Yvonne Taylor – Conisbrough to Australia – Part 2

Yvonne Taylor – Conisbrough to Australia – Part 2

I left you rather abruptly last time in the middle of a 1950s shopping spree, and I have since realised that there was one major retail event I failed to mention.

That was the opening of the Doncaster Co-op self-service supermarket in Old Road, next to the St. Andrew’s mission hall. I think that may have been around about 1959, and as far as I know it was Conisbrough’s first self-service grocery. It seemed such a strange idea, and we had to be educated in the concept. “Do you mean you can just go and help yourself to what you want?” (“Yes, that’s the idea, as long as you pay before you leave.”) “And if you change your mind, you can just put it back on the shelf?” (“Yep. But please don’t open the packet first.”) “Why can’t I get into the shop?” (“That’s the OUT turnstile.”) “Can I take my shopping home in this nice wire basket?” (“No.”)

Things happened fairly quickly after that. A young couple whose names were, I think, Marlene and Keith, opened the “Superette” and a men’s and ladies’ hairdressers, new buildings in Wembley Avenue, in the very early sixties, followed by Fairways in Denaby in 1965. More people had cars and were no longer limited to what they could carry home on foot. Before long we were all seasoned ASDA shoppers and the little, one-man grocery shops disappeared.

The mention of St. Andrew’s mission has triggered more memories. Melvyn and I were sent to the St. Andrew’s Mission Sunday School on Sunday afternoons, hair combed and faces scrubbed and wearing tidy, Sunday-ish clothes. Belting out “Onward Christian Soldiers” was fun, but the endless colouring-in of Bible drawings was less entertaining. The best parts were the little book in which you collected the brightly coloured weekly attendance stamps, and the annual Whitsunday procession. There were also quite a few social events held at the mission hall. I remember my mother winning a fancy dress competition because she was wearing the latest rage, a sack dress (a style invented by Paris designers in 1957). However, Mum’s sack dress was actually a hessian sack, with holes cut in it for her head and arms, but accessorised with a stylish hat, shoes and a long string of beads.

Opposite St. Andrew’s mission was a rather grand house behind a brick wall, occupied by Dr. Bell. (Google Maps Street View tells me it’s still there.) Dr. Bell and Dr. Clark were the senior doctors in the Conisbrough medical practice in the 1950s, and I remember they were later joined by a younger doctor, Dr. Berry. I don’t remember exactly where the surgery was (somewhere near Park Road?) but I remember the inside of the surgery waiting room very well indeed, having spent many hours there. In those days you couldn’t make an appointment to see the doctor, because almost no-one had a phone. If you were sick you just went to the surgery (on foot, or by bus if you were in a really bad way) and sat in the queue outside the room of the doctor of your choice. Then you waited . . . and waited . . . and waited, because there were twenty other sick people in the queue in front of you. More shuffling along, this time on hard wooden benches rather than standing up, because you were supposed to be sick, after all, and you could be waiting for two or three hours. I can’t remember any magazines or comics to pass the time, and certainly no toys to play with. It was very grim, and I’m sure the doctors suffered as much as, if not more than, their patients.
Another quick look at Google Maps street view shows me that the abandoned building I remember as being situated on the laneway between Peake Avenue and Barnsley Avenue has gone, its place taken by new bungalows. I seem to remember it was called “The Boiler House”, so was it a former communal source of hot water for the old pit houses of Conanby? Perhaps someone reading this will know. At one time a bookie, presumably unlicensed, used to operate from a small hut facing onto this laneway, before a regular ‘Turf Accountant’ opened in a new building on Wembley Avenue.

What else can I recall about Conisbrough in the 1950s? I remember when the new ‘Ellershaw’ estate was built. It was nicknamed ‘The Canyon’ (a shortened version of ‘Concrete Canyon’, I think, a nod to the main construction material) and the new buses which replaced the tracklesses were called ‘canyon flyers’ by the locals. This was because they serviced ‘The Canyon’, leaving Conanby without a dedicated bus service for a good few years (we had to walk all the way to the end of Welfare Avenue, for goodness’ sake!) and they certainly flew along, travelling a lot faster than a trackless ever could.

Older readers will remember the days when tracklesses and buses had not just a driver but also a conductor or conductress, whose job it was to walk up and down the bus collecting fares and issuing tickets. The driver was usually in a separate compartment, completely isolated from passengers. Hard luck if you found it hard to cope with cigarette smoke. Smoking was the norm in those days, and all public places, including buses, cinemas and workplaces, were thick with smoke (although I think you had to go upstairs to smoke in double deckers).

