24th May, Queen's birthday, if you don't give us a holiday we'll all run away.
Cullercoats Knit & Natter Club spent an afternoon reminiscing about life in Cullercoats. Here are some of the things they remembered.
Childhood in Cullercoats was spent playing games; tin the block, knocky nine doors, hitchy dobber and hari levo. Knocky nine doors was a favourite of children coming home from confirmation classes. Children played shops with boudie money, pieces of glass or china collected from all sorts of places, including the beach. There were seasons, when everyone would be playing the same things; skipping season, roller skating season, top and whip season. They would come from nowhere and change into the next one without anyone knowing why.
Concerts were really popular, taking place in back yards with the audience sitting on the steps of the upstairs flat. Everyone enjoyed dressing up in lace curtains and mum’s gold shoes to sing, dance and act for friends. One lady in the village always had a cuddie load (lots) of things people could use, stored in her attic,
Girls were taught to knit by their mothers and grandmothers and if knitting needles weren’t available then a hairpin snapped in two suited the purpose. People knitted swimsuits that stretched when you went into the water, ending up round your knees. Most children’s clothes were made by hand and buying clothes from a shop was quite a treat. One lady remembers that it was 15 years before she bought a coat from a shop.
Cricket was a popular sport, played in the back lanes. Football was played on the beach. Picnics on the beach were also popular, a picnic would be bread, jam and a bottle of water. Children played shops down on the beach. Seaweed would be bacon and different sized pebbles would be butter and eggs.
During the war you couldn’t get down onto the beach because it was cordoned off with barbed wire and all the pre-war chalets were knocked down. At that time the Home Guard were based in the Plaza at Tynemouth. There was still dancing at the Plaza during the war, in the open air. This was part of the ‘Holidays at Home’ scheme.
On Sunday’s people liked to take long walks, for example from Cullercoats, across the poppy fields where Longston Ave is now, up through Preston Village to the Spring Gardens pub in North Shields, where the treat was Tizer and crisps.
The local school was in John Street, boys in one building and girls in another, never mixing except on Empire Day (24th May), when the yard in the girls building was used for a display. People danced round the maypole and ‘Jerusalem’ was sung. Limpy Jack (Alderman Lisle) would be guest of honour. After the celebration everyone got the afternoon off school, once they had sung the rhyme “24th May, Queen’s birthday, if you don’t give us holiday, we’ll all run away”.
During the war the boys’ school was turned into a British Restaurant and the school yard was dug up and cultivated. Miss Jules taught lessons at her house when the school closed.
Cullercoats was divided by the railway line and the footbridge to get over it. People who lived over the bridge were ‘them’ and people who lived near the sea, in the village were ‘us’. Over the bridge was ‘posh’. Huddleston Street had really good shops and the building on Mast Lane that used to be the YMCA before it was knocked down and replaced with retirement flats had a long history. It had a lovely chapel in it. Originally it had been an orphanage and during the war it became a naval hospital. There was a link with the sea at the orphanage because the girls there were the children of men lost at sea. They had a hard life and were not allowed to socialise with other local children.
Once you left school there were different things to do. Shorthand and typing were useful skills to have, especially for offices like the Liverpool Victoria. Wages in an office like that in 1938 would be about 7/6d (37.5p) per week. Out of that 5/- (25p) would go to mum for board and lodgings, leaving 2/6d (12.5p) for everything else. Once the war came things changed, if you were a woman aged 18 or 19 years you had to contribute to the war effort. You could be sent away out of the area, some people went to Birmingham. The Vickers factory at Elswick made munitions so some people worked there.