Burradon Memories Part 4: Village Memories and Characters

Then we come to the jewel in the crown - "The Chute". It was a haven for all the lads in the village.

Photograph of Honor Weightman

Honor Weightman

Editor’s Note:
Some of Mrs. Honor Weightman’s memories of a life in Burradon written down and kindly contributed by her daughter Lindsey. These memories have been split into seven separate parts because they have so much rich material in them. If you’d like to read the whole story you’ll need to read Burradon Memories Parts 1 to 7. They cover many aspects of life in Burradon and offer a fascinating insight into village life.

I shopped for Mrs. Hume and her daughters, Mrs. Hunter and Mrs. Allen. They kept me in clothes. I got all Lizzie Ellen Hunter’s cast-offs, she was 10 years older than me but my Mam would alter everything to fit (and for someone who couldn’t sew it must have taken some doing). Mrs. Hume gave me a woollen hat, gloves and scarf every Christmas. I may not have been the best dressed girl but I was certainly always tidy.

After school I would go down to the farm and bring the milk back for my Mam and four of the neighbours. It was carried in cans and, as I wasn’t allowed to take anything for going, I’d stop halfway home, put the cans down on the ground and take a drink out of each one (rough justice!); not knowing the farmer’s wife used to watch me and she always put an extra drop in each can to allow for the drink. ‘She’, Mrs. Gill, told me years later when I went to work on the farm (when I was in Land Army). My Dad made a lean-to camp at the top of the garden, so my friends and I had somewhere special to play. A wondrous place for someone with such a fertile imagination, I travelled the world in that little camp.

Men and women gave their time to all kinds of ventures, anything that was helpful for the “common good”. Helpers weren’t paid in those days. They realised we are here to serve not to be served. Yes, the Kingdom of God seemed much closer then than now and believe me it was wonderful.

There was the church and church hall used for all kinds of activities, whist drives, scout and cub movements, sing-songs and parties. Two chapels, catering for Bible study and visiting speakers etc. The Spiritualists had the use of the miners hut and the Salvation Army used the British Legion hut for their brand of worship. As kids we could visit them all and were fed plenty of spiritual nourishment. We were made aware of the “poor children” so, were raised above our own poverty and made to see how truly blessed we were, just thankful to be alive.

There was a picture hall for those lucky enough to have the entrance fee. There was the Welfare Ground with six swings and a mountain glide, a football pitch, a tennis court and the bowling green, always something to watch. The store Hall was open for concerts and dances, if you couldn’t afford the entrance fee you could sit on the stairs and listen.

Oh! Then we come to the jewel in the crown “The Chute”. It was a haven for all the lads in the village – snooker and various games (my grandfather laid the foundation stone of the Institute). There was a reading room. Mr. Robson, the newsagent, gave a daily supply of papers for the older men and, believe me, it was in constant use. Once a week it doubled up as a library and we were able to read books we’d never have been able to afford. It was heartbreaking when it closed down. I never pass the spot without remembering the lads waiting outside for it to open, they would whistle as we walked past. If we’d stopped and approached them, I think they would have run away.

Another meeting place was on “the line”. It separated the village. One side was Burradon and the other side Camperdown. The men used to sit on their “hunkers” and talk and joke. They had a word for everyone who passed by. There was a cabin and two disabled men worked the shift between them, they were men who had been lamed down the pit. They would come out of the cabin waving a red flag to hold back any pedestrians or traffic until the engine and trucks passed by. Men would hang on the side of the trucks and get a lift to and from work. It must have been dangerous but I only remember one fatality, a young lad, 14 years old, called Martin who was on his way home from work. He was killed outright.

My Mam and the other members of the Mother’s Union would walk past on their way home from their monthly meeting and the men would call out “Lookout lads, here’s the wild wives of Burradon coming.” It was laughs all around even though it happened every time they passed. I think it was this rough type of humour that helped make unbearable times bearable.

There was “the Club” and four pubs in the village, but very little money to go drinking. I have often wondered how they all made a living. For men going out for a drink in the twenties and thirties it meant half pints and very few of them. So, simple things had to be their pleasure.

