Old South Bank
The 21st Century
Victoria Street School
Cromwell Road School
Princess Street School
St. Peter's RC Schools
The Boys Clubs
Ex - Pats Index
Maps & Aerial Pix
The Pubs and Clubs
Smiths Dock & Gala Days
More Slaggy Tales
Some Slaggy Islanders
Pub and Club Activities
Reunion 2002 Pics
More Slaggy Islanders
Smith Family Album
Yet More Slaggies
Reunion 2003 Pics
South Bank Football
South Bank Tomorrow
For All Ex-Pats!
Reunion 2004 pics
Reunion 2005 Pics
Rix Pix 2005
Tears for South Bank
This Is Your Life
Reunion 2006 pics
Reunion 2007 pix
Contact Information for South Bank Nostalgic Society
Links for South Bank Nostalgia Society
1. North Street Memories One
|Gordon Featherstone in North Street, 1931 with neighbour Margery (?)
Gordon Featherstone, aged 78, lives in Torquay, a far cry from the North Street of his youth but he passes on some of his memories of life in South Bank. However it is so long I've had to split it in two. He calls his story "GORDONS MUSINGS"!
"Most of my relatives are from the North Yorks moors, where my dad worked but when the ironstone mines closed he had to move with the job and came to live at South Bank in 1928 when I was four years old.
Our new abode was the second house from the end of North Street, a very long street of two hundred and two houses. It was in nearly all respects similar to all the other houses in the area with two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen with a large brown pot sink over which was a brass cold water tap, this being the only source of water for the whole household. And of course the parlour which like most parlours of those days was a dead room hardly ever used except for the rare occasions when a distant aunt would visit or at Christmas when the coal fire was stoked up to create a cosy atmosphere.
Then of course there was the loo or lavvy as we called it right at the bottom of the yard, with it's little squares of newspaper with string threaded through - I don't think anybody in the town knew what toilet paper was at that time. Still I suppose we were lucky as at least we had a flush toilet, there were still quite a lot of houses where the toilet had to be emptied by council workers coming round at night and opening a little door at the bottom of each yard.
We had only been there a short while when my Mother died of pneumonia. I was only four years old at the time and much to my regret I cannot recall any memories of her. I wish I had, and have had to rely on other people telling me about her. They tell me she was very sweet and loving, I can see that by the few photographs I have of her.
Dad was naturally devastated and he had Mother put to rest in the peaceful churchyard in Farndale, the picturesque Yorkshire valley that had held so many happy memories for her and Dad and where so many people visited in the spring time to see the daffodils, I know he would have liked to join her when his time came, but that was not to be as I will explain later.
My sister Laura who was about fourteen by this time took over the duties of mother to the family and because of this she did not go out to work like most girls of that age. Looking after a house and family in those days canít have been much fun for a young girl although I never once heard Laura complain. Just take washing clothes for instance, what a boon an automatic washing machine would have been for her.
Just take a look at the way the family washing was done in pre-war times. In our backyard next to the toilet and coal house was the wash house, this had a large metal boiler with a fireplace built under it, washday was usually on Monday, this would start by lighting the fire under the boiler first with paper then wood then coal. While this was warming up the boiler had to be filled by hand, which meant filling a bucket from our one and only tap and carrying it into the washhouse and tipping it into the boiler. This would take several journeys, then after about half an hour when the water was boiling, the clothes would be put in and left to boil. Next they would be transferred into a poss tub, a large metal tub and agitated by pounding the clothes with a poss stick, plunging it up and down in the clothes, next would come the wringing machine with its large wooden rollers to remove all the water, after that the clothes had to be pegged out on the clothes line outside on the common.
If the coalman was coming with his horse and cart then everybody with washing hanging out would have to remove it till he had passed by. When the washing was finally dry enough it would be time to do the ironing - this meant putting the iron on the stove till it was hot enough, wiping it clean then ironing on the kitchen table (ironing boards had not been thought of in those days). This process would go on all day with steam and washing all over the place, and sometimes into the following day. Hurrah for the good old days(?).
Dad's fifty shillings wage was adequate to keep the family and even allowed enough for him to nip over the road to the Station Hotel for his nightly half pint of bitter and weekly visit to the cinema to see Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin, he usually took me with him. I think Laura preferred to go out with Daisy and her other friends.
Our annual holiday consisted of a trip to Dad's brothers farm to help with the hay making and a yearly day trip to Redcar with the Sunday School. Dad was luckier than most as he was given several free passes to travel on the railway, that meant the odd trip to Whitby or Scarborough. The only holidays some of my friends got in all the year was the Sunday school trip and that had to be earned by collecting a certain number of attendance stars stamped in our star cards. At this stage it might be a good time to elaborate a bit more on the Sunday school trip. It would start with an early morning walk to South Bank railway station, there would be about fifty of us all excited at the prospect of the day to come. Close to Redcar station the line passed within a few yards of Locke park with the boating lake and then the amusement park. The train would almost turn over as dozens of little faces pressed against the window on one side to watch the great dipper diving round itís track as the train pulled into the station. Even as we left the station gate the smell of Redcar would excite our nostrils, it was a mixture of fish and chips, hot dogs, doughnuts and seaweed. Not a very nice mixture you might think, but to us it was a taste of things to come.
On the way down to the beach we would linger at the shops which were a blaze of colour with buckets, spades, balloons, windmills, paper flags, kites and beachballs hung up outside. You never saw shops like that in South Bank. Then armed with a bucket and spade we would pick our spot on the beach and that would be our headquarters for the rest of the day. After spending a couple of hours making castles, crocodiles speedboats etc. out of the sand we would look for the other attractions that the beach had to offer and in Redcar at that time there was no shortage of these. Starting at one end of the beach there were Punch and Judy, a Pierrot show, a ventriloquist, swinging boats, roundabouts and Sunshine Corner, which was a kind of stage show in which children were invited up onto the stage to take part in singing songs about Jesus and the beautiful world we lived in. They were always jolly and happy songs followed by dancing and fun competitions. It was organised by a very kind gentleman called Thomas Tomlinson who used to get the place swinging with his old squeeze box, to me he seemed to be more of a real Christian than some of the high church hierarchy chanting and swinging their incense. There must be thousands of people who still remember singing this little ditty in their childhood:
"Sunshine corner oh its very fine
Its for children under ninety nine
All are welcome seats are given free
Redcar sunshine corner is the place for me."
Having refreshed our souls at Sunshine corner we would be attracted further down the beach by the cries of "Thatís the way to do it" as Punch started to knock Judy around and half an hour later as Punch was being locked up by the policeman a bell would start to ring a few yards further along the beach to warn everyone that the ventriloquist show was about to start. So the day would proceed from one exciting thing to the next. This would go on till the setting of the sun, which would be our cue to start making our way to the amusement park. Round about this time lots of local children made very elaborate sand models of churches and castles etc. alongside the promenade and holidaymakers would throw pennies down for them for their efforts.
At about this time there would be a mass exodus from the beach as hundreds of people made their way to the amusement park where among the attractions were the figure eight and a large waterwheel which pushed boats through the tunnel of love. And a man dived from a very tall tower into a tank of water only about six foot deep and covered in blazing petrol. (I did hear that he used to dive into a wet sponge but somehow I think that was a bit of an exaggeration!) Anyhow after having a last look at the ghost train, the headless woman and the six legged calf, we would slowly make our way back to the railway station. There would be fifty happy kids going to bed that night absolutely shattered but with enough memories to last till next years Sunday school trip.
Now back at number two hundred North Street life carried on in a happy if not very exciting way. Every day at five minutes past five Dad could be seen wending his weary way across the large piece of common ground at the back of North street, I often met him halfway. That path was made by him using it twice a day for years, it passed right by his allotment where he kept a dozen or so hens, in that allotment lies another story as I will explain.
Round about that time Dad had decided to renew his kitchen floor so he took up all the old tiles and dumped them in the allotment, These tiles started a germ of an idea in my head, "Dad do you mind if I build a den in the garden" Dad was very easy going where I was concerned so permission was soon forthcoming. After rounding up a few of my mates and borrowing every spade available we went to work. First of all we marked off two areas one about six feet by six and close to it another, four by four then started the hard bit digging down about five feet, this took quite a while after school and at weekends. Then came the technical bit laying the floor using the old tiles from the kitchen, black and red in a chessboard pattern. Things had to speed up a bit at this stage in order to get it covered over before rain came to fill it with water. Dad seeing that the we really meant business started to help by supplying several railway sleepers to hold up the roof followed by corrugated iron sheets then came a six inch layer of earth, all that remained then was to dig an entrance which was covered by a large wooden box with a hinged lid, this was to be the secret doorway.
