Braithwell, Micklebring and Clifton History and Heritage

PEOPLE

Childhood Memories of Micklebring

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                                                                    Pattie Birch nee Jones

I went to live in Micklebring in May 1943.

My father was serving in the army and had been stationed in India where he married my mother in Mumbai in 1939. She had lived and worked in Micklebring before she went to India. Around the start of 1943 he received news that he was to go to Europe with his battalion. This meant that our family had to return to the UK, and we went to live with my aunt, Pattie Mullins, as she had recently been widowed, when her husband Ernest was killed at Maltby Colliery. Her eldest son, Ernest, was in the army but her younger son, Barry, was at school in Braithwell.

My mother had tried to warn her sister, that we were going to descend on her, but letters were censored so she had tried to send a message but my aunt had not read between the lines when my mother suggested that she should do her spring cleaning early. So, she was completely flabbergasted when we arrived in a taxi with all our worldly goods.

We had travelled to Gourock on the Clyde from India via Capetown where Dad had bought a sack of oranges. We then travelled from Scotland to Doncaster through the snow, (even though it was May) by train and Dad didn’t notice that he had left the oranges behind when He loaded up the taxi at the station. Dad went back with the taxi-driver and the oranges were where he had left them. He offered one to a lad who was standing around and the poor lad didn’t know what it was as he had never seen an orange before.

The afternoon of the day we arrived my aunt took me with her to meet my cousin coming out of school. She introduced me as his cousin, but Barry was not impressed. ‘She can’t be. She isn’t black’ was his retort. Obviously, he thought that all people from India should be coloured.

Dad was only able to stay for a few days before he went back to join his regiment and head for Europe. We didn’t see him again for two and a half years.

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  The shop 1940s

Mum and I settled into a routine with my Aunt and Barry. My Aunt owned the village shop, so we had people coming and going all day. Gertrude Spencer was a regular and as I couldn’t say Gertrude to me she was always Gertoo. She lived at the Gables Farm across the road.

The shop still stands at the junction of Micklebring lane and Ruddle lane, but has

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   The Homestead, once The Shop.

been altered and is now known as The Homestead, but it was part of Park Villas when we lived there. It was at the eastern end of a row of cottages. I think that there were three houses and the Clayton family lived next door to the shop and the senior Wadsleys at the west end.

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  Park Villas in the 1920s?

The house had been an old farm which belonged to the Bayes family in the 19th century and had lovely old limestone barns which were L-shaped. The largest one was two-storey with a pigeon loft at one end. There were stables and a garage, and a brick-built toilet block which had two seats. Because the land had a big slope (hence the name Micklebring-a big slope) there were stone steps down to the orchard where there was a large hen

house and some brick-built pigsties. There was also an outhouse in the yard where Mum kept her bike and Mum and my aunt did the washing in there on Mondays.  The view across the valley stretched to Conisbrough and beyond. I don’t remember that we had pigs, but we had plenty of hens in the orchard where there were apple and pear trees and a plum tree.

The house was split level being on the slope. Facing the road was the middle level, which is where the large wooden door at one end, led into the shop which had a stone floor.  The front room, which was only used at Christmas and smelt damp, was on the same floor as the shop. Behind the counter there was a short passage which led to the sitting room and off the passage there were the steps leading down to the cellars. These had stone shelves where we stored the apples and pears over winter, wrapped in newspaper and there were hooks in the beams. I asked Barry what the hooks were for and he told me that they hung you there if you were naughty. Obviously, I now know that they were for hanging hams or sides of bacon, but we didn’t have any of those when I lived there. There were also glazed crock pots with ising glass to store eggs for when the hens weren’t laying.

Also, behind the counter in the shop there was another doorway which led upstairs to the bedrooms. At the top of the stairs there was a small landing with a step up into each bedroom but immediately ahead there was another door which had glass in the upper half. The glass had bull’s eyes in it which distorted the view through to the skylight in the attic beyond. This frightened me as I always thought that there was someone behind the glass moving around. I used to creep up on my hands and knees and try to get into the bedroom without standing up so that the ‘person behind the door’ didn’t see me.

There were stone steps leading from the shop down to the living room. This was a long room which ran the length of the building. The central fireplace dominated the room and was where all the cooking was done.  A black kettle was always singing on the hob and baking was done in the side oven. All water for washing clothes or people came from the big kettle. The fireplace was black-leaded on a regular basis so that it shone. In front of the fire there was always a large, pegged rug. Mum and auntie made these from strips of old clothes which were pegged into old sugar sacks. This was a job for winter time.

