TRADING PLACES – 250 years of South Shields Market

In September 2018 I made a short documentary about South Shields market with former Shields Gazette award winning journalist Janis Blower. Janis has a wide knowledge of local history through producing the Cookson Country feature in The Shields Gazette and working on the books ‘Aall T’githor Like Folk O’ Shields’. An interview with Janis talking about her work featured in the blog ‘Have You Heard the News’  (27th January 2020).

We had previously worked together in 2016 on a film about South Shields Photographer and Historian Amy Flagg. Janis added the voice of Amy in the short film ‘Westoe Rose’. Included here is the full script that Janis wrote about the 250 year old South Shields market, a link to the film is at the end.

Trading Places

Author Joseph Conrad is said to have refreshed himself in its ample public houses on his voyage from life before the mast to The Heart of Darkness. It has rung to the strident tones of politics and religion. Marked the coronations and deaths of monarchs; been a centre of commerce and conviviality. A public forum one day, a fairground the next. War almost did for it. Peace would prove no less transformative.

Over the 250 years of its existence, the fortunes of South Shields’s historic Market Place have fluctuated with those of the wider town. Both have had to adjust to social and economic change. Within the lifetime of many townsfolk, that has included the decline of the market itself.

The rise of the discount retailer has seen a corresponding fall in the numbers of bargain hunters. Gone too is the tradition for Shields folk to put on their glad rags on a Saturday afternoon and go ‘down-street,’ to stroll up one side of King Street to the Market, and down the other.

For a post-war generation, this was the era of stalls piled high with crockery, pans and nylons – to be sifted through to find a matching pair, of reconditioned boiler suits and other stalls selling goldfish and rabbits. In winter the lamps would flare in the chilly dusk. By then, the market was no longer open until 10 o’ clock at night, as it had been before the war when, the later the hour, the more the cost of Sunday’s joint fell.

In those days visitors would also have found Harry Randall’s toffee stand where homemade toffee, with a free bag of horehound candy, could be bought for sixpence. Also the stall piled high with assorted tripe into which the stall holder would shove his hands, shouting: “Come on, get amongst it!”

And there was the painless dentist, who guaranteed to pull a tooth with his finger and thumb for a shilling: This was the market as part-public service, part-spectacle, like the stocks that a century earlier had once stood opposite St Hilda’s Church. Or the fairs that would visit, in spring and autumn, with their prancing horses and shuggy boat rides or, likewise, the travelling  menageries that would also descend at regular intervals.

The Friday flea market has in recent years returned the square to aspects of what it was then, at least commercially, though the old clothes stalls are no longer confined to the side nearest the church. South Shields-born poet James Kirkup immortalised these in a poem, writing:  “The old jackets rub shoulders on the rack of life and death, the crumpled trousers all undone swing in a driving wind, a boneless abandon, soft-shoe shuffle in the sands of time. Laid away, the painter’s dungarees are dingy white, stained with forgotten schemes for houses decorated out of sight…”

Gone, though, is the fresh fish market: also the groups of men who, hands cupped round their Woodbines or Capstan Full Strength, would gather around the Old Town Hall in the hope of being tapped for work on the river.

An old Shieldsman, writing of his Victorian childhood, remembered each trade having it’s own beat. “While the Church side was common to most parties”. Men milled in this way, albeit in ever-decreasing numbers, until as late as the 1960s, before the skyline increasingly ceased to be criss-crossed by cranes.

The Market Place pulsed with life, not only in the numerous pubs – of which there were at least six before the First World War and as many again in the surrounding streets – but also in the shops. Marks and Spencer started out in the town with a Penny Bazaar here. Barbour’s with a shop on the west side of the square, specialised in weatherproof clothes that would evolve into the garb of aristrocats. Crofton’s, the legendary department store on the corner of King Street, would survive one disastrous fire early in it’s existence but not a second.

That catastrophe was visited one autumn night in 1941 when the town suffered the biggest air raid of the war. In a matter of hours two sides of the square had been reduced to smoking ruins. The then-170-year-old Town Hall – miraculously stood firm, albeit not undamaged. The ‘Old Cross,’ as it was affectionately known was left looking out over a sea of devastation.

Over the next 20 years, new buildings would grow-up around it. There would be no attempt to reconstruct a square which had once been likened to the market place at Bruges. Post-war modernity won the day, in keeping with a town which, under Borough Engineer John Reid, was sweeping away much of its Victorian housing and redrawing its commercial heart.

Concrete took the place of brick, with new pubs going up on the site of the old and the building of a new tax office, Wouldhave House, with shops adjacent. Small thoroughfares which had run in and out of the square for much of its existence, like Thrift Street and little West Street, disappeared. East Street and Union Alley, became backwaters.

Today the square continues to evolve. Words remain its currency, – not those of the fairground barker, or the radical anymore, but as the home of the town’s main library, housed within an award winning building dedicated to writing and creativity.

The Market Place own story, meanwhile, continues to unfold….

Gary Alikivi  January 2020

 

 

EVERYBODY’S LIFE WAS TOUCHED BY COAL with artist Bob Olley

 

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Between 2009 and 2016 I made over 20 films. ‘Vanished’ was a documentary about the lost industry of coal, shipyards and railways made in 2012. Also featured was the lost village of Marsden, once situated on the cliff top near Souter Lighthouse and Whitburn pit. (pic above courtesy of Marsden Banner Group). This extract is taken from an interview featured in the film with former miner now Artist, Bob Olley….

