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.

Holborn is an area in the North East of England. It was once called the industrial heartland of South Shields. Like many towns in the UK it is changing, and in 2010, I made a documentary to capture those changes. These short extracts are taken from interviews with workers and ex-residents of Holborn. Narration was provided by local historian and former museum worker, Angus McDonald and soundtrack by North East musician John Clavering.

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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 from South Shields Museum and The Word, South Shields.

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).

 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 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.

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 from The Word, South Shields.

Gary Alikivi August 2019.

WAR STORIES – experiences of 2nd W.W. on Tyneside.

During spring 2012, Jarrow playwright Tom Kelly and I made a short film about the impact of World War Two on South Tyneside, North East England. Using archive material and personal interviews we revisited the past and spoke with people who shared their memories and experiences of war. These extracts are taken from some of the interviews.

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Photograph by Amy C. Flagg

In the air raid shelters….

Doreen Purvis: My cousin Anne who was 3 or 4 year old used to insist on being taken outside to look at the stars in the middle of bombs dropping around and German planes overhead. This child would have to be taken to the door of the shelter and shown the stars to stop her crying.

Derek Hutchinson: We were all sitting in the air raid shelter and the bombs were coming down and everybody’s ducking from the bomb blasts, but I’m rubbing my hand’s thinking well if this air raid goes on after 3 o’clock I won’t have to go to school. If it stay’s this side of 3 o’clock I’ll have to go to school.

Doris Johnson: I was at the Glebe Church and the siren went. So my friend Jean and I decided we’d run home to Hyde Street just a short distance away. So we ran and went into our respective homes and my parents said we would go into the shelter. My neighbour called out to me did I have anything to read. So I ran round into my neighbours shelter and the man of the house moved to let me sit down. Then the bombs started to fall and I was blown out of the doorway. My mam and dad who I loved dearly, were killed. My dad was found later that night, then died. But my mam didn’t survive at all. That was a day, a night, that I’ll never ever forget.

Derek Hutchinson: The last bomb of the raid was a whoosh, then a (whistle noise) louder and louder. Louder than I’ve ever heard before and then…bam. The wall’s of the shelter shook, the ceiling shook, bit’s of dust came down, the candle fell of it’s rack and went out. Then the all clear went. So we clambered out the back door, forced it open cos there was stones in front, the air raid shelter was actually in the backyard. We went through the house, through the kitchen, as we walked along the passage a big wall of dust came along the passage. When we finally got to the front door it was leaning off it’s hinges.

Outside where there had been houses there was now a hole. It was a bomb crater, they had bombed our street and six houses had gone. We went into our front room and on the mantelpiece were two ornaments, very delicate. My grandmother’s pride and joy. She was really horrified ‘Oh my God, my ornaments’. She was clutching the ornaments saying they were alright ‘apart from a little strap on one of them was broken by Hitler’.

So these figures survived the war and I went on the Antiques Roadshow with them and I showed them a picture of the bombing which was horrifying. He valued them which wasn’t very much and then said ‘Well you know why they survived don’t you’. I said I had no idea. Well he said ‘They are made in Germany. If you look on the bottom you can see the makers mark’.

Maureen McLaughlin: We were at school and the teachers were trying to persuade everybody to go onto evacuation. But I didn’t want to go and leave my mam cos I was the only daughter and just had one brother. But my friends were all going so I said yes I’ll go. They gave us a list to get, my mother had a job to get them because you had coupons. I had to have new pyjamas, jumper, skirt, shoes, wellies, slippers, yer case had to be full of these new things. But when it came to going I wouldn’t go, I started crying so she took me home.

Memories of food rationing…

Doris Johnson: My dad was a grocer and food started to get scarcer, you got your ration book and you had to abide by that. There were queues for anything which wasn’t rationed. Then sweets were rationed you were very lucky if a shop had a bar of chocolate in.

Maureen McLaughlin: I’ve been asked where you hungry during the war well I wasn’t as the rations were enough for us. Then again if we were short of butter or sugar some of these people in the street with big families would sell you their coupons. You’d take it to the corner shop and they’d sell you the butter, sugar, meat or cheese.

Doreen Purvis: In those day’s everybody took two or three spoonful’s of sugar in their tea so sugar was a very precious commodity. My mother said a cup of tea got knocked over into a sugar bowl and they were so concerned that they actually dried the sugar out on the top of the stove so they could use it again.

Dave Bell: During the war when there were shortages my Granda loved pea’s pudding and found out there was some available in Ferry Street in Jarrow. Now he lived in Nixon Street which is two or three street’s away and he sent my Aunt Joyce, his youngest daughter to go and get him a bowl of this pea’s pudding. Well she got it and coming back she was just crossing the square in front of the Empire cinema when a dog fight broke out overhead. A German plane was being attacked by a spitfire and the two of them were swirling about and opened fire. As the bullets were overhead, in fear she threw herself down onto the cobbles and the pea’s pudding went flying amongst all the horse muck. So that was the finish of me Granda’s pea’s pudding.

