Every ship that went up or down the river came past our house.
The house where I was born and grew up was in Wallsend, between the river and the Riverside railway line, just off Davy Bank. It was in a terrace of ten houses owned by British Railways and rented out to employees. The street was imaginatively named Railway Terrace. My mother always wanted to move to Railway Cottages, further along Hadrian Road, because the address was ‘better’ but it never happened.
At the back of the terrace was a lane for the coalman to get up, and at the front was a path that led to the ten front doors. The street was a dead-end, so it was just us; ten families who had lived there for many years. As you came out of your front door and across the path you could go into your garden.
My parents loved gardening and grew flowers and vegetables. I had a patch too, where I grew cornflowers from seed that went into the house as cut flowers in the summer. The real joy of the garden, however, was the view. Every ship that went up or down the river came past our house, and you could sit for hours watching them go by. We were quite high up and could get a clear view of everything. In the background, you could hear the noise of the shipyards as the new ships were built. We were close to Swans, Wallsend Slipway, North Eastern Marine and many other yards and engineering works.
You always knew, though friends, when a new ship was coming out to go on its trials and you would watch for it specially. More regularly, however, were the cargo ships that went into the docks in Newcastle, having travelled from all over the Empire. I especially remember the butter boats that went from Newcastle to Denmark. They would take passengers too, and my Great Aunt May, who was of Danish extraction, used this route to visit relations.
Our playground was the land between the railway line and the river, where we had our den and used to ride our bikes. For a long time there was a wreck on the riverside, just below our house, and we watched it disintegrate over a period of years, while making up stories about how it got there. One of my favourite holiday activities, however, was to go to the library at the top of Park View in Wallsend, pick out a pile of books and take them back to read in our magical garden, on magical summer days.