Memories of H. R. O'Donnell

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Long Ago in Mirfield

After reading some of the Mirfield memories on this site, I thought that I might contribute some memories of my own.

My family have lived in Mirfield for many years, I traced my mother’s family back to 1795 using the archive service in Wakefield. I was born in Crossley Maternity Hospital in 1951, and lived in Mirfield until 2002.

My mum, Vera Slee, married my dad, John O'Donnell, (Paddy) in 1936. They lived in Battyeford until the war started, and then moved to Sunnybank Avenue. In 1956 the family moved into the Shoulder of Mutton in Lee Green, until 1961, when we moved onto The Knowl, opposite Mrs Hesp's shop. My dad died in 1967 and mum continued to live in the house at the Knowl until 1975, when she moved to Nettleton Avenue, where she lives to this day.

I noticed a mention of the TANK in London Park where a lot of the kids used to congregate. This was in fact an old anti-aircraft gun emplacement used during the war. I remember the air raid shelter on Old Bank Rec, but not the one at Pratt Lane. I seem to recall there was some kind of installation at the bottom of Foxroyd Fields, but I don't recall it at all well. I recall my mum telling me my dad had thrown a revolver brought home from the war into the Old Bank dam at the back of the Lion Stores, as she had caught my older brother playing with it!

As for raiding orchards, it was one of our favourite pastimes! We were always on the lookout for apple trees and orchards. One of our favourites was Dockerills at the back of the Shoulder of Mutton, quite a large orchard, and a variety of apples! However, the barbed wire was a problem, and I still have scars on my knees from the day I slipped and was left hanging from the wire, and my mate, funnily enough called Michael Fretwell, had to lift me off the wire. We never raided Westfield house orchard, or indeed Crowlees House, as you point out, escape was not easy. We used to go to Crowlees house for conkers though, especially the tree at the bottom of the drive, which is still there, where we would throw sticks up at the tree to try to knock down the conkers.

However, I also recall that mum used to send me round to the bungalow to buy apples from Mr and Mrs Dockerill for fruit pies, etc. They had a big, fierce black dog, and I was always frightened of it when I knocked on the door. They had large brass scales to weigh the apples; I seem to recall a charge of 4d per pound. Other orchards were the large one next to Crowlees Boys’ School, which was always a fairly easy target, but the Murder House one I always found difficult to get into!

We used to call the stream behind the Parish church "Church Springs", but I have an old map somewhere that gives it the name "Canker Dyke". We spent many hours playing in that cool clear water, and I often wonder, in these days of commercialism, why no one ever thought of bottling it. I have never known it to diminish in volume, even during the droughts we had in the last half of the last century, but never knew it to increase in volume either.

When we went fishing or frogging, it was usually to "Crossley Botts", following the stream to the bottoms, then into the large pond at the side of the stream. I recall this pond was up to 18" deep in places, and often we came home with wellies sloshing wet on the insides, when we took a step into too deep water. There were sticklebacks aplenty, but they were hellish to net. There were also what we called "Redbreasts" and "Silverbreasts", fishes about twice the size of the ordinary Stickleback, but what their real name was I never bothered to look up.

We also used to go birds nesting, taking eggs from any nest we found, 'blowing' them by making a small hole at each end with a thorn from any nearby hawthorn bush, and blowing through one end, to expel the innards out the other.

My godfather John Thwaite had Wellhouse Farm for many years, but when I was living in the pub I used to go up and watch him milking the cows and bottling the milk, and feeding his pigs and chickens.

As for the River Calder, we used to spend many hours on the banks of the weir at Newgate, throwing pebbles in and skimming the flat ones. Some brave souls would occasionally start to try to cross the down-slope on the weir, but I never saw anyone go all the way across. Perhaps we were less bold than others! I started a campaign to clean up the river in 1981, as I was working at Hysoc at the time, on Battyeford, at the side of the river, and noticed one day that the river was a really nice shade of green, but when a stone was thrown in, the resulting splash was blood red! It was a disgrace, and I wrote to various local and national bodies to try to get something done about it. I even wrote to the Prime Minister!

It is true that the river has improved tremendously today, but I think it was more to do with L. B. Holliday’s dye works shutting down than any campaigning! It certainly is a joy to walk along the banks now.

