Childhood - Susan Aaron
"Susie" and Tom Aaron
Susie/Susan Aaron was born in the first decade of the 20th century.
In the 1950's/60's she wrote an account of her childhood in Knottingley and circulated a manuscript copy to both friends and family.
The following is an accurate transcription of that account,
Reading the following verse on a scrap of old, paper, by an unknown writer, I thought how apt when thinking of old times. In retrospect joys of the past are vanished for ever?
Flowers soon vanished and sooner decayed
Ripples of light upon times flowing river
Lost with its breath o'er its bosom that strayed
Vainly oh vainly our hearts would restore them
Fair though they glitter, how swiftly they're gone
Echo's that die with the music which bore them
Lights that are darkened the moment they're shone.
To me how true those words of life and times now gone. I have absorbed knowledge like a sponge, also I have an excellent memory. What pleasure it gives to appreciate the beauty and bounty of nature. To see the stark simplicity of an old country church or the exquisite craftsmanship in stone or wood in Cathedrals or Great Houses.
To stand as I did by Bruce's Stone on a Scottish hill and look towards the mountains or down tree clad slopes to see water cascading down into the quiet Loch of Glen Trool below. One is filled by an inner peace and a strong feeling of eternity.
I was born on the 15th July 1909 at Bens Kalodyne Terrace, Racca Green. Years later that friendly area had disappeared making way for shops.
I was the daughter of Joseph Longstaff Ellerington, and Ellen Ellerington. Already there was Sarah Hannah, and Joe, six years and three years older. I was given a family name after my Great Grandmother, Aunt, and Great Aunt (Susanna).
Maybe it is unfashionable to think of the past, but today it is history, with its happiness, sorrows and experience.
At that time my Grandparents Pickersgill lived down the passage, and behind there was a large yard and garden, where Uncles George, Ernest, and Bob kept racing pigeons, and Dad raised pigs. When Dad boiled small potatoes in their skins for them, we children would beg some, and they had a lovely special taste. The home cured ham, bacon, pork fry, and pork pies had a flavour not found today.
Dad was a happy go lucky person, and he loved his children dearly, and always found time to talk to us, explain things, and play with us sometimes to mothers annoyance, and yet he thought a lot of her, buying her presents and taking her to the Music Hall, although her taste in music was totally different. He bought records of such pieces as Poet and Peasant, Light Cavalry, William Tell, Zampa, Cavaliera Rusticana, and The Boers have got my Daddy. I can still sing it. I would listen entranced as he played them, then one day he brought the record Finiculi, Finicula, and on the opposite side Ring out the Bells for Christmas, - which he played often, but when he wasn't looking Mother smashed. it by throwing it in the fire. It had a short life but a gay one. Mother had a real temper, but she fed us well, and dressed us neatly, but somehow I never felt as close to her as Dad.
Mother gave me to her eldest sister with no children, so Aunt Susie took me to Broadreach Lock at Wakefield to live with them. Evidently I settled down quite happily. Later I was reminded of my antics while there. When empty coal barges went through the locks they put buckets filled with the remains of coal swept up on the side for the Lock Office. A small grubby girl industriously tossed it over the low wall into the lock, bit by bit, and when missing was usually found among the fruit bushes.
Dad, who had been told that I was on a long holiday, asked Granma when I was coming home, and she told him the truth. He told mother he was fetching me home, and he hitch hiked by carts, and brought me back. He wanted me, a child knows love.
The first thing I remember is Dad showing us the art of Ducks and Drakes, he taught us how to whiz flat stones across the canal hitting the water three times before sinking. He would hold the back of my frock so I didn't go in, a practice that Mother frowned upon. Joe, as the one boy was rather special, and whatever work tools Dad had, he provided Joe with a set in miniature, so when Dad chopped sticks so did Joe, they were not toys but functionable, so as well as occupying him he was learning the correct way to handle them safely.
The Blacksmith at the top of The Green was asked by Dad to make Joe the traditional iron bowl and hook, and for the girls he bought wooden hoops. Sarann's was larger than ours. We were well provided with simple toys, and a large collection of table games: Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Tiddlywinks and draughts - he certainly understood his children.