As the weeks passed further refinements were added, a fireplace was constructed with a chimney in both rooms, these chimneys joined halfway up culminating in a large round biscuit tin at ground level, several niches were cut in the walls to accommodate candles. The secret meetings that took place in this den were nobodies business, anyone disobeying the rules was sentenced to an hour in the Black Hole of Calcutta, this meant having to stay in the far room with the door blocked and a fire lit in the main room then a cover put over the chimney, filling the far room with smoke.
Some day in the future when a J.C.B. digs down into the earth to make the foundations for a new electronics factory they may discover what they think is a Roman mosaic of black and red squares in a chessboard pattern, but we know different don't we?
Today's kids with their computer games just haven't lived. Its all gone now, North Street, the allotment, Dads path, the den and the only thing surviving is the Station Hotel, empty and looking very sorry for its self in the middle of a derelict area standing like a tombstone to the memory of happy times long past.
Life was one big adventure in our street in those years between the two wars. My Uncle Arthur had been in the Great war, he was a bandsman and used to help march the men up to the front line in France and at the end of the war march I suspect a much smaller number back to their troopship. I had a book about the war and used to look through it hoping to see a picture of uncle Arthur.
Anyhow back to North Street, all the local kids would congregate outside Palmers fish shop, only about ten doors away from our house. Not all at once you understand but at any one time you could bet there would be four or five standing around. All I had to do was to look out of the front door to see if any of my special mates were there to see if it was worth going out.
Fish shops in those days sold nothing else but fish and chips and at around about seven o'clock it used to fill up and as there were no queues everybody used to shout out, the ones with the loudest voice usually got served first. Not many grown ups went to the fish shop they all sent their kids, the catchment area for our fish shop covered about a quarter of the town so you can imagine the chaos with all the little darlings trying to be heard at once. "A twopenny one and a penníorth" "five bags of chips with scraps on" "two small cod" "I was here first" "no you weren't I have been here for ages" "WILL YOU LOT SHUT UP I HAVE ONLY GOT ONE PAIR OF HANDS"!
Deadly silence would settle for about twenty seconds then a little meek voice "a penny one and a penníorth". Then with gradually increasing volume "three bags of chips" "two fish and a bag of chips my mam will kill me if I don't get home soon"... How Mrs Palmer managed to avoid a nervous breakdown I will never know, I was sure I could hear her banging her head against the wall when the shop finally closed for the day.
During world war two, queues were invented and things became much more civilised but it wasn't half the fun.
What did we do outside the fish shop? First of all there was all the local gossip, "Thompsons shop have just got some great gobstoppers in, they change colour every few minutes" or "You should have seen the size of the bag of broken biscuits I got for a penny at Moores stores this morning" and "Last night a horse panicked in Nelson street and smashed through the ironmongers window, the police had to come and shoot it"... "Ronnie Morton fell off the back of the lorry that he was hanging on to and broke his leg". Having got all that out of the way there were all kinds of street games to play.
Our interests used to come in waves, one day we would get out our roller skates, a few days later it would be yo-yo's then we would all get the craze for making bogeys, those four wheeled buggies made from a plank of wood and two pairs of pram wheels. One of our favourites games was to fasten a rope high up a lamp post and swing round it - the only thing was that it was illegal and if we saw a copper coming you couldnít see our heels for dust. Another favourite pastime was making and flying kites. These were made from brown paper, string, a bamboo stick and all stuck together with glue made from flour and water. Seeing the height they used to fly it is a good job that there were not so many planes about in those days. Marbles was another favourite of ours. We had a set value for each type; a glass marble was worth ten ordinary clay ones and steel one was worth thirty or forty according to size.
As the summer approached it would be a trip up Skippers Lane to catch tiddlers or newts or even frog spawn that we could watch changing to tadpoles, we could then use these to swap for cigarette cards. Not for us the bapping and zapping of computer games; we lived life as it was going on around us.
Every week the rag and bone man would come round shouting "rabone, rabone" this cry would bring all the local kids out with their arms full of any old clothes they could lay their hands on. I don't know where the bones came in, I never saw any on his cart. For a single piece of clothing you would get a balloon, for an armful you would get a goldfish in a jam jar. Many a child in that area would get a good hiding when their dad's working trousers would disappear at the same time as a goldfish appeared grinning at him from it's jam jar on the sideboard. I had two goldfish for quite a while, they were called Sunshine and Glitter. For some reason I can't remember they both died at round about the same time. They were wrapped neatly in cotton wool, placed in a Swan Vestas matchbox, and buried with an appropriate ceremony in the allotment, with a small wooden cross on top.
The highlight of the week was a trip to the children's matinee every Saturday. There were three cinemas in the town, the Majestic, the Empire, and the Hippodrome. The first two were fine but the Hippodrome was a right dump, it was nicknamed the flea-pit as the walls were made of corrugated iron and the seats of wood, every Saturday a man used to walk up and down the isle cracking a great big whip to keep the kids in order, I don't remember him hitting anybody, but can you imagine how that would go down today.
Anyhow we liked the Empire better so every Saturday we would arrive there armed with a packet of sandwiches or jam and bread and a bottle of lemonade between us or water if we were hard up. If you think the fish shop was rowdy with about twenty kids in, just imagine the Empire with well over two hundred all excited and looking forward to two hours of cowboy films and Tarzan as well as the movietone news and cartoons. The news was quite boring, some bloke, Hitler I think his name was, took up a lot of the news with his big rally's etc. I don't suppose he will ever become famous.
There used to be films that were continued each week, at the end of one week the hero would go over the edge of a cliff on his horse, then the following week he would just manage to stop at the edge! Or if a Zulu spear was to stick in his leg, the next week it would miss him by inches - we didn't care, it was all good fun. What wasn't quite so funny was when our shared bottle of lemonade suddenly had bits of crumbs floating round in it, we never really found the culprit but we think it was the lad that offered to drink what was left in the bottle.
Tarzan was much braver in those days, he could wrestle with a fierce lion and win, not like the sissy Tarzan that came later. All the way home we used to replay the films we had just seen, the trouble was everyone wanted to be a cowboy and nobody wanted to be an Indian.
By the way, we had a witch living in our street! Halfway down the street there was a hut with a grill on the door and if you took a quick look into the grill as you passed you would see this wizened old face staring out at you. We used to avoid going that way when possible. My dad said she was only an old lady taking orders for our local coalman, but what do dad's know about these things, she was definitely a witch.
About this time there were several other local characters worth mentioning. There was Darky White whose only claim to fame was that he was black. He was the only black man any of us had seen, in fact during all the time I spent at North Street he was the only one I ever saw and yes, his second name really was White. He was a well respected member of the community.
There was Danny Ireland; he had a barbers shop in his allotment and he would give you a trim for about a quarter of the price of the other barbers in the town All the unemployed men in the area used to go to him and at that time that must have been about half the town.
Then came Paddy Crack; he was suffering from shell shock from the great war he used go round shouting out in the street and behaving in all sorts of strange ways.
Elsie Hind was the boss of the local scrap yard, she ruled the place with a rod of iron, it was not like the scrap yards of today, there wasn't one car to be seen. A few years later she was to become a millionairess as the demand grew for aluminium pans to be melted down to make spitfires and all the railings in the area were taken down to make tanks.
Last but not least there was Benny the bum tickler. I don't know who gave him that name but it was the only name he went by. He had a mirror fastened to the side of his window, we were told that it was so that he could look for the local kids passing his house. We were warned by the older lads not to speak to him, I dare not ask my dad about him as I didn't use that word. Looking back now I think he must have been some kind of pervert.
One of the most dangerous places in the country must have been the clay pit, it was one of our favourite play places, not for us the padded playgrounds of the nineties. Only about two streets away from North street was this large hole in the ground where clay had been excavated to a depth of about fifty feet, at the bottom were five or six large ponds, they were about six feet deep, separating each pond from the next were narrow paths covered in slippery clay. We used to play down there, jumping from one path to the other, there was an iron water tank that we used as a boat, I don't think there was a swimmer among us.
This was not the most hazardous part, the local steel works had run a railway line along the edge of the clay pit and every horrible substance you could imagine was dumped there. First there was the tar, this had completely filled one of the ponds. We found out that you could walk across it if you kept moving, if you stopped you would start to sink, we used to dare each other to cross. Many a child went home minus his shoe, a girl called Irene Drake was given an award for rescuing one of her playmates who had moved too slowly and had got stuck.
Perhaps even more dangerous was the flue dust; every few days the steelworks would clean out their flues, they used to tip red hot soot into ten ton metal trucks, these would be left to cool for days at the side of the clay pit, then the side doors of the trucks would be opened and the dust would slide down the clay pit sides causing a great big cloud of dust to rise high into the air. One day a boy from the class above mine, I can't think of his first name but his surname was Monk, got hold of a hammer and knocked out the pins of the truck doors, the flue dust came out still red hot, he was rushed to hospital but I don't know what happened to him afterwards.
