By M R Piper
This is the first of, what I hope will be, several “profiles” of some of our Aberfordians. My choices are based on people I personally believe deserve wider recognition for their services to our community or who have an interesting story to tell. I chose David Howson to begin with as he comes into both categories ! David asked that he not be made out to be some kind of “saint” and was eager to put forward the names of others who have worked steadfastly for the community over many years without recognition. I assured him that I intended to feature others in time so he kindly consented to be my first “victim”. So here goes ….
David is an Aberford man through and through. - he was not quite born in the village as he was born in a Castle – Hazlewood Castle ! Quite a few Aberfordians had that distinction during WWII years and David was one of them.
David’s mother was born in the village and her mother before her and he says that, at one time, there were 5 generations of his immediate family living in the village. Even today, this has only gone down to 4 ! In addition to this there are other relations. David’s wife Pru was also born in the village, as was her mother and grandmother. Her maiden name was Pickering and her mother’s maiden name was Cockrem which is a name associated with the village from past times.
Aberford was a very rural place when David and Pru were children – as we can see from Dick Banks’ “Walk”. The north end of the village in particular had few houses. Before Hayton Wood View was built there were five cottages between Well House and the large semis opposite the Royal Oak pub. These five small cottages had 5 families living in them. David’s family, consisting of 7 people, occupied one of these small dwellings. David was the eldest of 4 brothers.
All the village children went to Aberford C of E School which looks externally much the same as it did when David and Pru went there.
David recalls a very long-serving Master there called Mr Pickles who had taught his mother, himself and – in due time – his two sons.
The total number of children at the school was similar to today – although there are many more families in the village now, they have far fewer children and David recalls that the Aberford families of Walton, Banks, Baxter and Bradley were all well represented in his time.
The school then had a large garden area – where today a large detached house stands adjacent to the school yard. The children were encouraged to cultivate this plot and all kinds of things were grown there. He says it is such a pity that this land was ever sold off for it was valuable as a “teaching resource” in so many ways.
In the area where Parlington Villas now stands – and extending over the Bowling Club and Tennis Courts there were once a lot of “Nissan” huts which had been an Army camp. This area and the buildings were taken over and modified to become a secondary school for the whole area. Each large ex-hut had a coal fire at either end.
This was where all the village children went for their secondary education and no less than 14 buses brought children from the surrounding villages.
David recalls that this school was in operation for several years and the kitchens continued to cook and send out meals to surrounding primary schools for some years after the actual school itself had closed.
There were at least 13 shops of different sorts in the village and some 7/8 farms. Traffic was very busy through the village before the A1 bypass was built but was often very slow moving – David recalls galloping on a horse he used to ride up the grass verge from the top of Bunkers Hill to Hook Moor and waving to the bus passengers as he flew past them !
Many are the exploits our fine fellow got up to as a youngster but, as this can’t be book-length, there is room for only a few. David recalls roaming the fields and woods all around the village – as all children did then – he used to help the village butcher Sam Hood by delivering meat and would saddle up Sam’s horse for this and set off across the fields for some miles.
According to David there are one or two tunnels under Aberford – one was reputed to run from Aberford House under the main road and part of the Church graveyard and surface within the Church near the font. The purpose was so that the family from Aberford House could go to Church apart from the villagers (maybe to keep dry too ?!). In any event David and some pals set out one day to explore and, starting at the Aberford House end, got a good way along the tunnel when their candle went out and they fled back the way they’d come in terror. That was an expedition which was not repeated !
Another tunnel is reputed to run from one of the houses behind the Church across the new graveyard and the Barwick Road and out through the high banking where the large houses have recently been built along Cattle Lane. One of the old houses certainly contains a well some 80ft deep.
When the land on which Hayton Wood View now stands was sold for housing, the old cottages were simply pulled down to create an access road and David’s family moved into Abbotts Close – being the fourth family to move into that street. Children played out on the streets a lot as there were no cars and most men were either miners or in farming.
Boys and girls all played out together and in their own groups too. They all knew which houses they’d be welcomed at if they were playing at the other end of the village from home and would happily knock on a door and ask for a drink of water – probably to be given a biscuit or sweet as well. Of course there were certain doors to be avoided – one where they’d have been seen off with a “yard brush” !
