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of Brierley



John in 1940 aged 12



Part 1

Now living in retirement in South Hiendley John wrote about his childhood in Brierley for me in early 2000 for the year 2000 exhibition souvenir programme. This is John's story in his own words


John Steele 2001


Go to Part 2 Back to MEMORIES index page Go to Part 3


     I was born in St Paul's cottage in Church Street in January 1928. My father worked in the blacksmith's shop at Brierley Colliery, my mother had been cook at Brierley Hall, and my grandparents, who also lived in the house, were the caretakers of the church and the Church Institute (now Brierley Social club). Before moving into St Paul's when they became caretakers in 1912, they lived in Fieldhead Cottage (now the main car park at Brierley Hall), that was in the grounds of Fieldhead house  and before that, in the tiny one up two down cottage (now demolished) which stood adjacent to Elms cottages on Common Road. Grandmother worked part time for Miss Cordeux who had the Institute built for village use, and she also had two cottages converted into one, which became St Paul's. As I remember St Paul's from later years, there was a large kitchen and pantry leading to the living room both with stone flagged floors. Through the living room you went down a step to the parlour, which had a wooden floor, a staircase, and the front door, which opened onto the street. Upstairs there were two large bedrooms, a box room and a bathroom with bath and washbasin. There was always hot water thanks to the huge cast-iron fireplace in the living room; it was also one of the first smaller houses to be lit by electricity. There wasn't a radio despite the power.

     My parents moved into 21 Park View, which had recently been built, sometime before I was 2 years old. I don't remember the house, but I remember being friendly with John Ward who lived at number seventeen because we appeared to enjoy playing in melted tar on the road during hot weather and we were liberally and regularly scrubbed down with quantities of lard. By October 1930 a sister and brother had joined me, and father was allocated a colliery house at number 5 Hodroyd Cottages. I expect the rent was less than the council house but so were the facilities, no bath, no hot water, and the toilet was down the yard. The three of us were quite a handful so I was taken to grandmothers on Church Street and I lived there for the next three years. It was then that my memory developed and I can still remember watching Mr Gills little brown Austin 7 being driven around the back of the institute every evening when he came home from work. John Butterwood had a small lorry garaged in the barn with which he carried out small haulage work in the village. It had solid tyres on iron wheels and a big starting handle at the front of the engine secured by a leather loop when not in use. During summer thunderstorms, grandmother always covered up the mirror on the wall because "it attracts lightning" she said, thunderbolts were expected to drop down the chimney, so one didn't sit in front of the fireplace. It seems that the best place for me was under the stairs. I watched the rear entrance to Danny Oates being widened to allow, what seemed to me looked like a huge bus, to be driven up the yard.

     At the tender age of four I was taken to school and joined boys and girls in the infant class of 1932. School was the place where our horizons were broadened and we all met pupils who lived in different parts of our village. As my parents and siblings lived in Hodroyd Cottages I spent most of the daylight hours playing with the children in that area and strangely we all started school at the same time of year, Cyril Miles, Will Richards, Henry Vamplew to name three. In class we soon got to know other boys, Ken Grimes, Walter Deighton, Harry Pickering, Philip Allen and more. Amongst the girls were Doreen Dixon, Sylvia Osborne, Diane Hanson, Alathea Bird and others. There were six classes in the school, two in the institute and four more across the road in the school proper, the main hall in the institute was divided into two halves by a curtain which could be drawn back when the hall was in use for social functions. Miss Saulsby taught the 4 year olds and Miss Wilson the 5 and 6 year olds, the former teacher was liked by everyone, she had a quite and gentle manner suited to her charges, the latter was large with a hairy chin and a loud voice accompanied sometimes with a broken billiard cue which she waved menacingly, but never used in anger, no-one liked her. We all had a bottle of milk midmorning with a straw and at 10-15 am we were taken class by class across the road to the main school for use of the toilets and playtime exercise. Everyone went home for lunch 12-00 to 1-30 when afternoon lessons commenced, and finished at 4-00pm.

    As our years advanced so did we over the road into the ‘big school’. Our first teacher was a Miss Earl who taught us for two years, then Miss Hopkinson for two years followed by Mr Jowett and finally at 13 years old, the headmaster Mr Schofield. I left when I was twelve and went to a school in Cudworth where the curriculum was entirely different, as were the lessons. In the 1940s there were twenty desks in a classroom with two pupils at each and one teacher per class who taught all the subjects except possibly music. Math's, English (reading and writing), history, geography and art. Art consisted of lino cut designs from a 4"square, and painting sort of by numbers, gluing things together and always the inevitable Christmas card for the family with a fir tree in the centre. There was a radio, which was used by all classes, and I remember the launch of the Queen Mary being listened to eagerly as a special treat.

