Yvonne Taylor – Conisbrough to Australia – Part 1

Yvonne Taylor – From Conisbrough to Australia – Part 1


My name is Yvonne Taylor and I live in Australia. I am going to tell you, in a very roundabout way, why someone on the far side of the planet is interested in transcribing 1960s “South Yorkshire Times” articles about Conisbrough and Denaby.

My name before I married was Yvonne Nicholson, and I was born in Cadeby Avenue (Conanby), Conisbrough, in 1950. My father, George, worked at that time at Denaby pit, but was later transferred to the coal prep plant at Cadeby, where he remained for the rest of his working life.

Dorothea, my mother, was usually known as “Dorothy”. Like most women of that era, she was a housewife, but she had received a good education, terminated too early when her father lost his job in the 1930s Great Depression. So she was ahead of her time when she returned to the workforce in 1959 because working women were either young and single, or were older women who were divorced or widowed. The “working mother” was an alien concept. She worked part-time at first as Conanby’s “Broughs’ lass”. Broughs was a grocery business with a branch in Doncaster, and they employed ‘travellers’ like my mother who went all over the local area, visiting customers’ homes at the same time each week to write down their grocery orders, returning to collect payment a day or two later, in advance of the Saturday home delivery. (You may be surprised by this discovery that home delivered groceries were not an invention of the internet age.) When Harry Round’s Fairway Supermarket opened in Denaby in 1965, my mother went to work full time in its office, later transferring to the Doncaster branch. A couple of years later she became office manager at Harvey’s Sweets in Conisbrough, where she worked until she retired.

My parents lived in Cadeby Avenue for the rest of their lives. My father passed away in 1999 and my mother in 2001. I have an older brother, Melvyn, who became a teacher. He is now retired and lives in Hampshire.

I recounted my memories of my days at Balby Street School for the school’s centenary, found elsewhere on this site, so I’ll confine myself here to other recollections of my early years.

Our home in Cadeby Avenue was one of the then very new council houses. There was a kitchen and living room downstairs, and three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. We called our everyday living room “the house” and the less-used “best” room facing onto the street was “the front room” or just “the room”. (I don’t know whether this was a Nicholson peculiarity, or whether other families used these words.)

Like almost everyone else we had regular deliveries of so-called “free” (but actually hard-earned) coal from the NCB, dumped a ton at a time at the front gate. This then had to be shovelled into a wheelbarrow, trundled down the front path and through “the passage” (we were one of the middle houses in a terrace of four) to the “coalplace”, a brick outbuilding at the end of the passage. My brother and I were expected to help with “getting the coal in” – warm, dirty work in summer and cold, wet work in winter when the pile of coal might be covered in snow.

We really did need all that coal, because at least one fire had to be burning all year round in those days. Most families relied on the coal-fired range for cooking, and the kettle was boiled by placing it directly on the glowing embers. The hot water boiler for the house supply was located behind the fireplace, so if there was no fire there was no hot water (except from the kettle).

Next to the coalplace was an outside toilet, a useful backup, but understandably not as popular as the indoor toilet upstairs. Every winter the water would freeze in the outside toilet water pipes, and every spring, when the ice melted, we would discover that the pipes had burst and water was leaking out. Eventually, my father learned that lagging the pipes was a good idea.

Round the corner from the outside toilet was the “washhouse”, but this was an outbuilding not long used for its intended purpose. I do have very early memories of my mother using a peggy tub and posser in the washhouse, but I was still quite young when she had her first electric washing machine (with a hand-operated mangle) installed in the kitchen. From then on the washhouse was just used for storing clothes props, sweeping brushes, garden tools, and so on. Washing day was invariably on a Monday, and a clothesline would be strung from a hook near the kitchen window to a clothes post near the end of the garden. Wooden clothes props held up the sagging line here and there, and the clothes pegs were all made of wood too. Younger readers will find it hard to imagine a world in which plastic was a novelty, and I can still remember my awe when the first roll of Sellotape came into our house.

Very little went into the dustbin except ashes from the fireplace and a few food scraps and empty cans. Breakfast cereal and washing powder were just about the only products that came in cardboard packaging in those days (no plastic or Styrofoam), and any newspaper or cardboard (including the cereal packets) was destined to be saved for lighting fires.

So we were a thrifty lot then, out of necessity – the original recyclers. Any clothes which were too threadbare to be handed down any more had their buttons and zips removed and were saved for the rag and bone man’s next visit. The rag and bone man came around in a horse drawn cart, collecting rags (did anyone give him bones?) in exchange for a balloon (another luxury) or a toy windmill on a stick if you gave him a particularly large bundle of rags. I presume these rags, because they were natural fibres like wool and cotton (acrylic and polyester were still in the future) were sent to places like Dewsbury and Batley to make “shoddy”.

