Aberford People

Sunday, April 13, 2008

test post

test post for aberford people


Sunday, September 09, 2007



By M R Piper

Second in my series of ”Profiles” is this one about someone who has been well-known around the village for many years.


(and his wife “Jan”)

Many people know that Frank Watson was a Parish Councillor and had been for many years. He and his wife came to Aberford in 1968, having previously lived in Wykeback Valley Road since c 1948. The couple were both originally from Hackney, London where they had lived before moving to “God’s Own Country”. This profile is a somewhat personal attempt to give a bit of recognition and credit to Frank (and his dear wife “Jan”) for his service to the Aberford community, city of Leeds, Methodist Chu rch – the list goes on.

I came to know Frank shortly after coming to Aberford in 1988 when I took a little job as Parish Council Clerk and he was a Councillor. I did not know at that time the many talents that he had and how generously he spread his time around the community.

Frank has had a long life – he was born on 14th July 1916 in Hackney and grew up there. He went to a school there which conformed to the education offered in Victorian Grammar Schools and called the Worshipful Company of Grocers Hackney Downs Boys’ School, later to be called Hackney Downs Secondary School (now replaced by a highly rated Mossbourne Community Academy). Frank met his future wife “Jan” when out one day and bumping into her walking with a girlfriend when they were just 16. Her proper name was Florence Jansen but he called her “Jan” and that name was the one she became known by. The couple were engaged at 18 and married at 21 and had a very long and happy marriage for 68 years !

Hackney was a mixed Borough in terms of prosperity – some people were comfortably off and others were in abject poverty. For some, the fact that they had shoes was held to be fortunate. If they also had socks they felt themselves well off ! Whilst Frank was far too young to have direct experience of WWI, there was terrible poverty in the 1920s/1930s and social upheavals. In common with so many, Frank was interested in improving and helping the community at large and began to see this coming about through promoting the socialist movement. Frank’s father had lost his job during the Miners Strike and the family knew hardship. Many political speakers would “hold forth” at the end of Frank’s street where he belonged to the Congregational Church. Many strands contributed to Frank’s ultimate political convictions and social conscience.

He had a series of jobs but, in 1937, secured a job as a Ward Orderly in what was a private hospital within the Friendly Society movement. It had been originally erected to help the wounded from WWI. As Frank was quite a clever chap he was soon transferred to the Accounts section. Frank married right after starting his new job in December of 1937. He became involved in various aspects of the hospital – things like recruiting more members, being involved in rebuilding parts of the ”Army hut type” hospital in brick etc.

At the outbreak of WWII Frank actually went and volunteered to do his bit – he said he had a few cousins in the Army and thought that if he volunteered he could perhaps get a better post and meet up with his cousins. In the event this paid off for he got into the Royal Army Service Corps and eventually met up with his cousins in the Middle East. Frank only realised too late that he’d signed up for 6 years!

However, Frank had a few postings in this Country at first – Margate, Aldershot and then Blackdown where he was put into the Company office when they found he could type.

He spent a year there which enabled Jan - and their first-born son – to join him in a nearby village. He was first promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant and had a further spell in Wales with a “petrol unit” until going abroad with that unit in 1941 until the end of the war.

Eventually Frank found himself with his unit setting up a petrol depot in the mountains behind Port Sudan which was to receive petrol brought in and store it for the Army’s use.

Through all this time Frank maintained his involvement in sports for he had always played football and cricket to name but two. As a morale booster, sports would always be organised wherever his Unit found themselves and his first 2 medals were won for playing these two sports for the Army. At one point he was chosen to play for the Army against teams of South Africans – Frank sadly says that most of the young South Africans were in tank units and were wiped out at El Alamein.

Frank played his part in that battle and has many stories about his adventures from that time. He went on into Italy, taking part in the push up through that Country and was in the northern area at the end of the War. In fact he was lucky that his Unit didn’t get cut off in the North when Tito wanted to grab part of the area. He spent a little while close to Venice and was repatriated from that area having been away nearly 5 years and his son was nearly 6 by this time.

Frank says that, as these things go, he had quite a lucky war. He could have lost his life on more than one occasion if chance happenings had gone the other way. Frank has a deep Christian faith and perhaps someone had things still for Frank to do !