At the far end of the room there was the table and hanging above it the Tilley lamp, as we did not have electricity.  We had our meals there, but it also served as the workbench for the sewing machine which Mum had bought before she went to India and had brought back with her. Sometimes Barry got his Meccano out and built things on the table. I remember he had a little steam engine, which I was not allowed to touch, and he also made something from a cotton reel, a candle, a matchstick and a rubber band, which would crawl along the table when he wound up the rubber band. There was always a cloth on the table except when Aunty Pat was baking, when she rolled out the pastry on the table. When the cloth was on this made a lovely place underneath for hiding or for playing house.

The shelves in the shop held tins of biscuits and other tinned goods, but there were so many other things. There was a large barrel for vinegar and there was a big bacon slicer. You could buy candles, soap powder, buttons, paraffin, shoe polish and all the usual comestibles including sweets and chocolate, butter, cheese, tinned fruit, margarine and lard, plus fruit and vegetables although in those days the choice was very limited. Mr Travis from Braithwell brought the supplies in his van, but I do recall that once when we didn’t have tomatoes that we all went to Sheffield Market. We caught the bus to Rotherham and then went on another bus to Sheffield. I remember being very puzzled by the buildings, as many of them only had fronts and no glass in the windows. You could see the sky though the gaping window frames or through the holes in the roofs. Of course, Sheffield had been badly bombed and there were still damaged buildings standing at the bottom of the Moor when I went to University there in 1960.

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  Ernest Mullins. Pattie's cousin

Another memory of the time at the shop was that sometimes at night when it was light Mum held me up to the living room window to see the bombers going off to Europe. Of course, I did not understand the significance of the planes or their missions, but much later Mum told me how sometimes she would hear odd planes returning in the night with stuttering engines. Also during the war, I remember the day my Mum and Aunt got a telegram to say that their brother had been killed. He was in the East Yorkshire regiment and had been serving as a sergeant when they were over-run by the Japanese and he was killed in the Malayan jungle. They were both crying. and I couldn’t understand why this little bit of paper they had received had had such an effect on them but their brother Douglas had been a great favourite. Meanwhile they had a brother working on buildings which had been hit in the blitz in London and another brother in the Middle East, plus my father was in Europe and we seldom heard from him and Aunty Pat’s son was serving in the army too. It must have been a very difficult time for them with all the men gone away.

When I lived at the shop a great deal of the food was rationed. On one occasion Aunty had received a delivery of tinned peaches. Someone, who was not a regular customer, came in and asked for peaches. Aunty said she didn’t have any, as she was saving them for her ‘regulars’.  I was in the shop and piped up ‘Yes you do. They are down here under the counter’. I was not flavour of the month!

At the weekends we often went for walks and there were all sorts of wild flowers in the hedgerows. We were able to pick violets, cowslips and primroses and we made daisy chains.  I was shown the birds’ nests and there were sparrows, chaffinches and always we saw and heard the skylarks and cuckoos in the summer. Mum used to hold a buttercup under my chin to see if I liked butter. In summer there were some plantains which had pink furry heads and they were called scent bottles, and others with brown heads were used for firing at each other. We used to walk down Micklebring Lane or through one of the fields that belonged to the Spencer family, towards the railway embankment which carried the coal trains.

There was very little traffic as few people had cars, but there were buses every two hours which ran between Braithwell and Rotherham and on Tuesdays and Saturdays there were buses to Doncaster. At other times if you wanted to go to Doncaster you had to walk to Braithwell where there were more frequent buses. When I was about three my mother decided to enrol me in dancing classes and we used to go down to Balby, on Tuesdays where I was enrolled at a house close to the big railway bridge.  

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  The Plough and the Manor House (left)

There was no electricity in Micklebring but we did have running water which came from the reservoir at Clifton. There was no telephone box in the village but of course there was a pub – The Plough, with its green roof. The rest of the village consisted of farms- the Wheelhouses, the Spencers, the Wilkinsons and there was a blacksmith.

The Claytons who lived next door later moved to the Airey houses which were built in the Back Lane. My cousin Barry must have gone to Sunday School as I remember being in a pantomime cum concert with him in the Braithwell Sunday School, which is now the doctors’ surgery.

My aunt remarried in 1946 by which time my father had returned from Europe and we had moved away to Pudsey near Leeds, which is where my father had family, but we used to come back to Micklebring for holidays. My aunt married her brother-in-law, Frank Mullins, and he built the White House in Back Lane. He had bought the High Farm on Greaves Syke Lane which had a large rambling house looking out over the hills and fields to the north. However, my aunt said that she didn’t want to live in another old house, so he built the new house in Back Lane. The old farm house became home for Frank’s son Leonard (Len) and his wife Iris and the other half of the house was occupied by Iris’s sister Mona and her family, the Whites. Their children were June, who was the same age as me, Tony and Elaine, who were younger.

