Memories of Retford - by Mr. Frank George, Ossett, near Wakefield, 1965
Dear Sir, I am a Retfordian born 1879 therefore at the age of 86 - by any standard - in the twilight era of life. I was born in the Westfield area of Ordsall. My school days were spent at Thrumpton School - headmaster Mr. J. Clements. To reach school I went by way of the Station, Coal Drops, the Railway Bridge and Thrumpton Lane.
My school days were uneventful and when I reached the age of 13 I went as an errand boy to Hodson's Stationers, Glass Ware, etc. My job was to sweep up and deliver parcels, my wage was 4/- per week. Mrs. Hodson, a dear and kind lady was my 'boss', she lived to be a nonogenarian. At 15 I went to W. H. Smith and Sons railway station bookstall and then, to me, life became real.
In those days 70 years ago Retford Station from morn to night was very busy. Main line express trains from London to Scotland and return and stopping trains with bookings to Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Lincoln, Sheffield, Etc., but the exciting part to me, was the nobility who used the Station, The Duke and Duchess of Portland, Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, Earl and Countess Manvers, Earl and Countess of Yarborough, The Earl and Countess of Galway, The Foljambes, Laycocks, Denisons, Huntsman etc etc.
The Duchess of Newcastle would change at Retford accompanied with her fleet of Russian Borzoi Hounds, magnificent dogs, if any special guest were staying at Welbeck Abbey, a magnificent equipage would bring them to Retford Station, cockaded footmen and coachmen and occasionally postillion riders, a wonderful experience for any lad. The Porters were almost run off their feet in dealing with the luggage and sometimes the 'Paper Boy' would earn a few coppers, looking after the smaller fry. It was my duty to paste the Contents Bills of the newspapers on boards, telling all and sundry what to expect if they bought a paper. On the particular and momentous morning a new word to us was printed in huge letters.
Announcement of the Duchess of Portland we did not know, the porters did not know, but the dictionary informed us that the beautiful and gracious lady had given birth to a son, heir to the Dukedom.
At times would be crowded with notable people, a delight to any lad. On one special occasion, for me, the Duke of Portland returning from a day's hunting gave me a golden half sovereign and told me to keep the change. Our duties were to walk up and down the trains, shouting our wares.
Daily papers in those days 1d and even, one or two 1/2d. It was a very interesting life especially when I was in charge of the library, and met the outstanding people of Retford. The Denmans, Holmes, Jones, Pegiers, also many from the surrounding villages. Railway life must have been my metier for when nearly 18 I joined the old Great Norhern Railway. A fine railway to work for, with its wonderful engines, always clean and spick and span.
After a varied life on the railway I eventually retired at the age of 65, my position on retirement, Station Master at a busy main line station.
My memories of Retford very varied. The horse drawn bus to and from the White Hart Hotel to the Station. The many Carriers carts with wares of all description. The large market square full to overflowing on Saturdays. The hirings of Farm Hands, the dress of the country folk - all typified the markings of a country town, with the talk of crops, weather etc.
The only light and shade for the country folk of those days was Saturday when they could meet and talk with people. What of their produce, lovely vegetables, fruit, flowers, live poultry, butter, eggs, cheese etc. A wonderful array. The home-ward journey their carts packed with people and things ordered by the village folk, left at home vivid memories.
The Retford contingent of Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry assembling in the Market Place at Retford prior to embarking for the Boer War in South Africa, a lovely morning, the sun shining on the lovely uniforms and horses. The occasion prompted myself to compose the following:
My son, my son,
Now you have proved a warrior bold,
Upon yourself you may now don,
Your uniform of green and gold.
and other vivid memories.
The packed worshippers in the Grove Street Wesleyan Chapel for the Memorial Service to Her Majesty Queen Victoria.
The changes in Retford in a material sense have not been great, it is still a typical market town. The changes have been - a new Railway Station, formation of two roads, Cobwell and Victoria Road, new bridge over the River Idle in Albert Road, new Baths, a few new housing estates and of course the most beautiful Public Park set in its own symbolic sylvan surroundings a real charming rendezvous to meet and relax. Few towns have a more beautiful Park with the River Idle flowing through to give it added charm.
Another vivid memory, the Weekly Cattle Sales with beasts and cattle in their hundreds. Yes, 70 years ago there was a Spencer in full sway noting and selling with expert fervour. Retford at cricket could hold its own, and the name of Freeman recalls vivid memories. One story goes George Freeman was batting and doing well, suddenly a loud shriek, hows that! The umpire, another Freeman a man of small stature, replied who is it, Answer, your George. Reply, not out, In those days blood was thicker than water.
Means of transport in my young days was limited, no cars, Carriages for the few. So one had to walk. We would walk to Babworth, Ranby, Blyth and sometimes Worksop, and then, joy of joys bicycles were produced and we sped on fast and furious to our hearts content.
Food was cheap, it had to be. One of my favourite dishes unknown today was a Lambs Head and Pluck eg lights etc. This when cooked and the dish covered with white sauce and garnished with white turnips was a feast, to me, fit for the Gods, Cost - sheeps head 6d, vegetables etc 6d, total 1/-. By the way the brains cooked separately made a really delicious extra.
Retford was noted for its Pork Shops, pork pies 8d per pound, meat a similar price. Should I have to stay dinner at school on a wet day, I would take quarter of Pork Pie 2d, two slices of bread and butter, a lovely repast in every way. My mother was a Dressmaker and here again the price was low. Making 5/-, Sundries 1/-, even at this price queries were raised. What are Sundries? My mother's reply, buttons, hooks and eyes etc etc. This did not suit everyone. As I said before Retford has not changed much. It is still away from the madding crowd, but it is Retford of my boyhood days, peopled by folk who were nice, genuine and kind.
We were not blessed with much money but home was home in those days and we cherished it. I periodically visit my home town, endeavour to sort out any one I knew as a lad, renew old time memories and feel better for it. Very often I feel a nostalgic melancholy ache for those days. They are days of the past but they are my days, and I would not in any way hope for anything else.
These remarks are my remembered memories of the town, its people, its atmosphere, its unaltered aspects which, I trust will be enjoyed by anyone who may perchance read, and if any one of my school day pals are still alive which I truly hope so, may I extend to them my sincere wishes in every way, Yours sincerely, Frank GEORGE
Unfortunately Frank died just a year after writing these memoirs in October 1966