One of the best places to play was the large piece of common ground that stretched between the back of North street and the railway. It was a do-anything-you-want place, you could light fires, fly kites, camp out, bury treasure, play games, make cycle tracks, absolutely anything. One of our favourite pastimes was building a tent we used two poles, broom handles etc., covered with sackcloth. This sackcloth used to have a rather unique property it would allow sound to pass through it in one direction only. If we were sat inside the tent when somebody's mother shouted "Come on Johnny its time for bed" you just couldn't hear a thing.
One day we decided that our gang should all have membership badges. We started by getting a block of clay from the clay pit, and pressed a soldiers badge into it. We then lit a fire on the common, next thing we obtained an old bean tin and filled it with small blocks of pitch this we held over the fire till it melted, this was then poured into the impression in the clay and just before it cooled we held a safety pin into it and hey presto, a membership badge.
On this common there were two paths, one large one where people took a short cut between the station and the town, the other made by my dad from the goods yard to our house. One day a man was leading a bull across the main path on his way from the train to the slaughter house which was on the other side of the common, I think it must have caught the smell of blood from the slaughter house but anyway it went berserk and escaped from its lead, within minutes the local kids got wind of this and we all flew round to the common to the cry of "Thereís a bull loose, Thereís a bull loose" We didn't know whether to chase it or run away, I think we finished up doing both. It was eventually recaptured, but it gave us something else to talk about round the fish shop.
Part of my dad's job was to fasten fog signals to the railway line during foggy weather, these were about the size of a shoe polish tin and were used to warn train drivers that they were coming into the station. One evening when dad and I were in the house and he was throwing some rubbish into the fire he accidentally threw a fog signal in among the rubbish, there was a terrific bang and the entire contents of the fire were scattered all over the room, my ears were ringing so loud I thought I must have gone deaf so after speaking to myself to make sure I could still hear, I got an answer so my ears must have been OK.
One night while we were chatting round the fish shop a girl from the next street came running up and asked for our help, she said there was someone hiding behind her front door and she dare not go into her house. This looked like a job for our brave gang, so we all trooped round to her house and gingerly pushed the door and true enough it slammed shut again, after trying this a few times somebody plucked up the courage to look behind the door, only to find a large beach ball jammed behind it. Another problem solved.
Branching off from our street were several small streets Lime street, Diamond street, Emerald street, Pearl street, whoever named these must have had a strange sense of humour for the nearest to diamonds and pearls any of the locals got was the jewellers shop window, there was a lot of unemployment around the area, we were lucky with dad having a steady job.
About this time a big column of men marched into the town, they stayed overnight in the houses of local people, the next day they left and a lot of men from our town joined them, I was too young to realise who they were and didn't realise I was watching history in the making. I found out later that they were the famous Jarrow Hunger Marchers. Those desperate men marched all the way from Jarrow to London to protest to the government about the unemployment and the terrible conditions they and their families had to put up with. Outside the houses of parliament they came into conflict with the police.
A week or so later I can remember seeing the men from our town arriving at the railway station, some of them with bandages on as a result of the police baton charges.
Just before election time all the local kids used to form gangs according to who your dad would be voting for, as you may guess most people were labour in our area. We would take a newspaper, fold it into a strip about three inches wide then roll up the strip very tightly till it was about the size and shape of a tin of beans then this would be tied to one end of a piece of string about three feet long, Having all armed ourselves with these rather formidable weapons which were swung around at a terrific rate, we would set off marching round the streets singing our voting song which went like this:
"Vote, Vote, Vote, for Mr Johnson,
Knock old Smithy out've the way.
If we see Smithy and his wife we will stab them with a knife and they wonít go voting any more."
Who invented this gruesome song I donít know but if we met up with a gang of our opponents you could bet your life they would be singing the same song but with Mr Johnson and Smithy the other way round, then holy war would break out bonking each other on the head with our slings.
It is quite amazing how little things can stick in one's memory for years, during the school holidays two of my friends and I were camping out on the common, not in the sackcloth tents, but a decent one bought at the shop, we were feeling a bit hungry, so we put our money together and came up with two farthings and one halfpenny, we decided it wasn't enough to buy anything substantial so we thought we would risk it on the bingo which was a penny a ticket.
This bingo was held in a hut nearby, well believe it or not we won the top prize which was a very large box of chocolates, oh boy did we have a feast that night, and it was something else to brag about round the fishshop.
In those days almost everybody left their front doors open, maybe people were more honest or maybe there was nothing worth stealing in most houses, but I never heard of any of my mates stealing from shops, when anybody was going out they would hang the door key from a string behind the letterbox, why I brought up this subject was that I remember one day I was playing in the house on my own when a man came in, sat on my dads chair, pulled out a newspaper and started to read it, after staring at him for five minutes with my mouth open I plucked up enough courage to ask him who he was, he looked up from his newspaper and said "Heck I've come into the wrong house" with that he beat a hasty retreat.
Christmas, now that was really something in those days, it was not commercialised, starting about October as it does now. The first sign we had was when we started making paper chain decorations at school about two weeks before Christmas. On the last day at school before Christmas we all contributed some cakes or biscuits towards a party, the school itself supplying most of the fare, when the celebrations were in full swing the teachers would give out presents that had been presented by all the major manufacturers of the time, there would be cut-out models from oxo, toy gliders from shredded wheat, spinning tops from Cadburys, painting books from Gibbs toothpaste and so on. A lot of happy kids would rush home to show their parents what they had got.
That would just be the start of Christmas, next would be our matinee at the Empire, there was a free apple and orange for everyone as you bought your ticket and halfway through the show a list of dozens of lucky ticket numbers would be projected onto the screen. If you had one of those numbers you had to go up on the stage and collect your prize. I won on two occasions, first time a football then a repeater cap gun.
The atmosphere walking round the shops on a dark evening with the bright lights shining out at us gave the place a Dickensian look. Every Christmas Mackenzies the local linen shop would display a large picture of the cat and the fiddle, all the figures moved and to us who had never seen a television it was fascinating.
Woods, the largest toy shop in the town always had a collection of youngsters with their noses close to the window picking out what they would like for Christmas, I was pretty lucky really as with my dad having a job he usually managed to persuade Father Christmas to get what I had asked for. Quite a few of the local kids had to manage with a lot less.
My favourite shop was Cleggs the chemist because at Christmas one window was taken over with Meccano and Hornby toys. Dominating the window was a huge model of the Forth bridge made from meccano at the factory for demonstration purposes. It was so big that it took six lengths of track to reach from one end to the other, every time my dad and I passed the shop I had to stand and admire it, but being for demonstration only it was not for sale.
I spent hours playing with my meccano set and I had a small hornby train set. The engine belonging to this set cost four shillings and sixpence. I saw the same engine in the Antiques Road Show years later and it was valued at one hundred and seventy pounds, almost as much as Dad paid for the house at North street (two hundred pounds).
That year I asked dad if he would get me a railway bridge for my train set, one of the tin ones that passengers had to cross so that it would go with my station.
When Christmas day arrived I looked in my pillowcase and it had all sorts of toys in it but no tin bridge. Thinking my dad couldn't afford it I said nothing. He must have sensed my disappointment because he said "Have a look under the bed." I ran upstairs and pulled out from under the bed, not a tin footbridge, but the six foot model of the Forth bridge that I had admired so much. Somehow he had persuaded the shop to sell it.(What a Dad!).
While living at North street I made several trips to my aunts and uncles, my Aunt Louise and Uncle Dick lived at Lingdale, he worked in the ironstone mines and was a typical miner, he kept pigeons, wore a flat cap and raced a whippet as a hobby, within ten feet of his back door was the bottom of a shale heap, which completely blocked the view from the rear windows, looking back now at the way that the shale heap towered above my uncles house makes me realise what little chance those poor kids of Abervan must have had.
I remember Aunt Louise had a huge bible with a metal clasp and a lock on it,I would like to see it now as there was quite a piece of our family history written on its flysheets. One day when I was playing outside my uncles house something happened to me that stayed in my memory for years, I have always had a liking for anything mechanical, and on this day I found an old broken alarm clock which I proceeded to open up, it fascinated me with all the gears, springs etc, inside. Oh boy was I going to have some fun with it. Just at that moment a grown up cousin of mine came out of the house and said "Look at the colour of your face Gordon" with that she picked me up saying "Throw that thing away" and carried me indoors to give me a wash. It seemed to take ages to get me clean. When she had finished I dashed outside only to find my clock had gone, that spoilt the whole holiday for me.
My cousin Mary who also lived at Lingdale committed an unforgivable sin which brought disgrace to the family name. The wicked girl actually had a baby without being married; how dare she! Having now lived through the permissive age perhaps we can now forgive her.
Another place I used to visit was Uncle Arthur's at Middlesborough and my main memory of staying there was listening to the trams rumbling passed the end of the road till about eleven o'clock each night. Also, going with my cousin Arnold to Aresome park football ground on Saturdays where he and lots of other local lads used to ask football fans "Can I mind your car sir?" Once the match had started they would go away and play, then as the match ended they would sit by the car waiting for the owner to return and give them a few pence for being so patient.
