zondag 20 december 2009
Its minus 2 Celsius outside, and a cosy 20 degrees inside as I write this. Three years ago we installed central heating - the first time in my adult life that I have lived with central heating, and I still feel blessed every morning when I wake up to a warm house.
It has snowed again overnight, a fresh powder over the existing layer. The early morning light is grey and sounds are muffled. My small aging car is sitting under a white blanket which I will have to brush off before I use it later to go to the riding school. I've had a bit of trouble with my Renault Twingo this week, as it does not handle the icy car park, or the unpaved 500 meters of track along the dike to the stables. I still find it amazing that I have a car, after so many years of using public transport; but I am even more grateful for the fact that if I decide my little car cannot make the journey today; I can borrow John's Land Rover, with 4 wheel drive, and go in that!
Yesterday the temperature never went above minus 4 Celsius all day, and at the stables the water pipes were frozen. I am so grateful for everyone there, who cared for our pony enough to bring her water, so she had plenty to drink before we got there, and for knowing that she is warm and dry in her stall, with people watching over her.
I'm behind with my preparations for Christmas, but on Friday we finally brought home the Christmas tree; I wanted to wait so that Jolanda could decorate it with me, but as we came home, lots of her friends were snowballing in the street, so she went off to join in; I am so grateful she has good friends in the neighbourhood.
Creating a festive feel in the living room is sometimes difficult when big boxes of computer components arrive, and take up so much space, but I'm grateful John's business is doing well, and I am also grateful he works from home, we see so much more of each other that way.
I could go on like this all day, I'm grateful for the pretty shops in our village that provided much of my Christmas present shopping within a couple of hours yesterday; I'm also grateful for the internet, which will helped me finish off buying gifts for England today. I'm grateful for my family who have been much more organised than I have, and sent presents in good time for Christmas morning.
It does not take much to generate an attitude of gratitude, but I do believe in counting blessings, we have so much to be grateful for; Happy Christmas!
woensdag 11 november 2009
Build a bridge out of wine gums and sate sticks.
Span 30 centimeters.
bear a weight heavier than the construction materials used.
Each team worked hard on their construction; pencils were licked and winegums were chewed, sate sticks were snapped and bridge fastenings were strengthened.
Jolanda's team built a bridge which bore 8.4 times its own weight, and her class became second overall as their constructions bore on average 9.2 times there own weight.
The winners were in a class of their own, however with a bridge that was able to carry 24.3 times its own weight, a new record for "Tiggelmans Angels"!
zondag 8 november 2009
We were shocked last week to hear of the death of the mother of one of my daughters friends from the basis school. She was only 46 and died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving a husband and two teenage sons.
We are a small community and the news travelled very fast - Anita had been a very active volunteer at the basis school for many years, so the school organised a time for those who had known and worked with her to meet the family and offer condolences.
Although the two boys were no longer pupils of the school, there was a room set apart for ex-school friends of the younger son to meet him, and sit with him. The teacher who had known him in the last year at the school was there to offer support and counselling. My daughter was one of the ex pupils who attended this event.
The next day we received an invitation to the funeral, and Jolanda decided she wanted to go. I contacted her current school and arranged that she could have time off to attend, and we went together on the monday morning.
It was her first funeral, and I was so proud of her. In our town, the church is in the next street to our house, and the bell begins to ring a half hour before the service is about to start. We heard the bell, put on our coats and joined the stream of people walking to the church.
There was a big congregation, and the church was full. It was heartwarming to see so many young people, friends of the sons, at the funeral.
Once everyone was in the church, the coffin was brought in, followed by the family.
The service was the traditional catholic form, but there were lovely pieces added by some of the family, which made it a truly personal event. As well as hymns there were two or three lovely modern pieces sung by friends.
Jolanda sat with two of her school mates, and it was only at the end, when the white coffin left the church followed by the boys carrying flowers that she broke down.
The majority of the mourners were leaving the church to walk to the cemetery, following the hearse with the coffin. We decided not to follow them, however, and slipped home to reflect on how lucky we are to have a community who can come together in such a time to show support for a family.
Rest in Peace, Anita.
vrijdag 6 november 2009
Now I have no teaching qualifications, so on the surface of it being British is the only reason I get clients, but I do have successes, and I do get a kick out of working with the kids!
This week the year 2's made a start with studying english literature. The head of year chose this book - Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl - which would not have been my choice but whatever....
On Tuesday we studied "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf" followed by "Three Little Pigs".
My task was to read out the poems - with feeling. I always find Roald Dahl to be a bit gruesome, but I did my best -
"what big eyes you have, Grandma" etc.
The kids were suitably impressed. (Bear in mind they are thirteen and fourteen year olds)
Roald Dahl's tale had that twist you always get, then we went on to the second poem.
I "huffed" and "puffed" and came to the end of the poem.
There was silence, then a little voice from the back piped up in dutch (with a volendamse accent) "but did the last pig die?"
There was a chorus of disgust, and everyone insisted that this story was totally fake, and not the real story after all!
Maybe kids these days are too involved in reality TV to accept imaginative literature!
donderdag 29 oktober 2009
We are very lucky that Meg and Anne are both fit and happy, and well able to enjoy their celebrations to the full.
It was a unique weekend, as Jolanda had the chance to meet all her cousins at the same time, These are her cousins from the Hindess side of the family,
And these are her cousins from the Stephenson side of the family!Ass you can see we spent quite a lot of the weekend eating!
dinsdag 27 oktober 2009
maandag 19 oktober 2009
It became apparent to me when typing up the family history written by my mother (Meg Stephenson), that she had not written much about my own grandfather and grandmother, probably because at the time that was not history but a current situation. I can attempt to tell some of the story with my own memories, and stories which were told when I was a child.
Minnie was one of a family of twelve, her father was a publican and she had been born in the Bull Ring Pub on North Shields Quayside. In later years the family moved away from the quay to the Neville Hotel near the station.
Thomas Armstrong continued in the pub business all his life, eventually managing the Percy Arms in Tynemouth with his second wife. Billy Stephenson was great friends with some of Minnies brothers.
The whole Armstrong family were very talented musically, and in the 1920’s had a concert party “the Hollies” who performed in local theatres. Bill Stephenson was part of this concert party too.
Billy and Minnie married in 1926, and had their first child, George, the following year. Minnie was a very small woman, and the story is that he was the first baby to be delivered by caesarean section at the Royal Jubilee Infirmary in North Shields After the birth she must have been very weak, however she was very soon pregnant again, and George was given to Billy’s mother Kate, and sister Alice to be looked after, whilst Minnie’s second pregnancy advanced. It seems that the arrangement suited the whole family, because George was more of less permanently at his grandmothers house for several years.
The second son Billy was born when the family lived at Tyne Dock, and last a daughter was born, Catherine.
In the thirties Billy and Minnie were given the tenancy of the Fountain Head Public House on Bedford Street in North Shields but Billy lost the tenancy in 1943 and the family moved to Kirten Park Terrace. The house was number 13, so they called it “Broomhaugh” to stop it being unlucky. During the war the children were evacuated and young Billy submitted his memories of that time to the BBC peoples war project. You can read about it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/02/a3282202.shtml
After Bill lost the tenancy of the Fountain Head, he went back to working in the ship yards. It was hard work, and ruined his health – my memories of him at the beginning of the sixties were when he was semi retired, I was never sure what he did, but he often brought a pail of prawns, or some live crabs home, so I guess he worked casually down round the fish quay.
He went everywhere on his bike, and used to pedal me to ballet lessons with me sitting on the crossbar. He would sometimes collect us from Sunday school too, and take us home past Appleby Park, North Shields FC grounds. We would pop into visit the caretaker – a friend of his - who had a small sweet shop, and get cinder toffee so we could ruin our Sunday lunch.
He became very ill, and was bed ridden. We were at the house every day, but we children very often did not visit him,. and stayed in the back room, whilst our parents sat with him. He seemed to take a long time dying, and my grandmother, Minnie, missed him terribly. Her sister, Auntie Barbara, moved in and they slept together in the big bed for many years, as Minnie could not sleep alone.
Minnie and Billy’s children prospered. Cathy married Stan Burdon and emigrated to Australia in the sixties. They had Stephen and Caroline. Minnie visited her twice. George had one failed marriage then settled with Shiela Potts, and had three children, Catherine, Micheal and Jamie. Billy married Meg Thompson and Jane Penny and Philip were born.
Hudson was a great guy, full of fun and a very natty dresser, very popular with all the young lads of the neighbourhood. Walter Armstrong was one of his mates and had endless stories of a;; the scrapes and practical jokes they got up to, such as Hudson treating all his pals to pies and peas and running off just as they were served out with all his pals running pell-mell after him as none of them had any money. The poor proprietor had 8 or 9 portions for pies and peas left on his hands.
Hudson always had big ideas and ran a big motor bike, a Douglas, and gave rides to a couple of pals at a time, one on the pillion and one on the fuel tank. Hudson fell for Mr Todd’s beautiful daughter Violet, and because she had big ideas his pockets were usually empty. He solved this by taking his mothers paintings and selling them to make ends meet. Violet had not really thought about him as a possible suitor until Hudson’s mother Kate got her inheritance, and then it was a different story.
They got married and went to the Five Bridges. Hudson finally got sick of all his in laws telling him what to do so he came home and Kate helped him buy the tenancy of the Briar Dene Pub along the links at Whitley Bay. It was well out of town in those days, and very run down. Irene Stewart went along every day to help him get it put straight. Violet didn’t want to leave Darlington and her family. She had a baby, Barry, and disgusted the family by arriving with a nurse in full uniform to carry Baby Barry, the nurse walking behind her, and with Violet dressed to kill.
She wouldn’t work in the pub and when her mother and sister arrived they just sat about all day drinking coffee. Irene wouldn’t go along to work for Hudson if they were not working too, so the work was not getting done.
