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of Brierley



John in 1940 aged 12



Part 2

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 1 Back to MEMORIES index page Go to Part 3


     Joan, the eldest of my two sisters, had an accident with a car on Church Street on her way to school one afternoon. The car was parked near the cemetery gate and as she crossed the road in front of it the driver set off not seeing her. She said years later the car bumped into her, she ended up sat on the front bumper bar, someone shouted out and she was thrown off as he braked suddenly on to the road and luckily sustained only bruises and grazed knees. The driver took her to our house where Dr Gardner saw her. To this day I remember being told in school about this accident but I do not recollect understanding the seriousness of the situation. Were there many vehicles through the village? You may ask. Some it is possible to remember but certainly not all of them, as we were not there to see them all. Every Tuesday a stream driven lorry from a Sheffield brewery came up Barnsley Road and through the village delivering to public houses in the South Kirkby area. It carried two men, a driver and a stoker and as it passed there was the wonderful smell of hot oil. It was noisy and the solid rubber tyres on solid steel wheels thundered along the street. Five evenings a week, Masons and Myatts heavy Leylands loaded with ten tons of machinery etc made their way through the village towards the Great North Road to London via Doncaster passing through every town and village during their journey—there was no A1 motorway.

     In the autumn and spring the threshing engine would visit various farms for a day or even two days threshing. Steam operated, it had two very large wheels with solid tyres at the rear and two chain operated smaller steering wheels at the front. Mounted on the rear of the boiler was the flywheel, which transferred the power by means of a large belt to the machine, which actually threshed the corn. We children loved to watch from the stackyard wall as the corn was threshed but it was a very labour intensive operation using from ten to fifteen men and older boys. A chap named Crookes owned the threshing machine and he lived at Ackworth.

     Ernest Watson, who lived next to Grange farm, had a Bedford 3 ton lorry with which he contracted to the local council doing various jobs especially in winter when heavy snowfalls had to be cleared from the roads. His lorry was used to dump huge quantities of cleared snow on to the common near Pudding Hill. It also came in useful when the staging for the Hospital Sing was moved from the barn at St Paul’s Cottage ready to be erected in Walter Burton’s croft ready for the choir to sit on. This was a very well attended venue every July; there was always scores of people not only from Brierley but also from South Hiendley and Shafton. Money was collected in two clothesbaskets at the entrance to the field from Peartree Croft (Patey Croft). As it was held on a Sunday evening everyone turned up in his or her Sunday best, gents with caps and trilby hats and the ladies in their best hats and coats. A scent of mothballs was always present but this was normal. Next day Ernest returned the staging to its home in the barn, where it remained for anther year. Edward Watson, who lived at the top of Ket Hill Lane in the old police house just off Barnsley Road, led coal in his lorry, which I think, was a Ford. The back was divided into three sections, which held one ton each, an economic method of delivery. He also delivered coke from Cudworth and sold logs made from old pit props.

     Easter was a pleasant time of the year as there were Easter eggs to look forward to. We nearly always had an egg made of chocolate and stuck into an eggcup in the shape of a chicken or a rabbit. Woolworth's sold them by the thousand at sixpence each but money was scarce so we had what we could afford. Where our mother came from in County Durham, it was a popular tradition to hard boil an egg and then dye the shells different colours and give them at Easter, so we always had one of those too from her sisters, our aunts.

     Having mentioned Durham it might be a good time to write about holidays – the “going away” type. For us this meant travelling up to a little village about six miles from West Hartlepool called Hutton Henry where our maternal grandmother lived. She was a widow and had been so since 1907 when her husband who was in the Durham Light Infantry Militia, became ill whilst this unit was in camp at Barnard Castle. His chill became pneumonia and he died at the age of 27 years leaving grandma with four girls the eldest of whom was four years old. She couldn’t afford to bring him home so he was buried there. If you think that living in Brierley was black in those times: - forget it. The village had a main street, a back lane, a green, a small church, a smaller chapel and a few farms. On the main street was the Post Office, Davidson's shop and the school where grandma was the caretaker. The houses had no water on tap, no electricity, no gas; a huge black range in one room and a stone sink in the other, which was the scullery (kitchen was too grand a word). Upstairs there were two bedrooms. The only lighting was from paraffin lamps in each room, cooking was by coal fire as was the means of hot water. Water has to be carried from one of the pumps in the main street. This was our job, grandma had two white spotlessly clean enamel buckets, pails she called them, and carrying one each, two of us would cross the road to the pumps and put the buckets on the iron grid. After pressing the handle a quantity of water shot out under pressure and into each bucket partially it and at the same time filling our shoes if we stood too close. Most of the holidays were spent locally, walking with our parents on the fells but we did manage to get a couple of days by the sea, Blackhall or Seaton Canew? The former being the best as there were rock pools to fish and play in and coal to pick. Not a very exciting holiday by today’s standards but it was different and we were happy.  Unfortunately it all came to an end in 1937 when grandma died on the same date that her husband had died 30 years previously. We went up once again two years later and visited relatives in a nearby village but it wasn’t the same atmosphere as before, perhaps we were older, we arrived home on Saturday September 2nd 1939. Do you recognise the date?

