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Sidney Banks - our own Nonagenarian

From the Barwicker No.100
December 2010

Childhood Days

I was born at Aberford on the 1st December, 1914. One of my earliest memories is of visiting my uncles when I was a little lad. My Uncle Charlie and my Uncle Willie used to live at Leyfield Farm between Aberford and Barwick. They had the two cottages, one down the field and the other by the mill that was there in years gone by but is now pulled down. Every holiday I used to go and stay there.

My uncle Charlie had two rows of peas in his garden and they were just ready for eating but these peas kept disappearing before they could be picked. Just the shells and the stalks were left. My uncle said, "Those blessed mice, they're getting all my peas." So he put mouse traps down but he didn't catch any mice. This went on until all the peas were gone and they still couldn't find out how all the peas had been shelled. They never suspected me!

However, outside the front door there were some sweet peas growing. Now if you leave sweet peas they eventually make pods just like ordinary peas. Of course, I started to shell and eat these sweet peas, just as I had done with the edible peas. Well, they made me so sick and very poorly! So they finally found out who had eaten all the peas and it wasn't the mice!

My uncles all worked on farms except one who worked as a road man for West Riding County Council, who were responsible for the length of Aberford which was Nut Hill to Hook Moor. In those days this was the main A1 and when the roads needed gritting he would go with a wheelbarrow full of grit and grit the road starting at the top end of Aberford, right through to the end houses. Then he would grit the pavements, all before 9.00am so the children could get to school. He'd done it for years. He would just get some grit on his shovel and toss it up like a rainbow onto the road.

There certainly weren't many cars on the roads then. You had to be very wealthy to have a car. Miss Routledge, who was secretary to the Gascoignes, had a little car and so did the Gascoignes but most people had to manage with bicycles!

I went to school at Aberford. I was in Miss Pearcy's class and she had a house next to what was the garage in those days, half way through Aberford. She used to send me from school when I was only five to take out the meat she'd left in the oven. I had to let myself in and take the meat out of the oven and come back to school. I don't think that would happen these days!

I went to school there until I was about ten and then we moved to Home Farm, Parlington, where my father worked as a farm labourer. But I, as an inquisitive youth, used to go round all the woods. I got involved with the game-keeper and every Saturday morning we used to go round the farms, finding old sitting hens to hatch his pheasants. Then I used to have to look after them in the woods when he went off on a Saturday or a Sunday, so I was quite useful to him and learnt a lot. When we lived there I used to walk past the Triumphal Arch in Parlington every morning and evening so I knew the numerals on the inscription; MDCCLXXXIII. People are amazed that I still know that because the letters are very crumbled now as it's such an old monument.

After that we moved again. Parlington Farm was sold up and my father moved to Aberford, to Bunkers Hill.

Alms Houses
When I was 12 I did a milk round and took milk to the Alms Houses where the old people lived. They all had a jug outside and had a gill of milk a day. I had to measure out the milk from a pail. I thought there were 4 gills to a pint but in fact there were 2 gills to a pint. When I got back the farmer's wife said, "There's a lot of milk left. How much did you give them?" I told her and she said, "Oh no, it's half a measure, not a quarter! They want a gill and a little drop more in case the measure isn't full. You'll have to go back." So I was late for school that day but I'd learnt my weights and measures! I did that job for a long time.

Blowing the organ
I used to go to chapel every Sunday, three times a day, and blow the organ for Miss Townend who had played the organ for as long as I could remember. However, when I got to 14 I finally got tired of it and passed the job to my brother. By then I was more interested in going to Hook Moor with lads from Micklefield, Garforth and Sherburn and one lad even came from Bramham. We all congregated on the moor and we had some great times. We were always good friends.

As I got older I wanted to try growing vegetables. I knew there was a plot on the allotments which had been vacant for over two years and no one seemed to want it. I told my father about it and said I would like to garden it. He said he thought I would be taking on a big thing but he agreed to go to the estate office and ask if I could take it on. The estate manager said, "By all means he can have the allotment. He's my milk boy and he can have it for two years rent free!"

So I made a start on the allotment by mowing all the grass and digging the plot. I was determined to make a big success of it. The other gardeners used to walk past my plot because my garden was number 1 and they would tell me when I was doing wrong and when I was doing it right.

One Saturday morning I was making my potato rows in the garden and one of the old gardeners came past and said, "Oh no, no, you're doing them all wrong. Level 'em up and I'll come back with my spade and do it for you." So in this way he helped me along, as did all the other old men. In the end I had one of the best gardens on the allotment and I have grown vegetables ever since.

