Where you are: Living Memories - Betty Hill
  Betty Hill




Betty Hill, pictured right with her late husband Ronald, describes below her memories of her early life in Tickhill between about 1917 and the start of the 1920s

She sent the notes to the Society during the conversations we had with her concerning Ronald's interview available elsewhere on this website.




“Come on Roger, you’ll be late for school if you don’t get dressed.” It was Ada, our “Mother’s help”, urging my nearly 4 year old brother to get ready for his first day at school. I sat on the bed solemnly thinking it would be my turn next. I was about 2 years and 2 months old and that is the first memory I can date. It was 1917.

The next two years were overshadowed by the Great War: the grief of my mother and her family for the loss of their brother/son William Whinfrey on the Somme; the loss of three boyfriends of her young sisters; and the horror I felt when I saw a double page picture in the Illustrated London News of German tanks crushing the bodies of British soldiers and I knew my father was out there in France. Every morning about 11 o’clock my mother Ethel would have a dreadful headache and sit with her head in her hands. That would be about the time of Passchendaele (Jun-Nov 1917) in which my father was involved. My father, John Harold Rawson, was in the Yorkshire Dragoons, a yeomanry regiment. Their orders were to charge the German trenches as soon as the British barrage was lifted. Of course the German guns were already in action and the officer giving the orders said “Do your best, lads, I don’t expect any of us will come back.” But, when the time came to move forward, there were so many shell holes in the waterlogged ground that the horses just fell into them and the charge had to be abandoned. Some of the horses were lost, but most of their riders were rescued. Cavalry were never of much use but it was only a short time before the war ended that they were withdrawn and heavy solid-tyred bicycles were issued to the Yorkshire Dragoons. Dad said these were of much more use than the horses.

In Tickhill we often saw soldiers marching through eight-abreast and filling the entire road. Anyone with fruit trees put out boxes of apples and pears for them to help themselves, or we children would offer them to the soldiers. “Tipperary”, “We beat them on the Marne” and other songs filled the streets. In 1915-16 a contingent of the South Irish Horse had been billeted at the Red Lion kept by my grandfather William Whinfrey. They were, I was told, a very cheery lot and they loved the girls and the girls loved them. Few survived Hill 60.

Life went on in the town but no-one was untouched by the war. Women had always worked on the land but now there were more. The Town Crier, Alec Bowles, would go round ringing his bell and asking for potato pickers and pea pickers and announcing any other work needing to be done. Girls who would normally have stayed at home took over the men’s jobs. Of my two young aunties, Lena and Eva Whinfrey, one worked in the Doncaster food office and the other took the place of Mr Kitchen who was the clerk in our builders yard. Many young people were in mourning and wore black according to the mourning customs — e.g. three years for a spouse, one year for a brother or sister and six months for an aunt or uncle, etc. After that there was a period of half-mourning — purple, lilac or white. Young girls wore white muslin dresses with a black sash. I remember that a lot of purple was worn, Of course not everyone could afford these changes and most women over 40 wore black all the time. (What a contrast to today when it’s the girls who wear black and the old wear colours.)

Armistice Day came at last. The church bells rang and everyone who was able flocked to church for a service of thanksgiving. Mother took my brother and me but regretfully I don’t remember a thing about the day.

On 23rd February the next year it was my 4th birthday and, as I was helping my mother lay the table for tea, she told me “Daddy will be home for tea and is going to stay this time.” I had seen him once before on a short leave and had been a bit in awe of him and kept my distance. This time I was excited. He had sent me postcards from France and Germany (Kassel and Cologne) and a big German china doll. My brother and my cousin Godfrey Jarvis had German helmets picked up on the battlefield which were very elaborate and covered with what looked like black patent leather and with a metal spike on top. At bedtime Dad spread a dust sheet on the floor and carried in the hip bath and hot water so that he could sit in his own armchair and help to bath us. He was still in uniform and he took his puttees off and then showed us how to put them on again — quite a work of art which would put some bandaging to shame.

During that year before I started school he was very busy with his work as a builder but, whenever he took the car (Model T Ford) to visit sites and didn’t expect to stay long, he took me with him. On one outing (I think it was to Ranby Hall) he handed me over to the gardener who took me to the hothouse where there was a Peregrine peach tree and picked me a beautiful peach. I didn’t know the name then but years later when I had another white peach I knew they were the same, except that the first was fresh picked and warm. I shall never forget the taste. Taste seems an unforgettable memory: I still remember the taste of my pushchair strap, regularly chewed.
In June of that year there was a day’s holiday to celebrate victory. It began with a children’s fancy dress parade round the main streets. My brother was in a Scottish soldier’s uniform (kilted) and led the parade along with another boy in the same dress. I was Little Bo-peep in a pink frilly dress my mother had made which I loved and a crook made by my father. Unfortunately I always got tired standing long and I wouldn’t go on the parade. Afterwards all the children gathered in a huge circle in the market place and ladies with big trays of medals gave each child one. My great auntie (Annie Ellis) gave me mine. The day was finished with a torchlight procession which I thought was the best part.

