Below are 2 accounts from people who grew up in the area. The first is from the period after the Second World War and the second gives an account from the late 30s and through wartime.
If anyone has any similar memories that they wish to share, please contact us here.
Memories of Hob Moor (1946-1961)
I was only a few years old when I moved to North Lane, Dringhouses from West Yorkshire with my parents in October 1945. Our house, No. 13, faced an orchard which was part of Akman’s farm at that time and in 1961 the Orchard Way estate was built there. We were only a few yards from a stiled entrance to Hob Moor. At the end of North Lane was a track which led to Gale Lane and Acomb. It was on this track that the Acombers confronted the Dringyites, name-calling each other. To the right of this muddy track there were brick ponds with swans and a windmill similar to the one in Acomb Road. Parents were not keen to let their young ones go here but I was not hindered from enjoying the bulrushes and dragonflies there. I remember seeing the large scraping machines gouging out the ground to make Thanet Road. It was as if one was on the edge of the countryside but big changes were on their way. Another recollection I have is of mother buying vegetables from Mr Stubbs who passed by with his horse and cart, bound for Acomb. But now to memories of Hob Moor…
The Moor, as we called it, being nearby seemed a large space for a child but with inviting possibilities. It really was only a play place for half the year because of the wet, mud and peasouper fogs of the 50s. We looked for butterflies, learned to cycle, played cricket, had fights but treated the cows with caution, feeling as free as larks. A bonfire was usually made on the Moor by boys for locals to warm themselves on 5th November. We had a ginger cat, born on the Moor in some old carriages near the cattle tunnel leading to the little Moor. Occasionally he would disappear for a day or two and my dad thought he wandered across the Moor to his birthplace. We shall never know.
A group of lads from ‘The Street” (Railway View/North Eastern Terrace) had dug a large hole on the Moor so we built our own hole too, covered it with corrugated iron and made our own den. One day a policeman came and told us to fill it in. I think we did but I can’t help wondering if you ever see a bobby on the Moor now. On the south-east side of the Moor there was a large food store built for the war with a rail connection to the main line. The Pastures has since been built on this site. We crossed a beck (Chaloner’s Whin Culvert) to get to this line and explored the area. I believe that there is a narrow gauge railway somewhere near here.
In 1952, like the previous contributor (see below), I became a locospotter and it was great to see the mighty high-speed Mallard class A4s pass by on the Elizabethan and Tees-Tyne Pullman. Later that year I went to Nunthorpe Grammar school and in the better weather cycled on Hob Moor regularly to shorten the route and avoid the traffic. In fact, many workers biked over the moor from North Lane to get to York Carriage Works in Poppleton Road. I also used the Moor to return home from Leeman Road railway yards via Cinder Lane and Holly Bank Road. In 1957, I became a follower of Dringhouses Football Club who had a grand team. The Club bought a railway van for changing and the ground was just to the north beyond the beck (from Acomb Wood). These were good times for Dringhouses when they won the York & District Division 1 several times and even the Senior Cup in 1961 winning 1-0 against Market Weighton at Bootham Crescent. The local rivals of course were Railway Institute playing off Hamilton Drive. In 1961 I left York for the south-west but visited regularly until 2001.
Thanks to the Friends of Hob Moor and many others, not forgetting previous generations, there is still a Hob Moor to visit and enjoy in the midst of so much suburbia.
Chris Dent, December 2009
Memories of a Hob Moor Lad
In 1936 my parents bought a new semi-detached at 78 Green Lane (£500!) which had only five other homes between it and the five-barred gate, with the adjacent kissing gate, that formed the entrance to Hob Moor. Close by were a number of old trees including two fine oaks which guarded the bridge over the Holgate Beck; many other mature trees stood in the hedge that lined the steep-sided beck as it made its quiet way round the eastern edge of the Moor towards the Holly Bank corner where it disappeared, only to come into view towards Holgate Hill and, eventually under the Carriage Shops and into the Ouse at Water End. To the right at the bottom of Green Lane, Donkey Lane ran westward towards the then open fields and Gale Lane, the beck running alongside to be culverted later when the “Gale Lane Estate” was built in 1937/9. More large trees, mainly ash and sycamore, stood along the lane but, like virtually all the established, native trees which were there then, they are now long gone. Such a pity, such vandalism.
Holgate Beck itself always puzzled me, even as a boy, because, considering that it drained a large area of land, Lowfield, it never held more than an inch or two of water, and only dawdled its shy way to the river, supplemented by an even smaller stream that joined it about 200 yards further along at “Three Streams” where, in later years, we local kids used to meet and have our H.Q. Two other culverts joined it further along having crossed the width of the Moor.
