Memories of Forest Hall

On Remembrance Day we used to march from the British Legion Club to Benton Church with the Cubs and Scouts.

I was born in 1926 in Oswin Avenue, Forest Hall. My mother, Sarah, came from Dinnington and my father was born in Park Lane, London, of Greek parents. I was the youngest of four sisters and one brother. Father spent three years in the trenches and was wounded in the arm and gassed. He worked at Dinnington Colliery for a few years and was training to be a Deputy when ill-health stopped him. We relied on the parish and he kept chickens and grew vegetables. I never felt deprived, there were so many in the same situation and neighbours helped each other.

I spent a lot of time playing with the other bairns in the back street. Neighbours I remember well were Mrs Moore and Mrs Robinson. Mrs Moore would sit us on the back step and teach us how to knit. “In, over, through and off” she would tell us. Mrs Robinson would tell us her name was Mary Maria Julia Sophia Nixon Dixon Robinson Robinson! I could never say this right and was a big girl before I could get it right. Now, seventy years after, I can say it without any bother! We played the usual street games, bays, hopscotch, skipping, hidey, chasey, shops and houses and knocky nine doors when it was dark nights. A favourite game was to put on a concert in somebody’s backyard. You paid a pin to get in. Anybody was welcome to sing, dance or do whatever they could to entertain. It was mostly girls who did this.

Two things I remember especially. Mrs Sanderson’s baby had died, and my mother took me to see the baby lying in a tiny coffin. I was not upset – all neighbours’ children were taken to see this. We were told that this was how you went to heaven and the angels would look after the baby there. The other memory did frighten me. A mother and her little girl were murdered by her husband, and the back window of our house overlooked the yard of the house where this occurred. For a long time, I wouldn’t pass the house or go down the street.

About where I live now was a rough grass field where we played a lot. Every year the Hoppings were there for a few days and that was a great treat. There was another field at the top of Landsdowne Road near the doctor’s house. Here we always had the bonfire. All the neighbours came and we had roasted tatties done in the fire, but I can’t remember ever having any crackers (fireworks). Stobie’s shop at the bottom end of Landsdowne Road had a fire once, and all the salvaged and damaged stock was thrown onto the bottom field. All the local children picked it over and over, looking for sweeties and anything else we could find. We were late for school for a good few mornings.

When I was about nine I got scarlet fever and was taken by ambulance (the fever van) to Scaffold Hill Hospital. In those days you were isolated for six weeks and couldn’t have visitors. You could only see your mother through the window, standing outside the railings, but you just had to put up with it. I was in the Brownies and on Remembrance Day we used to march from the British Legion Club to Benton Church with the Cubs and Scouts. My mother was a Standard Bearer in the British Legion – it was a very important day then.

I was about twelve when we moved to Rocket Way and I went to Ivy Road School. The war was on then and we had to go into the big shelters when the sirens went. The teachers used to get us all to sing. I don’t remember many air raids but once there were some bombs dropped in the fields up Rocket Way which caused a bit of excitement. My brother Jim was lost at sea in June 1942.

Before the war one of my older sisters was in service in London and had not been in touch for some time. My mother was worried and decided to go to London to see her. I went with her. We went by steamer from Newcastle Quay. I don’t remember much about it except sitting in the bow a very long time. We were outside all the time and what I remember most is the black smoke from the stack blowing on us as we sat on a wooden bench. I don’t know if we were there through the night, but mother had arranged for some friends to meet us and take us to their house. When we went to see my sister, she was alright and had been doing some extra cleaning. I can’t remember how we got back or coming home at all.

I left school on the Friday and started work on the Monday at the sugar factory on Benton Road. I worked a week and a half and was paid off on the Wednesday because they had no more sugar. Perhaps the war had something to do with it. Coming home on the tram, I got talking to a girl I knew and she said, “try Wilson & Carter on Northumberland Street in Newcastle”. I started there at 7/- a week as a counter assistant, but not until I had been taught how to address the customers properly and treat them in the correct manner. They were very particular. I used to travel on the tram as they ran right through Forest Hall then. I worked there from 14 till I left to be married when I was 29, by which time I was a Buyer.

There was plenty to do in Forest Hall. We had the new Ritz Cinema and when we were younger there was the old “Gaff”, round the corner from Garbitts, around where Harts hardware shop stands now. There were Saturday night dances in the Labour Hut and the R.E.M.E. had a camp at Palmersville and they had a dance with their own band which was always popular.

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