When I was seventeen I did my bit for the war and joined the National Fire Service as part time firewoman. I felt so smart in my uniform.
I was born on May 25th 1925. Our house was in Milbourne Place, an area in the west end of North Shields right alongside Smith’s Docks. Most of the residents worked in the docks. My own father, William Potts Heron, was a Brass Moulder and he worked for Hoggs Brass Finishers in a neighbouring street.
I had four sisters and a brother; Ella being the eldest, then Meggie, Lily, Mary and Norman. I can’t remember living with my older sisters as they were getting married when I was very young. Lily was working in London, so I didn’t see very much of her either. Our Albert, my nephew, was only one year and nine months younger than me and he was more of a brother to me as his Dad had died when Albert was two years old and my mother Elizabeth had helped to bring him up.
I went to Western school and really enjoyed my schooldays. Albert and I also went to Dene Street Sunday School every week, plus Middle Street Mission on Sunday nights. We were a very loving family. We weren’t well off as my father was out of work often, but we got by and most of our neighbours were in the same boat. No one needed expensive toys to amuse themselves. We made our own games depending on the seasons. We would have tops and whips, skipping ropes, bays, ball games and marbles. The girls would knit and sew. We used to get some patches and buy a little doll and make clothes and make a pram out of a cigarette box so we could pull them along. Another game would be to cut out some pictures and place them in between pages of a book and your friends had to use a pin to try and find a picture in the book.
In the summer we used to go to the beach at Tynemouth and meet up with family down there and spend some lovely days there and have tea and sandwiches and come home tired and ready for bed. My friends and I used to go to Girl Guides on a Thursday and some days we would have trips out. It was great fun.
I used to love Christmases because my father was very handy, and he always made our main toy. For the boys he made forts and barrows and for the girls shops and houses. Whenever he tried to get on with a job without us finding out he used to keep us guessing and always ended with a surprise on Christmas morning; everything made to perfection. He also used to cobble our shoes and I used to love to sit and watch him, patiently waiting to have my shoes newly repaired.
When I was seven years old, I got an abscess on the top of my leg and my mother had to borrow a pushchair so she could take me to Tynemouth Infirmary where I had treatment for it. I don t remember how long I had to go for treatment but when it had healed up, one of the nurses gave me a story book because she said I had been a very good patient.
Another thing that comes to my mind is the time we spent as kids walking to Smith Dock’s field which was about 15 minutes from our homes. About six of us would take old blankets in someone’s pram to make a tent. By the time we got our tents fixed to the fence around part of the field, it was time for us to think about tea. Two or three of us would volunteer to go back to each other’s homes and bring back our teas which consisted of a bottle of tea, or if you were lucky a bottle of pop and some bread and jam sandwiches. Sometimes, if your mother had been baking you might get a scone or a bun which was a real treat. After we had our teas, we would have a few games with bat and ball. After a tiring day we would pack up and go home. We never had much money to enjoy ourselves and our parents didn’t have to worry about us as long as they knew where we had gone to and who we were with.
Another treat we looked forward to was when the gas man came to empty the meter, and when he had counted how much money was in the meter, he would leave a rebate which came in very handy if your mother hadn’t much money at the time and she would give us a penny each. The same happened with the electricity man when he called to empty the meter, so he was always a welcome visitor.
Another thing that comes to mind is the fact that we didn’t buy our coal in hundredweights. We used to take a wheelbarrow to the coal depot, which was up our street, and buy our coal at the stone or bucketful’s. This was eked out with coke which we used to get from the gas yard and Norman used to break it up into small pieces. Another thing which had to be done at regular intervals was a visit from the chimney sweep. Some people used to set their chimneys on fire, but they were taking a risk. Our regular sweep was an oldish bloke and he used to have a little horse and cart. He used to tell us to go outside and watch for the brush coming out of the chimney.
In the 1930s they began to build new houses and all the old ones were condemned so they were gradually pulling them down. All the neighbours were thrilled to bits to think they would soon be in new houses with inside toilets and hot and cold running water and with bathrooms and kitchens to suit their needs and a few bedrooms. We moved from East Street in November 1936 into an upstairs, three bedroomed flat with back and front gardens on Woodlea Crescent; it was lovely – I was 11 years old. The houses were called the Ridges Estates. Our Ella has remarried, and she had a lovely two bedroomed self-contained house on the other estate. My father took a pride in the gardens at first but as time went by and the world was at war the gardens were taken over by the Air Raid Shelters and he lost interest.
I left school aged fourteen in 1939 just when the war was starting and got my first job in a shoe shop called Rochesters. I had to clean the shop floors every morning and wash the shop fronts every day, then if anyone wanted to try shoes at home, I had to take them to their homes. For this I got the princely sum of five shillings per week. I worked there until I was sixteen years old and began to look for a better job. I got a job in the Hadrian Supply Company and I doubled my wages to twelve shillings and sixpence weekly.