 Games were held in the playground (segregated of course by a wall and railings), and were always team games, we wore a coloured band either red, yellow, blue or green and passed a ball or bean bag over or under each team member as quickly as possible. Before morning or afternoon classes we played our own games, tag or tigs which were quite energetic, requiring a lot of running, leap frog and a form of leap frog where one boy stood against a wall and three or four more made a long back in front of him, the idea being to see who could run and leap the furthest along the line of bent backs. Not so energetic were the games of marbles and whip and top when in season, every top coloured with chalks by its owner so that as it spun it revealed a multicoloured pattern. Conkers were very popular in the Autumn and many were the secret recipes for hardening a successful killer chestnut. In winter the playground filled very early and after rain and a keen frost we could create slides on the icy tarmac. This was easy because we all wore boots at school with a heel plate and studded sole for extra long wearing. Exceptional misbehaviour warranted a dose of the cane across the hands for the boys which was delivered to cause discomfort for a while, but I never saw it done with malice and I never heard of a girl being caned. Being a Church of England school, we always had twenty minutes religious instruction after morning registration suited to both C of E and Methodist pupils. In addition we also observed St George's day, Empire day, Royal Oak day, Trafalgar day and Armistice day as part of the curriculum at that time.

     Christmas meant parties, not like those of today, there was no shouting, screeching or running about because this was a special treat in an austere climate. Food was contributed by our parents who had received notification a few weeks previously, so on the day of the party, each class of children arrived at school clutching bread, buns, potted meat, jellies, teacakes, butter or margarine, cordial or mineral water, his or her plate, cup and spoon ready for the event. I don't know when or where the food was prepared or who prepared it, but at 3-30 pm we put on our paper hats made during an art lesson not bought, and sat at our desks while our teachers issued the sandwiches and goodies followed by jelly and buns, all washed down with pop. There was no time for talking as huge piles of food disappeared into receptive stomachs, all of it being consumed within the half-hour. Then we made our way home with dirty plate, cup and spoon wishing that it could be Christmas more often.

    Every year certain pupils were allowed to enter a writing competition held nationally by a well-known company with a prize per area i.e. The West Riding e.t.c. By the age of ten the majority of us could write quite well following Miss Hopkinsons method, so it was no surprise when Dorothy Collinson won the West Riding area prize one year. Hygiene was important and there were sometimes daily inspections of hands, necks and knees, then boots or shoes. Gibbs Toothpaste Company issued cards to pupils, with the authorities permission, as an incentive to brush ones teeth daily, but ones parents had to buy the tin of toothpaste and brush. We used pencils until we had learned to write, as opposed to printing, then we received a pen with a steel nib and each desk had an inkwell which in time became full of blotting paper and other debris, The pen could be used as a dart and stuck easily in the soft wood floor but was useless for writing with afterwards. Several pupils throughout the school were given a spoonful of cod liver oil every morning to make up for any vitamin deficiency that they might have. In 1937 Mr Schofield retired and Mr Foster took his place from Rawmarsh whose reputation, according to the lads that were leaving that August, preceded him with stories of much caning. This turned out to be untrue as it happened. He was a tall man much younger than his predecessor was and he gave the school the boost and uplift it needed to raise it out of the doldrums. I am not suggesting that he was perfect but in retrospect he did what he could with the limited resources available and brought about many changes e.g. were all divided into "Houses "(Greenfell Scott etc) by colour and each with a shield, points were awarded for schoolwork, cleanliness, games, football etc, so we all became more competitive to earn points for our particular house. Gardening and the keeping of poultry were introduced which meant the school field being dug into twelve equal plots (three for each house) and the remainder of the field used for poultry. This meant gardening tools, seeds, potatoes and the use of fertilisers plus husbandry lessons. There were also percussion instruments, which livened up the music lessons somewhat as everyone wanted to play one of the faus drums but it was turn and turn about that saved the day. The Christmas concert, organised by Messers Foster and Jowett in 1938, was another new venture, it was held in the institute to a full house each night for one week Monday to Thursday. Everyone was encouraged to take part and then selected as required, so we had duets, solos, percussion and piano, pianoforte and an assortment of amusing sketches and individual efforts. Then came the war and the concerts ceased. One item that was never changed was the singing of grace before lunch and after our return. Many will remember the first lines "Be present at our table Lord" and at 1-30 " We thank thee Lord for our food"