David and his family were “chapel people” as opposed to “church people” and his mum made sure he regularly attended chapel up to being about 16 – it might astonish some of David’s friends and acquaintances in his favourite “watering hole” – the Arabian Horse - to know that he rose to become a Sunday School Teacher !!
David had always wanted to go into farming but, in those days, children were very respectful of their elders and his Grandfather and Father were both miners and insisted that David should “go down the pit”. Wages were better in mining than farming too. However, within a fairly short time, David managed to get into farming through going first to work for his Uncle George who had a farm.
David and Pru have been married for some 47 years - they first lived at “Beck side” – the house which faces Cock Beck near the Play Area. This whole area was subject to flooding and, more than once, the Beck caused trouble. David said he nearly lost a car downstream one time if he hadn’t luckily left a strong gate closed and it held the car back ! The stream usually flowed through all 3 arches of the road bridge and he recalls a time when it was full that his 2 sons took some little dinghies up to Ass Bridge along the Barwick Road and succeeded in floating all the way down home – a feat which seems destined not to be repeated in these dryer times.
David can’t remember just how he became involved in community matters in the village – there was always community involvement by people in the village when David was young. He recalls that his mother Grace went to a Parish Council meeting back when old Dr Robinson, Miss Fawcett and Sam Hood were members and requested some land for a Play Area. She was rather snobbily told by one Councillor that “my children play in our garden” – in other words “get lost”. Grace pointed out that many families were not fortunate enough to have gardens – the small houses often only had a back yard. Sam Hood was sympathetic and this is how the land at Cock Beck first came to be given over for a Play Area. Grace and 3 chaps who were all tradesmen in the village got together – fund raising events were organised – and the first equipment was bought.
With David being in farming, now working for the Dennis family who were tenants at South Lodge Farm, he had access to things like tractors and trailers and became involved in the Village Gala – he recalls using 6 tractors and trailers, dropping them off at the Chapel, School, etc and each group would “dress” their trailer which would take part in the parade. David was involved in the Gala for many years giving freely of his time and labour.
At some point David joined the Village Hall Committee and he served on this for some 28 years. As with the Gala, David gave time and labour to looking after the Village Hall. All the jobs of work which David and others did to save money would be too numerous to list but he was involved in putting in a new doorway and stairs to downstairs and using some farm machinery to clear and tidy the rear of the Hall. A lottery grant was obtained which enabled a kitchen to be built on the side and David’s son did the work.
Before the village was bypassed, it came under the jurisdiction of Selby and Tadcaster and older residents (David among them) feel that it was perhaps better served under this arrangement. Whatever your opinion, for many years now the Parish Council has come under Leeds City Council umbrella and has very little power in its own hands but fights to get the best for the village. On planning matters in particular, the Parish Council can only give recommendations/opinions but has no powers.
Turning to David’s Parish Council work – at one time the P.C. was quite split along political lines. The Councillors were fairly evenly divided between the “better off” residents like farmers and business owners and the working men like miners and farm workers. Mr Frank Watson was Chairman at one time and he approached David to join – one of the Councillors wanted David to vote with his group if something controversial came up – David told him that he would be voting for what he thought would be best for all the residents. This is what he has always done and gradually the political aspects of the P.C. faded away.
It is now some 30 years since David first became a Parish Councillor – and Chairman for the past several years. It has become quite difficult many times to find people willing to serve as a Councillor – there is no pay and very little recognition. However, David would say that the personal satisfaction to be had from knowing you’ve made a small difference is worth it to those who come forward. Few residents attend the meeting – where they are invited to speak at the end of the meeting if they wish to. Strangely, until a few years ago, the village had 3 official Parish Councils, Aberford which had the major portion – Lotherton which had about one quarter – and tiny Parlington which just had a scattering of properties. For major matters there were joint meetings by mutual consent to get what was best for everyone.
There have been many matters over recent years which required that Councillors attend a huge amount of extra meetings, both in and away from the village. It seems safe to say that those who have been Parish Councillors over the last 15 or so years have had to deal with more and bigger problems than any Councillors before them. These include – the A1/M1 link road public enquiry – Leeds Council’s proposals for the Parlington Park area as set out in their Unitary Development Plan – the Parlington Villas development – the South Lodge Farm development.
In addition there have been countless smaller matters – the first re-equipment of the Play Area – the second bigger re-equipment – smaller developments of housing in the grounds of large properties – the Cattle Lane houses – several consultation exercises using the Village Hall – liaising with Bowling Club, Village Hall, School etc.
