Memories of Childhood

Memories of Childhood


My earliest memory is of time spent in my cot in the back bedroom at “Kandersteg”, our house in Castleford where I was born. I remember imagining faces in the pattern on curtains at the side of the cot.

My schooldays started at Pontefract Road Infants school. On the first day I was rather upset, and my sister Joan had to be brought from a higher class to console me. This was followed by Glass Houghton Junior Mixed School, and Castleford Grammar School.

When I was almost 6 years old, the Second World War broke out and toys became scarce in the shops. I had a lot of lead toy soldiers which kept me entertained both inside the house and outside in the garden. I had a clockwork model of a First World War tank of which I was very proud. Most toys were made of tin plate, there being no plastic except bakelite which was very brittle. Clockwork toys usually had a piece of bent metal projecting from the side to act as a key. There were no computer games or cyber pets, no television, and no transistor portable radios.

Our radio was a wooden mains one with long, medium and short waves with such stations as Paris, Rome, Berlin on the dial, we also had a “State-of –the art” wind-up gramophone. The popular programmes provided much of our vocabulary They included Itma (“Can I do you now Sir” and “Don’t forget the diver Sir”), Ray’s a Laugh (“ Young Doctor Ardcastle?, E’s Luverly Ivy”) Monday Night at Eight, Billy Cotton Band Show (“ Wakey Wakey”), Dick Barton Special Agent, The Man in Black, Paul Temple, Arthur Askey (“Hello Playmates”), Journey into Space, Rob Wilton (“ The day war broke out, my mother said to me”), Henry Hall’s Guest Night, Grand Hotel. We also listened to all news bulletins about the war.

I was a regular attender at the Cosy Cinema on Leeds Road where the programme changed three times each week plus kids’ Saturday matinee. I saw most of the top films there and all the westerns. There were no cinemas open on Sunday.

One Sunday I attended Sunday School at St Paul’s church, wearing a “ six-gun” and held up the vicar The Rev. Outhwaite on the steps from Churchfields Lane with the challenge “ Stick your maulers up sister, or I’ll give you a belly full of lead”. I recall that he did stick his maulers up and took it all in good part. I was not ex-communicated.

During the war we had food rationing and everyone had a ration book. I landed the contract for fetching fish and chips on my bike and remember paying 2/- (10p) for f&c for four persons. There were at one time 72 fish and chip shops shops in the town. It was a good way of making the rations go further as no coupons were required. It also provided a good excuse for me to get the beloved bike out.

I occasionally obtained sweets without coupons from Rebecca Peck’s sweet shop on Aire Street. I would call in and ask if she had any sweets off-ration and she usually let me buy some for my cheek.

My mother was ill with multiple sclerosis and I remember going to town with her to do the shopping. We walked down Pontefract Road and, during the earliest stages of her illness, mother used to stop about every three or four houses for a rest. She made a game of it by counting the gateways. When we got to town we invariably visited the market hall to see her numerous friends including the Misses Lapidge who ran a stall. There was Bromley’s stall where one could get weighed on a scale by sitting on wooden chair. My father had a source of western books in Brown’s bookstall where he had a standing arrangement that any new westerns were put on one side and he would call in and part-exchange an earlier book. My mother used to buy comics such as the Beano and Dandy for 2d for me and the Girl’s Crystal for my sister Joan.

My mother’s illness gradually worsened and she spent the daytime sitting in the front bedroom, looking out of the window and waving to friends as they walked past on the pavement. Margaret, Joan and I used to go up to see mother when we got home from school and played paper and pencil games with her. I recall one occasion when Joan spoke of some time in the future, and mother said “ oh , by then I shall be pushing up daisies”, Joan replied, “ Oh , wont we have a lovely garden”.

When I was about nine years old I was cycling home when I was run over by an army lorry on Pontefract Road it dragged me for about 50 yards, ending up outside our gate. My only injury was a grazed knee and injured pride but my bike came out of the back in a mangled state. Fortunately my mother had been taken back to her bedroom a few minutes earlier so did not witness the accident

So that we could move mother around the house my father adapted a dining chair for the purpose. He fitted pram wheels to the back legs and castors to the front legs. We could then wheel mother from room to room by tilting the chair back. It was also possible to take her up and down the stairs with this device. At that time there was no N.H.S. or social services to supply aids for invalids.

My father worked very hard at his ironmongers shop in Bank Street, he usually left for work before we went to school and came home at about 6.30 p.m. He had a great interest in motor cars and usually carried out his own repairs in the workshop at the shop, with the help of Harry Pickersgill our locksmith. He had a biscuit - coloured Canadian Buick eight-cylinder car that he ran throughout the war years with only four cylinders connected. This car was so long that the garage entrance had to be extended. An identical wrecked car was stored in a field next to Simpson’s garage on Park Road for spare parts. I sometimes see the same model of car on old Al Capone films.

Father had a motorbike and sidecar for economy. I also recall the family having a 2-cylinder Jowett car on which sister Margaret learned to drive and a Citroen which sister Mary learned on. Joan and I had early driving practice in the Jowett going up and down the drive. Brother John had a soft-topped Austin Seven car which was called “the Flying Flea”. I remember my father receiving a letter from abroad addressed to A.R.Parkin, Ironmonger, England, it arrived safely. My father used to retire to the drawing room after Sunday lunch with his “private” supply of Parkinson’s butterscotch. I relieved him of a few pieces when the opportunity arose.