Well I worked at Whitburn Colliery from 1957 till the colliery closed in ’68. Whitburn was a wet pit mostly and I was working in the east yard seam 3 miles out under the North Sea. It took us three quarters of an hour to get in and three quarters of an hour to get out. I think it’s because it’s such an adverse industry, danger, and whatever else, a sense of humour developed.

When the colliery closed it was the push I needed to get out. When I first went into the artistic side of my life the stuff I did was very dour, mostly pen and ink work. Then I moved away from coal mining for about 15 years then suddenly I got this urge to go back to the subject and this was the type of thing I was doing (points to picture next to him).

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Up to about 15 years ago I would say most people in the North East their lives was influenced by the coal industry. The amount of people that were involved with the transportation of coal, the winning of the coal, the processing of the coal, everybody’s life was touched by coal.

Gary Alikivi   January 2020.

SMOULT THE BOLT

In 2006 the idea was to make a number of short documentaries in South Shields featuring residents of the town and their hobbies, interests or passion. The first was Colin Smoult, this was his story and a link to the 4 minute film is at the end. 

South Shields has always been a rock town and even when music has faded and past like the indie culture of the late ‘80s, the big dance boom of the ‘90s then you’ve still got the rock scene. We might be gettin’ older, greyer, fatter but I think a lot of people in this town will always have a place in their heart for rock music. We’ve always had people from this town that’s been so fanatical for the bands that they have followed. I’ve grown up with many of them from my late teens onwards and some of them remain just as passionate about their music now as they did over 25 years ago.

My name’s Colin Smoult I’m 42 years old and I live in a town where I was born, South Shields. A small seaside town 10 miles east of Newcastle. My occupation is a shopkeeper, it’s essentially what people used to refer to as a head shop. I sell things like pipes and bongs which 20 years ago might have been seen as very risqué. But this day and age it’s all fairly acceptable. It’s only a tiny shop with a minimum amount of trade but I’m me own boss and if it pays the bills I’m quite happy. That allows me plenty of time to pursue my other hobbies and interests – my main one is local live music.

I’ve been the singer and guitarist in a band called Shovelmouth for the past 11 years now and we play various gigs in pubs scattered right across the region. The songs are all rock cover versions but the pub rock scene is huge in the North East of England. On a Friday and Saturday night there are probably 100 pubs and more putting on live entertainment featuring full on rock bands.

South Shields alone has half a dozen pubs that put on live music and the largest of these is called The Office. Not only does my band get to play there but I am responsible for booking the acts every weekend. The acts are normally small local bands playing a variety of covers but now and then we put on special events that feature tribute bands, some of these are from out the area.

I’m a rocker at heart but I find there is a lot of people who love this kind of music so I book the bands that people want to see the most. I’m pretty passionate about live music and only book the very best from the talent that we have.

Some people may see it as a bit sad and may view it as a bunch of middle aged folkies trying to re-live their youth but nostalgia is a big booming industry and if people want to see songs from their youth played live in their local pub – then who am I to deny them. Whether I’m the bloke singing the songs or the man who books the bands I’m content to know I’m doing my bit to allow people to have a good time after a long week at work.

I’m also involved with a website called Riffs which pushes and promotes local bands, and apart from news pages and gig guides I also post up my own reviews of the many bands that I get to see here. So I suppose my hobby is full time because as well as being directly involved every weekend, during the week I am always writing things up and arranging things for the venue and my own band.

I like to keep in touch with lots of groups out there and there’s quite a lot of time spent gob shyting with people on the internet as well. Don’t get us wrong I get a big buzz out of being on stage and entertaining people, but if you’ve got any band up there on stage with a superb crowd watching them, for me the atmosphere in the room is just as enjoyable.

The standard of musicianship on the local circuit is extremely high and is way beyond what people would term as pub bands in other parts of the country. The old club scene has become a lot more pop orientated in the last 20 years and a lot of the rock players that used to play that circuit have now moved into the pubs instead. So the end result is that we have some amazing musicians kicking around and most of the bands that you get to see are free admission too.

So for a lot of people aged in their ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s watching a live band on a Saturday night is a very cheap way to have a fantastic night out. If I’m not playing with my own band then I’m here at The Office watching them instead. Either way for me every weekend is dominated by my love for live music. I got tons of pride in what I do. But for me there’s only one true satisfaction and that’s putting a smile on people’s faces.

If I can be involved in any way with live music that others gain a lot of pleasure from I get immense satisfaction from doing that. I suppose as I get older I won’t be able to bounce around on stage in the same way, then eventually there will come a time when I’ll have to retire from live performances, but I’ll always stay involved with the local band scene even if I have to be brought in on a wheelchair.

I’ve jokingly said that when I die I want my ashes scattered under the stage of The Office. But honestly it’s as good a place as any and that way I’ll always be close to what I love.

 

Gary Alikivi  January 2020.

HARD UP in HOLBORN – South Shields photographer James Henry Cleet 1876-1959.

During the 1930’s James Cleet was commissioned by South Shields Public Health Department to make a photographic record of ‘slum housing’ in the town. Side Photographic Gallery in Newcastle produced a booklet in 1979 of some of the photo’s. Not sure if the term ‘slum’ was first used by Side Gallery or Public Health Department ?

