Recalling memories of childhood at Easter

PAST TIMES: This  lovely picture of old Thornhill Lees in 1909  reminds us of the world our parents lived in - corner shops and tramcars. It show the Penny Stage, Thornhill Lees. The tramcar is seen here travelling along Brewery Lane by Thornton Road. It is about to pass the watchmaker and jeweller's shop of W H Day. I am indebted to Christine Leveridge for the loan of this picture which is included in her brilliant little book on Dewsbury and District, on sale at Dewsbury Minster Church, only �3.95.
PAST TIMES: This lovely picture of old Thornhill Lees in 1909 reminds us of the world our parents lived in - corner shops and tramcars. It show the Penny Stage, Thornhill Lees. The tramcar is seen here travelling along Brewery Lane by Thornton Road. It is about to pass the watchmaker and jeweller's shop of W H Day. I am indebted to Christine Leveridge for the loan of this picture which is included in her brilliant little book on Dewsbury and District, on sale at Dewsbury Minster Church, only �3.95.

DUCK eggs and daffodils might seem an unlikely combination to arouse memories of a happy childhood, but for me that is exactly what they do, and no more so than on Good Friday.

For it was on this day mother filled the house with daffodils, the harbinger of spring, and served duck eggs for tea.

Being Catholics we weren’t allowed to eat meat on Fridays, especially on this the most important Friday of the year.

Why we had duck eggs on this particular day and no other, I’ll never know, but I think it was mother’s way of making the day different from any other.

She had the happy knack of making simple things seem very special in an age when there was little money and few luxuries.

Mother always served tea in a china cup, never a pot or a beaker, and the table cloth was always a white one.

The cups and saucers might have been second-hand, bought on the market or at a jumble sale, but who cared?

Mother really loved Good Friday more than any other day of the year, and she prepared for it weeks in advance, starting in early March.

This was the time of year when all the women in the neighbourhood started their spring cleaning, which involved weeks of scrubbing, polishing, washing to sweep away the winter cobwebs.

The women up our street called it “bottoming” the house, something which I still carry out to this day, and I never regard it as a drudgery.

All the women up our street blitzed their homes from top to bottom, starting in the bedrooms and working their way down to the cellar which was always given a good white-wash at this time of year.

All the drawers in the house were turned out, carpets hung on the line to be beaten clean, and curtains taken down and given a good wash.

By the time Good Friday morning arrived, all was calm and serene, at least in our house it was.

In the afternoon I would set off to St Joseph’s Church, Batley Carr, with mother to attend the Good Friday service, which was always sad and solemn.

On the way home we would call into Burgoyne’s baker’s shop in Halifax Road for teacakes and hot cross buns, no time to bake your own with all that spring cleaning going on!

Then across the road to Brown’s greengrocers for a dozen duck eggs, a lettuce, tomatoes, celery, radishes, cucumber, spring onions, and, of course, bunches of golden daffodils.

I carried the daffodils home and it was from that moment I knew Easter had really arrived – no more fasting, scrubbing and cleaning.

How we all loved our Good Friday tea in a kitchen which smelled so beautifully clean, with a lovely duck egg salad laid out on a crisp white linen cloth with a vase of lovely yellow daffodils placed in the centre.

BECAUSE childhood memories are so important to me, I love to hear or read of other people’s.

When I first saw the diaries of Ruth Walker, who lived at Oak Cottage in Briestfield, I got the greatest pleasure from reading of her special days.

She writes about her day-to-day life during and after the war, spring-cleaning and preparing for Easter and Christmas, and she makes them sound very special.

I have written about the diaries before, but I kept back a few extracts which I intended to use in this article.

Surprisingly, despite shortages and the great sufferings of the war, many women still seemed to have an inner contentment which doesn’t seem evident in the lives of women today.

There wasn’t much do-it-yourself in those days, and when work had to be done in the house, the professionals were called in.

Ruth writes about this in her diary, and also about the simple pleasures in life, like getting new curtains, or going out into the countryside picking blackberries, and she refers to her husband William as, ‘dad’.