Hob Moor was used as a golf course at this time with fifteen holes (members played the first three holes twice in order to complete the eighteen) and as a boy, I was a bit in awe of these odd looking coves with plus fours and flat caps, but they were all railwaymen and, coming from a long line of such myself (my Dad and both grandfathers) I reasoned that they must be alright. Finding lost balls for them, especially on the 10th and 11th holes, put me in their good books – and, very occasionally, resulted in a small financial gain!
So, from this time, and for the next ten years or so, I came to know Hob Moor as well, or better, than most, and spent uncounted hours getting to know which trees were “climbable”, or where to hang the next trapeze over the beck. As more people moved into the new houses in Green Lane, Queenswood Grove and the estate, more children of my own age began to drift into our group and, provided we took care not to interfere with the golfers, we spent much time in our own, friendly company, enjoying flights of fancy and games often strongly influenced by whichever films were on at The Regent that week. Tree climbing occupied a significant proportion of the activities and I recall David (“Tasser”) Hick, who lived up Green Lane, once falling from a large sycamore, perhaps 15 or 20 feet, with a sheath knife clenched in his teeth, but landing safely on his back, quite unhurt – and still with the knife! Poor David joined the Paras after the war and made dozens of jumps: but the last one killed him. Those of us who remembered him, with affection, reckoned that it was a pity that he didn’t land flat on his back again!
From the entrance gates, a substantial hedge, largely hawthorn, ran in an easterly dogleg to terminate by another ancient oak, with another gate, only a few yards from the 11th green. The hedge then turned toward the beck and contained a couple of crab apple trees, both of which are still there although dead. Close to the end of the hedge, and terminating near to the sleeper-built bridge onto the railway’s New Lane sports field, was a stand of six, or so, large elms, which always puzzled me since, as far as I could tell, they were the only elms on the Moor. They were not easy to climb, even to get to the sparrow hawk that nested in one of them for some years, and we gave up on them very quickly. Sadly, these trees did not survive the dreaded Dutch Elm disease of the 1960s.
Although the Gale Lane estate was not completed until after the war, the bulk of it was in place by 1939 and resulted in an influx of many more children into Acomb. Surprisingly, considering the slum conditions that these poor kids had left, there was very little conflict with the “established” residents, and it is pleasant to record the fact that, as far as I was concerned, and with only the odd exception, there was little friction between them and me and my pals. There was only desultory vandalism to the golf course, a soft target, and, to be honest, I experienced little trouble – possibly because we all went to the same school at the top of Green Lane until we were eleven.
And so, World War 2 arrived and with it many changes to all our lives. But the Moor was always there to meet our needs for fun and adventure.
The declaration of war on September 3rd 1939 produced not panic, but serious foreboding, especially amongst our parents many of whom had served in “The Great War” – “the war to end all wars”. I was with my Dad and Granddad on that awful morning when, at 11 o’clock, Chamberlain’s announcement brought tears to the eyes of both of these old soldiers – something that I have always remembered.
In retrospect, it could have been suggested that there was a considerable over-reaction by the government, with repeated radio and cinema announcements warning the public to be aware of the threat of invasion from the air by parachutists, and I, like many others, kept a sharp eye on the skies, especially after dark when the blackout took effect. But serious times demanded serious measures.
After a short time the golf club, unable to find the manpower, abandoned the mowing of the fairways, but tried to keep the greens in good condition for those who had not been called up. Ultimately a new growth appeared on the Moor (and on the Knavesmire) when teams of men planted dozens of railway sleepers, end on, all over, in what I recall as a random pattern. No-one seemed to be sure whether these obstructions were intended to prevent the landing of powered aircraft, or gliders, carrying loads of Gerry troops or even, as Dad suggested, to grow more sleepers! – but it was an impressive exercise and gave some comfort to those who were worrying about such things. Not so the kids; this was just another excitement for us to dream about. None of the invaders showed up of course – and none of the sleepers rooted!
In September 1941, having passed my “scholarship”, I began my first term at Nunthorpe Grammar School which meant cycling each way across the Moor, and through the “Cattle Arch”, twice every school day. Very few children stayed for school dinners at that time but we had an hour and a half which gave us plenty of time to bike home and back – and to do a little train spotting near the golf clubhouse if possible. In later years, my route altered to take in a call at 42 Campbell Avenue where I would pick up my classmate Billy Hunter. This diversion meant negotiating the little bridge, and the alleyway off the Moor – and I could check up on what was going on at the Holly Bank corner.
