Val Hazel (nee Montague)

A written account by Val Hazel who lived in one of the Quarry Cottages in Castle Howard Station Road and later at Crambeck Crossing Keepers Cottage.

Quarry Cottages

Residents of Quarry Cottages: (left to right) Mr & Mrs Jack Brigham; Hilda Brigham and her husband; Mr & Mrs Harris; lady far right unknown.
Source: Val Hazel Collection

Memories of Castle Howard Station & Crambeck

I was born in April 1944 in a very small cottage in a row of three, Quarry Cottages, Castle Howard Station Lane. I thought we lived at number 2 but my sister assures me it was no. 3 as apparently two cottages had been knocked together for No. 1. Mr & Mrs Harrison were our neighbours at no.1. An elderly couple, they were both retired and Mr Harrison was not a well man, I think he was disabled. The Harrisons were lovely people and I spent a lot of time at their house, they would look after us when Mum had to go to the nearby town of Malton or occasionally the city of York.

Our other neighbours were Mr & Mrs Jack Brigham; he was the foreman at the quarry at the top of the road. Mrs Brigham used to put my sister’s hair in ringlets and I was so jealous! As you looked at the cottages there were lawns to either side (not well kept manicured lawns); the lawn on the left of the cottages was where my Mum pegged out the washing; the lawn to the right was where Mr Brigham kept his ferrets, ferocious looking animals, they once nipped me when I was stupid enough to put my finger in the wire. This was also the way to the woods and the steps up the bank to the flat ground that eventually led to the Quarry.

I expect it was a really hard life for Mum, no electric or gas and the only running water was fetched from the pump across the road, I remember it tasted good. She cooked on a black range, lighting was by oil lamps and the cottage was dark anyway. How did the ladies manage to cook, wash, iron and take baths when every pail of water had to be carried and heated on a fire? My sister remembers going with Mum & Dad to Grandpa’s for a bath in their huge bath. Grandpa was the stationmaster at Kirkham Abbey and lived in the station house, he had retired and moved to Rookhope by the time I was about two. Gloria says they used to walk along the railway track from Castle Howard station to Kirkham. Quarry Cottages was a brilliant place for kids to grow up.There were woods to the side of the cottages, woods across the road, and the woods across the road from Castle Howard station house were the Bluebell woods. In Spring it was like one mass of waving blue under the trees, we would pick bunches of bluebells for Mum and got our hands all gooey in the process. I am not sure whether she was pleased by the bluebells but we also picked her Wild Garlic, such a pretty flower but such an unpleasant smell, I can’t think she was pleased with those but she never showed her displeasure. We also picked primroses & violets from the bank at the back of the cottages; it was smothered with them in spring. Then there were the wood anemones in the wood at the side of the cottages and occasionally, a rarity, a wild orchid. We weren’t allowed to pick the latter. On the land round the quarry there were plenty of cowslips to be found and I loved these flowers, I still grow cowslips. It seems as though we were always picking flowers but of course life is not like that. We also picked blackberries for Mum’s jam and baking; we picked elderberries for her to make the wine. My sister and I thought it was horrible stuff and couldn’t understand what the adults saw in it! The dark nights would find us helping to make the clip rugs, our only form of carpeting downstairs (I think)! Mum had a piece of sacking and old clothes cut into narrow rectangles of different colours. We would each work on a different side of the rug, our proggers(?) inserted into the backing and then pulling the clip through.

Mr Grant, Kirkham Abbey Station

Val's Grandfather (Mr Grant) and Auntie Margaret at Kirkham Station.
Source: Val Hazel Collection

My earliest memory (or it could be someone else’s memory) was slipping off to meet my Grandpa Grant from the bus. I was only about 3 and I had to cross the main York to Scarborough road. Luckily there was no other traffic about and Grandpa arriving stopped the bus. I remember I got into a lot of trouble for that. I also climbed an Elder tree fell down and hit my head and concussed myself. When I came round I was in bed and a sweep was there so I screamed. It wasn’t until years later when discussing it I discovered I had been hallucinating; there was no sweep and no fireplace in the room!

There weren’t a lot of children to play with. My sister used to play with Betty Milson from the Platform house at the station; they didn’t like me playing with them, I was too young. We used to have conker fights when the chestnuts fell from the trees in the early autumn. In winter we sledged down the bank near the Tills farmland.

My sister used the school bus to travel to school at Welburn. By the time I started school they had withdrawn the service for us as the radius for those eligible had narrowed. Gloria, my sister, remembers that Mum would come and meet us sometimes; she had a bicycle with a seat on the back for me. I only ever remember walking, or when I was older, cycling.

