John was born in 1921 in Ossett. Some time ago he wrote his memories of his early years living and working in Ossett and the surrounding area. He served in the Merchant Navy in WW2 and "Part 2" will cover this. He is now an active 96 year old and has been coming into Ossett Library to "chat" to me about his memories. I have recorded an hour or so of these "chats" and have added a lengthy extract at the end of the story.
Watson Hirst married Mary Jane Mitchell of Horbury and they had three sons:-
Albert who married Eva Chapman and they had a son, John (me), and a daughter Mabel.
Horrace who married Minnie Harrop and they had a daughter, Joyce.
Ronald who married Elizabeth. They had three sons and a daughter. One of the sons, was Colin who died of cancer.
My father, Albert, had a sister called Florrie who married Willie Wilde. They had a daughter, Elsie who married Fred Remblance and a daughter, Wendy, and a son, Trevor who became a well known men's hairdresser in Ossett with his shop at the junction of Station Road and Fairfield Road.
I am the son of Albert Hirst and I was born on the 30th June, 1921 at 12, Haggs Hill Road, Ossett Common. I lived in this house until I was 15 months old when we moved to Sandy Lane in Middlestown.
Whilst I lived at 12, Haggs Hill Road I was knocked over by a Blue Andalusian cockrel which pecked my face. I still have the scar today, only faint, but still there.
After we moved we were regular visitors to Haggs Hill. I remember my grandfather had ponies, one called "Tommy", a chestnut with a white star on his face. Once, when picking coal at St. John's line (at the junction of Blacker Lane and Denby Dale Road, Durkar), during the 1926 strike, I fell into a dyke and had to be pulled out. My mother used to bring Tommy with the flat cart to get the bags of coal home.
I remember, during school holidays, going round Darton with my father and Arthur Hirst, who lived in a caravan in the allotments on Coxley Lane, going "tatting" for rags (collecting wollen rags for the local shoddy industry). In my photo album I have a picture of me with the rocking horse my grandfather bought for me one Christmas.
On one visit to Haggs Hill we were brought home in a horse-drawn carriage belonging to Oliver Robinson. Travelling inside were my mother, father, sister Mabel, father's uncle George Firth, auntie Emily and their daughter Annie who lived down Spivey's Lane (Now Low Lane), New Roadside (off New Road, Middlestown). I sat on top of the carriage with Mr. Robinson.
Whilst living at Sandy Lane, Middlestown, I attended Netherton School and was taught by Miss Speight, Mabel Clarkson, Mrs. Wilkinson, Charlie Dunford, Miss Hall and Mr. F. G. Binns who was headmaster. I was always in trouble, getting caught retaliating. Whenever a fight took place I would be in the thick of it.
I was brought up to be a survivor and had to help to provide for the family by working with my father in our allotments in Thompson's field down Coxley Lane. We grew vegetables, kept rabbits, chickens, a few pigs and some ferrets with which we caught wild rabbits. The only meat we had was home produced and what the Lord provided - that being Lord Saville, Lord Allendale and anything we could get from Colonel Pickering's Netherton Hall Estate.
On one occasion Willie Tilford and I went into the harvest field with my father's lurcher dog, "Turk", and it caught a big hare. Colonel Pickering saw us. When we got home with the dog and this great hare I was thrilled to bits but the first thing my father did was wallop me for letting other people see what a good dog we had.
Shortly after that, we four lads from Coxley were on our way to school at Netherton when we were caught scrumping walnuts at Netherton Hall by Colonel Pickering who followed us and reported us to the headmaster, Mr. Binns. The older boys had to show their hands to show if they had dye on their hands from scrumping. J.H. however had to go out front and lean over the school desk to receive four strokes of the cane across my bottom as I was the "young bugger who had the lurcher dog". It didn't make any difference because when Mrs. Beaumont wanted a rabbit I got one for her and charged her 1/3d (one shilling and threepence) which went in my pocket.
I had a little white terrier bitch called "Dot", because she had a little black dot at the top of her tail. She would find a rabbit in a burrow and we would cover the holes with nets to catch it. Another satisfied customer.
