Memories of Reedness, Yorkshire (I)
This page includes memories of Cherry Tree Farm, Field House, the mill, the dynamite store, Council houses, road sweepers, steam ploughing, Rose Cottage Farm, Miss Laverack, Reedness Hall, cricket, Elm Tree House, listening to the wireless...
Or go on to Reedness memories (II) to read about baking, ironing, the coming of electricity, Glebe Farm, the stack yard, the stick hill, the old school site, the old flax mill, Ivy House Farm, Mawsons' cottage, Wheelgate Farm, Jasmine House, tennis, Reedness House, village shops, Half Moon Inn, Little Reedness...
Reedness in the 1930s
These are the memories of Mr Bill Wroot, written in 2009 and reproduced with his kind permission.
‘My name is Horace William Wroot. I was born at Reedness on the 3rd of February 1926 in the front bedroom of a cottage next door to the blacksmith’s shop of Mr Walter Dunn. At present there is just one cottage there but in the 30s/40s it was two semi-detached cottages and I was born in there – at home, as was the custom in those days.
My father was Edwin Gardham Wroot, who was born in Goole in 1895. My mother was Minnie Walker, born in 1894 in Whitgift at Penny Hill, the first child of Joseph Walker (there were to be eight more), a carpenter. His surname was Walker, which was his mother’s name. His father was said to be one of the Irelands who at that time lived in Reedness House.
Apparently the son of the house was responsible for three illegitimate children in the village. His father therefore decreed that he should spend money on (a) educating them and (b) obtaining and paying for an apprenticeship for each of these boys, and that’s what happened.
So Joseph Walker was educated at the school run
by the then Vicar in the south-west corner of Whitgift churchyard,
near the gate in the lane. He then became a carpenter and joiner,
serving his time with the Lawrence family of Whitgift who had a
wood-yard opposite the Anchor Inn in Whitgift.
My maternal grandmother was Lillian Walker nee Hemingway, born in Swinefleet in 1872.
On my father’s side, my grandfather was William Gardham Wroot, born in 1870 in Eastoft. There are a lot of Wroots still in Eastoft and no doubt they all came originally from the village of Wroot which is to the west of Epworth.
My grandmother was Emma Wroot, née Dickens, born in Swinefleet in 1872. Many years later she was to return to Swinefleet, where she had a shop at No. 12 High Street. My paternal grandparents had six children (four boys and two girls). Three sons volunteered for the Army in World War One: only one returned. This was my father. I was named Horace, after one uncle who did not return, and William, after my grandfather.
My first job
I was four when I started school in 1930 and I left school at 14, as most of us did, in 1940 and went to work in Swinefleet for George Cowling.
He was an electrician and wireless mechanic, having made wireless receivers since he was a boy, at the bottom of Common Piece, where he had a shop in the former Sunday School. I worked with him and charged the accumulator batteries for the wireless sets, and delivered them round the area on a bike with a box over the front wheel; all over Swinefleet Common and all round the villages. In addition to having wireless sets, batteries, aerials, valves etc. on sale, he had part of the shop at the time filled with stock from the ladies and children’s clothing business he had previously had in Goole. Part of my job therefore was to serve the lady customers with their requirements. I also did the window dressing, including dressing dolls up in babies’ clothing. It’s all part of the learning curve, I’m sure!
Swinefleet to Reedness
Now, will you join me on a walk through Reedness as I remember it in the 1930s?
So, from Swinefleet, off we go towards Reedness. First we pass the mill, which was still working then but engine driven, then there is a cottage a bit further along.
Then on the right – about half way between Reedness and Swinefleet – there was an old barn, which was called ‘Snow’s Barn’. It was always half fallen down but, as youngsters, hearing tales from the grown-ups, we knew it to be haunted. And so, when at night we walked from Swinefleet to Reedness (or vice versa), we very carefully went over to the other side of the road, in case old Mister Snow suddenly popped out of there and frightened the living daylights out of us. Occasionally there was an occupant, usually a tramp (roadster). I later established that Mr Snow had been a previous occupant of our house in Reedness when it was a farm.
