Pontefract Now and Then - A @wednesdaywalk

Back in the UK recently and before I'd picked up a hire car, I had two choices to get around. Shanks' pony or peasant waggon and seeing as the bus service that goes past my Mum's house has been withdrawn, and I wanted to get down to the retail park at the other side of town, it was time to put my best foot forward.

All I wanted was some new pants!

Freeport is situated between Pontefract and Castleford, at Glasshoughton and is a huge space built on reclaimed land from where a coal mine and coking plant once stood. As a child, I remember driving past there and gazing up at the eternal flame from the coking plant chimney, as well as the plumes of smoke. Along with the Prince of Wales colliery just a mile away, there was always the faint stench of sulphur that scratched your nose and the air was never quite perfectly clear.

All that has changed for the better these days and as North Sea or natural gas as it was called, coming online, there was no longer any need for coking plants which made gas by dry heating coal to create both coke and gas.

Homes moved from coal fires, to smokeless fuels to gas for heat and these changes, reduced the amount of pollution in the air which of course creates a more comfortable environment for anyone living in such an industrialised area.

As I walked though, it got me thinking.

When I was younger, if we ever went anywhere we hadn't been in a while, my parents would often say something along the lines of;

Oh. It's changed around here.

I never paid much attention. When you're young, nothing ever changed but getting older, you see how much things really have changed within your own lifetime and it was these thoughts that stayed with me as I purposely strode out on that gorgeous October day.

The other thought that struck me is, that like my post about Darrington Church the other day, how deeply we are rooted and connected to the place we were born, as I hope you'll see from the upcoming photos.

So the following are a few pictures from that walk, of things that most certainly have changed along with pictures of how they used to look using photos of the same locations from the Wakefield District Council's Museum archives.

All the old photos are free to use both for personal and commercial use and the licensing rights can be found here. I have of course, credited the original photographer wherever the information was available.

So firstly, this is the route I took although the pictures will start in town itself...

The first photo is of the now sadly closed down Windmill Pub. It wasn't somewhere I'd go drinking as a kid as it was really a traditional spit and sawdust old fellas pub but the connection is that in the 1950s, my great uncle was landlord there and my Mum always recounts some very happy family parties taking place during that time. She does have one photo, but like an idiot, I forgot to borrow it and scan it in. Noted for next trip!

It certainly isn't a particulary old building or anything special but it was obviously built as a pub and you can see the windmill plaque over the door.

The thing to note in this picture is the sign on the lampost which reads, "Pontefract: A magna carta town since 1215". We don't half like ramming our amazing history down your throats!

@slobberchops Is this place on your radar by any chance? The rear of the building is fairly quiet despite its town centre location. If you could get in here I'd be made up.

I then walked along through town, along Ropergate right to the end, and where it meets Jubilee Way stands the Crescent cinema.

The Crescent cinema is the last of four cinemas in town and also had a dance hall attached, but the only one I remember. It was the first cinema I ever went to, quite late in life as a 17 year old, to see the unofficial James Bond film with the returning Sean Connery in 'Never Say Never Again'.

Family-sized bag of Opal Fruits and a can of Top Deck Shandy. Very sophisticated!

Buildings and places as they get older seem to be much like me as I've aged.
They have either changed appearance out of all recognition, have fallen down, been pulled down, been condemned or are broken down ruins and a shadow of what they once were!

At least the cinema is still standing and since the projector was turned off for the last time in 1992, has been a bingo hall and then for the last 20 years, snooker club and dance studio. It's quite a landmark building now and I hope it finds further use by sympathetic owners in the years to come.

UnknownPhotographer And here is how it looked in what I imagine to be the late 50s or early 60s. Sadly the photo isn't good enough to see what was showing at the time or we could have dated it precisely.

Looking directly across the road from the same location, we see the telephone exchange. As an apprentice, I put in a few weeks here but it was also the base for three of my uncles, who also worked for the GPO as it was known at the time.

The original building in the foreground was built in the 50s and the extension in the background, the early 70s and with the advent of digital, now mainly stands empty.

The road is called Jubilee Way and as you might have guessed was completed in 1977 when the road was widened to a dual cariageway and where the clean looking wall at the front is, was a row of old shops which I barely remember.

Next to the telephone exchange was, to the people who worked there, the most important building in town.

No, not the beautiful Georgian style house, but the white building with the sign that says 'Berries Buttys' which is what it was called back in the day and where as an 18 year-old apprentice, my day started by walking around the exchange taking sandwich orders and collecting the money before going up to Berries', placing the order and delivering it back on the stroke of 10am.
Most popular sandwich back then? BEST- Bacon Egg Sausage and Tomato! Some things never change.