Being of a railway family, as I have said, I was a serious engine spotter (note, not “Loco” or “Train”) and spent many happy hours at the fence by the Chaloners Whin drain, waving to the passengers and shouting to the footplate men waiting in the Down Sidings. What a thrill when a rare Pacific came by – and on the only occasion it happened to me – Number 10000 – the “Hush Hush” put in an appearance. Sheer bliss!
Incidentally, of the string of 14 houses built on Green lane, beyond the roundabout (which was not completed until after the war), all but three were bought by railwaymen some of whom had moved to York, from the Newcastle area, with their work. These were the early days of the property-owning, blue-collar society from which so many of we, the following generations, have benefited.
Inevitably the war brought sadnesses of many sorts, amongst them the all too frequent sequence of everyone, having been got out of bed by the air-raid siren, going to the Moor gates and, looking straight across, over the railway, watching the glow of poor old Hull suffering yet another blitz. It seemed to go on night after night and Mum, Dad and I worried about dad’s elder brother, Ned Fowler, who was stationmaster at Paragon throughout the war and, happily, survived. We feared for him and his family, and all the Hullites who were enduring such ferocity.
Counting the bombers as they set out on their nightly missions from all the local airfields was a regular feature; mostly Lancasters and Halifaxes from Linton, Topcliffe, Dishforth and the rest. Thankfully we were usually still abed when most of them came home in the early hours and it was satisfying to know that those brave men were exacting some sort of revenge for us. But it cost 55,000 of them their lives.
Even during war-time Hob Moor was always a popular walking place for local people and pleasant afternoons and evenings, particularly Sundays, would see many families enjoying the wide open spaces, in their “Sunday Best” of course, breathing the air that always seemed fresher there. The Moor provided a convenient short cut to the ‘Mire on race days for Acomb folk, cheerful and excited on the way there – perhaps less so on the way home, dependent upon their success or otherwise, and the accuracy of Prince Monolulu’s forecasts. Most of York, including many of the schools, enjoyed a half-day holiday on Ebor Day.
Kelsey’s Pond was, if not exactly out-of-bounds to we lads, a source of interest and curiosity, being approached gingerly because of the owner’s tendency to be somewhat short with noisy, nosey boys who might pose a threat to his domain. Personally all I ever looked for was an unusual bird of some sort (we all knew our birds in those days), but otherwise, I steered a pretty wide course away from the pond and tried to glean any snippets of information from Mr. Kelsey when he stopped to have a natter with my Dad, who had been on the City Council, as he often did on his way past the house, into Acomb, in his old coat, hat, and his WELLIES; I never remember him without seeing his, apparently permanently attached, wellies! Of course there was always a dog too – but I can’t remember its name. Elizabeth Smith, in her excellent book on “Hob Moor”, says that some people recall the pond freezing hard enough to allow skating, but I have no memory of that, although some of the winters of those times were certainly cold enough to permit it.
I am sure that “it seemed like a good idea at the time”, but the loss of Kelsey’s Pond, sometime in the fifties, when it was filled in, ranks along with the removal of so many of the original trees on the Moor which have been felled in the name of progress, as vandalism of the worst sort. The pathetic attempts to replace the lost trees are to be seen. Small clusters of ornamental trees, all planted too close together, show little understanding, to me, of the nature of the original landscape of the Moor, an open heathland with native trees around its perimeter. Caucasian and Norwegian Maple, Italian Alder, London Plane, and so on – I ask you! Quite incongruous.
New schools now stand where the tenth hole used to run. I am sure that they are pleasant and totally functional, but the buildings are not my “cup of tea” and the perimeter fence seems more suited to a wartime stalag! To the rear a large area of former fairway appears to be completely neglected.
Still using the Moor as a cycle-way to Nunthorpe until 1948, by which time I was far too tall to go through the Cattle Arch without ducking, my interests lay elsewhere – National Service in the RAF for example; but the connection was always close to hand, and, having become a rugby player by then, my final, literal, contact with the Moor occurred when my club was matched against the York Rugby Union Club who were then using the former Golf Club coaches as a clubhouse, their pitch parallel to the railway. Yet more happy days on good old Hob Moor!
As a Freeman of the City I hold the future of the strays to be of vital importance and the designation of Hob Moor as a Local Nature Reserve is, in my opinion, a worthy reward for the efforts put in to achieve this status by the “Friends of Hob Moor”. I thank them sincerely for their vision and acknowledge the help of Elizabeth Smith and her admirable book with this, my small effort.
Phillip Fowler, September 2008