Frank’s old job was kept open for him but, shortly after he returned, the Area Organiser in the north became ill and Frank was asked to transfer temporarily to take over. In 1948 Frank arrived in Leeds for a month having only been home for a couple of years with Jan and having experienced the tragic loss of twin sons (Peter and Michael) from diphtheria during that time.

Jan joined Frank in 1949 when he was asked to remain after the death of the old Area Organiser and he covered a huge area of the north of England, recruiting members in support of the Friendly Society and Hospital in Hampstead. He would travel all over speaking to gatherings like Trade Union members, having been a long-standing member of the TGWU.

At first a house was rented in Meanwood and then the couple moved to Wykebeck Valley Road.

Through his involvement in the Labour Party and given where he lived. Frank was asked to put himself up for election for the Burmantofts Ward which covered the Gipton Estate. There was a big upswell of support for the Labour Party and he benefitted from that and was elected. There followed a 12 year stint as a City Councillor and a legion of Committees on which Frank served.

At the same time, Frank was also travelling huge distances in his “day job” covering large parts of the north. Eventually, as part of his job, he had 8 committees meeting monthly all over his area. He and Jan had 2 more sons, so Frank had to give time to his own family plus holding Council meetings and, no doubt, Labour Party and surgery meetings.

Some of Frank’s Leeds City Council positions were:

  • Chairman of the Establishment Committee (which controlled Council employees).
  • Member of the Town Planning and Improvements Committee
  • Member of the Accident Prevention Committee
  • Member of the Libraries and Arts Committee
  • One of the original members of the joint Leeds and Bradford Airport Committee
  • Member of the Education Committee.

Frank says he was quite proud of helping to bring about Attendance Officers being given cars because this enabled them to better cover their areas and take any truants in their cars back to school ! The cars became known as “Z cars” after a popular police programme on T.V. at the time.

He also says that there was parental opposition to the introduction of immunisation against diphtheria and Frank was very forceful and successful in helping to drive immunisation through, having had the experience of losing his two little boys to the disease.

Gipton was a tough area and Frank came to know many of its characters quite well. He says he never felt intimidated by knocking on doors there and speaking to anyone and everyone. His background in Hackney, the Army and his strong Christian faith and socialist convictions gave him his “protection”.

During this period Jan was also playing her part in the community. Through writing letters from time to time to the Leeds Weekly Citizen paper, Jan was asked to contribute a regular column on the “woman’s point of view” as it were. This she did for some 10 years and one day she received a telephone call asking her to meet with the then Leader of the City Council. She went along wondering what she had written that had caused offence, only to find herself being asked to become a J.P. In fact she became Chairperson in both Adult and Juvenile Courts and gave some 25 years service only retiring when she reached 70. Frank has many stories about Jan’s time on the bench and how she was held in very high regard by other J.Ps and Judges too. Many were grateful to her for “taking them under her wing” when they were new to the job and when the couple sometimes attended legal functions and the like, people would come up to Frank and tell him how much Jan was appreciated.

Within the Leeds area, Jan ran a Luncheon Club and used to organise things like visits from speakers and once organised a large party of over 100 people to go to the Houses of Parliament and see the four local M.Ps. She was also Dennis Healey’s Election Agent for 2 years until moving to Aberford.

Frank and Jan had begun to discuss in the mid ‘60s what their plans might be for retiring and both felt they would like to move further out from the city at some point. They began to look at a property out Hambleton way, put a deposit on it and visited the area several times without totally making up their minds. One Sunday they decided to have a final run out there via Aberford where they knew they could call at The Royal Oak for lunch. This was one of those chance things which had happened before to Frank for they came upon the bungalow in Hayton Wood View and immediately felt it would be right for them. They moved in 1968 and again set about integrating themselves into the community by volunteering their services anywhere they could help.

It was a Maurice Watts who approached Frank to ask him if he would stand for election to the Parish Council as a Labour member. At that time the Parish Council was a more political animal than it is today and the other “parties” were called “Independents”. The elections were a much bigger event than these days and were certainly contested. The Labour group put 7 candidates up for election for the 7 seats and 4 were successful including Frank. Thus began Frank’s stint as a Parish Councillor and he was Chairman from approximately 1973 – 1983. In addition to this he was, in 1980, made a West Yorkshire County Councillor for Bramley Ward up to the time the W.Y.C.C. was abolished .