In March 1947, prior to Easter, she wrote:

“MONDAY – Decided I had better think about spring cleaning, bedrooms and also re-papering, but I must have someone to help with the work.

I began to strip the old paper. When finished, I am afraid it looked a real mess, and the dirt was dreadful. The house is rather an old one, and two of the walls are still as when built, not finished off with lime plaster mixed with hair, instead of the smooth finish of modern times.

“WEDNESDAY – Dad and I went to town, calling at Horace Cave’s, Thornhill, to ask him to paper and paint bedrooms. He promises to do the work after Easter. Came home happy knowing how much easier it will be for me afterwards, besides a much better finish than by ourselves.

“GOOD FRIDAY – A bitterly cold day. Very few people left home for walks in the country. Generally if a fine day, many town’s people come to see the pretty little village of Briestfield, also hoping they may buy some really new laid eggs.

“EASTER SUNDAY – Went down to Tomroyd Farm. Ethel made us very welcome, provided a very good tea, a big problem these days when nearly everything we eat is on points. Each person is allowed points per month, 2lb tin of golden syrup is 20 points, a tin of marmalade, five points, biscuits per lb and jelly sauces 12 points each.”

OTHER memories I’ve got great pleasure from reading are those of Bill Beattie, who has recently written his memoirs for an exhibition in the Museum.

I’ve written from these before, but again kept some extracts back for this article.

Bill writes about his early days attending the Methodist Church in Thornhill Lees.

He writes:

“My family were Methodists, and it was at the Sunday school opposite my house in Lees Hall Road I first attended the Chapel.

“At 9.45am my mother would take me to the primary class, and it was here where the children were taught about Jesus and the Bible.

“At 10.45 our teachers would lead us into the big Chapel where we would sit and listen to a short sermon by the preacher.

“After two years we moved to the main Sunday school where our teaching continued, and during the year the events in the Bible were celebrated.

“At Easter time I always envied my friends who attended the Church of England because they were given small palm crosses.

“At Whitsuntide we all donned our new clothes and our family and friends put coppers into our top pocket. On Whit Monday our parents were up early decorating the cart in which the Primary children would sit, and the piano would be lifted on to it and secured at the front.

“This was to provide the music for the hymns we sang as we wound our way in procession around the village.

“On returning to the chapel we would all go into Sunday school and sit down to potted meat sandwiches and buns.

“Our parents, along with male members of the youth group carried the wooden forms from the Sunday school to Leonard Broadhead’s field.

“They would be lined up alongside the marked running track for the older members of the chapel to sit whilst they watched the events.

“There would be organised races for the kids, the egg’n spoon race, sack-race, wheelbarrow race and the normal running events.

“The adults would have a tug o’war and we’d join in the side that was losing. The final event of the day was the cricket match between the youth group and the men of the chapel. At the age of 14 we were able to join the chapel youth group which met once a week in the Sunday school and here we could play badminton, table tennis and snooker.

“You could also take part in the numerous plays and musicals that were put on throughout the year.

“Being a member of the youth group meant you were expected to attend chapel for both the morning and evening services.

“The other highlight of the year was Christmas Eve when we would all meet in the Sunday school at 11.30 and set off walking around the village, stopping outside the houses of chapel members to sing carols.

“Halfway through the tour of the village we would stop off at the home of Mr and Mrs Woodhead, the chapel caretakers, who always provided us with tea and hot mince pies.

“Other highlights performed by the chapel choir were ‘The Crucifixion’, ‘Elijah’ and ‘The Messiah’ which were always well attended.

“The Messiah was always the one with the largest attendance and would invariably be a sell-out weeks before the event.”

IT is when reading other people’s memories of old Dewsbury and the lives we led that we realise how much we have lost.

Most of the traditions and festivities of this country originate from our Christian religion but sadly most people do not recognise that.

Few people realise when they are enjoying their holidays that the very word “holiday” comes from the word holy days.

I wonder how many people walking through Dewsbury today, going about their daily work, realise this. I wonder how many will realise it is Good Friday – the day Jesus died on The Cross. And if they do, will they really know what it signifies?

I doubt it.