Walton’s Home Guard – A Story from World War Two

Originally posted at: Watertonswalton


This is a photo of men from Walton’s Home Guard during those perilous years during World War II when Hitler’s armies stood poised to overrun and enslave the United Kingdom.

Notice how these men do not look like they belong in Dad’s Army, made famous by the BBC television series. These were not doddering old men or even young ‘private Pike’ types. They were young hardened men of fighting age in the prime of their lives.

In peacetime they risked their lives to deliver the fuel of the Industry that helped maintain the pride of the nation. In wartime they did the same to support the war effort. Many of them would much rather have been serving in the armed forces, but they were not allowed to. They were forced to continue their dangerous peacetime jobs whether they liked it or not! However, their wives and children would, at least, have been pleased to have their menfolk close by during such difficult and uncertain years.

Perhaps, if German paratroopers had made the unfortunate decision of invading Walton they would, undoubtedly, have received short shrift. A gang of armed and dangerous Yorkshire miners with an axe to grind would have been a formidable force. The soldiers of a hostile Wehrmacht would have been greeted by a band of hardened fanatics, desperate to defend their hearth and home.

Walton Pit produced raw materials that were of great importance in the fight to defeat Hitler. The Germans did make an attempt to bomb Walton Pit, but ‘they missed’. There was a bomb crater in the field across the road from the Woodyard, near ‘the quarry’ – an old clay pit that in the 1950s was filled with water. They missed  by quite a bit – terrible shots.

After doing hard shifts to bring a critical and important strategic wartime resource, coal, to the surface – these men of the Home Guard did their duty to their country. They must have been absolutely knackered, but they turned out in uniform for the duration of the war.

The men in the picture from left to right are: Albert Knowles, Jack Williams and Tommy Williams.


Please note, the story above is a bit tongue in cheek in parts as the Home Guard, according to many of those who were part of it, was indeed very much like the way it was portrayed in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. I add this point in order to clarify the situation from the point of view of historical accuracy. If Germany had actually invaded in 1940 we would more than likely been in very serious trouble.


The Dangers of the Mine

Originally posted at: WatertonswaltonAlbert in drag with sister Elsie

The following account was written by my Great Auntie, Elsie Hebden in 1986. In it she reflects of her life in Walton and Crofton. I was lucky to go to her house with my grandma when I was a kid. The photo above might seem unrelated to this story but that is her above on the right dressed as a man, next to her brother, my grandad – Albert Knowles, dressed as a woman. I don’t know the story behind the picture, it must have been a fancy dress party or something; they never dressed like that when I knew them! It does demonstrate the wonderful sense of fun that those growing up and living in our local mining communities often demonstrated. They lived tough and often difficult lives, but that did not mean they had to take themselves seriously.

While the family lived in Ings Cottages (“The Spike”) near Walton Pit, tragedy struck when their father died in a mining accident. Indeed, my grandad recalls seeing a body being brought from the mine but had at the time did not know that it was his own dad.

The following account is quite moving in parts, though that might be due to my personal family connection. It brings me back in a kind of spiritual contact with people that I once knew and loved. It also gives us all an insight into how people viewed their local area, how they lived their lives and the how they responded to the challenges that fate threw their way.

I will now leave Elsie to give you an insight into the world of her own past.

I was one of a family of seven, and lived in a mining village. The houses we lived in were quite close to the colliery. I should sway there would be about sixty-four houses.

We hadn’t much of this world’s goods, but we were healthy and happy, there were good times and bad, and even as children we knew well the dangers of that mine. We knew all about the accidents that happened almost daily, fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins and friends were brought up from underground minus limbs, blinded or even killed outright by heavy falls of rock or coal, or gas explosions. You will of course have heard how they took down a canary in a cage to test for gas after an explosion. If the canary wilted or died, then the place was unfit for men to work there for a while. They have only recently stopped making that test, it had been going on for a lot of years.

In all cases of death through the Mine, there would be a collection from house to house, but the money collected would not go on flowers, it would be given to the widows or orphans as the case may be. Everyone helped each other in that little community in sad times or glad times. One thing we had plenty of, and that was coal. It was free in those days, and still is I think to anyone who works at the Mine.

