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of Brierley



John in 1940 aged 12



Part 3

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 2


     For some obscure reason, as mentioned earlier in this story, we were invited to stay with an aunt of my mothers in a village called Wingate, which was about 3 miles from Hutton Henry. We left on the 26th August and travelled up by car, a Ford Prefect, and returned by the same means. The car belonged to a neighbour Richard Newton Addey. This is the only time I can recall this method of travel up to Durham despite the number of journeys made there in the past. It wasn’t a spectacular week, two days at the seaside and a day in Sunderland. Great Aunt was fairly ancient and spoke a different language, which was hard to understand, but she did change all our names to Kinny and hills became “banks”. There was a lodger who sported a contraption called a betting clock in his coat pocket – very strange people. We arrived home on the 2nd September 1939 and on the 3rd September came the announcement that war had been declared. We listened to it on the radio after church. Late that night the sirens howled out that there was an air raid imminent so we were woken up rather bemused. Mother was worried, as she had lived in West Hartlepool as an 8 year old when it was shelled from the sea by enemy warships. All our fears were unfounded when the "all clear” signal was given an hour or two later. There was much to discuss on the way to school the next morning and dad checked on grandmother and grandfather in Park View to see if they were ok.

      There were many changes during the next few months and they affected children as well as the adults. After dark there was a complete blackout in houses and in shops, factories, mines and the streets. Black curtains were hung at windows, as was other materials so that there was no light visible from the outside. The top half of the gas street lamps glass was painted black, as were the headlights on vehicles and cycles. Pocket torches were treated in the same manner and must always be shone on the ground by law. November 5th was cancelled until the end of the hostilities. It was an austere, gloomy autumn and winter, and it became worse as time wore on. Both sides in France had used poison gases during the First World War and as educated lads we were well aware of this. Parliament were worried that attacks from the air using gas was possible so it was decided that every man, woman and child should be given a gas mask as protection. Air raid wardens who proceeded to fit each child with a gas mask made of rubber attached to a chemical filled filter and with a clear visor to aid vision-visited schools. The latter always steamed up and vision was reduced to nil. When not in use it was to be kept in the thin cardboard box provided for it complete with a piece of string to make life comfortable when carrying it. The box got wet when it rained and the string cut through the wet card. The net result was no box. Then ingenuity took over and receptacles of all shape and sizes began to appear commercially to replace the useless boxes. Fortunately the things were never required. The school windows were pasted on the inside with a net like substance, which would prevent flying pieces of glass from injuring anyone should the blast from an explosion shatter the windows. Air raid shelters were built on the green at Hill Top and in the spaces were numbers 4,5 and 6 once stood. There were three blocks of four made up of brick and with a concrete top and an opening for access protected by a wall the full length of the shelter. The four spaces were interconnected inside and the users were expected to sit on concrete and dangle their legs in a sort of well. The shelters were so uncomfortable that, once used, residents decided that they would rather trust to fate than use them again. Dad had the coal place emptied and after cleaning, washing and lime washing he put in two bunks, first aid box, a temporary light and a small stool or two. Mother made a mattress for each bunk and we used our own bed covers when we had to take to the shelters. It was quite cosy compared to the public shelters mentioned above. In the autumn we had previously been allowed to play around a nearby lamp, which cast a yellowish green light for a few yards, but parents stopped this, as they liked us to be in after dusk and not roaming around in the blackout. In school we were instructed to take shelter under our desks should the need arise as there was no air raid shelters for pupils. So we had to practise getting under the desks in an emergency. To create the emergency, Mr Foster would suddenly open a classroom door and say very seriously, “bombs are dropping on Brierley”, this was followed by 40 children leaping of chairs, grabbing gas masks and crouching under the desks amidst crashing chairs, flying books and pens, overturned inkwells and shouts of “quick gerunder”, geroff me” and “thas gor all room”, hilarious but obviously necessary from the heads point of view.

     The “Modern World” now resorted to informing us of our military equipment with which we (our armed forces) were to use in wartime. Battleships, cruises, destroyers, MTB’s, Blenhiem and Battle, Whitley and Swordfish, Hurricane, Spitfire, Bren Gun Carriers, 20 ton tanks, field guns, grenades, rifles etc. What a mass of equipment but we had also been informed of the Graf Spee, Tirpitz, Dorniers, Heinkels and Tiger tanks of 30 tons. So this became a topic of discussion for lads like us – we always came out on top despite the odds.

     The following winter was a bad one, but good for healthy lads who could sledge and slide, I’m sure that it snowed for England that year. In the spring we had to set too with a will to cultivate the school garden as part of the “grow your own vegetables” campaign. We dug, raked, hoed, made seed drills and planted loads of veg seeds. Also on Barnsley Road, we dug the policeman’s garden for him under supervision. He thought it was a good idea, we didn’t, and it hadn’t been done for a few years. I have often wondered since those days who got the vegetables when the time came to harvest the garden? Not my family.