My sister went potato picking at Till’s farm and also I think Gill’s in Welburn the money for potato picking was very good for children. Gloria remembers earning 7s 6d a day, I think I went too but only with Mum. Gloria remembers there was much excitement when they were at the Welburn farm as ancient pottery had been unearthed. Later when I was 8 or 9 we went to a farm at Whitwell, we were allowed to go by ourselves, and we earned 11s a day; the farmer’s wife did wonderful food and my sister and I ate with the family. It is possible that the farmer was a friend of Grandpa, for years the station master at Kirkham Station. He must have been well known in Whitwell as he travelled from his new home in Rookhope to do relief work at the Post Office in the village.

When I was six years old, Mum got the job of crossing keeper at Crambeck, the next hamlet along the road. This was a palace after our tiny cramped cottage. The gate House was a wonderful building in natural stone. There was a signal shed to the side of the house which is the one Mum had to use, the signal box proper was only used by the relief men when she had her days off and holidays. We got to know some of the railway workers but the only one I can remember now is Bernard Barker. He was memorable for his snow-white hair above a young face; he had turned white overnight when a POW of the Japanese. Mum only had to open the gates for the coal lorries and Mr McKillican who was a disabled ex-serviceman. Occasionally there would be other people but there weren’t a lot of vehicles on the road when I was a child. They called for Mum by pressing the bell at the side of the gate; I think it rang in the house.

This house was a kid’s paradise and probably a relief for mum too. She still didn’t have electricity, and she still had to cook on the black range; but luxury of luxuries there was a stone sink with running cold water. At the other side of the gate next to the signal box was a wash-house with a big copper, one might have to light a fire under it, but once that was done there were quantities of hot water. Behind the wash- house was the chicken house and then a huge vegetable garden stretching along the lineside. There were raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb and then whatever Dad decided to grow. I remember picking peas and eating them straight from the pod. At the other side of the line in another little piece of garden were the loganberries and blackcurrants. The chicken house was where I made mud pies and it was my bakery where I sold my cakes to imaginary people. I think we had kept hens but obviously at some time it had been discontinued. The front of the house was covered in roses in summer and roses also formed a bower near the signal hut. At the side of the house nearest the line there was a greengage or Victoria plum tree (or might have been both) growing up the wall. There were also trees down the garden, I think they were fruit trees and Mum fixed a swing for us on one of them. This garden stretched down the side of the house and beyond to the Earth toilet (the only toilet we had) and the pigsties. Because of the pigsties and the proximity of the river the place was the haunt of rats! You had to be brave to venture down to the toilet in the dark.There was no luxury of toilet roll either! Just some torn up sheets of newspaper, threaded with string, and hung on a nail. Later this would be replaced by Izal; it was horrible, hard paper, very much like greaseproof paper. On reflection I think I preferred the newspaper. I don’t know whose job it was to empty the toilet, but I am glad it wasn’t mine! The garden on the other side of the house was shorter but the narrow strip with the shed, later to become the cats’ sleeping place (I hesitate to use the word cat house), opened out into the orchard. The only tree I remember was the damson tree; I was very willing to pick those plums knowing they would become Mum’s scrumptious damson jam!

Inside the house there were two large rooms on the ground floor and the most enormous pantry. The pantry ran the full length of the house across the two rooms, less the cupboard under the stairs that became our toy store. Mum used this pantry for storing all the perishables but mainly for all her homemade produce. There were pickles, chutneys, jams, bottled fruit, the cheese being processed from curdled milk, and all the bread and pastries. There were also the huge earthenware bowls that she used for the wine making and mixing dough. The back room was the living room with the black range and a huge fireside cupboard; we were never short of storage in those days. It also housed the sink and a table and chairs; there was also seating round the fire. The Drawing room was enormous and was accessed via the living room but it also had a door into the pantry; that was brilliant for hide and seek. In one corner of this room was the grand piano but it didn’t dwarf the room. Both my parents could play the piano but Mum was best as she could play by ear so managed to pick up all the modern tunes. On dark evenings we would have singsongs or I would “ballet” dance. Upstairs there were two smallish bedrooms and an enormous one rather grandly labelled “The Blue Room” presumably because it was painted blue. For some unknown reason the family inhabited the two smaller bedrooms, the Blue Room was the guest bedroom. It was a fun room for dressing up and playing imaginary games. I remember teetering around in Mum’s wedge heeled sandals; they must have been all the rage at the time.