Of course, all those bungalows which you pass today are more recent. The first one to be built was by Mr Ernest Middlebrook, formerly of Reedness House, on his retirement from farming.
We continue on and come into Reedness proper. There was a series of little red Almanacks, which the Goole Times used to publish and sell at 6p each (every year a revised and up to date publication), which showed everybody who lived in any place in and around Goole. The 1939 edition states that Reedness is ‘a tidy little village, five miles east of Goole’. It was then – and it is still five miles east of Goole!
Cherry Tree Farm and Field House
The first house we come to on the left is a farm, Cherry Tree Farm. It’s still in the hands of the same family as it was then. It belonged to Charlie Saville and his wife Kate. They had two boys, William and George. We always thought of this as the first house in Reedness, as the house a bit further down the road (which is called Field House) was shown on the parish map as being still in Swinefleet, and it’s where Mr Wilfred Butler lived with his family. You may have known him – he was the much-revered Headmaster of Reedness School from 1913 to 1949, except for war service (1914–18) when he served in Italy and France. For 20 years he was also steward of Reedness Methodist Chapel. The Butlers had a family car; however, Mr Butler’s mode of travel to and from school was by bicycle.
Mrs Guy’s washing
So, on into Reedness proper, and on your right, just at the top of New Lane, there was a wooden bungalow. It’s still there but it’s no longer wooden. It’s been bricked round and looks far nicer. Mr and Mrs Guy lived there; he was a retired railway worker. They were of course quite elderly.
On Mondays Mrs Guy hung her washing out, including old-fashioned voluminous drawers which had a slit at the back and two short legs. These were known as ‘ham bags’ and could easily have been used as wind indicators on an airfield!
The mill down New Lane
Let us first venture down New Lane. Half way down on the right there’s a farm – or there was a farm and some buildings behind with quite a large pond. I often wondered why in one of the buildings there were lots of tubes and tanks and things, until I found out that it was a former corn mill and it was run by steam. Local farmers took their corn there for milling. The large pond was used to provide water for this steam-driven mill.
The family who lived there were the Mawsons. And the son of the miller Mawson was George Mawson. He still lived in the village when I was a boy. Eventually a family moved in there called ‘Simms’. I believe they came from Barmby. There was somebody else in there previously whose name I can’t recall. Now a farm, it was owned by Mr Walter Dunn, a blacksmith and farmer in Reedness.
The unpaved lane on which this house stood leads on to Swinefleet and the area is known as the ‘Underwoods’. There were many small fields here with hedges and gates, some of which were divided, with the part nearest to the lane used for grazing and the rear part through a further gate for crops. A number of the grass fields had ponds. The historic names for the fields in the area between the river and the Causeway are still in use; ‘Uppersands, ‘Middlesands’ and ‘Lowersands’, in addition to the ‘Underwoods’. This lane was unpaved and had a mud surface until the early 1900s, when it was paved.
The dynamite store
At the end of ‘New Lane’ where it meets ‘Kings Causeway’ there was a building in the field on the right hand side. It was an odd looking building in the middle of nowhere, built of bricks and about 14 feet high. It was completely surrounded by a high brick wall with a large door. The door to the building was on the opposite side to the wall entrance. This place had been a store for dynamite and reputedly belonged to the Government. I never knew it to be used for anything other than a place to play. It gradually fell down and was removed.
There were also some buildings in fields quite a distance from the village, which were used to stable the horses after work rather than have them walk back to the farm. Carts and other equipment were left in these buildings over night.
Now back to the main road
After the Guys’ bungalow we come to the first Council houses to be built in Reedness in 1932 and occupied in 1933. The families living there moved in from unsuitable housing which was either to be pulled down or was no longer big enough to cater for the size of the family. The Council houses were to provide proper accommodation for people who worked in the countryside. Also I think, it was part and parcel of the plan for rural families that they should have a garden at the back of the house big enough to grow sufficient vegetables to keep a family.