Kids could play out in the street from early morning until after dark because there was almost no motor traffic. Only people like doctors and schoolteachers owned cars, and much of the traffic was horse-drawn still, just like the rag and bone man. I remember a horse-drawn ice cream van, and another that was just a man with a push cart. Another man, whose name was, I think, Harold Adamson, worked his way through the streets with his horse-drawn van selling the vegetables he grew on his allotment. From time to time there would be motor vans though, when the tripe man or the pea and pie man came touting their wares. They both had distinctive cries, which somehow passed through brick walls and alerted their customers to the fact that they were in the street. You had to take your own jug to the pea and pie man, to be filled with mushy peas.

There did come a time though, when my mother would call us in from playing with the other kids around the street lamp, because it was time for the traffic caused by the “7 o’clock buses”. This must have been in the mid to late 1950s, when local girls were being transported by bus all the way to West Yorkshire, I believe, to work in the woollen mills around Dewsbury and Batley. I can only presume that there was a shortage of female labour in those towns, while we had a surplus. This was in the days before motorways, so they had to make a long, slow, journey twice daily, probably extending their absence from home to 12 hours.

But during the day when there were no buses we played cricket, uninterrupted, across the street, using garden gates as wickets. After dark we played hide-and-seek – “hiddie” – darting from the glow of one street lamp to the next. In autumn we had battles with conkers, and at other times we played with marbles or a whip and top. Hopscotch and skipping games with a big rope were popular with the girls.

The trackless terminus was at the junction of Cadeby, Denaby and Welfare Avenues. Here there was a building known locally as “The Clock”, because it had a large clock mounted above what I think were waiting rooms for the trackless service. After the tracklesses stopped running the building became derelict, and it was just another feature in the local kids’ outdoor environment. We played on the untended waste ground between The Clock and Wembley Avenue, where the shops were. In summer the grass would grow taller than we were, providing more hiding places.

Wembley Avenue itself was also “unadopted” and untended. The road was unsurfaced and potholed during the whole of the 18 years I lived in Cadeby Avenue, and there were far fewer shops there during my childhood. I remember three grocery shops – “Elizabeth’s”, “Arnold’s” (Arnold Wheatley?) and a third one I remember as “Maggars”, but which may have been something like “McCarrs” or “McGaughy’s”. Perhaps someone can help me with the correct name? Arnold and Elizabeth were popular with the younger generation because they both sold ice lollies for a penny each. Arnold’s were flat wedge shapes, while Elizabeth’s were cylindrical. I would be sent to Elizabeth’s for two ounces of potted meat and two ounces of salmon paste to make sandwiches for tea after school, but we bought most of our groceries at “Maggars” (until my mother started working at Broughs).

The queues at Maggars on Saturday seemed endless. If you grew up in an age of supermarkets you will have no idea what a long and tedious business shopping for groceries used to be. You stood in a queue for hours, waiting to be served one at a time by the shopkeeper. The person at the front of the queue asked the shopkeeper for the items he or she wanted, one at a time, and the shopkeeper would collect each product from somewhere in the shop – from under the counter, or from one of the shelves that ran around the walls (sometimes requiring a ladder to reach the higher shelves) or from out the back. Many of the products had to be sliced, and/or weighed and wrapped. After each item Mr. “Maggar” would take the pencil from behind his ear and write down its price on a roll of paper fitted into an opening in the top of a heavy wooden cash box. When the customer’s requirements had finally all been assembled, the prices listed on the roll of paper were totted up, the total was announced and the cash was handed over. (There was no receipt, no checking of the arithmetic.) Then the customer loaded the goods from the counter top into their shopping bag, the queue shuffled two steps forward, and it started all over again. I swear you could stand in this queue for more than an hour, waiting for your turn. I am on the verge of tearing my hair out just at the memory of it.

The other Wembley Avenue shops I remember were the two fish and chip shops (one was Turners, and I think the other one may have been called Firths), George Hare’s and Goodwin’s butcher’s shops, Dean’s newsagents and Knowles’ haberdashery. The Conanby post office in those days was located near the junction of Denaby Avenue and Chambers Avenue, and there was another grocery shop – Cheshire’s, known as “The Corner Shop” – where Welfare Avenue met Old Road. (Mr. Cheshire was a Conisbrough councillor.) There was a branch of Denaby Co-op near the Lord Conyers Hotel, and an off-licence at the Corner of Gardens Lane and Ivanhoe Road. That was the sum total of our retail outlets, unless you undertook a major expedition to the profusion of shops “down Conisbrough” in West Street and Church Street.

To be continued.