On Pancake day out came seasonal toys, whips and tops and skipping ropes. He took the three of us up Aire Street and bought us battledores and shuttle feathers. Sarann as his eldest had a special one shaped like the first tennis "raquets" with a beautiful large white feather shuttle, each feather topped with paper coloured flowers. Ours were smaller, but he usually explained the difference in age and size. Mine and Nellie's were of a kind I've never seen since. The "raquet" was hollow with a 1" wide black band round it, and it must have deafened folk with the noise it bumped out. Mary had a smaller old type, just the size for her.
As we had the canal and River Aire in close proximity, children tended to go there to play. The Bendles at the bottom of Racca Green was a veritable children's paradise. There on the canal was an old timber and boatyard. The stacks of timber and old barges lay half in and half out of the water. This playground was strictly forbidden, but somehow all our contemporaries seemed to gather there. So many games to play: crawdening, climbing, dens, hide and seek, lovely thick planks to ranty on (see saw), with usually some brave soul stood in the centre. Cock o' the Midden, balancing. Many planks found their way into the holds of the old water filled barges, and on these we would stand while floating from end to end. To our childish minds they were not planks but big liners, the Titanic, Lusitania, Mauritania, sailing away.
Woe betide us if parents saw us. One evening Dad was having a quiet drink in the Lime Keel Inn when he saw me, and chased me half round Knottingley, then he gave up, but promised retribution when I got home, and when I did he soundly skelped my bottom. It was when I got older that I realised it was our safety which had made him angry.
When one looks back, we had an awe of authority, so sadly lacking today. One day Joe and I both had mumps, and there we were with flannel tied pudding wise round our heads when we saw Mr Wrightson, who Joe called the 'kid catcher'. We dashed under the table while Mother explained our absence from school.
When the first charabans arrived on the scene, Dad who was always one for novelties, decided he would try it one Saturday afternoon, taking me along. It looked like an elongated motor car with four doors each side, and each row holding four. We wandered around Pontefract, he bought some Setans, such nice toffee for Mother, but then he realised we had missed the chara' back, so off we set walking. As I trotted along he talked and talked on all sorts of things, maybe it was to take my mind off tired little legs. When we reached the three arched bridge, I was informed that a murder had been done on the embankment. I don't know why that stuck in my mind, but of one thing I am sure, whenever I pass that way and see that bridge, there always comes to my mind of a dearly loved father who never grew old.
Through my time I've seen many changes in entertainment. On the Flatts occasionally came a tented theatre, the seats were forms and slats of wood. The fare provided Maria Martin, or Murder in the Red Barn, Joe liked Sweeney Todd. The tent was known colloquially as the Rag and Stick. The next step concerts in the Town Hall, lantern slides, then next it was the silent films.
Sarann, my eldest sister was a. quiet serious girl, who usually got the task of shepherding us younger ones on walks each Sunday morning. Off she would go with her little flock, so reliable, but when given a. task did it regardless, as I found to my cost. Going through Jubilee Walk she said and up Womersley Road, but I wanted to go through Springfields. Joe couldn't care less. I mulishly stood my ground, so she got my arm and pulled me on, my arm went quite queer, but we went on the walk. When we got back, taking off my coat my Dad saw my arm hanging loose, so he took me to Doctor Arthur Percival who put it back in the socket. I didn't rebel again.
We attended Sunday school regularly, and eagerly looked forward to the treats. On Ascension Day we would be loaded on flat drays, a piano anchored on one, we would stop in each street and sing hymns. For the yearly treats we would go one year to Monk Fryston and another to Whitley Lodge. We went to Monk Fryston in horse drawn wagons, after the afternoon races, at which I was always an also ran. We would be given a bag of sandwiches and buns, and taken into the Alpine Hall where tea was served. To me it was a revelation, it seems that one of the guests at Monk Fryston Hall was an artist who after a stay in Switzerland returned and was left free to decorate that great hall. He transformed it into a miniature Switzerland, the intense blue of the ceiling with it's clouds, the walls purple white capped mountains, towards the floor the green of the valley with attractive little chalets dotted here and there, absolutely enchanting to me - that was the highlight of the day, or I would not be able to recall it so clearly today.
Another year the treat would be a trip down by barge to Whitley Lodge Park, where the usual races were run followed by a picnic tea. I little thought that in later life I would be invited to tea at that big house by Mrs Charlotte Lyons, whose family owned shares in the Chemical Works, and the shipyard. She it was who introduced me to the Countess of Rosse, mother of Anthony Armstrong Jones. The Countess invited me to tea twice at Womersley Park, that was a long way ahead though.