     The new road from Brierley to Grimethorpe had been opened the previous year (1938) with a wide, smooth footpath on one side. On our way home from the Saturday matinee at Grimethorpe we remarked that the footpath from Fox’s farm to the bottom of the hill would make a great trolley run so we decided to try it with our latest models fitted with a make shift brake. We were right, it gave us a fast run from a lamppost a short distance down the hill but from the top it was faster still and scary so we decided not to try that again.

     We spent many hours climbing trees and the slab of rocks halfway down the lane from home (Frickley Bridge Lane). The horse trough at the base of the rock was fed by natural spring water, which trickled into the trough at one end and overflowed into a ditch at the other. It was always full and used by the horses pulling farm carts or gigs up the lane. My sister fell in once and went home soaking wet – big trouble and told to keep away – but we forgot. We tried throwing stones at the insulators on the telegraph poles but it was a waste of time “our aim was hopeless”. The area had once been a quarry, many, many years ago. I cannot see our ancestors cutting through hundreds of tons of rock to make a road so the rock must have been used in both villages for building work. The road and footpath in the lane had been upgraded two years earlier. The large stone slabs, which were the footpath were removed and replaced with kerbstones and asphalt. As there were trenches where the kerbs were to be positioned they had to be protected from unwary pedestrians so a night watchman was present when the workmen where at home nights and weekend. Mr Senior from Clifton Gardens was watchman and we would spend many Saturday afternoons talking to him and on occasions carrying the warning lights to their positions after he had cleaned and filled them with paraffin. The lights were about 8 inches square, 12 inches high and had a curved handle on top. Three sides had a red glass lens and the fourth side a door which when opened allowed the fuel tank and wick carrier to be pulled out, filled and put back after lighting. Mr Senior had a cabin, open on one side, in which he could sit and have his meals and shelter from the rain. He kept warm with a brazier containing a hot glowing coke fire and we liked nothing better than to gather round it out of the fumes. What did we talk about? I don’t know but it was our way of life.

     During the summer of 1940 we were told of this school in Cudworth where the curriculum was far in advance of ours in Brierley. I can’t remember how it all began but some of us were interested and asked our parents if we could transfer. They in turn asked Mr Foster who said that he had no objections to us transferring, provided we were accepted, as it was a better school with modern facilities. So on the day of restart after the summer break four boys and two girls presented themselves with a parent at Cudworth Modern School to see the head teacher of each category. Apart from myself there was Jim Bond, Walter Deighton and Ken Grimes. The girls were Monica Lukins and Diana Hanson. We were accepted and all started in the ‘A’ stream – there were 3 streams 1, 2 and 3a, 1, 2 and 3b, 1, 2 and 3c plus form ‘S’. I don’t intend to write about my 18 months at Cudworth other than it was worth the change. Reading and writing became English, then there was Maths, Geography, History, Music, Science, Metalwork, Woodwork, Art and a library subject had a specialist teacher and room plus a gymnasium and a sports field It was indeed a modern building with a modern concept on education – it broadened our outlook on life.

     To make travel a bit more economic I had to have a bicycle so that I, and other lads, could come home at lunchtime, as meals were four pence (2p) a day. One Saturday afternoon I went into Barnsley on the bus and dad in on his bicycle and met me. We went to a little cycle shop at the bottom of Dodworth Road (now gone) and I was allowed to choose a suitable model, which cost £4-10-00 (£4.50p). Dad paid for it and we rode home together. “What about the money” I asked. This was more than he earned in a week. Apparently the three pence a week, which I took to school for years and paid into the Yorkshire Penny Bank, had accumulated into a tidy sum cared for by grandmother. I was rich and never knew it. The balance of a few shillings paid for a new jacket and cap. I left old mates behind and made new ones, Peter Sparrow and his family moved to Leeds where his dad and brother in law found new work in the Blackburn aircraft factory, Pete soon followed, as he was my age. In my class were two lads, who I think now live in Brierley, Jack West and Ernest Gardener. There was also Frank Winset whose dad was missing in North Africa and was eventually listed as a prisoner of war in Italy. Cliff Iveson who was very athletic, Billy Bates, Jim McDonald who had some success as a boxer, Ron Rigby who later became a Barnsley councillor, and so it could go on.

     One item, which I forgot to mention, was the presence of two fish and chips shops in the village and of course the surgery. One fish shop was halfway down Barnsley Road and was used to serve one half of the village. This was owned by Mr and Mrs Massey and served that end of Brierley. I could never understand why they used only one pan – first for chips and then for the fish, which meant rather a long wait. Mr and Mrs Naylor who also had the off-license directly opposite the church owned the other shop. Mrs Naylor operated the fish shop which was in what is now Church Drive, using both pans, coal fired, naturally. Both fish shops were spotlessly clean and the cost was the same at each i.e. a portion of fish was tuppence and chips a penny a portion.

     Joe Kenyon whose shop was opposite the Three Horse Shoes was an excellent butcher and baker of bread and teacakes. My parents never bought sausages or meat from anyone else, as long as he was in business. Mr Kay was a baker and confectioner and had the shop at the bottom of Barnsley Road. Often I was sent for a ¼ of boiled ham and 6 buns on Saturday teatime, they cost one shilling (5p). Mother always baked on a Sunday morning. Mr Kay travelled the village, selling his products on a three wheeled cycle with a large cupboard like box on the front when opened it revealed several trays on runners full of delicious cakes, buns, scones etc.

