Wallsend

Handrails were used to fasten washing lines from one side of the square to another; clean sheets would flap loudly in the breeze.

Despite being really quite young when I lived in Wallsend, in the early 60s, I still have very vivid memories of the places and things that were around where I lived.

One of these memories is of Gordon Square, which was situated about ¼ of a mile behind the north side of the High Street, between West Street and Station Road. As the name suggests, it was a large, multi-storey building, built around a central square or quadrangle. It had communal, balcony-type walkways around each floor, which overlooked the central square with black steel handrails on the edge of each balcony.

The handrails were used to fasten washing-lines across from one side of the square to the other, and on wash days, clean sheets and clothes would flap loudly in the breeze from each of the levels of the square.

I remember walking past with my Mother one day and seeing the washing, and, in particular, one bed sheet that had a large hole in it hanging there and my Mother being most upset at me pointing out loudly the large hole.

There were many, many windows around the outside of the Square, each of which were the old-fashioned sash window frame with the four large panes of glass. I also noticed the flaking, green paint that had clearly not been renewed for many years.

Next to Gordon Square was a school that I think was St Bernadette’s and the children playing in the yard to the front of the school. Despite my young age, I remember thinking how old fashioned the school was and how I didn’t want to go there.

Further down the same road, towards the High Street, was a small group of shops that contained a gentleman’s hairdresser and an ice-cream parlour. The lady that ran the ice-cream parlour was Italian and a very ‘motherly’ type. My father would take us in, now and again, to buy ice-cream for tea but, as a treat, the Italian lady would give both my brother and me a very small ice cream cone to eat on the way home.

The ice cream parlour was decorated in red leather seats in booths with tables in the middle. Round glass windows in the doors, both to the shop and the stock room. On the counter, were two large round metal covers that, when removed, revealed large quantities of excellent tasting ice-cream, alongside this was a large espresso machine that hissed and steamed as another cup of coffee was dispensed. The cups and saucers were thick glass and were always filled to capacity before being handed to the customer at the counter. This shop had an atmosphere all of its own and I could have stayed for hours.

Next to the ice-cream parlour was the hairdresser’s, very strictly men only. My father took me one Saturday to get my haircut after I had suffered one of my many childhood bouts of tonsillitis and still didn’t feel completely well that Saturday. We had to wait our turn, as the other customers were processed three at a time, by the barbers. One of these customers was a little boy, who had to sit on a board across the arms of the large barber’s chair so that he was high enough to be ‘worked on’. The cutting had only just begun when he burst out crying and refused to let any further cutting take place. His haircut incomplete, he was given back to a waiting parent.

Next, it was my turn and I climbed up onto the board and was covered by a large sheet that was tucked in at the back of my neck. I think it was a combination of having not been very well and the unsettling experience of seeing the previous occupant of the chair being upset, I too burst into tears! The only comment from the barber was ‘not another one!’. We left in a hurry and I don’t recollect going back.

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