There were rows and more rows. Violet wanted to go back to Darlington with her mother. She had not realised she would have to pitch in and work when she married Hudson, after all, his mother was rich! Hudson began to drink heavily, and Violet began an affair with Selwyn Dixon. Hudson finally blew his top, took some money and left. There was nothing out of order in the pub, it had been going well, but he had had enough. He left in 1936 – presumably leaving Violet in charge of the pub. He went to London in a very depressed frame of mind. He must not have known what to do so he committed suicide by jumping off one of London’s Bridges and drowning in the Thames.
Bill, his brother went down with a friend to identify the body, in the greatest distress. All the family laid the blame for Hudson’s suicide firmly at Violets door and never had anything more to do with either her or Barry.
Violet married Selwyn Dixon and eventually took the tenancy of the Robin Hood Inn at Merton, New York. She must have had to work then whether she liked it or not.
Hudson looked very like Bill’s son George, and had similar mannerisms too. His son Barry was all Todd, but one of his sons has all the Stephenson looks.
The family always said if Hudson had married Minnie instead of Violet he would have been a rich man, because they were both such good workers.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
The Briar Dene Public House now – in a prime location on Whitley Bay Links
She could not do anything right and her mother had no patience with her, making matters worse. Kate pushed her out of the way more often than not, so Alice had no chance to learn and become any better at household tasks. Truth to tell she never had any liking for housework and maybe hadn’t the inclination to learn any of the skills.
She worked in for a time in Dickinson’s fruit shop and tried to learn to be a florist but she did not work all that long and never earned a living for herself.
Her brothers always made fun of her and “put her down” when she had her hair fashionably bobbed her mother shrieked that she “looked a sight!” and indeed the new hair style didn’t suit her or her type of baby fine hair. Her face looked plainer than ever.
She became more and more lazy, preferring to sit working away at the beautiful fancy work which she and her mother were brilliant at. She must have had some intelligence because she could work the most intricate patterns in wool; knitting or crochet. As she sat working away “the ashes were meeting people as they came in the door”
She loved to go to a half cousin of hers, Mary Galley, who had a wet fish shop in South Shields, Ocean road.
The men came in droves after the pubs shut for oysters, prawns brown bread and coffee. The café and shop was a lively place to go, away from her mothers eagle eye, and Alice worked for nothing. It was a pleasure to get away from her domineering mother with her caustic tongue.
The shop had a reputation as a bit of a shady place, the ladies of the town knew where they could go to get customers when the pubs closed, but Alice would not be aware of that.
She was a devoted Christian, The church was her real love. She had no boy friends nor did she seem to want any. She was very fond of her brothers friend Leonard and he with her but it was only friendship as the jeers of her brothers prevented it being anything else.
When all the family gradually died leaving her brother Bill as her only relation instead of becoming closer they had endless quarrels. Bill Stephenson had been left nothing in his mothers will because he already had had his share when she had been alive, so everything went to Alice. That didn’t stop him continually hounding Alice for “subs” which he thought she could easily afford and which he felt he had a perfect right to anyway.
Alice was stubborn. She knew the money (which was not a large amount) had to last her lifetime. She was careful and her savings grew to quite a tidy sum; the stocks and shares which Bill wanted her to sell when her mother died brought in a decent income. Bill had always been a drinker and Alice didn’t want her money to vanish into the nearest pub.
When 11 Kirton Park Terrace came up for sale after the war Bill was forced to buy it or get out. He had no money for the deposit so Alice had to dig deep into the funds. This she did, very grudgingly, knowing that Bill had had money enough only a few years before when he left the Fountain Head, but had spent it all.
Alice had a friend in a beautiful house on the Broadway, Mrs Littlefair, of Red Gables. Alice gave the greedy woman anything she fancied out of her house (at Jackson Street) counting it an honour that the woman was her friend. This infuriated Bill and Minnie to see so many family possessions given away, especially when they knew Mrs Littlefair told everyone Alice was her daily woman. Alice who hated housework would go regularly to clean Red Gables, so she looked like the cleaning woman,. Polishing windows for everyone to see, but of course she hardly got a cup of tea for her pains!
Later when Mrs Littlefair died Alice became very friendly with Maggie Pickering, her sister in law’s cousin, and they went on two or three holidays a year together. These were happy times for Alice; Maggie was very good company, but she in turn went to live with her daughter away from the district and Alice was left again.
While her mother was alive she joined in all the help Kate gave Minnie and Bill and the children, knitting beautiful jumpers, woollens and swimming costumes (which reached the ankles when wet) She took all the children to every pantomime in the area every Christmas, and took them on numerous outings by bus and train. When they grew up and her mother died she spent every public holiday at “Broomhaugh”. Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday.
In later life she needed eye operations, and recuperated at “Broomhaugh” - Kirton Park Terrace - for months at a time. Because it was her money that had gone towards paying for the house she must have thought it was partly hers. (when she was senile she told everyone it was hers!)
Gradually her friends in the church died and she really was left alone. All she had was her brother, with whom she argued all the time, her sister in law who was kind to her, and her nieces, nephews and grand nieces and nephews. Her nephew George, and his wife and family were her favourites, but they lived a long way away, and Cathie, another favourite was even further away, in Australia.
When her awful parrot died, a present her brother George had brought her from is sea journeys before WW1 it seemed to be the last straw and she broke her heart that day. It was the last link with all the family and friends she had known and loved and the happy times she had had at 8 Jackson Street, when the house was full of lively jolly people. She died in 1980 aged 85 years.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
George was a seaman and on one leave brought an orphan boy Leonard Key home with him. He said he never had any place to go when he was on leave and could he come home with him? It was a small flat in Belford Tce with six people already living there but he was warmly welcomed. George was drowned at sea in the first world war, 1916, so Leonard became like a son, coming home to Kate for all his leaves, and taking Georges place to a large degree. Kate became very fond of him.
An important thing happened when young George was lost – Kate became reconciled with her father and from then on her fortunes began to change. Most of Georges children still living had left home and didn’t really want to be bothered with him, he wasn’t a very nice person. He needed someone to look after him in his old age – Kate.
He bought her a house in Jackson Street, No 8. he moved in round the corner at No. 1 Park Crescent. He helped her financially, giving her stocks and shares, helping to make the house comfortable, good furniture, lovely picture and ornaments.
He was the first man, or one of the first men, to have a motor car in North Shields, anyone in the family, any neighbour or any employee could borrow the motor car for an important event – a burial or a wedding, with a GBP5 note thrown in! Stepha the Greek definitely mellowed and became more generous in old age!
When he died he left Kate GBP3,000 and stocks and shares, and the house they lived in so Kate and Hudson became rich at last.
They fell out with Uncle Billy – Georges younger son, who left all his money to his mistress Sally Kirkland. If that hadn’t happened they would have been richer still.
Still all the family had very happy times at Jackson street, Leonard came there when he was on leave. Kate was always ready to go out dancing with her son Bill, to Whist drives or have a party at home. There was always a welcome for anyone who cared to call.
One of these was a cousin, Alfie Stephenson. His father must have been a brother of William and George. He went to sea where he lost one of his legs, after the wooden replacement was fitted his nickname became Peg leg. He was a frequent visitor at Kate’s, also going round to the fountain Head Pub where Kate’s son Bill was the tenant. When he died Bill was determined to have Alfie’s clock – a very pretty chiming clock he had brought home from one of his trips – Minnie and Jimmy Armstrong went from the Fountain Head to his house in Stephenson Street. It was very dirty and before leaving Jimmy, who was always immaculate, stirred the curtains round the bed with his walking stick. They carried the clock home with great delight, but found they had brought another addition – They were covered in fleas!
The clock is at 12 Ingleside Road and still has a very pretty chime – but no fleas!
Meg Stephenson in 1987
Death Certificate of George Stephenson 1918
He was killed when the Glenart Castle was torpedoed in 1918
Leonard Key was also lost at sea – in WW2.
He was a cook on the SS DEPTFORD. Built in 1931 by Smith's Dock Co. The ship was steaming from from Kirkenes to England under the command of captain Furguson with a cargo of iron ore. She was torpedoed by a German submarine U 38 at 1 p.m. on December 13th, 1939, N.W. of Honningsvaag Lighthouse at Stadt, Norway. The vessel sank immediately and out of her crew of 35 there were only five survivors. Four men were picked up by the steamship Firda, and another three by the steamship Nordnorge, but two died shortly after they were taken on board. Capt. Ferguson was lost with the vessel. The Deptford was not in convoy at the time of the sinking.
This picture is thought to be of Uncle Alfie – he of the chiming clock! The legend on the photo dates it as 1900, however it could be as much as 20 years later.
Kate finally came home from boarding school a beautiful young lady but was simply used as a “Mothers Help” in her fathers house in Coach Lane (on the right going down). They moved next door to another Stephenson on the fish quay, Peter, a very distant relative. These were house numbers 6 and 8.
I would like to say that her father’s wife was a wicked stepmother but that was not the case. George was a strict father and would not let her go to all the parties and dances Kate wished for. Her step mother was a sweet kind lady who helped her dress and sneak out to dances on many occasions. Kate was vivacious, high spirited, a lovely dancer enjoying life to the full, In the social round she met her cousin once more, handsome Hudson, son of William.
He was an attractive man about town. An excellent swimmer, a member of Holy Trinity Church choir, but most of all a prominent and active member of North Shields Cycling club, Headquarters Hylton Lodge, Lovaine Place. A more dashing and debonair group of young blades you could never find. Kate and Hudson fell madly in love.
Father George didn’t like, didn’t approve of Hudson and anyway they were cousins – not a good thing as far as marriage and children were concerned. He forbade the wedding, The young couple eloped through the fields to Tynemouth and were married in Holy Saviours Church in 1886.
Now Hudson was a gentleman. Too much of a gentleman to go into his fathers business on the Quay among the fish, no matter how prosperous. He became a “Hatter” and went into the men’s outfitters trade. He didn’t make much money and as Kate’s father had stopped speaking to them they had many hard times when they were young.
They lived at 58 Bedford Terrace and were married some years before they had Alice Maude (B1895), George (1897) William (1898) and Hudson (1900).
