World tour of York, with barrow – 1940s

Following the discussion of the gasworks in the Foss Bank/Heworth Green area, Stephen sent memories of visiting those premises, and others, gathering food and fuel. More valuable than ever during the war years, and available for free, if you knew where to go, and were young and fit enough to walk for miles to get them …

Before I took up full time Saturday work at Lord Mayors walk fruit and veg shop, my boyhood buddy and I used to occupy ourselves with useful scavenging, both near and far to help our families. Used to get scrap wood from Rowntree’s wood yard round the corner from Haley’s terrace, and chop up into bundles for fire lighting (our only Council House source of warmth, and hot water in those days). We purloined a big sturdy box, approx 3ftx2ftx1ft, and with the help of his dad an ex merchant navy coal stoker, and a pair of large pram wheels and axle, we built ourselves a sturdy two wheeled barrow, with old clothes poles as shafts, and powered by vertical two legged humans!

World War Two poster - 'Order your fuel now! And take part of it in coke or anthracite'

His Dad worked at the Gas Works in his previous role of coal stoker, and favoured employees were allowed to let their kids have access to huge piles of spent ‘coke’ (ie coal with the town gas extracted). So me and my mate Ray, spent many a Saturday morning, when the huge green gates adjoining Foss bank were slid open from 8 am to 1 pm, allowing access to the piles of cooled down coke in the gasworks yard. The journey from Fossway, via Dodsworth Ave, and Heworth green, including filling up the barrow, took about an hour, so we could make two to three visits, one for his Mam, one for my Mam, and one to give to any of the pensioners who lived in the nearby flats, who needed a little help from their friends.

It must be realised that in those days of shortages, and fuel rationing, this fuel was priceless, putting a shovel full on the fire at night kept the heart of the house ticking over till morning, creating warmth and hot water, for early rising, and a cheery start to the day. We counted our blessings then!

Not only did we ‘Acquire’ coke from the Gas Works, we occasionally did a world tour of York (with the barrow) via Layerthorpe, Foss Islands Rd, and on to the River Ouse, to scrounge the ballast that the barges had on board, having come in from the coast often with a pile of mussel shellfish, piled on the river bank free to all comers. With the help of my pal’s Mum and her old gas fired copper, out in his yard they would be cooked, shelled and bagged in newspaper ‘twists’ for consumption on their Saturday night Pub visits (both our Parents), at either the Bull Inn, in Layerthorpe, or the Bridge Hotel, in Yearsley grove, both places well frequented by the local Irish communities on our estate. We sure knew how to get by in those days!

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