Keep Fit at the YMCA
When I was a teenager there was a gang of lads, including Leslie Walker who lived at the farm between Barwick and Aberford. He had a car and we used to go with him, Geoff Hayton and another lad to Burmantofts YMCA to "Keep Fit".

The man who took us also trained the prisoners in Armley jail! He was very strict and he put us though our paces. There were 20 or 30 lads in the group. He used to say "Touch all four walls and don't be the last back." He would stand on the stage and say, "You and you are the last back." Then we would all stand astride and the last ones back had to go on their hands and knees through everyone's legs and as they went through they got a whack on the behind! So you were never the last back unless someone got in your way.

We also used to go swimming at the York Road baths. I couldn't swim very well or dive but I still did a bit. Of course those baths are all gone now but that's how we used to spend our time. Then on Sunday mornings we used to go to the Blue Lagoon on Otley Road to swim.

One of our favourite pastimes was dancing at Aberford Village Hall and also at Barwick, which was where I met my wife, Hilda. We were just 17 and would go dancing every week. Kate Crossland ran the Barwick dances to raise money for a village hall which they hoped to have built but it was a long time before this actually happened; it was 6d to go in. George Pullan played the piano and Albert Warner played the drums and also the accordion. Mrs Murphy played violin. All her family were very musical. The Barwick dances were held at the Miners' Institute on Saturday nights. They were very popular and attracted people from Aberford as well as Barwick. Those were our courting days.

Farming Stories
When I was a lad of about 10, we lived at a farm on the Garforth Road called "Park Farm". Richard Helm had that farm and my father went to work for him as a horseman. There would be six or seven men working on the farm in those days including two horse men, a cow man and a shepherd.

Mr Helm had a lot of sheep and I used to go with him, taking notice of all that went on. Now the farmer had a sheep dog which wasn't allowed in the pen, but when the farmer wasn't there, the dog used to go with me into the pen! He kept at my heels all the time and behaved himself for me. The sheep got to know him and when Mr Helm found out he said, 'I don't know how you can do it. I couldn't!'

However, one day, about 6a.m., Mr Helm came knocking at the door and said, 'Is Sidney up? I need his help.' My father said, ‘No, but he won't be long.' So he called me down and said, 'Can you come? Mr Helm wants you.' So I came down and Mr Helm said, 'Don't bother putting your shirt on lad.' And away we went.

Mr Helm said, 'Now, you've seen me lambing sheep time and time again, but I can't do this. I've been all night trying to lamb this sheep and I cannot. Pull your sleeves up.' And he covered all my hand and arm with Vaseline. He said, 'Now, poise your finger and start and I'm going to tell you what to do.' His hands were far too big for this difficult job but he thought I might be able to do it.

I started and got into the sheep. He said, 'What can you feel?' I said, 'Nothing.' He said, 'Work round to the right side.' I managed this. 'Oh,' I said,'I've found a leg.' 'It's t'back un isn't it? Ease it forward steadily. You know how a sheep's leg is. Bring it forward. Now go to the other side and see if you can find the other leg.' I did do and I got the two legs between my finger and thumb. 'The lamb's coming.' 'That's all right, the old girl's helping you,' and within ten minutes, the lamb came out. He picked a towel up and said, 'Right, clean its mouth out and blow down it to check it's breathing.' We rubbed it a little bit with the towel and we just put it in front of the old sheep. She cleaned it and straight away another lamb came - two beautiful lambs. Then I realised the time and told Mr Helm it was half past nine and I should've been at school at nine-o-clock. 'Never mind about that,' he said. 'Go up to the house and your breakfast's there, ready for you.' After all this work, I was certainly ready for it!

I went up to the farm house and got my breakfast. Then Mr Helm said told me Young Dick was going to take me to school on his motorbike and sidecar. That was a real honour, so I went home and got changed and Dick was there with his motorbike and sidecar.

Off we went to school in style. When we got there Dick told me to wait a minute and he knocked at the door and Mr Rayson the headmaster, came. Dick explained to Mr Rayson why I was late. and that we could be late many times if this happens again. The headmaster said, 'Any time it happens, just let me know and everything's all right.' And so that was the lambing and I didn't get into trouble after all. I doubt such an excuse would be accepted today, but times were different then.

