John Croft reminisces about wonderful times

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

LAST week I asked readers to help me fill this column by providing their own memories of old Dewsbury, and John Croft was the first to respond.

His wonderful memories, including photographs, have completely filled my column this week. Bless you John.

Thornhill Social Club: John Croft is pictured first left on the front row with a group of very smart youngsters.

Thornhill Social Club: John Croft is pictured first left on the front row with a group of very smart youngsters.

I’m sure readers, especially those from Thornhill, will get as much pleasure, as I did, recalling visits to the ABC Minors, Monte Carlo Cafe and drinking in the Market House and Black Tulip.

Born in 1947, John, attended Overthorpe Junior School and later Wheelwright Grammar School. He also served an apprenticeship as an electrician with the YEB, based at Batley near Fox’s Biscuits.

Here is what John has to say:

“My early memories are attending a nursery in a big prefab building at the end of Headfield Road, Thornhill Lees. There were other prefabs, a common sight in the early 50s, situated on the right hand side.

“My first school was Combs Infants in Thornhill. One teacher came on her horse from Horbury and tethered it to the school railings.

“I then attended Overthorpe Junior School, and eventually passed my 11 plus and went to Wheelwright Grammar School in Halifax Road.

“It was difficult for working class parents like mine to afford the mandatory uniforms, sports equipment, pens, pencils and geometry sets.

“Early childhood memories are seeing Santa climb the fire engine ladder at J&B’s, the Thornhill Pageant in Rectory Park, Billy Smart’s Circus parading through town towards the feast ground where we attended the annual fair in Dewsbury Feast week.

“My father also took me to watch the Dewsbury Rugby team, and I remember walking back down Leeds Road, along the ginnel past the fish smoke houses situated by the now defunct railway station.

“Visiting the ABC Minors at the Playhouse cinema on a Saturday morning was another treat, as was going to Thornhill Church and being in the 2nd Thornhill scout group on Edge Road.

“Growing up in Overthorpe Road with a tin bath and an outside toilet, frozen up in winter, made moving to Smithy Parade, on the new Valley Road estate, in 1958, a brand new world.

“Running hot water, an inside toilet and bath were sheer luxury, and there were new friends to be made.

Also potato picking and collecting chumps for bonfire material which were annual events.

“I remember Brough’s grocery shop in Daily Hill where everything had to be weighed out, so it took quite a while before everything was loaded into paper carrier bags with string handles.

“Next stop was Ramshaw’s greengrocery stall and Clarke’s butchers. My job was to carry the bags with the string nearly cutting my fingers off.

“The payment method at Broughs fascinated me. The assistant put the money and bill in a container which went by overhead wire to a kiosk in the far corner where the cashier put the change in and sent it back with the receipt.

“J&B’s used a vacuum system with a torpedo shaped holder disappearing up a pipe to goodness knows where, and minutes later the change came back in a torpedo. Android Pay is today’s method.

“My early teenage years meant attending various youth groups such as St Phillip’s just off Leeds cutting and, of course, the Venturers up Daisy Hill. A sneaky swift half pint at the Market House when you were 15 was very daring.

“My teen years were spent in one of the five cinemas in Dewsbury, open in those days, the Playhouse, Essoldo, Pioneers, Rex and Tudor.

“I think it was the Pioneers or Tudor that had double seats on the back row, which were ideal for courting couples. 

“My dance hall was the Town Hall, didn’t care for the Ben Riley much. Everyone wore Italian style suits with a straight tie, winklepicker shoes, and trousers with as tight a leg taper as the inevitable battle with the Co-op or Jessop’s tailor would allow. My tightest had 14 inch bottoms, and, as the tailor predicted when he measured me, eventually baggy knees.

“Most suits were made to measure and paid for with Co-op dividend cheques. Mum paid a guinea back over 20 weeks for each pound borrowed.

“She needed these cheques at Whitsuntide for our new clothes which we then went round to the neighbours showing off. Begging really, but everyone did it.

“At 17 we used to go to the Black Tulip up Daisy Hill.

“It was full of youngsters, and without fail every Saturday, a policeman and woman would open the door, scan the faces and beckon those that looked too young to leave, which they did without a murmur.

“On Saturday night at closing time, three sets of burly policemen in pairs patrolled the town looking out for the well-known troublemakers who couldn’t hold their beer.

“We knew who they were and gave them a wide berth.

“After meeting my future wife at the Town Hall dance I can honestly say we had a great time, new music, nice clothes and a bit of money.

“Having decided to get married, we started saving for the bottom drawer. Now, it was a case of nursing a coffee in the Monte Carlo Cafe, listening to Radio Luxembourg and stretching to a couple of drinks on a Saturday. These days will never come back but we remember them with fondness.”

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