The Council houses
These houses had three bedrooms and a kitchen, which to us at that time was very modern. In the older houses there was a kitchen cum living room and that’s where everything went on. These Council houses were, to us, very much like Buckingham Palace, as they also had a bathroom. Now, this was unheard of. People did bathe at the end of the week (need it or not), usually Friday night in a tub in front of the fire. The bathroom in these ‘Luxury Dwellings’ was on the ground floor in order that, when the man of the house came home from the land or wherever he had been working, he could go into the bathroom, bathe and change his clothes and then have his tea with his family. How many of them followed this pattern of living I haven’t the faintest idea. They had a lovely front garden and lots of garden at the back of the house, more than enough to meet family needs. The ‘usual offices’ and the coal store were at the back of the house.
Reedness Council houses
The occupants of the Council houses
There were four council houses. The people living in the first Council house were Mr Vernon Lumb and his family. His wife was Marion, and she was a Mawson before her marriage. They had two girls, Margaret and Mabel.
The next house was my uncle on my mother’s side, Joseph Walker (Jnr). He worked for Yorkshire Electricity. His wife, my Aunt Lucy, came from Crowle. They had three children. Bernard, the eldest, was in the Royal Navy during World War Two and married and settled down in the South of England. Elsie was a schoolteacher and married Jack Muttock of Goole, later becoming Mayoress. Gerald settled down in Whitgift with his wife (a former Miss Canty) and family.
One of the most prominent things hanging in their living room was a very large framed certificate stating that Joseph Walker was a member of the Ancient and Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (a Friendly Society). He was a ‘Buff’. His father (my grandfather Joseph Snr) was a ‘Free Forester’ – this was a big thing in those days. Later, as war clouds threatened, he would become Captain (CO) of the Local Defence Volunteers, afterwards re-designated the ‘Home Guard’.
The next house we come to, the third council house, was occupied by Mr and Mrs J. Foster. He was a crane operator on Goole Docks. They had a large family of sons and two daughters. One of their sons worked in Scunthorpe but unfortunately in his early twenties had an accident on his motorcycle at Keadby Bridge - a well-known accident spot in those days - and sadly died as a result of his injuries.
The fourth Council house was occupied by Mr Robert and Mrs Elisabeth Christie, together with their family of two boys and four girls. Mary, the eldest daughter, married a Canadian soldier after World War Two and went to live in Canada. Mr Christie was employed aboard the ‘Goole Blight’, which was a specially built dredger in the river Ouse. The original dredger was a barge towed by a tender but was replaced in about 1938 with a self-contained dredger vessel: quite a magnificent craft, the ‘Goole Blight’. In those days the dredger was always in the river and the rattle of the chain was a common sound to all the villagers.
Our road sweepers
As we walk on we would probably come across a man sweeping the road. He was not employed by the parish; he was employed by the West Riding County Council.
We had three road sweepers. There was Arthur Harrison, whose nick name was ‘Catty’ (I haven’t the faintest idea why), and there was Jack Clarkson, who had a large family and lived half way down the village near the ‘Drain Stones’. Then there was Arthur Emery who eventually moved to Swinefleet to live at the bottom end of Common Piece with his wife and Irene, his daughter. Samuel Cowling was also an occasional road sweeper. They each had a brush, a shovel and a very large wooden barrow, and except for Sundays, the street and pavements were cleaned every day. In summertime heaps of sand would be placed on the road verges, 50 yards apart, to be thrown on to the road in winter to prevent horses slipping on the ice. Piles of horse manure, pebbles and various bits of rubbish, the road sweepings, were also tipped at the side of the road.
This never really seemed to need clearing away,
as people collected it for their gardens. So that saved the Council
a job! The road sweepers also cleaned out the grates. Not having
a proper tool for this, they would put an old saucepan on the end
of a stick, creating the perfect tool for the job. Of course, the
odd copper or silver coin came up occasionally - so it was probably
worth their while.
And the other thing is – it’s probably a silly thing to say – but the roads were brown then. I don’t know whether you remember that, but these days roads are black or grey - but roads were brown in those days. And in summer when it was hot, the tar bubbled and as kids we would love to prick them with a pin and hear them pop.