That year we went on a proper holiday for the first time to Bradwell in the Peak District. Facing the back of the house was Bradwell Edge with its peak “Rebellion”, about l,000ft. Except for the first part of the climb which went straight up, it was an easy climb. With bogs to negotiate and different coloured pansies to pick, then the view and the strong wind on top all made an exciting walk. A large field nearby called Hazelbadge was a limestone area where there were crinoid fossils to find, little dry stone walls to build out of loose stones, a lead rake which ran across the field to search for Blue John and galena, and a narrow band of shale between the limestone
and the gritstone edge to excavate — the field was a paradise for children. The highlight was the milking stone which had shiny patina where generations of milkmaids had sat. If we stood on top and faced north-east and shouted there was always a wonderfully loud echo. At Whitsuntide Hazelbadge was white all over with meadow saxifrage and there was thyme on many of the stones which cropped out. Better than a package holiday to Benidorm! We went every year until I was 15 and, as we got older, we went further afield to the Peak Cavern at Castleton, to the top of Win Hill and Mam Tor, and across Abney Moor and Bradwell Moor.

I only remember one man wearing a traditional smock though my aunties still had my grandfather’s smock which he had worn when on the farm — he was my father’s father, Roger Harvey Rawson. That was Jonathon Wardingley who lived by the south entrance to the churchyard where he had a smallholding. He often stood by the gate with his sister who wore a traditional sunbonnet. His other sister who was married to Charlie Green, the verger and a gardener, liked a drink but “nice” women didn’t drink beer, so she would put her shawl on with a jug hidden under it, have it filled at the nearest pub and come back the same way. When the Wardingleys died, Billy Green, Charlie’s son, had the cottage altered to become a modern house when he married. His son Jo(nathan) Green and his wife Sue still live there.

Miss Percy who kept a shop in the market place used to go to the Red Lion for her drink but always had it in the kitchen. The miller, George Maltkin, (I thought he was Lloyd George) used to come to the Red Lion every week, always with his clothes white with flour and bring oats, etc for the stables, have a drink and then make his other deliveries, leaving two ladies, Miss Redrup and I think his sister, in the kitchen to have their weekly tipple.

The other miller, Mr Todd, had the mill at the end of the Mill Dam which turned the huge waterwheel. Sometimes, when I was playing with his daughters, he let us watch the milling at a safe distance. His eldest son Tim several times rescued boys who fell in the dam.

There were all kinds of tradesmen and women then: Mr Crotty the upholsterer and Mr Davidge the tailor (always smartly dressed) who were both little; Mrs Whittaker the calenderer, where sheets and tablecloths could be taken to be smoothed flat with huge rollers on a flat base; Mr Colbeck who combined a greengrocery with his trade as a tinker — he made roasting (dripping) tins to order to size, milk cans and any sort of tinware; a threshing machine owner and inventor, Tom Moore (I believe Taylors had one too; Roy Taylor was his grandson); two fish and chips shops; and many others.

The biggest grocers were Jarvis & Son, Italian Warehousemen. Here you could buy coffee ground while you waited, salt blocks about 2ft x 1 ft x 1ft, preserving sugar which was chips from the big solid sugar cones, tea mixed especially for each customer and wrapped into a neat parcel with thick shiny blue paper with the firm’s name and the Market Cross on (coffee had a similar paper in brown), and grapes from a barrel filled with cork chips. Joshua Jarvis, the owner, had six sons: George had a grocers at Everton; Bert and Stanley worked for their father; Billy who was an outdoor man and did a bit of poaching and not much else until World War 2 when he became gamekeeper at Sandbeck; and Walter and Alfie who had a drapers shop which had nearly everything: materials, haberdashery, lace (if they hadn’t got exactly what you wanted, you could look through big books of samples and order it — when the books were out of date, Walter who was my uncle gave them to us for scrapbooks), shoes in a separate room and a display window, hosiery, underclothes, children’s clothes and some ladies’, aprons, lambing gowns, gift-wrapped silk ties and handkerchiefs, lino, matting, and carpets to order.

