It was a cold, damp, windy day. I could hear the foghorn. Looking out the window I didn’t fancy going outside. If it clears up I’ll go out later. First I’ll have something to eat and listen to the news. I heated up a tin of pea and ham soup and turned the TV on.
Flicking through the channels I came across ‘When the Boat Comes In’. Never seen it before just heard the theme tune ‘Dance to yer Daddy’. Within minutes I was riveted. The writing was sharp, the story was great and Jack was the man. Recognising a few locations added it to being my new favourite programme. As the locations were on Tyneside, next time I was in the Local History library I’ll search and see if there is any reference to the programme.
There was, not only was the writer, James Mitchell from the North East, he was born in South Shields. And Tyne Dock featured heavily in his and his father’s story, who was local councillor for the Tyne Dock ward.
This was the catalyst for making a film about the area. I rang up Jarrow playwright Tom Kelly, we had a get together and he started work on the script.
Using archive material and personal interviews with people who lived there, we look at the changes made in Tyne Dock. These are short extracts from some of the interviews filmed in 2012.
Tyne Dock Arches….
Kennie Chow: One of the major dare’s that we had was that along the arches was a ledge and above the arches was several little arches which you can get inside. But the only way you could actually get inside was to actually physicaly shimmy across the ledge.
Stephen Wilson: Used to play in the arches a lot. Was a great playground, very dangerous. We used to climb to the top and go into the little arches at the top. Which were yer access point, you could climb and go down but was quite a big drop. And inside it was chocka block with bricks and rubble.
Sheila Ross: The arches we thought were exciting cos you could get an echo in them. They were long, dark, very dingy. I mean they went for quite a distance. That distance from where Jarrow and Tyne Dock is, is quite a distance.
Paul Freeman: They were quite busy cos they were for taking the railways in and out of the docks. So the road went through the arches and the railways went over the top so they were filthy. But as children they were fantastic things to play in.
Olive Pinkney: As you get older you tend to reminisce about when you were young and of course Tyne Dock was a very close knit community. And the arches was always our familiar focal point. If we had any family come from all over we used to say you come through the arches and you are at Tyne Dock.
When I retired I started doing watercolours and painted places of Tyne Dock where I remembered and the arches was one of the main one’s.
Alex Donaldson: For all the old dilapidated houses, no bathrooms and outside toilets I think there was still a comradeship, a friendliness about the place. People were very close then, you knew who your neighbours where they were just next door living on top of each other (laughs).
In the ‘60s the river Tyne was still quite as busy as when I lived in Hudson Street. I can remember foreign seaman coming out of the dock’s during the day or later in the evening. They used to board the trolley bus that was stood there. I’ve still got happy memories of old Tyne Dock.
Sheila Ross: But it was all pub’s. And they were not pub’s we would go into. Me motha’ wouldn’t even go into them, they were men’s pubs. For the dockers and the sailor’s who would come from all over the world.
Derek Pinkney: Well Slake Terrace was one of the busy roads at the edge of Tyne Dock. Actually it was full of public houses, that was it’s mainstay. There was pubs like the Green Bar, The Empress Hotel, The Banks of Tyne, The North Eastern. The Grapes which was on the corner of Hudson Street. And then round the corner was The Dock.
The best place where we used to get a good laugh when we were boys was a café called the Café Norge. And it was supposedly a place of ill repute. Because in those days there was lot’s of Norwegian and Swedish ship’s used to come into Tyne Dock and the crew’s used to frequent that place.
Paul Freeman: Now if you carried on up Hudson Street you came to another boarded out shop and a house where all these ladies used to live. Me sister Sheila and me used to get pennies off them, they were a lovely set of lasses.
Sheila Ross: So we used to sit on the step at the bottom of the flat and there was some ladies used to come past, always very nice, give us sixpence each.
Paul Freeman: Just up Dock Street one of the first buildings was the spiritualists.
Sheila Ross: That was a big meeting place on a Saturday night because they used to faint and pass out with all these messages they were getting. And they used to lay them out in the street. Just lay them on the pavements ‘till they come round.
Paul Freeman: You had a right mixture of the one’s that had been talking to the dead and glory to god on high and the other’s stinking of the other spirit’s and beer then you had the other one’s who had been looking after more than the spiritual welfare round the corner at the brothel. It was quite a place to be actually.
James Mitchell and When the Boat Comes In…..
Roz Bailey: I don’t remember meeting him when I was first cast as Sarah Headly. I didn’t think I was going to be in When the Boat Comes In because I remember when they were first casting it I was going to go up for the part of Jessie. Obviously didn’t get that but a year later my agent rang me up and said there’s a part that they are casting for. I got it but didn’t know how it was going to colour my life.
I remember filming outside The Customs House which is now a theatre it must have been derelict then. They had set it up with the old cobble stones. The characters were so well written by James Mitchell, particularly for the women. Which you don’t often get now. And the attention to detail. Looking at them the great humour in his writing, the calibre of it. Very, very special.
Second Time Around Record Shop…
Alistair Robinson: Shields in the late ‘70s and ‘80s was well off for second hand and collector’s record shop’s. There was one half way down Imeary Street in Westoe in the ‘70s, there was the Handy Shop just off Frederick Street in Laygate and there was Second Time Around in Tyne Dock. I didn’t know the guy’s who run it cos they maybe had a deal somewhere where they could get some quite rare material.
Stewart Cambell: I opened the shop in 1975 until 1985. We sold loads of Jazz in French and German import’s. We had big Elvis fan’s come to the shop, we had imports from the States, Uruguay, most countries. Some people bought the same Elvis album with five different covers.
Tyne Dock Youth Club…
Stephen Wilson: We would play on the railway line from Tyne Dock until it crossed Eldon Street, then all the way up to Trinity High Shields. We played in the old shed’s when it closed down. We used to walk along the lines and play on the lines behind Tyne Dock Youth Club. We used to put screws, nuts and bolts, two pences on the lines and when the trains went past they flattened them.
Kennie Chow: Tyne Dock Youth Club was a massive part of my life. Through personal reasons my family were split up at the time and I managed to join the youth club and I must have spent about 10 years of my life there. It really helped us pull through the bad times I was going through, and I became club DJ.
Paul Dix: I was a bit nervous coming to the club but we were welcomed by Jack and Betty Inkster who ran the club then. We knew Kennie he was a great lad, he done the club disco’s.
I think the French trip was one of the biggest things that the club had done for years. We went in the mini bus and piled it with kid’s, tents and sleeping bags and as many tin’s of beans and sausages as you can get in the back of a van. Drove off down the motorway, down to Dover and on the ferry. We drove from the top of France through to Paris and Jack was using his cine camera and documenting the whole of the trip from start to finish. Jack and Betty on the trip were fantastic. They done everything for us, Jack helping putting the tents up and Betty all those sausages and beans. We washed up and everybody chipped in. When you look back at the cine footage you can see how great a care they took of the kids. It was a real priviledge to have been on that trip.
DVD copies of Tyne Dock Borders (70mins £10) are available from The Word, South Shields.
Gary Alikivi August 2019.