On the other side of the road, opposite the Council Houses, there was a large field, approximately 40 acres and stretching from the roadside to the riverbank, which belonged to Mr William Halkon of Reedness Hall. I recall steam ploughs being used there. These steam ploughs came most years and they worked all day and through the night. There were two steam engines, one at each end of the field, and in between them a plough with lots of shares on it and attached to a wire hawser running from large drums positioned under each engine. This plough would travel from one side of the field to the opposite side. Both engines would then move forward and the plough would tip in the other direction. This went on backwards and forwards through the night – it could be a bit of a nuisance and sleep-disturbing, as when the plough got to the end and was ready for the return trip, the one having the plough at his end would then toot his steam hooter to let the other fellow know it was time to move up and pull the plough to his end; that was the sequence until the whole field was completed.
Of course, as time went by the steam ploughs were replaced by Caterpillar tractors from America. These huge beasts arrived towing a caravan, and the crew of the two men who worked the rig and lived in the caravan also worked through the night with a constant clatter, sounding like a regiment of tanks coming down the road.
Rose Cottage Farm
Beyond the New Houses was a field gate, then a barn, and then Rose Cottage Farm. Mr. Tom Beavers, who had relatives in Swinefleet, lived there with his wife Melita, which I always thought was a really pretty name and very unusual. Should you pass his barn in the evening as dusk was falling, you would hear a ‘tic-tic-tic’ sound of a generator; an electric generator, no less, which ran on petrol. This lit up his house and his front door. It was the only one I knew of in the local area. However, when it came to bedtime he would turn it off – then, I suppose, he did like the rest of us and had to light a candle.
Miss Elsie Laverack of The Ferneries
Next door and fronting on to the road was a house named ‘The Ferneries’ - I believe it still is.
Miss Elsie Laverack lived there and she was a teacher at Swinefleet School, having previously taught at Reedness School, standing in for Mr. Butler during World War One.
Miss Laverack was, in addition, very active in
working with children and although she lived in Reedness and worked
in Swinefleet, she gave her time and experience to organising the
entertainment for the Whitgift Church Gala each summer.
As kids we would go to the Parochial Room, next to the Vicarage, where Miss Laverack taught us songs, dances and sketches. I was once ‘Bottom’ in Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’. I suppose it was remembered for some time as I had to wear donkey’s ears – I’m still trying to live it down!
At this time there was a little bit of an edge between Churchers and Chapellers – but when it came to this occasion then it didn’t matter where we went, as Miss Laverack was keen to recruit us and form us into a group to put on a stage show for the Vicarage garden party.
In those days if you saw a girl or boy walking in the street carrying a music case, leather with a flap and a bar to keep the sheet music in – and all very posh in their Sunday best - they were on their way to learn to play the piano with Miss Laverack. This lady was quite a character and I remember that in her house was a stuffed fox in a glass case. She said her father had shot as it was attacking their chickens - so that should have taught it a lesson, I think. It was the only fox I ever saw in Reedness.
Later, in the late ’30s, the house was lived in by a Mr Chetwind Thompson and his family. The Thompson family took over Reedness House and the farm further down the village from the Middlebrooks. This then was the son of Mr Thompson Snr of Reedness House and, as you couldn’t have two Mr Thompsons, he was therefore known as ‘Mr Chetwind’.
In the summertime in the houses, the housewives would put up net curtains, replacing them in the winter with curtains of a thicker material. Most people had blinds at the windows. These were ‘home made’ of a thick cream coloured paper with a strip of wood at the bottom to hold it down and cord on a pulley at the side to move it up and down. If there was a funeral taking place in the village and the cortege was to pass your house then your blinds would be lowered. As soon as it had passed the blinds would be raised again. This was seen as a mark of respect for the deceased.
I also found that when net curtains were washed
in the summer, and in order to bleach them, they would be spread
out to dry on the top of the hedges so that the sun bleached them
nice and white. I don’t suppose we had these fancy washing
powders in those days; or perhaps the natural method was much cheaper.
Again on the subject of windows – you may recall that during the War we all had to ‘black out’ our windows. There were a number of handy people in the village who made a bit of money, making frames with roofing felt attached, held to the window with a couple of wooden turn catches. Having put that up over the window with blackout curtains on the inside, of course, the Germans wouldn’t be able to bomb you. The smallest glimmer of light would result in the Air Raid Warden pounding on your door shouting, ‘PUT OUT THAT LIGHT!’
