“Fishlake’s full of history,” Mary Sylvester suddenly announced. She has been a resident for 60 years. I agreed with her and showed her a piece by J Magilton (1977):
[Fishlake is] an interesting village formerly on the north bank of the Don and once a small port. Nearly all the buildings, except the church, are brick-built and form an attractive village centre. The present village seems to have two main focal points, the church being one and Sour Lane being the other...”
Summing up Magilton added: “The long medieval village, mentioned in Domesday and possessing a church with possibly the finest Norman doorway in Yorkshire, seems to have acted as a market centre for settlement to the north. As well as being a small port, although no market charter is known, the square between the cross base and the church may well have served as a market area, the infilling here dating perhaps to the C18.
“The brick-built houses, dating probably from the C17 form an excellent group.
“In archaeological terms the place is difficult to assess since flood banks and other activities connected with the canalisation of the Don have to a large extent obscured any earlier features which may exist...”
Mary said that at one time she knew each villager’s name and that if anyone was ill everybody did what they could to help.
She said: “At Christmas you were happy because you knew everyone. When I went to the shop in the old days it would take me all the morning; there would be so many people to gossip to. Now I don’t know a person.”
When she arrived in the village, the main occupations were farming and coal mining, and a number of people worked at Pilkington’s Glass Works at Kirk Sandall.
She said: “The HatfieldColliery buzzer used to be heard at five every morning. People weren’t very well off, they were just ordinary villagers. Today there are far more people with money in Fishlake, which has become an exclusive retreat for commuters.
“Those who live on the thoroughfare formerly called Mucky Lane have changed it to Dirty Lane. With the exception of the council estate, much of the house building in the post-war years has mostly comprised infilling in big gardens and orchards.”
I was interested to learn of Fishlake’s charitable bodies. The first local school was started in 1640 as a charity school by the Reverend Richard Rands “for his friends and countrymen at Fishlake”.
Before I reached Mary’s house, I passed a pinfold and asked her some details.
She said: “At one time it was used annually as a venue for auctioning off the local lanes. This was where individuals gave a few pounds to have the right to be able to graze their animals along a particular lane. Also, a man was appointed to put any stray cattle, sheep, cows or horses wandering about the village in there. The custom is still alive today because recently some ponies got out from somewhere and they were put in the pinfold.”
Mary said she had never known any rivalry to exist between Fishlake’s two pubs; the Anchor and the Hare and Hounds, though they were obviously different in the past to what they are today.
She said: “Some nights me and my husband used to go to the Hare and Hounds and sit in the kitchen and have a drink. It was very cosy and homely. I don’t suppose it was really like a pub. The land at the back of the Anchor, which they’ve made into a car park, was once a small holding.
“In the middle of the Anchor’s tap room was a stove, and once when there was a fight, it was knocked over...Many people kept cows, a couple of bullocks, a pig, hens and geese. The butcher would come and kill your beasts for you in your backyard.”
During the Second World War, many of Fishlake’s farmers were of course allowed to stay at home and tend the land. Some villagers took in evacuees from Hull, whilst others, including Mary, worked at Pilkingtons, which became a munitions factory. Her father-in-law was a member of Fishlake Home Guard. She remembers him keeping watch on top of the church tower, and also the time when a German aircraft dropped a bomb.
“Father-in-law always stated that the pilot had got lost whilst a on a mission to or from Sheffield or Hull. Anyway, a bomb was dropped and landed at nearby Weather Cock Farm. The crater it made was there for years, and was used as a pond for the cattle to drink from.”
Whilst Mary lamented the demise of old village life, she did not miss the regular flooding.
Mary said: “The postman used to come on a boat, and on one occasion in the Anchor pub, they had to put the piano on a table.”