Picking up shrapnel…

Maureen McLaughlin: We used to go around in the morning after the air raids had been, that was our past time. All the young ‘uns hunting for bit’s of shrapnel in the street’s. We all had a tin and collected bit’s of shrapnel to see who had got the most, bit’s of bombs and aeroplane an’ that.

Derek Hutchinson: Of course it really was called looting. All the thing’s we picked up off the bombed street’s had presumably belonged to somebody. We had photographs and ornaments, it was stealing but we didn’t know. So a lot of my time was spent running away from long legged policemen.

Doreen Purvis: My Grandmother lived in Thornton Avenue just beside the dock gates and of course there was lot’s of bombing raids during that time. Under the cover of the bombing the docker’s would often liberate various items from the docks, climb over the wall with them and stash them in my Grandmothers house. Usually as a reward she might get a bottle of whiskey or something similar.

One night a German war plane came down over the South Marine Park and lake in South Shields…..

Bob Robertson: My parents then lived in Eleanor Street. One of the plane’s I believe came down in one of the parks. But on it’s way it jettisoned two or three 500lb bombs and did an awful lot of damage.

Derek Hutchinson: A plane flew very close overhead on fire. It crashed at the right hand side at the bottom of Beach Road and blew up. Killed the airmen, blew down the building that houses the little boats. And just created mayhem. If you could grapple in the lake with bent coat hanger’s and pull something out with German writing on this was a swappable article – well I pulled out a flying boot. ‘I’ve got a flying boot’ I shouted’. So they all came running along ‘Hey that’s great’. Then I put my hand inside the flying boot and pulled out what appeared to be cooked tripe. This wobbly, jellified, whitey creamy skin. Of course it was the poor man’s foot – it had been blown off. ‘You’ll never do any swaps with that it’ll stink. Chuck it back in’ they said. So I threw it back in the lake.

Doreen Purvis: The radio was a great source of information during the war but the Germans also used it for propaganda purposes. And there was a broadcaster called Lord Haw-Haw who used to home in when there had been a raid the night before. On one occasion he was talking about South Shields and he was talking about people in the ruins of their houses starving to death, well just at that point me Grandma was dishing up stew. So she thrust a plate of stew in front of the radio and said have a smell of that ya’ bugga’.

I am looking to add to these stories so if anyone would like to share their experience of that time just get in touch.

DVD copies of ‘War Stories’ (35 mins, £7) are available from South Shields Museum or The Word, South Shields.

 Gary Alikivi August 2019.

ZAMYATIN The Russia – Tyneside Connection film research & script

On the 7th & 21st August 2018 research for a short film about Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) is featured on this blog. On today’s post I’ve added the script from the film I made about his life. The narrator’s were North East actor’s Iain Cunningham and Jonathan Cash. Recorded by Martin Francis Trollope at Customs Space studio in South Shields and excellent soundtrack from North East musician John Clavering.

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin

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Russian born Yevgeny Zamyatin lived with his wife in Paris until his death in March 1937. Their last few years were lived in poverty and only a small group of friends were present at his burial. His death was not mentioned in the Soviet press.

Zamyatin was an author of science fiction and political satire. Famous for his 1921 novel ’We’ – a story set in a dystopian future – the book was banned in Russia. In his novel ‘1984’ George Orwell acknowledged his debt to Zamyatin.

But how does Tyneside fit in this story ?

Zamyatin was born in a small town 200 miles south of Moscow on 19th January 1884. He had an educated middle class background, his father was a teacher and his mother a musician.

Zamyatin studied Naval engineering at the St Petersburg Polytechnic Institue. He spent winters in the city and summers enjoying practical work in shipyards and at sea. The Middle East being one destination – a rich experience for the future writer.

He was a supporter of the revolution and joined the Bolsheviks, attending demonstrations and meetings. But he was arrested during the 1905 Revolution – for this he was sent to prison for several months. His time there was spent learning short hand and writing poems.

He completed his course in Naval Engineering and was employed as a college tutor. He was also writing short stories and essays – his first published in 1908. Zamyatin immersed himself in the bohemian life of St Petersburg and was an important part of the cultural scene in Russia.

At the time of the First World War Russia were having ice breakers built in UK shipyards. Zamyatin was sent to North East England in 1916 to work as a Naval engineer for the Russian Empire. He supervised the construction of the ships on the river Tyne. While there he lived in Jesmond near Newcastle and during his eighteen month stay he was reported to travel around Tyneside and improve his knowledge of the language.

“In England I built icebreakers in Glasgow, Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields, and looked at ruined castles. The Germans showered us with bombs from airplanes. I listened to the thud of bombs dropped by Zeppelins”.