But first time I came across James Cleet when I was doing some family and history research in the Local History section of South Tyneside Library. It gave me the idea to make a documentary in 2010 called ‘The Hills of Holborn’, featuring the area once known as the industrial heartland of Shields, Cleet’s work and the digitization project. The Local History section had been awarded funding to digitize thousands of photographs they had in their archive and load them onto a new website. Volunteers were needed for this process and as I was self employed I could give a couple of hours a week to a worthwhile cause.

Spending time looking through photographs, some from the early 1900’s, of people, places and events around South Tyneside was a great way to spend a couple of hours. It wasn’t long till I dropped in more frequently. Photographs by Emmett, Flagg and Cleet were an excellent record of the times. Some images had familiar street names of area’s where my ancestors lived, mainly Tyne Dock, Holborn and Jarrow. Finding a family of photographers called Downey who had a studio in Eldon Street next to where my great grandmother lived was an added bonus.

There was a small team of volunteers who recorded details of the images, scanned the photo’s, and uploaded them onto the website, this process features in the documentary. Street names, buildings, shops and people were researched, as much information as possible was added. On the back of the pictures was nearly always a date or name of the photographer. But unfortunately, some photographs were left blank and didn’t have any recognizable signs, but were still uploaded.

After a few sessions I could recognize the styles of certain photographers and two of them stood out. Amy Flagg added extensive details to a lot of her work, and covered some powerful subjects like the Second World War – climbing over bombed houses to get the shot won’t have been easy. Some of her images became instantly recognisable, in her darkroom she stamped a date in Roman numerals on the bottom of the photo.

There were a load of photographs that were taken in Holborn by James Cleet, his style and composition was of a very high quality with clean, sharp images. Most of the images are taken on overcast, grey rainy days – is that a coincidence ? I doubt it. The lighting give the pictures a uniform look and add to the bleak, grim atmosphere of the housing clearance. In research I found he had regular work at ship launches, plus The Shields Gazette and Daily Mirror. While Flagg’s technique was more hand held, Cleet used a tripod in most if not all of his shot’s. Both were passionate about their work.

Around that time an old guy used to come to the local history section and tell me a few stories about Tyne Dock and Holborn as his family lived in those area’s. Next time he brought in a booklet which he gave to me, it featured a collection of the housing clearance photographs I’d been looking at.

The booklet also included reports by the South Shields Medical Officer for Health talking about ‘rat repression’ and ‘eradication of bed bugs’. They reported….’The women had a very hard life. They polished their steps and the pavement was scrubbed. The backyard was washed regular. There was a question of pride. They had to keep them clean or they’d be overrun with vermin. No getting away with it. It had to be kept down’. The report also included complaints from residents…’A’ve seen some hard up times. Families of nine in one room. I knew a family, the father and mother had to gan ootside to do their business. Yes they used to do their courtin’ ootside. The mother used to stand at the telegraph pole on Johnsons Hill and have her love with the husband and then gan yem to bed. You couldn’t do nowt with all the family livin’ in one room’.

In a previous post I wrote about the important historical archive that Amy Flagg had left to the town: her Second World War photo’s plus the book ‘The History of Shipbuilding in South Shields’, the James Cleet housing clearance booklet is just as important a document of South Shields.

To check out the South Tyneside photographs featuring Amy Flagg and James Cleet go to :   https://www.southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi   December 2019.

JARROVIANS – Vince Rae’s photographic record of Jarrow in 1978.

For 30 years Vince Rae ran the Bede Gallery in Jarrow which featured paintings, sculpture and photographs reflecting the town’s history. Included was material relating to the 1936 Jarrow March and the execution of William Jobling, the last man to be gibbeted in the North.

I knew of Vince Rae’s work as I’d read a couple of books that he had published about old Jarrow and came across his photography through the 1990’s. But first talked to him around 2001 when I was running a Community Video Project in South Shields. He was organising an exhibition about the Jarrow Crusade and was looking for a video projector. We didn’t have one, but I went along to the Viking shopping centre in Jarrow to see the exhibition.

Then in 2008 I called him up explaining that I was making a documentary in Jarrow called ‘Little Ireland’. The film was going to look at the Irish immigration into Jarrow and could I use some of his photographs. He agreed straight away ‘Yeah no bother son just send me a copy when it’s done’.

But if we go back to around 2002 I was filming in Jarrow and in a newsagents I saw a book called ‘Jarrovians’. Inside were some amazing black & white documentary photographs of people and places around Jarrow, all taken by Vince during 1978. I handed my tenner over.

Packed with images of drinkers and barmaids from pubs like the Royal Oak, Prince of Wales, Tunnel Tavern and the Viking Bar. There’s gadgies suppin’ pints and playing domino’s, kid’s on the streets setting up bonfires, homeless men in Simpsons Hostal, women’s darts team in The Western pub. Dogs, horses and Joblings gibbet – all life is here in it’s working class glory.

With few exceptions, the overall feel of the collection of photographs is people simply enjoying themselves, being out of the house and among friends sharing their time together. Most people are happy to get their photograph taken but looking at some of the images Vince might not of asked first.

The Jarrovians was first published in 2001 by Vince and Willa Rae at The Bede Gallery, Jarrow.

Gary Alikivi  December 2019.

ON THE FRONT LINE stories from the Miners strike ‘84-85

In 2001 I made a documentary about South Shields miners and their families who lived through the strike of 1984-85. Here are short extracts from those interviews, people who need to tell their stories of what it meant to be on the front line. A year that would shape and change their lives forever.

