Every day going to and from Little School, I had to pass close to the Admiral Duncan pub on Thornes Lane in the shadow of Bridge 58. (The pub is still there and was recently renovated.) As a young child I often stood on tiptoe to peer through the grimy pub windows trying to discern what was going on inside. I could read the signs, colourfully engraved on the windows making them look rather like the stained glass I'd seen in our church, but I couldn't imagine why that establishment needed a Tap Room and a Smoke Room and my parents, both disapproving of alcohol, wouldn't tell me.
Above:These are some of the 99 Arches in 2009, still carrying the Leeds to London railway as they did in the 1940s. (Doncaster and London Kings X off to the right.) Bridge 58, over Thornes Lane, ís on the extreme right. Between the arches and the Admiral Duncan pub is the narrow lane that led to the St James 'big' school. The 'little school' and the Co-op store were off to the ríght through the bridges.
Close by the Admiral Duncan, on the other side of Bridge 58, was our family's favourite fish and chip shop, long since gone, where from the age of about 8 or 9 I was sometimes sent on my own to fetch our supper once or twice a week in the evenings. I was usually the one who was sent because Dad, like most fathers of the time, rarely did any shopping and Mum didn’t like to be seen passing Mrs Dargan's fish and chip shop, the one on the corner of Avondale and Tew Streets, carrying fish and chips from the Thornes Lane shop. Pieces of succulent, battered cod, deep fried in beef dripping of course, were 4d and a huge pile of golden-brown chips 2d - a fraction of today's prices even after allowing for inflation. Occasionally, the owner would give me a small bag of 'scraps' - the delicious bits of batter that had separated from the fish during the frying process. It was probably very unhealthy but we didn't worry about that sort of thing when all food was in short supply. Little did I realise the dangers the brave fishing crews went through every time they left port for the fishing grounds in the North Sea and beyond.
Above: Thornes Lane and Bridge 58. Our favourite fish and chip shop was roughly where the tall white building on the right is in 2014. Christ Church 'little school' was behind the railings on the left.
There were always queues long before the fish and chip shop opened its doors for business but if it was very cold or very wet the proprietor would usually let us in early while the first batch of food was still frying. I used to worry that the proprietor would burn his fingers when he slipped the batter-laden fish into the boiling fat, or when he lifted a sieve full of chips out of the fat so that he could squeeze one to see if it was done. To this day I know of no smell more tantalising than fish and chips frying. I assume the queues diminished late in the evening, long after I’d gone to bed. There used to be an oft-repeated Music Hall joke in the 1940s about a customer who went into a fish and chip shop right on closing time and asked if there were any fish and chips left. "You're in luck", said the owner. "Serves you right for cooking so many", said the other and left.
A large notice in the fish shop window exhorted customers to ‘Bring Your Own Paper’. Out of sheer necessity rather than concern for the environment we were all far more diligent at recycling things during the war and in the early post-war years than we are these days. I used to read the latest news from the pages of the Daily Mirror, the Wakefield Express, or the Yorkshire Evening Post whilst standing in the queue. Wrapping fish and chips was just one of the many uses to which newspapers could be put. As soon as I got home, the food was immediately transferred to plates which had been nicely warmed on the hearth in front of the coal fire. The greasy paper was put aside for fire-lighting purposes. At a very early age I learned how to plait rolled up newspaper to form slow burning fuses which would be used as kindling in lieu of firewood. The Wakefield Express and the Yorkshire Evening Post, being broadsheets then, were better for fire lighting purposes than the Daily Mirror, but the Mirror had the best strip cartoons - including voluptuous Jane and macho Garth, the intrepid adventurer who could easily have been James Bond’s grandfather.
At the end of each day small clean rectangles of our own daily newspaper were impaled on a nail in our toilet for a less dignified purpose but they still made fascinating reading even though it was often difficult to find the end of a particular story. “Hurry up, our Tony," Mam used to shout through the toilet door, “Your Dad wants to come in."