Another of my uncles was Uncle Joe from Easby. Dad and I spent quite a few working holidays at his farm helping with the hay making. I used to find it difficult to get to sleep when we stayed at uncle Joe's because of the silence. Living at North street I got used to the sound of railway engines shunting back and forth all night in the goods yard and I missed the noise.
When we visited Uncle Joe's we had to walk from the nearest railway station to Easby, a matter of a couple of miles across the fields. It was a pleasure to do this walk with Dad as he was a mine of information about the countryside. He knew just where to find birds nests, and showed me how the skylarks tried to divert you away from their nests by hanging in the sky making a din to lead you away from their chicks, then when they finally came down to earth they would land a long way from the nest and run to it under cover of the undergrowth.
A rather spooky thing happened one day when we were crossing these fields, the train we had to catch to go home left Battersby station late in the evening, so Dad and I were walking to the station in bright moonlight. The path we took followed a hedge and through gaps in this hedge we could see quite clearly the other side of the next field. We heard the sound of some horses galloping towards us behind the hedge so we stopped near a gap in the hedge to see them pass. The sound got closer and closer then started to fade away in the other direction but they did not pass the gap. It was really weird, I was mighty glad when we saw the bright lights of the station in front of us.
One trip every year was a must and that was a day out at Stokesley show, the local agricultural show. On that day Dad would meet lots of his friends and relatives and he really enjoyed being in a farming atmosphere again. Also seeing the judging of the cattle, etc, and watching steam engines and tractors. For me it was a great day out, particularly in the evenings when everybody left the show and moved to the enormous fair that was held in the streets of Stokesley. There was a particular toy that I bought at the show every year, that was the only place you could buy it. It was a model man on a bicycle that used to dance about on a plate when you started it off with a piece of string. Iím sure there would be a good sale for these things today, but somehow I donít think the strict toy regulations of today would allow it to be made with its sharp edges of tin etc.
Thinking about it now a lot of the things we did in those days would seem dangerous now. For instance, toy soldiers and farm animals were made of lead and I am sure that many babies must have picked them up and stuck them in their mouths. And at school science lessons we used to play with mercury, rolling it round in our hands, yet now it is treated as a deadly poison. Somehow nobody seemed to come to harm through these things. Then there was the electric shocking machines that were freely available as childrens toys as far as I know did not do any harm.
Dad retired at sixty five when I was eleven years old, that's why we managed to get so much free time to help with the hay making. I remember vividly working in the fields, turning the hay over with a pitch fork and my uncle leading the shire horses back to the farm with the hay. My Auntie used to come out at midday with a picnic and a great big jug of steaming tea and did we enjoy it.
Another of Dad's brothers had a farm at Bilsdale which was also a shop. I remember the bell on the counter, one of those that you strike on the top to ring it. On the wall in the living room was a stuffed fox's head, my uncle used to kid me up that it winked every time I was looking the other way! They had a cat that stood staring at a hole in the floor, my uncle said it knows there's a mouse in there then after about three days it pounced and didn't go near the hole any more.
During the night I could hear rats scurrying about the ivy outside my bedroom window, they were after the chicken feed in the outhouse next to the farm.
On one of my visits to Bilsdale Dad and my uncle took me out with a shotgun to shoot rabbits as they were becoming a nuisance eating Uncle's crops. I was about twelve years old at the time, I got to be quite good at it, till one day after shooting one I went to pick it up I found that it was only a young one and also it was still alive. That was me finished with shooting rabbits. The next time I fired a gun was four years later in the home guard and that was an entirely different ball game.
Round about this time I joined the boy scouts, this seemed to start a new era for me. I loved camping, sometimes with the scouts and sometimes just with a few of my pals. There were two scout troops in South Bank we were lucky because the troop I was in was subsidised by Smith's Docks and we had a gymnasium and stacks of camping gear.
One of the best camping holidays I had was when my friend Sonny Nicholson and I went to Rosedale to stay at Mr Jackson's farm. We cycled all the way from South Bank to Rosedale (round about 18 miles) with our bikes loaded up with gear. When we reached Blakey Ridge we had to dismount and push our bikes down the steep path to Red House Farm. On the way down we stopped dead in our tracks for there right in the middle of the path was an adder (the only poisonous snake in Britain) with the distinctive V on its head. We couldn't walk round it as there was thick heather on both sides of the path and I don't think it understood English as it took no notice of us telling it to scram. Eventually we persuaded it to move by poking it with a long stick.
When we arrived at the farm we were met by Mrs Jackson. She tried every way to make us stay in the farm instead of camping out in the fields but we were determined not to do this - we wanted to rough it. We had no sooner got the tent up than Mrs Jackson appeared over the brow of the hill carrying two lily white pillows and some sheets, how could we tell her that tough campers don't use pillows and sheets? So we thanked her and when she had gone we stuffed them in our kit bags for the rest of the holiday.
What we didn't refuse however were the two big rabbit pies she brought down for us, followed by a gooseberry pie! We had a great time having the run of the farm and there was a garden full of red gooseberries that tasted absolutely delicious. Mrs Jackson said take as many as you want. Tom, her son, taught us how to tickle trout and there were a lot of them in the stream that ran along the bottom of our camping field. I caught one using that method once and as we didn't need it that day I ran up to the farm and popped it into the horse trough where it swam around for a couple of days.
We had great fun playing around in the hay loft and collecting eggs. Mr Jackson was working out in the fields with his shire horse and one day he asked me to take the horse back to the stables. He said just get on it's back, it knows the way. With this I climbed up and off we went with no saddle and only a rope to hang on to. As it was the end of it's working day the horse was keen to get home so it broke into a gallop with me clinging on the best I could. It raced round to the farm and right up to the stable door. Luckily the bottom half of the door was shut otherwise it would have gone inside and I would have been on the floor.
I often wonder where Sonny is now; he joined the merchant navy and twice he had his ship torpedoed beneath him and twice he was rescued, he must have had a charmed life. I met him briefly after the war and we had a good chat about our camping days. That is about the last of my childhood memories, things seemed to happen so fast from then on that I am not sure how to keep them in the right order.
About this time I started to take an interest in electrical things and, with a bit of persuasion, my dad let me have the cupboard under the stairs to make a workshop, so my friend Gordon Diffy and I cleared out all the rubbish that had accumulated there and put an electric light and a small bench in. We spent hours in there after school making electric motors and shocking machines etc. Years later I saw the house just before it was demolished and there under the stairs I found the remains of our bench and light.
What happened to Gordon is a mystery that I have not been able to solve. He went into the air force about the same time that I joined the army. I heard later that he had been shot down during a bombing raid over Yugoslavia and that the plane was not found till after the war in a thick forest. Maybe one day I will find out the truth.
Just before the war started and while I was still at school the council were asking for volunteers to help assemble gas masks so I went along to the fire station to help. I was given the job of fitting wide rubber bands round the joint between the facepeice and the canister of the masks. About this time I remember seeing men digging trenches in the fields up Skippers Lane but it wasn't long however before these filled with water and were useless.
Shortly after this as we marched out of assembly at school a teacher grabbed hold of my shoulder and said "Featherstone do you want a job?" I said "Yes sir" so he told me to report to Miss Rhodes the manageress of Moores stores. I went to see her and within minutes I was a member of the working class with the princely wage of nine shillings (45p) per week. One of the first jobs I was given was to weigh out bags of flour from a huge bin, when I arrived home that day covered in flour my dad got quite a shock thinking I had been to school.
One day the manageress asked me to go to the dairy just down the street for some milk, I was on my way back to the shop with the jug full of milk when I heard a terrible scream from down a side street. I looked down the street just in time to see a young girl running out of a house with her clothes on fire. Before I got to her someone dashed from the house and threw some water over her so by the time I got there the fire was out but her clothes were burnt right through to her skin. It was a sight I will never forget. Unfortunately she died upon reaching the hospital.
Part of my job was to work in the other branch of Moores stores and one day I opened the flour store at that shop to find that some mice had made a nest in the bin full of flour, when I told the manageress she said we can't waste the flour you will have to sieve out the paper and mess and weigh the flour up as usual. It was more than my job was worth to argue, but I made sure we didn't buy any flour from there.
Another unpleasant task I got was when Tiddles the shop cat had several kittens and I was given the job of disposing of them. There was no-one else to do it, so I put them in a large envelope with holes in and held them under some warm water until they stopped breathing I don't think they suffered as they were only a few hours old.
This was about the time that Neville Chamberlain made his famous announcement on the radio "No such undertaking has been received so consequently this country is now at war with Germany." As a young fifteen year old the significance of this did not sink in immediatly, but I was getting a patriotic feeling coming on. All thoughts of the war however were driven from my mind as the biggest tragedy of my life up till then started to unfold.
