Another happy playground I would visit was called Harbottle’s Field.
In the quieter moments of the day, I often cast my mind back to the past, where I can conjure up pictures in my mind and these I now want to transfer into word.
As I reminisce, I am transported back to the years when I was five to eight years old, the time is 1933-1936 and I am in a house in North King Street. Opening the front door, the passage leads to a door to the left and a door to the right. On opening the door on my left, a very comfortable room invites me in, this is the finest room in the house. It is called the front room or, as we would call today, the sitting room. If for instance we had company, mother would show them into this room and if it were cold she would light the gas fire in the hearth. This was very seldom used because the hub of the house was in through the door on the right of the passage and into the kitchen, here the fire was always on and all our meals were eaten in this room.
The thing I most remember about this room was having to put up with an enormous clothes horse my father made, blocking out all the heat from the fire. It was usually there when the weather was inclement outside, just when I most needed to be close to the fire. Off the kitchen were two other rooms, one a bedroom with a small fireplace with a three-quarter bed for me and my brother, Thomas and cot for the youngest in the family, my sister Jean, who was two or three at the time. My parents slept on a bed-settee in the kitchen. The other door of this room opened up onto a tiny scullery, where my mother had an early “Onward” tin oven alongside a Stoneware sink.
Whenever mother wanted anything from the shop, I would be enlisted to do the “messages.” Everything she needed would be written down on a piece of paper and the required amount of money wrapped up in the note. This in turn would be given to me and off I would go to the appropriate shop. I diligently took the note to the shopkeeper and presented my note with the money inside. What could go wrong, straightforward and simple, it worked every time until one day, on a visit to the Co-op Store on Tynemouth Road, a lady stopped me and said, “I think you have dropped some money you had in your hand.” This was almost impossible however, I willingly gave the lady my note and she supposedly put the lost money back in my note. Off I went to the Co-op and handed my list of groceries and the money to the assistant. Dazed and bewildered, I returned home and told my mother the assistant said there is not enough money to pay for the goods. You can imagine the anger my mother felt, knowing she had put the correct amount in the note. After a good pummelling on the bed-settee, I finally got the opportunity to tell her what had happened on the way there. I was not to blame, I had been robbed by a female confidence trickster. Immediately the police were informed and the search was on to find the culprit. I never found out if she was ever caught.
I would run errands every day nearly always in the mornings, it could be the butcher Mr Hails or Mr Bell or the greengrocer called Atkinson on Tynemouth Road or, it could be Mr Brown the shoe repairer or Turnbull the newsagent on the corner of North King Street and Grey Street. A shop I loved to go into was the Post office on the corner of Tynemouth Road and King Street. The window was full of all the things I would like to buy, inside everything was nipping clean the linoleum on the floor was polished, everywhere you looked it was immaculate, a pleasure to see. The Postmistress looked the typical schoolteacher type person, whom I’m sure was a Girl Guide leader because I had seen that same person in uniform. Turning from the P.O. to the opposite side of the street was an excellent draper’s shop, it sold everything anyone could ever want. Next door you would find the best quality tableware and some of the finest china tea services in the town. This was Hewitt’s who had a warehouse adjoining the shop.
From this establishment, I would often walk into the warehouse and ask if they could spare the discarded packing straw for our pet dog, Tess. The straw was to be used for the dog’s bedding in the kennel my father had made for her in the backyard. Just further up the road from the draper’s was the most popular shop in the road. Newton the fish and chip shop. Using coal-fired fryers the aroma that came out of the vents made your mouth water, you just couldn’t resist the invitation to go and try them. What an advert! Many a time, if we could afford them, my mother would fancy something for supper, and she would say will you go to the chip shop and I was there as quick as my little legs would carry me. As soon as I got them, I couldn’t wait to get home and have them shared out between us. The shop opposite was one of the finest pork butchers in Tyneside, Gruber’s. No one could beat them for their cooked pork sandwiches with crackle and stuffing, they were just out of this world.
Another happy playground I would visit was called Harbottle’s Field this adjoined the Golf Course but separated by a narrow path which, incidentally, was a short cut to Preston Village. The path is still there to this day, just a few yards from the entrance to the golf club. Going up this path took you to the first big field, Harbottle’s. Here we would climb onto the swings then onto a cage-type roundabout we called the Ocean Wave, from there we also had the Turntable roundabout this I think was the favourite ride
I remember my mother relating to me that on one particular day a golf ball just missed hitting her on the head. At the time she was wheeling my baby sister in the pram, the repercussions could have been disastrous. I never forgot that.
In the summer the man put in charge of the field would open up his small hut, start a fire in the Brazier and, when it was ready, he would put a big kettle on the top. This was to provide anyone with boiling water to make tea, all we had to do was present our teapots and in due course they would be filled up. Now we could have a picnic, we had already brought our sandwiches. This was always a grand day out and to be there when the grass had just been cut was even better, now was the time to have some fun piling up the grass into our own little camps. These were some of the best times in my life.