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Phil Screaton: In the lead up to the miners strike there was an air of gloom and pessimism. The writing was on the wall.

Bill Hall: We’d all be warned by Scargill months prior to that, that it was something we had to do to protect our futures.

Joan Cook: It was a whole industry, millions of men fighting for their future. It was a period of time were there was just nothing, at all, coming in. It did wreck havoc, it really did.

Phil Screaton: What I did find during the miner’s strike and since how rapidly all these pits became uneconomical all of a sudden.

Bill Hall: I think the feeling at the time was that we had to do something about it because we had been warned especially by Margaret Thatcher that she intended to deindustrialise the country. Which we had already seen done to the steel works and docks. And we knew that we were next.

Ian Wilkinson: I don’t think any of us had any idea that it was going to be so quick and so strong.

Joan Cook: Everybody was in the same boat and had the same problems so there was always somebody there to talk to. I mean nobody had any money.

Bill Hall: Being a Union Committee man I was brought on board to produce food parcels every week.

Joan Cook: We did get our parcels from the miner’s hall. A few tins of hot dogs, beans that sort of thing. You just get on with it cos you can’t not get on with it.

Phil Screaton: Mortgage was put in abeyance, bills were put to one side you just get on with it.

Bill Hall: To come down from a regular weekly wage to £11 per week is quite a drop.  As the strike wore on it caused a lot of separations and divorces.

Joan Cook: We knew one family with two boys they never got back to their marriage. We knew lads with mortgages who had to sell up. Insurances had to be cashed in.

Bill Hall: When you’re down the pit you relied on everyone around you for your safety and security, that continued through the strike. We all looked after each other.

Joan Cook: They did help each other, it was a strong bond. That industry was like that because it is a very dangerous profession.

Ian Wilkinson: Sometimes I end up dreaming about Westoe Colliery and the water is coming in as it fills up. And panic at the darkness. That’s a lasting effect it’s had on me. Other miners have lost a leg, an arm an eye which is devastating on their lives but this still happens to me at night where I think I’m still down Westoe Colliery.

Phil Screaton: We went down to Orgreave cokeworks  picketing where the police, just local bobbies in their shirts were in line. Then the wagons would come and we’d push them, they’d push us that sort of thing.  But one Monday we were there after doing the Great North Run the day before, and we had North Run t-shirts on, shorts, trainers and walked down the road to the police lines.  Well it was just unbelievable, Thatcher had got on to the police to step it up…they were in riot gear, on horses this was completely different. It was scary to see how it all got out of hand but also last thing you wanted to do was being chased by police horses all over town.

Bill Hall: Halfway through the strike it was quite common to get up in the morning and pick yer mail up and find a packet of bacon had been shoved through as well. You never found out what neighbour sent it, you were just pleased you got it. And It’s the only year I got a suntan. That year of being in the fresh air and taking the kids to the beach (laughs).

Phil Screaton: My son was only 6 months so spent a lot of time with him, raised a lot of money for a cause I believed in and still believe as a socialist that it was a valid point. It was one of those years when it was a turning point in yer life. You were out of work but not down and out of work.

Bill Hall:  I loved the camaraderie down the pit. We used to work hard, play hard and have a good laugh. Even with no pit’s left the mining community are a proud community. We’re still fighting for things in our community.

Watch the film ‘On the Front Line’ (17mins) narration by Tom Kelly, music by John Clavering.

Gary Alikivi August 2019.

SKUETENDERS – stories from South Shields.

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In the North East of England, the Lawe Top is an area that run’s parallel to the river Tyne and looks out to South Shields harbour and North Sea. It was once an island, and in some way’s it still is. Some residents I interviewed in summer 2011 were proud to talk about the Lawe being ‘a little village up on the hill’ away from the town of South Shields. The documentary included narration by local historian and former museum worker Angus McDonald with music by North East musician Martin Francis Trollope.

This a short extract from some of the interview’s…

Janis Blower: It still has to a certain extent the same old identity that it had with the river and the sea, although the pilot’s have moved away from the area. It’s like a little village with it’s own unique identity.

Dave Slater: It’s an area which I’ve always liked and a lot of people living in Shields have this affinity with it. They think it’s like a special place. And the houses are nice they have their little quirks.

On Fort Street and the corner of Roman Road is Crawfords Newsagents….

Bob Crawford: (owner) I’ve been here 28 years it’s always been a newsagent’s, on the deed’s it say’s from 1920. Enjoy living on the Lawe Top. Made a lot of friends. Lot of nice people live on the Lawe Top. Hopefully be here a bit longer.

Jane Price: I’ve been working here about 10 years now and it’s quite handy cos I live on the street. Literally fall out the door into work. And it’s lovely living up here it’s like a village separate from Shields. Like a really close community. I also work in the pub at the end of the street. The Look Out pub. It’s really nice I enjoy it, my kid’s had a good upbringing here.

Living on The Lawe people are known as Skuetenders. But what is a Skuetender ?

Janis Blower: Well there is various theories to what a Skuetender is. One of them is that if you look down on the area from above the Lawe is in the shape of a skate. But probably the most reliable one is that this is the end of the river where the original fishing hut’s where, the fishing Shiels from which South Shields took it’s name. And it’s where they would salt the fish, and skuet is an old word for ‘to salt’. So if you were born at this end of the river you were a Skuetender or  it’s become Skitender over the years.

