Archive for December, 2007

No Mod Cons at Knostrop

December 1, 2007

No Mod Cons at Knostrop,Life in Knostrop East Leeds in World War Two in a house without electricity and an outside toilet 

No Mod Cons in Knostrop             

      (Pete Wood)

The houses of Knostrop were all bereft of electricity. The ones like ours would have gas downstairs and upstairs, nothing. When you went to bed you took a candlestick with you like ‘Wee Willie Winky’. The gaslight went up and down; sometimes it would be a bright greeny white at other times a sickly yellow, which made reading difficult. People would remark, ‘The pressure’s down tonight!’ Tall people who visited and were unused to the problems of gas would be forever knocking the mantels off with their heads; this would spark off much light-hearted hissing and booing at the culprit. Should you not have a spare mantle on hand the rest of the night would be spent in candlelight.

We didn’t have TV yet but without electricity even the radio; or rather the ‘wireless’ as we called it, still needed a source of power – to achieve this we used a system of batteries, a wet battery known as ‘the accumulator’ and another huge battery about a foot square which we referred to as, the ‘dry battery’. People would try to have two accumulators on the go if they could so that while one battery was working the set they could have another on charge. There was a shop at the top of Knostrop Hill that specialised in the charging up ‘flat’ accumulators (Burley’s).  The makeup of an accumulator was: a glass outer casing, with acid covered electrodes inside. When taking them to be charged you had to carry them with a flimsy detachable handle that located in a couple of half moon ridges moulded into the glass. One day while taking an accumulator for charging I was swinging it a bit too violently and I swung the handle right out of the half moon sockets and the thing crashed down onto the road smashing into a dozen pieces. Replacements were quite expensive so I thought I’d be ‘in for it’ but evidently I must have looked so scared I was let off lightly.     

With such a wide choice of entertainment available today those who did not experience wireless first hand would no doubt have believed it to have been, music apart, a most primitive form of entertainment but in the days before TV we would look forward to listening to plays and comedy programmes as well as music. For the older folk even wireless was a luxury for they had only just moved on from the scratchy crystal sets, commonly known as the ‘cat’s whisker’. A couple of my favourite programmes, which I couldn’t wait to come around each week, were: ITMA, (It’s That Man Again) staring the comedian Tommy Handley. This programme brimmed with early catch phrases like: ‘Can I do you now sir?’ spoken by the charlady, Mrs Mop, ‘Don’t forget the diver’ and ‘I don’t mind if I do’ by old Colonel Chinstrap bumming another drink. Appointment With Fear, a weekly horror story read by Valentine Dial – ‘the man in black’, had me gripping the chair, ‘what delicious fright’. TV has, not in my opinion bettered the pictures one conjured up in the imagination while listening to those weird stories. And those images didn’t seem to fade so fast either when the programme ended.

After listening to ‘An Appointment of Fear’ it became ‘an appointment of fear’ in actuality if one found it necessary to use the outside toilet in the middle of the night.

Every household will no doubt have evolved its own particular arrangement to deal with this event.  The rigmarole in our house was: first you had to feel your way downstairs, in pitch blackness (I wasn’t allowed to light a candle) and into the kitchen where you would try, if you could, to coax the dog out of his nice warm corner in order to accompany you. He wouldn’t be well pleased at this. Then you had to proceed through a stone pantry, up three steps and outside into the garden – all in complete darkness. By this time you felt a long way from the safety of civilisation. The toilet itself was a large brick affair in the garden, built in a veritable tunnel where the wind would whistle through the trees on a winter’s night. On one occasion I can remember the dog, which I’d managed to cajole along with me that time and was sat by my side, suddenly leaping up with his hair bristling and howling at something I couldn’t see. I thought Dracula and all his mates were after me.    

In winter the toilets, being outside, would likely freeze up and you had to take a bucket of water with you to compensate for the lack of a flush. In cold weathers an oil lamp would be placed alongside the pipes in an effort to offset this problem, usually without a great deal of success. ‘Its an ill wind that blows nobody any good’, goes the old saying however and being wartime there was little proper toilet paper around so you would find newspaper cut into squares in its place providing many a good read. I didn’t like it on two accounts though when it was The Woman’s Own; first the texture was dodgy and secondly, the stories were not for me