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Laurence O’Shaughnessy lived in South Shields and worked there as Customs Collector on the river Tyne. His daughter Eileen married the author George Orwell. Was there a connection to Zamyatin ? Leslie Hurst from The Orwell Society looked at the possibility.

‘Would the Russian ships have been checked by customs before leaving the Tyne ? When Orwell learned of the existence of ‘We’ he might have discussed it with Eileen and heard her say that her father had met it’s author. When Orwell died, Eileens library was found mixed with his. Might Eileen have read Orwell’s copy of ’25 Years of Soviet Russian Literature’  and mentioned the Russian engineer who visited South Shields in her childhood ? It is an intriguing possibility’.

When living on Tyneside, Zamyatin wrote two short stories  ’The Fisher of Men’ and ’Islanders’. After a day at the shipyards he would sit at his desk and write about the blinkered and pretentious world of the middle class.

‘By Sunday the stone steps of the houses in Jesmond had as usual been scrubbed to a dazzling whiteness, like the Sunday gentlemen’s false teeth. The Sunday gentlemen were of course manufactured at a factory in Jesmond, and thousands of copies appeared on the streets. Carrying identical canes and wearing identical top hats, the respectable Sunday gentlemen in their false teeth strolled down the street and greeted their doubles’.

Both stories were published on his return to Russia. But by then, the 1917 revolution was burning. He regretted not witnessing the start of it.

“I returned to Petersburg, past German submarines, in a ship with lights out, wearing a life belt the whole time. This is the same as never having been in love and waking up one morning already married for ten years or so”.

The famine, war and economic collapse of the country had a major influence on his literary career.

“If I had not returned home, if I had not spent all these years with Russia, I don’t think I would have been able to write anymore. True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics”.

In 1921, ‘We’ became the first work banned by the Soviet censorship board. In 1923, he arranged for the manuscript to be smuggled to a publisher in New York. After being translated into English the novel was published.

With his political satire, a number of essays that criticised the Communist ideology and dealing with Western publishers, Zamyatin has been referred to as one of the first Soviet dissidents. As a result, he was blacklisted from publishing anything in his homeland.

The English writer Harold Heslop had seven books published and his first was in the Soviet Union. In 1930 he was invited to the Ukraine to speak at the Revolutionary Writers Conference. While there he also travelled to Leningrad to meet Zamyatin who he wanted to help promote his latest book.

Harold was born in Durham but for many years lived in South Shields. He was a miner at Harton Colliery before winning a scholarship to Central Labour College in London.

 (Zamyatin to Heslop) “I cannot quite place you. Are you a Geordie may I ask. I catch the Tyneside dialect in your speech. Am I right ? I know Tyneside well. I liked the people very much. I also liked their strange, musical dialect. Often I found it most amusing. South Shields… Sooth Sheels! I never learned to sing the Tyneside speech!”

Zamyatin read lectures on Russian literature, served on boards with some of the most famous figures in Russian literature, but by 1931 he was experiencing difficulties. Under the ever tightening censorship, and becoming unpopular with critics who branded him a traitor, he appealed directly to Joseph Stalin requesting permission to leave the Soviet Union – a voluntary exile.

“I do not wish to conceal that the basic reason for my request for permission to go abroad with my wife is my hopeless position here as a writer, the death sentence that has been pronounced upon me as a writer here at home”.

Eventually Stalin agreed to Zamyatin’s request and he and his wife left for Paris, where there was already a small Russian community. While there he wrote new stories, most of his earlier work was translated around Europe, but a notable piece of work was his co-writing of a film with French director Jean Renoir.

Just before his death he had told a friend…“I had to leave Soviet Russia as a dangerous counter revolutionary and abroad I hesitate to approach the Russian community, while they treat me coldly and suspiciously”.

He lived out his last years with his wife until his death from a heart attack in 1937, and a final resting place for Zamyatin can be found in a cemetery south of Paris.

End.

Research:

Zamyatin – A Soviet Heretic by D.J. Richards.

Islanders/The Fishers of Men – Salamander press Fiction.

We – Yvegney Zamyatin.

Out of the Old Earth – Harold Heslop.

Short 9min film available on the Alikivi You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W4A0nZ7_PQ

 Gary Alikivi 2018.

WILDFLOWER – South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy 1905-45 timeline.

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In October 2018 I wrote about making a documentary on George Orwell’s first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. The short film had a real local interest as Eileen was born just 2 minutes from where I live. Little did I know when I started the search in 2012 that the film would be shown to the Orwell Society and Richard Blair, son of George Orwell, on the Isle of Jura where Orwell wrote the dystopian classic, Nineteen Eighty Four.

Timeline research 2012-13:

In a graveyard in Newcastle you will find a headstone for Eileen Maud Blair who was married to George Orwell, arguably one of the most controversial writer’s of the 20th century. Orwell wrote many books including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catalonia (1938), Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty Four (1949).