    During the ten years or so covered by our childhood we, our family, lived in two areas of the village - Hodroyd Cottages and later in the Hilltop estate, so consequently, the early years are centred around the middle of the village and as we got older the whole village became our playground. Everyone knew that times were hard in the 1930s so I don't intent to dwell on that theme other than to say that my fathers wage packet in 1937 (which I still have) states £2-9s-3d or £2-46p. Broken down to five days at 5s-6d (28p), twelve hours overtime and weekly deductions. Hodroyd Coal Co. Obviously the lack of money played a large part in the lives of all children at that time, and toys bought as presents at Christmas had to be made to last while the next Christmas or, if one was lucky, perhaps something would appear on ones birthday, but my birthday came just three weeks after the festive season I was an unlucky one. Whilst we mention that time of year, let us look back and remember our childhood Christmas. After the school party came the end of term and everyone was eagerly looking forward to the 25 December, would there be snow? What will we each get? Will it be what we really want? Can we go carol singing? What were friends getting or wanting? So it went on with the excitement reaching fever pitch as that magical day approached. On Christmas Eve, last minute decorations were put in place, these had been laboriously made from crepe paper and glue during the week, and then the paper bells from Woolworth's hung in certain places. Who should put the fairy on the top of the tree? It was always the youngest. After tea we would go carol singing, and as we left home, we could hear duets and trios from children already singing at houses in the area. It was usually 'Good King Wencelas' or 'While Shepherds Watched' or 'Away in a Manger'. Imagine all three being sung at the same time by these groups. The big houses in Church Street were the targets for everyone - Townends, Addy's, Fieldhead and the four managers houses opposite. There was always a new penny and perhaps an orange or apple as well from these. We had to be home by 7.30 where we counted our takings - a shilling (5p) each was good - we were rich once more. We were then prepared for bed hanging up one stocking above the fireplace, which was tradition, and making sure that a glass of ginger wine (no alcohol) and a piece of fruit cake was placed on the table for Santa who was apparently hungry and thirsty. There was very little sleep that night, or so it seemed, and we were downstairs much earlier than usual next morning, yes the wine and cake were gone so he had been. This wonderful, magical, amazing man had left us what we most desire, a clockwork car, a doll with curly hair, a pistol with a roll of caps, ludo, snakes and ladders and in the stocking, nuts, an apple, an orange, sweets and a pair of wool gloves each. How did this man know what other children and we wanted? Of course, we wrote to him didn't we, carefully sealed and addressed the envelope and gave them to our parents to post. Was this your Christmas?

    Brierley in the 1930s was a small, quiet, clean little village where the roads had just been made and footpaths with kerbs laid down. There were gas lamps at intervals, six little shops, the coop, a butcher, an ice cream maker, post office and at least twelve farms. The old roadman kept the streets clean and another very old man sold yeast from a basket on the front of his bicycle rain or fine summer and winters. Nearly every family baked bread. The paraffin man came round every week, the rag and bone man not quite so often, and in season cauliflower's at three for a shilling (5p).. Coal was by far the main product along the streets as many lorries and horse drawn carts carried it to homes in the village and to neighbouring villages. There was a bus service at each end of the village, but no service along Church Street until years later. The coop dairy delivered milk daily all over the village using a three-ton lorry with a driver and mate, they then went onto South Hiendley to deliver. Mr Fenn came from Hemsworth selling fruit and vegetables from a horse - drawn dray covered with canvas against the weather. His horse was intelligent and flirty; it knew exactly where and when to stop even when it wasn't given instructions that were the bright bit. It also had the habit of giving the unwary a nudge with its head if they got to close. On the cart were two large toffee tins, one contained an assortment of toffee bars, liquorice, PK Cream and other items all at a penny each, while the other tin had similar items, but smaller in size, all at a half-penny each. A favourite was a pomegranate that, for some reason or other, we ate with a straight pin picking the seeds out individually. Mr Hartley, the newsagent, came round collecting on Sunday mornings and always carried a bag with unsold copies of comics among the newspapers. These were very popular and if there were any left when he reached our house we could usually have one between us. Do you remember the names? - Chips, Funny Wonder, Tip-Top, Comic Cuts, Film Fun and so on - we each waited our turn to read the latest adventure.