I used to have great fun with the Whites when we visited the farm. On one occasion when Uncle Frank had grown a fodder crop across the road from the farm we discovered that there were peas in the crop. We decided to pick the peas and have a secret feast in the cart shed. We filled our pockets but then went on picking and Tony discovered that he had a hole in the pocket of his shorts. As the shorts were lined, he could stuff the peas into the lining and eventually he looked like the Michelin man! We had our feast in the cart shed but I’m not sure what we did with the pods. Of course, the farmyard was great for hide and seek, so many nooks and crannies. We also loved to climb onto the haystacks to look for eggs. No health and safety those days! We even used to ride on the mudguards of the tractors. Once when Uncle Frank was doing the potato picking and had a gang of local ladies helping, they all climbed on to the tractor for a lift back to the farm at the end of the day. As he went over a bump in the field one of the ladies fell off and the tractor ran over her, but as the soil was freshly turned she was lucky and was simply squashed into the soil and got up none the worse for wear.

The croft always had ducks and hens and there was a very deep well in one corner which was fenced off and we were forbidden to go anywhere near it. Mum said that it was so deep that when things were thrown into it you couldn’t hear them hit the bottom. It was never used for water in my time. I wonder if the people who live there now know of its existence. There was also a magnificent walnut tree in the croft which Uncle Frank was very proud of. When he built the bungalow in the croft he sold the rest of the farm and was horrified and angry to find that the new owner had cut down the walnut tree to sell for timber. He said that had he known that was going to happen he would never have sold the farm to the person who bought it.

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Ignore the M18! The cows would know their way along Cowshill lane and would turn left up Back lane to High Farm. The horse intended to turn right down Back lane and home to Foredoles Farm!

 

Most of the farmers helped each other out from time to time. Uncle Frank used to borrow a cart horse from the farm at Fordoles, when he was harvesting, to carry the crops back to the farm. Once when we were visiting my father was with us, which was unusual as he really wasn’t a country boy, having been born on the outskirts of Leeds. My Uncle asked him to go and get the cows for milking. They were in a field which was off Greave’s Syke lane, near the railway embankment, but we didn’t need to walk on the main road as there was a track down to the field between two hedges past the area where they had mined for Ruddle in days gone by (Cownhill Lane).

My Uncle explained that some of the cows were ‘dry’ and didn’t need to come up, but he said that they knew whether they were to come or not. I knew the way and when we arrived my Dad asked me to stay by the gate in order to signal to any traffic which came along that cows were crossing. He disappeared over the brow of the hill towards the railway and I could hear him shouting to the cows who slowly plodded up the hill towards me. Suddenly I could hear a rumble getting closer and up came the cart horse with Dad in hot pursuit and he shouted to me to shut the gate as he had been told not to bring the horse. I couldn’t close the gate as the cows were going through, but he shouted to me to follow it. I had a job to scramble through the narrow laneway as it was full of cows, however when I got to the top of the lane a man had come out of the cottage which stood there and he had lassoed the horse! He had heard it thundering up the lane and due to his quick thinking had the instinct to go out and catch it. My Uncle was not happy to see the horse as it meant that he had to break off the harvesting to take it back to Fordoles, which was where the horse had been heading for when it was caught. 

My father was never asked to collect the cows again! In my defence I was only about eight at the time and I could hardly stop a herd of cows when they knew where they were going. The laneway is blocked now with large lumps of limestone and the hedges are very overgrown. You certainly couldn’t walk down there now, nor could a horse gallop up. The cottage has long since disappeared. Apparently, it was where the itinerate miners lived when they were digging for the Ruddle (The Barracks)

Harvesting was a time of great fun for us children. Len used to go into the field first with a scythe to open up the field so that the contractor could come in with the reaper. This had blades which cut the wheat and it fell on to a sheet and then somehow the wheat was tied up into sheaves. The sheaves were then propped up against each other in groups and left until they were dry. When dry the tractor came up to the field towing a dray. Pitchforks were used to toss the sheaves on to the drays and then they were taken back to the farmyard where they were piled up to make a stack. Later they were fed through the threshing machine and the straw came out in bales and the wheat came out of the machine on the other side into sacks and these went up into the granary by the milking shed.

The cows were milked with electric machinery and the milk went to the dairy where it was poured into the top of the cooler. Cold water ran through the cooler and the milk passed over the cooler and ran down into the churns.  My aunt used to clean all the equipment twice a day and the milk lorry came for the milk in the mornings, taking away the full churns and leaving empty ones.

There were always farm cats hanging around the dairy and of course they were needed to keep the mouse population under control, but they used to come over to the house to be fed. One cat my aunt had used to catch baby rabbits in the field and bring them back for an old cat that couldn’t hunt for itself anymore.

Summer seemed to go on for ever in Micklebring and I don’t remember it ever raining there.

Now the old barns and the farmyard are gone and I don’t suppose that the people who live there have any idea what it used to be like.