But who was Eileen?

Eileen’s story starts in Ireland. Her father, Laurence O’Shaughnessey was born in 1866 on the small island of Valencia and Portmagee in County Kerry. His father, Edward O’Shaughnessy was employed in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Aged 25, Laurence moved to England and boarded at 19 East India Dock Road, Limehouse in London and found work as a clerk for His Majesty Customs.

Eileen’s mother, Mary Westgate was born in 1866 in Hempnall, Norfolk. Aged 24, Mary moved south to Greenwich in London and worked as an Assistant Teacher at Lewisham Hill Road School.

Laurence and Mary met and eventually married in Holy Trinity Church, Gravesend, Kent in February 1900. The couple then travelled to the North East and made a home at 109 Cleveland Road next to the Union Workhouse in Sunderland. Laurence continued working as a Tax Clerk for HM Customs at Custom House, based at 138 High Street, Sunderland. In 1901 they had a son Laurence, who went on to become a distinguished Surgeon.

Six years later the family moved to 3 Park Terrace, South Shields and Laurence senior was employed as Port Administrator, Collector of His Majesties Customs and had an office in Midland Bank Chambers, 65 King Street, South Shields. Then on 25th September 1905, Eileen Maud O’Shaughnessey was born and baptised on 15th November in St Aiden’s Church. Park Terrace is now re-named Lawe Road.

After a short time the family moved to 2 and a half Wellington Terrace, now known as Beach Road. They called the house ‘Westgate House’ after her mother’s maiden name. It is still visible above the front door of 35 Beach Road.

Eileen was educated at the local Westoe School then attended Sunderland Church High School and finally in 1924 the family moved south when Eileen graduated to read English at St Hugh’s College in Oxford. Sadly, Eileen’s father Laurence died not long after. He was 62 years old.

After leaving education Eileen held various jobs including work as an English teacher and purchased a small secretarial agency. But she returned to education in 1934 for a Masters degree in Educational Psychology at the University College in London.

By 1935 Eileen was a graduate student and living with her widowed mother in Greenwich. One night she was invited to a house party at 77 Parliament Hill in Hampstead where she met the journalist and author George Orwell, real name Eric Blair. Eric was born on 25th June 1903 in India. The Blair family had returned to the UK, settled in Oxfordshire and Eric received a scholarship to Eton College.

Over the months the couple found they had a great deal in common, a passion for poetry, literature and countryside walks. Eric was attracted to Eileen’s blue eye’s, heart shaped face and wavy dark brown hair, her Irish looking features.  They married at Wallington Parish Church in Hertfordshire on the 9th June 1936 and lived at The Stores, 2 Kits Lane, Wallington.

In Europe, a Civil war had broken out in Spain and in 1936 Eileen’s husband travelled to Barcelona and joined the militia of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification. Orwell wanted to help the revolt against Franco and the Fascists. Eileen followed in early ‘37 where she stayed in the Hotel Continental on the Ramblas in Barcelona. She worked as a secretary for the ‘New Leader’ which was a newspaper for the Independent Labour Party. The party’s General Secretary was John McNair from Tyneside. Orwell was stationed at the front and in battle was shot through the throat. He recuperated in a sanatorium outside Barcelona.

The couple returned to the UK and by 1939 Eileen worked at the Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information. For a time they lived with her brother Laurence and her sister in law Gwen, at their home in Greenwich Park.

Orwell worked at the Empire Department of the BBC as head of cultural programming for India and South East Asia. Unfortunately during the Second World War Eileen’s brother was killed at Dunkirk while serving in the Army Medical Corp, and her mother died a year later. A sad time for Eileen. But good news was on the way as Eileen and George adopted a baby boy and named him Richard. Eileen by now had given up her job at the Ministry and taken well to motherhood. Orwell began writing ‘Animal Farm’.

Growing tired of London and feeling unwell for the last few months, Eileen travelled back to the North East with their son, Richard. They stayed with her sister-in-law Gwen at her home near Stockton and with the Second World War nearing it’s end Orwell was in Germany working as a War Correspondent.

Harvey Evers was a surgeon friend of her brother Laurence. He had a private clinic at Fernwood House in Newcastle a train ride away from where she was staying. Eileen made an appointment to see him but after the examination tumours were found on her uterus and a hysterectomy operation was arranged for 29th March 1945.

Before the operation Eileen was aware that she might not survive, and wrote long letters to Orwell. Sadly, under the anaesthetic Eileen died. Aged only 39, Eileen was buried on 3rd April in St Andrews Cemetery, Newcastle.

With Eileen’s death a deep sense of loneliness overwhelmed Orwell. He put off a return to the family home and went back to Germany to report on the end of the Second World War. Close friends looked after his son Richard at their flat in Canonbury Square, London. His novel, ‘Animal Farm’ was published in the summer and in it he credited Eileen with helping to plan the book. In May 1946 Orwell rented Barnhill, a farmhouse on the remote island of Jura in Scotland and wrote Nineteen Eighty Four. The book was published in 1949.

