By Eddie Blackwell
We moved houses during late 1949. My Grandma had passed on and Granddad couldn’t cope on his own. We lived in a through Terraced House in Devon Street off Pontefract Lane, it was classed as a Red Area and due for demolition, we had a cold water tap, no bath or inside toilet, but we managed as people did in those days.
Granddad lived in Osmondthorpe in an end terrace of four houses, with Hot and Cold water on tap, and an inside toilet and bathroom, a garden front and back, opulence personified, luxury beyond our wildest dreams, to turn on the tap and hot water gush forth, after you’ve been used to boiling the kettle was almost beyond belief.
Granddad was 71 years old when we moved in with him, he was still quite fit an able, and had all of his faculties about him. I recall he would tell me stories about when he was serving in WW1, He was in the RAMC, (Royal Army Medical Corps) and he was at the front in Ypres and the Somme. They were gruesome tales he had to tell of how both Men and Animals were used as cannon fodder to further the ends of Bureaucrats and Politicians who claimed they’d gained 600 yards, but didn’t mention it had cost thousands of lives and animals to do so.
He had lots of sayings as well, things like, “if you do owt for nowt make sure you do it for the sen”, another one was “life is but a span enjoy it whilst you can”, and “don’t count your chickens before there hatched”, “home is where the heart is”, “Why did the chicken cross the road” and a host of others.
He liked his pint as well, his local was the Wykebeck Arms in Selby Road, He used to manage the football team that played out of there, so he was always well received. Come Sunday mornings about 11 am, he’d start to whistle a little tune to himself and rub the ends of his waistcoat between his forefinger and thumbs, he always wore a waist coat collar and tie and suit, in winter he’d put his overcoat over the top, come Ice, Snow, Hail, Rain or Gale, he’d not miss his Sunday Lunchtime session. I used to go and meet him at 2 pm, he was always a bit tipsy when he came out, so I’d put my arm in his to steady him up and we’d walk back home and have Yorkshire Puddings, Roast Beef, potatoes, two veg, and gravy, they were happy days that I shall always treasure and remember.
Granddad unfortunately had a stroke, I was about 14 years old, and they sent for me from school, which was at the end of the street, but we didn’t have telephones in those days, like we have today, it was down to the telephone box put your pennies in and press button “A”. So the Ambulance took ages to arrive and by that time a lot of damage had been done, they took him to Hospital he was in for about a week, but when he came out he couldn’t walk that well and he was never the same.
We’d been living there just over 3 years when Granddad passed on, and I was devastated. I think my Dad recognised this, of course he was also grieving the loss of Granddad. Dad was a Clubman, he loved the Osmondthorpe Club, we didn’t have transport, but it wasn’t far to walk through the Railway Bridge at the end of Wykebeck Avenue, up the path past the pit hills onto Osmondthorpe Lane and you were there. I remember a story from back then of how, Dad had one too many this night, and walking back from the Club with Mum, he fell through a hedge, Mum said she thought he’d got taken short, and proceeded on home and up to bed. The following morning Dad turned up banging on the door all of a fluster he’d fallen through the hedge and gone to asleep, and the following morning a dog had woken him licking his face, it took a long time for him to live that one down.
Although I always thought there was more to it than we were told. Mum had a terrible temper when she was angry especially if she’d had a drink, and she was pretty handy with her Hand Bags they were always large heavy ones, I thought they may have been arguing and she’d swung out with her hand bag and knocked Dad through the hedge and he’d gone out for the count, then he’d made up that story to cover things over. They were OK the following day arguments never lasted long at our house, Mum and Dad always used to say life’s too short to hold grudges, agree to differ if you must and move on, and we never discussed Politics or Religion, Mum was RC and Conservative, Dad was C of E and Labour just like chalk and cheese from that point of view.
When the Moon was full and shining bright Dad liked to go for a walk, he’d say, are you feeling tired…No, come on then let’s go for a walk, and off we we’d go across Halton Moore onto the bridle path up through the Golf Course and into Temple Newsam. We’d look through the windows of the Mansion expecting to see the Blue Lady but she never appeared, although we did have a scare once when someone shone a light inside, and we made off rather quickly, then it was back down Selby Road into the estate and home. I think Dad did this to try and make a bond, it was his way of compensating for the loss of Granddad.
Eventually we moved on as you have to do with life’s tragedies, but it hurt for a long time.
There was one occasion when the Moon was really big and full with a Yellow glow and a Halo, Dad said come on it’s a Harvest Moon, we can’t let this one go by, and off we went. We were following the beck on Halton Moor just the other side of the road from Corpus Christy Church when suddenly a Ladies voice cried out for help, Murder, murder she called. Well I was very quick in those days and I was off like a rocket along the side of the beck towards the hill from where we flew our model aeroplanes. There was a boggy patch just before the hill where water cress used to grow and I cleared that without breaking my stride, on up the hill and there was the lady sorting herself out, and a Guy much bigger and older than I they were having words. Are you OK I asked the lady, she said yes I am thanks I’m sorry for calling out like that but we were having a disagreement that’s all. Then the Guy said what do you think you were going to do about it anyway, by this time the artillery had arrived, and Dad said I think he’d have coped with the situation don’t you, the lady had sorted herself out, and said come on Fred I think it’s time we were going don’t you, thanks again young man, and off they went down onto Halton Moor Avenue.
