Howdenshire History

Memories of Howden by Irene Bancroft

Introduction: The Bancroft family

The Bancroft family moved to Howden from Eastrington. The first Richard Bancroft was a miller from Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire and was born in 1813. He and his wife Mary Ann and their family moved to Eastrington Mill but he died soon afterwards in 1865.

Richard's son John Thomas Bancroft, who had recently married Mary Green from Howden, continued to work the mill and their son Richard William Bancroft was born there in 1869.

Later the Bancrofts moved to Flatgate in Howden and Richard married Annie Watson. They had seven children - John, Harry (who died as a child), Arthur (born 1901), Lawrence, Ernest, Edwin (who died as a baby) and Gladys (who married Douglas Carr).


picture of Arthur Bancroft of Howden

Arthur Bancroft was a scout in Howden as a boy. He is pictured here on the right (marked by a cross).


Irene is the daughter of Arthur Bancroft. She now lives in Hull and has recently written her memories of growing up in Howden. I have included Irene's memories here, with her kind permission, just as she wrote them. As she says, it is a long time ago and so if there is anything which you think is maybe not quite right or which refers to your family and you would prefer not to see it online do please let me know.



Memories of growing up in Howden by Irene Bancroft

My parents

My parents, Arthur and Elsie Bancroft were married at St. Matthews Church in Hull on Boxing Day 1925. They and the Bancroft family travelled to Howden the following day. Arthur and Elsie had rented rooms with a Miss Gray in Hailgate who was very kind to them. Soon after the first little house next door to the shop on the right side of Northolmby Street became vacant and they decided to rent it. My brother Arthur jun. was born there on 7th November 1926.


They become shopkeepers

For most people in those days it must have been very hard bringing families up as there was no electricity or running water. During this time my father became the driver of the fire engine in Howden.


old photo of Howden fire brigade

Arthur Bancroft was the driver of the Howden fire engine and is pictured here with the crew


However soon after my brother, Arthur jun., was born, the couple who had the shop next door, 71 Bridgegate, retired. My father was still working at that time for Glews in Bridgegate where he served his time as an agricultural engineer. He was earning one pound ten shillings (£1.50p) a week.

The shop was rented and was owned by a Mrs Rhodes. My parents decided to take over the business and worked extremely hard. Arthur’s brother Lawrence and sister-in-law Mabel moved into the little house on Northolmby Street when they left, until the Barrows took it over.

The shop was open until midnight 6 days a week. Arthur delivered groceries on a butcher's bicycle until he could afford to buy a van and then could expand the trade to remote farms in the surrounding area.


Howden church fire 1929

When my father was the fire engine driver he was often called out during the night when all the fire crew had to rush to the depot.

Mostly it was haystacks that were on fire but on 9th October 1929 the call out was very serious. Someone had deliberately set fire to St. Peter's Church, now the Minster. It was terribly difficult for the eight men on duty as there was no access to a water supply for the hosepipes; however they decided to use the moat in the Ashes park. It was a long way from the church but somehow eventually they managed to put the fire out.

My father decided to run the hosepipes out on a peony bush that looked dead and it is still flourishing to this day! All the brave crew were presented with a gold medal for their valiant efforts that night.


Family matters

That year on 31st December Arthur and Elsie had a daughter Maureen, born above the shop but sadly she died suddenly on 16th September 1930 at 3pm.

By coincidence I was born above the shop at exactly 3pm on 16th September 1933. Just before I was born a band was playing outside the shop so my father went outside and gave them a shilling and asked them to stop playing. However a minute later the church bells started to ring for a wedding!


The shop

old photo of Bancroft shop, Bridgegate Howden

The shop on the corner of Bridgegate and Northolmby Street with Elsie and Arthur Bancroft jnr outside

The shop was double fronted and was always painted brown. There were two large Georgian style windows, one on Bridgegate and the other on Northolmby Street. The door was on the corner of the two streets; inside the door was a ship style bell which rang when customers went in and out of the shop.

My grandfather, Arthur’s father, Richard Bancroft, who was a painter and decorator, made a black and white sign with "thank you" on it and erected it above the bell. The counter was panelled and had drawers at the back of it. As a teenager my brother, Arthur jun., painted it mustard and brown.

In the shop was a bacon machine, a wooden till and a display unit which held large tins of biscuits which were sold by weight. Each day tin lids were taken off the biscuits and replaced with glass lids so customers could see the biscuits. The tin lids had sharp lethal edges and were replaced each evening to keep the biscuits fresh.

