A young man in Hellifield in the 1940s

Brian Shorrock
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

When I was a lad we had in the village two butchers, a cobbler, joiners, jewellers, Post Office, two garages, the Black Horse Hotel, fish and chip shop, Co-op, three grocers, one sweet and chocolate shop, auction mart, Church, Baptist and Methodist chapels, a dance hall above the Co-op, a bank, Temperance Hotel, Working Men’s club, the village institute which was formerly the school, two clothing shops and two air raid shelters built during the war. One of these was a brick-built one behind the former cobbler’s shop, opposite a blacksmith’s shop, which was pulled down quite recently. The other air raid shelter was built where the Blackburn and Leeds railway lines met and as far as I know this is still in existence.

With no diversions such as youth clubs or television to divert us from getting into mischief we often landed into some kind of trouble, but we were not often caught, luckily for us. In election time we would pull down Labour/Tory posters and place them in their rivals’ windows, causing no end of annoyance to diehard supporters. Our best/worst efforts were reserved for mischief night on the day before bonfire night. This so-called tradition is apparently confined to the North of England. Most tricks were fairly harmless, if not annoying. Gates would be lifted off their hinges and thrown on to the bonfire, eggs tossed at doors along with flour, and we knocked at doors by tying a long string to the door knocker and retreated to a safe distance before we repeatedly pulled the string. One year we smeared treacle not only on the house door handles but on the outside toilet seats which were away from the house and in total darkness unless you had a torch or candle. I remember one night a woman screaming for her husband to get her off the toilet seat. We only dared to do this on one occasion since we would have been killed if we had been found out. We put pennies on the railway line near the old station house, now demolished and collected the coins twice the size of the original.

We used to visit the old station house when old friends of ours lived there. The house was right alongside the track so when a train thundered past everything shook - ornaments, windows, chairs, beds etc. I suppose you would have got used to it eventually, but it was a very busy line with both passenger and freight trains passing frequently. I, with many other lads, collected engine names and numbers. We would go in the evening to the level-crossing near the old station house to see what great namer would come roaring past. It seemed always to be an engine called Cyprus, which we got fed up of seeing. Just occasionally a Shielder would pass by. One was called Green Howards but the vast majority were Black Fives unnamed. How strange that nowadays if a steamer passes by cattle and birds are terrified, whereas in the steam era they never batted a eyelid. Railway bankings were deliberately burnt by platelayers annually so when a steam engine passed with sparks flying out of the chimney a more serious fire would be prevented.

One of the local butchers in Hellifield had a shop near the school on the main road. We had to go there for meat as my father was friendly with him. Both the butcher and my father having motorbikes used to go on outings together. My job was to go down and buy a piece of so-called meat. The butcher rarely served in the shop; either his wife, or his mother attended to customers. Hygiene and refrigeration were almost unknown, and the meat was usually tough with many inches of fat attached. We managed to survive on this fare even though my mother’s cooking made things worse. The butcher in his spare time was an insurance salesman.

Poaching was always a pastime indulged in by my father and his brothers. He had a lurcher called Darkie with which they would catch rabbits and the occasional hare. He also had a •22 rifle. Later, when in the Home Guard, he kept at home a sten gun and a •303 rifle; these weapons were only used on Home Guard duties.

We used to go up Auction beck at night, usually with father and his brother Fred, who lived not far away, to catch trout, armed with a torch and some instrument like a hoe or garden fork to stab the fish with - quite effective. At times we came home with a dozen fish or so. When older, friend Brian and I did this on a commercial basis, catching both salmon and trout in the local streams and rivers. We then sold the fish to the Black Horse in Hellifield. We were starting to earn good money when the landlord either became aware of what was going on, or was warned by the local constabulary to desist or face the consequences. So our get-rich quick plans stopped abruptly.