Ethne Brown: Well I’ve always lived on the Lawe Top, I was born on the Lawe Top in Trajan Avenue so I’m a Skitender born and bred.

Mel Douglas: Skitender is someone who has lived in this locality within a certain distance of the river. Yes I’ve always been one of them but not as much as Duncan Stephenson as he’s a proper Skitender.

Duncan Stephenson: A Skitender ? You’ve got to have a ring around your bottom end where you sat on a bucket when you were a kid. That’s where a proper Skitender came from, if ya’ haven’t got a ring round yer bottom end yer not a Lawe Topper.

Janis Blower: Well I was born and brought up in Woodlands Terrace so as a child you would just have to walk down Woodlands Terrace and you were straight on to the hill top. If the weather was good you literally spent all yer time out on the hill top or down onto the beach. What our mothers didn’t see what we got up to was a good thing.

Mel Douglas: When I was young I lived in George Scott Street. That was my impressionable time but we eventually moved up to this house (Lawe Road) which I’ve enjoyed. On the hill top area when I was a boy there was the gun encampments and Trinity Towers – a sort of radar station which was all fenced off.

Janis Blower: Trinity Towers was a magical place to play because it was so much like a castle or a fort. It had been originally built in the 1830’s by Trinity House, as a pilot look out. It stayed that until the early part of last century when the new pilot house was built at the top end of the park. By the time we were playing in it, it was the radar station for the college. You couldn’t actually get in it but it had bushes around it and little nook’s and crannies.

Mel Douglas: The encampment where the gun’s where for example a lot of people aren’t sure where they were. But looking out of my window if you catch the time of year when spring is starting to come through, realising that the gun’s and the fence had some sort of foundations, well there wasn’t much soil on top of that and the rest of the area in deep soil. So when the grass started to grow it would grow quickly where there was plenty of soil. But where the foundations of the encampment was there was no soil to speak about.

Janis Blower: By the time I was a child playing on the hill top the actual gun’s themselves had gone but you could still see where the gun emplacements had been the big round pit’s had been there. They had been fenced off originally but I’m sure that I can remember sitting on one of them dangling my leg’s inside. You were always being warned off them.

On the Lawe Top is Arbeia Roman Fort…

Dave Slater: I noticed when we moved here when we walked up Lawe Road is on the wall, name plaques of Roman emperors like Julian Street etc.. and the one round the corner is the name of his wife. So you can always learn something new as old as you are and as many times you been up here.

Janis Blower: The fort was very open in those days and we used to play in it as children you wouldn’t think about doing that now. I don’t suppose as a child you really appreciated what a heritage monument it was. There used to be a caretakers house attached to it which has been demolished long since, and when you used to play on the green between the hill top and the pilot house, if ya dug around you could find bit’s of stoneware. I remember the red samian ware that you see in the fort, and we would find these bit’s of things and we would take them to the caretakers house and knock on the door ‘Is this a bit of roman pottery’ and he would say ‘Yes look’s like it is’. But I think after we had done it after the fifth or sixth time it was ‘No it’s a bit o’ brick’.

The Lawe Top used to be home to St Aidens and St Stephens Churches….

Joan Stephenson: When a lot of the houses were pulled down around this area and people moved to other part’s of Shields and they want their children baptised or anything they still say St Stephen’s is their church and they come back.

Ethne Brown: I was born up here and I was christened at St Stephen’s Church and all my family and father’s brother’s were in the church choir. My Grandma Whale on more than one occasion opened the fete at St Stephen’s church. It’s always been the pilot’s church and nice that they were in the choir. I was also married at St Stephen’s Church.

Mel Douglas: With respect to that I was very fortunate when sadly they pulled the church (St Aidens) down that I was in a position where I could buy the pew that I sat on as a boy and have in a room upstairs. The pew used by people getting married, my father, Grandfather, myself, all male members of the family had sat on that pew when getting married. Very proud of it.

Joan Stephenson: When St Aiden’s closed they amalgamated with St Stephen’s, it was sad because St Aiden’s was a lovely church. In the 1970’s we decided to make this building into a multi-purpose building to make it more economic to run and it stayed up while unfortunately St Aiden’s closed. Once the chairs are put to the side we hold dances, mother and toddlers, young kid’s come into dance, social evenings, it’s a really good venue for anything like that.

The street that overlook’s the Tyne is Greens Place where I spoke to Karen Arthur and her father George…

Karen: When you were little what did you used to see around here ?

George: We used to go to the shop along there beside the Turks Head pub. Shrybos you called here. We nicknamed her Fanny Mossy. Everyone knew her around here. She was an eccentric, she was an old maid and owned that shop.

Karen: Did she only let one person in at a time Dad ?

George: Yes if two of you went in she would say ‘Get out one of ya’. Cos she knew if she was serving one the other one would be helpin’ themselves with the sweets an’ that.

Lenonard Smith: We moved to 23 Greens Place in 1947 and that was great because at one time 17 lived in four flats. There was one tap outside and one toilet. Me happy days of the Lawe Top was I used to go to the Corporation Quay and I spent all my school holiday’s going away with the inshore fishermen. With the net’s it was driving, then crab pot’s and longlines. We used to bait up in the cabins on the Corporation Quay and the light was done by carbine. The only thing with carbine was that when you went home you had black tash’s where the smoke would get up your nostrils.

On Baring Street is the art shop Crafty Corner….