Once I was pulling a rope for the bucket in Coxley Mill dam, which had been used as the old mill toilets before the mill had burnt down, when the weight of water in the bucket dragged me into the dam. Jeffrey Ibbitson was with me and shouted for help and Jack Ellis pulled me out. Later on Jack Ellis carved his name in the big rock which still stands at the edge of the old quarry in Coxley Valley (1937).
When I was 12 years old I used to go to the corn mill at the bottom of Hostingley Lane. I used to go out with Ernest Keighley with his horses and a wagon delivering meal and corn from the mill to smallholder poultry keepers and 1 cwt bags of flour to Gott's Bakeries and Mrs. Spivey's shop in Sandy Lane.
They were great days when we went to Wakefield Thornes Wharf for loads of meal and corn. The wagon was pulled by two horses, "Ginger" and "Blossom". I rode the leader horse, "Blossom", a big shire brown mare with black legs. I could back the wagon with Blossom into the loading bay with no trouble. She was so good I think she could probably have done it herself.
On Saturdays I always had tea with them at the corn mill which consisted of fresh, home made, teacake with some homemade butter and a big pot full of hot milky tea. The pint pots were blue and white striped. Ernest would give me sixpence which I used to save. One Christmas I bought a big shot bagatelle board from Hutchinson's paper shop in High Street, Horbury, for ten shillings and sixpence and it is still in the family today at my daughter, Christine's.
Whenever I went to Haggs Hill I always went to see the Batley family at Haggs Hill Farm. I would go and stay at Haggs Hill when it was school holidays and would go with my Grandad, Jessie David, from Roundwood Colliery to the gas works at Vicarage Street, Wakefield with coal. At the gas works I was asked, "How many pennies in a shilling?". "12" I would answer. "How many in a dozen?". "12" I would answer again. "How many halfpennies in a shilling?". "24" I would answer. "Good", that earned me a penny.
There was a man who used to sell clothes on weekly payments who came round Sandy Lane on Fridays. He would ask me which I would rather have, the big brown penny or the little silver threepenny bit. Every week I asked for the big brown penny. Willey Tilford couldn't understand why i didn't take the threepenny bit so we could have half each. "Don't be daft" I said, "If I do that he won't offer it every week".
When I was thirteen on Mischief Night we changed the gates to the bungalows at the bottom of Sandy Lane, laughing about it. As we were passing the stone barn, who stepped out of the shadows and swung his cape but P.C. Joe Armstrong, knocking me down in the road cutting both my knees and hands. When I got home father wanted to know what I had been doing . "I've tumbled", I said. "Get to bed" father said. Two days later I went to the allotment to see what he had for me to do. He didn't answer straight away but came and knocked me down with the flat of his hand. "That's for tumbling", he said. P.C. Joe had told him what I'd done. Another lesson learned - remembered, don't walk too near to dark shadows.
Around about this time we moved from Sandy Lane to Wickentree Hall, Old Road.
I used to go to Caphouse Pit to fetch two 1 cwt bags of coal for which .my mother would give me half a crown as the bags were 1/2d (one shilling and twopence each). However I discovered that I could get one bag from the hopper at 1/2d and fill a bag with spillage for only 1/0d (1 shilling), therefore getting twopence for myself. When mother found spice (sweets) in my pocket she knew what I had done and gave me a wallop reminding me they were not all yours, but I got away with it that time.
On leaving school I needed to find a job as soon as possible as my father had not had regular work due to the depression. Fortunately, in 1935, when I left school and got a job, father got regular work with West Riding County Council.
I applied for a job with Ossett Gas Board as an apprentice gas fitter and had to go to Ossett Town Hall for an interview. As uncle Horace lived in Ossett he went with me as he thought it may help with him having local contacts.
On the way to the interview we called at Herbert Wilson's house to see auntie Minnie, who was helping the Wilson's to move into 2, Broadowler Lane. When we told Herbert Wilson, a wholesale pork butcher and pig and poultry keeper, where we were going he told us he needed a lad to train as a slaughterman and pig and poultry keeper. So I got my job before I had my interview for the Gas Board. Just as well because after I'd started work for Mr. Wilson I found out I hadn't got the job with the Gas Board.