Kate worked hard to keep the family respectable, cobbling the boys boots herself, making clothes, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, all beautiful work.
William, Hudson’s father had finally put him into business for himself, a drapers shop in Union Street, but unfortunately it seems he was not a good businessman and it failed, he went bankrupt. He eventually became a floor walker at Murtons in Newcastle, always beautifully dressed with a flower in his buttonhole. It was a very high class store and he certainly was a high class gent, but after leaving the train at north shields on his way home from work, Kate had to wait until he had visited two or three public houses on his way home before she could give him his dinner. He quite often was slightly drunk , bowing to lampposts when he bumped into them, apologising and doffing his hat. He was always quietly spoken, a gentle person, patiently waiting until Kate had finished shouting at him when everything was too much for her. He would simply go into the front room and play hymns on the piano.
They were very patriotic, devoted to the royal family., One of Hudson’s favourite things was a flag pole in the front garden. (a very small garden with a very large flag). On Empire day, the King’s birthday, or any important event Hudson had all the neighbourhood children lined up saluting the flag.
In later years they went on holiday to their favourite place, Rothbury in Northumberland, where they walked their favourite walks a hundred times over.
Their house was always the centre of fun and parties both at Belford Terrace and a 8 Jackson Street where they eventually moved. They loved each other devotedly.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
A copy of Hudson Stephenson’s indenture papers – he qualified as a Draper in 1886
Kate and Hudson had four children:
Alice Maud (b. 1895 – d. 1980) never married and spent much of her life as companion to her mother.
George (b. 1898 – d. 1918) was drowned in WW1.
William (b.1899 – d. 1972) married Minnie Armstrong and had three children
Hudson (b. 1904 – d. 1936) married Violet Todd in 1930 and had one son, Barry James (b. 1932).
The end of Kate’s Story.
Hudson Senior died about the same time as Hudson Junior in 1936, aged 70 years. The second world war began and with it came the loss of Leonard, drowned at sea.
These were all devastating blows and Kate was broken hearted. She rallied enough to help her son Bill get the tenancy of the Fountain Head in North Shields, but when he lost the tenancy of that she seemed to lose heart.
She died January 1945, aged 78 years.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
Offspring of Georges first marriage:
1 Catherine Alice (b. 1867)
“Kate” was sent to live with her maternal grandmother in the East end of North Shields. She ran wild, playing with all the ragamuffins on the quay
George came home from time to time. The first trip was when Kate was only 4 years old, He took her out and when she was brought back home there was blood on the lace collar of her frock. He had had her ears pierced and she was wearing diamond earrings.
On another trip home he found Kate running bare foot among all the fish guts on the quay. He promptly sent her to boarding school in Darlington (Thornbeck House, Darlington)
Meg Stephenson in 1987
Children of Georges Second Marriage:
Sarah Smart (b.1875 in Constantinople). Sarah was nineteen years old when she married George Herbert Grey in 1894. I have not been able to find out much more about her life.
John Smart (b. 1878 in Constantinople) In 1926 at the age of 48, after he returned from several years in Canada, he married Isabella Turnball. They had no children. Meg Stephenson wrote about him.
John Smart Stephenson
Georges elder son Jack had been a bad lad and always on the booze so had been sent to Canada. He came back and married later and elderly lady, one of the Turnbull sisters, who had a milliners shop in Bedford street They had no family .
Meg Stephenson in 1987
Elizabeth Smart (b.1881 in Constantinople) may have married a man called Davidson.
Ellen Smart (b. 1883 in North Shields) was 20 in 1903 when she married Alfred Tate.
Rose Ann Smart (b.1884 in North Shields) was 27 in 1911 when she married David Perry.
Florence Smart (b.1887 in North Shields d. 1909 in Northumberland). She was 21 years old when she died.
William Smart (b. 1894 in North Shields d. 1943 in North Shields). Never married and was killed in an Air Raid in WW2. he died without children. Meg Stephenson wrote about him.
William Smart Stephenson
Billy never married and was killed in an air raid in 1943. He was very involved in the business and his nephew and name sake Bill Stephenson always wanted him, Uncle Billy, to set him up in business on the fish quay. Uncle considered him too flighty, untrustworthy and a heavy drinker so never did what young Bill wanted. He was a means and horrible man, but he might have had a point there. Uncle Billy had a mistress called Sally Kirkland and when he was killed he left everything to her, except for a handsome diamond ring (a mans ring) which he left to young Bill. When it was handed over by the solicitor a piece of rock crystal had been substituted for the diamond. All the claws were crooked, it had been altered very crudely by Sally or one of her relatives themselves.
When Young Bill himself died, it was offered to his son, George, who refused it whereupon Billy’s widow Minnie sold it to a man at the door for GBP4. She said she needed the money, though the gold in the ring was worth a great deal more than that. (the fact that she had more than GBP800 in cash hidden in the house 2 years later when she paid for her air fare to Australia is beside the point.)
Irene Stewart always said that Stephenson money never brought anyone any happiness as it was made originally by illegal means.
Now that the stocks and shares left by Kate have all been sold and the ring is no longer with us maybe the bad luck will have evaporated.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
Matthew Warrier b. 1854 died in his first year.
John W (b.1856) married Hannah Isabella Hodgson in 1880, and had five children. He worked as a steam boat fisherman. In the 1881 census Isabella Stephenson (born South Shields, Co. Durham) lived next door to William and Sarah in Trinity street and was recorded as a seamans wife. Isabella was known as Bel. In later years the family lived in Middle Street. John drowned in the Tyne in 1815, the same night his first grandchild was born. It was thought he had been celebrating, and tried to take his small boat across the river from South Shields.
Eleanor (b. 1858) Married Robert Routledge (b. 1856) in 1877. They had two daughters Lily (b. 1881) and Ethel b. (1882) . In the 1901 census Eleanor was living with her mother Sarah, with her two daughters and described as a widow. She was working as a nurse sister. It would appear from this that Robert died prior to 1901. She later spent many years in Canada, and travelled with her married daughter Lily Stewart.
James (b. 1860) married Maria and had six children. He was a steamboat man on the 1891 census.
George (b.1864) married Mary J Charlton in 1882. They had at least two sons, William (b. 1886) and Hudson (b. 1890). He was a fish salesman on the 1901 census.
Hudson (b. 1867) was a tailor and hatter. He married his half cousin Catherine Stephenson in 1892. and is my great grandfather. I will include more about this family later.
Sarah Louise (b. 1869 – d. 1880)
William (b.1871 - d. 1872)
Elizabeth (b.1873 -d. 1873 )
Sarah Hudson was always referred to as “the Ganny” in later years. The whole family lived in Ivy house at the bottom of Vicarage Street, opposite the Vicarage. The house s still there. One of the bay windows fronts onto Waterville road. There is a shop next to it that Ellie’s daughter had at one time, It was such a peculiar shape it was called “the flat iron”
The sons were all tearaways; always in hot water. Drink was their downfall but they were all “lovely people” – Some of their exploits didn’t sound very lovely – taking cargos of fish down to Middlesbrough, drinking the profits and coming back empty handed! However the boys were all well liked and popular with folks of all ages. The only one not lovely was the only surviving daughter , the eldest Ellie.
She went to Canada and persuaded her daughter (Irene and George Stewart’s mother) to join her leaving her children behind in the charge of their father, whom Irene and George worshipped. Irene’s mother stayed away for years and years under the influence of her mother, for which Irene never forgave her grandmother and always referred to her as “the old witch”. Irene and George’s father was a fine man and looked after them better than their mother would have done.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
From the census returns we know that in 1861 the family were registered at 10 South Street North Shields, Ten years later in 1871the family were at 9 Trinity Street, William was described as a Waterman. It was on the 1881 census where William, still at 9 Trinity street, was described as an inshore steam tug owner employing 10 men and 2 boys. In the 1891 census The family had moved to 3 Waterville new road. The house is still known as Ivy House.
William was very prosperous and generous in his prosperity.
He loaned a Mr Wood GBP 100 to start a business. It was not a pub, but in the brewery line. Mr Wood was a very shrewd man and became very rich. He bought “Star Cross” a big house in Monkseaton (now a nursing home) and Williams family were often invited for a meal in recognition of the fact that Williams money was the foundation of his fortune. On one occasion Williams grandsons wife Minnie took baby George still in nappies and without the benefit of waterproof panties. Minnie was terrified George would stain the beautiful pure white carpet in the lounge.
William was well loved in the community, as his obituary shows
“A typical steamboat man, having been brought up among the tugs all his life, Thrifty and enterprising, though his own exertions raised himself to a position of comparative independence ……. Owner of several large tug steamers……….” ”Stephey” was genial. Full of fun, seldom out of temper, seldom without a smile on his face…. 20 carriages turned out and over 200 steamboat men and friends followed the remains to Preston Cemetery, with a huge crowd at the graveside. Upright and conscientious in all his business transactions, successful as he was he remained in harness to the last until ill health compelled his absence from the busy fish quay and he ceased to superintend the working of the fleet of line and trawl boats which owed their existence in great part to his ability and knowledge of the trade.”
Meg Stephenson in 1987
William died in 1892 and in the census of 1901 Sarah was still living at Ivy House, she was now 70.
The end of Sarah’s Story
William died in 1892. As his obituary states he was a prosperous man, and he had Jim Jack and George to carry on the business. His brother, Stepha the Greek ad different ideas, however. He persuaded Sarah, the widow, to sell him the fleet for nothing like it was worth, and the poor sons were kept out of the business. George set up as “Smart and Stephenson” and prospered even more than he had before.