     At 8 years old some of us boys were recruited into the church choir, which was an all male concern of twelve boys and usually eight men. The choirmaster was William Sharpe, former school head, who sometimes sang a discordant note and was inclined to spray a little. Practice was every Thursday at 6.30pm where we were taught to sing hymns, psalms and responses with the bread and Gloria. We must have looked quite angelic on Sundays in our cassock and surplice with shiny faces and hair held down with brilliantine. When the chancel lights were dimmed during the parson’s sermon, there could be heard the rustling of toffee papers as they were unwrapped and popped into ones eager mouths to the annoyance of Mr Sharpe who missed nothing from his perch behind us. Every year the choir trip to the coast was something to look forward to, it was always Scarborough or Bridlington but one year it was Blackpool by special excursion train. Members of the congregation could go on these trips if they so desired and for this Blackpool trip my grandparents hired John Oates to take several adults and some boys to Grimethorpe Holt to board the train and to bring us home at night in his ice cream cart. The men and boys stood, holding on to anything firm, and the few ladies in black hats and best coats had a chair each. Imagine the journey in this open vehicle before the sun rose and in the darkness of late evening when we returned. It was all part of life. We always had Taylor's “Ideal” coaches for the trips to the east coast. The Scarborough trips went via Tadcaster, York and Malton through every town, city and village. There were no bypasses, but the dual carriageway between Tadcaster and York had recently been opened. The Bridlington route was via Knottingly, Goole, Market Weighton and Burton Agnes. Both journeys took about three and a half hours. We boys each received five shillings (25p) pocket money from the choir fund, which, when added to what we managed to save ourselves, made us feel disgustingly rich. On one occasion I ought a single spring cricket bat for almost my five shillings and used it for many years after oiling it and binding the face. On the journey home there was always a singsong of the usual kind “lkley Moor Baht Hat”, “One Man went to Mow” and other popular pieces. The trip didn’t exclude us from Sunday school treat on Whitsuntide Monday. This event began with a tea in the Institute—sandwiches, buns, tea or squash and prize giving for attendance. Then we all went into Fox’s field for races and games, French cricket and s on with the leftover food to end the day. We were once taken to Burntwood Hall for the tea and games by courtesy of Mr and Mrs Dymond. We could explore the walled garden by using the tunnel under the road and in the greenhouse was a banana tree which none of us had seen before.

     Part of the Coronation celebrations of 1937 included a free visit to the cinema at Grimethorpe. This was the first of many visits, which I made in the coming years to see a sort of matinee show of short films. I think that it had some sort of influence on me because Walter Deighton and myself thought that it might nice to have a cinema in his parent’s garden. We began making bricks from the rather clay–like soil but after he first dozen we decided that time wasn’t on our side, end of project.

     It wasn’t very often that we played together with girls but we did learn to play hopscotch and certainly the art of skipping by joining in with them. A piece of scouring stone usually marked out the squares for hop-scotch and anything that would slide along the squares was suitable to throw and pick up, by hopping only from each numbered square and back again. We skipped singly or, with a long rope, in groups as long as someone could keep turning it. Then we reached the stage of two ropes being turned alternately but in opposite directions - very tricky. Normally boys would be seen with a hoop or an odd scooter or maybe tin-walking, always a pocket bulging with glass marbles but definitely climbing on anything anywhere.