I vaguely remember the heavy fogs we used to get in the early years of my life, but I think the clean air acts were passed in the fifties, and things were improving when I was quite young.

The butcher who had his shop at the top of Nettleton used to have an allotment just along Foxroyd, and he kept a number of turkeys, and my dad used to get a half dozen turkey eggs now and then, and we would have gammon ham fried, with turkey egg and tomato dip for our Sunday morning breakfast. His tomato dip must have been an Irish recipe, because he used to make it by frying tomatoes in the fat he had fried the bacon/gammon, then adding cold tea and salt and pepper! It was wonderful, though it was many years before I found out he added tea, and I was a little put off when I found out, after enjoying it tremendously for years.

When we moved from the pub, which had seven bedrooms, a bathroom, and 4 toilets, we moved into the house on the Knowl which had no hot water, a pot sink, a tin bath down the cellar, and an outside toilet shared with the next door neighbours! It must have been a terrible comedown for mum and dad, but we children took it in our stride. We had no electricity for 3 weeks after we moved in, as dad decided to rewire the house himself, so we had only candlelight at night, no TV, no radio even. We soon had a gas geyser fitted so we then had hot water, and the tin bath came up once a week, and took about 20 minute to fill with a hose from the geyser. It was good sitting in the bath in front of the coal fire, and dad used to bring huge logs home from work to supplement the bag of coal that George Hesp used to bring every week.

The house we lived in was the end of a terrace of back to back houses which ran up Pickles Place, and those houses were even meaner than ours. One bedroom, one living room/kitchen, and a cellar. The toilets were in a block of about 8 across the street, and each house had to share a toilet with another, and both houses had a duplicate key for the toilet door. At least we had three bedrooms, a hallway, a living room, a large kitchen, and an enormous cellar, complete with Anderson shelter, and a stone preparation table. The houses across the street were a bit better, in that they had a living room and kitchen, and two bedrooms, and a front AND back door.

Graford’s Quarry was also a playground for us, but we used to have to wait until the workers had gone home for the day, as they would shout at us to bugger off. During the summer, some of us would swim in the lagoons, though I admit I was never one to venture in, I used to go round the shore line picking up what I was told were spent bullets. I was told there used to be a firing range there, and all these copper bullet-shaped things we picked up were spent bullets, but I don't know if this was true. They certainly LOOKED like spent bullets!

When I was around 13, a friend of mine, Edward Schofield was swimming in the lagoon with another friend, Dennis Laycock, and they were also diving into the water from the steep banks. Edward dived in, but never came up, and they found him hours later, drowned.

The railway cutting that ran alongside the Parish church graveyard was also a play area for us, as there was an old quarry there and we used to make dens in it from where we would watch the trains passing by. I went to Crowlees Boys' School, and there were occasional railway banking fires on that stretch, and all the lads would line the walls round the scout hut to watch the firemen.

Of course, I remember the two houses at the side of the Shoulder of Mutton, and I remember their demolition too. As for Pattinson’s grocery hut, I well remember the night Mr. Pattinson died; he had family problems and took his own life. There were a lot of police and ambulance people there that night. I recall that Mr.Pattinson also had a number of outbuildings, including a barn full of old hay, and our pet dog, Trixie, went missing once, and we searched for her for days. Then one day I went into the barn looking for her, and heard a whimpering. I eventually traced it to a hole in the hay. Trixie had dug herself a deep hole in the straw, and had a litter of pups in there!

When we lived on the Knowl, Westroyd estate was being built, and I used to go up there with an old pram I bought from the orphanage at the bottom of Taylor Hall Lane for 2/6, and load up with all the off-cuts from the roof trusses and joists, and take them home, chop them into firewood, and sell them to the residents around the Knowl for 2/6 for a full holdall of firewood sticks. I used to make around £1 a week for spending money. Mrs. Hesp used to be very upset, as she sold little bundles of sticks for 10d, and if she saw me going round with my holdall, she would shout "Hey, have you got a licence to sell firewood? Because I have!"

I have many happy memories of those early days in Mirfield.

Hugh Richard (Paddy) O'Donnell