    I have left the question of health until now as I thought it would be better discussed in general rather that as individual ailments that only concerned my family because the majority of children had the common or garden health problems. Dr Gardener’s surgery in Church Drive was small, but the, the population of the village was small too. The treatment room or consulting room was the same size as the patient’s waiting room about 12 foot long and 6 foot wide with a large desk, a porcelain sink, a door on one side and a window for lighting. The opposite side consisted of a double door from the waiting room and tiers of shelves containing dozens of bottles all with a Latin name on each one. This was his pharmacy and he knew that each bottle’s contents cured or eased any local ailment such as cold or grazes or constipation. He knew also when a patient needed hospitalisation rather that his expert treatment. In my opinion he was a good doctor. Drugs and antibiotics as we know them today just were not available sixty or more years ago – neither were some of today’s ailments and illnesses.

    Not many families were without a copy of the ‘Family Doctor’ a concise volume of illnesses and injuries and the treatment thereof and every household carried petroleum jelly, liquid paraffin, iodine, acraflavin, cod liver oil, bandages, germaline, zinc ointment and other health producing concoctions such as Scott’s Emulsion, Cod Liver Oil and Malt and Arrowroot, not forgetting those tapes of aspro and bottles of aspirin available in most shops for the persistent headache or toothache. For baby there was Nurse Harvey’s and Woodward’s gripewater – quite pleasant   for the “older babies” with upset stomachs. Brother Ron had scarlet fever when he was about four years old and spent several weeks in the Isolation Hospital on the common. I remember being taken up to see him one Saturday the only visiting day, by mother. A nurse brought him up to the “line” and we were kept behind some railings about 30 feet away and tried to make a conversation, as did several other mums, futile. All four of us had the usual children complaints, mumps, measles, chicken pox etc and cuts and grazes of various sizes these last been liberally treated with iodine which really stung when applied. Acraflavin was used for minor burns and liquid paraffin to keep us regular. We didn’t have to go the surgery very often. Oh! I nearly forgot that for bee, wasp or ant stings there was always the “Blue Bag” which, was used on washday to make all the clothes whiter, it worked whatever was in it.

    At Easter 1942 I left school aged 14 with nothing to show for the ten years of learning. Certificates were a thing of the future except if one had been fortunate enough to gain a place at Hemsworth Grammar School following the 11 plus examination held every year. The problem was that there were only two places allocated to Brierley school and although I was never lower than third place, and more often than not in first place in class, I didn’t go to Hemsworth. My teacher once said that I should have had the place allocated to a boy. Some years later I understood the meaning of her little outburst. Within two weeks I was working in a grocery shop in Barnsley – there was to be no job at the pit for me said dad – collar and tie it was to be and so it was for 7 shillings (35p) a week. How could I be fed and clothed on that pittance? But I was.

    Brother Ron took over the cleaning at Bob Butterwood's and I went to Tommy Oakes’s farm evenings, half day and any spare time. It was enjoyable learning to do all sorts of jobs – harnessing horses, horse hoeing, horse raking, feeding cattle, milking, cutting kale and marigolds, stoking, haymaking, hedging, cleaning out of cowsheds, driving heavy cart and dray and so on. Tom usually paid me 2 shillings (10p) at the weekend, not much you may think but it was extra cash for me.

    We lads were fully aware that in four years time we would be in the army, navy or RAF. That was all that we had to look forward to. In anticipation I joined the local army cadets and had a foretaste of what was to come but never regretted joining. In 1944 I joined the Air Training Corps and learned Morse code, visited wartime airfields, managed to get onto a Boeing B17, a Lancaster Gera Turret and almost got lost in a fog during a flight over Lincolnshire, which the RAF offered as a sort of dangling carrot. At 18 I was enlisted into the army where I remained for 2 ½ years – but that is another part of my life.

    Perhaps the reader might feel sorry for my generation or perhaps he or she might envy us and our lifestyle without mod-cons but whichever it is I think that we lived in a wonderful period of time, advancing technology and Victorian and Edwardian ideals. What has been written here is only the tip of the iceberg, as any one subject could become a story in itself? However, I can still recall those blissful sunny days of my early childhood, which can be read about but never experienced by the reader.

    Incidentally, a pocket-handkerchief or a bar of chocolate was accepted as birthday presents when invited to someone’s party. The cost was 3 pence (1½ p) and value was never considered against friendship.


 The grace sung before each class before and after lunch



Be present at our table lord

Be here and everywhere adored

Let Manna to our souls be given

The bread of life sent down from heaven.


We thank thee lord for this our food

But more because of Jesus’ blood

Thy creatures bless and grant that we

May feast in paradise with thee.


 John Steele 2000/2001

Baipip August 2005


Go to Part 1 Back to MEMORIES index page Go to Part 2