Sadly on 21st January 1950 George Orwell died of tuberculosis in London aged 46. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.

Sources: George Orwell biographies by Gordon Bowker and Scott Lucas. Family history research on Ancestry website. Local Studies in South Shields, Newcastle and Sunderland City Libraries. Thanks to David Harland present owner of Westgate House.

 Gary Alikivi.

SECRETS and LIES – based on the life of Baron Avro Manhattan

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I came across Avro Manhattan by accident. I was in the local studies department of South Shields Library flicking through the files looking for South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, I was making a documentary about her life with the author George Orwell. The files are in alphabetical order and before the O’s landed on the M’s.

From research I wrote a script for the film Secrets & Lies (below). A blog from July 2018 add’s details on how I put the film together.

If you want to check out the 12 min film go to my You Tube channel at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AITGzGiC-yU

 

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Secrets & Lies

Have you heard about the devil having the best tunes ? Well, he also has the best stories. This is a story about my journey, my obsession… my destiny. You could say it was written in the stars.

It was 1990 when I died at our home in South Shields, my friends had a service for me at the local church, and they buried me in a cemetery in Durham. In my will I left over half a million pounds, with bank accounts in London, Switzerland and California. I also had a few titles to my name, including a Baron and Knights Templar. I was an accomplished writer and artist; I have authored over 30 books. My first was published in 1934. My close friends included other artists, poets and a Princess. I had property in London and Spain and a plot of land in the Bahamas.

So I hear you ask, why end my days in a small terraced house in a seaside town? Let me explain.

My name is Avro Manhattan I was born in Italy on 6th April 1910. My parents were wealthy and we travelled around Europe. I was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, where as a student I met the artist, Picasso. This was a great time in my formative years, I used to get, what I called little explosions in my head, idea’s, sounds and colours just popping in, and I knew I had to do something with them.

So in the 1930’s when I went back to Italy and rented an art studio at Lake Maggiore I started to put my idea’s down on canvas. But while there the authorities told me that I had to serve in Mussolini’s fascist army, I refused, so they put me in jail. While imprisoned in the Alps I didn’t waste my time, in my small prison cell I learned to harness my little explosions and wrote a book on astronomy, a subject I was getting really interested in.

They say prison can break some people, but not me, after the experience it made me more determined to make something of my life. I left Italy behind and went to London.

During World War II, I worked in radio and was broadcasting to occupied Europe and also wrote political commentaries for the BBC, for this service two things happened, the British awarded me a Knight of Malta, and the Nazi’s put a price on my head. A feeling that would follow me all through my life, the feeling of dodging a bullet.

While in the UK I was living between London and the North East, where I was invited to important functions, foreign embassies, and film premiers. I worked with HG Wells and helped draw up a bill of human rights. I met with Ian Paisley, the loyalist politician from Northern Ireland.

I held an art exhibition on the riverside in South Shields attended by the very flamboyant son of the Marquis of Bath. The Viscount bought two of my paintings but he confessed his only ambition was to try Newcastle Brown Ale. I met Dr Thomas Paine, the head of NASA. As I’ve said it was a subject I was really interested in and became a passion of mine, I was very interested in space and what else was out there in our universe.

I was a very good friend with the scientist Marie Stopes. She had just read my latest book, and came to an exhibition of some of my paintings in London. We got on well and our friendship grew, there were strong rumours of a love affair.  At the time I was thirty nine, she was 72.

But my little explosions kept me really busy and by now my main work was writing. I talk of the obscenity of some very wealthy world organisations co-existing with poverty. My titles deal with topical issues and are controversial; they deal with current religious and political problems affecting the USA and the Western world. I researched the subjects thoroughly and my style is not to be judge or jury; but to be the prosecuting counsel. In the ‘Vatican Moscow Washington Alliance’ I talked with the Yugoslav General, Milkovich, himself an opponent of Nazism and Communism.

During research I came across a story of a squadron of bombers planning to flatten the Vatican, this was foiled only 24 hours before the attack was to take place. Revealing this brought me many readers across the world, but also many enemies. Ozark Books, one of my publishers, said I risked my life daily to expose some of the darkest secrets of the Papacy.

Many of my books have been translated into a number of languages from French, German and Spanish, to Hebrew, Czech and Russian. ‘The Vatican in World Politics’ ran to fifty editions. One review said that a copy of ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ was hurled across St Pauls Cathedral in London, the book was criticised, condemned, banned, destroyed and even burned as frequently as it has been recommended and praised in many parts of the world.