Dad said to me they must have been having an argument about something, and how long have you been able to run that fast, just look at me, he’d fallen in the bog and was covered up to his middle in mud.
Then Dad told me if you ever have a situation like that again, make sure you come in with the light behind you and shinning on the other person, your less vulnerable that way. Then we put it all behind us and carried on with our walk, we always stopped on the path as we went through the golf course, the first hole was by the Lady Bower Woods. Dad always fancied himself as a Golfer even before I was born.
When I was little before he went into the RAF he’d carry me on his shoulders from where we lived in Devon Street down Pontefract lane towards East End Park, along Red Road onto the bridle path that leads to Temple Newsam then we’d stop to watch them playing Golf I used to be bored to tears watching fully grown men knocking a little ball into a hole, what’s so difficult about that I used to think.
Dad had never earnt enough money to be able to afford to play the game. It’s a rich man’s sport he always used to say, wish he was here now I’d buy him as many golf clubs as he wanted. Sometimes we’d curtail the walk up to Temple Newsam House, and cut down to Selby Road after the Golf course and this was one of those occasions.
I think this midnight walking must have had an effect on me in my later years. I recall after returning from National Service my Brother in law and I, going into the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District climbing the Three Peaks, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and many more all at Midnight, we’d set off to reached there at 12 Midnight in Roy’s little Mini. We had no walking or climbing gear, just strong shoes and warm clothing, and chocolate, we always had a bar of chocolate with us. I remember when we did Pen-y-gent, it was our first excursion, we left their new house just off Selby Road, it was a bad night very cold and when we got there it was blowing a Gale with Hailstones. Undaunted off we went, it’s not a very difficult climb (well not for us in those days we were very fit), but when we reached the summit, the weather conditions started to get worse, and I got the bonk we used to call it, when all of the energy drained out of your legs. So we sheltered ourselves from the weather and ate a bar of chocolate, that did the trick, after half an hour we proceeded down from the summit into the car and stopped at a transport café for a good breakfast on the way home. We always got a telling off from me Mum when we arrived home, I’ve been up all night worrying about you both, your old enough now to have some common sense, and leaving Sheila on her own, when she’s expecting it’s not right Roy. I’ll bet you two are hungry have you had some breakfast, you pair of juvenile delinquents.
I remember in the early 1950’s we’d moved from Devon street to go and live with my Granddad at 52, Wykebeck Street, Osmondthorpe Leeds 9. It’s strange how things stick in your mind. It was like stepping into another world to have hot and cold water on tap, and a bathroom with a toilet and a bath.
Granddad was in his early 70’s and had kept himself in good shape, but he always said to me, if you want to do things do them before your 70’s, because it all goes downhill from there. He’d worked hard all his life in the Clay Industry, producing Building Materials, Sanitary Ware and suchlike.
It was heavy manual work paid on a piecework basis, punching clay into moulds, then finishing and smoothing the products ready for drying, then glazing and firing. In his later years after he was 65 he had the Foreman’s job which was less physical, but more stressful, and he always said to me he wasn’t sure if it didn’t take more out of him than moulding the clay.
Granddad used to go to the Wykebeck Arms every weekend Sunday lunchtime was his favourite, he always wore a waistcoat and had a pocket watch, I could always tell when it was getting near his time to go, he’d look at his watch and whistle a little tune, rubbing the points of his waistcoat and looking out of the window down the street. Then suddenly he’d put on his jacket, and his overcoat if it was cold don his grey Trilby hat, and off he’d go.
He used to manage and train the football team that played out of there in his day, so he was well received, I’d walk down and meet him about 2 pm, he was always a bit tipsy and I’d put my arm in his to steady him as we walked home, and he’d tell me a tale or two about when he was on the Somme in WW1, and he always had a little story to pass on his experience and wisdom to me.
He was a Corporal in the Medical Corps and when he was on the Somme, he would take a Medical Squad out into No-Man’s-Land amongst all the barbed wire and mayhem, to try and help the injured and wounded, and he always said when it gets to that point in time all men are equal, there are no Officers and Gentlemen or other Ranks your all in it together and one man is same as the other, and anyone who says different was never there.
I played football for the School at that time and he always came to watch me play, and he would clean and dubbin my football boots and have my kit all laid out for me. I never ever played a bad game, but he would always have a bit of advice for me, along the lines if you trained a bit harder you could score a few goals as well. Regrettable he suffered a stroke from which he never really recovered, and I thought the bottom had fallen out of my world.
Dad seemed to sense my grief as you would expect, because he was also grieving, and we started going for long walks together at night when the Moon was full and shining. He would come home from the Club we’d have a fish and chip supper Mum and my Sister would go to bed. Then we’d set off over Halton Moor walking along the beck, cut up along the bridle path across the Golf course into Temple Newsome then back down Selby Road and home, this was usually a Saturday night so we could have a lay in on Sunday morning