The Black Horse
Now my father had a beautiful black horse. He broke the horse in and trained it. He thought the world of my dad and my dad thought the world of him. One day the straw man came from Leeds for a load of hay and he saw this horse and he said, 'I want that horse.' But Mr Helm told him he was really Harry's horse. However, the man said, 'If my boss comes, he'll offer you something you can't refuse.'

Two days later a Rolls Royce pulled up in the farmyard. The visitor asked to see Mr Helm as he had come to see this black horse. Mr Helm said, 'You're wasting your time, he's not for sale.' But the man said, 'Let me see it and I'll offer you a price you cannot reject.'

So he saw the horse and they talked it over after all. My dad was there and he said, 'If you sell that horse you're selling me.' Mr Helm replied, 'Oh, don't talk like that, Harry. We'll get another one for you as good as that.'

He sold the horse and a week later my father was as good as his word and gave in his notice. He was so upset at the loss of that horse.

Moving Away
My father had a cousin called Brown who lived in Bradford. The family had plenty of money and they had bought a farm in Lincolnshire, a place called "High Burnham", between Axley and Embsay. They invited my father to go with them to farm there but unfortunately, this farm hadn't been worked for two years because there had been an outbreak of swine fever. So a week after my father gave his notice we went to Lincolnshire. There was a furniture van to take all our belongings and Mr Helm said he was very sorry, but it couldn't be helped and so we went.

And what a terrible time we had! It was quite an isolated place and I never went to school a day all the time we were there because it was too far to walk.

It was a really hot summer and the land was what was called "warp land" because when you ploughed it, it came up like footballs. My dad couldn't stick that as the horses couldn't walk and you couldn't roll it. So eventually we decided we'd come back again. As luck would have it my father got a job at Home Farm, Parlington, where the farmer was called Mr Swan. But my father came back as the cowman, not as the horseman because they already had a horseman.

Home Farm, Parlington
My father and Mr Swan used to milk the cows between them, morning and night, 20 cows. They started before 6a.m. each morning and the milkman would be there at 7a.m. to collect the milk and so we settled into life at Home Farm.

I was about 12 or 13 by then and I used to go all round the farm. At August Bank Holiday, when we were off school, Mr Swan used to take me into a field with a horse and a roller and I used to roll all the corn, but he would never let me sit on the roller. I just had to have hold with my hands, driving it up and down, but when no one was looking I used to have a ride on the roller which was good fun!

Sadly, about two years later, poor old Mr Swan's wife died and he had no family at all so he decided to sell up. I was knocking about the farm all the time when they were getting all the implements into the big field ready to sell. When it was time to sell the livestock, the horseman said, 'Sid, will you run t'horses?' We used to run the horses up and down the yard with the people on either side for them to see. The horseman didn't want any pomp and ceremony, so I ran the horses up and down for him and they sold them.

Then it came to the cows and my dad asked me if I was going to walk the cows. So I said, 'They'll walk alright won't they?.' He said they would but that he would walk behind me. So he let me walk all the cows up and down and then it came to the bull. My dad said, 'You're not going to walk the bull. You just keep out of the way.' So he got the ring in the bull's nose and put a long piece of wood through it. The old bull came out and walked up and down, but all of a sudden he did a big jump and my dad couldn't hold him. The piece of wood slipped out of his hand but I was near him and I grabbed it. By then my father had recovered and the bull was soon safely under control. However, all the crowd dispersed in a hurry. They were frightened to death! The bull was sold to a man at Garforth. He was a butcher and had a slaughter house. He took the bull away the same day.

Soon afterwards, at the age of 14 I left school and went into farming to work for Mr Harry Thorpe at Beckside Farm. He had me booked before I left school because my father was a farmer and he thought I would fit the bill. Mr Thorpe was 65 and still played cricket for Aberford cricket club. He was the captain but at 65 he never got any runs but he used to tell them what to do! I worked with the horses but as I was only 14 I couldn't put the horses' collars on so somebody had to help with that and rig them out in their harness. Then they would take me up to the fields where the plough was all ready. I would then do the ploughing with two horses.

I learnt all my farming there; making stacks, laying hedges, drilling corn and ploughing with the horses. I would ride one horse to the field and then put both horses in the plough. Then the field had to be harrowed and drilled with corn. Afterwards it had to be gone over with the roller to stop the birds getting the seed out. I did more than three years there but by then I was nearly eighteen and I thought I should be earning more money. I wanted 18 shillings a week but they couldn't afford to pay me so I had to move on.


Many thanks to Jane Deacon who has interviewed Sidney on numerous occasions and typed up his reminiscences and allowed us to publish them.

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