Dad's health slowly started to deteriorate; I did not know it at the time but he had stomach cancer. There was no such thing as chemotherapy in those days, he had only been retired for four years and was just beginning to enjoy the freedom of doing what he liked. As he began to get worse we had to move his bed into the parlour as he couldn't use the stairs. One cold January day I got out of bed and went to the parlour to open the curtains and I saw Dad looking up at me. I looked out of the window and the street was covered with deep snow. I said "It's the worst day we have had this year. The street is thick with snow", but there was no reply, he just lay there with his eyes wide open. We could not arrange for Dad to be buried with Mother as the road to Farndale was completely blocked with snow, so he had to be interred in Eston cemetery.
2. North Street Memories Two
I had to split Gordon Featherstone's narrative in two because it was so big. He continues his story after his father's death.
"From this time on I went to live at Laura's house in Grangetown. She had married Frank, an ex-soldier who worked in the local steelworks. They had one child at the time, Shirley, who was like a little ray of sunshine and the apple of Dad's eye during his last years.
I left my job at Moores stores as soon as I was old enough to go into the steelworks, (sixteen) and my first job there was number catching. It entailed working in the railway sidings in all weathers running alongside the trucks of iron ore, taking down the number of each truck and listing its contents, and doing the same with goods leaving the steelworks.
Sometimes it was easy when the trucks were stationary but when they were moving one needed three hands, one to hold my tallyboard one to write with and one to carry a paraffin lamp. Sometimes the engine drivers would take pity on us and drive slowly, others if they had had a bad day would take a delight in speeding up. In those days I gave out more blessings than the Pope.
Round about this time I decided to join the Home Guard; in the early days when the Home Guard was first formed it was a force to be reckoned with. Wooden rifles to practice arms drill and parts of uniforms as they became available, and a shortage of everything. I believe Hitler's crack Panzer Divisions were quaking in their shoes at the mention of our name!
However, as the months went by, things changed and under the leadership of Captain Stoddart (our local chemist) who had been in the Great War we slowly developed into something worth while. We eventually got our own rifles, which we were allowed to take home with five rounds of ammunition, full uniforms for everyone and even a few Lewis machine guns.
We were also trained to fire a vicious looking weapon called a Blacker Bombard (a kind of mortar). We were a bit scared of this thing as the instructor told us that it was almost as dangerous to fire it as it was to be on the receiving end and several of them had blown up when they were fired. As luck would have it, it was withdrawn from use before we recieved our supplies of live amunition.
I volunteered to join the newly formed Home Guard Band as a kettledrummer but after a few training sessions trying to teach us how to do a terradiddle the bandmaster gave up in desperation and the band closed down. I donít think any of us were really cut out for it.
Everyone in the Home Guard was either working in a full time job or were retired and of course there was no pay involved except three shillings for night telephone duty. It was during one of these night duties that a friend of mine, Ralph Neil, was looking out of the door of home guard headquarters watching an air raid that was taking place in South Bank a few miles away. When he arrived home that morning he found that his house had taken a direct hit and almost all of his family were killed.
Even among all the tragedy there was the occasional bit of humour, one evening a member of the Home Guard opened up the headquarters and went to light the gas fire. There had been a gas leak and when he lit a match there was a terrific explosion which blew out all the front windows and propelled the man out onto the front lawn. There was silence for a few moments then from the darkness outside came his voice "Where's my bloody cap?" That's all he was bothered about!
As I got older, I moved into the steel mills which meant more money but the work was more dangerous than number taking. One of the first jobs I had in the mill was called cropping, nothing to do with farming as the name suggests. The red hot steel bars coming out of the mill had to be cut by a huge circular saw about six feet in diameter which turned at a terrific rate and sliced through the steel bars like a knife through butter. At the beginning and end of each bar a waste piece called a crop end had to be cut off and it was my job to pick these pieces up with tongs and throw them into a bin, the snag was that every time a length was cut a shower of white hot sparks would be emitted from the saw and spray across my back and as there was nowhere else to stand it used to get rather warm at times. I used to have a scarf tied tightly round my neck to prevent the sparks getting down my neck but quite often they would get through and leave a series of burn marks.
The other part of the job was guiding red hot round bars into the rolling mill, if the bars missed the hole they were supposed to go in they would shoot up into the air and everyone had to run like mad to get out of the way before they fell back to the ground. It was like trying to avoid a red hot snake about a hundred yards long.
In charge of the loading bay at the mill was a foreman who was not popular with the staff. In fact that is putting it mildly! He complained about the mill girls spending a lot of time visiting the toilet so he made a new rule that not more than three girls could go at any one time, however this rule backfired on him because as soon as the shift started three girls would set off for the toilets together and as they returned to the mill another three would leave work and this would continue till the end of the shift.
The air raids were starting to hot up a bit by this time and quite often on night shift we had to shut the mill down because the glow of the furnaces would have been seen by the bomber pilots. This meant that we spent hours down in the air raid shelters playing cards.
One night the Germans changed their tactics and decided to drop incendiary bombs on the steelworks. That was the one time they hit their target but I could not understand their logic because incendiary bombs just could not set fire to the steel roofs of the mills. Now if they had landed on the town that would have done a lot more damage. Yet when the high explosive bombs were dropped they missed the steelworks altogether. When the all clear sounded we went round and collected the remains of the incendiary bombs and took them to the works gatehouse.
By this time Laura's husband Frank had been called up for the army and was serving in France. They were getting quite a pasting as the German army was advancing across Europe. Laura became more anxious as the newspapers told of our troops being trapped near Dunkirk. When the evacuation of Dunkirk started we all waited eagerly for news of Frank. One of our neighbours also had her husband in France, and day after day they would both stand on the step waiting for the postman to come. At long last Laura and the neighbour got a telegram to say that their husbands were safely back in England.
Round about this time Lauraís friend Daisy had some bad luck. She had married a Norwegian called Vic Hansen, a very likeable chap who was working at the local shipyard (Smiths Dock) and they had two children Lesley and Joan. Vic and Daisy used to visit Laura quite often and when the two young ladies were talking girls talk, Vic was teaching me to play the mandolin. The first song he taught me was "My bonny lies over the ocean", an old sea shanty.
The dockyard got a contract to build a warship for the French navy and as the ship was nearing completion several French sailors started appearing round the town they all had red pom-poms in the middle of their hats and I think they were billeted in various houses in the area. Eventually the ship was ready and before it was handed over to the French it was taken on a trial run to the mouth of the river Tees, on board were the French sailors and some dockyard workers including Vic.
Early that morning there was a terrific explosion heard all round the Tees area. When the news filtered round to the town it was discovered that the warship had been blown to pieces. I never did find out what caused it but sabotage was suspected although it could have been a mine. How many if any survivors there were I'm not sure but it wasn't many.
From that day on there were no red pom-poms seen round the town, no mandolin lessons for me and no husband for Daisy, left with her two children to look after. Naturally Daisy was devastated and to make matters worse, for weeks and even months later as bodies from the ship were washed ashore along the Yorkshire coast the police kept calling on Daisy to see if this ring or that watch, etc. had belonged to Vic. So ends Daisy's story although through the years it got better and Daisy met and married a great man and they spent many happy years together.
It may seem that it was all doom and gloom in those days but most of the time life went on in a normal way. One could hardly write about going to the cinema or the local dance and even with rationing nobody seemed to be short of food. Still every few weeks something seemed to be happening, like the incident that took place one Sunday in 1941.
Every Sunday morning our home guard platoon used to meet at the rifle range at the bottom of Eston hills for target practice. This particular Sunday I had just returned home congratulating myself on a reasonably good score at the range when, as I was changing out of my uniform I heard a burst of machine gun fire, on looking out of the window I was just in time to see a large Column of smoke rising from the hills about two miles away.
Nearby in the local recreation ground a pretty fifteen year old girl sitting on the swings also heard the machine gun fire and looked up in time to see a German bomber spiralling down towards the hills. Her name was Rita While - little did I know at the time that for the next half century our lives were to be so entwined.
Anyhow after hearing the gunfire and seeing the smoke I realised that it must have been a bomber shot down, and sometimes that meant parachutists on their way down, so I put my uniform back on, picked up my rifle and ammo, jumped on my bike and set off back to the hills.
Some twenty minutes later I arrived at the hilltop. It was not difficult to find the site of the crash as quite a lot of smoke was still rising up and by this time a small group of about ten people were gathering. There was no indication of the shape of the plane, the bombs on board had seen to that, just a covering of debris and a strong smell of aviation fuel and burning perspex and another very pungent sweet smell that sticks in my memory. It could have only been burning flesh as I have smelt it on one or two occasions when I have singed the hairs on my hand when lighting the gas. It is hard to describe my feelings at the time, there was a feeling of elation that one of the bombers sent over to kill us and our families had been eliminated, but walking round and seeing a part of a mans hand and a piece of hairy chest among the twisted metal I felt sorry for their mothers and wives waiting for their return.