Diphtheria, mumps and measles
We go on now – it’s the same group of houses, and just further along in the house fronting the road, next to the ‘Ferneries’, there lived Mr Arthur Garland with his wife and two sons. Later, their house was occupied by Mr Stanley Drayton and his wife, the former Minnie Snowdon from Swinefleet, and their sons.
There was also a little cottage tucked in at the rear of these houses – a very small cottage – and there lived Mr Simms (who later moved down New Lane on Dunns’ property) with his wife and Geoffrey and another son.
Geoffrey was a friend of mine and was the only one I knew in the whole of the time I lived in Reedness who had to go to the hospital with diphtheria. He recovered.
Mind you, we all got mumps and measles and all those kind of things. I always found it strange after I’d been lying in bed all this time and hadn’t been to school and thought, ‘when I get back in class they will all know more than I do’, only to find that, on my return, that they had all been off too. Ringworm was another excuse for not attending school: caught from cattle, I believe.
When the Simms family moved out and went to live down the lane a Miss Madge Simms [I think she was a relative of theirs] moved in there with her brother and sisters.
Later Frank Coggrave, the blacksmith and farrier who took over the business from Walter Dunn and married Miss Minnie Shepherd of Goole (she was employed at Reedness Hall), moved into this cottage.
Opposite Reedness Hall was a large grass field with a low fence between it and the road; behind the fence was a dip. I always wondered at this odd sort of ditch, as there was never a drop of water in it - it was quite useless as a ditch. Then, of course, when I eventually grew up I found out that it wasn’t supposed to be a ditch; my opinion is that clay was dug there for the bricks to be used to build Reedness Hall. However, today, it does ensure that the view from Reedness Hall directly across this field is uninterrupted by fences or hedges. This was the only place in Reedness I knew where sheep were kept. So you had this marvellous view down this long field and sheep to make it look pretty. I suppose they were there to keep the grass down and improve the view.
Reedness Hall, which included a large farm, was in the hands of Mr William Halkon and his wife, whose name was Seaver, together with their daughter of the same name and also their son Frederick.
There was a yardman who lived on the premises in a room near the farmyard and looked after the cattle, pigs etc. He was Robert John Shipley – known to all as ‘Robby John’.
There were always maids, one or two, living in the house then. Some of them married within the village. Miss Halkon eventually became Mrs Thompson of ‘Advance’ Buses. Frederick married Miss Joanne Wiseman of Swinefleet and eventually took over the farm. Miss Leeman, who was a maid at the Hall, married Herbert Gowler, the farm foreman and then moved to a farm in Swinefleet.
An aerial view of Reedness Hall c.1950
Reedness cricket club
In the field at the back of the Hall was the Reedness Cricket Club pitch with a huge roller which, as lads, we would be harnessed to and made to pull it backwards and forwards over the pitch on a Saturday morning, ready to play other teams in the Goole District League. My father was a cricketer (wicket keeper) and there was a full cricket team. On one occasion they won the Shield and had their photo published in the Goole Times, which in those days was something special. There was a pavilion in the cricket field; it was built by Joe Dixon, the local carpenter, and was a wooden hut with a window that opened up with a desk provided for the scorer to sit in comfort and see what was going on on the pitch.
The hall grounds
There was an area to the left of Reedness Hall behind a high wall where conifers and walnut trees grew, and amongst the trees were lots of snowdrops. With the permission of the family, children were able to pick a bunch as a treat for their mother and at Christmas one could go and pull bits off the trees for Christmas decoration.
There are still two ‘Bows’ at the Hall. These were perfect for courting couples in those days – they could meet in there out of the wind and away from prying eyes; I think they contributed a lot to Reedness life – there were no street lights there, either!
The Hall had a walled orchard which was never used; it was full of old fruit trees and bushes and at the front, which was opposite our house, the wall was topped with thick ivy which hung over the footpath. Very handy, if you were caught in a shower, to shelter under and be perfectly dry.
As I have said, in the same spot where the snowdrops
were, there were also walnut trees and when the nuts were ripe it
was permitted to go underneath the trees and sling pieces of wood
up to knock down the walnuts.
