Margaret’s Memories of Wallsend

My grandmother never drank, but always carried a miniature bottle of brandy in her shopping bag for medicinal purposes.

Editor’s note: Margaret was born in Wallsend in 1948 and co-ordinated the Hand in Hand Reminiscence project in 2008.

My strongest memories are of my wonderful family and how they worked through every sort of challenge that was thrown at them. I was born in Jubilee Street in Wallsend and this was a colliery house. My father was a miner and when I was a year old he had an accident while he was working underground at the Rising Sun. As a result he was in a plaster cast for a very long time and then developed TB in his bones. He was in Sheriff Hill hospital for four and a half years. You can imagine how hard that must have been for my mother with three young children.

We lived close to my mother’s parents in Jubilee Street, Wallsend. Mum visited them visited them every day. I think they were a great support to her when my father was ill. As a result I became very close to both of my grandparents, but particularly my grandmother. She was an angel, the mainstay of the family. I could tell lots of stories about her but here’s one fact about her. She never drank, but always carried a miniature bottle of brandy in her shopping bag for medicinal purposes.

Life in those days was tough and we were as poor as most other people. We got through it all by helping each other and making the best life we could. Like most other people we had a poss tub for washing clothes, used a tin bath and had a toilet in the backyard of the house. Toilet paper was made from cut up squares of old newspaper hung on a nail.

Free coal was one of the few ‘perks’ we had and neighbours would knock and ask if they could take a bucketful, or even the dusty scrapings. On coal delivery days the word would come down the street “the coalman is coming” and women would rush out and take their washing in before it got covered in coal dust. The wagon would always come down the back lane where the washing would be out on lines. Each house had a hatch in the wall of the back lane that would open so the coalman could push the coal into the coal house.

The allotment was a big part of our life and my grandfather grew leeks and entered them in local shows. The seed from previous year’s leeks would be collected and stored for the next year’s crop. This meant letting some of the plants go to seed then putting the seed pods into the airing cupboard to dry out. Then the new seeds would just roll out. My grandfather made home brew too and he used the sediment to feed his leeks. Everyone was always looking for the ultimate secret feed to get the biggest leeks!

Although it was a hobby there was a serious side to leek growing as the prizes in the shows could be substantial. I remember in one show a china cabinet was one of the prizes. It even meant that some people would go and sabotage a rival’s plants. ‘Leek slashing’ was a real fear and led to sleepless nights before a show. All this in addition to the pressure of getting your leeks onto the show bench in tip top condition.

I was the baby of the family and treated very well. I still had jobs to do and I remember standing on the square kitchen table changing the gas mantle in the ceiling light. I was terrified that I would break it because they were very delicate and then I would get wrong. I went to Central School in Wallsend and I remember an event in 1953 when we all went out onto the High Street to see the Queen and Prince Philip go by. There was bunting all across the street. That was the year of her coronation so it was really exciting to see her.

I went to Sunday School at Trinity Methodist Church in Station Road from a very young age. You had to recite your ‘piece’ which for me was four lines long. I knew it perfectly, but once I got on the stage that was it, stage fright and no piece recited. Since then I went through the ranks to become a Sunday School teacher. Now I’m proud to say that I’m still part of Trinity as a preacher and steward. Shortly I’ll be retiring and taking up some new challenges as a missionary in one of the Third World countries. Before I go I’m going to Buckingham Palace, to the Queen’s Garden Party. Maybe I’ll remind her that we ‘met’ in 1953.

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