West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Memories and Recollections

GROWING UP IN STAR YARD,
PONTEFRACT


by DOREEN GIBSON

Dad, mum, Sylvia and myself in Star Yard, Pontefract

I was born in 1942 at number 12 Star Yard, adjoining West End Stores, Newgate, where my Mam & Dad, Mary and Bill Berry, were employed by the owner, Mr. Fieldhouse, who lived on Tanshelf Drive. I used to think that he lived in a posh house as it had a long front garden and looked much grander than any house in Star Yard. I don't know exactly when, but some time after the war, Mam and Dad purchased the shop from Mr. Fieldhouse.

Dad was in the RAF during the war so Mam and Mr. Fieldhouse ran the shop and, being born in 1942, I spent my days in the pram inside the shop watching the world go by. Mam said I was a good baby which was very fortunate. There were six children in our family. Starting from the eldest, there were: Jack, Dorothy, David, Beryl, myself and Sylvia. We have always been a close family even though we've had our ups and downs and even though I now live in Australia I still feel as close to them.

West End stores Star Yard Pontefract West End Stores Pontefract after demolition

West End Stores, Pontefract, before and after demolition - photographs Doreen Gibson

The shop is no longer in existence as it was demolished to make way for Jubilee Way, however, they were relocated further up Newgate and then operated as "Berry's Butties" which was well known amongst workers in the town. It is not run by anyone in the Berry family now but is still operating under the same name.

Reading the Digest recently, which my brother David has been sending to me, has brought back many memories of the many happy hours spent playing out in Star Yard. It is a pity that children don't play out as they used to when all the children in the street were involved and you knew everyone.

When I was about three-and-a-half-years-old, I was playing in the backyard with a football and apparently I tried to stand on the ball and broke my leg. It was a particularly bad time for that to happen as my sister Beryl was in hospital with a burst appendix, Sylvia was still a baby, Dad was in the R.A.F and Mam was working in the shop. Mrs. Shields from down the yard trundled me off to Pontefract Hospital in the pram which is a good example of helpful neighbours.

Amongst our favourite games were sticks, rounders, skipping, either with individual ropes or a very large one which we would jump into several of us at a time. We would also use the large rope to jump over, starting very low and raising the level after everyone had jumped to see who could jump the highest; Whip & top, colouring the top with chalks to make the best pattern when the top was spinning; Hide and seek, Conkers, which were collected from the Park, and ball games against the Crescent Cinema wall which backed onto Star Yard. This was an excellent flat surface with no windows to break. There were two exits from the Crescent into our yard which were enclosed steps, one larger than the other, and that's the one we played in when in was raining. We used to put on our own concerts and one of the songs I remember was "I'll be your Sweetheart".

When our parents weren't looking, we also used to climb onto the Crescent roof which was flat at the back. We got up there via a smaller wall which was part of the Methodist Church which also backed onto the yard. I used to find it a bit scary but it was a great feeling of achievement when I had managed it.

Coronation Day Street Party, Pontefract

(Above) Coronation Day Street Party - submitted by Doreen Gibson
Rear: Janice Spurr, Edna Spurr, Barry Walters, unknown. Next Row: Wendy Lill, Doreen Berry, unknown, Pauline Robinson, Eric Redfearn. Two groups of three: (left) Pam Westerman, Susan Wagstaff, Dick Westerman, (right) Sylvia Berry, Pat Spurr, Jacqueline Dixon. Foreground: Terry Walker, Colin Blackburn.

On nice sunny days we would often go to the Park or go tadpoling with our jam jars. I can't remember where we went to get tadpoles but I know we set off up Mill Hill and we always hurried passed Dark Lane in case something dreadful happened to us!

After a long hard day playing out we'd go in for tea and then a bath in front of the fire where it was warm, rather than go upstairs to the bathroom. My best friend, Pat Spur, who lived next door, would often join us for tea and a bath too. She was an only child so I think she enjoyed our busy home.

Mam used to do the washing with a posser and a wringer, and we also had a boiler in the outhouse where she would do the whites. We had a backyard where we would hang the washing, zig zagging the line across the yard to hang as much as possible. Many people down the yard had to hang their washing across the yard which was a pain if a coal lorry came with its deliveries.

I remember Gypsies calling at the shop or to the house and Mam would always buy something, usually pegs; I think she wanted to make sure they didn't put a curse on us! Then there was the Rag and Bone man who would come down the yard and the coal lorry tipping a load of coal by our grate and, when we were older, we would help to push it all down into our cellar. It was important to always keep your windows clean and also the front step which had to be scrubbed and then finished off with the scouring stone, otherwise the neighbours might just think your house wasn't clean!