I picked up a ticket for a dance in Stavanger (a Norwegian town) dated for the following day and wondered if some girl would be waiting there to meet one of the airmen. There were hundreds of tiny pieces of map blowing about in the wind, a rumour got around that a young lad had picked up a revolver and had run off with it but I don't know how true it was. Another rumour was that one of the crew had jumped out or fell out of the plane and was found dead hanging by his parachute from a tree in Flatts Lane (about a mile away).
About half an hour after I had got there a group of smartly dressed R.A.F. men came on the scene. I wondered if one of them was the pilot who had shot the plane down.
Round about this time the air raids began to increase as the Luftwaffe became desperate to put the steelworks out of action - with very little success I might add. The close proximity of the town to their target caused a few problems but we did not have anything like the raids experienced by London or Coventry.
About the nearest we ever came to copping it was one night in our Anderson shelter during a particularly heavy raid we found ourselves in the middle of a stick of bombs, two dropped to the south of us near to the steelworks and the rest to the North. The closest of them destroyed two houses in our street and the next one killed two policemen who where sheltering against a wall in Robert street. One of the things that upset us badly at the time was when we heard that two twin girls aged about three years, who used to share the communal air raid shelter with us in North Street had been killed when a near miss had dislodged a stone roof support and it had fallen onto the bunk where they were sleeping.
Occasionally things happened that struck us as being quite funny, one dark night during an air raid the German bombers dropped a parachute flare that lit up the whole area, as it slowly drifted down over the town the gunners on a local gunsight tried to put it out by firing tracer shells at the flare. By some queer twist of fate it drifted down getting closer and closer to the gunsight and finally landed right on top of the guns and they still hadn't hit it! I bet there were some red faces among the gunners.
On one occasion I was standing on our doorstep during a daylight raid watching the action in the sky when I heard a fluttering noise and then a thud as something hit the pavement across the road. I walked across and found the nose cone of an anti-aircraft shell. It was too hot to pick up but I eventually took it into the house. It had a ring of figures printed round it to set the height at which it would explode. Much to my surprise a soldier came knocking on our door about two hours later and asked for the nose cone, he wanted it for some investigation they were doing. How he knew I had found it I will never know, maybe one of our neighbours had informed the police.
Things were starting to get a bit desperate as Hitler was taking over Europe one country at a time and there didn't seem any reason why he should stop at the channel.
There was a dummy airfield just off the trunk road to Redcar where the planes were made of wood to fool the Germans into wasting their bombs on it before they reached the real airfield at Thornaby, and along the coast were fake coastal guns made from telegraph poles and corrugated sheets. I decided that it was time to do my bit so I volunteered to join the army, but was told that all I could join were the boy soldiers as I was too young for the proper army. Next thing I tried was to get into the R A.F. ground staff as a radio operator but was told that the only chance of becoming a radio operator was to join the air crew. I wasn't too keen on flying but was desperate to get into radio so I applied for air crew and after a few weeks I received a letter informing me to report to the RA.F. induction centre above the co-op society in Doncaster.
After going through a medical examination and a grilling by a recruitment board of senior officers, I returned home to await the result. It eventually arrived to say that I had failed the interview but recommended me to try again in a few month's time. Having some idea now of what was required I got hold of some books on aircraft recognition and air navigation and studied them in my spare time between working at the steelworks and attending the Home Guard parades, so that by the time I got my next interview I was better prepared for it.
This time I had to go to the Air Ministry building in London and by sheer coincidence my interview took place during Wings for Victory week which was a fund raising week organised by the government. A Halifax bomber had been assembled in Trafalgar square and there was another bomber outside St Paul's. Seeing these giant planes so close up seemed to make me keener than ever to get into the air force. I remember feeling quite important having a pass to get into the impressive looking Air Ministry building.
My first impression on entering the building was the sense of urgency about the place. There was a large room with rows of typists rattling away on their machines and lots of important looking officers walking round with papers in their hands. On looking back now I suppose it was about their busiest time with the air war being at its height. Anyhow after yet another medical examination I finished up in a lavishly carpeted room with four or five senior officers sat behind a polished desk on which were placed several model planes painted dull black so their markings could not be recognised. After about half an hour of "Why do you want to join the R.A.F.? "Why do you want to be a radio operator?" "What kind of work do you do?" "What is the name of this aircraft, and that one, and that one?" I was beginning to realise that my time spent studying had been worth while as they seemed satisfied with the answers.
Then came the inevitable wait for the result of the interview and at last it arrived to say that I had passed - but due to the nature of my work in the steelworks I was in a reserved occupation and for the time being I would have to stay where I was until the governments' priorities changed.
This news seemed to diminish my ambitions so I just resigned myself to the steelworks and the Home Guard and just waited for my eighteenth birthday which was the age for compulsory service in the forces, to see what would happen then.
Looking back now at the fate of my friend Gordon Diffy and the fatality rate among air crews and the bodies from the Junkers 88 up on the hills perhaps it was just as well that things turned out as they did.
It was round about this time, January 24th 1943 to be exact, that I met Rita. I was watching a film in the Empire when two girls came in and sat in the row behind me. One of these girls I knew slightly the other not at all. The girl that I knew (Connie Allen was her name) spoke a few times during the show but I only had eyes for her friend. When the show ended and the lights came on they remained at their seats looking for a glove. Here was my chance so I offered to help find it, and struck up a conversation with them both as we left the cinema and found that they had to get the bus to Grangetown as I had to.
When we arrived at Grangetown, both girls said goodnight to each other and set off in different directions I asked this friend if I could escort her home. This was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted over fifty five years and not for one moment have I regretted it.
Anyone looking at my diary for the next six months or so would have found it very boring, it went something like this, Monday, went to the cinema with Rita, Tuesday , Home guard tonight, Wednesday, cinema with Rita, Thursday, home guard Friday, took Rita to a dance. In fact it was not a bit boring. Rita and I spent six months slowly getting to know each other and developing an affection that helped to see us through the four years we had to spend apart.
We had to laugh one night when we had been to Middlesborough Empire to see a variety show and were walking back to the bus stop. The air raid warning sounded and within minutes we could hear the drone of heavily laden bombers overhead. Next thing the anti-aircraft guns opened up. Rita and I, along with other people in the street did the sensible thing and stood well back in a shop doorway in case any ironmongery dropped down from above. Just at that moment we heard a voice singing loudly and from round the corner came a man walking or rather, staggering, right down the middle of the road obviously the worse for wear. On spotting us sheltering in the shop doorway he shouted "Come out you cowards" and then continued on his merry way. This completely diffused the tense situation and set everyone in the street laughing.
Just when I was really enjoying life with Rita a buff coloured envelope arrived telling me to report to Middlesborough drill hall for a medical examination. So it looked as though the government had changed it's priority regarding steelworkers."
3. "That's my brother!"
|Eddie and John Healy in the Queen's.
This is Eddie Healy's story about his big brother John:
"My earliest memories of my elder brother John are full of laughter and pathos. His memories of his mates in South Bank, all more like family not just friends.
Like big Tony McGarrity (Sometimes known as Jim), who has recently 'Gone to Heaven'. He would bring his film projector to our house in Scarborough Street and John would hang a white bed-sheet on the wall, then turning the light out we would all sit watching the flickering black and white movies on the blanket (Mind you in those days you were lucky if you had just an Army Greatcoat on the bed!!!)
There were three of us; John was born in 1932, Maureen our only sister, born in 1934 and then me the youngest in 1938, all born in South Bank. Three of our Grandparents were born in Ireland.
As we chatted recently about our early days,
all the names of Johns pals came freshly to our minds. In Scarborough Street with us were the Watts family who provided us with our first football, a Pigs Bladder which was blown up and kicked up and down the streets of South Bank. Next door to us lived the Rowdens, next door to them the Oxleys and over the road the Hills
(Cameron was a friend of John's). As we chatted all the names kept cropping up, the Reeds, Johnny Vickers, Robbie Hanlon and Banger Dodds, they were all his mates. I suppose when you have the time to sit and reminisce, you could probably mention the whole of South Bank, the population in those days was like a huge family, in fact at that time they were closer than some of the families at this present time. You have to remember our young lives were governed by the fact that the Second World War was taking place, not very pleasant, but like people of all ages in those dreadful days of strife we had to get on with our lives in whatever way that we could.
When John was 'babysitting' us he used to pretend that he could hear noises on the staircase (at the time there was a rumour that a man had escaped from the Lunatic Asylum in York and the name that he was supposed to be called was The Mad Parson). John would frighten the life out of our Maureen and me with noises then heíd get the poker and pretend to fight someone on the stairs. When he appeared at the living room door, he would stand with his unseen hand coming out above his head and drag him back into the passage. We knew it was all 'pretend' but we still reacted the same frightful way, everytime he did it!!!
