Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Memories of local character - Percy ‘Doc’ Grundell

Happiest on the road with his horse and cart

Sunday, 20th June 2021, 6:30 pm

Looking back on my childhood, I remember with great pleasure all the different characters who added so much colour and fun to my life and many others.

We didn’t think at the time that they were characters but just people who were a bit different from the rest of us. It didn’t occur to us then that one day we’d remember them as special people or that we would rejoice in telling our children and grandchildren about them.

I think they became “characters” to us because we recognised they stood out from the rest of us because they were people who made their own path in life. And, they always seemed happy and carefree, smiled a lot and perhaps that was because they were content with their lot.

One local character who stands out for me was Percy “Doc” Grundell, from Batley Carr, who toured the district with his pony and cart collecting rags. Most people knew him simply as “Doc”, an affectionate nickname which had been given to his grandfather, Charles Grundell, a locally famous herbalist.

This title had also been given to Percy’s father, Francis (Frank) and to Francis’s brother Joe (Percy’s uncle), who had also been a herbalist.

Percy had eight children, and they all went to the same school as me, St Joseph’s, Batley Carr, and there seemed to be one of the Grundell family in every class.

Peter Grundell, a lovely lad, was in my class and Rita Grundell was in the same class as my sister, Winnie, and they became life-long friends.

The other members of the Grundell family, which I didn’t know, were Eileen, Betty, Malcolm, Frank (named after his grandfather), Brian and Kathleen.

Percy Grundell never gave goldfish or clothes pegs in exchange for rags, as many fellow “tatters” did.

He only ever gave cash and was always fair and honest, meticulously weighing the rags on a spring-weight which he always carried with him.

Percy worked as a tatter in the winter and as a hawker in summer, selling fruit and vegetables from his pony and cart.

He was always particular in the way he dressed, changing his mode of attire from season to season.

In winter, while tatting, he wore a short brown cotton drill jacket, and when hawking in the summer, a long brown drill coat.

At all times he wore a silk muffler, a trilby hat, brown boots and carried a long whip with silver insets, which he never used.

Percy was a short stocky man with dark, curly hair and brown eyes, quite handsome with a dimple in his chin, and always smiling.

He never liked working indoors, but when money was short he would reluctantly find work as a piecener in local mills.

Percy did this to get money together to enable him to get out on the road again and be free.

His daughter Rita once told me many years ago that her dad had always been a free spirit who couldn’t stand working inside and didn’t want to work for a boss, clocking in and clocking out.

She recalled: “He was his own man, living by his own rules, and tatting and hawking and dealing was the way he supported us, a family of eight.”

Percy, who was born in Spay Yard, Batley Carr, loved and cared for his ponies, and for special treats would often feed them corn or give them a lollipop.

Local children loved to see him come down their street and would stroke his ponies and help feed them.

Rita remembered the names of three of his ponies - Captain, Gypsy and Dolly - and they also had a “governess cart” which the family rode in to places like Caulms Wood and Howley Ruins.

Rita recalled: “Dad was very well liked by all who met him, whether they had been his customers, neighbours, or just a passing photographer who needed a picture.

“He enjoyed life and worked six days a week, liking nothing better than to be out of doors working for himself.

“He also liked having an occasional pint of Ramsden’s Stone Trough Ale at the Saw Inn, Batley Carr.”

Sadly, Percy died in 1965, aged 63, after suffering a massive heart attack.

He died outside in the fresh air, with his locally famous “Galloway” and cart.

Percy’s father, Francis, and his grandfather, Charles, came from a long line of travellers who had once lived in a caravan on The Green in Ossett.

In the 1871 census, Charles and wife Emma are listed as being herbalists, hence the family nick-name “Doc”.

Charles had five sons: Frank (Percy’s father), Willie, Joe, who also became a herbalist, Charlie and Arthur, and two daughters, Rebecca and Emily.

His son, Frank, married Annie Lane in 1878 when they were both 18 and they settled in Batley Carr. They had seven children, Percy being the youngest.

Although Frank dabbled in herbalism, he never took it up professionally, but his brother Joe did.

Joe, in his younger days, also played rugby for Dewsbury in the forward line. A hefty fellow, he had carried the title of a “great pusher” in the scrums.

But he had also inherited his father’s interest in the medicinal properties of herbs, and when he retired from rugby, he established an herbalist’s business in Kilpin Hill.

Joe died in 1933 aged 67, and in his obituary it was stated he was the son of the “famous” herbalist, Charles “Doc” Grundell, whose name was known far and wide.

Joe also had a successful army career with the Coldstream Guards, and did meritorious service in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902, and also rendered Home service during the First World War.

■ I am indebted to Rita and to Frank and Frank’s daughter, Lynne Dane (Percy’s granddaughter) for providing me with biographical details to compile this feature, and also providing the photograph.

■ Email your recollections of Dewsbury to: [email protected]