In 1983 Chick Publications in America published ‘The Vatican Billions’ where I explain how the popes stole the wealth of the world through the centuries. I expose the incredible tricks played on kings, and papal involvement with the Bolsheviks. I reveal the story of how millions are missing from the Vatican Bank, the suicide of the banker Calvi under a London Bridge, and the jailed Vatican Bankers.

As I’ve said the subject matter of my writing had brought me many readers across the world but also people who would like to see me silenced. In 1986 I was in America to deliver a speech and promote my book ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ when I was caught in the cross hairs of one organisation. The Ustasha was a revolutionary movement from Croatia, they specialised in the assassination of prominent people. After my speech I was standing at the bar when I was approached by a man and he whispered to me in a matter of fact tone of voice “I came to the convention to kill you”. He departed as other people came up to me for signed copies of my book. One of these men was my bodyguard and when I told him of the incident he froze and told me that he recognised him as one of the most ruthless Usthasa killers. Something had changed his mind; you could say I had dodged a bullet – again.

But the love of my life and best friend was Anne Cunningham – Brown. She was very loving, caring and kind. We were never apart for more than a few days, it was like we were meant to be together. I first met Anne at a cocktail party in London in 1963; she worked in a hospital there. She was originally from Shotley Bridge, a small town in the North East but her mother was living on the coast in South Shields and Anne invited me up there.

I was greatly surprised by it – especially the beauty of the parks and the seafront. It is a real pleasure to be able to look out and see the horizon. It is where I can work in peace and quiet, or just sit in the house that my dear wife decorated, with its heavy drapes, antiques, cherub figures and a piano in the corner, all very bohemian. Some days I just take our dog for a walk, buy fish and chips, and sip Newcastle Brown Ale.

I remember during the 1970’s Anne was commuting to work at a hospital in London. I used to phone and write to her.  

‘Dearest Love, I miss you very much after you left last week the house seemed so empty. It was a strange sense of absence and void. Which proves that when I’m near you I love you very much, and that you are part of my life and work. I love to hear your voice on the telephone. Somehow it completes my day’.

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We were together nearly 30 years and our life was fantastic, we loved to holiday, especially in the United States. We spent time in Los Angeles, California and Utah with its beautiful canyons. From time to time we stayed in Kensington and sometimes fly over to our flat in Sitges in Spain, but lived mostly in South Shields. We used to go to the local theatre and enjoy watching the shows and regularly hosted dinner parties and barbecues. As a couple we were always together, when my dear wife died in 2008, she was buried with me.

But there was a time in my life when I took a break from writing as I felt I had put myself under so much pressure with the amount of research I was doing plus trying to meet deadlines, it all got too much and I needed to stop, or at least slow down.

Anne gave me guidance, extra confidence in my writing, but I felt the work was getting to me, the stories that I was finding out and revealing to my readers were suffocating me, at times I felt that I couldn’t breathe. I was carrying important information around with me, and it was getting heavier. It felt like my head was going to explode.

Ann was very worried about the effect it was having on my health, I always said it was the nurse in her, wanting to take care of me. I really needed to take a vacation, and recharge my batteries, but I felt compelled to look further, to progress and soak up more of the stories then let my readers know what is going on in the world around us. I really felt I was doing the right thing by exposing all these secrets and lies.

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Since coming to Britain 40 years ago, I had been working on a book about an imaginary god invented by primitive man to give himself courage and hope in his struggle for survival, The Dawn of Man is better than the garden of Eden….my hero, Azor is better than Adam. I talk about how a new world will emerge, and the start of a brighter future for mankind. I thought it was my finest work so I got in touch with Lyle Stuart one of my publishers in the USA asking if he would like to release it.

But the irony was that as soon as it was ready, to my surprise I had a heart attack on my 75th birthday. After a short stay in hospital I made a recovery and was straight back to work, and we released the book. To say the least, Anne was very disappointed in me putting my work, my passion ahead of my health. It will kill you in the end she used to say.

I was still working to my last days, I was planning a new book and my research was leading to a links with The Vatican, the CIA, and murders of very prominent people in the western world. This was a conspiracy which would shake the foundations of these organisations. There is no proof – yet. But the truth will come out in the end, believe me my friend. Someday it will be known.

So that’s it, that’s my story. I ended my days here in South Shields where I produced my best work living close to the sea and where I could see the stars more clearly.

END.

Yes that’s it, for now.  A story of a fascinating character who ended his day’s in a small seaside town. The research is on-going and new information has come to light. Part two of his story is being written revealing more about the man who called himself Baron Avro Manhattan.

Further reading about Manhattan on earlier blogs:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/17/secrets-lies-documentary-based-on-the-life-of-baron-avro-manhattan/

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/08/13/secrets-lies-new-documentary-about-baron-avro-manhattan/

Gary Alikivi 2019.

