Extract from: I Like My Choice, Chapter 15, Change, by Lord Holderness (1998)
It is now nearly eighty years [written in 1998] since the major expansion of the Estate beyond the parishes of Bugthorpe and Kirby Underdale, but many of the major changes there have taken place since the end of the 1939 - 1945 war.
Change, the world over, tends to accelerate; and in each succeeding decade its pace seems to quicken. This is true, not only of the Estate itself, but also of all of us lucky enough to live in the peace and beauty of this part of Yorkshire.
Looking back to the years immediately before the last war, a momentous transformation has taken place in the daily life, work and recreation of all who live here, matching changes that have meanwhile taken place across the country and far beyond.
Arthur West of Bugthorpe is one of many informants who has supplemented my own memory by his willingness to talk freely about conditions of those earlier days. Others in Bugthorpe, Kirby Underdale, Bishop Wilton and Givendale have helped to make more vivid the contrast between the 1930s and the 1990s; and Allan Calder, before he died in 1997, provided abundant and useful testimony from many of the past Garrowby tenants.
Arthur West's memories are here recorded in particular detail because he took great trouble to put on paper much that he remembered of the past. In the light of his testimony, young men and women now in their teens or twenties or thirties will be able to judge whether life is fuller now; or whether conditions that followed the first war (now nearly eighty years ago) made it possible for our fathers and grandfathers (not forgetting mothers and grandmothers!) to enjoy certain things which have now largely disappeared from rural life.
Arthur was born in 1927 and describes himself as an ordinary schoolboy. His father, Harry, was a builder. He had two older sisters and a brother, John - a happy family who (like everyone else) went to church two or three times on a Sunday, with a walk up the lane in the evening. Like most other boys in Bugthorpe, he was a member of the choir. Tragedy struck the family when his father was killed in an accident on his motor-bike. Arthur was only seven. Times were hard and money was scarce. Poverty faced the family. Compared with the help which Governments make available to-day to people in need, it was hard to make ends meet in the 1930s. Arthur's mother worked for several people in the village, cleaning and scrubbing. She also washed hampers of clothes from Garrowby Hall. There was no washing machine, just a dolly tub with a peggy stick and a wooden roller wringer on the cement at the back of the house. The water for the wash was fetched from the beck in the dolly tub and pushed home in the wheelbarrow. The copper for boiling the water in the corner of the kitchen was heated from a pile of wood. When the washing was dry it went under flat irons, heated on the bars of a good fire. Mrs. West charged sixpence for four shirts, twopence for sheets and a halfpenny for a maid’s apron. Drinking water came from a well near the back door, with a pump over the stone sink in the kitchen. The only help Mrs. West got from the Government was a ten shilling widow's pension.
Arthur did a few jobs and, at the age of nine, rode the front horse in the binder for Mr. Tom Flint. It was not easy for a little boy in short trousers. At night his legs were very sore, but he still went on the next day. When the harvest was finished Mr. Flint gave him a pound note. Mrs. West thought it must be a mistake and sent it back, but Tom Flint insisted that Arthur should keep it. With it he bought new clothes for school. His next job was running errands for the Co-op in the village. He collected all the orders and delivered the boxes, going to Garrowby twice a week. His reward he ironically describes as the princely sum of 1/6d.
Most of the nuns who came in 1937 to teach in the school were very kind, but one (according to Arthur) was hard. He was at school from the age of five and left on his fourteenth birthday. He would like to have been a joiner, but his uncle was a builder and farmed in the village. His mother wanted Arthur to work for him and ‘in those days,’ as Arthur
wrote later, 'you did what you were told.' He began training as a bricklayer, but had to milk the cows before work and again when he came home. A bicycle was his only transport wherever they were working. Up hill and down dale he rode, with the tools on the crossbar. The next year, when he was fifteen, he began a full apprenticeship with Steels at Pocklington. He earned 7/6d. a week with a yearly rise of 2/6d. until the apprenticeship ended after seven years. The 1939 - 1945 war had started by then. One of his sisters was making munitions in Birmingham; the other was in Lancashire. His brother was in the Army. Arthur registered for service in the Navy, but was deferred for two years and never heard anything more. He suspects that the papers of his “group’ were destroyed in a vicious air raid on Hull a few days after he registered. Denied the chance of service in the Navy, Arthur took on the duties of an A.R.P. Messenger.