I received my one and only fine, apart from a car parking fine in Penrith years later, of the princely sum of ten shillings - fifty pence in today’s money, awarded for driving a cycle with no lights. It was my own fault as the local constable had warned me at least three times prior to this. The crunch came in more senses than one when I nearly knocked him down one dark night, so really he had no option but to book me. Hellifield for a long period had no street lights apart from some very old gas lamps which rarely worked - mostly vandalised by local youths using catapults and throwing stones. In this Stygian gloom before the lamps were installed we could get up to all kinds of mischief with little chance of anyone being caught. Apart from homemade catapults we had pea shooters which were fairly powerful. These were made from steam pressure gauges from the railway engines, the glass tube being very strong and just the right length of about nine inches - either stolen or purchased from railway staff. A thick rubber washer was placed at each end of the glass tube for a better grip and just in case it was dropped accidently. These washers also came from railway stock. For missiles hawthorn berries were mainly used, these being just the right size. If you were hit at close range this could be quite painful and dangerous if hit in the eye.

At Easter we would hard-boil a hen or duck egg and then paint and decorate them with varying methods, then walk up the Haw behind the house where we lived and roll them down, competing in egg rolling races. Eventually the eggs would crack and they then would be eaten as quickly as possible, but they were a rather dry and gaggy meal. Father always took eggs for his meal when driving the engines, thus in the main eliminating the need to go to the toilet - essential when working on steam engines with no such luxury. On one occasion my parents, my wife Elizabeth and I went for a walk near Hellifield and when we arrived back home in Thornview Road about two hours later, we went into the kitchen to be confronted by a thick evil-smelling blue haze. Mother had left three eggs in a pan but when we left for the walk had forgotten to switch the gas off. The eggs had boiled dry and then exploded with some bits adhering to the ceiling leaving a blackened half-melted aluminium pan still on the stove. The smell lingered for days.

We used to watch the furnaces being filled with pebble-sized pellets of coal. Long shovels were used and it was quite a skilful job to fill the furnaces up as they went back a long way and they had to be filled from the back and slowly filled to the front. You also had to be fairly strong, because the many furnaces took a long time to fill and only a few were at eye level. When full the iron furnace doors were shut and sealed with lime. After the coal was burnt the residue was pulled out with a fifteen-foot long rake, water was poured over it, and the grey lumps called coke were sold for about sixpence a hundred weight sack. If you filled your own bags this reduced the price. This coke was then used on the home fires, being cheaper than coal.The gasometer and the other buildings have long since been pulled down. Only the former gas manager’s house is still used.

Later on I became friendly with the gas manager’s son called Robin, a lad formerly from Wales. One year in August we decided to go on holiday to his former home town at Pont-y-Pool. Robin had long since lost his Welsh accent and he could not speak Welsh. We went on a small two-stroke motorbike; how it carried us there I do not know, as we were loaded down with camping equipment and all manner of clothing. In those days it was an epic journey. We had hot sunny weather throughout apart from one tremendous thunderstorm which soaked us to the skin, we having no adequate waterproofs in those days. After travelling for hours we finally reached Wales in total darkness. Attempts at erecting the tent were pathetic to say the least but eventually we managed and we crawled into our small tent tired out. It had never occurred to us to bring a torch or even matches to light up the scene a little bit. After a cold breakfast we set off again, reaching the Craig Goch area. In this locality I lost one of my father’s wellington boots off the back of the motor bike, never to be seen again. So I had to hop about on one foot when we woke at our next campsite, the days being very hot with a very heavy dew in the mornings on the long grass. We visited Llangorse Lake, Betws-y-coed, Harlech and finally camped on Aberystwyth pebbly beach. We opened our last tin after a struggle, a tin of some type of meat balls which were disgustingly cold, so most of it went out with the tide. We arrived home safely in spite of frequent hostility from the local Welsh population. I suppose two scruffy unshaven youths would not have been a pleasant sight. This was my only camping expedition and I never had the inclination to indulge in this pastime again.