Tribute to Gladys Till, known as the ‘Pied Piper’ of Caton

Gladys, pictured at Caton Gala in 2016 when she was Gala President.
Gladys, pictured at Caton Gala in 2016 when she was Gala President.

Historian Terry Ainsworth pays tribute to Gladys Till of Caton who was a distant relative of his.

Gladys Till, who has passed away at the age of 102, was the wife of Jimmy Till and they lived their whole life in Caton.

Caton United 1948-49 on Jowett's Field, Caton. Back row from left: Dick Woolcock, George Wilson, Stanley Walker, Bill Dainty, George Robinson.'Second row from left: Tom Eglin, Bill Hodgson. Jimmy Till, Jimmy Clarkson, Bert Cartmell, Albert Robinson, R Bowker, Ritson Stockdale, Sid Southward. Front row from left: Fred Robinson, Joe Easterby, Jock Kerr (captain), Ted Fairclough, Cyril Gardner. Sat on floor: - Jimmy Mason, Frank Woodhouse.

Caton United 1948-49 on Jowett's Field, Caton. Back row from left: Dick Woolcock, George Wilson, Stanley Walker, Bill Dainty, George Robinson.'Second row from left: Tom Eglin, Bill Hodgson. Jimmy Till, Jimmy Clarkson, Bert Cartmell, Albert Robinson, R Bowker, Ritson Stockdale, Sid Southward. Front row from left: Fred Robinson, Joe Easterby, Jock Kerr (captain), Ted Fairclough, Cyril Gardner. Sat on floor: - Jimmy Mason, Frank Woodhouse.

My great grandmother was Ann Till, whose brother William was the father of Jimmy Till which makes me related to Gladys and Jimmy, possibly great Uncle and Aunt?

Gladys was a wonderful lady and I remember visiting her with Derek Irving when Jimmy wasn’t in the best of health and they were like two sides of the same coin, inseparable.

Jimmy and Gladys were part of the fabric of this local community, a husband and wife team who went through their lives with a smile and a kind word for everyone.

Gladys’ father was Albert Charles Beck and she remembered him as follows: “Albert was born in Lancaster in 1889 and lived on Primrose Street before moving to Caton where he worked near Gresgarth Hall at the Forge. He was known as the ‘Pied Piper of Caton’ and all the kids loved him.

“He was a parish councillor and would leave the house every night to light the street lamps and then at 11 o’clock at night would go out and put them out again – all unpaid.

“Before World War One, Caton FC used to play on the ‘Flax Field’ at Brookhouse and Albert was once carried from the field shoulder high by his team mates after another scintillating display.

“Many years later his son-in-law, Jimmy Till, would also be carried shoulder high from the field by his team mates after scoring all four of Caton’s goals in a cup victory. Albert stopped playing early in the 1920s when in his thirties and in 1935 at the age of 46 he went in to hospital for a hernia operation and tragically did not survive.”

It isn’t surprising to read about Albert and his devotion to Caton because his daughter Gladys and husband Jimmy, seemed to take over his role and they too served the village faithfully as Pied Pipers all of their lives.

Gladys was born at The Forge in Caton in 1916, went to school in the village and after school started working at Standfast, in Lancaster.

Gladys and her two sisters would cycle to work every day sometimes getting a lift on the local coal delivery wagon.

At night she went to night school to learn sewing and tailoring and the Caton football team featured in this article wore shirts and shorts made by the skilled hands of Gladys.

She left Standfast because she wanted to help in the war effort and joined a Lancaster firm on St Georges Quay to make her contribution.

Times were hard during the war, and in the rationing years that followed, and when she heard that syrup was on sale in Lancaster she would put her two children in the pushchair and walk to Lancaster, often finding that the shop had sold out so she returned to Caton empty-handed, a long walk for no reward.

When her children, Cath and Graham, started school, she would work at Lansil on piece work and then went to work at Earnshaw’s sewing cushions for sofas and chairs, often visiting customers in their own homes.

One of the reasons, apart from sport, that made Gladys and Jimmy such well-known local figures was the fact that they delivered milk for more than 50 years in the village.

Many years ago, I was walking on the cycle track from Lancaster towards Caton when two cyclists came towards me who I recognised immediately and called out, “Hello Jimmy Till”.

Jimmy and Gladys got off their bikes to chat and Jimmy was astounded that I recognised him. I said to him, “Jimmy, it must be 50 years since I last saw you when I moved from Caton to live in Lancaster but I recognised that you were wearing the same hat.”

The photograph featuring possibly the greatest Caton United team from just after the war when they won all the trophies available shows Jimmy in the team. That team was full of my footballing heroes, none more-so than Jimmy.

It seemed that every game I watched as a six-year-old boy featured the opposition goalkeeper clearing the ball upfield and Jimmy Till heading it away only to be knocked unconscious. Sid Southward would rush on to the field with his trusty bucket and ‘magic’ sponge and soon Jimmy would be tearing around again, none the worse for the experience and the following week it would all be repeated.

We will never see their like again.