Poor Sarah kept her money, golden guineas, tied up in baby’s bootees in the folds of the curtains draped around her tester bed but every time she went for a few she found more and more missing, taken by her children – maybe they thought it was their inheritance, I don’t know. The fact remains that William, the best of men, and also shrewd and prosperous, hardworking, honest and liked by all, left his widow and children in not very prosperous circumstances in the end. It is said that Sarah became an alcoholic. Georges family reaped all the financial rewards.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
In 1851 William Stephenson (b. 1901) was listed as a Steam boat owner, by 1861 Marthew Wharrier, Williams father-in-law by his first wife, is also listed as a steam boat owner. How did they manage to buy steam tugs, and how much did a tug cost? The extract below shows that small tugs could be purchased for a few hundred pounds, but as William and Matthew had earlier both been described as husbandmen and labourers, they must have had to work very hard to get the money together for their first steam boats.
EXTRACTS FROM THE GRAND JUNCTION CANAL COMPANY MINUTE BOOKS
PRO RAIL 830/12
Nevertheless Wiliam Stephenson and Matthew Wharrier both became steam boat owners in their later years, possibly both their sons were willing to operate the boats for them, and build up the fleet. Matthews son, George was a steam boat master, and William was a steam boat man in the 1951 census.
The father of Sarah Hudson who married William Stephenson (b 1831) was a labourer and Streamboat man, his son was an engineer. We already know that William (b.1801) married two of his daughters, first Mary Ann in 1856 and then after she died Eleanor (Ellen) to John Edward Nesbitt, a boat builder.
The final marriage was that of George (b. 1845) to Margaret Ann Smart. Margaret Ann’s father was a very successful man, and once George took over the business in the 1890’s he went into partnership with him, and formed the company Stephenson Smart. They operated very streamlined tugs, and had a large fleet.
zondag 18 oktober 2009
There was a big age difference between the two sons of William (b. 1801). His oldest son, William was twenty two when he married Sarah Hudson in at St Hilda’s Church, South Shields on September 13, 1853. George would have been a nine year old schoolboy at the time.
Why did they marry in South Shields? The township of North Shields was expanding rapidly, and by the 1850’s Christ Church could not manage the volume of ceremonies so it was quite common for couples to take the ferry across the Tyne to the south bank to marry. With further research I discovered that Sarah and Williams’ first child, Matthew Wharrier Stephenson was born in January 1854, only four months after they married – so its possible that a quick wedding had been highly desirable.
Just over two weeks later, on September 29, 1853, Williams father, William (b. 1801) married Sarah Riggs in the same church! Why did they wait so long to marry? I have no idea. Sarah was thirty six years old when they married and had already had at least two children with William. I can find no evidence of a previous marriage for Sarah, and William had been a widower for fourteen years before this marriage.
I have also not been able to find christening records in Tynemouth Parish for Sarah and Williams children Sarah Stevenson and George. It may have been they were christened at St Hilda’s in South Shields, but I have not been able to access the parish records listing christenings to look for them.
Sarah Riggs parents Robert and Ruth Ann had two other children, Richard Charlton (b.1819), and Elizabeth (b. 1822) Elizabeth married John Scott and had seven children, one of whom, Mary Jane (b.1852) married Nathaniel Galley and was the mother of Mary Galley as mentioned in Meg Stephenson’s family history, written in 1987.
Richard Charlton Riggs married first Mary Brazil and had at least eight children before her death in 1867, than he married Anne Schofield and another child was born.
But I digress slightly, and coming back to the Stephenson family, father William had several daughters to provide for. In 1856 Mary Ann Stephenson married John Edward Nesbitt. She was twenty years old. John Nesbitt was a boat builder, and on their marriage certificate William Stephenson was described as a ship owner.
Mary Ann and John had three children, John, David and Mary Ann. On the 1861 census they lived on Commercial Road South Shields, and John was described as a boat builder. In 1863 their last child was born, Mary Ann. She only lived a few months, and sadly, her mother, Mary Ann, died too – leaving John widower with two sons.
Within two years he had married again, this time Mary Ann’s sister Eleanor (Ellen) Stephenson. She was twenty seven. On this marriage certificate Ellens father William was described as a merchant. Was William trying to keep John Nesbitts boat building skills in the family by ensuring he married not one but two of his daughters? A boat builder would be a very useful ally to a ship owner. Sadly within a year of this marriage Ellen was dead, so the two time widower married again, and spent some time in China, before coming back to South Shields.
Elizabeth, William’s eldest daughter from his first marriage to Eleanor Davison Wharrier, Spent most of her childhood living with her maternal Grandfather Matthew Davison Wharrier, on Quality Row, Percy Banks, Chirton. Living next door was a family named Hills. Joseph and Elizabeth Hills had a son Stephen Hills. Stephen and Elizabeth Stephenson married when Elizabeth was twenty-three, and moved to Elswick in Newcastle where Stephen worked as a forgeman.
George (b. 1845), William son from his second marriage to Sarah Riggs,, married Sarah Jane Farrell in April 1866. They had a daughter Catherine one year later, then Sarah Jane became pregnant again, but she died in childbirth in 1868, and the baby died a few months later.
Sarah Jane Farrell’s death, and that of her new born baby, was the start of a sad time for George. The next year his mother, Sarah Riggs passed away, at the comparatively young age of 52, and in 1871 Georges father William also died, at home in Coble Dene.
William had been many things in his life, grandson of the third son of a tenant farmer, he used his strength and natural wit to carve a successful life for himself in a time of great change. The fast developing North Shields, and the technological changes which characterised the 19th century created a perfect environment for him to prosper. He changed jobs from husbandman, labourer and mariner, to becoming a steam ship owner and merchant. On Georges marriage certificate he described himself as a “gentleman” and as he was then sixty four years of age, deserved the retirement and status, after a life of hard work impacted by tragedy as he lost not only his first wife to an decease which was incurable at the time, but also the loss of several of his children. His prosperity could also be measured in the survival and success of his two sons William and George.
When Sarah Jane died, Catherine was left motherless, and lived with her maternal grandparents first in Bird street, and later in Charlotte street. George worked for Vickers Armstrong and was sent out to Constantinople as an envoy for the company there. He remarried in Turkey to Margaret Ann Smart, they had seven children, the first three were born in Turkey, and the last four in North Shields.
George Stephenson b. 1845
While he was away he prospered greatly, becoming a junior partner with Mr Smart but also rumoured to be gun running to Turkey. He came back rich, nicknamed “Stepha the Greek” on the Quay because of his past connections.
He was away from home twenty years in all, and though prosperous he was not well liked, not popular among any of the men on the quay, owners and employees alike.
He was not a nice man.
Meg Stephenson in 1987
I can find no marriage for Sarah Stevenson Riggs or for John Stephenson, the last child of William and Sarah. Records for these two children are sparse; I may have found Sarah on the 1861 census working as a general servant for a Scottish family named Murray in St John, Westgate Newcastle. In the same census John (aged 16) was living with his father and mother in Brunswick Place in Chirton, North Shields. I have no other record of his existence.
Elizabeth, born 1834 at Milbourn Place and baptised Dec 21, 1834
Mary Ann, born 1836 at Milbourn Place and baptised June10, 1836,
Elenor born 23 dec1837 at Coble Dean and baptised Feb 14, 1838.
William was noted as a husbandman on William, Elizabeth and Eleanor’s baptism records, but on the baptism record of Mary Ann he was noted as a Mariner, which was an interesting diversion.
The streets where the family lived are long gone now, hidden by the building of Tyne Commissioners Quay and the Albert Edward Dock, but they must have been simple houses, and of necessity close to Williams work.
Eleanor Davison Wharrier was the daughter of Matthew Wharrier b. 1791 and she had a brother George b.1817. Their father, Matthew was born in Bothal in Northumberland, where the Wharrier family have lived for hundreds of years. He moved south to the Tyne however, and was first listed as a Husbandman, and later as a labourer on the census returns of 1851. By the 1861 census he was also a Steamship Owner.
It is possible that William Stephenson (b.1801) and Matthew Wharrier worked together in Tyneside as husbandmen, perhaps with the dray animals who moved the coal wagons from the pits down to the coal staithes before steam engines were installed.
Eleanor Davison Wharrier was born in 1813, and having given birth to four children during her marriage to William Stephenson, died at the age of 26 of smallpox. She was buried on the 9th January 1839 at Tynemouth cemetery.
The young family were scattered but we can find them on the 1841 census all in the township of Chirton. William aged 9 is living with his grandfather and grandmother Mathew and Elizabeth Wharrier.
Mary Ann aged 5 and Ellen aged 3 are living with their grandparents William Stephenson (1780) and Ann Stephenson (1780) at Whitehill Point, Chirton. In this house is a William Stephenson but his age is given as 30 and he is a coal miner. Elizabeth Stephenson aged 7 is also in Chirton but living with Thomas and Elizabeth Coates. They have a daughter Frances Coates who had married little Elizabeth’s uncle George Wharrier (b. 1817) in 1840. George and Frances are living at Milbourn Place, Chirton.
By the time of the 1851 census William Stephenson (b. 1801) and Sarah Riggs are living as man and wife at Lime Kiln Shore, Chirton. William is now a steam boat owner. He has his daughter Eleanor (b. 1838) from his first marriage living with him, two of his other children William and Elizabeth being at their grandparents , the Wharriers. He also has another two children Sarah aged 7 (b. 1843) and George aged 5 (b. 1845). Although I can find a birth for George as the son of William and his second wife Sarah , Sarah’s birth certificate names her as Sarah Stevenson Riggs, father unknown. I think there was an attempt to give her the Stephenson name, but it must have been known that her parents were not at that time married.
Note on the birth certificate of George in 1845 his father is listed as a labourer – six years later he was a steam boat owner.
Once upon a time there were two brothers
William Stephenson (1832 – 1892 died aged 60 years) and
George Stephenson (1845 – 1925 died aged 80 years)
Their father William was described as a “gentleman” (on Georges marriage lines). He must have had a bit of money because both brothers were in business on the fish quay, north shields and maybe the money to start them off came from the father. Their mother was called Sarah Riggs according to a sketchy family tree drawn up to prove Kate Stephenson’s family connection to “granny Garfitt” from whom she inherited money. Mrs Garfitt is prominent in a lot of the photographs. (Another relation of Mrs Garfitt, Mary Galley, who had a wet fish shop in South Shields got nothing, in fact Kate did not even inform her of Mrs Garfitts death till Kate and her daughter had cleared the house of any valuables)
Meg Stephenson in 1987
I had a great problem for many months in that I could find neither a marriage record for William Stephenson and Sarah Riggs, or the birth record of Williams elder son, William Stephenson (born 1831). In addition, the 1851 Census gave Sarah’s birth date as 1817 – much to young to have given birth to William, so Sarah was probably William’s second wife.