    Danny Oat's ice-cream carts were regular daily visitors in every street particularly in the summer months, they were usually horse drawn but John Oates had a large car converted to sell ice-cream from, at least the driver was sheltered from the weather, whereas the salesman in the horse drawn carts were open to whatever came their way. Despite the discomfort, the prices were always affordable - a penny cornet and twopence for a sandwich and a little extra for chocolate wafers. Ringtons tea, horse drawn vans were superbly turned out, everything gleamed with polish, except the salesman, and his horse who were always well groomed down to the hooves and boots, they were regular visitors.

     When not at school we played together in groups at whatever children played at. A favourite spot was the 'sand pit' that was about opposite the middle street of Hodroyd Cottages. We dug it out at regular intervals until it was about three feet deep, then we made a flight of stairs into it. It didn't serve any useful purpose but we could gather in the bottom and talk. On the advice of parents it was filled in when it rained as it was obviously dangerous. The Flatts field, where now the Grange Road stands, was a wonderful area to play on especially in summer when our favourite pastime was catching butterflies in a jam jar. There was an abundance of wild flowers and skylarks nested in the long grass where there were hundreds of grasshoppers, bees and other insects. I learned to ride a a bicycle on the path that crossed the field, in fact, a few of us learned to ride there. Bill Richards had a small model bought, no stabilisers, and we took it in turns learning how to balance and steer, great fun. One winter evening dad took the three of us across the field to the footpath at the top to see the Northern Lights. Shimmering curtains of light hanging in the sky to the north in pitch darkness. I have never seen them since that night.

     Saturday mornings were very special to us lads as we waited at the pit yard gates for the men who came for their wages. Cigarette cards were the prizes that we waited for to increase our collections and these men saved them to give to us. A set comprised 48 or 50 cards and consisted of flowers, ships, aircraft, jockeys, and so on, we derived great pleasure from completing full sets.

     On occasions we went for a "picnic" to the "three cornered field" which was down the tramway about 200 yards. There were trees to climb, a stream to splash in and the "picnic" to eat, a jam sandwich and a bottle of water, but it tasted good.

     Brierley sported a cricket team and a football team in those days and most lads were encouraged to watch them. The cricket field (now houses) was a pleasant place to be on Saturday afternoons perhaps because Mr Boydon sold ice cream from the back of his tiny Austin Seven. He had a shop halfway down Barnsley Road. Also, the welfare was next to it and if we were bored there was the swings and other items to play on. Incidentally the entire swings etc were locked up from Saturday sunset to Monday morning. In one part of the cricket field, near Fieldhead paddock, one could pull the turf back and underneath it there were pignuts growing. We would scrape them and eat them, they had a slightly sweet taste, without having any ill effect on us. The football team wore shirts with black and amber quarters and played on Danny Oates field that was directly behind the old school. I can only remember three players, Johnny Audin, Walter Earl and Harry Ward.

     By 1936 dad had bought a radio and we would spend hours listening to it especially the children's hour from 5.pm to 5.45pm. I expect many who read this will remember Auntie Vi (Violet Carson) and Uncle Mac (never knew his name) and the famous stories from books which were serialised e.g. 'St Ives', 'Treasure Island', and so on. Then there were the 'Ovaltinies' on the commercial station Radio Luxembourg - not quite S Club 7! Then came the first Christmas message from a reigning monarch, a bit of history. My grandparents came to listen and were absolutely enthralled to actually hear the King of England speak to the people. When they retired that year and moved to 27 Park Avenue, the first thing they bought was a radio, battery operated because there was no electricity until years later in those four bungalows.

     A favourite spot to play during the summer holidays were the 'cow mounts' and the dog racing field. Why they were called the cow mounts I shall never know because they were only heaps of spoil and a few rocks that were excavated from the tunnel below them. Never the less, it was an adventure to run up and down these heaps and play cowboy and Indians around them, fortified by the stick of rhubarb and the sugar in the packet in which to dip it - all good fun and cheap to. The dog-racing field was at the very end of Wager Lane almost and over the style towards the Cow Mountains. The footpath was a straight line from the style to the old boundary, 220 yards away, and there, whippets and greyhounds were tested during their training. One man held the dog and his partner stood at the bottom of the field and waved a handkerchief to attract the dogs at a given signal from his pal. Those were the days.

     We played all the games that children played in the street, Hopscotch, skipping, walking on empty tins, hoops, hide and seek and so on, not forgetting marbles and in autumn, conkers. At the bottom of Church Street, Cordeux's corner, there was a semi-circle of smallish trees, before the road was laid down, and these afforded us excellent climbing practise. As dark nights approached most families got out the rug frame, stretched a piece of clean Harding (sacking) over it with a pattern drawn on it and began to peg the rug which it soon became. Clippings made from any old coats or skirts etc were cut to length and width and with a pointed peg were attached to the Harding in appropriate colours within the pattern. A new rug for Christmas was the aim.