At holiday times Grandfather Pickersgill would hire a wagonette, and the whole family piled in and off we went to Selby market. There would be a visit to Selby Abbey, then down to the river to watch the tide race along under the Toll Bridge. It was pleasant to ride back in the evening to the rhythm of the clip clop of the horses hooves.
Maybe Dad wasn't wise money wise, as when he had a good week at work (he was a Glassblower), his pride and joy was to buy presents for Mother and his children. One Friday he trooped us girls up Aire Street, and we returned with fur necklets and muffs with the usual differences.
At that time our dress was rather cumbersome, Joe had a sailor suit complete with straw hat and whistle. A suit in Edwardian style, double breasted half belt at the back, knickerbockers reaching just below the knee ending in a bank, thick black knitted stockings, and strong shiny leather leggings.
We were more unfortunate, a woollen vest, liberty bodice, drawers comprising two flannel backless legs on a waist band with frills on the bottom, two Flannelette petticoats, feather stitched, a white cotton one on top of them, dark staff dresses with fluffed sleeves, a white pinafore with broiderie anglais frills round the yoke and armholes, home knitted stockings and buttoned boots. It was worse on Sundays as it was white cotton drawers (starched), one white flannelette petticoat, two cotton ones (starched) with frills, a white dress, large white hat with elastic under the chin. How we suffered when walking - rub, rub, rub, - It reminds me of a marching rhyme we learned at school in the third class:
Stiff as starch
Biddies all in a row
Keep in line
All the time
Or to the fox you'll go.
A popular way of amusing ourselves was to wheedle a penny from our parents or grandparents for the ferry to cross the River Aire to the Marsh, a large area of marshland, taking a bag containing either nettle beer, kali, or water and snacks, a fishing net and jam jar, we were well equipped. We would fish for sticklebacks, paddle, and generally run wild, little realising that where we played so happily was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Wars of the Roses. There the butcher Clifford who had killed the Yorkist heir to the throne at Sandal , a few miles away, met his end there holding the ford. Armour was turned up when they tried to plough the marsh during the 1914-18 war. After a time, teatime called and we would wend our way home, tired, but happily clutching bunches of water blobs, and jars full of sticklebacks. Often when we got home there would be warm oven bottom cakes with cheese cooked in milk, just the thing for hungry children. There was always somewhere to go and something to do.
Often groups of us would wend our way up the Jubilee, across the Springfield, picking dog daisies, large Marguerites, Cowslips, Milk maids a delicate mauve flower, and sometimes joy of joys trembling grass. This pretty grass decorated many a mantelpiece in vases, and I know bunches were very acceptable to Granny.
We seemed to assimilate history as we grew up, and the house had much memorabilia of the Boer War. On the dresser were two sculptured heads set in green glass, Bobs (Lord Roberts) and Kitchener, generals in the Boer War. Mother would sing a Music Hall song which parodied the fashion of naming children after personalities, Dad bought her the record, it ran at all the christenings: The baby's name is Kitchener, Cavannah, Lord Pretoria, Bobs, Krargi, Kruger, Kimberley, Mafekin, Ladysmith, De Botha, Smuts. I can sing it as I heard it so often.
I think I can truthfully say that I was a happy natured child, I've my old Aunts Mary and Maud to thank for that information, always smiling like my Dad. I was welcomed in every house on the Green they told me.
During the 1914-18 war we could see the silver cigar shaped Zeppelins on moonlit nights, and many folk trekked up to the Lime Quarries out of fear. Food began to be a problem, white sugar disappeared, and dark brown lumpy stuff was what we had, we often used to slive our hands in the jar in the cupboard and eat lumps like sweets, rather reprehensible of us. So this was where the pigs came in useful.
Our playmates on the Green were increased by two Belgian families, refugees brought over, friends of sea Captain Tupman at Antwerp. We easily integrated as children do.
Grannies four sons all volunteered together much to her distress. Then life seemed at a quiet tempo, all the young fellows gone to join up. In the evenings women would bring out chairs or stools, or stand chatting to each other, and passers by at the door. They would be busily knitting socks or stockings, others on larger items such as the navy blue ganseys (jerseys). They were traditionally seafaring navy blue, and different areas had their own pattern, the Knottingley pattern was lost when one old lady died.