If anyone was ill in bed, a fire would be lit in the bedroom. There were three bedrooms in our house, and all contained a small fire grate. I can well remember as a child getting undress in front of a lovely coal fire in the cold weather, as that was in those days the only form of heating. No-one thought of the extra work or dirt that the fires caused, electric kettles, fires or blankets were unknown to us.

The living room fire was only let out once a week and that was for cleaning, as it was the only means of boiling water. It had to be banked up at night and kept lit all through the working week. The man of the house had to be up at 4.30a.m., stir the fire into a blaze, then put the iron kettle which had been on the hob all night onto the fire to enable him to make a pot of tea. I would have his breakfast, then fill a glass bottle with tea from the pot to take down the mine with him, which helped to sleck the dust in their throats. The sandwiches had to consist of jam or dripping, as it was too warm for meat to be taken down the mine.

They were down the mine for as many as ten or twelve hours a day; you see, some had a long way to walk underground to reach the coal face where they worked, some as much as three miles. They only had a small pit lamp for light, so you can understand what the strong sunlight did to their eyes as they left those dark conditions.

A miner’s life was not easy in my childhood days. It is all mechanised now of course, but then the coal had to be got by pick and shovel, put into the pit tubs, then pulled away to the cage by pit ponies. These ponies only saw the light of day on Bank holidays, and my word it was lovely to see them galloping around and kicking up the grass, they were truly happy, so were we with all our titbits we had saved for them.

Dangers of the Mine 1

Now, when I was twelve, my father was killed at work, the roof caved in. The men my father was working with had time to get clear. The rescue party quickly came, but my father was dead by the time they got to him. Now my mother who was 39 years old was allowed a widow’s pension of 10/- per week, a little from the colliery to help with the pension until we reached the age of fourteen and able to work, so to keep us tidy and well fed, she did sewing or papering for other people. She was a good living woman, and she saw that we all went to Sunday school in the next village. Our Sunday clothes were brushed and put away every Monday until the following Sunday. I am proud of my mother, it must have been a hard time for her. When I was fifteen, we left those houses and came to live in the village I have just left.

I helped mum until the age of seventeen, when I was sent into domestic service. I went to live in a doctor’s house in Wakefield about four miles away. The doctor and his family were not church people, so didn’t care where I went in my spare time. I tried several churches and chapels, but didn’t seem happy at any but my own. I was only allowed home every alternate Sunday, so one Sunday evening (Summer time of course), I made up my mind to find out what the town had to offer one, so I powdered and rouged my face with materials previously bought from the newly opened Woolworths store (remember nothing in these stores was over sixpence), something my mother would not have allowed, but I was thrown on my own resources and could so easily have gone on the downward path, but God thought otherwise or so it seems, because as I walked along hoping to find something better than church, I heard a band playing. Thinking it was in the park close by, I went that way but lost the sound, so turned around and went the opposite way and came upon a crowd of people. I pushed my way to the front, I have never seen or heard Salvationists before, or heard public speaking, but I did enjoy the songs, choruses and prayers, I even marched down to the Citadel with them.

The hall became my place of worship for the next four years, along with my own church in between, but I do say here and now that God led me that Sunday as I could easily have gone the opposite way. I thank Him and pray that the desire to serve him will remain with me all my earthly life.

In 1935 I married a young man I had known most of my life, then in four years’ time came the war. My husband joined the R. A. F. in 1940 and stayed in for the next five years. In my village at that time of 1940 if you had room you were expected to take in evacuee’s. I had a house with three bedrooms and just me at home. As they had just brought about 100 or so people from London to our village to be housed, a lady with two babies was brought to me, she came from Plaistow and was very sad a having to leave her home in London, but it was God who sent her to me, having these children and their mother, as I had just taken a job as post-lady, so we got on well together, her with her babies and me having someone to come home to at the end of my day’s work (we still write to each other).

