Brenda’s Tale

by

Brenda is not strictly an East Leeds lass-she was born in Castleford and spent most of her childhood in Hebden Bridge-but she has an interesting tale to tell and as she is married to an East Leeds lad; me – I hope she qualifies to tell her tale.

My mother’s name was Lily Locket she was born in the Fitzwilliam area of West Yorkshire in 1917. Her family were miners who migrated from Staffordshire, (walking all the way) when the coal mines in Staffordshire were exhausted. Seemingly, most of them managed to secure coal mining jobs in Fitzwilliam. Somehow or other Mother managed to become a pupil at the high quality but very strict Quaker School in Ackworth. She told as how on one particular day when the headmaster had been more than usually unkind to her and sent her out into the cloakroom, she had taken a safety pin out of her knickers and punctured his bike tyre. Later she had a spell working on munitions and once nearly got lost in a snow drift in the blackout trying to find her way home.

            I was born in Castleford in 1943 at number 73 Carlton Street (next to the YMCA) which at the time was a fruit and vegetable shop. The business, but not the property was owned by my father, Leonard James Martin – born in 1895 and  attended the same Castleford school at the same time as the sculptor Henry Moore.Dad had seen service in the Royal Navy during in World War One. We lived over the shop and one of my earliest memories was Dad’s big desk upstairs; being wartime sweets were in short supply but Dad had a friend who worked at Bellemy’s and  he used to get us liquorish allsorts off-cuts which Dad kept in a big brown paper bag under the desk. When he had a sleep on a Sunday afternoon, Alan, my elder brother, and I would creep behind the sofa where Dad was asleep and help ourselves to a handful each and creep back out of the sitting-room without being seen. Mam used to dress crabs and boil mussels in a big cauldron and Alan and I had to crack nuts in the cellar to be sold in the shop, we received a half penny for cracking enough nuts to fill a jam jar. Two children cracking nuts with hammer each – no health and safety issues then! When both Mam and Dad went out in the evening Alan and I would steal downstairs into the shop and pinch apples but instead of getting rid of the evidence Alan stashed the cores under the mattress of his bed, which inevitably led to our misdemeanours being discovered. On occasions when we were very naughty we would throw nuts at passers-by from the upstairs window and duck down when they looked up. Alan’s job, before he went to school, was to unpack fish from boxes encased in ice – he hated that job. I remember my Auntie Winnie knocking over a bottle of ammonia in one of the large cellars which ran under the shop and nearly gassing herself.

All my life I have had ear problems; one of my earliest memories is of being in a cot at Carlton Street with severe earache; when the doctor came he boiled an onion and made a poultice to fit my ear and bandaged it on tight. That certainly made me jump. When I was a bit older I had to look after my younger brother, Ralph. One day I had to take him to Saville Park in a big Silver Cross pram – I was only about six years old myself. Children of that age would never be allowed to be in charge of a baby today. Anyway, I decided to have a drink from the fountain and let go of the pram and didn’t give it another thought until I heard someone shouting – the pram had run away and been found in some bushes. Ralph was OK although he had been thrown out of the pram. I thought no one at home would find out but someone who knew my mam told her the tale when she was out shopping. I was only six years old but I got a real rollicking.

I attended Welbeck Street School and I remember there was a shop that sold tiny little Hovis loaves for a penny each. On an evening Alan and I would go to the Star Cinema which was close by. Mam used to know the person in the ticket booth – we called her Auntie Beatie – but she wasn’t really our proper auntie. If we took her a couple of apples we used to get in free. At that time cinema going was so popular that sometimes we had to sit on the steps. I remember some of the films, especially: Abbott and Costello Meets the Ghosts. It was supposed to be a comedy but with Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man being involved it made it really scary for a seven year old. Even today I can still recall the fear of seeing the candle moving on the coffin lid as it was being opened from the inside.

I remember Alan and I had to spend some time at an aunt’s house in Littleborough when another child was born and we had to attend school there for a while. One day after we had been playing cowboys and Indians in the school yard I had been tied up to one of the concrete posts in the playground with the belt of my dress. When the whistle went at the end of the playtime and everyone started to go in I was still tied up and the teacher had to come out and rescue me.  