Then, Knottingley had a large seafaring community, and I remember names of some who had retired when I was a child, in fact my husbands grandfather was Captain Thomas Aaron. Captain Coward was Aunt Dorothy's husband, Captain Chris Cawthorn was wrecked twice, and there were lots more. How memory flows with layer tide.
Often on Bank Holidays, heavy ropes would be produced and young married folk would be skipping away with the children. The street was ideal as only rarely horse drawn traffic came along. It was fascinating to watch young women, Aunt Mary among them playing Diablo. I could never master it, but Aunt Mary was expert at it, as well as skipping double dutch (2 ropes). Another popular game, one got Dad to get a 3" piece of broom handle, and whittle one end to a point, it was then propped on a small brick , the end being then given a sharp norp, then struck in the air with a stick. That was Knurr and Spell, more commonly known as 'Piggy'. Such simple ways of amusing ourselves. Older folk would join in our games, even Piseball, now known as rounders.
Dad thought a lot of Granny, and as she had moved across the road, she asked Dad about taking me, as she thought it would be more settled, as he said he could see me every day, for me began a very happy time, indeed I felt wanted.
One little job I was able to do, permission was given at school along with others to come out of school at a quarter to 12, run back home, and Granny would be waiting with Granddad's dinner in a lidded wicker basket, and off I'd trot to the "Chemics" where he worked in the Blacksmiths shop. Always he had something for me, either an orange or an apple, maybe a penny or sweets. Back to Grannies then for my dinner, then back to school, but always she would set me off with a kiss, she was a dear.
In June 1916 Uncle Ernest, the youngest son came home on leave as he had been in the disastrous Gallipoli, he was on the ill fated Suvla Bay landings in the Dardanelles, taken off in darkness, taken to Egypt., then leave. The day before his leave ended he came across me standing on a chair trying to roll up my plait and ribbon, copying Aunt Mary's grown up style. A hand unpinned it and there was Uncle Ernest saying "Don't try to grow up too soon Susie love". That is my last treasured enduring memory of him, as he left to go back the next day, and was killed a fortnight later on July 1st in the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont Hamel he was just 21.
On Sundays everything was cleared up early after dinner was over as it was Sunday School for me, but not before I had seen Granny changed and settled ready for any of the family. Her daughters always came Sunday afternoons, how nice and matriarchal she looked in her long black skirt, and satin blouse, or waist as she called it, with a tiny white frill round the neck, but I always thought her underskirts were prettier. She had them in deep blue, mauve, and red watered silk, with fine pleated frill, how they rustled when she walked. Around her shoulders a fine small wool shawl, and she had abundant grey black hair on which she could sit. I often used to brush it for her, as after the shock of Uncle Ernest she had a seizure, and she never fully recovered the use of her arm.
Now I know why grandpa worshipped her, for one day I'd gone to meet him from work and asking after granny he said " Thy granny my bairn is a gem", and at that he told me their story.
Granny had been a local beauty, and her father kept horses which he would hire out to pull barges, and he went with them. His parents were moneyed farming people. Up to then granddad's only work was caring for small ponies that they bred, Shetlands. Great Grandma was a very autocratic person, with great grandpa under her thumb. Old Mrs Rowley told me of her. Anyway when granddad said he was going to marry Sarah Richardson his mother said when he left to get married the door was shut against him, and it was. She would drive herself through Knottingley and would not recognise granddad, his wife, or children. Then years later she was found dead in her chair, the house ransacked, and a son and the housekeeper vanished to America. He had to clear up the mess, but nothing was left to him in the Will, and his sisters and brothers got everything. Great Aunt Mary Ann had two farms, Stone Royd was one. His sister Sally was married to a wealthy motor manufacturer. They both wanted to help granddad, but he was a proud man. They both liked Gran and often visited her. He said that Sally was a tomboy, a crack shot, and rode horses bare backed. She was a Tilley of Birmingham, and drove her own car in those days.
Then he gave me a lesson in human values, he said to me " Never think that money is everything my lass", happiness with a good partner is more precious, and how right he was. All that he told me was confirmed by an old lady, the grandmother of my friend. She showed me two old photographs of Great Grandmother.