Turning to Frank’s other community services in the village, these include involvement in the Methodist Church where he still serves as Treasurer and on the Circuit and Property Committees. He was in the Horticultural Society from his arrival in the village and remains an Honorary Vice President. The Village Hall Management Committee benefitted from his input from 1970 for several years. Frank says that there used to be regular weekly dances and films were often shown there. Occasionally Frank and a few of the village chaps were called upon to act as “bouncers” when his army training and diplomatic skills no doubt proved useful ! Tuesday Club, which is for older residents, was of particular interest to Frank and this used to meet in the Village Hall with a meal being provided from the School.

He was also on the Almshouse Trust Board from 1973 being Vice President from 2000. His involvement with this organisation came about through his being asked to participate by old Dr Robinson. There were also – as Frank puts it – other bits and pieces that both he and Jan were involved in from time to time – like “Meals on Wheels” etc. As an “afterthought” Frank mentioned that he helped to obtain for the village the area where the Bowling Green and Clubhouse now stands through his connections with the City Council and he was President in the first year of the Club’s existence. I suspect the list is too long for Frank to remember all that the couple did and he is also too modest to put himself forward.

Frank’s quieter retirement years would have worn out most people! He says that he thoroughly enjoyed his involvement with community things and it helped to become integrated into the village and meet so many new people.

Eventually when Jan became ill with increasing dementia, Frank had to give his time to caring for her which he did for some 5 years. When the task became too difficult for him he found a caring home close by and she passed away last year. At first Frank thought about leaving his bungalow and going into a flat in the Almshouse complex but, after a little while, he felt that he could still cope where he was and felt he would rather stay put.

From my perspective, Frank seems a sight too perky to sit in an armchair somewhere and watch the world go by for he is still involved in the Methodist Church and the Almshouse Trust as we’ve seen. Further evidence of this is the fact that he has recently become involved in learning how to use a computer.

A leaflet came through his door advertising courses at Thomas Danby College and Frank went on a course. Not only did he do a course but was nominated and won an award for Senior Learner of the Year. Frank didn’t realise that this award was given by an outfit called the National Institute for Continuing Adult Education and that he would be invited – first of all – to Scarborough for the Yorks and Humber Region and then down to London for the National Awards Ceremony ! He got his picture and story in the Yorkshire Evening Post but that wasn’t the half of it.

He was amazed at the “big do” that was made both in Scarborough and London where he was given a nice Asian lady all to himself to look after him whilst he was there. Frank joked that he expected they all thought he would be a really doddery old chap at his age and would need a Minder. In fact, as Frank was originally from London, he probably was more capable than his Minder although he hadn’t been into the centre of London for very many years.

Frank showed me a lovely big framed certificate he was given and a photograph his son had obtained for him which showed him to best advantage and looking mighty good for an old ‘un. He has also been included in a big booklet produced by NIACE to show that you are never too old to learn a new skill. One of Frank’s grandsons helped him in getting a computer and he is intending to expand his knowledge. He already knows how to send and receive emails and uses it to correspond with his sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He intends to enrol for two weekly winter sessions at Micklefield and Kippax to start to learn all about the internet and the wonders one can find. He was very interested in our village website and is looking forward to taking a peek at it.

Frank’s family are a source of joy and pride to him and his 3 sons have all done well in life becoming Teachers. One lives close by in Collingham, one in Loughborough and one in Bishops Stortford. Each son had 2 children, so Frank has 3 grandsons and 3 granddaughters and he also has 4 great grandchildren – again 2 boys and 2 girls. He told me that he is planning to go on holiday with one of his granddaughters to Madeira where the family have an interest in an apartment.

Frank Watson – a tireless worker in the cause of helping others within public office and outside it. Since he’s discovered, relatively recently, that his ancestors were from Yorkshire I’ve no hesitation in proclaiming that he be considered an Honorary Yorkshireman. It was a lucky day for Aberfordians when he decided to live here !