Catapulted to Purdition and Dead and Buried


This month another great double header from Eric Sanderson:
Catapulted to Perdition
Dead and Buried.


Home made catapults were a popular weapon amongst boys in that era. Made from a carefully selected forked branch, usually cut from a nearby convenient tree and fitted with two strands of 3mm square rubber made for a powerful device, easily capable of firing a stone 40 or 50 metres at high speed. A key design feature, learned from bitter experience, ensured that the forks were made long enough to avoid hitting your upright, steadying thumb when firing the projectile. Those ignorant of this crucial requirement, frequently ended up with a blackened thumb nail from which it took several weeks to recover
One summer day, a few of us had manufactured new catapults and, armed with pockets full of pebbles ( their spherical shape having better aerodynamics and so flying further & faster), decided to venture into Knostrop looking for exciting targets.
Near the top of Knostrop Lane, a small tin shack was located on the railway embankment and seemed a good candidate for target practice, having a couple of small windows and a roof which would rattle when struck. What we didn’t realise was that this was the retreat for the Railway Police and, at the time, a member of the said constabulary was in residence, probably enjoying a well earned break with a mug of hot sweet tea, a cheese butty and the Daily Mirror.
His tranquillity was brutally shattered by a fusillade of high velocity projectiles, peppering the outside with an ear splitting racket , smashing the windows and ricocheting around the inside like a swarm of angry hornets.
During a brief reloading pause, the officer emerged , helmet askew , ( he’d probably dived to the floor when the bombardment had started) roaring his anger at our intrusion into his reveries.
My guess is that he’d probably initially thought it was an assault by an abandoned German Commando group , unaware that the war was long over. Their objective being to close the valves to the Knostrop sewage works, causing a huge backup and inundating Leeds in a deep layer of S***, bringing the City to a standstill & thereby delivering a major blow for the war effort.
I could be wrong with this explanation, there could have been a more devious one.
Anyway, as he descended the embankment, no doubt intent on inflicting savage retribution upon his tormentors, we dashed off down the lane, easily outpacing the hapless constable.
After a couple of hours roaming the plantations, unsuccessfully trying to target a few squirrels, back we trudged up the lane towards Cross Green. BUT, we hadn’t counted on the cunning of the wily police officer because as we wandered back , with the earlier attack now completely forgotten by us, PC Plod was waiting and , unseen by us ,surprised us by promptly grabbing one of us with his ham sized fist.
By this time his anger had all but disappeared and, as we all owned up to the misdemeanour, a good telling off was the limit of his immediate retribution, but not before putting the fear of god into us all and confiscating our fearsome weaponry.
He further demanded our names & addresses in order to inform our parents which happened a few weeks later, just when we’d convinced ourselves that we’d got away with it.
This time, the consequences were much more severe, commencing with a regimental b*******g from my father, followed by a couple of weeks in disgrace and suspension of my weekly pocket money ‘til it was deemed I was sufficiently contrite.
A kind of suspension between a normally happy existence and everlasting misery. Perdition indeed.



Don’t be alarmed, this is not a lurid, macabre, Bram Stoker inspired tale, it’s simply recollections of a few occupations which were around in our youth (and before) but which have now disappeared altogether or at least, have become an endangered species.

One which comes to mind is the “Knocker Up”. This was a person who, for a small sum would, at an agreed time, rap on the bedroom window with a long pole. Why on earth people would use this service instead of an alarm clock, which were readily & cheaply available, baffles me, but then so does most things. What’s more, the loud rapping noise used to waken not only their clients, but half the surrounding neighbours as well.
Which reprises an old joke, about someone boasting he didn’t need a clock to tell the time, his trumpet always did the trick. Asked how that worked he replied he would simply stick his head out of the window & start playing his bugle. Without fail, someone would shout “what idiot is playing the trumpet at 3.30 in the morning”. !!
This peculiar activity ( the knocker up, not the bugler) seemed to disappear in the late 40’s or early 50’s and nowadays , being “knocked up” has an entirely different construct, not to be confused with being raised from your slumbers with a sharp rap on the bedroom window pane .