No personal memories will be identical, but a recognisable thread runs through the recollections of many who were living near Garrowby during the war. Many remember the evacuees from places like Sunderland and Hull. [.....] Those who came from the big towns were generally valued more highly by those with whom they stayed than they themselves valued their exile from home. Young people accustomed to the bright lights do not usually take kindly to the comparative quietness of life in the country. The strict black-out of those years would anyhow have denied them the benefits of outside lighting on dark nights, but it was not until after the war that this lighting came to the villages, and in Bugthorpe only in 1997 after a very narrow vote. While they remained in this part of Yorkshire the evacuees gave pleasure to many of their hosts by teaching them ballet and tap-dancing. Some formed lasting friendships [.....].
Meanwhile those from the Garrowby Estate, who had a chance to visit Hull and see the result of the Luftwaffe's efforts, noticed that the staircases of many of the bombed houses remained intact. Families at Garrowby wisely concluded that the space below the stairs was a safe haven during the infrequent warnings of air raids which sounded in this part of the country. For those who got further afield, memories of the wailing siren and the more cheerful ‘All Clear' will be with them for the rest of their lives.
No contrast between village life in the 1930s and the present day is more striking than that provided by Gordon Foster. In 1935 he, with his sister Norah, and brother Brian, who died not many years later, was living in a house near Cliff Farm, opposite the church in Bishop Wilton. At that time, there were still two active chapels in the village. There was a resident policeman, P.C. Lambert or P.C. Hammet, who guarded the village's security at different times. The Fleece Inn was looked after by Mr. Holgate, the Post Office by one of the Cooks. There were also three joiners, Bailey, Tipling and Walker. Walker's grandson and granddaughter-in-law still live in the village. Two saddlers were also busy there; and Fishers had already been going for many years. Then there were the Ripleys, with their itinerant threshing machine and an interesting bicycle shop at the corner of the present Park Lane. I rode my bicycle there one day when I was ten, seeking a piece of elastic for my catapult. Ripley, with none in stock, took the trouble to speed me all the way to Pocklington in the sidecar of his motor bike in order to buy a piece of the precious elastic.
A fish-shop was run by Drewery; and, of the four other shops then in business, one sold sweets, including McGowan's toffee (then much in demand), and another, groceries; Watson sold ice-creams. There were two butchers, Smith and Newby; and Charles Cullum continued to mend shoes many years after the war.
The absence of entertainment provided in the 1930s and 1940s and the contrast with its abundant provision fifty years later, through television and in countless other ways, is another theme that runs more than any other through the memories of older observers. In regard to television in particular, it could also stimulate interesting debate on the merits or demerits of its almost complete conquest of contemporary life at home. There is no doubt of the joy and interest that it and the radio, then always known as 'wireless,' have brought to old people and those who cannot get out much; but it has also diverted many from the old
activities, particularly reading. So there is room for considerable disagreement about the gains and losses and the correct reading of the resulting balance-sheet.
In the 1930s children had to occupy their holidays with activities of their own invention. Hop-scotch, skipping, hide and seek, marbles and a game known as “boolers’ were all popular. Few children had bicycles, but all then felt free to wander widely over the surrounding countryside without causing any anxiety to their parents. Many recent disasters have made clear how unattainable such freedom is at the present day, even in the most remote parts of the country.
May Day was widely celebrated with the maypole and dancing, accompanied by the crowning of the May Queen. The Bishop Wilton Show, then held on the first Monday in August (in those days August Bank Holiday), was always popular. The show has moved several times since I first remember it. Its earlier site between the Vicarage and the Village Hall has thankfully given way to its present spacious accommodation beside the road to Pocklington. The brass band which used to cheer proceedings was greatly admired.
For the annual Sunday School outing, in which Church and Chapel united, seven Baileys buses were hired for an expedition to Scarborough or Bridlington and the day was eagerly awaited. Each child was given an envelope containing 3/-, equal to 15p. to-day. Even after the war, the buying power of three shillings remained considerable.
During the long and bitter winter of 1946/47, when the Longhorns at Wold Farm, above Bishop Wilton, were isolated for six weeks, many other roads were also impassable for a long time. Modern equipment has since made clearance more rapid and efficient, but it earlier depended largely on the strength and determination of devoted roadmen. Bishop Wilton was lucky that two of them lived in the village.
Horses still played an essential part on the farms until well after the 1939 - 1945 war and the earlier forms of travel, mostly dependent on the pulling-power of horses or ponies, continued to remain useful until war-time petrol rationing came to an end in 1950.