WESTOE ROSE – The story of Amy Flagg, South Shields Historian & Photographer 1893-1965

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Amy Flagg is fondly remembered as the lady in a hat and trench coat, who quietly went about photographing buildings and recording the history of a town she loved. But who was Amy ? This is a story of courage and determination of a very unique woman who captured some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century.

At the end of the nineteenth century the North East was the industrial heartland of the UK. Collieries, Shipyards and Steelworks covered the landscape. Small villages dotted around the area offered their residents some clear breathing space away from the hazy smog of the town.

Westoe Village in South Shields was home to many notable people of the town. The shipbuilding family the Readheads, Robert Ingham MP, and in Chapel House was the Flagg family. In this grand 20 roomed house was Ambrose, his wife Annie and their only child Amy who was born on 30th of September 1893.

Amy’s father originally came from South London, and was educated at Cambridge University. In 1889 he married Annie Broughton of Westoe and was appointed Headmaster of the Marine School in the town. He was also member of the Ancient Vestry of St Hilda’s where he rubbed shoulders with influential people. He arranged for Amy’s private education.

The young Amy had a brief romance with a neighbour in the Village but sadly like many men from the town he went to fight in the First World War and never returned, throughout the rest of her life she never married.

There is no record of her being employed so what did she do with her education ? This was a time when women had just fought for the vote, was she involved in the Suffragette movement ? Reports describe Amy as a shy, quiet and gentle woman willing to help others. There is accounts of her spending hours in the garden of Chapel House and having an active role volunteering in the local hospital and library. Whether helping someone find information about the town or reading to a patient in hospital, was Amy now becoming aware of her surroundings and her purpose in life ?

By 1930 she was a member of the local photographic society. At a time when only a few female photographers worked in the UK, a woman behind the camera was very unique. This is the time when Amy blossomed and began to see the world around her in a different light. She was fascinated by the changing landscape of the town and photographed the housing clearances along the riverside. But the camera techniques that she had been using were brought into sharp focus in a period that would be Amy’s defining moment in her creative life. She captured the town’s suffering through one of it’s most traumatic episodes: the Second World War. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera. Amy’s father had died in 1936 and her mother died during the war, plus the town she loved was falling apart from the German air raids. Her life was crumbling around her. These were her darkest days.  

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But Amy was determined that these events would not destroy her, having a purpose and remaining active helped strengthen her. She gained recognition for her work and became the town’s official photographer during the war. After receiving permission from the Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Censor, Amy produced a series of booklets of the Air Raid Damage.

An intelligent, determined and very courageous woman, at nearly 50 years old, she was climbing into demolished houses and onto bomb sites to capture the photographs. To accompany the photographs she documented as much information as possible about the area’s and streets which were hit by bombs. She also recorded in great detail the time of the air raids and if there were any casualties or deaths.

‘On January 11th 1940 shortly after 10.00 hours South Shields felt the first impact of warfare by the Luftwaffe. The Air Ministry announced: Enemy air craft crossed the coast near Newcastle today. No bombs were dropped. Fighter patrols were sent up and Anti-aircraft guns opened fire’.

The pictures are haunting and as time passes they take on a new meaning for a wider audience. It is as if she was aware of the effect and importance they would have in years to come. In her dark room she printed every photograph herself of the devastation caused by air raids on the town. With the traumatic events revolving around her, Amy would go to the darkroom where she could feel warmth and security in her own home as images she had taken that day were revealed by the mix of the chemicals. She would watch the magic happen in front of her eyes.

Even the Flagg family home didn’t escape from the German bombs.

‘At zero 45 hours on the 16th April four bombs fell in the grounds of residential property in Westoe. The first on the edge of a field at Seacroft failed to explode and was dealt with by the bomb disposal unit at a later date. The second and third fell in the gardens of Fairfield and Eastgarth respectively. The last one on the lawn ten yards from Chapel House. No casualties were reported but considerable damage was done to a large number of houses in the neighbourhood, including over forty roofs of houses in Horsley Hill road which were penetrated by lumps of clay thrown up by the explosions’.

These incredible photographs are considered to be her most valued and precious legacy. In her very extensive diary notes of October 2nd 1941

‘At daylight on Friday morning the Market Place looked like the ruins of Ypres; nothing could be seen but broken buildings; the square was littered with debris and a tangle of fire hose; all the remaining windows in St Hilda’s Church were shattered, the roof dislodged and the old stone walls pitted and scarred with shrapnel. The Old Town Hall suffered heavy interior harm and none of the business premises were left intact. All the overhead wires were down and it was not until the afternoon of October 9th that buses were able to pass along King Street’.

Experiencing the two world wars, a changing landscape to her town, and both parents recently deceased, creatively and emotionally events of this magnitude would of tested the resilience of most people. But she picked herself up and threw herself into a frenzied period of her life. Recording information from parish records, researching family tree’s from notable people in the town, collecting various reports and photographs from the local paper that she would then cut out and paste in scrap books.

