Ian Clayton: Random way to gain knowledge

I get some lovely letters about this column and loads of new information, I don’t always get the chance to respond, but I thought it was about time I shared some of the feedback.

Following my comments on the word ‘nawpins’ I had this letter from Sue Walmsley. “I read with interest your article for a number of reasons. Firstly, my uncle Ernie Johnson, who coincidentally lived on Market Street, Featherstone, used to have a pocket gambling game called ‘put ‘n’ take’. It consisted of a brass top-like object about three inches long with a number of flat sides. You had to spin the ‘top’ until it landed on one of the sides. Each side had ‘put’ or ‘take’ written on it.

Whichever it landed on you had to put in or take out money from the central ‘kitty’. At the end of the game the last spin was for the ‘nawpins’ i.e. the left over money. I remember fondly playing this game on a Sunday after lunch but don’t remember ever winning the nawpins!”

I had forgotten all about put and take, my uncle Ray had two brass put and take spinners, which he carried about in his pocket. I believe the game was popular during the First World War with soldiers who made game pieces from brass shell canisters. It then gained popularity in the north of England as a gambling game for small stakes, particularly in working men’s clubs, but gradually died out in the 1960s. The origins of the game go back a long way, they say Confucious liked a game of put and take and the game was played over 2,000 years ago in both ancient Hebrew and Korean cultures.

Bridget Taylor, an old mate of mine wrote about “nawpins” too. She said: “Our mam used to use the word regularly when she gave us (my sister Irene and I) a few pounds extra to spend on treats or as she called them nawpins. It was only the day before your article that our Irene used the word which she does frequently but I thought it was a word that only we used between ourselves these days.

Sue Gilson wrote about growing up in Knottingley and remembered calling fish and chips “fish and finirks.” I have heard chips called “finirks” or is it “finerks”, my granddad used to say it. I think it might be a word that was brought here by coalminers from the Black Country.

Like a lot of miners round here , my grandad’s family came from the Dudley area and he used words that he’d heard his own granddad say. I read an article about industrial heritage in that part of the world, it was a piece about the chainmakers strike of 1910 and the word “finirks” cropped up.

Following my article about Featherstone Manor I had loads of historical information sent to me; Moira Ratcliffe wrote to say that she too had an ancient wall on the boundary of her garden and believed it to be the remains of a barn wall, she also mentioned that she had an air raid shelter in her garden and there can’t be many of them left. I once visited a home made air raid shelter dug into the rock at the back of Mr Holmes’ Priory in Pontefract and I recall there being one dug into the shunting embankment at the back of Featherstone Post Office until not too long ago. Anybody else got one?

Some great stuff came this week from my friend James Cartland, who is a walking encyclopaedia on matters concerning the landed gentry.

He gave me a family tree of the Hippon family, hereditary keepers of game at Pontefract Park who owned Featherstone Manor in the 16th and 17th centuries. I have records now that go back to Richard Hippon who owned the New Hall at Featherstone in 1536. His grandson, George Hippon died, it was said “of melancholy, being a great scholar” – all that education and it only made him sad! The Hippons were a Catholic family, later recusants, that’s to say they refused to attend Anglican services.

There are records to show that members of the family were fined for this. In 1641 Elizabeth Hippon was charged at the West Riding assizes for “failing to attend church for the purpose of common prayer” and was fined £20, a huge sum of money in those days.

Another relative,Anne Hippon married James Corker, who was the confessor to the staunch Catholic Queen Mary of Modena, the second wife of James the Second, the last Roman Catholic monarch and believer in the “divine right of kings.”

Another Hippon, Alice, married Langdale Sunderland the Royalist cavalry commander in the civil war and owner of Ackton Hall (these toffs certainly liked to keep it in the family!) By the middle of the 1700s, the Hippons became “reduced” which is 18th century parlance for “skint”, sold their estate to the Winns of Nostell Priory and left Featherstone for Dewsbury. If they could time travel, they could come back to Featherstone and see that their estate is now a rockery in a garden.

I think we live in a time of random information, you can gauge this by the fact that “random” has become a buzzword among youngsters, our Eddie uses it all the time, as in “that’s a bit random dad.” I quite like this way of learning stuff.

You never know where looking at a pile of old stones or remembering a quaint old word might take you.