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Vi Foreman

My summer holidays were spent on the Fish Quay sands

Photograph of North Shields Fish Quay

North Shields Fish Quay

My Life Story

I was born on the Fish Quay at North Shields in 1928; there were four girls and two boys. We lived on the middle floor of a large tenement building situated just below the lighthouse. We had a kitchen and a bedroom and a large backyard where there was a cold water tap and a poss tub. No washing machines or soap powder in those days; my mother grated soap to do her washing.

In the bedroom we had two beds pushed together to help keep us warm. The kitchen had a large black range with a tap on one side for hot water; the water had to be carried up by bucket from the tap in the yard. On the other side of the range was an oven.

We had no electricity, we used gas mantles, and, on the stairs, we used oil lamps or candles to light the way. Outside, hooked on the wall, was a large tin bath. We went in two at a time in front of the fire, once a week; no fancy soap or talcum powder, just hard carbolic red soap. Other nights we were sat on the table and topped and tailed, then given a pot of cocoa with bread and jam and into bed.

Breakfast was always porridge and fried bread before we went to school up the bank to the Eastern Board School. I started school when I was five and we had to learn our alphabet very quickly. My teacher taught us to sing it and we learned it much quicker. We had to learn the times-table off by heart as they caned you with the ruler or strap if you got it wrong. If you dared to be late or naughty, they put you in the corner or gave you lines of writing to do.

Nearly all of the children were poor, lots of them had no shoes. They were given a free pair once a year from a man called Isaac Black, it was called The Boot and Shoe Fund and they used to punch a small hole in the top of the shoes so that they could not be taken to the Pawn Shop.

Miss Main was always a special teacher for me. She used her own money to buy Cod Liver Oil and Malt for the sickly children. She got them to bring a teaspoon into school and she gave them it every day. She also brought cardboard to school and fitted it into shoes that were wet, this was to help keep feet warm.

Fathers had very little work; most of them were on the dole. There was a soup kitchen where you could go for free soup but only if your father wasn’t working.

Friday afternoons at school were lovely. Miss Main used to read us a story. My favourite story was “The Old Curiosity Shop.” It was a story about a girl called Little Nell and her grandfather. We learned to knit and sew at school and at Easter time we made paper baskets and put in some straw and three speckled eggs; I always ate mine before I got home because I did not want to share. We never saw chocolate Easter eggs, just a one that had been boiled in onion skins to make it look dark brown.

Two weeks before Easter Sunday was Carling Sunday. We would be given carlings to eat. These were like small black peas and sometimes we would shoot them at each other with peashooters.

We got very few sweets, but mother used to make cinder toffee and toffee apples. After our bath on a Saturday my father used to bring home a huge bag of monkey nuts. We would sit around the fire and shell them. We had no radio, but we did have a gramophone, the trouble was we only had two records, one was “The Great Caruso” and the other was “O Them Golden Slippers”.

Empire Day at school was good fun, everyone got dressed up: soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, boy scouts, Indians, Scotsmen and all nationalities. Of course, there is no Empire left now but then they even carried the piano outside, and we danced around the maypole. The Mayor always came so we were given a half-day holiday.

My summer holidays were spent on the Fish Quay sands, splashing around. We wore no shoes all summer to save them for school. We used to stay on the sands all day. Mother used to bring bottles of warm tea (no flasks in those days) and bread and jam and sometimes crab sandwiches. She used to sit on the rocks and knit socks mostly for my brothers. We never had cakes or biscuits, but mother made tarts, scones and lots of milk puddings and stew with dumplings. At Christmas time we had pork or roast rabbit; I never even saw a chicken until I was about twelve years old.

The fisher-girls were always singing; they followed the fleet from Scotland, North Shields, Hull and Lowestoft. They wore long waterproof aprons, wellingtons and bright colourful headscarves. They gutted the fish, hung them on a hooked frame; this was then put into the smokehouse for the fish to be smoked over oak wood chips. Our cat used to get his own dinner (no tinned cat food in those days).

The Fish Quay was always busy, but by five o’clock it was all hosed down and we would play on the bogies (small wagons) till bedtime.

On a Sunday father would take us to Northumberland Park. There used to be lots of flower beds and ducks on the pond. We had to behave and walk properly, then we went home for Sunday dinner.

During winter there was nowhere for us to play so we played Snakes and Ladders under the kitchen table. We also had a rocking horse; I remember mother putting pillows underneath it to stop the noise for the old lady downstairs. One day I fell off the rocking horse and landed on the fender which was around the fire. I burned my neck and ear, and split my mouth, and had to go to Preston Hospital where I was kept in for a month.

Christmas time was no different from the rest of the year; we made our own paper chains and got a stocking with an apple, orange and a game. Our grandma from Howdon always gave us a new knitted jumper. The shops stayed open till ten o’clock at night to sell some of the perishable goods like meat and vegetables; no fridges in those days, milk was put in pails of cold water.

In 1936, when I was eight years old, surprise, surprise, we were given a new house of our own. We were the first family to leave the condemned property and move up to the new Ridges Estate. We couldn’t believe it; we had a real bathroom, toilet, running water from taps, and electricity. We also had our own front and back door, front and back garden, and three bedrooms and new patchwork quilts made by grandma.

Our furniture had to go through quarantine before we could put it in our new house. Mother was so happy with her new gas cooker. We did take our cat with us then he went missing but turned up again after a week away.
I went to Western Board School for three years then Ralph Gardner School. By this time the war had started, and I was eleven years old. I lost a lot of schooling; we only did part time as most of the time we were in the air raid shelters. I left school at age 14 and started work at “Walkers the House of Quality”.

Eventually, I joined the Women’s Land Army then in 1949 I got married. I started work again when my son was five years old and retired from H.O.Wills and moved into sheltered housing with my beloved Bob. We had a good life and never wanted for anything.

Violet Foreman

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