GROWING UP IN BAGHILL, PONTEFRACT
by JACK DOWNING
Around 1930 the council were building some new houses
up Baghill and with their names on the waiting list I suspect my parents
were optimistic about getting one, since their rented accommodation in
Tanshelf was somewhat crowded. Well their luck was in and in about 1933
we moved to Eastbourne View. It was a brand new house overlooking fields
where cows munched grass, liquorice root filled other fields, while in
the distance stood Ferrybridge power station. On the horizon were two
hills close to Selby with the faint outline of the Wolds behind. It was
very different to Tanshelf.
Our new house had a front room and in the kitchen cum living room there
was a big iron range with an oven which provided hot water and warmth
when stoked up with coal. Washday was a steamy affair, with a fire lit
under a boiler which stood in the corner of the kitchen. Lighting was by
gas which was kept lit by putting pennies into a meter. Our toilet was
outside. A small garden at the front was for a few flowers and the
bigger rear garden was where Dad grew a few vegetables. It must have
seemed like heaven seventy-five years ago.
As I grew up, this rather rural spot was my playground and my hunting
scene into which I roamed in ever growing circles. First memories can
rarely be dated but I remember having a three-wheeled bike with pedals
on the front wheel when I was probably about three years old. Around us,
other families were settling in with their offspring so there was no
shortage of kids to play with.
By the way, an old rent book showed that we paid 3s/7d (17p) in the
1930s, which was just as well for Dad wasn't always in work. An early
memory was of walking into town with him to the Labour Exchange as he
signed on the 'dole'. On the way back he would carry me on his shoulders
if I became tired.
About a mile away in the opposite direction was Darrington and we would
walk there along one lane, take the Great North Road past Waterfall's
Garage, then return along another lane to reach home.
Eastbourne had a mixed bag of families. Some had kids of differing ages
who no doubt helped fill the schools. More kids meant more hands when we
all went pea picking in summer, for this was an absolute must for many
to earn a few bob extra. The reason was that many Dad's didn't have
regular work so seasonal work on the farm helped finances. The only
chaps with good jobs up Baghill lived in a quiet avenue behind our
estate or on the hill which leads to the estates.
Being poor meant devising ways to get by. Though my parents would never
resort to stealing, they certainly resorted to finding ways of utilising
any item which presented itself. Our floor coverings were a good example
of this. Mum and Dad used any old garment which would be cut up into
strips of material and made into clipped rugs which had Hessian as a
backing. We grouped colours together to create patterns but there was
always a 6" black border to our rugs.
Mum baked our bread and made buns in the oven as well as making stew or
meat and potato pie. I would be sent to Turton's shop down the road for
a bag of flour and a pennyworth of yeast to make the bread rise which
would be eaten thick with plum jam or pork dripping. Rice pudding was
often on the menu.
Dad worked when there was chance. At one time he went on his old bike
all the way to Barnsdale Bar as road improvements were carried out. At
other times he worked on building sites on Love Lane and on Nevison. He
never worked at the pit as many local men did. He had done so when
younger and must have had a belly full of it. Another way of make do and
mend was the use of old socks which were worn on the hands as gloves.
As I grew up I went on expeditions with Ken and Colin Fox, lads older
than myself, who lived next door. We explored Cobbler Lane, a true lane
in those days with high hedges. Our dog, Floss, always came along with
us. We walked Grove Lane to the A1 and one which reached Carleton
church. We wandered in the Darrington area collecting blackberries and
conkers each autumn. Always, I would arrive home tired out and hungry.
Bird nesting was a pastime as was throwing a rope over a tree branch to
play Tarzan. On an evening we congregated around a lamp post playing
hide and seek and waiting for the lamplighter to come along to light the
We made trollies out of old prams, sledges out of any old timber that
presented itself, but the most desirable of transport in those days was
a pair of ball bearing roller skates. They were the kids' Rolls Royce.
Toys would be handed down in families with kids, as indeed was clothing.
Me being an only child meant I never had that privilege. It was a long
time before I got a two wheeled bike; I bought it myself from money
earned on a paper round when I was twelve in 1943.
