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Growing Up in Howdon 1960s

The memory entitled “Childhood in Howdon and Willington Quay” brings back some very happy memories - strange how seeing something like that tugs at the old heart strings.

I remember well the walk up and down Howdon Lane and the smelly coke yard.  I used to start my walk along the path that ran parallel to the railway station and between it and the St Aidan’s Catholic school.  The black path as it was called; this also took you past the gasometers, which I believe are still there.  Then down to Willington Quay, past the park and aforementioned coke yard.  We had some happy times at the park.  Picnics, games of tennis and football, and what a life we gave the parky when we ran over the bowling greens.  He was always there to jump out at you.

I remember the school being an imposing dark sandstone building with a yard split into two for boys and girls (from a bygone age I think because my mam tells me I came out of school on the first day absolutely besotted with a pretty blonde girl who I was adamant I was going to marry!!) My first teacher was a lady called Mrs Heslop or Hislop.  I recall she wore tweed with her hair in a tight bun.  An imposing figure but what a lovely kind woman.

There was a tremendous smell of floor polish, the aroma of which can transport me back to my childhood, and the Addison Potter in a flash.  School dinners were so vastly different from today.  Meat and veg with gravy, and occasionally dumplings or Yorkshire puds, and the old favourites for pudding: chocolate cake and pink custard!

I remember we were all allowed to go and see the Queen open the Tyne Tunnel in about 1965-6 (I was about 6 or 7) and I have a strong memory of me and my friends wondering what all the fuss was over, as we waved our little union jacks.

The Stephenson memorial was the next step in my education.  I remember well the taunts of Cathy Cats and Proddy Dogs, as the kids from the catholic school came by (sometimes it came to more than taunts and there was many a fat lip nursed after dinner).  We used to mob the little sweet shop across the road from the school, Taylor’s it was.  Mr Taylor was a tall man with a permanently cheesed off countenance (who could blame him with the lip he took from some of us brats!)  We were never allowed inside the shop and were served from a little window at the front.  That shop is still there, and it still has the little window.  Sad to think that Mr Taylor is probably not with us anymore.

The Stephenson has some memories too.  The most imposing being Mr Trevorrow the headmaster.  A Winston Churchill figure of a man who on the face of it was a scary figure but in reality, was a tremendously kind man.  The bridge that used to cross the railway lines is now on display at Beamish Museum, I think.  There is some dispute over this as some say it is the bridge from Percy Main, but I don’t recall a bridge like that being there.  Some of the teachers are still remembered fondly too.  A  chap called Mr Dobinson who used to scare the pants off us with ghost stories.  He always seemed to be a big man but when I met him many years later, I towered over him (I am only 5’8″) and he seemed very gentlemanly.  Others, such as Mr Toole the science teacher; Mr Boyle who I think taught English; Miss Martin who is my earliest memory of a mini skirt, and Mr and Mrs Taylor.

My last head there was a lady called Victoria Bruce who banned Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ from the school Christmas dance because of its connotations!  I still take the odd drive past these areas but now the Potters is a care home and the Stephenson is a centre of some sort; but you know what, the memories are still there.

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