West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



Originally from Bradford, I came to live in Pontefract when I married in 1969. My husband was working at Jackson’s Glass and I started teaching at England Lane School, Knottingley, where I stayed until our son was born at the end of 1971. Our daughter was born three years later in 1974.

From the back window of our house we could see the clock on Wilkinson’s Liquorice Works; the factory and clock are still there, but the trees in the grounds have now grown so tall that they obscure the view. We became so used to the constant rumble of coal trains over the viaduct on Water Lane that we no longer heard them. Water Lane lived up to its name and was often flooded after heavy rain. We were not really affected by the abattoir on the corner until one day a bull escaped and ran amok on the estate. It was quickly cornered and sedated, succeeding only in delaying its ultimate fate.

Decimilisation happened in February 1971, and someone was sent out of school at dinnertime to the corner shop with strict instructions to get a lot of change. We were not impressed by the tiny 1p and 1/2p coins and could understand why it was referred to as ‘Monopoly Money’.

There was a general feeling that prices had risen as a direct result of decimilisation, as prices were always rounded up and never down. For some months there was dual pricing of goods in the shops but we all adapted much quicker than we thought we would to the new system.

Family allowance was only paid for the second and subsequent children in those days, so after my daughter was born I would go to the post office at the bottom of Box Lane – where the Chinese takeaway is now – and present my allowance book. The postmaster would ask me for 10p and gave me a £1 note in return, as the weekly rate was 90p. Soon after that the rate was increased to £1 per week for all children, so I received the princely sum of £2 per week.

We did not have a car for the first ten years of our marriage but managed quite well by using public transport as the buses were frequent and usually reliable. Green West Riding buses to us to Knottingley, Wakefield or Castleford, but blue South Yorkshire buses were better for Leeds as they took the direct route rather than going through all the villages.

We were only a mile from the town centre so I got into the habit of walking up a couple of times each week to do the shopping, coming home on the bus if I was by myself or putting everything on the bottom of the pram if I had the children with me.

My daughter asked me the other day how I did the ‘big shop’ and the answer is that there was no such thing. Like most other housewives, I bought what was needed which was all we could manage to carry. I had £8 per week housekeeping money when we were first married, which was more than adequate.

Our family home in Bradford was next to one of the first Morrison’s supermarkets and I knew I would miss that, but in Pontefract there was G.T. Smith’s, next to the market hall where Thornton’s and Body Care are now, and Cyril’s on Horsefair with Thom’s on the first floor. I bought some Christmas tree baubles from Thom’s which are still in use, brought out each year from their boxes with the 15p and 20p price stickers still attached. There was also the Co-op, where Tuesday was ‘double stamps’ day. Shoppers were given tiny blue stamps for each shilling (or 5p) they spent and these were stuck in a book, then paid in at the Co-op bank when full. I think the full books were worth £5, although my husband thinks it was much less than this. The stamps replaced the dividend scheme, which had operated when I was a child; like most people of my generation I can still remember my Mum’s Co-op number, 10264, which she quoted every time she shopped there.

Hillard’s (now Tesco’s) was heralded as the first of a new generation of supermarkets, being purpose-built rather than adapted from existing shops and with a much wider variety of goods on sale. It also had a car park, which was becoming an increasingly important factor for many people when deciding where to shop.

There was a jumble of shops behind the market hall but they were swept away and replaced by the new library and new shops. The old library building was put to very good use in re-housing the tiny museum previously located at the entrance to the Castle. England’s the ironmongers, was looking very old fashioned by the early 70s and I was not surprised when it closed, but I did take the children inside for a good look at the ranks of drawers behind the counter and the buckets and other containers hanging from the ceiling. "This is an ironmongers, there aren’t many shops like this left", I told them, buying a tablespoon from the display unit as a souvenir. Yes, that is still in use too!

There was A.P. Smith’s drapery store on the corner of Finkle Street and Horsefair, and Keyser’s on Ropergate which was well-known for its good quality ladies clothing as well as its café. Hagenbach’s also had a café behind their bread and confectionary shop in Market Place, and my husband and I fell into the habit of calling in there for a sandwich and a cup of tea if we were in town during the week. The song ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, will be forever associated in my mind with the radio in Hagenbach’s café and the summer of 1971, as we made the most of our pre-baby freedom!

Horner’s was another local baker and confectioner with at least three shops in Pontefract; one in Horsefair, one at the back of the bus station where the health centre now stands and one on the Circle at Chequerfield, which is still there. As well as their irresistible cream splits they sold very good egg custard’s, and one day on our way home in 1975 I called into the Northgate shop where the previous day’s custards were on sale for 4p each. With the baby in the pram and our three-year-old beside me, we walked down behind the Castle, past the ‘smelly tractor, belonging to the skin yard by the Old Church and along Knottingley Road. We had just turned up Water Lane when our son asked "Mummy, how much were those custards?" "Four pence", I replied, "but yesterday, when they were first made, they would have been nine pence." "Wow," he said, "that’s a bargain!" Fifteen years later he was to sit A-level maths, still with an eye for a bargain!

Pontefract Market, both indoor and out, has always been worth visiting. One stallholder by the name of Mary, knew how to gather a crowd around her stall in Cornmarket by shouting out in true market trader fashion. You never knew what she would produce next from the boxes underneath the stall but you had to be quick to catch the bargains before they were all snapped up and something else took their place. The indoor market had two or three greengrocers and a toy stall at the back, from where our son got his first Matchbox car, a red Volkswagen Beetle.

I only went to the old swimming baths on Stuart Road a couple of times, being unimpressed by the antiquated facilities, and decided to take the children to the more modern pool at Knottingley Sports Centre as soon as it opened.

We went to the Crescent Cinema at the end of Ropergate whenever there was something worth watching, and we tried to prepare our son for his first visit there to see Jungle Book by telling him it was a very big room with a lot of seats and what looked like a huge television screen at the front. As the titles rolled up at the beginning of the film, our five-year-old was not impressed. "Is this it?" he asked, his ‘Janet and John’ reading level not being quite high enough to cope. He was reassured that the story would start soon and he did quite enjoy it in the end.

Once both children were at school I went back to teaching and did home tuition for several years, teaching children who were out of school for various reasons. Then in 1988 I started teaching on Hyde’s children’s ward at Pontefract General Infirmary.

My colleague, Mrs Jenny Green, and I bought some postcard views depicting Pontefract town centre in the early 1900s and we took photographs of the same places as they were in the 1990s. We then showed them to the children on the ward, looking at what had stayed the same and what had changed. Around the year 2000 we realised that the ‘modern’ photographs we had taken were also now out of date and so a third set of photos were brought into use. It was interesting to see the way some things had come full circle; for example, the original triangular pinnacle on the top of the market hall was visible in 1905, had been removed for safety reasons before 1991 but had been replaced by 2000. Modern telephone booths outside the market hall were replaced by traditional red boxes and pedestrians had made way for traffic and then reclaimed the area around St. Giles Church.

Although still a Bradfordian at heart, I have become very fond of Pontefract and its history over the last 37 years and feel it has fared much better than some other towns in the way it is facing up to the future.

Mary Tyler, April 2006.


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