Val outside Crambeck Crossing Keepers cottage with Great Aunt Edith and Grandma Grant.
Source: Val Hazel Collection

Crambeck was a small hamlet of 9? houses and the Farm School buildings and headmaster’s house at the top of the lane. There were two cottages down the track, by the river, which led to Castle Howard station although no vehicular access from Castle Howard as the crossing had been closed. These cottages were the homes of the West family and the McKillican family respectively. Also across the crossing was the coal yard owned by John & Fred Vause. The two brothers lived in adjoining houses next to our house. Their houses had originally been built for railway workers. John was married with two children; finally I had playmates. Joan Vause was slightly older than me, and her brother Geoffrey about two years younger. Fred Vause was unmarried and employed a housekeeper. The house at the back of ours, across the field and the beck belonged to a family called Hatfield. They had two children Michael & Keith but they were both older than me. Further down the track past the Hatfield’s white house there were two red brick dwellings; the only people I remember from these houses were Mrs Fraser and Peter Naffsey? and his family. Gloria remembers baby-sitting for Mrs Naffsey The house on the corner, halfway up the lane, was the dwelling of Mrs Neil and her daughter Doreen and about seventeen cats! Doreen Neil always used to wear a headscarf, we never saw her without one. We would make up fanciful tales of why she needed to wear a scarf. The cats obviously didn’t like living as a tribe. First Whiskey, a black and white female (not spayed) defected and Mum ever a sucker for animal eyes started giving her milk.That was the thin end of the wedge, she decided she preferred her new quarters and never went back. She was quickly followed by Simon, a sleek tortoiseshell and shortly afterwards Mix, who was predominately white but also a mixture of other colours. Whiskey was a trollop of a cat she was forever producing litters of kittens. Dad would dispose of the kittens if he got to them before we did but we cried and pleaded so often that we ended up with a shed full! However the site didn’t lend itself to adventurous cats and they were not always wise enough not to argue with the trains

It was in the coal yard that I learned to ride a bike; I shall never forget the sense of achievement. Dad also taught us to fish on the Derwent, a very fast flowing river. I don’t remember being too keen on fishing as we had so many warnings about the dangers of the river that it didn’t feel too safe being close to it. We preferred to fish in the Beck with our little fishing nets. The Derwent was a dangerous river as was demonstrated when a tragedy occurred; young Michael McKillican fell in and was drowned. We did enjoy watching the men who were participating in fishing matches, they were so serious about it. The men mostly came in buses from the West Riding.

When I was older I used to go to Welburn Lodge, Kathy Mack’s house to buy pop and crisps, it wasn’t a proper shop with counters and shelves; I only ever remember buying those two items. When I was about 7 or 8 some new houses were built across the main Scarborough Road from Welburn Lodge. I am not sure if all the houses were for teachers at the approved school but definitely Mr Draycon was a teacher there and he and his wife and family moved into one of the houses. There were three children Peter, about my age, John about a year or so younger and a very young girl. From the moment Peter and I became friends we became inseparable; I had found my perfect playmate. We played all the games I liked Robin Hood, Cowboys & Indians, building hides, swinging from trees it was great fun.

I don’t really know much about the approved school. The boys from there delivered our milk both at the cottage and Crambeck. Maybe it was a “Farm” school, but as the milk was delivered in bottles, I don’t think they had anything to do with the cows. We were always a bit wary of these boys as from the snippets we picked up we assumed they were rough. Some had allegedly killed one of our cats, but that was hearsay. One of the boys had died after falling from the Horse Chestnut tree at the back of our house when picking conkers. There were a lot of stories flying around that he had broken some bones and they were sticking out of the body. I had nightmares for a few nights. Mum felt sorry for these boys especially in winter when their hands were raw from handling the freezing bottles. I remember her knitting fingerless mittens to keep them warm and other little kindnesses. They were very appreciative. One of the boys corresponded with her after he left and he brought his mother from Newcastle (I think) to visit her. I think we also went to the Headmaster’s house, it was very impressive but I can’t think what the occasion was.

Occasionally Mum would take us across the cricket fields and over some more fields to have a picnic by the derelict water mill. We could then walk back via Welburn if we wanted a different route. She must have given up her precious “spiv” (days off) days to do this. But most times Gloria and I would go on our own.

I don’t know how Mum got her groceries. Mr Gascoigne and his son Michael delivered the fruit and vegetables in their wagon. The produce was displayed in the wagon, just like a shop, and the sides rolled up to display the goods. I think he had also delivered to us at the cottage. The Gascoignes, I believe, came from Bulmer. Mum placed an order with the village shop in Welburn and they delivered groceries. I can’t remember how she placed her order; maybe we delivered it on the way to school. Where the meat and fish came from is a mystery to me but maybe that was delivered too. We didn’t have a refuse collection, the waste was dumped in a bonfire pile in the garden and when the pile was big enough, the bonfire was lit. We didn’t really have much waste, as we were very “green” in those days. All the waste food and peelings were fed to the pigs. Garden waste became compost or was burned on the fire and forget waste string, bags or paper; they were all recycled!

We left Crambeck in 1955 to move to a modern house in York, electricity, hot water on tap and shops within an easy walk. Bliss! However, I still have fond memories of my time spent at the crossing house.