Trevor Dixon: We purchased this property 8 year’s ago now and it used to be Crabtree’s the Bakers. Where I’m sitting now there used to be a massive oven that came right from the back of the shop. Took 6 months to cut it out and skip after skip. Our shop is a craft shop and ceramic studio. It’s a very old building that we are in and it’s reckoned that we have ghosts. They’re all friendly. We’ve had a few local ghost groups bringing all their instruments in here and in the basement. They reckon we do have a lot of ghosts and we have things moved around now and then, disappear for a few day’s then turn up again.

I don’t think we could have picked a better place to be cos as you know The Lawe Top goes back in history as a creative place and I feel we’ve meant to be here.

Final words about The Lawe Top….

Mel Douglas: If it was up to me I would live in this house for the rest of my life. It’s a beautiful house and I love the community that I live in. Fantastic neighbours, nice people, I’d live nowhere else.

Ethne Brown: I just love living here on this Lawe Top. The house is a bit big nowadays but I don’t know where else I would go in the town. This is the only place to live.

Janis Blower: Everybody knows everybody else, yeah it’s a fabulous area to live. I can’t imagine to be living anywhere else to be honest.

Joan Stephenson: Just a lovely place to live.

Duncan Stephenson: Got everything here, beaches, parks. Home is where…

Joan: Your heart is.

To read more about the film go to the blog Skuetenders Aug.25th 2018.

 Gary Alikivi August 2019.

HOLBORN – stories from a changing town

Like many towns in the UK, South Shields is changing, and in 2010 I made a documentary to capture those changes, in particular the area of Holborn, once called the industrial heartland of South Shields.  These short extracts are taken from interviews with workers and ex-residents of Holborn. 

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Readheads Shipbuilders docks photo by John Bage.

The shipbuilding industry was a big part of Holborn…

Alex Patterson: My very first memory was going to a ship launch. There was a massive cloud of dust and rust, and smells of oil that left an impression on me that stayed all my life. I was a Naval Architect by profession and retired about 10 years ago.

John Keightly: I started in the Middle Dock in 1959 straight from school, the boys High school in South Shields. I was a carpenter. We used to hang all the staging of the big centre tanks an’ like I say no health and safety, no harnesses, no ropes, just walking along 9 inch planks 70 foot up.

Malcolm Johnson: Well I started in Readheads Dock when I left school. The noise was tremendous, you couldn’t hear yersel speak at one time. There was no ear protection like there is now. There was about 4 or 5 guys in every riveting squad, the riveter, the holder up, the catcher, the heater, I mean you can imagine the number of people that was in the yard at the time. As I say the noise was tremendous you just had to live with it, it was part and parcel of yer day’s work.

John Bage: I started work in Readheads August 1964 three weeks after leaving South Shields Grammer and Technical school. I always wanted to be a draughtsman so applied to Readheads and was accepted for a 5 year apprenticeship as an outfit draughtsman.

Richard Jago: Me dad went into the Middle Docks, I think in the 1940’s when Sir Laurie Edwards owned it. He was there right up until he was made redundant in the ‘80s.

Liz Brownsword: Me Grandfather he worked in Readheads from the age of 14 until he was 77. Worked there all his life. He had to go into the docks because his parents couldn’t afford for his education no more you know. Me mother had lot’s of cleaning job’s when we were little. Dignitaries that used to come into Readheads Docks used to admire the dark mahogany staircase and panels. Me mother used to say ‘Well they admire them but we’ve got to keep the bloomin’ things clean, keep them dusted you know’.

John Bage: There was almost a thousand people working there at the time because we got a lot of orders for building ships and the dry docks also had a lot of work. They were almost queuing up to go into the docks for work on them.

John Keightly: Well there was British tankers, Shell tankers, Coltex, every tanker you could name was in and out of the Middle Docks. As well as cargo boats, molasses carriers, grain carriers they covered all sorts of ship’s.

John Bage: Readheads built quite a few ship’s when I was there and a few of them returned to dry dock’s for survey. But one in particular was the Photenia, which belonged to a local shipping company, The Stag Line of North Shields. They used to bring the ship back to dry dock for conversion to a cable layer. The ship would then go off to New Zealand and lay power cables from North Island to South Island, and then return to the docks about a year later to have all the equipment removed which would then be stored until a year later the ship got another contract for cabling. It would come back to the dock again, and the equipment would be put back on the ship again. A lot of equipment and work for the dry docks.

John Keightly: People in the market used to know when the ferry was in with all the smoke. Well they knew when the whalers were in with the smell, it was horrendous. When you got home yer ma wouldn’t allow you in the house. Used to have to strip off in the wash house, have a rub down before you were allowed anywhere near the door. I just loved the place, (the docks) it was hard work and they were strict but the camaraderie was just fantastic.

Immigrants arrived from many different countries and settled in Holborn….

Hildred Whale: My Great Grandfather was Karl Johan Suderland who was born in Sweden in 1855. He came to this country I believe, in the 1870’s. He did try his hand at a number of job’s, such as ship’s chandler, mason, he was a butcher at one time but eventually all these skill’s came together when he decided to run a boarding house at 67 West Holborn.

Yusef Abdullah: The boarding house was run by a boarding house master who was an agent for the seaman and the shipping companies where he got them employment. Also the arab seaman didn’t drink so there was no kind of social life only the boarding house where they used to have a meal, play dominos, card’s, meet friend’s etc…

Photographer James Cleet captured the housing clearences in Holborn during the 1930’s..….