On Sunday evenings it would be a family walk, sometimes down by the river to Beal, then back by road. An alternative walk would be down Common Lane, over the Ramper, out on to Kings Standard Hill, and on to Stubbs, where some went in the Ancient Shepherd Inn, the rest outside on a bench for refreshment. How strange to read in a newspaper commenting of the odd name of Cridling Stubbs that it had been a thriving Saxon village in ancient times
Hand in hand with granddad he would chat away, the flowers and fauna on the three cornered waste land at the top of Kings Standard hill. He told me that it been handed down orally that no one owned it, and it was holy ground where two Kings had fought. I queried it, so he said the legend is that an important battle for Christianity was fought around there, and the hill carried the name since. In Winston Churchill's mammoth book 'The History of the English Speaking Nation', he refers to a battle between a Pagan and Christian king not many miles from Doncaster, near the Saxon "Waed" (Wentbridge). The kings were from Northumbria and Mercia. In such a way by casual chat, interest in a child's mind is stirred.
On Tuesdays Granny collected from school a 4 o'clock, and with my hand in hers we would go on to the Aire Street Post Office to collect the 'ring money' the pension she had for the loss of Uncle Ernest, but she never used it, she called it blood money, and put it straight in the bank. I can see her now, a tall dignified figure wearing her usual large fawn and white speckled fringed shawl with white stripes round the edges. Walking along with her, my hand clasped firmly one felt so safe and protected. At night I was a nervous child, and she always put a candle on the high chest of drawers, and she would give me a little book, it was the new testament in verse, the life of Jesus in words a child could understand easily, a loving way of imparting religion. It had been used by her own children, and I still have some of the leaves as it disintegrated with the years. She was strictly fair, and if one did wrong one was punished, but she had to hear both sides. On wet days, on holiday, I would go across the road to play with my brother and sisters. We would go up to the attic or garret as it was known, what a treasure house of discarded things, a gramophone with cylinder records, a long box with two revolving tables, one large and one for small records. One of Mothers hats, a yellow fur, shaped like a beehive with red berries at the side. Plenty of stuff to keep us busy.
How little the war was allowed to bother us, but as it intensified we would notice groups of anxious mothers and wives talking, and asking had any had news. They had nearly all joined up together, and they were pals.
Aunt Mary went on the land, and one of her efforts at ploughing she made a lovely straight furrow, then at the turn upspilt the whole caboodle into the ditch, so it was a family joke for a while, Aunt Maud, Uncle Joe's wife went into munitions at Barnbow, as Uncle Joe was in the forces. It began to be common to see young women with bright yellow skins, from being in the powder room at the munitions factory. One girl along the street was deep yellow, and died. I never go to York Minster without going in to open the panel with the names of women who died serving their country, for there is the name Elsie Oates, such a quiet timid girl.
As one looks back one remembers familiar figures of those days: Mrs Trueman who acted as post woman and in her spare time her war work was trundling a hand cart, handing out and collecting back kit bags of soldiers washing from the barracks.
In 1917 my little 2 year old brother died, but a new baby had arrived two months earlier. The following year 1918, the war was ending, but an epidemic of Spanish Flu struck, and Maud was very ill and not expected to pull through. Dad went down with it also, and one morning he asked to see his children. I was fetched across the road, it seemed as if he was saying goodbye. Mother asked " Do you know them Joe", and he named us one by one. He then asked where's Maud, and he was told she was asleep.
It was a quarter to nine, and we wondered about school, when mother came up and screeched "He's gone". Aunt Susie had been to the shop and was carrying a stone of flour, and when she knew what had happened she left the flour on the table, saw four year old Mary sitting on a small stool, she took her by the hand and said "this bairns coming with me", and that's how Mary acquired a new Mother, and a good home. Granny said that she would see to me, and only when Uncle Bob was out of the army I'd just have to go over to sleep, but she would feed and clothe me. Sarann started work, and was a good standby for Mother.
So many of the industries we knew have gone, there were two blacksmiths, where children, especially the boys, loved to watch sparks flying, and horses shoed, eager to have a go with the bellows. Near the Lamb Inn was Cawoods willow merchant and basket maker. Two ropewalks, one of which was Kelletts, it was fascinating for children, starting with thin yarns, twisting and winding until they ended up great thick ships hawsers. That was in Stocking Lane, and I used to think it was a funny name. Eventually I found out that it was a corruption of the Norse words ' Stock Inge' meaning a stockade for animals (Viking influence).