The Chimney Sweep was a common or garden sight in those days, walking around from job to job with his bundle of poles and soot collection bag, but whose occupation quickly passed into history with the introduction of the Clean Air Acts.
He was quite possibly a close neighbour but you could never tell the true identity of the man because his face was always blackened with soot.
Failure to have your chimney periodically swept could create a “chimney fire”, requiring the services of the fire brigade (as it was then called), resulting in a sorry mess as they pumped water down the chimney to quench the glowing soot.
It was always a wonder to me just how the sweep managed to contain the falling soot and preventing it from forming a dense cloud of soot inside the house and yet not keep it from covering his face, but I suppose that’s one of the tricks and mysteries of the trade. I do recollect though, a close neighbour once attempting the job himself , thinking he’d save a few bob but with disastrous results, a soot laden fog billowing from the house and a thick layer covering every surface, nook and cranny which took an age to properly clean up, and which he never lived down. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first (or the last) of this person’s DIY disasters.
Another thing always puzzled me. How was the soot disposed of ?. I don’t recollect ever seeing any signs of fly tipping but perhaps there was some by-product such as black-lead polish or a colouring agent for Black Pudding.

Even the ubiquitous Milkman is now a rare sight but which used to be an almost continuous presence on the landscape. The rattle of metallic milk crates and clatter of empties being collected and deposited into those crates was a familiar sound and probably used to wake up as many as the “Knocker Up”.
They also used to carry on their vans & trucks, large conical shaped urns from which they ladled milk into customers own jugs. I don’t remember if this was a different sort of milk or just a draught (and cheaper ?) version of the bottled variety.
The Co op milkmen though , used an electric trolley cart, travelling at walking speed , being much quieter and with less rattling than the stop start jerking of the vans and trucks . I think they also started using plastic crates to deaden the noise.
The growing presence of ’fridges and supermarkets with their long life varieties of milk put the traditional milkman under a lot of pressure requiring them to diversify into supplying eggs & other dairy food in an attempt to survive. Unfortunately for them, many didn’t survive such that here’s another everyday occupation serving the local community which has largely disappeared.

Then there’s the Lamplighter, who used to go round carrying his short triangulated ladder, checking the street gas lamps, replacing the elements and firing up the lamps at lighting up time.

The Coalman who delivered coal to almost every household , humping hessian sackloads of coal is no longer with us, nor is the mobile Knife Grinder who made periodic visits to sharpen up your kitchen hardware, although why people didn’t use a simple “Butcher’s Steel” is a bit of a mystery.

Even the local Butcher, Fishmonger & Tripeshop no longer remain in the numbers they once did, if at all, once again put under great pressure by the supermarkets. Although it could be that the local butcher is making a bit of a comeback and even the supermarkets are offering a similar service as an alternative to the pre packaged product.
Many of these had their own delivery boys who’d trundle their round on a heavy ‘bike fitted with a large wicker basket over the front wheel. They must have been a beast to control and it wouldn’t be surprising if many a tumble took place, especially in wet/icy weather.
The horse drawn carts which toured the streets offering fruit & veg, pots & pans and other hardware have become extinct along with so called Rag & Bone Men who collected old clothing and other types of unwanted goods in exchange for a few coppers.

Street entertainers, Ice Cream vendors , that is the ones, usually old Italians, with the highly decorated hand pushed carts and a big block of ice in the bottom to keep the ice cream from melting, not the Mr Whippy type of today, were to be seen regularly.

Ringtons horse drawn tea wagons were regulars , although they’ve recently been seen again (this time in small vans), along with all the other street vendors, all long since gone. But in their day , many of these tradesmen were often very persuasive salesmen and people had to learn to immunise themselves from the wiles of the wafflers and peddlers of snake oil or finish up forking out for something they didn’t want or need.

All of these absent or “dead& buried” occupations , and there’s probably many more, helped form the rich pattern of the communal life with the individuals knowing and being known by large numbers of the community.
Nowadays, very few would probably want to do some of those jobs but can their disappearance be said to have enriched the landscape ?. But that may just be “Grumpy Old Man” syndrome, thinking that things are never as good as they once were and by continuing to view a world of more than 50 years ago the same as we did when we were much younger, could mean we’ve wasted many years of our lives.

Great tales, Eric : I can picture you catapulting that railway policemen’s hut and a constable emerging with his hat askew, brilliant.

I had a walk around Manston Park at Cross Gates this week and I was delighted to see they had erected a memorial plaque and pictures of the ‘Barnbow Lasses’ 35 of them lost their lives in an explosion when they were filling shells on the 5th of December 1916.

Please see pictures remember to ‘click’ on them to make them bigger.

barnbow lasses black

barnbow lasses white

8 Responses to “Catapulted to Purdition and Dead and Buried”

  1. Dave Carncross Says:

    Great tales again Eric. My Mam used to sharpen the carving knife (which was the bread knife and vegetable knife as well) on our front step) I hope she used to wash it afterwards but I wouldn’t guarantee it. I remember the bruised thumb – the worst ones were the blood blister under the nail. To try to put me off using the catapult again my Mam used to say that the next time I did it she would let the blood out of the blood blister by putting a red hot darning needle through my thumb nail. Just the thought of that makes my toes curl up. I can’t say it was actually a deterrent though.

