Below: The main drive through Wakefield Clarence Park with St James Church just across Denby Dale Road at the bottom of the hill (my picure from 2008)
During the 1940s, climbing trees in Wakefield's very extensive and wonderful park was a year-round pleasure for young boys like me. The only danger as far as we were concerned was if the Park Keepers (Parkies) caught us! There were lots of trees suitable for climbing, including some with long branches overhanging the, fortunately, shallow duck pond. I lost track of the number of times I arrived home wet through from the waist down. What we boys in the 1940s called simply "the park" was in fact three parks, Clarence, Holmfield and Thornes, all seamlessly joined together. Clarence Park was named after the Duke of Clarence who inaugurated the park in 1891 and planted the first of over 100 Chestnut trees which still line both sides of a wide pathway leading uphill, past a large arena, down through Thornes Park and thence to Horbury Road.
Above: This is the entrance to Thornes Park as I found it in 2009
There were several entrances into the park from our house, the nearest being no more than about 200 metres from the end of our street on Denby Dale Road opposite St James' Church and close to a horse trough and a water fountain. We kids regularly refreshed ourselves from the water fountain. Working horses transiting along Denby Dale Road frequently stopped at the horse trough for rest and refreshment; it has been restored in recent years and is now an historic 'feature'. The second way in was from Park Avenue, a narrow avenue leading uphill off Denby Dale Road between Cotton Street and Avondale Street but on the opposite side of the road. In the 1940s Park Avenue was yet another 'unfinished' road. At the top of the rise a narrow entrance led into a splendid arena with tiered natural seating. The top of Park Avenue also provided splendid views of the City skyline. Park Avenue continued down the other side of the hill and eventually joined up with Lawefield Lane and Westgate, the main road out of Wakefield towards Horbury and Dewsbury. I rarely ventured down that side of Park Avenue - it was Lawefield Lane Junior School territory - some other kids' piece.
Another way into the park was from Park Avenue, a narrow avenue leading uphill off Denby Dale Road opposite Avondale Street. Park Avenue in the 1940s was yet another ‘unfinished’ road with no through way for vehicles. At the top of the rise on the left was an alternative way into the splendid arena with its tiered natural seating. The top of the uphill section of Park Avenue also provided splendid views of the City skyline – but only on the relatively few clear, smog-free days. Park Avenue continued down the other side of the hill and eventually joined up with Lawefield Lane and Westgate, the main road out of Wakefield towards Horbury and Dewsbury. I rarely ventured down that side of Park Avenue – it was Lawefield Lane Junior School territory – some other kids’ piece.
Above: Looking up Park Avenue as it is in 2015, now terminating at Denby Dale Road which is now a dual carriageway, strictly controlled by many speed cameras.
One day, when I realised I was going to be late home for tea, I had what could easily have been a fatal road accident. I came out of the arena at the top of Park Avenue, jumped on my bike, and ‘hurtled’ down the hill, but I was going so fast at the bottom of the hill that I was unable to stop before I reached the main road. I stuck my right leg down hard on the road and screeched through 90 degrees across Denby Dale Road without even seeing a private car coming from my left. The car very nearly hit me. I fell off my bike and the driver of the car, understandably very angry, told me off in no uncertain terms. I was not sure which of us was the most shocked.
During the apple season we concentrated our attention on the many apple trees. We preferred apples plucked from the trees because they always seemed tastier than the windfalls and, in any case, worms and other creatures usually got to the windfalls before we could. We called climbing trees for apples "scrumping" but I gather that word can have an entirely different meaning these days that has absolutely nothing to do with fruit.
There was one particular tree (I am fairly certain that's the one, above, in 2009) that was a favourite with all of us boys because it was very easy to climb. Sometimes there would be up to half a dozen of us at a time sitting along the lowest, almost horizontal, branch of that particular tree while on other occasions there were competitions to see who dared to climb highest up the trunk. That tree is still standing - just. Of course, since we were not very heavy, we didn't give a thought to what would happen if one of the branches gave way under our combined weight. Wartime rations meant that, unlike these days, there were never any overweight boys. I don't recall any of us getting anything worse than grazed knees or gaping holes in our wartime utility-quality short trousers.
A typical Old Man's Shelter photographed in 2009
Parkies often lurked in shelters known ungrammatically, as 'Old Man' Shelters hoping to catch lads unaware. They were probably more concerned about damage to the trees than damage to us but since I was never caught by one, I don't know that for certain. The Parkies were usually elderly and sometimes disabled and so, presumably, were not eligible for active service. They wore a sort of uniform, some wearing First World War medal ribbons, and carried a large walking stick. Our parents always told us to keep well away from them - or, for that matter, any male adult walking on his own. I wonder what our parents had in mind?