Many Norse words I learnt from Granddad, and when he called me it was " Come on Doy" a form of endearment. If one wasn't well you were 'nobbut dowley'. When using a ladder it was a ' Stee'. The Study of English Language at Leeds University were intrigued when I wrote with a list of words showing Viking influence in the area, and said the meanings of them I'd put correctly. They asked me to put down anymore that I could remember and send them to Leeds, of like a scoperil interested them, also the word aske, as with hard water. When correcting me for little faults, he always used broad Yorkshire rhymes. That was the time when my grandparents began to take an interest in my education. They bought me Chatterbox, a thick book of stories, documentary items, stories of eminent and famous people such a good book. I read all my fathers prizes, for he had been clever at school. Granddad said that they were above my age, but I could cope. Charles Kingsley's Westward Ho, the story of Raleigh, Drake and Richard Grenville, Land of the Inca or City of the Sun, also the Sign of the Cross. So though Dad had gone, he gave me a grounding in the classics and literature, but if Mother saw me with a book it went in the fire.
I was doing well academically, English, History, Geography and General Knowledge came easily to me. I was well ahead, but on the domestic side I was hopeless. My handwriting was awful, my sewing was a disaster, everything ended up as black as spades and my stitching was uneven. In the Domestic Science room I wasn't much better. After one laundry lesson, I managed to get my fingers flattened in the old fashioned mangle. I remember coming round, sitting in a chair after a faint while they unscrewed the pressure how true when the teacher Miss Fleming said " You evidently aren't going to be a star pupil".
My domestic science book with all its blots and crossings out, and the occasional good mark was evidently treasured by my Granny, as it was found in her drawer after she died. Such is love when one is loved, however good or bad I did.
Then came the tug of wars Mr Mark Hill the headmaster sent for Mother to school to have a further talk on my education. Already Mr Hill guided me to books I should read, first The Tale of Two Cities then The Last of The Mohicans, he brought books from his own library. He told Mother that I had the potential to do well, and with no difficulty I'd go to Grammar School. However Mother said that I couldn't have the chance, as my elder sister and brother hadn't, then I could not have it. He told her that she would rue denying me an opportunity. When we got home Granddad wanted to know if I'd got the chance, and the Mother got it. He said "why"?, and she said it will need clothes and books, and he shouted "I'd kit her out, and it wouldn't cost you anything". Mums last word was well I'm her legal guardian, so that was that.
One day later when she was 81, and staying a few days here with me, she told my husband( not me), " I don't know how I'm going to face her Father when I'm gone, she could have done it", and how she regretted being so stubborn.
One day in the holidays I begged Gran to let me go pea pulling, and rather dubiously one day she let me go, but not before asking a woman to keep an eye on me. I toiled away all day, and managed two bags, and the pay was 9d a bag. Off I went proudly carrying 1/6d, the first money I'd earned, and who should have it but my Granny. Though she took it seriously I expect she must have smiled to herself.
I got many indirect lessons looking at the Bric o Brac on the shelves. Two objects aroused my curiosity and I couldn't think what they were. They were bright red felt about 3 to 4 inches long, and the front of these shapeless things were beautifully embroidered lions faces, in fine green, blue, and black silk with fierce yellow eyes and silken whiskers. Granny sat down and explained that they were the shoes of a High born Chinese Lady who had bound feet. No wonder they tottered along instead of normal walking. Then there were Cowie Shells, used as money by natives. She had a very shawl, delicately embroidered with its long fine silken fringe, and this was kept in tissue paper. Grannies seafaring relatives brought her these curiosities as presents.
Sometimes in the holidays Aunt Susie would take me with them on the barge 'Darius' a large broad barge which plied between Leeds and York. I was company for Mary. What a lovely leisurely trip it was. Below, the cabin, all highly polished wood and brass, the forecastle ideal to play in, or it was pleasant to sit on deck watching the lovely countryside slip by, and to see the riverside animal life. One day, coming up on deck, Aunt Susie at the tiller, she called "grab hold of something, and hold tight". Looking forward I saw a wall of water rushing towards us, it was the highest spring tide. It is called the Agar, and in other places the Bore. When it hit the bow of the barge it rose high in the air, and as it rushed past the boat levelled out leaving a turbulent swirling mass of water. The banks which had been high up, filled to the top, a rather scary moment. If one had failed to hold the tiller firm in order to hold it head on, it would have gone broadside on, and swept on the bank to become a wreck the same as some we saw. From Lendal to York was the most scenic part, and when the waters were clear one saw salmon leaping: alas no more.