I went to Love Lane School and walked home for lunch. I tried school dinners once and that was enough, I'd rather make the walk home and back. After Love Lane I went to Northgate Secondary School and I remember Miss Chamberlain the headmistress. I also remember Miss Clayton who used to have her class over the road from the main building. Her lesson was domestic science and she would teach us how to wash different items and also how to iron. I particularly remember ironing handkerchiefs which had to be perfectly square and if there was any embroidery on them it must only be ironed on the back. I often think of those lessons when I'm ironing to this day.

We had sewing lessons and learned how to make a French seam, smocking, buttonholes etc. I think the first thing was to make a cover for a bible we were each given by the Education Department. We embroidered a pattern on the cover as well as our name. I still have the bible and the cover. My friends at Northgate were Pam Fitton, Ann Pickersgill and Kathryn Atkinson.

The school often went to St. Giles Church; I suppose it would have been for Easter, Harvest Festival etc. We went to the Castle for tennis, which I thought was a real treat, but I can't remember going very often - it was probably raining!

I used to look forward to home-time on a Thursday in particular as Thursday was half day closing in the shop and I knew Mam had probably been busy baking or making bread cakes. Her bread cakes were delicious with Lurpac butter on them, spread very liberally. Other favourites were her tarts and scones and, as you can imagine, they didn't last long. When I think of all the work Mam would have had to do I often wonder why she didn't take it a bit easy on a Thursday afternoon but that wasn't her way - she was a wonderful Mum, always there for us all.

All the family at some time or another would help in the shop and sometimes I would deliver small grocery orders in a box to nearby customers. We also used to stack the shelves and keep them tidy and when we were older we actually served customers.

A lot of items were delivered to us in bulk, such as a tub of butter, a box of lard, lentils, sugar, dried peas, currants and sultanas. There were also whole sides of bacon which Dad would bone and roll ready for slicing. I've yet to taste bacon or ham as good as it was then. We also used to get biscuits in tins and if we asked Mam for a biscuit she would always say, "Only pick the broken ones". The whole ones had to be kept for the customers of course. During the summer we stored the butter and lard in the shop cellar so it didn't get too soft.

When I had finished my time at Northgate, I did a year's secretarial course at Whitwood Technical College before working at Kays in Leeds. One night I couldn't get home as the buses had stopped running due to the severe fog. My Mam asked my brother-in-law, Stan, if he could get me home. Unfortunately, his car wasn't registered but, ever the resourceful type, Stan got the label from a Guinness bottle and put that in the window; it looked the part!

After leaving Kays I got a job at Hepworth Tailors and if ever the buses stopped running I would get the train from Leeds which would take me to Monkhill Station. It was a long walk home in the fog from the station to Star Yard with a scarf around my mouth.

I suppose I would have been about 15 when I started going dancing and I loved it. We used to go to the church hall at the bottom of Baghill where it was mostly ‘gay gordons’ and the progressive barn dance . The progressive was a good one as you got to check out the boys but it was disappointing when it was a girl taking the boys part as was often the case.

The Berry Siblings of Pontefract

The Berry Siblings, photographed in 1996 - Submitted by Doreen Gibson
Left to right: Sylvia, David, Doreen, Beryl, Jack, Dorothy.
This is the only photograph of us all together.

I went to the Crescent Ballroom mainly during the week when we would learn the dances and on a Saturday night when it was the real thing. At that time ballroom dancing was on television and I could just imagine myself in one of those wonderful sequined dresses floating around the floor. My older brothers and sisters used to go to the Embassy but Mam wouldn't let me go there; I think she thought the standard had dropped. One night I went to the Crescent Dance in a new dress I got from Kays club, thinking I looked the bees knees. When I arrived I discovered two other girls in exactly the same dress. I quickly ducked home and changed. A few boys who came to the dance were forever popping out for a beer and would come back in sucking on a mint. I don't know who they thought they were kidding. They were always there for the last few dances though - funny that.

Being a big family, clothes used to be passed down if they were suitable and I remember a particular dress my sister Beryl had which I couldn't wait to get so that I could go to the dance in it. It had a crossover bodice and a white underskirt with a floaty material over the top which had a faint check in it. I eventually got it.

I used to go to the dance with Pam Fitton and afterwards she would often stay at our house or we would walk home to her place in Ladybalk. We used to practice dancing in their lounge room to "Who's Sorry Now" by Connie Francis.

I emigrated to Australia with my husband David Gibson and children, Simon and Jenny, in 1970, and we are very happy here, especially now that we have four lovely grandchildren, but it's never easy to leave family behind and Yorkshire is still special to me, so it's great to take a trip 'back home'.

Doreen Gibson.


 

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