West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



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 was committed.

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 Anchor).

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 thumb.

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 Philip.

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.

Bill Wood

Digest Magazine for Pontefract and Knottingley in West Yorkshire 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 from the 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:

Memories of the War Years
Memories of the 1930s


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