His other 'tease' was to fasten string to the bedroom door, unbeknown to me, and when he was laid in bed,he would slowly open the bedroom door by pulling on the string, with it creaking in the candle lit room. I always had my head under the sheets by then. At that time beds were shared, back to back or top to toe.
He once came home with a huge egg, the biggest egg that I had seen in my young life. (It would have been the early 40's) He said he'd climbed a Mountain with Dougie Reed or was it Derek Oxley????? He said it was an Eagles egg and I was young enough to believe him!! I can remember him cracking it and he fried a huge Omelette in the frying pan. I didn't question his story and just believed how brave they must have been with the eagle attacking them as they climbed to the Eyrie!
We were visiting John, who needs 24 hour care because he has Parkinsons Disease and is resident in Hillview Nursing Home. I actually mentioned the incident to him that day, when we visited him, he said it was a Turkeys egg and they had came across it in Normanby Hall Wood!!
Come to think of it you would be very fortunate to see any eggs during those War years, unless you had an Allotment like our neighbours the Doyle family. Mind you, I enjoyed the Egg powder that we got from America and Canada - I loved it.
Looking back to the 40s,I can still remember the 'Hookie Mats' and the 'Poss Tub' where our Mam used a 'Poss Stick' which was a wooden implement used to pound all the dirty washing, with hot water from the copper boiler outside in the backyard and no washing powder, just soap broken down into flakes. When the washing was hung on the clothes line in the backyard, it was then our turn to go into the 'Posstub'!
John had got a recipe for making treacle toffee, it stands out in my mind because the boiling mixture on the gas ring, spilled over, severely burning his hand. Another incident was when he and Derek Oxley went on a message to Sparks Cake Shop on Middlesbrough Road in South Bank. Mam used to treat us with cream cakes when she was 'flush', which wasn't very often. (Possibly that was my problem re: Obesity -'But that was before'!!!) Walking back home from the shop they reached St.Peters Junior School when a Post Office Van crashed onto the pavement pinning John against the school wall. It was a horrific incident but fortunately he wasn't hurt and the cakes were still intact!!!
Another amazing event took place not far from here,(I live in Normanby). John was with Ged Reed and they were picking brambles in a field, adjacent to the church in the corner of Eston Square. At that time there was none of the Council houses that are there now. They were picking brambles one side but John decided to climb over the fence into the field where he could see more brambles. There was a horse quietly grazing at the far side of the meadow and John set about his collecting. All of a sudden he turned and the horse was charging towards him, he knew he couldn't get out in time but fortunately, there was an old door laid under the bramble bush. So he crawled under the door, but that didn't deter the rampant horse, as he laid underneath, the horses hooves were pounding on top of the door. Luckily two men were passing by and they chased the horse away and once again he was saved from any injuries.
He also recalled one day he was riding his bike along Middlesbrough Road, it was very rare if any of the kids actually were bought a bike. They were usually bits and pieces from the Scrap Yard or one of the various tips in South Bank. As he rode towards Bennetts Corner a Tram was coming round, not having any brakes on the bike, he couldn't stop and he ran into the side of the bus. He was rushed to the Doctors on Normanby Road, but once again, he escaped with just scratches.
At the bottom of Scarborough Street was Harcourt Roadand on the other side was an occasionally used railway. Either side of the lines were grass verges which we called the 'Sunny Banks'. The Banks family lived on Harcourt Road, (Strange I never thought of the coincidence at the time!!!!!!) They were a great family, Joe, Terry, Ged, and George. I was never out of their house, just like the Doyles and our main pastime was swapping Comics etc and, as in the Doyles, always a sandwich or whatever when needed or available. But I digress...
Beyond the Sunny Banks there was an old dilapidated building called 'The Old Mill' . I can remember on the outside wall, someone had painted 'Healy the Hoss' ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Inside there was a long rope tied to the Rafters, which everyone called 'The Tarzy', Johnny Wiesmuller was a very popular film actor, who took the part of Tarzan of the Apes. Thus in those days in South Bank, we all used our own version of an imitation Tarzan call to contact each other and then go swinging on the 'Tarzy'.
Adjacent to the Old Mill was where they tipped the Slag from the Steelworks, which eventually looked like a Slag Mountain. It had a small gauge railway from top to bottom for bogies which carried small ladles from the steelworks, containing slag which were tipped out at the top of the heap. The older lads would lift the Bogies on to the line on the top of the slag heap when there were no steelworkers around and as many kids as possible used to board the empty bogie and career from the top to the bottom with screams of fear and delight, with no real thoughts of danger.
That's why South Bank developed the nickname of 'Slaggy Island'( It is still called that at times even now - But thank God, the Slag Tips are no longer there.)
At the bottom of the Slag Tip was an old Clay Pit, which over the years had filled with water. I suppose that's why the tip was situated there, so the slag could be deposited into the water. This clay pit was known as the Brick Pond Or as we called it 'The Brickie'. I think that years before it was the clay that was used to make firebricks for use in the Iron and Steelworks and I presume that the Old Mill was where the firebricks were manufactured.
Thinking of the days during the War Years, the risks that were taken must have been beyond belief. We would swim in the 'Brickie', float on wooden 'Rafts' and in the Winter when the water was frozen over, numerous youngsters would skate or slide on the ice. Some fortunate children had boots but mainly it was 'Wellies', which was the cheapest footwear available in those days. There had over the years been several children and teenagers drowned there and yet even with this knowledge, we still carried on with these dangerous pastimes!! Whether it was an attitude of mind in those days of War, don't really know. But it resulted in our John nearly seeing death face to face.
He was skating one day on the 'Brickie' which was iced over and he kept sliding nearer the centre of the Pond where the ice was not as thick as the outside edges. Suddenly the ice broke and he plunged through into the murky cold depths of the water below. He was threshing his arms and legs until he got back to the surface. Unfortunately it was thick ice and not the hole that he had created when he fell through. He tried to smash the ice with his head but he started to go down again. He recalled to me that it seemed like a lifetime going up and down in the freezing cold water - but the Good Lord must have been looking after him. As he flailed with his arms and trying to hold his breath his hand struck a metal rail which he clung onto and dragging himself to the surface, gasping for breath. He looked around him and discovered that he was inside the 'Old Mill.. It was the old small gauge railway line of the Clay Pit on which the tubs of clay were hauled from the bottom up into the Mill, that had saved his life. He had some explaining to do when he arrived home, he didn't dare to tell our Mam and Dad what had really happened to him.!!!
That wasn't his only occasion of danger, interlinked with water. There was another time when he was on his own at another pit that was filled with water. It was known as the 'Blue Sea' or 'Blue Lagooní.
There was an old wooden raft which he climbed on and he was drifting around on it. He was trying to balance on it, but the raft overturned, toppling him into the water and he was trying to keep afloat and shouting for help. A Boy Scout who was passing nearby heard his cries and dived in and dragged John to dry land. The Scout lived in Graham Street, South Bank, but John couldn't remember his name.
In 1997 workmen were carrying out an excavation near the Middlesbrough to Saltburn railway line adjacent to the wooden bridge which led to Smiths Dock when they came across what looked like a German plane. The Evening Gazette reported that close examination by a number of experts revealed that it was indeed a Dornier Bomber. The Gazette asked if any of the local people had any knowledge of the Dorniers demise. I wrote a letter, which was published in the Gazette on Friday 5th.December 1997 in which I related our John's recollections on that 1942 night.
Here is the letter I wrote:
"John saw it All.
My brother Mr.John Healy, can certainly shed some light on the crashed German bomber incident.In 1942 John was at the Majestic Cinema in South Bank. He was 10 years old, an announcement came on the cinema screen: "Please leave the Cinema - An air raid is in progress "
John was the first outside, he saw the plane hit the cable of a barrage balloon, it burst into flames above him and started slowly getting nearer to the ground. He followed its wake running along King Street,then past Lorne Terrace with the plane getting lower and lower. He finally reached Clay Lane Road, by which time the German bomber had crashed on the Middlesbrough to Saltburn railway line next to the railway bridge which led to Smiths Dock. The plane had impacted into the railway line and it was on fire, then it burst into explosions with tracer bullets firing all over the area. He realised that he was the first person on the scene so he climbed up the steps of the railway bridge to get a better view. Suddenly he was yanked by the collar by a Special Constable and frog-marched down the steps to safety just outside the Junction Hotel."
I can recall one day during the War, Frank Doyle and myself sat on top of the brick and concrete Shelter, which was between our house and Franks. It was a lovely sunny day and we used to do 'Funkies'(A slang word for 'Dare you do this'!!!) We were jumping from the backyard walls onto the shelter and as we sat on the roof of the Shelter our John was watching and helping the Electricians, who were re-wiring the Shelter. As we were sat there enjoying the sunshine a bomber came diving down to around about a 100 feet and heading towards us. Frank and I had no fear at all, we were calmly watching this rare close event! I can remember seeing the Pilot quite clearly as he swooped towards us, then our John grabbed the two of us and pushed us inside the shelter. I thought it was a British bomber and I can remember us waving to the pilot - it was that close!!!