From the beech trees in front of the Hall we gathered the fallen nuts, and in wartime these were soaked in almond essence and could later be used in Christmas cakes, as real almonds were unobtainable.
The farm kitchen
In those days there was a long narrow building which was at the back of the Hall. This was used as a kitchen and dining room. It had a cooking range and a long table; the family and the men who worked on the farm ate in there. When the meal was ready, Mrs Halkon would go out and ring the bell, which was next to the door, and everyone would come streaming in. A couple of times I was invited to eat with them. That was a great treat.
Elm Tree House
On the other side of the road was Elm Tree House. Again, it was a farm. It was occupied by Mr George Whitehead and his wife Dorothy. Mr Whitehead was the manager of the parish charities. Also living there was Mr James Wilson, originally from Crowle, with his wife Florence and their two children, Thelma and Barry.
There was also a strange character who lived and worked on the farm; I don’t know his real name - he was known as ‘Scotty’. He ate in the kitchen with the family but did not live in the house.
If you went out of the back door of the house and straight down the path you came to a corner where there was a three-seater lavatory (sometimes called a petty or closet) and adjacent to this was the milk dairy, where the separator, butter churn etc. were kept. Above the dairy was a loft with a ladder and you could see straw at the top; this is where ‘Scotty’ lived. He was there for many, many years. Then suddenly he disappeared and what happened to him I have no idea. But he seemed to work and live there and get his food and accommodation, but I never actually saw him in the village except with the horse and cart.
The Whiteheads who had this farm came from Old Goole, where Mr Whitehead had been a stevedore and his wife a seamstress. They must have got a little bit of brass together and decided to try the rural life. It was a beautiful Victorian style house with a giant elm tree and a horse chestnut tree guarding the gate, which is still there. They built an extra wing on in the form of a wooden bungalow, in which the Wilson family lived. Mrs Whitehead had a sewing machine and took in quite a lot of sewing. She also did laundry for people in the village. On the first floor in one of the outbuildings they had an engine – a very unusual ‘One Stroke’ engine. It worked on paraffin and was started by briskly turning a big handle. A thick leather belt ran down to the ground floor driving a machine which chopped turnips and hay, straw etc. On the top of this engine was a cooling tray full of steaming water – and it ‘phump-phumped’ away quite happily. But it worked. I’ve never seen one before or since.
Listening to the wireless
The Whiteheads had a wireless – it wasn’t a radio, it was a wireless, in a big wooden box about 2 foot long and 10 inches wide, on top of which were three enormous glass valves which, when the wireless was switched on, ‘glowed’. Underneath, on a shelf, was a huge dry battery (120V) about 10ins x 8ins x 6ins in size, and that kept the wireless set going for a whole year. On another shelf was the loud speaker, about 2 foot 6 inches high, which was a big bell-shaped horn.
Mrs Whitehead attended the chapel, as did my family, and when coming home from the chapel sometimes on a Sunday evening we would be invited to go and listen to the wireless. On the first occasion – and I remember it vividly – we heard a church service from St Martins in the Fields, from no other place than London! And there I was - a wide-eyed boy – hardly able to believe it – listening to a church service coming from London, where the King lived. This was a privilege accorded to a few, now and again. It was an experience, as you will appreciate, and we all sat in wonder!
One other thing that I remember about the Whiteheads – they didn’t like to kill their chickens. They would wait until one appeared to be dithering a bit and Mrs Whitehead would immediately shout ‘George!’ and he would come and kill the chicken – wring its neck. They would make it into soup – they never had a chicken to roast or anything like that – they always waited until it was virtually on its last legs and then they made soup. They would sometimes bring some round for us; it was very nice.
Mrs Whitehead made ‘frumety’ at Christmas from cracked wheat in milk and dried fruit, slightly alcoholic but a rare treat. She also had a ‘gopher iron’; this was a double-sided mould at the end of a double steel handle about a yard in length. A mixture was poured into the mould which was then clamped together and thrust deep into the red fire coals. After a time it was withdrawn and opened up to reveal a piping hot, deliciously sweet, golden brown waffle.
Go on to Reedness memories (II) - memories of 1930s Reedness continued...