Helen Ashby - My Yorkshire childhood
PUBLISHED: 20:37 30 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:48 20 February 2013
Helen Ashby, head of Knowledge and Collections at the National Railway Museum, York, explains why the distinctive smell of tar plays a big part in her childhood
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Helen Ashby, head of Knowledge and Collections at the National Railway Museum, York, explains why the distinctive smell of tar plays a big part in her childhood.
I was born at home in Ferrybridge Road, Pontefract in 1959. My dad was a research chemist at Yorkshire Tar Distillers in Knottingley and always came home smelling of tar. My earliest memories revolve around the distinctive aroma of the black, sticky substance and scenes from my childhood run around my head whenever they resurface the roads.
I just love the smell as it brings back such happy times. I had an idyllic childhood with loving parents and two older brothers - our house was always full of laughter.
When I was three we moved to a brand new house in Carleton, Pontefract, so we had the usual photoshoot to mark the occasion. As a little girl I was a real tomboy and hated dresses with a passion, yet my photograph shows me wearing a very pretty little frock.
I suspect my long-suffering mother had to coerce me in to it; no wonder I wouldnt look up at the camera.
I went to Carleton Primary School, which had only been open a couple of years when I started. It later became the Rookeries. When I was six years old my granny who came from Drighlington, moved in with us.
She was broad Yorkshire and full of family folklore. All my friends loved her and used to come round to play as much as possible just because she was there. She would let us do her hair and tell us stories of the olden days. She was born in 1886 and seemed really old to us, though by todays standards I suppose reaching the 80th year is much more commonplace.
As head of Knowledge and Collections, I have responsibility for many old and beautiful objects, including Queen Victorias favourite carriage, so its strange for me to think now that I had such personal contact with someone born during her reign. I suppose my love of history and preserving the past might have had its origins in those long, fascinating conversations with my granny on a Saturday afternoon.
When I was 11 years old I moved up to Pontefract & District Girls High School, where the use of the apostrophe was impressed on us to ensure we got our school name right and I stayed there until I was 18 and ready to spread my wings.
Although I always wanted to travel, I went to university in Bradford because the languages course was the best in the UK. I soon achieved my ambition during my four year course, spending my six month student placements in Paris and Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. This was enough to tame my wanderlust and upon graduation, I was happy to stay in my home county.
Yorkshire has always been the place I call home and it is definitely where my heart is. Mums family lived in the Midlands but they used to come to us for holidays and we always went for long picnics in the Dales, no matter what the weather. My life remains in Yorkshire. I met my husband Adrian in the mid-1980s while working at the museum and we live in York now with our two sons.