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About A Week: Village Life

...When I left home at 8.30, Harry Asquith would be shoeing his first horse of the day in the blacksmith's shop adjoining our garden...

Peter Hinchliffe recalls village life.

School days began with the smell of burning horses' hooves.

When I left home at 8.30, Harry Asquith would be shoeing his first horse of the day in the blacksmith's shop adjoining our garden.

There was the whoo-whoo of hand-pumped bellows, the rhythmic beat of skilful hammer on metal, the hushshsh of white-hot shoes being dipped into a tank of cold water.

And that smell ..! The brief, pungent smoke which rose up as a cart-horse's carefully-pared hoof was matched to a hot shoe.

Past the blacksmith's, the pub, The Woolpack, with the stale fug of Woodbines and last night's beer drifting from its depths. The Woolpack was a working man's talk-shop, a place to joke and relax and be oneself, an island of escape from the harsh world of work.

Twenty years on, it became a fashionable eating place, with a continental chef who worked culinary magic. Its customers included the likes of Tom Jones, who looked forward to eating there when he appeared at Batley Variety Club.

In the 1940s village women frowned when mentioning The Woolpack. They never entered its convivial rooms. Women simply did not go into pubs. With clicking tongues and disapproving shrugs, in mid-morning gossip, they named those men who were The Woolpack's most-frequent customers.

Many of the men who frequented the pub had curious blue-black marks on hands and body, places where coaldust had entered a cut to leave a permanent signature.

Opposite The Woolpack was The Seat, a wooden bench which served as the village parliament. On fine evenings men gathered there to chat, spending far more time on The Seat than they did in the pub. Beer money was scarce.

Near The Seat was the Co-op, the female equivalent of the pub, focal point for not-quite-by-chance encounters and conversations.

That five-minute walk to the school took me on beyond the blacksmith's, The Woolpack, the Co-op, down the steep slope of Whitley Road sharp-right into narrow, tree-lined Howroyd Lane.

There were other children now, clogs laced to tiny feet, pushing, yelling, clattering up the middle of the lane. We were ever-ready to leap on to the stone-flagged pavement beneath the shade of the trees. Wagons trundled up and down that lane, filling it with their width, fetching coal from Howroyd pit.

As these wagons swept round the sharp bend from Howroyd into Whitley Road, loose coal shuttered from their peaked loads. The bend was always black with coaldust and slack. After school, boys whose fathers did not work in the pit and so qualify for free coal, loaded the day's sheddings into "hurry-carts", taking them home to bring welcome warmth to drafty living rooms.

The pit-head was linked by a steeply-sloping quarter-mile track to the mouth of the day-hole, hidden in a secret, wooded valley, where 40 or 50 miners hewed coal. Our school lessons were punctuated by the click and clack of wagons being hauled up that track.

Above the click-clack, the sudden roar of coal rushing from chute to lorry, skylarks soared and sang. In an adjoining field cattle grazed in a comfortable herd, waiting to be milked by hand.

Woolly-boy caterpillars came crawling in season from the hedgerow. Red-and-black ladybirds hesitantly alighted on the backs of our hands.

The pit was encircled, almost engulfed, by fields of green which stretched as far as our young eyes could see, enclosing our safe little kingdom.

Opposite the pit yard was Collins's farm. Jackson Collins, a ruddy, upright man, ploughed, harrowed and harvested with horses. On the Sabbath, his rough hands affectionately clutched a Bible as he paced before our Sunday School class, tell-ng us stories from testaments Old and New.

In autumn, when the harvest was safely gathered in, when Collins's side-yard bulged with stacks in the shape of huge bread loaves, the thresher came chuffing into Whitley. A steam engine, pistons pounding, a hot glow coming from its firebox to increase the warmth of a sunny day, towed and powered the wooden threshing machine, with its flapping leather belts.

Men toiled through a long dusty day, feeding sheaves of wheat to the thresher, hefting sacks of new-minted grain, re-building stacks of straw. As each grain-bearing stack was lowered to its bottom layer, rats and mice scampered for safety. Many didn't make it. Black-and-white terriers scampered in wild pursuit, too excited to yelp.

Onwards, past pit and farm, descending now into a valley, we passed a lych gate, and the churchyard where our forebears were buried. Generations of folk were bom into the village and died in the village. There didn't seem to be any point in going anywhere else.

Below the church, the high stone wall surrounding the vicarage, with its well-stocked orchard. On dark nights, in the ripe season of the year, naughty lads scrimmed over that wall into the orchard. Once, a lad was up a tree, throwing apples down to other members of the raiding gang.

"Don't go eating'em," he hissed. "Remember, we're supposed to be sharing 'em out."

"Who's that?" demanded a firm adult voice. "That's Peter Hinchliffe, isn't it?"

Oh dear! The vicar!

We ran off with ears burning, the recipients of a good tajking-to.

Below the vicarage gateway, the narrow entrance to our school Straight down a flight of stone steps we went, into the schoolyard, there to join in a game of football or rounders.
The yard was fringed by trees through which could be seen the handsome reach of the valley. We had no time for the view. We were too busy with our play.

There were never more than 30 of us at that school, a tight know-everybody village family.

At 3.30 we were re-tracing our steps, rushing, clattering past farm and pit. Home to a welcoming mam, a warm tea, and a sumptuous evening of freedom.


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