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Howdon to Jarrow for Nowt!

I had often used the old B.A. Gowan (that was the ferry's name).

I was sitting on a rather high Dickensian stool at my desk in Clelands Shipyard Office listening to the morning ‘conference’ which, at 8.45 a.m. was in full-swing. The little Tyneside Shipyard was not over busy so it was usual for various foremen to congregate in the Time Office for a `fly’ smoke and a chat around the open fire before the General Manager arrived in his chauffeur-driven car.

Having recently been transformed from a green school lad into a shipyard office boy I was very impressed by the conversation of these highly skilled powerful men who were able to send shipyard craftsmen scurrying hither and thither at their imperious commands. The world problems of 1938 were solved so efficiently I couldn’t understand how Neville Chamberlain was managing without these chaps in Downing Street! The current difficulties being presented by Hitler and Mussolini were quickly solved, Newcastle United were given unbeatable plans for promotion to the First Division, and the conversation moved towards shipyard work prospects.

Apparently the regular overhaul of the Jarrow Ferry was now due and the smaller shipyards of the area would be competing fiercely for much needed work. This news interested me, a local lad, because with my pals I had often used the old B.A. Gowan (that was the ferry’s name) as it monotonously crossed and recrossed the river between Howdon and Jarrow.

I well remember the day when the dramatic news had flashed around the local schools on both sides of the river that the Jarrow Ferry fares (one penny each way) were being withdrawn and that from that very day the ferry would operate a free service. It would be very difficult for children of today to appreciate the effect of that decision on their forebears, mountain bikes, family motor cars, frequent Metro trains and of course, the Tyne Tunnel make comparison ridiculous. As the schools emptied at 4.00 p.m. all local roads led to the Ferry Landings and in no time the old B. A. Gowan was groaning under the weight of hundreds of screaming excited kids who crossed and recrossed the river in glee. As irate officials tried in vain to stem the tide they were faced with numerous dramatic appeals, “but I do live over there, mister!” Eventually, the local constabulary were brought upon the scene and order was very quickly restored. Mind you, it wasn’t achieved by the diplomatic persuasion of nowadays – most of the culprits disappeared at the mere sight of the uniform and one or two braver souls felt the stinging blow of a leather glove on the back of their neck. As a result, a few stalwarts who had recklessly landed on Jarrow soil were obliged to stay there until very hungry; they managed to return at a much later and quieter time. I know – because I was there!

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