Finally, after getting access to a great website which has scanned copies of original parish records for many areas of Europe, I found not only an earlier marriage, but also christening records of children and the burial record of Williams first wife – Eleanor Davison Wharrier.
William and Eleanor married in Christ Church North Shields on June 5th 1831.
A nineteenth century description of Ryton Parish
"This parish was anciently very extensive, and comprised the whole of Winlaton and Stella parishes, and the newly formed parish of Greenside. Census populations for Ryton were:- in 1801, 432; in 1811, 462; in 1821, 445; in 1831, 590; in 1841, 677…..
"The village of Ryton is charmingly situated upon a steep and richly wooded bank, rising from the river Tyne, seven miles west from Newcastle. A finer situation could hardly be imagined, being, as it is, surrounded by scenery of the most picturesque descriptions. The view to the north-west from the churchyard, up the Tyne valley, is equal to anything in the North. The village in itself is extremely pleasant and interesting, and possesses many fine mansions with well wooded grounds. In the centre of the village stands the picturesque village cross, bearing date 1795.
[From History, Topography and Directory of Durham, Whellan, London, 1894]
A nineteenth century description of Tynemouth Parish
"TYNEMOUTH parish is bounded on the north and west by the parishes of Earsdon, Long Benton, and Wallsend, on the south by the river Tyne, and on the east by the German Ocean. It comprises the townships of Chirton, Cullercoats, Murton or Moortown, North Shields, Preston, Tynemouth, and Whitley, whose united area is 7,222 statute acres. The population in 1801, was l4,345; in l811, 19,042; in l821, 24820; in 1831, 24,778; in 1841, 27,249; and in 1851, it had increased to 30,524 souls.
The surface is generally level, consisting of a strong soil, well suited for the growth of beans and wheat. Coal and ironstone are abundant, and the only magnesian limestone in the country is found in this parish. Three moors, known respectively by the names of Tynemouth Moor, Shire Moor, and Billy Mill Moor, and containing together an area of 1,300 acres, were divided and enclosed, under the authority of acts of parliament, obtained in the reign of George III."
[From History, Topography, and Directory of Northumberland, Whellan, 1855]
The increase in productivity in the coal mining industry at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the fast developing Parish of Tynemouth within easy reach of Ryton by boat on a tidal river, would have offered many opportunities.
Our William (born 1801) and his siblings John and George married and had families. All their children were christened in Tynemouth parish, so it may have been that the whole family moved down from Ryton in their youth. John was a tailor, and George was a shoemaker; we can assume that William had skills that were in demand, but it was a big jump from his origins as a farm husbandman’s son to becoming a Steamship Owner in the 1851 census, what had been happening in the intervening years to make him so prosperous?
So the earliest fact (and indeed one of the first pieces of documentation I found) was the entry on the 1851 Census relating to William Stephenson and his family. William was born in 1801 in Stephens Hall, Ryton, Co. Durham, and lived in 1851 on Lime Kiln Shore, Chirton, North Shields. William was listed as a Steamship Owner and was living with his wife Sarah, two daughters; Eleanor who was twelve years old and Sarah about eight years old; and son George who was five years old.
Stephens Hall sounded a bit posh, so I thought I would look into the history of the house; which still exists and is a listed building. It dates from around 1635 and has a very rich history. It seems the current owners began a huge restoration of the neglected property a few years ago which was partly paid for by a grant from English Heritage. During the restoration a 17th century mural was discovered above the main fireplace, which has been preserved now behind a clear plastic case. The terms of the grant from English Heritage oblige the owners to open the house to the public once a year so that visitors can view this treasure.
Stephens Hall, Ryton
But who was William? It seems he was the grandson of the first Stephenson to tenant the farm, another William! This William was born in 1735 and was canny enough to marry the widow of the previous tenant of Stephens Hall a Joseph Strawpart. Mary, (nee Stokoe c1743-1793) inherited the tenancy as Joseph Strawpart had no male heirs and on her second marriage on August 6, 1767 the tenancy passed to her new husband.
William and Mary had at least eight children, Jane b. 1768, Charles, b. 1769, Ambrose, b. 1771, John, b. 1773, Joseph, b. 1777, William b.1780, George, b. 1777 and Catherine, b.1782.
The third son William (b. 1780) was listed as a husbandman and married Ann Young of Ovingham on November 23, 1800. William and Ann had at least five children William, b. 1801, Michael, b.1804, John, b. 1806, Mary, b. 1808, and George, b. 1810.
Although this history seems very detailed, I do not have documentary evidence of any of the births or marriages, as all the information was found on internet sites. Until I can verify the dates by checking parish records physically, I cannot be certain they are correct.
Chapter 1 - The Earliest Facts
Chapter 2 - The move to North Shields
Chapter 3 - Married in Tynemouth Parish
Chapter 4 - A Wife and Children
Chapter 5 - Forging Alliances
Chapter 6 - Steamboatmen
Chapter 7 - The children of William (b. 1831)
Chapter 8 - The children of George (b.1845)
Chapter 9 - Kate and Hudson Stephenson
Chapter 10 - George b. 1898 d. 1918
Chapter 11 - Alice Maud b. 1897 – d. 1982
Chapter 12 - Hudson Stephenson Junior 1900 – 1936
Chapter 13 - William Stephenson and Minnie Armstrong
Family Tree - The Stephensons 19th Century
Family Tree - The Stephensons 20th Century
I would like to thank Dylane Symm, Lia Stephenson, Maureen Thompson, and Lyn Thornton who helped to fill in the last gaps, and confirm some of my ideas about our origins. Last but not least I would like to thank my mother Meg for writing down everything she found out from her talks with Irene Stewart, and my dad, Bill Stephenson – an amazing raconteur.
I found these books really useful when I was trying to visualise the Tyne and North Shields in the 19th and 20th centuries
The Archive Photographs series North Shields – compiled by Eric Hollerton
The Peoples History Beyond the piers – Ron Wright
The peoples History North Shields Memories of Fish “n”Ships – Ron Wright
I did almost all of my research on the internet, and these are the websites I used
zaterdag 17 oktober 2009
As you read this autobiography you probably agree with me. I am now 71 years of age and suffering like hell with arthritis, in a wheel chair from which I have very little hope of vacating.
I had a very poor education at a council school, leaving at the ripe old age of 14 years, and had been under a master who didn’t know as much as I did. One boy in my class, Luke Dobie, was miles ahead of any of the teachers. So you will see I cannot put in any high faluting words like perhaps Denis Nordon or Frank Muir work use. In the first place I wouldn’t know what they meant.
Right from the age of about 7 or 8 I can never remember walking to school, I always ran as fast as I could; to school; lunch time and 4 o’clock home time, so consequently I was very fast on my feet; I was picked for the school team at 10 years of age for soccer and afterwards for Tynemouth boys, then the county, then for Northumberland and to play for England against Scotland and Wales. My speed was exceptional and I scored many goals.
Knowing I was only half educated I put my name down for Tynemouth Secondary School night classes and I started in the October of 1914. After about 6 attendances I got absolutely sick of getting home at 10.p.m. and then starting killing two or three sheep before I went to bed and this was after a 6 a.m. start in the morning… so bang went the further education.
One of my jobs was driving the cattle and sheep from Gateshead Market: there were no cattle trucks at this time and it was no easy job getting them through Newcastle. In those days, cattle were tied in stalls on the farms and had no exercise; consequently you might have some bullocks that had walked miles and were footsore and weary before I got them, to walk home another 12 miles. This was worse in April May and June at the end of the winter when they were straight from the byres.
I used to walk to North Shields to catch the train at 6.a.m. and leave Gateshead market at about 7.30 a.m. I remember paying toll on the Redheugh Bridge. After I had delivered the stock to Backworth store, Shiremoor Store, J Whitfield, Cash Dividend Store, and our own store, I was home about 11.45. Was there a cup of tea for me? Not on your life; there was a big basket of meat to deliver to customers up to three miles away and when I did get home; sat down to dinner – I was last of course – asked mother if there was any rice pudding, she said she was sorry but Charlie had had two helpings and there was none left. She usually promised me a good tea; but I just got the same as all the rest of them. I usually had a good sheepdog to drive the stock, and by gum you needed one.
One dog I had used to take fits, and you can bet he took a fit at long Benton where there happened to be three pubs. I had to go into one of them and buy a small rum, brandy or whiskey to pour down his through. It cost me a penny hap penny for a small one or 3d for a large one. It generally cured him, but if there were no pubs near, a pail of water over him did the trick.
I got the fright of my life one day when at North Shields Station I was sitting waiting for my train, when I was horrified to see the tail of my dog disappearing into a riverside train to go to Central Station; and found my dog waiting patiently for me on the Platform at Newcastle. My relief and joy was unbelievable.
My pay for the task of walking the stock to the shops was 1d per sheep and 1 shilling per beast. If a shop had three beast I got 2/6d, which was not bad pay.
One day one of our own beast broke away when I was putting then into the yard, and it ran all the way back to Long Benton, about 4 miles after I had walked 12. I got it penned on a farm at Benton and went up the following day and killed it; it had to be shot; it was completely wild.
I was often sent for pigs which we bought from a miner’s house in a street with the pig sty in an inaccessible place down the garden. The pigs had been carried through the house as little piglets and they forgot that the animal which came back was fully grown. The only way to get them was to bring them through the house and into the back lane. I found out that the best way to do this was to hold them by the ears and walk them backwards through the kitchen and out of the back door. Consequently I got to be a master at handling pigs.