In 1938 they (whoever ‘they’ were) built a dance hall in the welfare grounds. It was elegant (we thought). The band was made up of local talent (Cocky Hayes, John Will Storey, Jimmie Wright, to name but three) and we all thought we’d hit the big time. I remember, in 1939, the soldiers billeted in Gosforth Park were invited to come to a weekly dance (free!). I watched them walk through the village and thought “Eh, what will they think when they see inside”. I felt so proud to live in Burradon.

There were so many smells and tastes in the shops. Latimer’s sold saveloys (yum-yum), Morrison’s made pork sandwiches and pease pudding. I never could afford a pork sandwich but you could have a pork dip (no meat but all the flavour and smell). Mrs. Ludkin made teacakes. I often did her errands and she would always give me a teacake to take home, scrumptious. Mrs. Greaves made pies and peas and ginger beer. These were all made in the kitchens, imagine the lovely aromas.

Mr. Bolton would sell you a half penny “lot” (sweets past their sell-by dates). Mr. Langley called his bargain a “mixed bag”. Mrs. Patterson would give you a sweet and stale. The stuff may have been but, boy, it lasted ages.

Janie Wilkinson taught people to sew, Grandma Weightman (my mother-in-law) was one of her pupils. People just passed on knowledge and were happy to do so. Mrs. Wandless would alter anything you wanted (most people wore hand me downs) and just charged a few coppers. Men and boys kept pigeons – some of the lofts are still in use. Many kept pigs and poultry and I think every man was a gardener. They all spent their leisure time usefully employed, so very few boys got into trouble.

I must mention one or two names here. Athol Burke decided to go into the pig business (as a hobby). It was just about the time his sister Cathie was having her baby (Paul). Cathie and baby came home from hospital to stay with the family for a while. Now, the pig food had to be boiled and well cooked – where to prepare it? Oh, in the boiler, in the scullery – have you ever smelt pigswill cooking? Wow! Dr Dagg called to see the baby, just as the boiler began to boil. You couldn’t ignore the smell so Dr Dagg said (I expect to save Cathie any embarrassment) “Let’s hope you never get the baby’s food mixed up with the pig’s”.

Tommy Hartley and Dick Weightman were two other hopefuls who decided to try and make some extra cash. The pigs arrived and were housed on an allotment nearby. Then the boiler started boiling and this evil aroma became part of life. It was putrid. Tommy got all the leftovers from the police canteen and would fill a sack, sling it over his shoulder and carry it home. Can you picture a policeman at night with a swag bag? It must have looked strange. Dick used to go round on his bike and collect people’s leftovers and when a pig was killed Mattie Morpeth, the Co-op butcher, was the slaughter man. He cut up the pig and cooked the offal, sausages, white and black pudding, spare ribs etc. Sounds lovely and it was but by the time every contributor got a share, they were in debt and their dreams of making a fortune never got off the ground.

There was May Rogerson’s sweetshop. Her husband had an allotment and worked very hard. He had a very old horse, which pulled a small cart. He would help you move house without it costing a fortune. The kids loved to follow the cart because the horse, christened “Trigger” after Roy Roger’s horse on the films, would every so often just lie down for a rest. Popeye, as the kids used to call Mr. Rogerson (he had a glass eye) would plead with the animal to get up. It may have been slightly naughty but the laugher it raised and the fun the kids had in these situations didn’t really hurt anyone. Mr. Rogerson never took umbrage.

A lot of the old people in the village in the early part of the last century were illiterate so needed a voice. Those lucky enough to have a bit of education behind them, strove to speak up for their fellow men. I was once told pitmen were so ignorant they couldn’t speak without cursing. I tried to explain why their vocabulary was so restricted; their only way of expressing themselves was by swearing. They must have experienced such frustration when confronted with questions. I used to have to write my grandma’s shopping list, she may not have been literate but she was certainly numerate, no-one could do her out of a penny. My grandfather, on the other hand, was an avid reader. He seemed to have had access to all kinds of books and shared his knowledge with us children.