Dad's family in Knottingley often bought my new clothes at Whitsuntide,
the traditional time for getting them, and Grandma once bought me a
smashing overcoat that I looked a bobbydazzler in. Most men and lads
wore boots as they lasted longer and were more serviceable. The first
shoes I wore was when I left school in 1945 and started work.
Holidays were generally non-existant for us in the 1930s though I did go
to spend a few days in Bridlington. Again it was Granddad and Grandma
who provided. They would take an old converted railway carriage to stay
in for a fortnight at Graingers Camp on the south side of Bridlington
and their offspring would join them one after the other for a few days.
Dad was in work at the time and sadly missed out.
It was great. I saved up looking forward to going for ages. The camp
stood close to the sea but quite a walk out of town. An old photograph
shows an uncle and me on a boat in a small lake that is still there to
Our immediate neighbours in Baghill were the Harrisons, the Foxes,
Wilsons, Blowers and the Schofields. Other families were called Dodson,
Turner, Higgins, Crashley, Elston, MacGurke, Gailey and Wilkinson.
Just down the road stood a farm and when small I looked through the gate
at Mr. Cawthorne, his cows, horses and poultry. He grew vegetables to
sell and delivered milk up and down the estate from a horse drawn trap
which carried big milk churns. Later on I helped a bit with milk
On a Sunday afternoon Mr. Wrigglesworth came round selling ice cream
from his horse drawn cart. On not too frequent occasions we had a visit
from a Castleford couple who had a circular children’s ride mounted on a
horse drawn cart. In those days we didn't take jam jars to the bottle
bank, they were our fare on this roundabout so we were ever green then.
Behind Cawthornes's farm, the Booth brothers had their farm. When the
threshing machine came each autumn it was an occasion for us all. Lads
were allowed in and given a hefty stick with which to kill rats and mice
as they ran from the haystacks. We made a pile of them to get a few
pence, or liquorice at Booths, since they grew it.
The world seemed a long, long way from Baghill and events rarely had an
impact on us. On one bright day though, everyone came out to watch a
German airship fly over. It appeared to be following the North Road. I
read in the Yorkshire Post a few years ago that this was the Hindenburg,
a huge dirigible with a cabin slung beneath and that it was flying to
New York from Germany. Some time later it caught fire in the USA.
I recall the King Edward fiasco as he courted Mrs Simpson and then
abdicated the throne. We sang a rather derogatory song about the pair.
On a Royal note, I recall the jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary in
1935. I heard of Al Capone and American slang which was frowned upon by
You never saw any one truly black in those days even if colliers came
home with black faces due to coal dust, but I have to relate this.
Occasionally an Indian gentleman would come around Baghill wearing a
turban and carrying a big suitcase from which he sold things, I know not
what. He used to cause ructions with the kids as he would first be seen
down the road some half a mile away. We would run home scared out of our
wits insisting that the door be locked. It gave parents a stick, so to
speak, to get us to behave. I really believed that he was coming to put
some kid into that big case and it could be me.
If the world was distant from Baghill, the weather wasn't. We had some
glorious summers as I recall. One year there was a story going round
that a Nightingale could be heard singing somewhere between Baghill and
Darrington but it wasn't confirmed so far as I remember.
Winters were a different story. They seemed to last a long time and we
always had snow with some years being rather bad. There was a white
Christmas in about 1935. Walking to Willow Park School was a nightmare
in the deep snow. We would clear the paths which was often three to four
feet deep. Icicles would form along our roof and we went to bed with
iron oven shelves wrapped in an old sheet to keep our beds warm.
Scraping ice from the inside of my bedroom window is a clear memory.
Snow used to lie around for weeks, getting down the tops of my
Wellingtons if I wasn't careful. Global warming is said to be real
enough today but those winters strike me as being an Ice Age and buses
couldn't get up Bagill for ice and snow at times.
In 1936 I was five years old and my galavanting around Baghill and the
lanes was heading for some disruption as going to school became a
necessity. It would give me a wider set of pals and some challenges too.
It didn't appeal to me but there was no way out, I would have to go.
||Growing up in Baghill, Pontefract,
by Jack Downing was published in the Digest Magazine, Volume 1,
Issue 1, July 2007.