My father was always making things and one of them was a kite, it stood five foot six inches high. Emblazoned on the fine cloth he had the crescent moon and three stars, today you would call it customised and on a windy day it would reach great heights. I remember one day the wind was so strong the string snapped and as far as I know it landed somewhere close to the Plaza, Tynemouth. He got it back! For some reason he never flew it again, I think he was too embarrassed to have it happen to him again.
At this particular time in his life he was in the midst of Depression there was no work, these were hard times. A lot of his time was spent searching the waterfront for Flotsam that washed onto the shore. There were quite a few large planks of wood discarded from the Shipyards to be found and he would carry them home, how he did it I’ll never know. He used them to make a shed in the backyard with the help of his cousin, Tom Pratt. In later years the shed was used as an aviary to house budgerigars. My father hoped to breed them and eventually sell the young birds on to supplement our income. This idea came to nothing and the shed was cleared to fit a cast iron bath, this was to be our new bathroom. When all the washing had been done the remaining hot water from the washhouse copper boiler was carried manually into the shed. We took it in turns to get bathed.
My father, being the skilled craftsman he was, took to building model galleons, and did this from what were called blueprints. From these, he traced out the shapes onto the timber and cut them out, even down to the tiny cannons that stuck through the ports in the hull. Even the rigging was perfectly replicated in tiny knots. I must admit, it took him a long time to complete. I’m sure my mother had a hand in making the sails for him on her Singer sewing machine. She made most of her own dresses, the only thing she needed help with were the sleeves. As I remember, she needed someone to set the sleeves, (pin them in) on the person who was having it made and to help her with this she asked the help of my aunt Bella, my father’s sister, who lived in Prospect Terrace. She happened to be a qualified seamstress.
Another picture that comes to mind here is of the smokehouses, my father had a friend who worked at Ballard’s Smokehouse not far from Prospect Terrace. The friend told him if he sent me down to the smokehouse with some used newspapers, I would get some kippers in return. Sure enough with papers in hand, the kippers were wrapped and given to me. This was always a good meal and very much appreciated, with little or no work for my father, every saving was a godsend. We were very fortunate to have a Fish Curer living in the upstairs flat called Mr John Davidson. He had a business at the top of Tanners Bank.
As you can imagine I got to know his two sons, John Junior and the younger William, very well. John followed his father into the business, but William, I fear did not, although I do not know for sure. In the same area on Tynemouth Road, there was a known garage called Gray’s. I am constantly reminded how I was attracted to the sweet aromatic smell of the petrol pumps, it was as though I couldn’t pass them without sniffing the braided sleeves around the rubber hoses. It was really narcotic so I can understand children getting hooked on it. Fortunately, I did not get addicted to the petrol and never suffered any aftereffects from the experience.
The next picture I see is not far from the garage. Just further down the road, going towards the park, was a railway siding adjacent to the enclosing fence. From here it was easy to climb over the fence and into the carriages standing there. The carriage that interested me and brother, Thomas and a friend, Joseph Triumphi was a horse-box used to transport horses to the races, probably at Newcastle.
It was simple enough to get into the small compartment at one end of the box where the horse would be housed. There was only space for, at most, three people, cosy you would think and it was until we closed the doors and settled into our hideaway. We were in for a terrifying experience for, once inside, the doors could not be opened, no handles! What would we do now? We couldn’t understand why there were no handles. Fear that we could not get out filled us with tribulation, trapped in a carriage and no one knowing we were there made me feel sick in my stomach. What were we to do, fear led to panic and Joseph grabbed a long wide leather strap that was hanging down from the door and running down the middle of the strap were holes. At the top of the strap, a brass stud poked through the first hole. When Joseph pulled the strap, the unbelievable happened, the window just disappeared into the bottom half of the door. With relief and great joy we quickly left the sidings never to return. This was a day I would never forget.
The final picture on my mind is of a time long gone, down on the long sands, Tynemouth where a cluster of wooden built summer chalets stood. These were privately owned and often wished we could have owned one however, it didn’t stop us enjoying our picnics on the grassy banks close to the chalets. This was where we were most happy on those warm summer days, there were even donkey rides if you could afford them. Wooden huts on the beach served all sorts of things, the most useful was the hot water they provided for a few coppers to make our teapots. Along with two or three ice cream stalls, we even had a Woolworth’s store, right next to the Shuggie Shoes. These were boat-shaped swings that the occupant would motivate by pulling ropes, it helped if you shared with a friend. One pulled one way and the other pulled to send it back. They were very popular. There was also a natural spring at the south end of the beach which I think is still there to this day. The most popular site on the beach was the gigantic swimming pool. On a warm day, it swarmed with lots of parents and children enjoying the natural seawater, even providing the back-drop for the Bonnie Baby competition, or the Ladies Beauty competition. I remember on one occasion there was a Cadbury’s Chocolate competition. All you had to do was make a collage type picture in the sand and win a prize if the judges thought it good enough. I’m afraid my attempt failed to win anything, but it was all good fun. They were very happy times forever in my mind.