Now, to my job as post-lady I had to use a bicycle which I already possessed. I had to be at the post office at 6a.m., there were three of us sorting letters until 7.15a.m., then each of us off on our different routes. My job was less letters to distribute, but father to go. I loved the open air part of it. I had to face all weathers of course, my letters were for the outlying farms, colliery houses and lonely railway house, also amongst my letters was the daily paper which had to be posted as they didn’t have paper deliveries out there, so it meant going to most of the farms every day. I had quite a number of farms, sometimes as many as six fields between each, so it meant getting off my big, opening gates, even lifting my cycle over styles, and more over than not, cows would come to meet me, I was scared of them at first, but you got to know they wouldn’t harm you.

Dangers of the Mine 2

But one day there was such a lot all bunched together, I hid behind some dry walling, my bike, my letters and me. A gamekeeper came to my rescue as he had seen me then lost me, he thought I had fallen off my cycle. I mastered that fear and had many a pound of mushrooms from those fields. I was also given lots of farm produce which was very acceptable in those days of rationing. One farmer’s wife made me promise to call every day, letters or no letters, she could see me coming from the top farm down to hers, and she would have a pot of tea and poached eff on the toast all ready for me, and wasn’t I grateful as I was really hungry after all that fresh air.

All the dogs were very good, but did a lot of barking, but that was their job, once they got to know you their tails were wagging to greet you. I have almost been thrown into the duck pond trying to ride past duck and hens, and I have been chased by the geese, they were nasty sometimes.

On very heavy snowy days I was excused delivery at the farms as it was impossible to tell the roads from the fields. That only happened twice in my times as post-lady. I didn’t have to got the same way back as my round took me through a private estate known as Nostel Priory, something like your Addington Palace. The people who owned Nostel Priory had gone abroad for the duration of the war, and it housed about 100 soldiers, but their letters were all in a sealed bag, unsealed later by an Officer. This estate had a lake, a home farm, a riding school and a park for landing a private plane.

I usually reached the post office around 12 noon, then home for a meal, then back at 3p.m until 4.30p.m., I did enjoy the work. It was a happy job just to see people’s faces when they saw you making for their door (not many letter boxes in those days). I took glad and sad news of course, but they would confide in you, the next day you would have to listen to either good or bad. Of course I occasionally received an air mail letter from my husband who was abroad, I’d keep it unopened until I found a quiet lane or field to read it quietly to myself.

Then the years between then and now I’ve learned with the help of God to live a reasonable good life. I’ve left many friends in the two villages I’ve lived in most of my life. I’ve very two dear friends who have had to give up an active life through illness, quite sorry really, but they are fighting the good fight, their tremendous faith is upholding them and to visit them is a joy. You leave with the feeling that you must never grumble again.

I forgot to mention at the beginning of my story that amongst us seven that was left fatherless through the mine was a little baby sister just five weeks old. I am now living here in the South, something I never dreamed of, but we don’t know the plan God has for us; They way I look at it is this:-

Just where he needs me

My Lord has placed me

And where he has placed me

There would I be

And Since He has found me

By love He’s bound me

To serve him joyfully

Dangers of the Mine 3

By Mrs. Elsie Hebden 1986


Woodyard Cottages, Walton – Home Of A Mining Community

In this short article I aim to capture at least some of the essence of what it meant to live at Woodyard Cottages in the days of the old Walton colliery. I do this through the eyes of members of my own family and the photographs they took of themselves and their surroundings.

Woodyard Cottages were built for the miners and their families and were immediately adjacent to the colliery site. While there was more housing for mining families in the form of the Ings Cottages, known locally as “The Spike”, at the other side of the pit, I am going to concentrate on the Woodyard, because that is where my ancestors lived. The housing of working people was close to the work back in those days. Physically demanding work and long shifts meant that there was no time to waste on commuting.

Today the Woodyard Cottages are located next to the serene and peaceful nature reserve in a highly desired location. The photograph below is from the present day, taken from the road that was used as the thoroughfare for coal trucks.

This now secluded and peaceful spot was once the centre of a great deal of hustle, bustle and industry. These were the homes of miners who worked hard for modest wages. They lived and loved and brought up their families in this place they called home.

There used to be speed bumps in the road painted in broad black and white stripes to slow down the Hansons coal haulage lorries that hurtled down the hill to the colliery. I used to watch the lorries with my grandad, Albert Knowles, from the wall on the opposite side of the road, as they came down the road empty and went back up fully laden with dust sheets covering the top of the load to prevent coal dust getting into the air.

The wall opposite the Cottages was also a popular site for the taking of group photographs like the one pictured below.

Woodyard wall opposite group photo 2

The lorries would continue down the road and cross the canal that ran through Walton and then on through the pit site. This route comes as no surprise as coal was one of the main canal cargoes. The photograph below shows the road bridge over the canal on the left of the view. Woodyard Cottages are just behind the photographer. The building at the right hand side of the photo is the beginning of the brickyard. The structure above Albert Knowles’ right shoulder are the bunkers (more on that shortly).

Woodyard Albert Knowles with canal road bridge in background

There is an alley at the front of the cottages. A wall and railing and the alley are all that separate the homes of the miners from the road and the coal laden wagons that went up and down it day after day. The alley is where George Knowles is having a go on his young nephew’s tricycle in the photo below and appearing to have be having a really good time. In the pit, George’s role was to look after the hard working horses in the stables in the pit bottoms.

Woodyard George Knowles

The wall is still there today, but the railing is gone. However, there are traces of the railing embeded into the surface of the masonry.

There was another alleyway to the rear of the cottages. This ran between the cottages and the gardens of each house. The alleyway can be seen in the photos below that also show me at a young age with blonde hair, decked out in the latest 1970s fashions. The gardens can be seen on the left hand side of each photo below. On the horizon you can see the banking of the railway line that runs past Greenside, Oakenshaw Lane and Walton Common. The other railway line that runs to London runs beyond the bottom of the gardens and goes under the line mentioned above.

Woodyard Cottages Gardens

In the photo below my dad and auntie, in younger years, are having their photograph taken just as the local rooster is sneaking up behind them. The building behind the rooster is the detached cottage that is still there, further up the hill. To the right of that can be seen a bungalow that has since been pulled down. Between each of these buildings a stable once stood but has since disappeared.

Woodyard Siblings - Jean with young Albert Knowles

My grandad had a pigeon loft in his stretch of garden. He is pictured below with prize pigeon that he called ‘Little Hen’. It won a number of races for him. There is an amusing story about this bird after he sold it to a bloke in Outwood. In true homing pigeon style it kept returning to its Woodyard loft even after the sale meaning that its new owner had to keep coming back to retrieve it. What do you expect when you buy a homing pigeon!

Woodyard Albert Knowles with pigeon

The photograph below is another view of the rear alleyway. However, this time there are a few other features visible in the background. On the middle left at the side of the alley you can see the back of the bus shelter. Next to that is the building that managed the weighbridge that was immediately in front of it. This was used to measure the coal loads coming out of the pit in the lorries. On the far right of the photo you can again see the start of the brickyard mentioned earlier. To the right of the black vehicle at the top of the road in the centre left are the bunkers. These were used for the direct sale of coal to coal merchants. As part of this structure there were four coal shoots to feed into bags for coal wagons. Coal was brought here via a rail line from the pit.
Woodyard Albert Knowles snr with the bike of Albert jnr

The back of the bus shelter is seen closer up in the next photos. In the first photo (in colour) the ice cream man had just been and a miner awaits his ice cream from his wife at the top of the hill.

Bus Shelter and Weighbridge

The back of Woodyard cottages are faced with stone in contrast to the ordinary brick in the front. The following photo shows the family standing on the step at this side of the house with the stone visible behind them.

Woodyard doorway Albert Knowles Martha Knowles and Jean

The following photos show the inside of number five Woodyard Cottages in the 1960s. In the background of the first photo you can see a cooking range that was fuelled by an open coal fire. Before the appearance of bathrooms this would also be where baths were taken in a tin tub.

Inside Woodyard Cottages

In the following photo, my grandma, Martha Knowles, stands in front of the brickyard, kilns and chimney. Again, the bunkers are visible at the left hand edge of the photo.
Woodyard Martha Knowles with Walton pit stack in background

The final photograph, below, shows the view of the pit complex from the wall that separated the alley in front of the cottages from the road. The cooling towers, the chimney, three winding machines, and the screening plant are all visible in this photo. The two ponies in the field were called Royal and Boxer (which had a white blaze on its forehead). These horses did not go down the pit but pulled loads on the surface. The banking at the far end of the field is that of the canal mentioned previously.

Walton Pit CUT ENH

Charles Waterton and the Industrial Revolution

Walton Hall View

Above: Walton Hall with Waterton’s wall visible in the background.

Charles Waterton was born at Walton Hall on 3 June 1782. George III had been sitting on the British throne for over 21 years. It was the year before the end of of the American Revolutionary War and Warren Hastings was still ensconced in his role as the first governor of India. A few months earlier Lord North had been replaced as Prime Minister by the Marquis of Rockingham, but the age of Pitt the younger was about to begin.

Although it has been suggested* that Walton, the village of Waterton’s birth, had been the site of coal mining activity since the seventeenth century, the full force of industrialisation was still to be seen in the area. The growth of industrial communications infrastructure began with the canals which were essential for getting raw materials efficiently to market. Britain’s first true canal, the Bridgewater Canal had opened in Manchester around 20 years earlier. This inspired the construction of other canals including the one that ran through Walton.

Waterton was 11 years old when construction of that canal, the Barnsley Canal, began in 1793. It was not completed until 1802 when he was 19. Since the canal route ran right next to his home at Walton Hall, the disruption to the countryside would have been obvious to him and may have helped shape his future attitudes during these key formative years.

He came of age in 1803 and in 1804 he began his ‘wanderings in South America’ where he established his reputation as an explorer.

Charles Waterton would later become an early environmentalist and transform his Walton Hall estate into the world’s first nature reserve. He would also engage in perhaps the world’s first environment inspired legal action against the pollution caused by nearby industry. He was becoming nature’s champion in the face of accelerating industrial revolution.

Going back to the broader historical context with which this post was started, by the time Waterton began building the famous wall of his famous nature reserve, history hurtled forward at a most rapid pace. Industry was transforming Britain into the world’s fist industrial society. George IV was now on the throne, the French Revolution had taken place and Napoleon Bonaparte had risen and fallen. Great Britain was now the world’s preeminent world power and its science was moving forward at an unprecedented rate. In the future, Charles Darwin, inspired by the work of Charles Waterton would revolutionise the science of biology and change the world.

* http://overtown.org.uk/walton-colliery-nature-park/the-pit.html

Charles Waterton – A Pivotal Figure From Walton’s History

Charles Waterton by Charles Wilson Peale, 1824, National Gallery, London

Charles Waterton by Charles Wilson Peale, 1824, National Gallery, London By Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35651312 Click: https://watertonswalton.wordpress.com/charles-waterton-by-charles-wilson-peale-1824-national-gallery-london/ to see changes made to original.

First published on my Waterton’s Walton blog.

Charles Waterton is a famous figure who was an inspiration to naturalist Charles Darwin who revolutionised science. On one occasion Darwin himself was Waterton’s guest at Walton Hall. Waterton is, in his own right, internationally significant in the history of science.

England’s most important historical attribute is that it was the world’s first industrialised society. Waterton helps place Walton right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, a global historical turning point that began in the north of England and set off reverberations down the ages and across continents and impacts on daily life even today.

Waterton’s philosophy was a direct reaction to the negative impact of this revolution in human progress. It provided a message about how we can better manage this progress for the benefit of both humankind and the natural environment. It is therefore a message directly relevant to the challenges of our own time. Walton was one of the first places in the world where there were serious attempts to mitigate some of its negative consequences.

It was on his estate at Walton Hall that he created the world’s first nature reserve. This made Walton an important place in the history of environmentalism and as such it can be seriously argued that Walton was the village where nature and industry first met.

What happened in Walton in the early days of industry is something that has modern relevance. It is also something that could link the hard-working ordinary people of Walton’s industrial past to profound events that transformed our world. Due to its place in the industrial revolution Walton could exemplify the transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. This is of equal significance to the period when agriculture first emerged in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East which led to the development of the first cities. The transition from agriculture to industry is surely of equal interest as the transition from hunter gatherer to agriculture based societies.

It is the presence of Charles Waterton that helps differentiate Walton from other ex-mining villages and is something that makes the history of the village of much wider public interest.