Very often David, and other Councillors, would actually do things around the village themselves like seat painting, bulb planting etc rather than wait for things to be done via Leeds City Council.
The Dennis family, who David worked for, were tenants of the owners of the Parlington Park land – (the owners have changed once or twice being large “Pension Fund” owners with the actual day to day running in the hands of a Land Agent.) David gained a huge knowledge of the land around the village through his farm work – he knows about the wildlife such as deer and badgers (and is one of a small group who check up regularly to see no harm comes to them). He says that the Aberford area is one of the best anywhere for the number of badgers – containing around 250 at this time.
David rode to hounds many years ago and is a member of a group of “shooting men” in the village, who have had a Clay Pigeon shoot for some 37 years at Black Horse Farm north of the village. He is also a member of a group which has a “shoot” at Marton cum Grafton – this involves managing a large area to provide pheasant and partridge shooting. David points out that all the game is destined “for the pot” and says that he and his family have always eaten quite a lot of game which he could, of course, provide for free when his family were young.
Racing pigeons have been another of David’s hobbies. In fact he has only just stopped keeping them. The main reason he’s given up is that it used to involve him on Sundays and these days he prefers touring round on his motorbike on that day ! More of which in a minute !
For his shooting, David keeps 3 dogs and he also still has a couple of ferrets. Again he’s had both for many years and he, or his sons, are called on now and again to get rid of troublesome vermin.
For many years, David worked hard for the Gymkhana which was to grow into Aberford Charity Horse show. This started through the Dennis family. The girls – Jane and Julie – had ponies and the first little gymkhana was a treat for one of their birthdays. The people who came enjoyed it so much they asked for a repeat the following year – this resulted in about 40 people turning up – from then on the event grew.
As David was able to access the farm machinery he was a great help over many years in the hard physical work of putting on such an event.
The date was chosen so that it didn’t conflict with any nearby events – this was around the 22nd of August – and it was decided to give any profits to charity. The Show grew into a very large “small Show” – coming to an end only many years later, having raised lots of money for various Charities.
After more than 30 years, David’s employment in farming came to a sad end for personal problems of the Dennis family resulted in them ceasing to continue the tenancy of the farm. David and his family, who had by now moved to their lodge on Cattle Lane, were allowed to stay by the estate owners and have been assured they may remain there. This seems to be only just reward for the years he worked so hard on the land.
There followed some difficult working years for David in the brewing industry but over the last few years he has been much happier working on the Lotherton estate – looking after the horses and deer there. The flare-up of an old ankle injury recently has meant that David has now come probably to retirement in paid working life, but certainly not in his working life on behalf of the community !
If he can’t help you himself, David will know someone who can in the village – if you’ve a problem with rabbits, moles, foxes etc.then David will “know a man who can”. If you need a tradesman of some sort, he’ll probably be able to suggest a name. (David’s son – young David – built the Bowling Club clubhouse). If you want to know something about the land around, the farmers etc. then ask David – he’s often to be found in his favourite watering hole “the Arab” for he’s a chap who likes a good pint and “chin-wag”.
In recent years, David has rekindled his interest in motorbikes. He had one from an early age and, as a young family, he and Pru and their sons had a motorbike and sidecar. Just a few years ago, David had saved some money for a jaunt to Canada to celebrate his and Pru’s 40th wedding anniversary – however Pru is very nervous of flying and just couldn’t face the long flight – so the money was spent on a nice big motorbike and they’ve been enjoying riding all over the place ever since ! They’ve even ridden down to Spain more than once – David sheepishly told of the speed he’d once reached going down south in Spain – if the bike had had wings he’d have gone into orbit !
For many years, Pru has had to put up with David disappearing to another of his endless meetings for all the community things he’s become involved in. These days, David says she’d like him to cut back much more but I’m not sure she’ll have a lot of success ! Pru is an Aberfordian just like David, however, and has always helped and supported him throughout. She says she would just like to go for a drink etc in the village and not have people coming up to talk to David about some Council matter – if only they’d ask to speak to him another time so the couple could enjoy a social evening !
So, that’s David Howson – he’s been a “jack the lad” in his time, he has a twinkle in his eye and a big heart - I think he’d just describe himself as “an Aberford Man” – a chap who loves his village and will continue to do his best for the community he’s part of whilst ever he can.