had the playing field
for cricket and football. Along the right hand side ran a high wall and
against this wall was a dismantled Tiger Moth aeroplane, on which we
would play when given the chance. To the left of the entrance was a
driveway going up to the school. On the left of this drive was a long,
low building which housed the metalwork shop, where we were taught to
make pokers etc. out of metal rod.
The school itself was a rather grand building, which alas, is no longer
there (now a supermarket). In the basement was the woodworking shop and
next door to that was the boiler room. To the right was the playground
(I was told that the school was once a Barracks and that the playground
was once the drill square). In the top right hand corner were the three
‘fives’ courts. 'Fives' was played as a knockout competition, which was
done during lessons. The courts had three walls, a line was painted on
the end wall and the object was to hit a small hard ball with the palm
of your hand so that it hit the wall above the line and then bounced
once before being hit by your opponent.
Some of the teachers at that time were: Mr. Wilkinson (Wilky), Mr.
Heath, (a glamour boy with wavy hair, moustache, spectacles and who
smoked a pipe. He had a rather ruddy complexion and took sports lessons
and gardening). Mrs Wilson (Mary) the art teacher. Mr Smith (Joe Plug)
who slicked his hair down and combed it straight back. He wore jam jar
bottom specs which made him look like a fish. He had a really bad temper
and took great delight in sending you to the headmaster for the cane if
he even as much thought you were not paying attention. The headmaster
was Mr Howells (Daddy) and he lived up to the saying, "What little
people lack in size they make up for in temper." Then there was Mrs
Dalgleish (Dog Lead) who also had a fiery temper. I only remember her
taking us for poetry. None of the others come to mind.
Some of the well known lads I went to school with at that time were:
Alfie Ashby, who went on to become an Estate Agent. John Holden, who had
a tailor’s and gents outfitters on Finkle Street. Kenny (Specky)
Hardcastle, whose dad had the transport business in Tanshelf. Derek
Redfern, who was in the building trade when I last saw him many years
later and Geoffrey Bullock.
Part way through my time at the Senior Boys, my dad had taken over as
landlord of the Horse Vaults, next to the Town Hall. To the rear were
two cottages where the Macebearer lived - now all gone. Lower down
Horsefair was a large house which used to be a boy’s school but at the
time was owned by Mr. Shearsmith, an antique dealer. Below that was
Colley's wholesale fruit and veg, next, an undertaker’s and then a small
bakery where we would go after school and buy a penny breadcake fresh
from the oven. Next to that was a cobbler’s where clogs were made and
repaired and from where you could buy clog irons to fit yourself. Clog
irons were thin metal bars the shape of a clog sole and heel which were
nailed on to reduce the wear on the wooden soles. The cobbler also sold
the coarse fishing license.
Opposite the Horse Vaults, standing on the corner of Finkle Street and
Horsefair, was A.P. Smith's, and next to them was a large house at the
end of which was an archway. Through this arch was where Mills &
Rockley's had a depot from which a man would operate with a Reliant
three-wheeler, going round and putting up the large posters. At the side
of the arch was a barber’s shop.
Trinity Square was still around in those days, and two of my aunts,
Hilda Walker and Win Sparling, both lived there. At the bottom of
Horsefair was the Co-op dairy and next to that was a block of small
bungalows, in one of which lived my Grandad and Grandma Kirk.
In those days the bus stops were all over the town, one of them being
directly outside the Horse Vaults. I think this was the Brotherton /
Tadcaster one, while opposite was the Monkhill / Airedale stop.
On the opposite corner to A. P. Smith’s was a grocery shop and to the
left of this was Grandidge’s store. On Finkle Street there was a chip
shop on the left and then a Chapel. You could then turn left and gain
access to the rear of the Windmill public house. On the right of this
access there was another Chapel where, shortly after the war, a murder
If I remember correctly, there was a family living in a cottage in a
small yard to the rear of A.P. Smith’s. The son of the house didn't like
a certain chap that his sister was seeing and warned him off. However,
the couple continued to see each other and on one particular night the
brother caught them together in the doorway of the Chapel. He went home,
collected a pistol/revolver, and returning to the Chapel doorway he shot
his sister's boyfriend dead. Being rather morbid at that age, I went
across afterwards to see all the blood.
Further along Finkle Street was another chip shop owned by Jack Whiteman
and opposite that there was another bakery. On the same side but further
along was Heseltine's memorial works where the grave stones were made.
Next to that was Bullocks corner shop where we could buy sweets etc.