  2. Eric Says:

    Your Mam’s thumb nail treatment sounds horrific but I once had a crushed thumb( from a sledging collision) & the Dispensary lanced the thing by drilling a small hole to relieve the pressure but they did numb it first. Speaking of domestic remedies, I had an uncle who used to extract his own teeth by tying a length of cotton round the tooth and the other end around the handle of an open door. He’d then slam the door . No more toothache.Mind you, he did two tours as a Lancaster rear gunner & used to say that after being shot at, night after night by German fighter pilots, nothing much came
    close to being so scared as that

  3. peterwwood Says:

    Well if we are on about painful things how about this! We had a stable next door to us at Knostrop and sometimes the poor horses got boils. The way they used to lance them was to get a jam jar with the lid on and heat it underneath with a candle until it developed a vacuum inside, Then they took the lid off quickly and stuck the jar over the boil. You could here the horse scream a mile off!

  4. Eric Says:

    That sounds pretty gruesome Pete, and just as I was having my breakfast.
    Hope nobody tries to top that one , doubt if my stomach could stand it

  5. Jacqueline Hainsworth Says:

    We girls did’nt play with catapults it was’ nt lady like the nearest we got to dangerous games was walking on the edge of the lime pits in the builders yard at the bottom of Clark Avenue our Mam’s did’nt approve but that only made it more inviting.l also remember my Mam putting a warm bottle over boils on an Uncle of mine which caused pain but got rid of the boil on his neck.l did’nt mind as I did’nt really like him, not sure my mam did either to put him in such pain OOOH

  6. peterwwood Says:

    This is getting like that ‘we used to eat gravel tale’ but here’s another. When I was about twelve I attended an ‘old time dance’ at St Hilda’s. I was sitting one out on the wooden benches, the same ones we used at school. Someone came up and said ‘Shuv up Woody’ I shuved up and a splinter about seven inches long went right into my posterior. My dad took me down to the dispensary on the back of his motor bike and they got about four inches out, but I always thought they had left some still in. When I was sat shuffling about in the pictures it would often prick me and I could get hold of both ends with my thumb and finger. I put up with it for fifteen years, through national service and marriage then one day after I had been playing football and had my shorts on (it was a bit embarrassing) I screwed up courage and returned to the dispensary and they got another two inches out. It was bleached white with being inside me all that time. I kept it on a box for years but I’m sad to say I have finally lost it. – beat that!

  7. Douglas Says:

    Thanks again Eric, ;beautifully written – I love the imagination behind the conjecture that enemy forces were about to flood Leeds with sewage. It is amazing what ideas we used (and perhaps still do) to come up with to explain the strange behavours of adults.

  8. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    I was interested to see your picture of the memorial plaque to the Barnbow Lasses I live in Crossgates and have always had a soft spot for those Lasses, it’s the Centenary of the explosion this year, and I’ve written a few simple verses to commemorate the event, hope it’s appropriate for the occasion…

    The Barnbow Lasses…Explosion 5th December 1916..

    Edith Sykes was a 15 year old girl who lied about her age, and went to the factory that night to replace her sister Agnes who had flu and was ill..

    My Mums sent me because my sisters not well,
    she said I should come and help make these shell,
    I’ve got a funny feeling I don’t like it in here,
    so it’s only for tonight lets make that clear,
    what is it exactly that you want me to do,
    hang on a second I’ll have to tie my shoe,
    then in an instant an explosion occurred,
    those were the last sounds she ever heard,
    she was only 15 and not long out of school,
    pretty and intelligent she was nobodies fool,
    her remains unfortunately were never found,
    incinerated in an instant with all else around,
    it’s a very sad story from a hundred years ago,
    when 35 Lasses were blown up did you know,
    people rallied round to give a helping hand,
    but very little remained as you’ll understand,
    as credit to their tenacity they all worked on,
    their loyalty and patriotism holding strong,
    when you buy a Poppy think of these Lasses,
    with their long ringlets and false eye lashes,
    they gave their lives so that we could be free,
    that deserves respect from both you and me,
    it’s a hundred years ago and memories fade,
    when the drum beats the piper must be paid,
    we should always be grateful for their sacrifice,
    our Country needed them and they paid the price,
    wherever you live now if your from around here,
    remember those brave Lasses that we lost that year…

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