Ann Sharp: I work with an invaluable collection of photograph’s here at South Tyneside Central Library and one of the area’s we have been focusing on along the riverside area of South Shields is Holborn. Where condition’s have changed considerably, industry and housing have changed over time. We are particularly looking at the photograph’s by Amy Flagg and James Henry Cleet.

We secured some funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to work with the community and volunteers and they’ve been helping us to retrieve the photograph’s from the collection to scan the photograph’s and looking at the images to find out historical information. From that information they are compiling, others are actually inputting that information into a database. Then liberating the photograph’s onto the internet so that other people can find out what life was like for people along the riverside.

Bob Overton: (Owner, Rose and Crown pub) In the mid ‘90s someone turned up in the bar with some black bag’s and asked if I was interested in some old photo’s of the docks. I said yes and give him some money and in the bag were photograph’s of warship’s that were repaired during the Second World War. All the photograph’s had been taken by James Cleet and they are all marked on the back, Top Secret not to be published.

Norma Wilson: Just after the war there was a lot of housing done and they built the Orlit houses in Laygate Street there was 24 of them and that was a new development, and my family were rehoused there. We were the first people to move in there.

Alex Patterson: I live in Canada now and moved there in 1962. Most familiar memory is moving into West Holborn. These were brand new houses, and we moved from single room houses with 4 toilets in the street with a tap at each end. So it was relative luxury moving into a house that had a bathroom, water inside and a garden.

Liz Brownsword: Me Grandfather lived in West Holborn at the top of the street it was a 2 bedroomed house with a garden, living room and a scullery at the back. He loved his garden when he retired, growing cabbages, leeks, lettuce, you name it he loved growing vegetables.

Alex Patterson: We had an avid gardener at the end of the street, Bill McLean. Who provided vegetables and flowers for a little bit of pocket money. But he had a fabulous garden and everybody who lived in the street went there.

Norma Wilson: Me mam used to send us down on a Sunday morning to buy a cabbage or a cauliflower for Sunday dinner.

At one time there was 33 pub’s in Holborn, but one pub that survived was The Rose and Crown…

Bob Overton: (Owner) We had our opening night on November 30th 1983 and the guests to open it was Terry McDermott and John Miles, it was meant to be with Kevin Keegan as well but he had some contractual difficulties with the breweries so we ended up with just Terry and John.

Richard Jago: Probably during the ‘90s it was at it’s peak with music happening. There was a big roots scene and all sorts of people played here.

Bob Overton: A lot of local band’s and artists would turn up and play for reasonable fees. We had Tim Rose play one month and the following month we had Chip Taylor. I suppose a claim to fame was that Tim Rose wrote Hey Joe and Chip Taylor actually wrote Purple Haze which were the first hit’s for Jimi Hendrix in the UK.

Richard Jago: Think I’ve drunk here since the late ‘80s so I’m an apprentice really. Great bar, friendly people from all walks of life drink here.

Copies of ‘Hills of Holborn’ (30mins, 2010) are available on DVD to buy from South Shields Museum and The Word, South Shields.  There is a short version to view on the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.  Narration was provided by local historian and former museum worker, Angus McDonald with soundtrack by North East musician John Clavering. 

Gary Alikivi August 2019   

TYNE STORIES – from the south bank of the river.

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Back in 2010 I made a film along the south bank of the river Tyne, collecting stories from former boatbuilders, tugboatmen – people connected to the river. Narration was provided by local historian and ex-Museum worker Angus McDonald with music from Martin Francis Trollope. These are some extracts from the documentary….

Tom Fennelly: The volunteer life brigade’s were formed to support the full time work of the coastguard, using the breeches buoy equipment to rescue life from shipwreck. That continued from the very early day’s right up till 1989 when that equipment was withdrawn.

Not only do we help to save live’s and help to find people who are missing, we also get involved in rescuing animals. We were involved in recovering a dog which had gone over the cliffs and the owner was obviously very distressed because the dog sadly died. We were pleased to be able to recover the dog and allow the owner to have closure.

A couple of week’s later we got a letter from the owner of the dog saying thank you very much in your effort’s in trying to save the dog and in particular for recovering the dog’s body which allowed her to take it home and the dog’s companion was able to sniff the dog and then bury it in the back garden.

There was a footnote added to the letter saying p.s. My parents had the foresight to insure the dog Paddy the Labrador. Could you please supply us with a death certificate. The first time we had been asked to supply a death certificate for a dog but we duly obliged and were very grateful for a £25 donation which followed.

Ethne Brown: My family are the Whale family who are Tyne Pilot’s. My father was one of six brothers, 5 of them were pilot’s. You couldn’t be a pilot on the river Tyne unless your father or Grandfather had been a Pilot.

This is my Dad (showing photo) he worked until he was 70. He was self-employed and if you were fit enough, like he was, you could work until you were 70. My Father used to come home from the watch house which is just across the harbour there, he would come at lunchtimes sitting in the window having his meal and wait for the ship’s.

They used to go out in the coble’s, then climb aboard and bring the ship in. It was always their ship until it left the river.

Duncan Stephenson: Me Father had seen one of the skipper’s of the tugs ‘Me son’s left school he want’s a job’. So a Mr Headley come to the door ‘Can you join a tug called The Waysider. She’s lying at the Stanhope buoys and can ya’ skull?’ Aye I said and that was the start of me career as a riverman.