From the beginning of the war you never knew how you would find the places the next day if there was an air raid overnight. I got many a shock to see buildings down to the ground which had been standing the night before. We tried to make the shelter as comfortable as possible with loads of cushions and blankets but sometimes the shelter was flooded, and the water was just beneath the seats. We were sometimes there for hours through the night, having been in our lovely warm beds when the siren went off; it was frightening. It was awful during the blackout, you didn’t know what or who you might walk into and the buses had very dim blue lights. You had to try and live as normal a life as possible.
When I was seventeen, the young people had an organisation to help them do their bit for the war. I got friendly with Betty Browell and we both joined the National Fire Service as part time firewomen. We had to do about six hours a week. At first, we trained as telephonists then later we found we were more use in the canteen serving the firemen their suppers which the cook had prepared earlier for them. We used to feel so smart in our uniforms.
When I was twenty-one, I left the Hadrian and got a job at the Great Northern Knitwear. Dora Wray lived next door to us, and she spoke for me a job in the Knitwear and so I worked there as an Invisible Mender. By this time, I was friendly with Madge Thompson, a girl who used to be in my class at school. A few weeks after I started the Knitwear, we were coming out of the Albion Cinema and these lads started chatting us up. Two of them walked us home and I made arrangements to see the one I was with the next night. Jimmy Timlin and I began to see each other regularly and were soon a couple. His sister Margaret worked in Welch’s Sweet Factory on Norham Road and she found out Jimmy had a girlfriend, so she sought me out. I was very embarrassed when she came into the Knitwear looking for me. When I asked Jimmy what he worked at he told me he was a Fitter. He was really a Brass Moulder but didn’t think I would know what a Brass Moulder was, not knowing that was my father’s trade until I told him, and he got to know him, so they had a lot in common. Also, my father was interested in football, having played when he was a young man and Jimmy is a keen Newcastle United supporter. My mother always liked Jimmy.
The first time I ever went to Jimmy’s house he had gone to the football match and I felt very shy when I introduced myself to his parents, but they soon put me at my ease, and I got on very well with his sister Margaret who is two years younger than us. During our courtship we went to the pictures three or four times a week. We used to walk home, and on the way we had fish and chips. Young people didn’t frequent pubs and clubs as they do nowadays. My father died in the March of 1948 and Jimmy and I decided to get engaged at Christmas of that year. Jimmy wasn’t one for a lot of fuss so we got married at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Chirton and had our reception in my home where we had decided to live with my mother because otherwise, she would have been left on her own.
Soon after we got married, I got pregnant and we had our Patricia. We were married in March 1950 and Patricia was born January 1951. She was born in Preston Hospital and at that time there was a flu epidemic on, and we couldn’t have any visitors, so she was 10 days old before we were allowed home and before anyone could see her. My mother had had a big family, but she still had plenty of love to give her grandchildren and she used to teach Patricia to sing and do other things. Sadly, on our fourth wedding anniversary my mother died, and we missed her very much. After a few months the council gave us another house, a 2 bedroomed flat in Balkwell Green. It was ideal because there was a large green in front of our house and the children could play quite safely and Patricia had lots of friends.
When Patricia was 9 years old, I thought I would try and get a part-time job. I decided to write to Ronson Products, a firm that sold lighters and petrol and accessories. The factory was on Norham Road, West Chirton. I wrote the letter on a Thursday night and the following morning there was an advert in the weekly newspaper advertising for part-time workers. I saw Patricia off to school with her friend Pauline O’Shea and I went straight along to Ronsons and I got a job. The hours were 8.30 until 4 o clock so it didn’t interfere with having children at school. It was only temporary at first, but it lasted for 16 years. The group I worked with sent show material out to different shops all over, and Ethel Broderick and I were sending show material abroad and all over the country. It was very interesting, and we had postage customs forms to fill in, and franking of parcels to do, ready for the postman to collect. By now our department had moved to Hudson Street. Ronsons also had a factory at Cramlington and decided there was space for our department to work from there. We had the chance to go there but it meant having further to travel and none of us wanted to go there so we got our redundancy and our place in Hudson Street was closed up. From there I went to the Knitwear, but it was full-time, and I wanted to be home when Jimmy got home from work. So, I gave it up.
I then got a few hours work in Jane Dixon’s Newsagents in Percy Main and I was there for 13 years, four mornings a week until she sold the business. I really liked it there. We had the newsagents on one side and a food shop on the other selling lovely cakes and bread, butter, cheese and fresh cooked and raw meats. It was really interesting, and Patricia and my grandsons, Adam and Matthew, used to call in to see me and to buy goods. I left and retired when I was 64.
Edith Timlin (nee Heron)
Editor s Note: Edith wrote this memory shortly before she died in 2011 and we are very grateful that Trish Coles, Edith’s daughter, has given permission for this memory to be added to our collection.