Cass and Smith

Cass and Smith’s shop at the corner of Station Lane and Church Street in about 1925. The man standing in the doorway is Clarence Smith with one of his daughters, probably Ada who was born in 1922. The poles in the background carried railway telephone lines. The gas lamp was supplied by a main from Bentley’s brewery.

Cass and Smith’s general store was on the corner of Church Street close to the railway bridge at the top of Pottery Lane. From about 1923 it was run by two sisters – Alice Maud Cass and Blanche Nellie Smith. They and their families lived in the two houses next door on Station Lane which appear on a map made in 1806. They were probably built in the latter half of the 18th century.

The sisters had grown up on Watergate in Methley where their father, Miles Meek, was a miner. With his wife Ada he migrated to Yorkshire from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire a few years before Alice, who was the eldest, was born at Methley in 1892.

Blanche, who was born in 1893, appears to have been the driving force behind the Woodlesford shop. At the age of 17 she had already left home and was working as a housemaid in the household of retired surgeon Thomas Pridgin Teale at North Grange in Headingley. He had practised at Leeds General Infirmary and was one of the founders of the Leeds School of Medicine.

In Leeds in 1917 Blanche married Clarence Smith and later he was the postman for Swillington and helped in the shop.

It’s not known where Alice went after she left home but in 1919 she married Methley miner John Henry Cass, who was two years older than her. He had lived a few doors away on Watergate and they would have known each other from childhood. His first job was as a pony driver underground. His father had been a shoemaker in Methley before working on the coal screens on the surface at one of the pits nearby. Alice gave birth to a baby boy called Ronald in 1920 and when the census was taken in June 1921 they were living at 33 Aberford Road in Woodlesford with John Henry employed as a “corporal” underground at Charlesworth’s Newmarket Silkstone colliery. Blanche and Clarence were at the same address with their baby son Donald. At that point Clarence was a platelayer for the Great Northern Railway on the “joint line” at Methley.

According to Alan Jones, the husband of Blanche’s youngest daughter, Cass and Smith’s shop sold a variety of things including pit clogs, patent medicines, candles and carbine for cycle lamps, as well as clothing and general groceries. Blanche looked after the shop whilst Alice cared for both families’ children.

As the Great Depression took hold in about 1930 business became so bad that Alice and her husband decided to look for work elsewhere and they moved to live at Askern near Doncaster.

In 1922 Blanche and Alice’s younger sister Della married another miner from Methley, Harry Walker, who had started work at Water Haigh colliery when he was 13 years old. Their son Derrick was born at what is now 4 Station Lane in 1925 and he remembers living at two other houses in Woodlesford owned by his Auntie Blanche, one in Midland Yard off Midland Street and the other on Aberford Road opposite the Midland Hotel. The entrepreneurial spirit was alive in his part of the family too and in about 1939 his dad left the pit and his parents took over Woodlesford post office on Church Street which they ran until 1946.

Blanche Smith continued to run Cass and Smith’s shop and let out 4 Station Lane to tenants starting with Walter and Frances Nettleton in the 1930s. Blanche’s husband died in 1955 and eventually in 1962 she sold up and went to live with her eldest daughter. She was 100 years old when she died in 1993 two months after her sister Alice who died at the age of 101. The shop became a branch of the Woolwich Building Society and later the windows were taken out and it was turned into a large front room for 2 Station Lane.

Just up from the Cass and Smith store on Church Street was another small shop. It was taken over by Frances Simons in the 1940s and was later run by Nellie Hiscock.

Cass and Smith’s shop in July 2014. The lettering on the old frontage is just visible.