One sunny noon, Mary and I were sitting on deck having our dinner when we came across a lovely sight: Bishopthorpe Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of York. The whole facade was covered with bright red rambler roses, reflected in the water with the green of shrubs and trees. At the side maids at the windows waved their yellow dusters to us. People who have seen it in later years say the facade has been cleared of the roses as it was damaging the stonework.
That was the beginning of a continuing love of York with its ancient buildings. Aunt Susie was tireless in giving me a thorough knowledge of that City; its glorious Minster, she showed me elaborate Catholic churches too. The Treasurers House with its old clock with a pendulum hanging through floors. St Williams College and the spacious grounds of the Philosophical gardens which contains so much of Roman York.
A year or so ago on a day trip, I discovered the old Viking settlement in Coppergate, and was fortunate enough to see various items excavated on the site.
Back to the past though, and my first visit to the real theatre. Mary and I were taken to York's main theatre to see 'The Speckled Band', a Sherlock Holmes play. It was fine and exciting, but later that night tucked up in the cupboard like bunk, one began to have qualms; the slap, slap and sough of the water on the side of the boat sounded very eerie indeed, although Mary assured me it was only the water and not a snake.
Christmas was a great family occasion, one went to different relatives for tea and afterwards some contributed party pieces. On Boxing day it was all go, mid morning the Silver Prize Band got round to Racca Green; the first carol requested, Hail Smiling Morn, followed by Christians Awake. Then the mood changed, and the Street became alive with people old and young dancing. Always the same three: a waltz, a schottische, followed by the polka, and that's where I learned to dance. Everyone looked so happy. Hostelries did well as the bands men needed frequent refreshment.
In the afternoon when adults rested after their exertions the children would be packed off with small sums to a Bazaar held on two afternoons after Christmas in the Tabernacle, an old religious building not then in use (the Elim). Stalls sold small items like games and puzzles, sweets and pop. There were hordes of milling children all struggling for first choice. It was impossible to keep order in such a melee, climbing over piled forms, hiding in the old pulpit, throwing rubbish, what energy and high spirits, and what a noise.
Every era has its eccentric characters. There was old Inky Watson, who made and sold ink, he was an avid Bible reader, often to be seen with battered bowler on his head, and his Bible tucked under his arm. Also London Maud, as all knew her, a tall angular figure trundling a box on wheels, collecting rags, yet somehow both gave the impression of having had a good education, in speech and manner so correct.
Change seemed to be in the air. We noticed that Mother would vanish carrying dishes, so Joe enlisted my aid in a bit of detective work, So we followed her and Joe stationed me on an iron box attached to Cow Lane Bridge to watch one bank, and he went down the other bank, and so we located the house where Mother went to School, friends told us that Jim Asquith's brother stayed there. Then the shock came, friends told us that Mother was marrying again. Why oh why don't adults prepare children for such changes. It was Granny who explained what was happening,
She told me that when a young lady, two young fellows wanted her to marry them, but she chose my father. A month after she married, George married a widow with children older than himself. They were both widowed at the same time, so they got together again.
On the day of the wedding I was deputed to take Aunt Mary's baby out in the pram, and told to keep out of the way, Curiosity made me push forward with the pram through the folk, to see my mother leave in the horse drawn cab, only I pushed so hard, and as it was rather a high causeway, then over the pram and Bobbie toppled. I hurriedly righted the pram, picked up Bobbie, and dusted him down, and settled him back. The strange thing was that he didn't yell, he must have been stunned or shocked, anyway he was all right when I took him back. One thing I must say is that he was a good stepfather, not afraid of work and generous, but however good, I found it difficult to call him Dad, as I was told to. No one can replace a loving father as mine was, and with Joe it was veiled hostility all along.