     It was in 1937 that we moved to number 20 Hilltop, as three was now four of us plus parents and number 5 Hodroyd Cottages had only two bedrooms, no bath and no hot water other than what was heated on the black range. We had a zinc bath that hung on the wall outside but dad and mother could have a bath round at St Paul's Cottage and on occasions, we could too. Our new house was on Frickley Bridge lane and looked across to the Allen's house on Robin Lane and Mathewmans farm in the in the field. It had three bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room and parlour, acres of space inside for four kids to explore. What is more, there was a gas ring in the kitchen, which could boil a pan, or kettle in no time at all providing a penny was put into the meter near the sink. The estate was built in a rectangular of forty two houses with a grassy area in the centre known as “The Green” where we spent countless hours over the next few years playing cricket, football, marbles, hide and seek and so on. Shortly after it was built a fault in the underlying rocks became active and numbers 4,5,6 and 29 had to be pulled down as the earth movement damaged them. At the entrance was Mr Hartley's newsagents shop and on the opposite side, where there are now garages, were the partial remains of two very old stone cottages, which became another area for exploring and climbing on. It was quite easy, and dirty, to climb up or down the remains of the chimneys. We had further to walk to school but that didn’t matter there was Patey Croft the shirt way or past the Three Horse Shoes pub of we were not too late. It was as area just waiting to be explored by inquisitive lads, west towards Shafton and north to South Hiendley where the Hull and Barnsley railway passed under the road after leaving the tunnel under Barewell Hill and the Cow mountains. The bridge was an instant challenge to myself and my new friends, Peter Sparrow, Jim Bond, Granville Hodgson and Edwin Jackson, because Frickley Dyke had been diverted from the North side of the railway to the south by means of an iron tank, which spanned the tracks, which was about six feet deep and six feet wide and ending in a brick tunnel. Any water in it was about two inches deep so it was off with shoes and stockings and down into the water then through the short tunnel and up the tank on the other end. It wasn’t long before we were on the parapet of the bridge and walking across it. When there was no one in the vicinity of course. On a Saturday afternoon when the signalman had gone home we would take a look inside the signal box at all the shiny levers and other means by which signals were operated. To assist with family finances dad was an agent for a benefit society to which one could join for a small payment each week about sixpence old money. Should one be off work due to illness or an accident, the society would pay them ten shillings per week. It was a kind of insurance for which many were grateful, as there was no such thing as sick pay to fall back on. So the front room, or parlour, acted as a kind of office where he could do his books without interruption.

     If the reader thinks that it was all play in those days - then forget it. We, and most other children, had jobs to do around the house before we were allowed out such as washing up after meals, drying the utensils and putting them away, bringing in firewood ready for dad to light the fire the next morning, two buckets of coal to be put in the porch, help with the garden and on. On a Saturday morning one of us went to the Coop with mother and a trolley to carry the weeks groceries in as they usually included a stone of flour. This was an ordeal itself because the shop was always busy and everyone had to wait their turn to be served by either Mr Brookes or John Perry. In bins in the flour room there was every kind of animal food imaginable, Bran, Sharps, pig meal, maize, corn, poultry food, rolled oats, pigeon peas, grit, oyster shell etc not forgetting the flour and potatoes for human consumption. Each one had to be weighed on the large beam scale, which hung from the ceiling, as and when required, how do I know? I worked there five years later.

     A trolley was mentioned in the last paragraph and a trolley was the in thing on Hilltop. It consisted of four wheels, two axles fastened to two pieces of wood, one with a hole in the centre for a steering bolt, a suitable plank of wood and a length of rope attached to the front axle with which to steer the thing. With well-oiled wheels and no brakes, other than the shoes, it would reach a fair rate of knots on any convenient slope sometimes with disastrous results—skinned knees.

     By now a cheap Meccano set was available and gave us many hours of interest in the winter months along with aircraft kits, not like those of today, but made from Balsa wood, and a plan, and covered with a type of tissue paper which was painted with a harmless rope to stretch it on the frame, powered with a propeller driven by an elastic band it would fly - but only once as the resulting landing crunched it.

     As special treat at the August holiday time was a pair of black pumps to save wear and tear on our decent shoes or boots. They were made from rubber and had a sort of canvass upper and cost two shillings and less for a pair. When worn one could run faster, jump higher, climb trees at speed, cling to impossible slopes and walk silently anywhere. They were wonderful shoes as far as we were concerned but also wore out quickly. One thing is certain there were no petty jealousies about what we wore because we all wore such similar items of clothing and footwear. A woollen jersey, vest and trousers, which ended just above the knees, nobody wore long trousers until after leaving school. Stockings, again of wool, with a fancy pattern came just below the knees and footwear was usually shoes or boots, and of course, the ever popular black pumps. A short jacket finished of the sum total of clothing plus a gaberdine raincoat for the nasty wet days and winter. If holes were worn in any garment then it was patched up with a piece of material of the same colour and continued to be worn. Stockings were always the first to wear and they were darned with matching wool. Grandma was an expert at this and mended all our stockings at our request. Dad repaired our shoes as and when they began to wear, remember, they were made of leather not the synthetic stuff of today, and of course his work boots needed to be kept decent. He also appointed himself the official hairdresser for us lads, it was threepence at Billy Gouldings in Hemsworth, but mother insisted that it be cut short for hygiene reasons as not everyone at school had a clean head. Woe betide us if ever we touched our heads with finger nails as it was assumed that we had got something lurking on the scalp that required her immediate attention. Our sisters had longer and thicker hair and were subjected to a weekly search before washing, with a fine-toothed comb to ensure cleanliness. They would have a powder shampoo but we lads had to make do with fairy soap or coal tar or lifebuoy. The last two were used to give one a clean fresh look and smell when combined with the Sunday ration of Brilliantine. There was no need for fancy designer outfits, expensive trainers, deodorants, hair gels, jeans, anti-dandruff shampoos, Boyzone and Beckham haircuts and all the other items considered essential by modern boys. We were happy with three good meals a day and a supper before bed. We never went hungry and I don’t think that any other children in the village ever had cause to complain despite the lean times.