When I was about 16 I was at Hexham agriculture show with some friends coming from the show ground. We heard a terrific noise from the pig pens. We went over to se what the noise was about and we saw 4 farm men trying to get an enormous sow into a pig cart; we watched for a while. It was a hot day and the men were all sweating away without much success. After a while they were resting and I volunteered to put the sow in for them. There was laughter in the pen; but I got in the pen and took hold of the sow’s ears and rammed my foot on her nose. She backed straight into the cart without any bother amid much applause from the crowd.
When writing these memoirs I might take a jump back a few years as things come to my memory that I have missed out, I must tell you the story of the black cat we had,. He just walked into the shop one day as we were killing a beast. We usually picked up a scrubbing brush or something and let fly at the cat. I missed him and he ignored me, just as though I wasn’t there. Ten minutes later he had a mouse, a few minutes later, another, so I made him very welcome. He would come and sit on the bench as soon as the liver was taken from the carcase. We got no peace until he received a lump with the warm blood in it; he never bothered if we were killing pigs or sheep – it had to be from a beast.
Every Saturday he would walk to the school, let himself in though a window he could open himself and caught mice all the weekend. His only drink was water, even water that had been used for washing dishes; he would never look at milk.
When coming through Newcastle with the beast and sheep, I used to walk with a slowing pace when I was nearing the “cradle-well” so that the beast could get a drink. One day the beast saw his reflection in a shop window and pushed his nose against the pane – bang – it cracked right across. I was off with a rush and away with the beast before the owners arrived. The Cradlewell is still there in Jesmond, but there are no horses or cattle to use it now.
I was first out of school as usual and in the schoolyard was a football, well not quite, it was a football case and some of the local boys had found a large stone to fill it and placed it temptingly in the schoolyard. “Kick it over, Baden” was the shout and I did, to my sorrow. I went flat and the ball never moved an inch. I had a good laugh with the boys when I recovered.
The bulk of our business was done from carts in the streets, and no matter what the weather was like, I was leaving the shop before 8.30 a.m.; you had to be in the shop at 6.a.m. to cut and prepare joints. One of our customers was the tenant of the Pineapple Inn near Percy Main; and behind the pub he ad a market garden with a small one horse plough. May father was determined to buy this plough and he did, eventually. Came the day he was going to use his new toy, (My half day off) It was not long before he found our horses were too light, and the harness no use for the job. I was pulling the horse; my father was pushing the plough; it was hopeless, so eventually borrowed a farm horse. And (on my half day off) we got the garden ploughed. He never paid for the use of the farm horse; I was lent out (on my half day off) to the farmer for stacking hay. Usually on the ladder at the side of the stack, the heaviest job on stacking day. If my father had given the farm hand 5/- he would have done the job, but no, everything cost him pounds his own way.
My father was a dab hand at lending out money. He was at last making some, having me working for nothing and at all hours of the day and night, and it seemed to go completely to his head. He lent money to anybody, without a cat in hells chance of getting it back. We got our horse shod at the blacksmith, and never paid; the wife of the blacksmith and got her meat and never paid, the landlord of the pasture field did the same thing, and when, eventually, my father died, I just scrubbed out the lot, it was impossible to get things squared.
When I come to think of the conditions our family of four boys and three girls were brought up I am amazed that we all survived. The slaughter-house was next door to the kitchen; you could walk straight from the kitchen into the killing shop. The one lavatory was in the backyard and all the refuse from the stables, the guts from the beast, sheep and pigs, and excreta from 9 humans went into this midden. It was my job to clean it out; I started at 5.a.m. to do the job so that I got the smell away before the public got about – but the flies – They were there by the millions, you could put up fly papers anywhere and within a few minutes they were black, and had to be renewed. Why we all did not die of food poisoning, I will never know. We had no fridge and meat was fully exposed to heat and fly damage.
I was getting near 18 years of age, and calling up time for the forces. The First World War had been on for 4 years, and it was then all conscription, so I had little choice but go where they sent me. I opted for the Marines because they did their training in a Deal, Portsmouth and Plymouth. I decided on this because I had never had a holiday, and these were the farthest away places in England. I did most of my training at Deal, and Plymouth, the boys were grumbling about the hard life, to me it was a piece of cake. Albert, my younger brother came into the business to do my work, as usual for nix, and Eleanor, my sister served in the shop, again for nix.
The army pay was 1/- per day, so you could not have a booze up too often, but I found I could manage. I was very fit and strong, in the tug of war team and very successful against all the army teams till we met the South Africans and they gave us the knock.
Home again after discharge I went into the business with Albert, determined to build it up. He was more of a mechanical mind than I and he thought we should have vans. I loved the horses, however he got his way and we went over to vans.
Before the business really got on it’s feet we played football on Saturday afternoons, and that is where I broke my ankle, the first cause of my arthritis. It was just bandaged up and back to work again. My father never looked at it, he was afraid I was going to be off work for a few weeks. It eventually healed, but it was out of shape, and very sore at times. I went to several surgeons later, and they all said the same thing, and that was that it should have been cut open and all the splintered bones taken out. I decided to go to Gordon Urwin for the operations but he did not make a very good job of it. And it has bothered me for many years.
I was very fond of tennis, when I could find any spare time, and we decided to make our own tennis court. I levelled off a part of our hayfield, turfed it, rolled it, marked it, then I started to play golf and never played one game on it. I enjoyed golf better.
By 1921, Albert and I were working long hours often out with the vans until after midnight in any sort of weather. By this time there were cattle trucks on the road, and we were finished with the long treks from the markets. As I am writing this I notice the price of fat beast to be about 120 to 130 pounds. When I was about 20, we could buy then for about 17 to 20 pounds. What a change.
I played golf at every opportunity and became quite a fair hand at it; getting down to a 4 handicap. One of my greatest days was playing Max Falconer off level and beating him, he won the open championship 3 or 4 years later (after the 1939-45 war)
I got married in 1922 to Molly Elliott and went to live at Whitley Bay with her aunt, but this was not satisfactory and we came back to New York.
Molly and Baden at Cresswell 1933
My father had a piece of land at Murton Village and he thought he would make a fortune building houses; what a laugh: he knew nothing whatsoever about building, and I thought he would loose all the money that Albert and I had made for him. He got two built, and that was enough. I lived in one of them for a few years and kept, or my wife kept, about 100 head of poultry. I had seen a quite modern, roomy, fridge for sale but father would not “bite” so I begged the money that my wife had saved from selling eggs, and bought the fridge. What a godsend. What a wife, she had saved and saved and I took it away in one fell swoop.
Some time in the 1920’s I bought a 2 seater Morris Cowley for 11 pounds 10 shillings. It was the best car I ever had, and I wish I had it now, I taught my wife to drive and the pair of them were invaluable. One Christmas I bought about 40 pigs and left about ½ of them for New Year. When out in the van at Shiremoor I realised that I was going to be very short of pork and this was about 9.p.m. the day before Xmas eve. I rang up my wife and told her the position. Could she get 3 or 4 pigs home for me to kill – and this was about 9.00 p.m. on a cold winter’s night. We had a servant girl living with us at the time and what a gem she was, she got the boiler fires going while the wife got the car out and away to the farm they went in the two seater. When they got there the farmer was ill in bed with the flu, but the wife borrowed a hurricane lamp, and away to the pig sty. They got one pig into a sack, and loaded it into the tiny “dicky” seat and off home. Back again for another and another until she had four 8 stone pigs home before I arrived at 11.00p.m. An 8 stone pig is about 12 stone alive. I got straight on with the slaughtering. The two women laboured to me and I was in the house for supper before 12.p.m. The position was saved for the Saturday morning. But not a word from the old man on Saturday morning when he arrived.
My two other brothers were not in the business. Edward and Charlie put nothing into it but took everything out of it. But I remember my sister Evelyn handing over her wages at the end of the month! A most unfair position. My father died very suddenly in 1933 and a most awkward situation became obvious, as Edward was one of the executors and I think he wanted to sell the business and split the proceeds 7 ways. HE
Note: this is a copy of the assets of George Thompson Snr at the time of his death, with a summary of the split of the assets between the seven children, Edward, Baden, Charles, Albert
Albert was telling me the other day, when I was in the army, he walked the cattle and sheep from Acklington market during a rail strike. My uncle took him up in his car as he was going to Alnwick the following day. Albert had all the beast and sheep for the whole area and Acklington is about 30 miles away. He had to manage this single handed.
He had a dog with him but every time they passed an open gate the cattle would wander in. One farmer asked where he was headed “Shiremoor”. His dad had only given him 2/6d and expected him home in a day. The farmer took pity on him, sheltered the cattle ands gave him a bed for the night. He made it home the next day.
The week after father’s death a local farmer rang me up to come and see him about some fat beast at the farm. I made a deal with him on the price of the last three beast he had inside., two at 20 pounds and 1 at 18 pounds. The 18 pound beast, when killed was full of tuberculosis. I got an awful shock when I learned that my father had not been insured against it. However when I rang the farmer and told him his beast was condemned, he promptly told me it was not his beast but mine. It was a shocker having one of three beast condemned, and asked him if he would meet me halfway, at 9 pounds each, but he would not hear of it. However I know that HIS father had been fined two years previously for selling a cow to a butcher well knowing it had T.B. and I was fairly sure this bullock had been a calf from this cow. I went to the solicitors and explained the case to him. The junior solicitor wanted to fight the case, but his father said, no the farmer was legally right, but he suggested offering him ½ the price, which I had already done. This time the farmer accepted my offer of 9 pounds and everything was alright.
Before the First World War and between the two wars, there was much T.B beef sold in the shops, I myself, could kill and dress a T.B. bullock so that a meat inspector would have a difficult task finding that the beast was deceased.
After father’s death, Albert and I were in business as Thompson Brothers and we sold some quantity of meat; when he was leaving the shop he put me to shame, sometimes with the load of meat he took out, coming back with just a few bones. Friday was our biggest night and we were often out until midnight. The customers used to wait for us no matter what the time.