The character of Knottingley has been completely altered, lovely old buildings with historical connections have been demolished, the attractive Elizabethan house which was part of the Ingrams of Temple Newsam family inheritance in the shape of an E the doorway reached by an outside stairway, the fine sculptured fireplace was taken out and sold to an American, carvings also went the same way. The old butchers shop I'd visit with my friend had its part in English history, letters written by Oliver Cromwell when he used it as headquarters, ordering attacks on Pontefract Castle can still be seen in the Archives. The house at the top of Racoa Green where My Uncle Joe and Aunt Maud lived, I've played there. If Aunt Maud knew the papers that were hidden in the walls she would have had a fit. Lists of Arms collected by Sir George Wentworth ordered by Charles I for use in the Civil War. The area constable lived there then J Thompson. Lists of billhooks, swords, guns, bows and arrows, halberds, pikes, and the names of long ago Knottingley folk, who handed in weapons, so interesting.
Across the road the Pinfold at the corner of Racca Green, and Weeland Road, opposite Dr Thwaites house. When we heard anyone say round the pinfold, I asked granddad what it was, and it was a piece of land where strayed animals were put until their owners claimed and paid for their release from the Penfold, or pound as some called it. All ruthlessly destroyed in the name of progress. So many farms that I knew gone, and the land is now mostly council estates. Broomhill, a large area of good arable land and now shabby houses. Our lovely Bluebell woods scrapped for an approach road, such was the fate of my Kings Standard Hill, - Motorways.....
Fridays were always baking days, there on the table cooling would be rows of home made bread, tea cakes, pies, and cakes. In the oven simmering away was stew meat, cow heel in the big brown earthenware stew jar, to be minced up and put in basins to set, delicious potted meat.
In those days many square tables would have the table legs encased in coloured chinty, Mrs Tether had mostly red chinty on hers. Cleanliness was a fetish, wooden surfaces were scrubbed until snow white.
One farmhouse that I went to was a prime example, the milk containers were scrubbed scoured and rinsed thoroughly. The flag floors were scrubbed each day until white, A real Yorkshire fettle the old lady's maxim ' cleanliness is next to Godliness'.
How we used to enjoy threshing time, from farm to farm in turn came the hum of the machine, and as the stacks lowered, children chased wildly round with sticks as any rats raced for cover.
Now here is something of a complexity in family relationships of which the younger ones were not aware, but Granny told me: It seems that my fathers eldest brother Charles had married Granny's sister Susan, so when my mother married the younger brother Joe, her Aunt became her sister in law, and her brother in law became Uncle Charles as well. Things may have got more complicated when Aunt Susan's son Charles took a fancy to Aunt Mary. I saw the fancy cards and presents he sent her she gave me a locket that he sent, anyway it wasn't encouraged and she eventually married someone else, after he was killed. I know he thought the world of her.
What changes I have seen. One began with candles for light, then the paraffin lamps, next the flaring gas brackets that moved on to gas mantles and globes, to the present day electricity.
Time marches on regardless, so many of the people that I've loved and childhood friends gone. But to me there will always be an abiding gratitude to my Grandparents who gave me such loving care, instilling in me the precepts they lived by. Although Gran died first, my welfare was watched over by him, and shortly after my marriage, when he was dying, I went in to see him, he looked at me, raised his hand, and said "God bless thee my lass, and make thee a bright and happy woman". How beautiful that blessing. I knew how much he had cared about me, and his daughters were surprised. Oh for one of those days of gladness, gone alas like our youth, too soon.
Last Christmas at last I found out the ending to one of Granddad's little moral teaching ditties. On Boxing day, I wasn't very well, but had the radio on, I glanced at the calendar - 26th December Granddad's birthday - my thoughts were on him when over the radio I heard it:
"If tha comes when tha's called
and tha does as tha's bid
Shuts the door after tha
And tha'll never be chid"
So that dialect ditty I used to hear, as I had a habit of leaving doors open, was completed for me.
Aunty Susie (Susan/Susannah) was born in Knottingley in the first decade of the 20th century and married my Uncle Tom in 1928. In the 50's/60's they moved to Hatton in Derbyshire. Susie met my wife at a family event and corresponded with my wife - mostly at Christmas time. The "last" letter I have from her is circa 1993 - in it she states "The story of my YORKSHIRE CHILDHOOD is still being passed around". Is it possible that an original copy is still out there?. I'd love to know!.
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