On the walls behind the counter were cards of babies' dummies, camphor and caster oil, syrup of figs etc.

Adjoining the shop down Northolmby Street was a small window and a door leading to the shop and living quarters. The door had a strong metal bar attached on the inside which was used for security reasons. Under the window was a wide shelf where a four stone block of lard was stored. Inside off the passage was an office with a large desk and in the affluent years a telephone fixed on to the wall.


Everyday life

The living room was quite big; there was a scullery off it with a sink and cold water tap and a small meat safe which looked like a bathroom cabinet with a mesh door. Also off the living room, which had two windows in, was a door which was the entrance to the staircase.

Upstairs was a large bedroom over the shop and a bedroom over the office and passage. This room had stairs going up to an attic and a door on the bedroom wall. My father had boarded up and papered the door to the attic for safety reasons. The attic room was full of old toys and bereavement cards for two little boys who had once lived at the shop. There was a large landing and at the end of it was another bedroom over the living quarters and next to that was an attic type room with a sloping roof.

Attached to the house on Northolmby Street was an enclosed passage with a door on but it was open to the elements at the yard end of the passage. In the passage near the back living room door was a large wringer and my mother did the washing there. Immediately opposite the living room back door was an old cottage, complete with large fireplace and oven. My father converted the front of this cottage to a garage.

The lavatory was across a large yard which had a big water butt and old water pump in it. The passage to the lavatory was quite long and possibly at one time the right side of it had been horse stables. It was full of rubbish and wild cats. At the end of the passage was the lavatory which had an opening to the yard behind the houses on Bridgegate and the large metal pan had to be carried on the shoulders of the dustmen to a passage next to Ma Grayburn's fish shop which came out near St Helens Square nearly opposite the War Memorial.

The Barrows' lavatory was carried through the yard and passage of the back entrance to the shop onto Northolmby Street. Edie Barrow and my mother before her had to carry buckets of water, even when pregnant, through a high gate in their little yard, across the shop yard, through another large heavy gate, down another long passage, open to the elements, behind all the houses on Bridgegate to a communal water tap near Ma Grayburn's fish shop.


Changes at home

In early 1939 my father left the shop completely in my mother's capable hands and went back to his trade at Blackburn Aircraft as an engineer. My mother started to take advantage of the Wednesday half day closing in Howden to make life easier for herself but was often working into the late hours counting all the coupons for sweets etc. and filling in forms for the Food office which was required during the rationing years.

My brother Arthur left Goole Grammar School early and got an apprenticeship at Blackburn Aircraft as a jig and tool maker but decided to join the Royal Engineers to help the war effort and served most of his time in Italy. In 1952 he met a Sheffield girl and settled there.


Leaving Howden

In 1944 my mother became ill and had to move to Hull to be near her relatives and better hospitals. My parents advertised the shop over a wide area but had great difficulty getting someone to take it over as most men were at war. Eventually a Mr and Mrs Jones took it over.


My memories of Howden

My memories are mainly of the war years but I remember many wonderful people who lived in Howden especially our neighbours in Bridgegate and Northolmby Street.


The Barrow family

Our immediate neighbours, the Barrow family, lived in the little house that my parents once occupied in Northolmby Street. Edie was a lovely kind person. Bill, her husband, had a black Labrador and went shooting. He also won races at Howden Show on his bicycle.

In the war years farmers provided open trucks to pick women up to go pea pulling in their fields. Edie had two children then - Mavis and Jean. Edie took Jean and myself with her, Mavis would be at school. We had a wonderful time eating all the peas but Edie never once asked us to help her and I don't remember the women having anything to eat. They always took a stool with them to sit on.

Soon after Edie had another baby, Janet. I went up the stairs to see the new baby when she was two days old. Edie kept the house immaculate and every one of the family was spotless. A fantastic achievement when there was no electricity and she had to carry water in a bucket.

I remember her mother Mrs Neville, who had another daughter with three small children who lived in St Helens Square near the Congregational Church and like all young mothers her husband was away at war. One day during the war, she and her three children disappeared. She had left her washing airing round the fire and it was presumed that she had decided to take the children to Hull on the bus and she and the children had been killed in an air raid.


The Tipping family

Next door to the Barrows was the Kennedy family, then the Tipping family. Mrs Tipping was a lovely lady but developed TB. She must have had a presentiment as she took out an insurance policy for 6 pence and asked my mother to tell her husband (William) about it if anything happened to her, as he did not believe in insurance. Her name was Lily. She left three lovely small children, Dorothy, Albert and Elsie. Their Dad did a wonderful job of bringing them up.