During the war the shop did very well, anything Dad bought he could sell: there was a black market up and running. One time Dad was stopped with half a pig in the back of his van, but luckily they never looked in the back. When the war was over and goods could be obtained more freely folk could shop anywhere for their fruit and veg but Dad couldn’t get out of the idea of buying in bulk and with the stock being perishable there were significant losses and the business began to fail. Dad decided to sell the business (remember we only owned the business not the premises). Mam wanted to buy a bungalow down south but without even telling Mam – Dad bought a lock-up fish and chip shop at Hebden Bridge which was itself already dying on its feet and rented a back to back house opposite at 37 Foster Lane. The house only had one bedroom, one attic bedroom, no bathroom and no kitchen, and by this time there were four, later to be five, of us children ranging from 18 months to eleven years old plus Mam and Dad. Mam managed to arrange a curtain in the attic to separate the girls from the boys. The house was far too small to allow Mam to take her nice furniture that she had acquired in Castleford. Of course she was furious at this devastating fall in our living standards; especially as she had been denied any input to Dad’s reckless plans. Relationships between mam and Dad reached low ebb.

            The houses at Hebden Bridge are mainly built into the hillside and unbeknown to us there was a house located beneath our sitting room floor – well, you can imagine what a racket five of us kids would make when Mam and Dad were working in the fish shop, One day a woman came around, who evidently lived in the house underneath, to complain about the noise. Thereafter whenever we were dancing about she would knock with a brush handle on our floor, which was her ceiling. All this horrified Mam the more.

            After six months it was obvious the fish and chip shop was unviable; there was a bit of business from a nearby mill at lunchtime but nothing in the evening and finally the shop had to close. The thratching between Mam and Dad continued and I used to wonder if they would still be together when we came home from school. Dad was about twenty years older than Mam but he was always a grafter. He would have been over sixty years old by then but he got a job as a loom sweeper – clearing the waste from under the machines in the local mill, working amongst all the dust and the noise which permanently damaged his hearing and made him profoundly deaf.

(No health and safety then). Because there were still young children at home Dad had to keep working at that horrible job right up to his death at aged 76 years.

Mam never took to Hebden Bridge; she had the idea that you had to live there for generations before you were accepted and all the knocking on the floor was really getting her down.

  I was the second oldest, my brother, Alan, went to Hebden Bridge Middle School but my younger brother Ralph and I and later Pat and Wilfred (who was born in Hebden Bridge) all went to Stubbings Junior School. The school being built on a hill was quite picturesque and featured on many a calendar but to a couple of kids arriving with Castleford accents it proved quite daunting. We were looked upon by the other kids like something from under your shoe – no one wanted to know us – we were not part of the ‘in crowd’.

           One day at school I was given a few words and told to make an essay out of them; I didn’t know what an essay was and thought I could only use those few particular words and no others and it made me really distressed. On another, particularly bad day, when the dinner bell went the day had seemed so long already I thought it was the bell for the end of the day and went home. When I realized what I had done I was really scared I knew I would be in trouble so I persuaded Mam not to send me Back. She went along with it but I was in even more trouble than ever when I finally went back to school the next day.

My brother, Ralph, for a period, had to attend school in a rigout which was a bit like Dan Dare wore in the Eagle comic. It wasn’t Ralph’s fault of course, he had to wear what he was given to wear at home, but the headmaster (who shall remain nameless) didn’t like it and he kept picking on Ralph and ridiculing him in front of the school assembly, which had him in tears. I told Dad about it and Dad went up to school and grabbing the headmaster by the neck threatened to throttle him if he didn’t lay off his son. Our standing with the rest of the kids rose a bit after that when the kids took it into their heads that Dad was a boxer. Later the headmaster got the sack, presumably for his cruelty towards the kids – Ralph survived and went on to study for a PhD at Leeds University.

Once a year the school had a party and all the girls went in party dresses. Money was quite tight as usual and there was no party dress for me so I turned up at school in my ordinary clothes. When folk asked me why I hadn’t come in a party dress I just told them I had forgotten about the party, but I resolved if ever I had children they would never have to suffer such ignominy. I asked, the next Christmas, if I could have a party dress and Mam got one made for me by a local dressmaker. It was made out of net and by the time I got to wear it – it was way out of fashion.

In spite of all the traumas associated with school and the house Hebden Bridge afforded us a beautiful rural playground. Within a few hundred yards of home we had ‘Butcher Bunts field and  flowing meadow with a gurgling stream which we could dam and make deep enough to swim and float a raft and the natural beauty spot ‘Hardcastle Crags’ was within walking distance.  

