'I caught smallpox - but survived to tell the tale'

They don't make them like Gladys Crookes any more.

By David Kessen
Friday, 30th August 2019, 8:51 am

The pensioner from Cantley has survived two world wars, lived through air raids on Balby, and recovered from smallpox as a child.

And today, Gladys, thought to be Doncaster's oldest woman, celebrates her 105th birthday with her family.

Born in Anelay Road, Balby, on August 29, 1914, she was one of nine brothers and sisters, although her two brothers both died in childhood. Her parents had lived in house which had one toilet for the whole street.

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Gladys Crookes pictured celebrating her 105th birthday. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-20-08-19-Crookes105-1

She attended Osman Avenue School - and remembers the days of corporal punishment. "I remember getting the cane," she said. "My sister heard about it, and kicked the teacher who did it. But if you did anything wrong in those days, you got the cane, for the least little thing. If you got more than two, your hand used to swell. I'm glad they have banned it now."

Her childhood memories include time spent in an isolation hut on Weston Road, Balby, after she was struck down with the potenially killer disease, smallpox. She said: "I was ill for about three weeks, and my parents couldn't come and see me for that time. It was upsetting."

Leaving school at 15, she went to look after two children and work at a private school on Avenue Road. Her jobs included cleaning the fireplace, shaking the rugs, and making breakfasts, and washing the floor after the children left. She was paid - 30p in modern money - per week.

Aged 16, she left to work at Bembergs, the nylon spinning factory which opened in 1929 on Wheatley Hall Road.

Gladys Crookes pictured celebrating her 105th birthday with twin daughters Susan Dillon and Rosina Procter. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-20-08-19-Crookes105-2

"I loved it at Bembergs," she said. "We were really happy. There were day and afternoon shifts, and days got paid 17s and afternoons got 15s, because you worked more hours in the days. They didn't let women do the night shift - it was only men, and we thought they left the machines in a mess when then finished.

"If you filled a crate with 48 bobbins you got a bonus."

Gladys married her husband, Richard Crookes, at Balby Church in 1936, and the couple had the first of their six children, Brian, shortly before the outbreak of World War Two.

She was devastated in 1943 when her father, Thomas Walters, was killed in an accident at Yorkshire Main Colliery in Edlington. They were very close. She said: "He was aged 49, and I had bought him a trilby hat for his birthday. He died before I had the chance to give it to him. He had been looking forward to getting it, and I had to take it back. I was a daddy's girl, and it was a hard time for the family."

Gladys Crookes, who is aged 105, on her wedding day with husband Richard

Her husband Richard also later suffered an accident in the same colliery, when his head was caught between two coal tubs. The injury affected his balance and he left the mine with £300 compensation for his injuries, before going to work for the ministry of food, and then at Rose Hill Cemetery. He died in 1995 aged 82.

Gladys, who has 12 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren, misses some of Doncaster's old landmarks like the former Guild Hall, but has kept active in retirement. She knits clothes for Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice, which are sold to raise funds, and still runs her own home. She believes knitting has help keep her hands healthy.

She has never smoked and believes traditional plain English food like road beef and Yorkshire pudding is the secret of a long and healthy life.