A regular Sunday family treat was a car ride to Hook Moor and we often called for my father’s friend Ernest Beech who lived at 125 Smawthorne Lane. My father sent me to knock on the door and say, “ Wouldst thou care to wander in the woods”. We often took our bikes on the luggage grill behind the Buick and rode them down the lane at Hook Moor. In the winter we took the sledge which was then towed behind the car at Hook Moor. We were very friendly with Doctor and Mrs Gilfillan and their children Maureen, Graham and Moira (Bunty) and they would go with us in their Triumph Dolomite car.

My best childhood friend was Brian Dobson who lived in Hill Road directly opposite the end of our garden and we had a hole in the hedge through which to visit each other. We had endless fun playing Indians and Cowboys and knights in shining armour. We constructed battleships by laying stepladders on the grass and using peggy tubs and buckets to form the superstructure. We spent many happy hours playing in the garden and were never at a loss for something to do. Tree climbing was another regular activity for me. I was very upset when Brian’s family moved to Stoke-on Trent, his father was a H.M. inspector of mines. We were only about 9 years old when Brian moved away but our friendship has continued despite long intervals between meetings and Brian was my best man in 1957.

I joined St Paul’s cub pack and later the boy scouts troop and have many happy memories of hikes, bike rides and camping holidays. The N.C.B. took us to the annual scout camp on one of their lorries and a great time was had by all with a sing-song all the way there and back. We were camping at Robin Hood’s Bay on the day when the Japanese surrendered, known as V.J.Day. I recall watching from the cliff top as Spitfires dived and fired machine guns at the sea, we saw the bullets hit the water but did not hear the guns until the planes were climbing, illustrating the difference between the speed of light and that of sound.

We had a grass tennis court in the garden, which doubled as a football, hockey and cricket pitch as the seasons changed. At the bottom of the garden we had an old Castleford tram which was brought in before Hill Road was built. The tram used to run past the house on journeys between Castleford and Pontefract. It gave sterling service as a sports pavilion and as a playhouse on rainy days. Sister Joan fell down the stairs in the tram so my father had the top deck removed.

One of my favourite games was “chip shops” in which my sister Margaret cooked chips in the kitchen and we had a dinner wagon at the door with a saltpot and vinegar bottle on. Joan and I “bought” chips and consumed them with great enjoyment.We used to hold concerts in the garage, selling tickets to passers-by on the pavement. We charged 1d admission and on one occasion raised the princely sum of 2/7 for the Spitfire fund.

As my mother was chronically ill we had a maid. The earliest one I can recall was Mabel Yardey who lived at Cutsyke. The longest serving was Annie Campy who lived at 51, Park Road, Glass Houghton. Annie had false teeth, which she carried in a hankie in her pocket, on request she would insert the teeth and give a smile then return them to her pocket. Annie was good- hearted and looked after us very well. One of mother’s friends occasionally brought her some home-made rhubarb wine and this was stored in the pantry. I don’t recall mother drinking the wine but I remember Annie being quite merry on more than one occasion. John used to call Annie “Anaesthetic”.

Sister Margaret, who was a good swimmer, took me to Castleford Swimming Baths when I was about seven years old. Whilst Margaret was swimming up and down, a large youth threw me in at the deep end and I went down like a stone. Luckily Margaret spotted me and fished me out. The experience put me off learning to swim for about thirty years.

Margaret sometimes took Joan and myself to Leeds on the bus and the treat included a visit to Lewis’s store, the Odeon Cinema and the market hall where Granelli’s ice cream was consumed.

My brother John and sister Mary were away for several years during the war in the army and W.A.A.F. respectively, so did not feature much in my childhood, except when home occasionally on leave. Mary brought home a Canadian named Jim Bramley, to whom she was engaged, I remember him mainly as a good source of sweets and he and Mary took me to Pontefract statis funfair on one occasion. John used to have me pulling my toys on a string down the garden path whilst he fired his airgun at them. Sister Joan confirms this and says that we both were involved on our fairy cycles, she recalls being spurred on by fear to pedal faster.

Sister Mary recalls that I was left at an early age in the “care” of John and his friend Arthur Davy and they lifted me up and suspended me at the top of the drawing room curtains for me to slide down. I eventually slid down and went through the window and cut my head. I remember the head injuries, from which I am still slowly recovering.

Mary remembers John jumping off the top deck of the tram, holding an umbrella taking quite a fall in the process. Mary was also left in the “care” of John and Arthur and they mixed an evil concoction for her to drink. When she declined the kind offer, they buried the said beverage in the garden. We did have a patch where nothing seemed to grow well.

I started Castleford Grammar School in September 1944 at the age of ten and ten months a few weeks after my mother died and, following a “distinguished academic career”, left after my father’s death at, the age of 15, to start work at the shop. My main pal at CGS was Frank Rudge who lived on Savile Road. We were very keen cyclists and once cycled to Kirby Overblow near Harrogate where we sampled the sulphur water. This gave us stomach pains on the way home and I had to call phone for help from brother John from Hook Moor. John collected us in the shop lorry. Due to petrol rationing, we had to deflate the bike tyres to justify the trip.

This document has been produced using memories from the deep recesses of my grey cells, which have been stimulated in the process, to my great enjoyment.

Ralph Parkin.