maandag 19 oktober 2009

Stephensons Chapter 13 - Billy and Minnie

William Stephenson b. 1899 – d. 1972 and Minnie Armstrong b. 1900 – d. 1989

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
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.

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