They and the house were spotless and he worked full time on a farm. He waited until they were all grown up and then married a lady from Goole. His happiness was short lived; he had his teeth out and complications set in and he died. Dorothy joined the army and I was in touch with her for some time but sadly we lost touch.


Mrs Goodyear

Next door to the Tipping family was Mrs Goodyear. She had been left a young widow in the First World War. She did her bit for the war effort and two soldiers were billeted with her; one had his wife with him and the other was an 18-year-old boy called Walter Chappell. He came from Devon so I presume it was a Devonshire Regiment that was billeted in Howden. He was a wonderful boy but he decided to transfer to the Paratroopers. He visited my Mother and Mrs Goodyear and always waved to me when he passed by our house on the Selby bus. The last time he came he asked my Mother if she would exchange a celluloid cross for a photo of me in my ballet dress and he said he would carry it in his breast pocket. We never heard from him again.


Mrs Scoffins

A passage separated this house from the next house which Mrs Scoffins lived in. Another lovely lady. Her daughter Elsie had been engaged to be married; without warning her fiancé broke the engagement off. It was such a shock to Elsie that she took to her bed and never got up again. Her mother looked after her until she died and then poor Elsie had to go into a home. I occasionally went to see her when I was a child. Her other daughter died of cancer and left a granddaughter, Gwen.


John and May Walker

Next door to Mrs Scoffins was May Walker. She moved into the house when she was pregnant and her husband John was in the army. I spent many lovely hours with her as she was very lonely as her parents did not live in Howden. I remember John coming home on leave when I was about seven years of age and they taught me how to cut runner beans when they were preparing a meal. Her baby girl was born; her name was Janet. I was invited upstairs to see May and the baby. John had gone overseas by then and after the baby was born May became ill and had to give up the house and go home to her mother. I missed my friend very much.


Mr and Mrs Rhodes

The next house belonged to an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Rhodes. They had an orchard and grew tomatoes. Mrs Rhodes was like a Grandma to me. Mr Rhodes was a very quiet man and always wore brown leather gaiters up to his knees. Mrs Rhodes wore a mop cap. In season there were always baskets of fruit in the scullery, presumably waiting to go to market. They also sold tomatoes and fruit at the house. I can still remember the welcoming smell of stewed plums!


Mrs Bullement

Across the road Mrs Bullement lived. She was a pioneer blood donor and donated many pints which must have been like gold in the war years. Certainly it was a talking point in Howden.


Hilda Clarkson

Hilda Clarkson lived nearby; she was another wonderful person and would help anyone if she could. Dorothy, her daughter, was my friend. Hilda was a very talented person. She was an excellent pianist, could wallpaper, and had a unique gift or curse of being able to predict what was going to happen in the present or future. Unfortunately she predicted two of her husbands would get killed. Jim her first husband, Dorothy’s Dad , got electrocuted climbing a pylon during his work and lived for five days in Goole Hospital. Her second husband got killed on the railway. After that she would not have any cards in her house.


Mrs Bunting

On Bridgegate our next door neighbour was Mrs Bunting. She always carried a little Pekinese dog under her arm.


Mr and Mrs Watson

Next door to her were Mr and Mrs Watson and their son Arthur. Mr Watson was blinded in a childhood accident and their 18-year-old son was killed on the Hull Docks when he fell through a ship's hold when someone had left a hatch open. Arthur jun. went to say goodbye to him when he was in his coffin in the tiny front room. Mr Watson died soon after. I visited Mrs Watson when she was alone and she always gave me a date out of one of those oval boxes which she kept in a cupboard in the living room.


Chewing gum in her cavities

Next, was a man called Matthew and his wife who had been an actress before she was married. She was always quite glamorous but like most people could not afford to go to the dentist's but she was quite proud to tell you she put chewing gum in the cavities!


Vi Phillips' school of dancing

I also remember the Dunn family. Chrissy and I were about the same age and went to Vi Phillips Dancing School together. Vi was the most remarkable person I have ever met. She lived in a small house on Pinfold Street and during the war the house was bulging at the seams.

She had two friends from London who she knew in her theatrical days staying with her, two evacuees from Hull, Pat Dinsdale, a teenager and Irene, a beautiful five year old whom I believe stayed with Vi after the war; also a baby, Wendy, her own daughter June and herself.