One Monday morning at 7 a.m., as I got off the bus at the top of Healey Road to walk up to Southdale Road I saw Percy's wagon coming out of Healey Road. Seeing him made me think I must be late and would be in serious trouble as the pigs were not weighed and ready for him. Hurrying across Queen's Street, up Southdale Road and across Station Road to Sunnydale I saw Fred Sugden, a local coal merchant, walking alongside Sunnydale Mill wall. As I looked into the Mill yard I could see someone laid down by the mill office steps. Fred Sugden went and had a look and set off running towards me, heading for P.C. Wilson's house in Sunnydale Road. Fred said as he ran past me, "He's dead right enough." I carried on to work and as I opened the door to the slaughterhouse Herbert looked at me saying "Come on, we're late Percy's here." I answered "I know, I've seen him and there is a dead man in the mill yard." "None of your fairytales, we're late." said Herbert. "we're not late, it's only five past seven and there is a man dead in the mill yard." Herbert was angry and said "Get your smock on and let's get on with our work." "I've told you there is a dead man." I insisted. "Do as you'r told and put your coat on or go home." What a carry on.
When Percy and I got to our delivery at Nettleton's the first thing that was said to me was that David Mason, who worked for Sam Nettleton's Butchers had shot himself in Sunnydale Mill yard. I told Percy, as I went back to the wagon for my second pig, what I had heard in the shop. So you see it was not a fairytale. When I got back from my delivery run and Percy had left me to get on with his work, Herbert said to me, "You'r a smart one, if it had been me died you wouldn't have known." Well because I knew I'd be in trouble for being late with Percy turning up at seven o'clock instead of eight o'clock, i didn't stop to see who it was who had died. I didn't get involved in the inquest.
When I was eighteen years of age on 30th June, I was able to apply for a slaughterman's licence. I missed the July meeting but got my licence granted for August. Then in September, war broke out. With the wartime activities things changed quickly, the slaughterhouse was closed and I lost my job. I had to have a job, come what may. There was no choice but to earn money for the household, regardless of what you wanted to do yourself. Father went to Job Earnshaw's timber-yard on the day before I was due to finish at Herbert's and secured a job for me. I had to start work at Midgley the following Monday morning at half past seven. There was no such thing as looking round for another butchering job, it was money that mattered and not what I wanted to do.
All my wages had to be tipped up before I got any pocket money. When I worked for Earnshaw's I had to work away at Garforth and Aberford. I lodged at Aberford for about twelve months but still to be tipped up before I got any pocket money.
I worked with the horses hauling timber at Becca Estate and Ringer Wood, behinds Hook Moor and the Crooked Billet at Lead. I loved it.
Henry Earnshaw came to see us and couldn't believe three men were working with three horses on the day he came. Normally I worked with Ned Mitchell doing a lot of crosscutting with a six foot crosscut handsaw while George Bray was in charge of working the three horses. Because Henry Earnshaw did not want three men working with three horses he moved me to the felling gang and I wasn't allowed to work with the horses again. During the time I worked with the horses I took my time staying at Aberford on alternate weekends along with Ned Mitchell to look after the horses and see they got fed. This allowed George Bray to go home every weekend. The second weekend after Henry stopped me working with the horses I wasn't available to take my turn looking after them because I was going home. There was no extra money paid for the extra weekend work so George Bray did not like it when I said "No, see Henry Earnshaw. I'm going home."
Soon after this I got my National Service call-up papers. My story of this can be read in Part 2 of my reminiscences.
The extract of the recording of my chat with John on the 26th September, 2017 may be of interest to some people. John talks quite a bit about his life in Middletown which is a part of Sitlington Parish, the other villages being Netherton, Overton and Midgley. From the early 1990’s for twelve years I was Clerk to the Parish Council so learned something of its history and characters. Where we chatted about the war memorial we were at cross purposes mixing up time. From what John says it was first opposite St. Luke’s old Church in Middletown. It was then moved to a “Memorial Shelter” in Middletown Cemetery that was vandalised and eventually demolished. The memorial stone then went to the back of a seat in a small garden area outside Middletown Working Men’s Club that was maintained by the Parish Council. The sandstone got so worn that many names could not be read and it was removed when a new wall was built outside the Club. I think there is a memorial in the “new” St. Luke’s Church in Overton that was created out of the old Co-op. (Mike Adams, Ossett and Gawthorpe Community Archive).