There were two daughters, Milly and Patty. Patty married Stanley Lane, the son of Tom Lane, a grocer and seedsman in Sunderland Street (now a B&B). Another grocer, Charlie Clarkson, had his shop in Westgate. There you took a jar for treacle and a bottle for vinegar. He had fresh yeast delivered every day, Davy’s (of Sheffield) potted meat and cakes, and always plenty of interesting conversation even for small children. One day he told me that his father who kept the shop before him used to run out of it whenever a muck cart came past and followed it to the end of the street because he loved the smell. Charlie himself was the bandmaster and had raised the money to buy the instruments for it. (Jeremy Clarkson is his great-grandson.) Two more big grocers were the Co-op and Hunters and there were also two more drapers, Jenkinsons and the Co-op. Jenkinsons had an overhead pulley system to deal with the change.

A retired grocer, Mr Ryalls (?) and his sisters came once a year to make a formal call. They wore old fashioned clothes and they stayed exactly a quarter of an hour. The vicar, Mr Booty, also came once a year with his wife for a social visit. If he needed to come on church business, he came on his own.

There were several people over 90 including my great-grandmother Elizabeth Whinfrey who was the oldest and lived to be nearly 99, and Mrs Fitzgeorge, my great auntie’s mother-in-law, whom I called Granny. The much higher death rate at that time was because so many died young. Apart from many more neonatal deaths, there were measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria. For instance there was an outbreak of scarlet fever in 1925 when a boy and a girl died, another was in a wheelchair for a year afterwards, and I was very ill and had very unpleasant complications, as did many others. TB was rife generally among older children and young adults. About the only treatment was fresh air and the lucky ones who went to a sanatorium generally came back cured.
We had a happy childhood with plenty of freedom and plenty of things to see and places to play. At 4 years old I followed my brother and his friends around and tried to do everything they did, climb trees, jump off ladders and slide down the hay in the barn. My cousin Godfrey Jarvis, who was six years older than I was, used to try and teach me various things (my mother put her foot down at boxing) and his sister Edna who was 13 years older than I was used to tell me tales about boarding school. My cousin Dorothy Higgins was three years younger and I was amazed that she could sing when she was only 3 years old. When we were older we went to stay with my grandfather and aunties in Sheffield together. We were given tiny celluloid dolls (1d each I think = ½ p) and a pile of oddments of material to make clothes for them. Then grandad took us on long walks or we went to the park and into the Ruskin Museum and Art Gallery there which had a large collection of Turners which sadly they have since lost.

At home the days weren’t long enough. We had a small farm besides the building business and there was hay time, harvest when we helped to stook the sheaves and got a ride on top of the last load, playing in the barn, eating swedes and throwing pieces on the heads of my future husband and his friend, and visiting the horses (no tractors then, though we once saw two traction engines near Brigg, when Dad took us to Cleethorpes for the day, ploughing a field by pulling the plough from one to the other). The builder’s yard was nearby for us to enjoy, getting weighed on the large scales where we had to put weights on the balance arm, getting half a bucket of lime to whitewash the ceiling (walls were distempered but ceilings were always whitewashed), examining the compartments of nails, screws, etc in the stock room, watching the mason and letter cutter Edward Whinfrey cut the inscriptions on gravestones, and best of all watching the joiners working in their well lit shop. There were usually three joiners (and an apprentice): Archie Richardson, who grew enormous prize dahlias and I was thrilled when he gave me a huge one, Fred Wagstaff who was also the undertaker, and great uncle Jim Ellis, the church organist. I could watch them all day. Coffin making was especially interesting. The sides started off as two straight planks of oak or elm, then wedges were cut out at shoulder level and the planks put under pressure to bend. I was often sent to pick up the waste wood from the floor from among the shavings, though if the apprentice Wilf Hill was there Mr Wagstaff told him not to let a young lady do the work while he was there to do it.

We had the freedom then that children lack now. Even at 3 years old I was allowed to wander round following my brother and his friends and by the time I was 6 or 7 I could go off wherever I wanted, generally with my friend Molly. The only time someone came to look for us was when we said we were going for a picnic and never thought that we were expected home for dinner. We had had our picnic sat under a tree in the middle of Spital crossroads about 1¼ miles from home.
I well remember swinging on the front gate and thinking “I’m 4 and I’m me and I shall always be the same me when I’m grown up.” True. Never underestimate what goes on in little children’s heads.

Soon after my 5th birthday I was going down the street with mother when we met Mrs Fullwood and Molly. Mother told Mrs Fullwood that I was starting school after Easter and when told that Molly would be starting soon after my mother said “I expect they will soon be good friends.” “Yes I’m sure” said Mrs Fullwood. We both glared at each other and thought “Not likely” but our mothers were right.




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