     Somehow or other we heard of Hemsworth park and that it had a paddling pool so sometimes we were given tuppence as bus fare to Hemsworth and return in order that we could go and paddle. We had great fun and were always wet through but to us it was a great afternoon out and cost nothing other than the bus fare. I wonder if it is still there?

     My reading habits changed, I hope for the better. I now bought boys papers with far-fetched but readable stories each one with their particular hero. My pocket money had been increased to tuppence with an extra penny from my grandparents so one penny paid for sweets and the other for a paper. The papers had names with appeal to lads such as Wizard, Rover, Hotspur and Champion and ach one was exchanged with pals many times so that we all read each other’s paper for the one-penny. Later I changed to a boys magazine paper named “Modern world” which presented articles and exploded diagrams of the latest aircraft, liners, Royal Navy ships, submarines, tanks and commercial inventions such as “Mallard” “Royal Seat” etc. Did you know that the forerunner of the Boeing 747 was the Boeing B15 bomber built and flown in 1938! Or that a French submarine” Surcouf” carried a small aircraft! It was an impressive magazine for growing boys and worth the tuppence, which was the cost.

     Bird watching was a common pastime, which we pursued with interest. If you can imagine the large fields around the village being divided into smaller fields each divided by an hedge it will give you some idea as to how many species of birds there were. Every hedgerow had several nests in its length some high up, some very low, others in the impenetrable gorse or brambles but we managed to find a large percentage and knew what bird had built them by its eggs or by its construction. A Kestrel always built in a large thorn tree in Fox’s field year after year. A Magpie used a nest at Vamplew’s farm near Hemsworth similarly. Sadly modern farming has driven most of them away—no habitat no birds.

     January and February were the months when one could expect snow and plenty of it - out came the sledges home made of course with help from dad who always managed to supply the iron runners which gave it the necessary speed as they became polished by friction. I was now considered capable of going down to Tom bank on my sledge and so was given permission to go with my pals, there wasn’t a better run anywhere it was so steep and well used but the stream at the bottom was a hazard - too fast and one was in it - but we learned quickly. It was great fun.

     I remember 1939 for one or two reasons, first, it appears that the IRA were active somewhere or other and dad and his workmates had to check that the powder magazines down the tramway was not being broken into by these people. They were given a drain rod tipped with brass to deter any visitors. I don’t think that it gave the defenders much encouragement. This was also the year of Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” his first full length animated film. It was a must for all children and, quite a lot of adults too, so we three older children were taken to the Empire, as it was then, in Barnsley to see the epic in glorious Technicolor. I must admit it was worth every penny.

     By now I was almost 12 years old and one particular Sunday late in the year grandfather told me that he had got a new job for me at Bob Butterwood’s who had a shop at the end of Park estate. Every Saturday morning at 9am he and I were to clean out all the hen huts in the orchard and field behind the shop. The stock was free range but the huts, some of them twelve feet by eight feet, were very well used as I found out. The perches, dropping boards and floors had to be scrapped clean with a spade, swept with a hard broom and dusted with ash from the greenhouse fires. I was kitted out with a pair of bib and braces overalls, my first long trousers, which were a source of teasing from lads and older boys who wanted to know who had breeched me - a common phrase then. For the three hours work I received one shilling, not much you might say, but to me it was a small fortune. I could now go to the afternoon matinee at Grimethorpe cinema if I so desired, buy the Wizard and Modern World, some sweets and perhaps save a few coppers for the choir trip.

     Behind our house and in the direction of Shafton there were several small fields and one field of 10 acres and by a strange coincidence there were two force landings, by aircraft, in that field within a short period. One was a commercial aircraft an Auro Ensign and the other an Auro Anson twin engine RAF trainer. There were no casualties as far as I can remember but we were able to get close up to each as sightseers before they were taken away.


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