A tugboat tugged ship’s in and out of the Tyne. When they were going into dock, we would bring them in from sea, then take them back to sea. When I started in 1956 there was about 40 tug’s working night and day. All hours of the night, everyday, towing ship’s in, towing ship’s out. Big ship’s used to go up Newcastle Quay. You had all sorts of boats.

Fred Thompson: Me Grandfather was a tugboat man. Me father, uncle’s, the whole family and cousins, we were a whole tugboat family. Mainly I was deckhand and fireman. Eventually I was relief engineer in a big tug called the Tynesider and that’s the one that Duncan was in.

Duncan Stephenson: About 4 o’clock in the morning we had been doing a job and we were coming back to the buoys to tie up next to another tug. It was the lad’s job to jump from your tug to another tug and put on the ropes.

Fred: Course we’re in the Stanhope buoys and Duncan had to jump aboard the other tug.

Duncan: We’re coming alongside this tug and I’m gonna jump from this tug to that tug.

Fred: Course when the ropes were off the tug’s started going off a bit away from each other.

Duncan: I jumped and me self-conscience said ‘You’ve jumped too soon’.

Fred: As he jumped he missed and went in.

Duncan: In the water, in the drink and I’m swimming about in the water.

Fred: He took a bit of pulling out, he was more than me.

Duncan: Eventually after a long struggle they pulled us aboard the tug.

Fred: He was 18 stone then !

Duncan: I was a big lad. I’m still a big lad.

 

Susan is sitting with her father, Tom Fenwick…

Susan Fenwick: When did you start in the Foyboats Dad ?

Tom Fenwick: 1948 wasn’t it.

Susan: Who else in the family was in ?

Tom: Sam, William, Tony and me. I had some narrow escapades. I was blown up on a ship called The Firebeam loading coal at Harton Staithes.

Susan: Then you were nearly drowned at North Shields weren’t ya ?

Tom: I was at Smiths Docks on the foyboats to tie a Swedish ship up. And I got jammed between a ship and the quay in me boat. The result was me boat was lifted up in the air with a rope underneath it then it fell back in the water and broke in two. Throwing me and my work mate in the water with it. Anyhow he couldn’t swim and neither could I but by God’s grace we got out.

Susan: And ya’ came up with yer glasses on and yer cap….

Tom: Aye I still had me glasses on, it was laughable but serious. But never mind we got over it.

Fred Thompson: (Fred sitting at his table painting a ship using watercolours). I’m 80 next month and I finished when I was 65. Mainly the thing now is I paint them. This one is going into Salford harbour.

Interviewer: Anything else you would like to say about working on the river ?

Fred: Nah I could go on forever but I think that is enough for now. Once I start I can’t stop. (laughs).

 

Inside The Missions to Seafarers with Committee member Fay Cunningham….

Fay: During the Second World War the Mission really did play an important part because there was more people from our Merchant Navy personnel from South Shields signed on from anywhere else in the country, and that is the reason why we have our Merchant Navy memorial down at Mill Dam.

Today we had our Armistice Day service of remembrance for those who had fallen in the First and Second World Wars and all war’s since. It was held at the Merchant Navy Memorial. You find that most of the people that attend are mostly ex-seafarers or present seafarers. It’s always a poignant ceremony, it’s always cold because we are right by the river and not far from the sea.

Today we had 60 children from Laygate school who helped lay the wreaths and I’m sure it’s a day that they’ll remember and they will remember the work that our seafarers do.

Boatyard’s on Wapping Street, South Shields….

Fred Crowell: I started my life as an apprentice boat builder at Robson’s Boatbuilder’s in South Shields. We used to build a lot of wooden lifeboats at that time, rowing boats for Saltwell Park and Hexham. Now it’s mostly restoration of traditional boats and we’ve done several over the last few years. It’s quite rewarding to see them back on the river and it’s preserving a bit of history.

Alan Smith: We heard on Radio Newcastle that a trust was being set up and it would be called North East Maritime Trust and they wanted any volunteers. So myself and a pal of mine, Brian came down. We believed in what the trust was trying to do which is to preserve the examples of the wooden boats that were used on the coast here. We do have an example what is possible, it’s called the Royal Diadem. Which is a Northumberland fishing coble.

(Boat being lifted by crane into the water). The boat was built in 1950 for two brothers, William and Albert Silk. Registered in Berwick but it fished out of Seahouses. Then comes the day that the boat is actually finished and all boats are designed to be in the water. We couldn’t use the slipway so we decided to use the crane. There’s a point when the boat is in the air but over the water, then it’s in the water and you always feel that’s where it’s meant to be, it goes from being static to alive. It’s just as though the boat has been born. Fabulous day, fabulous turn out. A lot of people here to see the launch.

Extracts from Tyne Stories (50mins, 2010).  Short version of the film available to watch on the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

 Gary Alikivi August 2019.

TYNE DOCK BORDERS

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Looking down Slake Terrace, Tyne Dock. Photo by Amy C. Flagg.

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 but within minutes I’m hooked. The writing was sharp, the story was great and Jack was the man. Recognised a few locations so next time in the Local History library I’ll search and see if there is any reference to the program.

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 a local councillor for the Tyne Dock ward. 

This was the catalyst for making a documentary about the area. I rang up Jarrow playwright Tom Kelly, we had a get together, threw some ideas around and started work on a 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.

Slake Terrace….

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 to buy from The Word, South Shields. A short version is available to watch on the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

Gary Alikivi August 2019.