I used to go to Borough Park occasionally, on a Saturday night to the dog races; and I have two amusing stories of these occasions. The first one concerns my wife, she had never been to a dog track in her life, but on this occasion I told her to get “dolled up” and I would take her out to supper, if she had known I had Borough park in mind it would have been a decided “no”. However I had her in before she knew what had happened. I gave her my solemn promise that I would come away as soon as she tired, and asked her if she had any money, the expected answer came “no” so I gave her 5/-. I knew she could not do so much damage with that. I lost her after supper and only found her when we got into the car to come home. She handed me 14 pounds and I said “my goodness, you have done well, but I don’t want his, you can keep it “oh” she said, “I’ve got another 14pounds, so you can have that” 28 pounds from 5/- and she has never been since!
The other story was one night I was there and I saw a farmer friend of mine always collecting from the tote payout: he was loaded: so I asked him for some information
“You seem to be doing well John; can you give me one for this race?” (He spoke very slowly so I spoke slowly too. He went through his pockets,
“What race is this?” he said very slowly
“The fifth” I said
He found his card at last and after studying it for some time said “well, I have no 5 for this one, no 2 the danger, but I’m going to back no 4” (there are only 5 dogs in each race).
I think the best night I had up there was a night I had with a blind man. He had been blind from birth, and was a master hand at picking winners.
My sister, Eleanor, Married William Stewart of Ears don, and had a farm on the banks of the river wear. One Sunday I thought I would like to go and see her; a friend had promised me the use of his tandem if I wanted it. I thanked him and we set off for Sunderland, me in front and my wife, behind. I’ll never forget that ride as long as I live; if we were going right, she was leaning left, and if we were going left she was leaning right – always the wrong way. It was my first ride on a tandem, and the last.
About 1922 the manager of Sunderland football team rang us on the telephone and asked if Albert would go over and talk terms wit him. Albert took some persuading, but finally I got him to go. He was offered the same terms as Charlie Buchan, but he refused, and I think for one reason only; he was thinking of the ton of work I would have one top of my usual. They signed up Dave Halliday.
The business got so big that we were out with the vans until 8 and 9 p.m. even on Saturdays; I remember on Christmas week I got home at 12, midnight. I told my wife I had locked up the shop. “Well, you had better take the bolts out, Albert is still out.”
One or two stories of shop life, and a glimpse of how nasty some women can get. My assistant was serving a woman, there were several in the shop at the time; she was just leaving when she suddenly called out that one of the eggs she got last week was bad. Dave said, “But we do not replace eggs”. (It was hot weather) but she would argue.
“Give her an egg, Dave, and get her out of the shop”. He handed her a fresh egg, and she was almost out of the shop when she turned and pushed her way up to the counter. “It was a large egg, not a standard” she called out, and handed the egg back to be replaced with a large one.
Back to the slaughter house: you often hear of cattle dying through eating plastic bags or some other rubbish. It is no fairy tale. I once got a whole motor bike inner tube out of a bullock’s stomach. It was cut through, and had been swallowed, by the beast, not because he was hungry, but because once they start chewing something they have to take it all down. The tube was in one straight length, having been cut through once, but it was complete with valve.
Being a butcher in the country, you are often called out to kill a bullock which looks like dying, and when the war was one, meat was really scarce, so you jumped at the chance of getting a few stones of beef on the cheap. I was called out one night in 1946, whilst rationing was still very strict, to kill just such a bullock. I shot it, skinned it, gutted it, and tried to buy the carcase, but as the farmer was just the farm steward, he could not sell it to me. The carcase went in stead to Newcastle for distribution among the butchers of the “Meat Pool”.
What a lucky man, I was, the carcase was found to have advanced anthrax, and had I cut myself whilst doing the job, the chances are I would not now be writing this today. Anthrax is nearly 100% fatal – or it was a t the time. If I had got the carcase I would have sold it to all my customers with perhaps many deaths, good cooking kills most germs, but there would have been many at grave risk.
A rather amusing story from this rather serious affair concerned my son-in-law Jack Cooper; I had taken him up to the farm, thinking he might be able to give me a bit of help. He was home on leave at the time. He returned to Portsmouth before they found the beast had anthrax. The police were anxious to have him examined as soon as the truth about the bullock was known, but it was the following day before he got the telegram to have a medical and merely lined up on sick parade. The M.O. saw him waiting, and said
“What on earth is the matter with you Cooper?”
“I’ve been in contact with an infected cow” he said. At which he was curtly told to stand in line with the others. However when it became known that the cow was 4 legged and anthrax was involved, it created quite a flap.
When I was serving with the marines in the First World War, I was walking through the village of Tavistock, where I was stationed. I saw a slaughterhouse and was into it like a shot. I met a butcher there and saw him cleaning tripe with lime. I had never seen this done before, but as soon as I got home I adopted the method, and used it till the day we were stopped killing our own stock.
I’m afraid I treated my wife rather roughly. She was now driving the car very well and taking out a few orders to customers, but within a few weeks she was taking out loads of meat.
The examination of meat before 1940 was very haphazard, we seldom saw meat inspectors and tuberculosis was very prevalent. Pigs were often T.B. and so were cattle, but sheep and lambs were seldom infected. It is not surprising that many young people died of TB, today it is almost extinct, and there is seldom any danger from eating any meat now.
Going back to earlier days, I was walking the stock home from Gateshead Market, and I was at Heaton cemetery with about 20 beast and 60 sheep, when in the distance I saw a brewer’s wagon coming rather fast. I waved my arms signalling for them to slow down, but on he came, much to fast. He ploughed his way into the sheep, I as so amazed at the sight of him going over the sheep that he got away without me getting his number. Three sheep were killed and three with broken legs. I bled the dead ones at the roadside, and the injured ones I got into a farm cart which had been to town with hay, and asked the man to leave them at the butchers in Benton, beside the Black Horse Pub. I killed and dressed them when I got there. I was not fifteen years of age at the time, and thought nothing of it.
On another occasion I had a sheep run over with a railway wagon, right across his back – the driver told me he had two tons of drain pipes and the wagon weighed 1 ton. But that sheep walked from Benton to New York, 4 miles. When it was killed one of its kidneys was loose among the intestines and its ribs were smashed to pieces.
We hear lots of stories of the hard times of the unemployed today, but I hope there are not many to equal my story of one unemployed man of 1947. This man had a large family, but as I remember to my knowledge I had never known him work. On this particular day he jumped off the bus right at the door and came into the shop.
“Have you any sheep heads, and mind, they are only 4d in North Shields” he said.
“Ah” said I “but do you know how much they are here?”
“No” said he, “they are for nothing, free” said I “come into the back shop”. And I sharpened a knife for him to take off the skin and showed him how to do it, and with all the time in the world he made no attempt to skin them. He wanted me to skin them and clean them, but he went out sheep headless.
At this time the council had started to build nice quality houses on the outskirts of the village and this man was determined to have one, he was never out of the council offices and they promised him one of the first to be built. They had never seem the house he was occupying, although it had been entirely new four of the six windows were covered with sacking, almost all the cupboard doors were burned for firewood, he had knocked a hole in the wall between the kitchen and the scullery so that dirty dishes could be handled more easily. I got the chairman of the Housing Committee to come up and see it, and that was the last he saw of his new council house. He never knew who had shopped him.
When I was discharged from the Marines in 1918 the business was growing very fast and I found we had so much work to do in the killing shop that Albert and I decided to do all the killing early on Monday morning, so early in fact that we started at 12 midnight Sunday night, worked through the night and all the next day, till about 6 p.m. Monday. – All the dirty work was done in one day, beast killed, tripe cooked, black puddings made etc.
Back at school again, we had an assistant teacher, Mr Barker, easily the most efficient, at the school, when he saw that I was going to be a good footballer he used to take me to the spare room and give me a really good massage, and he did this during the morning break. I’m sorry to say he went to France, and was killed almost immediately. he had not been in France a week.
A day out with my horse and cart selling meat; I had served my last customer at West Moor and was heading for the main road home, it was about 9.p.m. and there had been a sharp shower and a quick frost put a coating of ice on the top. It happened one time in October, and I had not got the horses prepared for frost. Down went the horse, and it was easily seen that it was impossible for hi to stand on his feet. After his second fall I knew what I had to do, take him out of the shafts tie him to the rear of the cart and get in the shafts myself. I pulled the cart home myself about 5 miles, I got help from 2 miners at Benton square to bush me up the Bridge Bank, or I would not have made it.
We had a very smart horse about 5 years old with plenty of action, the farmer in the village used to run the football team to the away matches on alternative Saturdays in the Tyneside league. It was a wagonette affair for two horses. One of his horses was poorly so he landed at our shop to borrow a horse to get the team to a place called Windy Nook. It was about 14 miles, almost all uphill, and to cut a long story short, our horse pulled the waggonette full of men himself and the other horse as well. The horse was no good after that journey, it broke his heart (not to mention Dads heart too).
When the time came for changing horses for vans there was quite an accumulation of harness and lamps etc. We had a scrap man took the lot for 3 or 4 shilling. A few years later the lamps alone were worth pounds.
When the Second World War came I was appointed fire officer with all the fire appliances in our stables and I could call upon half a dozen volunteers to come to any fire in the area. We had an air raid very soon afterwards, incendiary bombs all over the place. Some fell in the haystack at Watson’s farm and away we went to deal with it. We got everything fixed up and I shouted “turn on the water” the resulting flow of water was like a little boy of 5 having a “jimmy riddle”. There were escapes of water all along the hose. Unknown to me Brother Edward had spilled some acid from an accumulator, and it had dropped through the bench making holes all over the fire hose. I’m afraid the fire was the winner.
After the Second World War, I got a bit interested in the stock market; I had about 900 pounds in the bank doing nothing so I told the bank manager to buy me some shares.
“What kind do you want?” says he,
“Well” I says “some firm with a Jew at the head of affairs - what about great universal stores?”