Walking up the hill on the right hand side we have Crossley Tordoff's. It looks quite 'new' but has been that way since I can remember and was certainly that same building when I went to hire my salopettes and boots for ski-ing trips as 14-year-old in 1980. At a guess, I'd imagine it was renovated at the time of the road being widened in 1977 but the company has been around for generations.

Notice the street named Liquorice Way? References to our famous history of liquorice and sweet making are everywhere.

Walking further up to the peak of the hill you can see in the previous picture, we get to the sprawling Haribo sweet factory which for some reason, I didn't take a photo of but as luck would have it, I stopped to take this picture of some street art on a wall right opposite.

Now in the old picture I found of the same location, which again, is in my living memory and shows the Dunhills sign, the sweet factory before it was bought out by Haribo, can you see the same wall, and a different white car in exactly the same parking space!

Unknown photographer The car, of course, is an Escort XR3i which probably dates this around 1990. It wouldn't be long before the Dunhill sign came down, both Townend's Greengrocer and Cornmarket Fisheries closed down and the behemoth that is Haribo took over.

We're now walking down the hill and out of town, and one of the few shops on Front Street not owned by Haribos is Goodworth Bros. Butchers. This shop has been around as a butchers shop since the 1940's when it was started by three brothers, the last of whom died just a few years back aged 102. One of my great uncles.

I have very few memories of visitng the shop as a kid but I do remember being both fascinated and a little scared of the rows of rabbits and pheasants hung outside by the doorway. In those days, there was sawdust on the floor and bloodstains everywhere.

It's nice to see that despite the proliferation of supermarkets that there are a few traditional shops surviving in what must be difficult trading circumstances for a small business.

A few yards further on and we get to Kikos...
Kikos is a nightclub that opened in the seventies and was the only one in town. It finally closed in 2011 after brief renaissance and it was where you'd find me every Friday and Saturday during the mid eighties. My cousin was a glass collector and a mate worked behind the bar so I never paid to get in, always being on 'the list' and walking past the queues that would form outside after the pubs closed at 11 and everyone had made the walk down the hill, often via the Chinese near to the butchers.

The theme was 'Polynesian', no seriously and there were artex formed palm trees, cliff faces and into them were set a couple of huge fish tanks. On more than one occassion, I'd helped pick up the fish and popped them into an ice bucket of water as a wayward stool had missed its intended target and ended up crashing through the glass. Heavy stainless steel stools with their maroon velvet upholstery had little effect on neanderthal skulls but were devastating to one inch thick plate glass fishtanks!

As anyone of 'a certain age' will remember, walking around took a huge amount of effort as your feet would be stuck to the carpets and your steps would be interspresed with the crunching sound of ground in broken glass. Vivid pink neon lights and every surface painted black completed this Polynesian temple of eighties musical hedonism.

Ohhh, except for the ponds! there were also a couple of ponds in there which I never actually saw full of water, that was definitely a 'good' idea that was never going to end well. I often saw beer, vomit, blood and other bodily fluids in there but never water!

And damn was it rough! Especially on a Friday night.

Most of the women in town worked in the sweet factories, half the guys were down the pit and people were paid weekly. In cash. On a Friday! A quick change of clothes and it was into town for a skinful before heading to Kikos.

You'd be unlucky if you didn't see at least two fights a night. It wasn't a big club but there were at least six bouncers who were, even then, quite old fellas but huge, and they had to be. Rugby League playing miners after 10 pints are not known for their delicate physiques and gentle personas and they all had the same Christian name, 'Big'. Big Dave, Big Pete etc and they were all dressed in tuxedos complete with cumberbun and dickie.

Whenever it kicked off, the DJ and bar staff would press a switch which would set off a buzzer at the entrance and they'd all race inside the club, woe betide anyone in their way who would be bowled over like skittles in the the rush to the altercation.

There were no rights or wrongs, the protagonists would be dragged through the fire escape, down a short flight of concrete steps and given a good hiding in the little car park which no one actually parked in due to the risk of damage to your car from the fighting.

Picture courtesy of the Pontefract and Castleford Express This photo must have been taken in the lates eighties judging by the Peugeot 405 outside. A very plain and unassuming exterior that hid the bloodbath inside. Again, I believe @slobberchops' urban explorer mates might have managed to get in here. I just read that its finally due to be demolished next year which will be sad but thats how life moves forwards, I guess.

At two-thousand words, I'm going to leave it here for now. As I write, more and more memories and thoughts are triggered and more than being a personal piece, it seems to be in some ways becoming an incredibly simplified comment on recent social history and I can't stop adding things!

Next time, I promise we'll finally arrive at Freeport for a coffee and the new pants this journey had been started for!

If you got this far, thank you and as ever, the engagement means more than the reward.

Pontefract. Where the cakes come from!

Originally made by Dunhills, Now made by Haribo

One little note. Haribo says they are 'authentic' and cannot legally call them 'original' as they cannot use the stamp that makes them 'genuine'


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