Further down on the left was the Northgate Senior Girls School whilst
opposite was the Junior and Infants School. At the bottom of Northgate
on the left were the Malt Kilns, where the malt was dried and on the
opposite corner, with its back to the castle, was Sainter's wholesale
fruit and veg.
In 1947 I left the Senior Boys School and went to work in the coach
building shop of South Yorkshire Motors. Just inside the entrance yard
was a small room where the clippies would cash in and where we would
collect our pay on a Friday. Up a flight of stairs, just inside the
entrance, was a brush maker.
The boss of South Yorkshire Motors was a Mr. Pete Bullock, with whom I
had many contacts. The General Manager was Mr. Reg Bullock and the
work’s foreman was Billy James. Bill Hughes was the foreman in the body
shop. It was while working there that I came to know the blacksmith, Joe
Clayton, who had a forge up one of the yards (possibly the Crown and
South Yorkshire Motors would have stands at a local agricultural show,
usually held at Nostell Priory, and it was the job of the bodyshop
personnel to erect this stand. It was while I was working at South
Yorkshire Motors that I saw the first Ford Major tractor, with a
self-starter and lights. Prior to this they all had to be hand cranked.
All the fleet of buses at the time were Albion, with Gardener engines.
Later, after the demise of Albion, the fleet was gradually changed to
Leyland. Two chassis, which I assume had been mothballed during the war,
were brought out and sent away to be built into what we thought would be
buses. Although in the body shop, we took on complete rebuilds of the
double deckers, we had not built one from scratch. When eventually the
chassis came back, one was a Double Decker, and the other was a coach,
which had been built at Burlingham’s of Blackpool. Unlike the others of
the fleet, this one sported a new livery of cream bodywork with a pale
blue roof and was quite luxurious inside.
At this time all the army surplus vehicles were being stored and
auctioned off at Byram Park. Many of these arrived at South Yorkshire
Motors to be put into running order and to be modified in the body shop
as green grocers vans, milk floats etc. As most only had a canvas tilt,
a cab had to be constructed with doors. The whole thing would then be
passed to the paint shop to be finished in the owner's choice of colours.
This constituted having many undercoats applied followed by paint finish
and then finally sign written, the whole thing then having many coats of
varnish to finish off. One thing that never ceased to amaze me was the
fact that the sign writer, Les, only had one arm.
My younger sister Mabel, met and married George Barnes (mentioned in a
previous issue when returning home from a Japanese prisoner of war
camp). George worked for a haulage firm at Ferrybridge crossroads. His
main job was to collect bricks from the Castleford area and take them to
the site of the new Chequerfield estate which had just started to be
built. The bricks were rustic finish and as such had to be loaded and
stacked on the lorry by hand before being unloaded by hand in the same
way. This was quite rough on the hands, which soon became sore, so the
drivers came up with a solution. They cut a large piece of old innertube
to fit the palm and fingers of the hand and near the bottom they cut two
slits about half an inch apart. This strip was slipped behind the
fingers and held the pad in place. A smaller version was made to fit the
I made many trips with George on these brick runs and saw Chequerfield
take shape. By this time my eldest sister, Ethel, had met and married
Bert Chapman, so we all took a hand in helping Dad run the Horse Vaults.
By this time my Dad had become Mayor for the first time and Mam the
Mayoress, so these were rather hectic times. Dad officially opened the
new Valley Gardens and planted a commemorative cherry tree which is
still there as far as I know. He also met Princess Elizabeth and Prince
Mam provided Bed and Breakfast for servicemen passing through the town
and met many people, some of those friendships lasting until her death.
There were two in particular, known to me only as Nick and Johnny. Nick
sadly died shortly after arriving home in Canada but Johnny kept in
touch with Mum and wrote frequently until she died. He then kept in
touch with my eldest sister, until he himself passed away. His wife then
kept up the contact until that also ended.
I left South Yorkshire Motors and began working as a milkman for Jack
Walton who had a small dairy on Knottingley Road. After a while I moved
to the Co-op dairy on Horsefair and had a round at Hemsworth. Wanting a
change, and liking the outdoor life, the time came for me to do my
National Service. On the day I took my medical at Leeds I volunteered
for the regular army and signed on for 12 years. Just four weeks later I
was called to Catterick to commence training, so left Pontefract behind
for a while.
||Pontefract Senior Boys and Beyond by
William Wood was published in the Digest Magazine, Volume
1, Issue 2, August 2007. Copies of this issue are still available
Digest Online Store or can be ordered by sending a cheque or
postal order for £1.70 (including UK postage) to:
Digest Magazine, 21 Bassett Close, Selby, YO8 9XG.
Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to 'The Digest'.
Also by William Wood:
the War Years
Memories of the 1930s