This is a good time to introduce some of the other characters of the village. Dossie Shanks, who had the Post Office, was always available to help anyone with forms of any kind and was always ready to advise. She was a treasure. Mr. Murphy had the great gift of healing; even the doctors in the RVI were known to recommend him. He was a rough, retired miner. His hands were gnarled but people he treated said they were heavenly. There used to be a long queue outside his house waiting every day and he would see each person. The people who could afford to pay did so, those who couldn’t pay he treated free and was just as happy to do so.

Harry Anderson had work-horses and carts, a hearse and two sleek black horses (we called them the high steppers) who pulled the hearse. He could be delivering coal in the morning and be dressed in top hat and tails conducting a funeral in the afternoon. Mourners followed behind the hearse and walked to Killingworth or Benton Church, to the graveyard. Lydia Anderson, daughter of Harry, kept the horse brasses polished and it always looked quite elegant and dignified.

Mr. Scott was the first policeman that I can remember, then Mr. Dodds came. We all had a great respect for the law and just a little bit of fear. Policemen in my young days were there to keep the peace and that they did. Anyone stepping out of line got a clout and a warning and prisons were for criminals only. You may not approve of the methods used, but believe me no one was afraid to be out alone, we were so secure. Then there were men like Caleb Garbett, Edmund Cowans, Bill Reid and Bill Means, to mention but a few, who spent their leisure time serving the public in so many ways, without any thought of gain.

My uncle Bob was so grateful, after many years of unemployment, to be given the job of road sweeper for Burradon. He worked tirelessly and kept the village in mint condition. He took such pride in his work, as did Mr. Berlinson, who kept the main roads spick-and-span.

Just let me say hello to the wonderful Barker family who lived in the “Halfway house”. Mr. and Mrs. Barker used to allow us to play in the stables which were furnished, doll’s-house style. They were amazing retreats where our imagination ran riot. Connie, Jean and Sylvia were the three youngest girls and I loved all three of them. Flo’ the eldest sister, who worked in Newcastle and only came home on her day off, used to help us to arrange concerts and allowed us to use her make-up, she was great. When the pub closed after lunch time we would hold a concert in one of the rooms and I believe the entrance fee was a pin. Many a tasty snack I had there. Mrs. Barker was just the kindest.

Mrs. Ryder was a fountain of information about the old folk in her young days. She used to tell me about someone who, as a child, had to run all the way to Wallsend every Monday morning to pawn her father’s suit and every Friday to redeem it so he could go out dressed at the weekend. When she left school, Lizzie Turner used to walk to Seghill to sell yeast. Now, as yeast was only half an old penny per ounce I still can’t understand how she could possibly have made any kind of wage, it must have cost more for shoe leather. Polly Donkin used to come from Cullercoats with a huge basket of herrings (13 for one old penny) to sell in Burradon. She was related to Mrs. Hume and always called there for her meal. I still remember her rosy cheeks and long black skirt and shawl. She wore boots and a sack for her apron and yelled “Culla Harren!”

George Douglas, lets spare a thought for George. I won’t say poor George because he was so rich in humanity, having all the gifts of the spirit. He was severely handicapped from birth. I used to wonder how his parents managed to dress and undress him. His whole body was twisted, even his speech was affected but, his brain was very active and his mind as clear as a bell. He would sit in his wheelchair and observe everything and everyone and always had something nice to say. Such wisdom. The village lads loved him and included him in walks and conversations. I think everyone loved him. His courage was such it left people speechless. He sat and watched the cottages being built in Dudley. The work force so admired him they asked if the cottages could bear his name thus, “George’s View”. He was delighted, as we all were. When his parents could no longer care for him, he willingly went into a home where the staff took over the role of parents. He was well loved and appreciated everything they did for him. I’m sure he would die saying “Thanks be to God”.

There were many more characters and not one “Title” among them. They still live in my heart and in my thoughts.

Afterword
I’ll try to put into words exactly what I believe and hope it will be to someone’s benefit. Everyone should leave at least one thought behind. I believe and advise, “Always look for the best possible interpretation of people’s behaviour. Usually the faults we see in others are our own faults”

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