She worked hard and was so placid. She put on some fantastic shows; the first one I remember was Uncle Tom's Cabin which was held in the Shire Hall. Vi melted down cork to put on the children’s faces. Every member of the cast had it on but me. I was a fairy and Vi said "whoever has heard of a black fairy?" I was very upset until the next morning, when a lot of mothers came into the shop to buy lard as the cork would not come off their faces!!


Howden picture of Irene Bancroft

Irene dressed as a fairy, aged 5


The next show also in the Shire Hall was at the beginning of the war and in the middle of it the sirens went for an air raid. The pianist Percy Jeeves realized that the Shire Hall was a death trap in those days and refused to stay. True to the theatrical tradition, 'the show must go on' and Hilda Clarkson bravely took his place.

Not only did Vi organize and train everyone for all the shows but she applied the makeup for everyone and made most of the costumes with a hand sewing machine. After the air raid Vi changed the venue and always used the Congregational Church Hall. The star of all her shows was a girl called Kathy Coates who was very talented and was beautiful inside and out. In the middle of the war Vi took 12 thirteen year old girls to be babes in a London Pantomime.

Vi also arranged for several of us to take a ballet examination which we took at the Congregational Church. Needless to say lovely Kathy Coates passed with honours. The troupe also toured the villages around Howden during the war and she put on many shows.

In the summer of 1939 she put on a Carnival in the Ashes Playing Fields. She used open trucks and had parallel bars screwed onto them. The trucks toured Howden with the senior girls actually on the parallel bars; the young ones like me were positioned at each corner of the open trucks. We were all dressed in black shorts and long sleeved white blouses, most of them made by Vi.

When we got back to the playing field she presented us with a certificate, every one framed by Gus, her husband. There were such a lot of girls that Vi did not give us our own certificate, so at the end of the presentation everyone was running around trying to find their own, but that was no problem as everyone knew each other in Howden in those happy days.


Howden picture of June Phillips

June Phillips

Later Vi decided we should all wear a uniform. She made leotards out of blackout material, stitched yellow binding round the tunics and belt and embroidered a round logo with VSD – Vi's School of Dancing – on the left side of the tunic. Unfortunately she made so many that all the shops in Howden and Goole ran out of yellow binding so we were allowed to have any colour we wanted but the logo had to be gold.

[Violet M E Clayden married Charles Augustus Phillips at Howden in 1935.]


The Cunningham family

There was also the Cunningham family. My brother Arthur was friends with Alec and once my brother was wearing a suit he had just been to his Auntie Gladys's wedding in, and he fell in a dyke.

He was afraid to go home so Mrs Cunningham let him stay the night and must have done a good job drying his suit as Mother never knew, until Mrs Cunningham told her. They moved to Ossett in the West Riding and they invited me to stay with them for a week but I was too nervous to go and am sorry to say we lost touch.


Fish and chips

I fondly remember Mr and Mrs Grayburn who had the fish shop. The shop was always affectionately known as Ma Grayburn's. I often watched Mr Grayburn peeling all the potatoes by hand in the back yard. It did not matter what the weather was like, they had to be peeled. Inside the shop was a hand pulled chipper attached to the end of the counter also the pans were heated by coal. At the other end of the counter, I remember there was a step and I often just sat on it. Customers always asked for one of each, meaning fish and a portion of chips which cost two old pence. They also cooked 'specials' which were very popular. I think they were finger sized portions of fish cooked in batter. Everyone agreed fish and chips never tasted like Ma Grayburn's!

Next door to Ma Grayburn's was an elderly unmarried lady called Maud. All the teenagers stood outside her house eating their chips. One evening my brother and his friend Arthur Stevens decided to sing a popular song of the day, 'Come into the garden Maud', as loud as they could sing. Poor Maud had had enough and opened the bedroom window and poured the chamber pot full of urine over their heads. They never antagonized her again!


Simmy Rutter

Diagonally opposite the shop on Bridgegate was a chemist [Mr Spivey] on the corner near the church. Next door to the chemist was Simmy Rutter, the local cobbler. Unknown to my Mother, at three years of age, I had served him with a packet of Woodbine cigarettes.

I spent many happy hours with Mr Rutter and he let me hammer little tacks into his bench. There was a tiny pair of black shoes in his window which he had made as an apprentice. I went to see him when I was 15 or 16 and he showed me his bench absolutely full of tiny nails; he said I had put them there. I often wonder if the demolition men noticed hundreds of nails had been hammered into the bench and the reason why!