There was no Hill Top Road then – it was built long after I left Conisbrough – and Denaby Avenue just ended in farmland, well short of its current length. Buses to Denaby and Mexborough had to take a winding route along Old Road, Church Street, Castle Street and Station Road to Doncaster Road, Denaby, and then on to Mexborough. Perhaps they still do? But back then motorists could only dream of a quick route to Denaby and Mexborough. As kids we must have walked across what is now the route of Hill Top Road to get to Denaby Woods to pick bluebells or gather wood for bonfire night.

Let me remember the names of some of the families (and children) who lived in and around Cadeby Avenue in the 1950s and 60s. There were the Peters (Leslie, Tony, Christopher), Donaghues (Ruth and Josie) Helliwells (Karen and Dougie), Callaghans, Johnsons (John and older siblings), Jones (Stephen, Raymond, Irene, Allan, Eric, Ivy, Stanley), Reeves (Melvyn and Benny), Coles (Tommy, Keith, Carol?), Thompsons, Nurse Wall (the district nurse), Watts, Savages (Wendy, Janet, Rhona, Yvonne, Joan and Christine), Fitzwilliams (Mrs. Fitzwilliam was a teacher at St. Alban’s), Mrs. Light, Whites (Nora), Postlethwaites (Bryn was my Dad’s mate), Woodruffs (Melvyn, Joan, Barry), Meanlys (Joyce, Carol?), Saxtons (Pauline), Sarsbys (Lorraine) and Simms (Winifred). In Barnsley Avenue there were the Thompsons (Patricia), the Spencers (Linda), the Overments (Michael and Christine) and the Weavers (Stephen, Noreen), and in The Crescent were the Moodys (Lorraine). In Leslie Avenue were the Hintons (Christine) and the Hancocks (Maureen, Michael) and the Pratts (Stephen, Kevin), in Montagu Avenue the Shacklocks (Margaret) and in Thirlwall Avenue the Cookes (Mick and David). The Fitzgeralds (NeiI and Tony, the future Tony Christie) moved into Thirlwall Avenue later. I know I have left out some names, and remembered some wrongly, but please forgive me. It was a long time ago.

The mention of my Dad’s mate, Bryn Postlethwaite (yes, a Welshman, of course) reminds me that I have told you my Mum’s story, but not my Dad’s. He grew up in Mafeking Cottages on Low Road, Conisbrough, and went to Station Road School. When he left school he became an apprentice joiner at Denaby pit, but when the Second World War broke out he was only 19 and hadn’t finished his apprenticeship. He was called up and joined the Duke of Wellington’s regiment. My mother and father met in Halifax in 1941, when my Dad was stationed there, and they married in 1942. (My mother was originally from Swinton, but her family moved to Halifax in the late 1930s after her father lost his job in the Depression.) There’s a mention in the “Mexborough and Swinton Times” in August 1940 of a letter my Dad wrote home to his parents:

Private George Howard Nicholson, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Nicholson of Mafeking Cottages, Low Road, Conisborough, was called up in October last year.

He joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, and is at present serving in one of the outposts.

Before enlistment he was an apprentice joiner at Denaby Colliery. He has had a varied experience since he joined up, and was with a party who were despatched to Norway, but later brought home again.

His letters are very cheery to his parents, and he sends his regards to his fellow workmen at the colliery.

Dad was a lorry driver during the war and served in France, Belgium, Germany and Iceland. After the war ended he was sent to drive officers to and from the hearings at the Nuremberg trials, and so he wasn’t demobbed until 1946. The war robbed him of his youth, and of the right to finish his apprenticeship, because he was too old and also a married man with a wife to support when he returned. So he never did become a qualified joiner, but I have fond memories of the cupboards, shelves and even furniture that he made for our house in Cadeby Avenue. He did shift work all his life, like most people at the pit, and he was often on a three week rotation of “days” (6 am to 2 pm), “afters” (2 pm to 10 pm) and “nights” (10 pm to 6 am). This must have done dreadful things to his body, but it did mean that my brother and I probably saw more of him on weekdays than many kids see of their father these days.

I think I’m done with the 1950s in these long-winded recollections. I promise to get a bit nearer to Australia in the next instalment.