     Sunday was the day on which the majority of children went to either church or chapel, as did most parents. I was taken at a very early age, three or four, to the evening service by my grandmother who had already been to 8am communion. Grandfather was the caretaker, bell ringer and member of the choir so he went morning and evening 10.30am and 6.30pm. Everyone wore his or her Sunday best clothes that were strictly segregated from those worn during the week, and put away until the following week. Whitsuntide was the time of year when new clothes, stockings shoes and sometimes a cap or two, a hat in the case of girls, were bought and proudly displayed on the Sunday and on the Whit walks in the village. We were taken en block to the drapery and shoe shop at the co-op in Hemsworth and duly kitted out in what was considered to be hard wearing, long lasting and serviceable items of clothing and footwear. Our mother and others would have paid one shilling (5p) a week on a cheque that was valued at £5 and was issued by the co-op to be spent on their premises. Two of these cheques would be sufficient for the family. But I digress. The rule was no playing out on Sunday's and most families adhered it to. Sunday lunch was a ritual in every household and in ours we could sit and read until it was time to go to Sunday school that was held in the church at 3pm. Home once more it was more reading or maybe a game of ludo till tea time. Then after grandparents had arrived home from church we would we be taken round to see them and play with some of dads' old toys or play 'I spy' until it was time for home and the adults had exhausted their conversations. Summer evenings were different, family groups went for walks, sometimes it was across the top of the park, down the dog racing field and along the lane that came out at Pudding Hill then home. A shorter walk was took us behind Park View and again out onto Pudding Hill. The best walk was to the top of the common and along the Ringstone Hill, back to the crossroads and home. We learned the names of grasses and wild flowers, birds and small animals, gathered reeds and were taught how to plait them, guessed the names of trees and shrubs and could soon identify them all. There were black berries and a crab-apple tree in the fields and I will never forget the wonderful scent of meadow sweet nor the taste of wild horseradish that grew in abundance. Whenever families met and passed each other on these evening walks the ritual of recognition took place between the adults. "Good evening Mr Thorpe", "Good evening Mr Steele", "Good evening Mrs Thorpe", "Good evening Mrs Steele", a polite touch of the cap from the men to the ladies. "It's been a lovely day hasn't it?" "Yes it has, but it looks rather heavy doesn't it?" "Say hello to Mr and Mrs Thorp," we were told accompanied by a nudge in the back. "Hello", we said dutifully and in unison. The interruptions over we were on our way again. What lovely times on which to look back and remember.

     A family by the name of Allen lived at Fieldhead House in the mid 1930s, mum and dad and two boys Raymond, the eldest, and Philip who was my age. Mr Allen had a managerial job near Doncaster so was quite wealthy by the standards of the period. This meant that the boys had birthday parties and a Christmas party and what parties they were too. Only boys went so there was food, sandwiches, buns, jellies and more sandwiches, buns and jellies, washed down with pop and squashes followed by games and charades until 8pm. What great evenings we had. There was a paddock behind Fieldhead House in which thee was an old walnut tree among other shrubs and clumps of vegetation. Here we made our 'den' and met there every Saturday to discuss the topic of the day. The den was a simple affair between two bushes and was formed by using the timber from an old chicken hut hardly waterproof but never the less it was ours. There was a walled garden on the south side of the house and a couple of lawns in front of it divided by a short driveway. There was an ancient mulberry tree on the left of the drive, which was propped up by stout timber, and on the other side there was a hedge of Bay bushes the leaves had a very strong pungent smell  which I have never forgotten to this day.

    About the middle, or a little earlier of the decade, work at the pit was spasmatic and as a result of this dad and others in the blacksmiths shop had to travel to different collieries to work. I remember clearly, that he and Albert Packard and Colin Reed from Grimethorpe, cycled to Wath Main to do the night shift on more than one occasion, for a week. There was no bus service, no colliery transport and no travel allowance – just his bicycle with the carbide light on the front, down to Grimethorpe, up white city, past Sidlows in the wood, on to Great Houghton, Middlecliffe, Broomhill, Brampton and eventually Wath for an eight hour shift then the reverse run next morning. As children we were told nothing of this until some years later – which highlighted the difficult times in which we had lived.


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