Skip to main content

Memories of Pearey House – Alan’s Story 1

I became the Chairman of the society, which was a great honour and privilege


Photo of Alan Rowley 2013I’ve been involved with Pearey House from the age of 5 years old.  My first experience was to be asked to open the 1956 garden fete along with the Mayor of Tynemouth.

Mary McQueen who used to be the Welfare Officer was based here and she used to come and see me every term time because I was in a boarding school and at the age of 12, she decided to ask me would I become a volunteer during the holidays, and I gladly took that offer up.  I’ve been attending Pearey House 66 years this year, so I’ve spent probably a good third of the society’s time myself here at Pearey House.

I didn’t refuse anything at all from making balls of wool and creating them for knitting to working with chair caning and stool making and all the things that go along with the handicrafts.  Mary McQueen really helped with me with braille.  She was very keen on promoting independence even then.

For years, the transport was provided by the Tynemouth Motor Club.  They were a voluntary organisation and Tynemouth Rotary Club Round Table used to come in as volunteers in the early 60s with their cars and take people out and then the society bought a minibus.  We still depended on the Rotary Club and the Tynemouth Motor Club drivers.

In those days we only picked people up within the County Borough of Tynemouth.  In 1974 the Metropolitan Borough Councils came in so the committee decided we would let the other areas come in, so minibus drivers had to be employed because it took quite a while to bring people in.

On a Monday we used to pick people up from Whitley Bay, Monkseaton and Shiremoor.  On a Tuesday it was all the old County Borough of Tynemouth area.  On a Wednesday we picked up people from Wallsend, Howdon and Rosehill.  On a Thursday, again from the old County Borough of Tynemouth and then on a Friday we used to go out as far as Longbenton, that happened for many years.  If somebody wanted to come in on a day when we were picking up from other areas, there was no objection and it worked really well.

People like Harold Thompson, his wife, his son Peter, provided us with a lot of money and the second lot of flats the Thompson family paid for.  I think it was 1963 the second lot of flats were built.  Mr Thompson became Chairman in 1961 for a good number of years and then the Deputy Chairman, Ernie Armitage became Chairman.

After he stepped down, I became the Chairman of the society which was a great honour and privilege because at no time in the history were blind and partially sighted people on the committee.

Right up until about 1976 the Borough Treasurers held all our money.  When it became Metropolitan Borough Council things had to change, and a treasurer had to be appointed.  The committee was made up of about 12 people and they were elected every year.  I was chairman for about 15 years, and I had responsibility of the flats.  The previous ones were in disrepair and it would have cost far too much to repair the properties, so we took a terrific gamble and I was leading that.

We had two options, we either had to go on our own and pay for everything and recoup the money through rents or hand them over to a housing association to manage and obviously they would take the rent so we would have lost a tremendous amount of income.  We thought very seriously, and we took the plunge.  The cost worked out at about £350,000 to knock them down and rebuild what you see now.

Photo of attendees at the opening ceremony for the new flats Caption for the photo of new flats opening event.

The old flats were in two blocks of six with a link corridor so you could go in from Pearey House straight into your flats without getting wet.  We had to approach housing associations who said, “We’ll have you, no bother.”  People were rehoused all over the borough.  Obviously, everybody was a bit shaken, because with their visual impairment they would have struggled but we had no alternative and they appreciated that.  But everything turned out really well and 10 of the 12 people came back to us and the other 2 decided at that time to live in the premises where they were rehoused.

We couldn’t put the famous corridor back because they were going to charge us VAT on top of the cost.  That’s why the flats were built the way they were.  We were left a substantial legacy and the person who had left the money asked specifically to put it towards housing in some shape form or fashion and that’s what happened.

I think she left either a million or 2 million to various charities and we were one of the beneficiaries and that’s how we came to benefit from that so it did cost us something but that was a big help.

We had a warden from 1949 right up to maybe 1980 but it changed over to the care call.  As I say the flats, they are 27 years old3, so they’ve lasted well.  I would say that to be the biggest project, to be honest, that I was handling.

We had a flag week every year and I used to always collect on Broadway, believe it or not for 40 years.  I had a lady who said to me that she had put the society in her Will, and she said to me, “Alan I am going to leave a substantial amount of money to the society.”  So, when this lady died, she left £10,000.  Now I take part credit for it because she said that she didn’t know about Pearey House until I was starting to go around and collecting.  Now further along Broadway about 5 or 6 years later, another lady left money and again she left £10,000.

We used to have visits from other blind societies.  We had a one from South Shields and another group from Billingham and they lasted for about 40 years. I was involved for at least 30 of them.  We used to put on entertainment and have a tea and a raffle.  We would go to South Shields and reciprocate, in South Shields they had a band, and they were all blind people or partially sighted people who were in this band, and they were fantastic.  So, they used to get everybody up, people used to love that you know.  The same with Billingham, they were great.

Then we used to have social evenings, people used to make their own way here on a night-time.  We had domino drives on Tuesday, Thursday and a Saturday and we used to have two volunteers who used to come religiously every week and do the domino drive.  It was a big thing if we had to cancel one of the nights, there was ructions on.

We had two paid gentlemen who were here for quite some time, and they used to bring people in if we needed to go anywhere like a function.  They would drive the minibuses.  The first minibus in 1965 the society bought outright, the second two minibuses were funded by organisations and funding from ourselves so this is why we could buy the two minibuses.  But the third minibus was provided by the old Mercantile Building Society, and they provided the money for that.  It is used 5 days a week so it would clock up the milage in each one.

The only time we had two on the go was about 1972-74 area, I know it wasn’t very long about 4-5 years we had those two minibuses and they’re the two that are featured in the brochure.  Other than that, we have always had the one.  So, you can see we relied upon a lot of volunteers from years ago.  But the volunteers then stayed with us for many, many years.

We did have trips out but just locally with the minibuses and also, they were used for collecting items from houses towards the garden fete or the Christmas fete.  The garden fete was from 1950 up to the present.  For many years we had the garden fete on the 1st Saturday in September and people knew that we had our garden fete come hell or high water, and I have been standing at the gate rain hail or snow, but it was things you did then.

Photo of the Lord Mayor at the summer fair.

The Lord Mayor at the summer fair

We used to charge sixpence, but then we didn’t charge for children because we knew that children then came in their droves.  We used to have a dancing competition run by a lady Elsa Craggs and she used to have dancing classes at the YMCA.  She would bring children from the YMCA, but she opened it up to any child who wanted to dance on the platform.  Well, that brought in crowds, it was just so nice, and this went on for many, many years and it was really good.

We used to always invite the local MP as well as the mayor because the mayor of Tynemouth was the President of the society and they could come to committee meetings if they so wished.   We used to write to the MPs, Dame Irene Ward was the first one I remember.  Then we had Sir Neville Trotter, he came along for many years, all the time he was the MP for Tynemouth.  Then in 1997 Sir Alan Campbell, he comes along and supports us.


Alan was interviewed as part of the Pearey House 150th Anniversary project.

If you've enjoyed this memory and would like to share a story of your own why not go to our Contact Page to find out more.