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George and Gladys’ Days at the Beach

We didn’t play games, we couldn’t because the beach was absolutely packed with people, you had to see it to believe it; this was before the war about 1938/39. Once war came the beaches were all closed off.


Day at the Sea Side Project August 2012

Interviewees: George Charlton (born 1933) and Gladys Charlton (born 1937) in Percy Main

First thing is the transport.  I lived in Percy Main and we got the train which was sometimes full as it had come from Newcastle.  There were the two families; the Bennetts and the Charltons; nine in all, including the children.  When you got there – Percy Park, Tynemouth – you got straight down to the beach and the first thing we did as children was to get our costumes on and dash away with our buckets and spades.  We usually went to the rock pools to pick winkles, crabs, anything at all. If we were lucky and had a few bob, we went on the shuggies.

An important part of the day was the picnic lunch.  We made a big heap of sand and spread the table cloth over it (with the two mothers, the dads were at work).  We then had to go and stand in the queue for hot water.  There were Thermos flasks, but we couldn’t afford one.  We brought loose tea and our mothers made a kettle of tea.  The children had a bottle of pop, the cheapest we could find or diluted barley water.  Our sandwiches were usually bread and jam but occasionally we had egg chopped up with tomato and spread on the bread like a paste; somehow, we always managed to get sand in the sandwiches.  Cakes were made at home not shop bought.  We spent the whole day on the beach just playing around, then the difficult part was getting home.  The buses passed full, you just couldn’t get on so we would walk up to Tynemouth Station and we have waited as long as two hours for a train.  Even though there was a one every five or six minutes; they always put on extra trains if the weather was hot or if it was a holiday.  By the time we got home we were shattered.

We didn’t play games, we couldn’t because the beach was absolutely packed with people, you had to see it to believe it; this was before the war about 1938/39.  Once war came the beaches were all closed off by the military and you didn’t get back until 1946, and as it happened it was a lovely summer and people went absolutely mad.  There were more people there than had been before the war. I have seen people pile off the train walking down the Broadway only to turn round and come back because of a blanket of fog; that happened quite often.

George has mentioned we threw off our costumes, but it was quite a palaver trying to hide behind your towel to get changed.  The costumes! Sometimes they were awful, your mother had knitted them with wool and when you came out of the water it had stretched down to your knees.  There was no difference between a boy’s costume and a girl’s in those days; they both had straps on.

We always tried to get the same place on the beach by the ramp, near the lion’s head and the shuggies.  The lion’s head was a spring, and fresh water came from its mouth.  We loved to drink from there it was very popular.  Everybody wanted to be near the ramp otherwise it was difficult trying to walk with all your things on the soft sand.

There was a ballroom called the Plaza.  It burned down but there was a roller skating rink there.  We couldn’t afford to go on it, but I used to like to watch.  There were slot machines in the Plaza.

Gladys used to go on the Fish Quay sands – they were stinking, all the kids from the street used to go there.  Looking back, I don’t know how we stood it.  There were fish heads and all sorts lying around but we thought it was an adventure.  We rolled our bread and marge sandwiches up in our towel.

When we got a bit older, we started to go to Tynemouth beach.  My father was a merchant seaman and he brought home a swim suit for me.  I thought I was Dorothy Lamour.  It was gorgeous, it was green and blue with shirring elastic; I thought it was fabulous.  We didn’t have much in the way of clothes and if it rained you just got wet.

Sometimes me mam could spare us a couple of pennies for the bus, but we never spent it on the bus.  We bought sweeties so we had to walk from North Shields to Tynemouth.  It is quite a long walk and sometimes it was raining or foggy, but it was wonderful to get home as we were really hungry.

We never had buckets and spades.  They were made of metal in those days and would go rusty.  What we all did have was a jam jar with string tied around the top so we could carry it and we put all the crabs we caught on the rocks in to take them home.  We thought they were wonderful, but mam would say “oh more rubbish.”  They were happy days and we felt safe.  If we did get told off, for instance if we threw sand, we never thought of answering back, you just got out of the road.

We went to Tynemouth open air pool with the school.  It was a horrendous place.  My lasting memory of it is the cold; it was so cold.  The changing rooms were freezing they weren’t heated.  I can remember the day I took my first diving lesson there.  The teacher just slipped her hand under your bottom and tipped you in.  It was freezing, I couldn’t even think or do anything for shivering.  The changing rooms were built under the cliff, so they were always freezing as well.  I stopped going there when there was a Polio scare.  My father was very old fashioned and told me people wee’d in the water.

The beaches are not used much these days, people go abroad.  We usually went through the week with our mothers (our fathers never went), we were very easily pleased never got bored.  Well-off people could hire deck chairs.  It used to be funny watching them trying to put them up.  They could also hire a tent to get changed in, but sometimes if there was a sudden puff of wind, away would go the tent, leaving the person standing in all their modesty on show.  I remember the donkeys, and if you waited till the end of the day you got the pleasure of riding them home through the village and over the ferry to Jarrow.

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