“It’s your money” he said “and you can do what you like with it”
If I had read the financial time for a whole year I could not have made a better choice. He bought me 810 at about 23/- per share. No wonder they were christened “gorgeous GUSsy” I have had my money back many times over. Although they were so good, I never bought any more, spending my money on other firms such as Hoovers, Rank, De La Rue, Lloyds Bank etc. All of them good but not in the same race as G.U.S. If I had kept on buying G.U.S. with all the surplus cash and ignored the others I think I would have been worth a million by now.
My brother, Edward, Sam Abram, and myself were idling down Murton lane one day: we were just three boys together out walking, when we came across a man with a car through the hedge. He was stupid drunk: we helped him get his car onto the road, when a policeman arrived
“Do you think you can take it home?” he said:
“Give the handle a turn and I’ll drive.” said the man.
The policeman asked us boys if we could go to North Shields with him to see him safely home: Sam and I got into the back, and Edward got into the front seat by the driver. We had gone about a mile when the driver drove the car into a stone wall. Sam and I pulled him over the backrest and Edward got into the driving seat. We got the car started with Edward at the wheel, although he had never been in a car in his life, he drove it to the man’s shop and from there to his home. In first gear all the way. The man was a pork butcher and rewarded us (butchers sons) with 2 pounds of polony sausages which we through over the wall on the way home.
Sam Abrams was rather a clever lad, and I remember him dashing along to our house with a home made wireless set, and we got all excited when we heard Cullercoats clearly “pip, pip” and an orchestra in the distance; we thought it was wonderful.
Between the wars meat got very cheap, and I was selling excellent brisket at 41/2d per pound. Old Mrs. Hindmarsh had a corner shop at Bertram place and she used to buy a whole brisket off me on a Saturday (it only cost her about 7/-) All the travellers, butchers and greengrocers, went there for their dinner. She was a beautiful cook and the meat was on the table, with bread, pickled onions and beetroot. You help yourself to everything, cut your own meat and ended with coffee with milk – all for 1/-
One of our local farmers took the prize for the best story of the year; he had an old woman working on the farm, well she looked old, but as a matter of fact, she was just middle aged. All the dirty jobs were detailed for her. Granny Hindmarsh told me she was really the daughter of the farmer himself, but he refused to accept her. A young girl some years previously had put the baby girl on the doorstep and walked away. She slept with the cows, and went into the fields in all weathers to cut turnips for the cows, and this kind of life had made her look an old woman before she was 50. The hind was cutting turnips out of the fields when he came across Margaret, lying dead. He came back and told the farmer. “Well now” he said “when you go back for the next load, just fill the cart three quarters full and bring her back.” She came through the village with both her legs hanging over the tail end of the cart, on top of a load of turnips.
When we were finished with the horses we were also finished with the fields and we had about 2 tons of hay left in the stack. Father sold it to a farmer for GBP5 per ton, but it was a sorry story when we tried to get the cash for the sale; she took no notice of bills, so my wife thought she might be successful if she went to the farm herself. What a hope, she didn’t get a penny piece. That farmer was the master dodger. He had the cheek to go to a farm sale in Ponteland and buy a farm without any money, and he managed to stay put for about 3 years before he was thrown out. Broadlaw was the farm, and it has now been taken up with Kirkley Hall.
Arthritis was beginning to take its toll now and I was thinking of retiring early when brother Edward took ill., He had a severe pain in his chest, and they decided to operate; they cut him open and sewed him up immediately. He had killed himself with smoking. He lit one cigarette off the stump of the last one, and both his lungs were in a dreadful state.
He had a new car delivered the week he died, but he never saw it. I had been a fairly heavy smoker myself at the time, but determined to give it up and I was successful. I have no craving for tobacco now. I think this was just in time.
My investments were doing well, so I decided to retire, but I did not like the idea of total retirement so decided to find another job for a few years. Adam Lythgo of Warrington wanted salesmen for basic slag, lime and other farm manures so I applied for the job. I met the Newcastle branch manager and at the age of 55 got the job.
I had too weeks training at Warrington, and 3 weeks staying at the Imperial hotel at Newcastle. It was a very pleasant job and if my leg had been kinder to me I would have stayed with them for a few years. The commission basis of pay seemed generous, and some of the men were lifting GBP100 per week (in 1955 terms) I started to look for a site for a bungalow and found one at Old Hartley, near Whitely Bay, and saw the start of my bungalow being built. A house would have been no use to me as my leg was getting rapidly worse.
In the garden of the bungalow 1960
Before moving to the bungalow I took my wife to Italy for a two week holiday and enjoyed every minute of it. The trip was organised by the beekeepers association, who have a conference every three years and a different country is selected each time. I had decided to keep a few hives of bees as a hobby and what a rewarding hobby it turned out to be. The amount of honey gathered was astonishing and we had some enjoyable outings to apiaries all over the country.
Vast changes in the style of living have come about in these last few years. When I left the business about 13 years ago, men used to boast if they were having chicken for dinner, now the boast if they are having beef. Such has been the change in prices in these last few years. We have a lovely view from the kitchen window. I can see about 30 to 40 half-grown beast in the fields. The owner was in the house last week, and I asked him how much he paid for these calves: only half grown and GBP 86 each. They would not be fit for slaughter for 12 months at least.
I’ll take you back to the cattle market again, I had bought a pen of sheep from a farmer, and he asked me to come to the pub and have a drink. When we were sitting there the farmer disclosed that was putting his farm up for sale, this was the second farmer I had heard about. I was astonished because I know that he had a son about 40; “what about Robert?” I said “he can’t afford to buy it” he replied “but, why don’t you say to Robert he can have the farm and pay GBP5 or GBP10 whenever he can afford it?” But the farmer said it was too late, the farm had been advertised. I was shocked, because he could easily have cancelled the sale and he was condemning his son to the life of a farm labourer for the rest of his life.
We had a fantastic fall of snow in the village in January 1947. The road through the village was completely blocked. All the telephone wires were down to the ground; every telegraph pole was snapped as though a giant had walked the area showing his strength and snapping the poles as if they were matchsticks. I was worried to death as I had 200 sheep on Tynemouth golf course and they were starving. If I had been able to buy hay I could not have got it down to them, so thick was the snow.
I was talking to one of the miners in the village and he was going down the pit at midnight. His job was drilling the coalface. I asked him if I could go with him and the answer was “yes”. I put on my oldest clothes and down the pit we went; after signing a form at the pithead to renounce responsibility by the colliery I went down with my friend. It was exactly 12.p.m. and we had 1.5 miles to walk to the coal face. At this time the men could leave as soon as they had finished the job. I had a “go” at it myself and found it not to difficult. However we got out for the pit and away to the bath: after bath, breakfast. I had bacon, egg and some sausage and was in my own bed before 5.a.m. Not bad going.
One of the miners, a very funny chap he was, told me he could raise the old window with a bit of steel he had and help himself to one or two of the Cornish pasties my wife used to make for sale in the shop, He played hell with me for putting in a new window in the front of the shop – I did not grudge him a few.
In the miners strike of 1926 I had a constant supply of coal from the Billy Mill quarry, when the stone had been removed we did not have much further to go before we struck coal, and it was real quality. It kept us going for a long time, until we went down one day and found someone had dug away the pillars we had left for support, so that was the end of the cheap coal.
I had two rather remarkable experiences with an uncle of mine: the first in London. I had gone down to spend the weekend with my newly married sister, and, unknown to me, my uncle Jim, was in London too. He was there to get a new car for a customer. He was intending to spend the afternoon at the race track, I think it was Brookland, a circular affair, and the contestants went round and round. Just like riding in a saucer. Well he knew I was in London, but I did not know he was there. He sent me a card asking me to ring him at his hotel, thinking perhaps I would like to spend the afternoon with him at the races. My sister forgot, or the card arrived after I had left, in any rate I did not get the message. After lunch on Saturday I set off to see a football match. I arrived about an hour too soon so decided to go into a hotel for a snack. The ground floor was full so I went upstairs and that was almost full, except for one seat at a table for two. The other gentleman had his face buried in his newspaper. I asked if I might share the table and when the gentleman put down his paper, behold, it was Uncle Jim. “Why had I not been on the phone to him that morning?”
He did not believe that I had just walked into the hotel without even knowing he was in London.
On another occasion, I was having, or going to have, a weekend at a friends farm in Yorkshire, about 9 miles from Darlington, and went to Newcastle Central Station at about 6p.m. got the train to Darlington and arrived just in time to see the last wagonette leaving the square on a pouring wet night. I set off to walk, and got to Barton about 11.00 p.m. knocked up a villager to ask the whereabouts of Bretenby farm. I was still a long way from my destination and soaked to the skin when I set off to find the farm in the pitch dark. I had given up all hope of finding the place, when I heard a motor bike coming up behind me. I made a frantic effort to stop the bike, but I was unsuccessful, he flew past me and there I was dejected and miserable and soaked about 1 a.m. I expect you have guessed who that rider was.
I pulled some hay from a stack and made myself as comfortable as possible for the rest of the night, arriving at the farm Sunday morning about 8.a.m. to find, yes, Uncle Jim having his breakfast! However after breakfast I went out with the gun and bagged a couple of pheasants.
I am afraid it is also the end of this most fascinating account of his life. At this point the troubles that arose from his hip operation became acute and he went, once again, into hospital, where his condition worsened, and when he returned, he was quite unable to continue. He always wanted to have great grandchildren, but none were born whilst he was alive. I think he would love to think that he had passed this on to them, and I am sure you will all treasure it as the most precious legacy he left us all.
The reference to the Miners strike is very interesting. Apparently some men overturned coal wagons on the level crossing at one end of the village and somehow the other was also blocked off. Thus the village was completely cut off from supplies. The butchers had bones, barley and suet, and the pots, fired by coal for boiling large quantities of liquid. The local men raided their allotments and supplied vegetables, the store produced flour, and the whole village was fed from a soup kitchen with a very nourishing soup of bones vegetables and dumplings made from the flour and suet. It must have been these pots that needed the coal from the Billy Mill stone quarry.