To supplement his income for the growing family Dad did a Sunday morning paper round – he used to take the big Silver Cross pram to the other end of Hebden Bridge at 6.00 a.m. every Sunday to pick up the papers and bring them home to sort out on the table this would take us about an hour then I used to go with Dad and the pram around Hebden Bridge delivering them and Hebden Bridge is very hilly. Sometimes I would cry my hands were so cold. When I got to about eleven my brother took over helping dad with the pram and I graduated to helping Mam with the Sunday dinner. Every quarter Dad got that which he called his ‘quarterly accounts’ paid. These were from the people who were so well off they paid their paper bill on a quarterly basis and we all got a little windfall each. One year we put all our little ‘windfalls’ together and bought our youngest brother, Wilfred, a red pedal car from ‘Baby land’, which at that time was a large toyshop in Hebden Bridge. He loved to pedal up and down Foster Lane in that little red car – we didn’t have any spending money left for the rest of the summer that year.

My sister, Pat, was the thinnest little girl imaginable with lovely long thin legs. One day when she was learning to use the toilet we heard screams when we got there all we could see were he legs sticking up in the air – she had fallen right inside the pedestal. Another time, after Mother had had a large baking session Pat asked for some apple pie so Mam cut her off a piece and covered it with custard, after she had started eating it she complained that it was not very nice but Mam said, ‘You asked for it you must eat it!’ but as it turned out it was a cheese and onion pie that Mam had passed to her which didn’t go very well with the custard – but mam made her eat it anyway.

Pat had lovely blond hair and on one occasion she sat for two hours while I put it in pin curlers and hair clips. When I reached eleven I had to go, via the Middle School, to Calder High School at Mytholmroyd. Calder High School was one of the new comprehensives; perhaps the first in Yorkshire and excellent for its day. We still didn’t have much money but both Ralph and Wilfred aspired to a university education from Calder High School at a time when only about 8% of the population were fortunate to attend university. And that small percentage was far less in working class areas. Even so the school still held a few traumas for me – with money still being so tight. In the first year I had a second hand uniform, but  in the second year I didn’t have a proper school uniform skirt and I got pulled up by the headmistress as we were to have a school photograph taken. I had been given a skirt by an old lady and it had box pleats – I wasn’t that fashion conscious but I knew box pleats were really old fashioned. In addition the school uniform was navy blue and this damn skirt was a mustard colour. The headmistress said, ‘Come to my office and I’ll sort you a skirt out.’ But I didn’t like the idea, it seemed degrading. So I went home and told my Mam who managed to obtain a navy blue dye and we immersed the skirt in a bowl of water along with the navy blue dye. It should really have been left to steep for a week but it was the school photograph the next day so we had to pull it out and dry it. This time it came out dark brown. But I wore it anyway for the school photo and the teacher put me at the back where it couldn’t be seen.

            In the last year at school my compulsory school beret went missing from the cloakroom and I didn’t fancy putting Mam and Dad to the expense of a new beret when I was so close to leaving school. After being put in detention three times in a fortnight for not having a beret I picked a dusty old beret up off the floor which had been kicking around on the floor for days with nobody claiming it. I was soon in trouble again with the headmistress though when the old beret with someone else’s name in it was discovered on my peg. I was up before her again for ‘stealing a beret’ notwithstanding that nobody wanted it! But I was frightened they would write to my parents about it.

            I left school in 1958 on a Friday and started at Redman’s, the local sewing shop, the following Monday morning, working on piece work, I stayed there for about two years before leaving and joining Nutclough Mill where I learned to make a garment all the way through. At the same time I worked as an usherette at the Hebden Bridge Cinema – later so did my sister, Pat. That cinema, I believe, is still a going concern even today – one of the few suburban cinemas left in the country. I gave Mam my wage and kept my usherette money as spends.

            It was while I was working at the Nutclough Mill that I became friendly with a girl who had moved to Hebden Bridge with her husband, who had been evacuated from London to Hebden Bridge during the War. They later bought a house in Leeds to take in paying guests and I moved there with them; much to my mother’s distress.

Both Ralph and Wilfred went onto university. My sister Pat and I both married and ultimately came to live in Leeds. Dad worked in the mill until his death aged 76 in 1971, just missing the birth of his first grandchild. Mam was glad to up-sticks from Hebden Bridge and she came to live independently near to Pat and me where I believe she enjoyed her last few years in peace and comfort after all her traumatic years and, I hope, to enjoy her grandchildren in small doses.          Here are her great grandkids

We haven’t heard from our brother [Alan Martin} for over fifty years.It would be lovely if we could have word of him on this site.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: