COLUMN: Fond childhood memories of our Pontefract town centre

‘Time marches on, as we’re all wearily aware, and – lacking any practical alternative - we must perforce march with it’, writes Rob Atkinson.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 2:56 pm

There’s no harm though in reminiscing about times and institutions long gone and, like many, I have particularly fond memories of some local attractions, one being the sadly defunct Woolworths.

It occupied that prime corner spot in Ponte and its facade was as familiar as your own front door. I bought my first 45rpm single there (Beg, Steal or Borrow by the New Seekers, since you ask), and I was often to be found haunting the pick’n’mix display, which attracted sweet-toothed kids like flies to a jam pot.

As long as we’re dreaming, though, why stop at Woolies? There are quite a few much-missed establishments I’d give my eye teeth to be able to browse around again – Fennys, for instance, just around the corner from the Buttercross.

Pearson’s: The pet shop was a favourite.

Fennys was a wonderful little shop, and a regular stopping-off point for me, once I was old and trusted enough to take the tuppenny bus ride into town on my own.

This was a Saturday morning ritual - though don’t trust my memory too much, because I also recall that it was always sunny.

Fennys was my favourite, mainly because the shelves were groaning with jars of sweets, the kind of sweets you can only find in retro shops now, and can only buy if you’ve arranged a small mortgage.

Back in those early 70s days, price wasn’t such an issue. My principles were unshakable: if a certain confection cost more than 5p a quarter, I’d look and I’d let my mouth water – but my few precious coins would stay in my pocket. Looking was half the pleasure anyway.

Invariably, I’d find my way up the road via Beastfair towards Front Street, where you could drop in on Pearson’s pet shop and breathe in the atmosphere of straw, sawdust and small, furry animals.

I passed plenty of time there, peeking in through wire mesh at various hamsters, gerbils and rabbits.

Nearby, there was Halfords – not today’s monolithic superstore by the park roundabout, but a smaller and more intimate affair with secondhand and renovated bicycles in its back room. I got my first pet rabbit from Pearson’s and my first sturdy Dawes bike from Halfords, and I have vivid memories of both. Mum shelled out a cool tenner for that bike, a massive outlay in those days, and I couldn’t believe my luck.

Back to Market Place, and alongside our restored Woolworths, my dream would also include the reappearance of Englands ironmongers. The frontage of Englands is still recognisable, though it’s part of W H Smiths now, but the feature attraction back then was the plate glass window that had kids pressing their noses up against it, yearning for the bounty inside. There were Matchbox and Corgi cars, Dinky toys, every variety of die-cast miniature vehicle and, inside the shop, up some rickety stairs, even more marvels and trinkets awaited. It was a Santa’s list of a place, an emporium of dreams. A good few of my Christmas mornings were made perfect by an item from Englands.

They’re worth a fortune now, those toys, especially boxed and in mint condition. I’d be a rich man if I’d only have hung on to a few, but instead I played the paint off them and I have no regrets. Let’s face it – you can’t put a price on happy memories, and the Ponte of my childhood, vivid and enticing in my mind’s eye, provided the very best.