When there was a ship in distress a rocket was fired and the men had to stop what they were doing and rush to the brigade house.
To remember North Shields 81 years ago is a big challenge, but I will do my best. I remember when trams left the depot in Suez Street, travelled down Howard Street, along Saville Street, Howdon Road through Percy Main, Rosehill, Howdon, Wallsend and Heaton, over the bridge to Newcastle. Young lads used to hang on to the back but soon jumped off when their arms began to ache.
When I was five my parents took me to see Charlie Chaplin at the cinema in Howard Street, but my Mother had to leave with me because I kept shouting orders to Charlie. Next to the cinema was a small shop owned by a Mr T Welch, he made herbal medicines and did a good trade. No one knew that above his shop was a large room and here he made sweets, which he sold. When I left school I went to work bottling these sweets. Business became so good we moved to a large building called Foots in Preston Village, the forerunner of Welch’s factory now on Chirton Trading Estate.
My family lived near Northumberland Park; we lived in a downstairs flat and my grandparents lived in the flat above. My Grandfather used to take me all over with him and our favourite walk on Sunday morning was down Tynemouth Road, past Northumberland Park, down Tanners Bank to the new Low Lights. There were fisherman’s cottages on the left side of the bank and a big dip down the right led to a dene where Murphy’s Circus used to come every summer for three to four weeks. Everyone flocked to this, it really was a treat and parents always managed to find a few pennies to treat their children to a ride.
My Grandfather always took me to the lifeboat because he was a member of Tynemouth Lifeboat Brigade, this was near Tanners Bank, a large rowing boat on a ramp down to the river. When there was a ship in distress a rocket was fired, and the men had to stop all they were doing and rush to the brigade house and get the boat launched and row it to the ship who needed them.
When my Grandfather joined he was only 16 years old. They had to row out to the ship and throw a line aboard. There was no pier and the black middens were still there; very few ships made it if a storm blew up when they were off the Tyne. When the storm was over people of the town had to search the rocks for bodies, many babies and children, a heart breaking exercise. Some graves are beside the Castle and some in Preston Cemetery.
When the middens were blasted away and the pier built the Tyne was saved, the pier became a popular walk. We were told before the piers you could walk across the sand to South Shields at low tide. On Sunday mornings my Grandfather always took me on a favourite walk in the summer along the Low Lights, up the bank and over the field to Collingwood’s monument. This field was like a switch back, your legs got very tired, but a lot of people walked this road. The field is much smaller now as more and more has dropped away. Now we have a promenade and paths to stabilize the sides.
We had wonderful hot sunny summers, and everyone flocked from miles around to the beach at Tynemouth. You could not put a pin between them, many children got lost but were always found safe. You could buy an ice cream for one penny; along the beach was the Plaza, a highly building popular for its dancing and I believe there was a casino.
I lived near Northumberland Park and this was also very popular in the summer. People walked through with their children, stopped to feed the ducks in the pond; there were no swans then. The water was very clear because it was fed buy a stream which flowed down from the golf course. There used to be a stream but this was piped and covered over when the golf course was made. This water spurted out of a lion’s head beside the path. The pool flowed out at the bottom end under the path, and into a channel which went underground down to the river. King Edwards Road between the path and the golf course was very, very steep and children loved to toboggan down in the winter and roll their hard-boiled eggs down at Easter. This road was levelled to allow traffic to get to Tynemouth.