Janet remembers her excitement at the prospect of a new bicycle and cycling adventures with her school friend Christina:
It was the summer of 1959 and change was in the air. We were now 11 years old and in our final year at Bentley New Village Junior Girl’s School. Excitement was building at the prospect of going to different schools. Mrs Holland, our Class Teacher, said that soon a letter would arrive to inform our parents if we had passed. Would it be to go to the newly built Don Valley High School with its prettily coloured summer uniform and navy blazers or Percy Jackson Grammar School at Adwick-le-Street? Alternately we would attend Bentley High Street School.
Ours would be the first year of pupils, in the Doncaster area, not to actually sit the 11+ Exam. Instead The Thorne Scheme would be in operation. Some specially selected pupils would sit an exam as part of a full day’s ‘interview’ at either Don Valley or Percy Jackson’s. This put a different aspect on matters and the fear of the unknown eventually gained strength after several letters home and meetings at school about the subject. In the end this played out to our advantage as some parents thought that we, the pupils, needed some sort of incentive to give us the motive to work hard in order to be selected for a place at either school.
Christina Birden, a school friend and I were both promised a new bicycle by our parents if we passed! Wow, this was like having Christmas in the middle of the year and we could not stop thinking about the prospects of owning a brand new bike for the first time. I clearly remember that letter arriving in a plain brown envelope and I thought ‘bike or no bike’! We opened the letter – YES, it was to be a new bike and I was to start at Percy Jackson Grammar School on 14th September 1959 (so was Christina). Lots of details were included about a uniform etc.
When would the new bike arrive, I asked my Mother. As my parents ran a grocery business, things were never simple. A bike needed to be ‘ordered’ through the right channels, which took too much time in my opinion. Why couldn’t we just go to the nearest cycle shop like Christina’s parents? Her bike, a shiny blue Raleigh, arrived promptly; mine was still ‘being looked into’. I had never nattered as a child but I am afraid to say that I did do about this ‘Blessed bike’ as my Mother had begun to refer to it. I spent ages admiring its picture in Landys Catalogue (Landys was a trade discount store in Doncaster). It was a ‘Standard’ bicycle, in maroon with white mudguards and a small tool bag under the back of the tan coloured seat. Every single day I asked my Father if the ‘Blessed bike’ had arrived at Landys. I thought that it never would. On the very first day I didn’t ask, my Mother shouted upstairs to me ‘It’s here. Go with your Dad to fetch it’. At last!
Every day seemed to be sunny for the remainder of the summer holidays. Christina and I met up in Bentley on most days to go cycling together. We had instructions not to venture too far but enjoyed quite a lot of freedom exploring the district of Bentley, Toll Bar, Arksey and surrounding Hamlets, Shaftholme, Tilts, Almholme and Stockbridge. Our favourite place was referred to by us as ‘the new road’ – through Arksey via Arksey Lane, Station Road and Almholme Lane and onwards past Wittsend Caravan Park. We never tired of it and in those days this road was very quiet with few vehicles travelling along it. Eventually the road leads to Barnby Dun where we were able to watch the opening and closing of the metal swing bridge over the canal. Nowadays, this road is very busy with cars and lorries in particular bouncing along far too quickly.
Weeks went by in this manner and the date for us to begin at the new school was fast approaching. We had been into Doncaster with our Mothers to buy our new uniforms to wear at the Grammar School and with new satchels, pens, pencils and pencil cases at the ready, the last week of summer cycling arrived.
We were, once more on ‘the new road’ cycling along as usual one behind the other. Today a heavy goods vehicle overtook us as it went towards Thorpe Marsh Power Station. As the red lorry turned left to go down the side road we noticed a box drop off as the driver hadn’t fastened the doors properly. It rolled on to the grass verge and settled there. The lorry sped away and although we tried to follow it in order to find out where it went, it didn’t appear to be into Thorpe Marsh Power Station itself. We had no idea where that minor road led to at that time, so we decided not to pursue it any longer. We took it in turns to walk with the big box sitting on our bike seat all the way to The Police Station on Arksey Lane, Bentley. When we arrived, Christina waited outside with our bikes and I took the box inside. The outer contained 48 of the small sized packets of Shreddies. I plonked it onto the reception desk in front of the on-duty Sergeant who said to me ‘Now then, what do we have here?’ I explained what they were and he said ‘I can see that, but where have they come from?’ To that I simply replied ‘They fell off the back of a lorry’. Smirking he entered it into the Station Log Book.
Footnote: The result: 3 months later Christina and Janet were chomping their way through 24 boxes of Shreddies, each with a little help from their families, because nobody had claimed the cereals!
By Janet A. Roberts née Kitson