Apparently it was a Junkers 88 and it was being chased by some Spitfires and our John said one of the British pilots was Group Captain Peter Townsend who actually shot the Junkers down over Eston Hills. John said he saw the German crew parachuting from the stricken plane and he said one of the Germans parachute didn't open and he plummeted to the ground or Sea?
When John was 18 years old he was an apprentice Bricklayer in the Dorman and Long Steelworks. He was 19 years old, when he was called up, to do his National Service. He trained at Barford Camp -Barnard Castle with the 12th.Lancers. He was entered into the Regimental Boxing Championships held in Carlisle and he won the Heavyweight Title for the Regiment. After the completion of Training the trained personnel went to various Regiments. The Commanding Officer at Barford wanted him to stay with the regiment and represent them as the current heavyweight champion. But John wanted to be transferred to the 13/18th Royal Hussars who were going overseas to Singapore and/or Malaya. (Malaya at that time were having problems with Terrorists, mainly Chinese)
One of the reasons that he wanted to leave England, was the close friendships that had developed during their training, he'd been mates with Reg. Marsay from Scarborough and a few other lads. He eventually arrived in Malaya based in various camps.
He then started his Jungle Training and carried on with his Boxing Training as well and represented his Company as Heavyweight Champion. I used to read his letters,describing his activities, with me feeling as if I was with him. In fact I used to use his exploits as my 'chat-up'line in Grangetown telling the teenage girls about my involvement at the Ipoh Tin Mines and all about Kuala Lumpur. It just shows how naive we must have been, me being just a 15 year old!Still it was good crack and sometimes it paid off!!
Those troubled times in Malaya are still perfectly clear in John's mind. When he was in Jemaluang, on patrol in the jungle, heading towards the Kota Tinghi Camp. When they got there, he enquired about his mate Billy Hammond. Bill had only arrived in Malaya a week or so before. He was told that Billy had been on patrol in the same area as John and his Troop were but the lads in the Camp said they had some bad news about him. They said he was sat in an Open Top Troop Carrier and had remarked that it was so peaceful, that it was just like being in a Park in England. One shot was fired by a Terrorist Sniper in the Jungle and the bullet had hit Billy in the head and killed him. Two of the soldiers in the troop carrier John thinks were called McDonald and Gemmell. One of them was firing his Bren Gun into the jungle in the area where the shot had come from. Then they combed the jungle but no one could be found. The sniper just disappeared into the thick undergrowth from where he had come.
So they continued on to Kota-Tinghi Camp with Billy,s body in the troop carrier. It was terrible news, which affected him for some time but the Terrorist problem just didn't go away. I can remember him saying one of the real perils was when you were on guard during the night. You patrolled up and down the road in front of the Camp. With the jungle both sides of you and the lights shining on the road and not on the jungle. He also mentioned that they had an horrific call-out to an ambushed vehicle transporting 8 Malayan Police. When they arrived at a quarry the vehicle was ablaze and all the Police had been killed and the terrorists (or bandits) had, as usual, just vanished into the jungle.
Another stroke of luck or divine providence, was seeing 2 photos of John on patrol in dense foliage, he was resting his bren-gun on a fallen tree and he was crouched behind it. After the photos were developed on both pictures you could see a huge python sliding over the fallen tree about a foot to 18 inches away from him!!
One of the 'perks' in Malaya was when they came across any Wild Pigs. They didn't take any chances with them they would just shoot them. John had more 'kills' than anyone in the Company. In fact, one day they had made a clearing to have a game of footie and as they were leaving, a huge wild Boar charged out of the long grass heading towards them. John shot it right between the eyes. Any kills were sold either to the Chinese or the Malayans for 250 Dollars apiece which they would share with the Officer and the Lads.
John was still training and boxing on a regular basis and he was entered for the Regimental Boxing Tournament. This was taking place in Serembang, where a Tin Quarry had been carved out in steps all the way down to the quarry base. The boxing ring had been erected and it looked like the Colliseum. There was a huge crowd assembled with all the Companies of the Regiment being there and many Chinese, Malayans and Tamils. The Press were represented and cameras were flashing on and off until it looked like Madison Square Garden. I would have imagined that bets were changing hands (Especially the Chinese. )
The favourite for the heavyweight title was an Officer called Lieutenant Hartgrove whose nickname was'Nutty'. Our John had got to the semi-finals, then he fought a huge soldier whose nickname was 'Black Bess'. He was an ex Doncaster Miner and he put John down in the 1st round. They were boxing 3-3 minute Rounds. John went on to win the fight knocking 'Black Bess'out in the 2nd.Round.
The final bout was John fighting 'Nutty' - the favourite to win the title. He recalled that everytime he hit the Officer,'Nutty'would say "You b******!! After 2 hard rounds,he knocked 'Nutty' out in the 3rd round and John was Regimental Heavyweight Champion! Yeaaaaaaah!!!
John paused as he's telling me these unforgotten memories. As he reminisced he said "Just out the blue, the thought came into my mind -Bill Traynor was an absolute Gentleman" They'd served together in Malaya. Years later John married Bills sister Vi and they had a son called Michael.
After returning back to 'blighty', whenever they were talking, Bill always said he would love to go back some day. Bill did go back in later years but, sadly, it was where he ended his days. He was working for Amoco in Malaya and on one of his days off he had gone for a swim. Coming out of the water he laid down on the beach and died. RIP
Eventually, when John was working at Dorman Long Steelworks, he was employed as a pipefitters mate. They were working under the Valve Arches on the North Plant when he saw what he thought was a 'lashing' hanging down from the Pipe-rack. He pulled it but it was attached to a 'live cable' and if he hadn't had his 'Wellies' on he would died that day!!
He can recall his battles in Malaya, his fights inside and outside the Ring. Bare fist battles in Redcar, Grangetown and South Bank.But now his battle is with Parkinsons Disease sat next to Bella Reed in Hillview Nursing Home.
I can always remember a true story that John told me, that he had danced with Bella Reed around a Bonfire on VE Day when the war was over.
They say you can take a man out of South Bank.
But you can't take South Bank out of a Man.
Dedicated to my loving Brother, John.
Eddie Healy sometimes known as Ted
Copyright: E.A.Healy 01642/508968"
I remember John Healy as a big, strapping, good looking lad with a mop of wild hair and I'm sorry to hear that he has been inflicted with the same illness as Muhammad Ali - but he seems to have had more lives than a cat! Dick.
4. Ted Smith's Letters - Codger
Ted Smith was an habitual letter writer, bombarding the Evening Gazette with his thoughts and opinions on all and sundry. His daughter Jackie has provided me with copies of some of his writings and I intend to put them in this section.
When his friend "Codger" Williams died he wrote to the Gazette to put his life in print and I'm glad to be able to extend Ted's letter onto the internet and around the world:
FOND MEMORY (25/6/81)
"Well, he's gone!!" "Codger - you know Codger - of course you do." Everyone knew him. Codger Williams known in the construction world from the Tyne to the Humber, and beyond. Crane driver personified, that was Codge. Remember when he used to climb the 450ft of rungs of a vertical ladder, to reach the cab of his Tower crane, a further 20 feet up. This during reconstruction of the Endeavour and Norsmec Oil Rigs, in the late 60's.
Ron Ince, the foreman, would say over the intercom, "How are you Codge!" and Codge would be laid there gasping for breath. "How's the wind on the anemometer reading Codge!?" and he would say, "I can't turn the f***ing boom around f***ing that's how it reads, F***ing 26 knots."
I mean, where else but South Bank would you get names like Pear Ripe - just imagine that - Pear Ripe - Boz - Codger - Teddy and Our Poor Joe, all brothers, and as South Bank - were the streets - Henry - Codd - Beacham - Peal, and Munby; shielded from the cold North-east winds by the slag tips left by Bolckow and Vaughan.
Granny Marton (My gran) was the midwife of the times and was present at the births of Codger's mam, and my wife's mam, Selina Foxley (who married Patsy Welsh) and incidentally became Codger's Godmother!
Codger's mam, Annie Williams (Roache) would come to our house almost every week to talk of old times, and "Our Codge" or "Our Boz" and so on, but that's how it was then. Everyone knew everyone, until suddenly, like old South Bank, began to fade away and names like streets became memories. And now Codge! It's hard to believe!
There was a type of "patter" (gossip) unique to South Bank - which will be the worse for Coder's leaving but I have a feeling that in the course of conversation in the "Peter's Club" amongst the people he knows, I'm sure Codge will be included, and do you know something? I'm convinced he'll join in. Poor Codge - so sudden, and so unexpected - sadly missed by family and friends. Particularly those in South Bank's St Peter's Club. The place won't be the same.