Sunday, February 11, 2024

Uncle Herbert

To say that the tool chest post provoked an outpouring of family nostalgia would be an exaggeration, but it did lead to the uncovering of some interesting new information which is worth adding to the story. 

First, a bit more background: Uncle Herbert was my Dad's uncle, and so strictly he was my great uncle, but he was never referred to as that by me or anyone else. My Dad's Mother, and my Grandmother, Irene, or "Reeny" as my Grandfather called her, was the second eldest of four siblings:

Blanche -  July 13, 1909 – June 1969 (59).

Irene - December 10, 1910 - February 3, 1986 (76).

Herbert - May 24, 1913 - July 23, 2005 (92)

Harold - March 1915 – late 1998 (83).

Uncle Herbert lived at 131 Saville Road in Castleford, the family home, all his life. My father also lived there for at least the first three years of his life, though his precise date of departure is the subject of some conjecture. 

131 Saville Road was rented from a private landlord until sometime in the 1970s when Herbert purchased the house. Originally it had three (3) bedrooms upstairs, two (2) reception rooms downstairs - one of which was hardly ever used - and a kitchen at the rear. The tiny bathroom, with just a standalone tub, was beyond the kitchen. The toilet was located at the very rear of the building and could only be accessed from the backyard. There was no sink outside of the kitchen. After Herbert bought the property one of the bedrooms was converted into an upstairs bathroom. Visitors however were still encouraged to use the outside toilet which typically required negotiating a pathway around Herbert's bicycle.

131 Saville Road, 2023.

131 Saville Road from the rear, 2023. 

Visits to the house in my day would start with either my grandfather or my father parking the car in the perpendicular and aptly named Cross Street, and entering the property via the back alley. It was the fourth house from Cross Street and had a wood panel back gate that was painted a horrible green color in the late 70s. Inside the gate was the air raid shelter, the outside toilet, a tiny yard and then the back door which opened into the kitchen. The only time I ever entered the house through the front door was in about 2002 when I helped my father move a twin bed into the property.

From the time when I first visited the house until Herbert passed away in 2005, the d├ęcor was stuck in the 1970s. For example all the interior doors had been covered with plastic faux woodgrain panels. But the rest of it was an odd mix of ancient and modern. The kitchen stove looked like it came out of the ark, and had to be lit with a match every time it was used; whenever I watched Herbert do this sparks would fall from the match and land on the linoleum...but he was also the first person I knew that had a microwave oven. 

Herbert was actually the most forward thinking relative or friend I can think of. He bought my Dad a gas-powered camping stove back in the 50s when everyone else was still cooking over unreliable kerosene-fired primus stoves. He also had one of the first VCR's under his tellybox, long before they became common, and even longer before we had one in our house. Having said that, the only thing I can remember Herbert watching on the TV was horse racing. 

Herbert was retired by the time I knew him. He spent his working life as a brickies' laborer but during WW2 he served in the Army in Belgium, where he a batman to a senior officer. A batman was essentially a personal servant and was seen as a desirable position since the appointee was exempted from more onerous duties and often received better rations and other favors from his officer. The post was abolished after the war.

In the late 70's/early 80s Herbert had an allotment or community garden adjacent to the parking lot at what is now the Carlton Lanes shopping center. It was close enough to Saville Road that he could ride back and forth on his bicycle. He was always trying to give away produce to my Mum, typically garlic or sprouts. One of his neighbors at the allotment was referred to as "Tut Pole" on account of being of Polish origin. Nobody actually knew what his proper name was.

Herbert used to come to my Grandma's house in Ferry Fryston once a week for lunch. I think it was on Fridays. At other times, my Grandparents would bring fish and chips over to Herbert's house. I know this because I was there on one occasion. I think it's fair to say that Herbert's pantry was not really stocked to my liking. I didn't want a cup of tea with my fish and chips, and there was not much else on offer; I was forced to settle for some milk in a china cup that came with a saucer. When I was done with my food I asked my Grandma what was for dessert, or "afters" as we used to call it. "Oh" she replied, "Uncle Herbert dunt bother wit afters." I was crushed. To cheer me up, Grandma took me next door to check on Herbert's then very elderly neighbor Mrs Able. I think she was about 98 at the time and if not she certainly looked it.

Uncle Herbert was keen on sport - he was a very good lawn bowler and a decent snooker player. He had a stack of trophies for snooker and billiards, most of which came from competitions at Castleford Liberal Club. Somehow or other he played a frame against Joe Johnson the 1986 Snooker World Champion at Smawthorne Lane WMC in Castleford in January 1988.

Herbert with Joe Johnson following his 37-64 defeat.

It turns out that the tool chest which spawned this article was a 21st birthday gift to Herbert from his family. This makes sense because he would have turned 21 in 1934 and the tool chest was advertised in Practical Mechanics at that time. He used to keep the tool chest on the top shelf in the downstairs closet. I think he'd be happy to know that some of his tools are still being used almost ninety (90) years after they were purchased.

Of Herbert's siblings, the oldest was Blanche, my father's favorite Auntie - and that's saying something because he had almost a dozen to pick from. Blanche and her husband Harold Spawforth lived at 123 Saville Road in the 40's and 50's, just a few doors along from Herbert and the rest of the family. While researching this article we have discovered that Harold played six (6) times for Castleford RLFC /Castleford Tigers between 1930-1932. This was mentioned just once to my father, so not exactly something Harold dined out on. Auntie Blanche sadly passed away before I was born.

The youngest of the four was my father's Uncle Harold who married Olive Muscroft in 1938 and moved out to the wilds of Doncaster. The family used to call him "the young 'un." The geographical separation of twenty (20) miles from the olde homestead meant I didn't see much of them. I mainly remember Auntie Olive for kitting me jumpers at Christmas. When Uncle Harold passed away he left me a thousand pounds in his will. I was a poverty stricken second year undergraduate at the time and that money meant I could buy my first computer. My Dad said that Harold wanted to leave money to people that it would make a real difference to, and he achieved that.

My Grandma deserves her own piece, which I will link to when it eventually appears.

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