Good Fridays always stand out in my memory because that was the day we marched round the town.
My dad worked at Swan Hunter’s in Wallsend and came home every day for his lunch. In the afternoon when he went back to work, I was sometimes allowed to take my little brother to the corner by the shops, to wave to daddy as he went past in the bus. This must have been about 1960. Although there wasn’t really much traffic, there were buses on Wallsend Road and lorries delivering goods to the shops, so I had to hold my brother’s hand carefully. We usually waited on the corner of Lanercost and Cartington Road, so that we didn’t have to cross any roads. It sometimes seemed like a long wait but it was fun when the bus went past and dad and sometimes other passengers as well, waved to us.
In the early 1960s, on very hot summer days (not very often), if we wanted an ice-cream, there were two possibilities. If we were really lucky, the ice-cream van came round, but they were usually on the sea front and tended to come late in the afternoon or if the mist came down at the beach. There were two vans which did come round, usually Mr Softy/Mr Whippy, which sold soft ice-cream or, occasionally, a Walls ice-cream van came. It was really like a Mini-van with something built on the top. This van was usually driven by a nice lady. If the vans didn’t come or we couldn’t wait, we might be given money to go along to Cappaldi’s ice-cream parlour on Chirton Front Street. The problem was, if we were going for more than ice-cream just for ourselves, it would melt before we got home. We could take a basin, but then there was a lovely mass of melted ice-cream at the bottom of the bowl. At least a walk to Cappaldi’s gave us a chance to see if it was a really hot day, measured by looking at the tar on the zebra crossing at the corner of The Quadrant and Wallsend Road. On a really hot day, as the buses turned left at this corner, their weight on the soft tar made the zebra stripes go wavy and the tyre tread pattern was left in the soft tar.
I decided that I must learn to swim but there was no way I would ever learn to swim in the cold waters of an outdoor pool. In the 1960s the nearest indoor pool to North Shields was at Wallsend. The number 1 bus service stopped at Burt Avenue, just round the corner from Brampton Place and went through to Wallsend where it stopped at The Coach and Horses, just round the corner from the swimming baths. So I learned to swim in comfort for 1 shilling per week – 3d each way on the bus, 3d to get in and 3d to spend on sweets on the way home. When the bus fare went up to 4d each way, that problem was solved by walking the 2 stops to Percy Main, which was the fare stage, so it still only cost 3d. By this time, I was no longer going to the baths alone. I had been joined by my two friends Joan and Liz, who also lived in Brampton Place and their two sisters. The boys also went at the same time. That was my brother Duncan and some of his friends. Sometimes, there were as many as 10 of us on the bus. We caught the bus at about 8.15 and aimed to be in the water by 9.00. We swam for an hour and got out at about 10.00, when the pool began to get crowded. To make our morning out stretch to dinnertime, we got off the bus at Percy Main and went round to the swing park on Norham Road field and played there for about an hour. After dinner, we sometimes went to the cartoon show at the Rex Cinema in Billy Mill Avenue, where they showed an excellent selection of Hanna Barbera and Loony Tunes cartoons for about 9d.
Good Fridays always stand out in my memory because that was the day we marched round the town. All the Free Church Sunday Schools gathered in Northumberland Square, at the corner of West Percy Street. Many children wore their new summer clothes, but we didn’t because the weather had a habit of being very unlike Spring. I went to All Saints Sunday School on Verne Road and once I got to the High School it was great fun to go round the different groups of children gathering in the Square, to meet friends from other Sunday Schools. After a service in the open air, the procession set off up Church Way, along to Christ Church, then up Preston Road and into Alma Place. It then turned into Cleveland Road, where the children of Collingwood School watched out for their headmaster, Mr Ainley and his wife, who looked out of their upstairs window and waved to us as we waved and pointed to them. The procession then turned into Hawkey’s Lane until it reached the Methodist Church. There things became complicated. The front of the procession continued down onto Spence Terrace and back to the centre of North Shields, where services were held in some of the town centre churches. The congregation from Hawkey’s Lane Methodist Church went into their own church. Round the corner in Lansdowne Terrace West, a bus was waiting to take people to Broadway Methodist Church and at the back of the procession, watching all this, were the All Saints people. We turned into Lansdowne Terrace West and suddenly there were very few people watching us, although there were some of our congregation who joined us at this point. We walked to Billy Mill Avenue, where a policeman stopped the traffic so that we could turn right into Billy Mill Avenue and then into Verne Road, where the crowds started to get bigger and more people joined us. For a young child the ups and downs of Verne Road seemed very steep and the road very long, until eventually, we could see the crowds outside the church watching and waiting for us to arrive. Our minister was waiting on the steps to greet us and lead us into a packed church, where we had a service and then went through to a room in the back to get an orange, which was our reward for all that walking.
A favourite pastime, especially in the summer holidays, was to go to the wide open spaces of High Flatworth, although we called it ‘Captain Kiddy-pie Hills’. To get there, we went on the path that ran along the north side of the bus garage at Percy Main. This path led up to the farm, where it was all right as long as the geese didn’t get out under the gate, because they chased you better than any guard dog. We also had to cross the railway line that led from the collieries, down to the coal staithes at Percy Main. During the week, there was sometimes a steam train taking coal wagons up or down and that was interesting to watch. Beyond the farm and railway, there was a vast area of rough ground all the way to Ripley Avenue in Howdon. If we went on our bikes, we could spend hours riding up and down and around the hills, which was great fun. This was all spoiled when they began to construct the Tyne Tunnel and A19 road.