Fred and Amy Powls

Next was Fred Powls' shop and opposite was his workshop. I remember his brother Cecil and Fred's wife Amy whom I loved so much. We went for walks together with her little dog and I often kept her company in their living quarters. I remember her using the first Hoover vacuum cleaner with a bag but no electricity. She gave me the first two gifts that Fred bought her, a silver charm bracelet and a silver brooch with a lovers' knot on it. I still have them today and think of them as my most treasured possessions and they always remind me of the many happy hours Amy and I spent together.

Before the war Fred's shop was quite upmarket. Mother bought a pram from him and she said it came from the London Exhibition. She also bought a lovely carved sideboard with a mirror in the back of it for £5. I still have that today! Dad bought one of the first 'wirelesses' from Fred.


Miss Draycott

Immediately opposite our shop was Miss Draycott's little shop and bakery. She regularly asked me to take parcels of pastry to the post office and she always gave me two jam tarts for taking them. My Mother helped her when she was dying, as other people did, and she told someone that I had to be given her sewing box and a handmade evening bag.

During her funeral Mother invited a friend to sit in our front bedroom over the shop to watch the cortege go by. Our shop was closed, as most others would be, as a sign of respect. When the cortege went by, there was a gentleman walking behind the coffin dressed in a bowler hat and black coat. That day when I was watching the coffin go by I found out who I posted the parcels to. Miss Draycott had confided to my Mother that she had a son who was a barrister. How she would have been so proud of him that day if there had not been so much bigotry in those days.

After Miss Draycott died Mr Rutter's wife took over Miss Draycott's shop and opened it as a café. My Mother arranged with Mrs Rutter, who had previously been a nurse, to let me have my lunch there. I would not eat at home but I felt so grown up sitting in the café above the bake house and Mrs Rutter's cooking was so good, I ate every bit! I believe she charged a shilling for two courses. Unfortunately cafes in those days were unheard of in Howden and the venture was not a success.


Mr Soanes the saddler

Before the war there was a saddlery in the same block of shops and I remember watching Mr Soanes, the owner, making and repairing saddles. One could smell the leather outside the shop when the door was open as it frequently was.


Fish and fruit

I also remember Kitwoods' fish shop and the fruit and vegetable shop. It was owned by a Mrs Hodgson. Living with her was her daughter Dorrie's son, called Powls. He was a very intelligent boy and travelled to Hull Technical College each day. When Mrs Hodgson got a box of oranges in during the war everyone queued up and was allowed to buy one orange.


The O'Connors

Opposite the Market Place on Bridgegate were Draycotts' pork butchers and another chemist. Round the corner, opposite Glews, was Naylors' butchers. Betty Naylor was another friend.

I also remember the O'Connor family. I believe Mr O'Connor worked with my father at Blackburn Aircraft during the war. When their baby was christened they called in to the shop and had a cup of tea. I spent a lot of time at their house.

On one of the occasions we had all just been issued with our gas masks. Mrs O'Connor had put the baby's free standing cylinder type of gas mask on the table, put the baby in, closed the cylinder and started to pump the oxygen into it. From that moment I had a huge phobia we would be gassed.

On another visit I asked Mrs O'Connor where you got babies from; she said from Doctor Wigglesworth's. I asked her how much they were. She said £2. I had a little green purse I kept under the piano lid and I saved every penny I could, birthday money, Christmas money. It took me a long time but eventually I took my £2 to Mrs O'Connor and asked her to go to Doctor Wigglesworth and get me a baby! She said he had sold out!!


The Parson Lane House school

The two people in Howden I owe a huge debt of gratitude to are the Blackburn sisters who ran Parson Lane House School. As a child I had several bouts of serious illness, one necessitating my admission to Howden workhouse due to all the neighbouring hospitals being full because of the war. As a result I lost so much schooling, at 8 years of age, I could not read or write one word.

Little Miss Blackburn used a red linen backed spelling book in alphabetical order to teach me to read. She also taught me to sew and embroider. Soon, I was able to go into my own age group into 'big' Miss Blackburn's class who was the principal of the school. In warm weather we had our lessons in the garden, sitting under a huge apple tree and we had milk each day in King George V Jubilee mugs.

'Big' Miss Blackburn was also very much involved with the Girl Guides and the Red Cross. I had three extremely happy years there until we moved to Hull.

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