She was continually surprising librarians by asking to see little known documents, and then by hand she would record facts then type them up at home. Amy was tireless in her thirst for knowledge about the town she loved, and with a lot of buildings disappearing during the war she thought it important to record as much information as she could. Sadly this lead her to the last piece of work which was published by South Tyneside Library Service in 1979. It took Amy eight painstaking years of research to produce the book ‘Notes on the History of Shipbuilding in South Shields 1746-1946’.

‘Shadwell Street and Pilot Street. It is very fitting that these two streets should be the first section in these notes; the eastern extremity of the old township of South Shields was the birthplace and for long the nursery of shipbuilding in our town.

John Readheads story is that of an extremely successful industrialist in South Shields, from being a practical blacksmith, he built up one of the most prosperous shipbuilding firms on Tyneside. He made his way from wood and iron tugboats to large steamers for every part of the world. John Readhead died on the 9th March 1894 at his home Southgarth, in Westoe Village; he had been in failing health for some time but had visited the West Docks almost daily until the last few weeks’.

Amy also noted the huge effort by Readheads during the First World War. Amongst the constant procession of merchant vessels which needed repairing after being torpedoed or mined, they supplied 20 cargo vessels, 3 armoured patrol boats and one vessel which was converted into an oil tanker for the Admiralty.

Amy noted in the book that nothing better illustrates the importance of Readheads than the genuine rejoicing when local newspaper the Shields Gazette announces in large headlines ‘ANOTHER ORDER FOR READHEADS’.

In her later years it was reported that Amy put as much work into her garden as she did of her house. She spent countless hours planting unusual flowers and plants. Family, friends and neighbours were constant visitors to it, and she delighted in showing them the statues and conservatories. Even turning the crater caused by a world war two bomb into an ornamental garden.

Amy lived in Chapel House until 1962 when she gave the house and grounds to South Shields Corporation to enable the expansion of the Marine College. This was a heart breaking decision as she lived there most of her life.

‘I have not the slightest idea about the value of the house, but I shall not leave yet. I intend to spend one more summer here’.

But it was something that would of pleased her father as he devoted his life to education in the town. The Marine and Technical College being the successor to the Marine School where he worked for most of his life.  Amy stayed in the village for another three years until her death from stomach cancer on the 22nd February 1965. Her body was cremated and the ashes buried in the family grave in Harton Cemetery.

Amy requested a quiet affair but her popularity meant her funeral was attended by over 200 people including the Mayor of South Shields, her close friend and Librarian Miss Rosemary Farrell and a contingent of medical staff and nurses from the Ingham Infirmary. In a last generous gesture Amy left a substantial amount of money in her will to Ingham hospital. A small remembrance in the town is Flagg Court, and the local photographic society where she was a member hold a yearly competition where the winner receives the Flagg Cup.

Amy’s extensive papers, research and photographs were all placed with the local library and are still held there to this day. Amy Flagg will be remembered as one of the town’s most important photographers and local historians.

 Research from the documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ 2016.

To watch the 12min film check the You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gB1a3Y-yFhM

 Gary Alikivi 2019.

WHEN MILLER MET CUNNY documentary about workingmen’s clubs

During late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and  most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields. After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.

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Wayne Miller and Iain Cunningham, still picture taken from the ‘Home from Home’ documentary 2015.

Included is a transcript of the interview with two of the contributor’s to the documentary, North East actor’s Wayne Miller and Iain Cunningham, both regulars on stage at The Customs House theatre, South Shields. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.

Miller: We were part of a travelling pantomime company that did the club’s for 15 years.

Cunny: Yes 1997 we started. We were just bairns.

Miller: Yeah just young bairns from college drafted in to do touring panto that we thought was a one year thing ended up being 15 years. It was a great training ground for us as actor’s.

Cunny: Really is where you learn your trade, where you don’t know what to expect. Was always fun to do. One thing I didn’t realise was how important it was to the people at the clubs you know the whole family day out sort of thing. They save’d up and it was a big deal wasn’t it. The kid’s always got a selection box, the dad always got a beer.

Miller: Mam always got a Babycham.

Cunny: Ya know no expense spared.

Miller: Yeah you are right it was that big massive day out all the kid’s dressed up in their Christmas outfits and Santa of course. All the club’s provided a Santa to come out after the pantomime. Which always reminds me of the story when the concert chairman came in he was like ‘Lad’s, lad’s, we’ve got Santa comin’ in right, so if you tell us when the panto is ending we’ll bring out Santa, kid’s are gonna love it, they’ll gae crackers’. I said alright mate it generally runs for this length of time, we’ll defeat the villain then we’re gonna sing Reach for the Stars. If you listen for that then get Santa ready to come out.

Cunny: We’ll make a big deal of it, a massive thing so all the kid’s get very excited shouting yeah Santa.

Wayne: That was the plan.

Cunny: It was.

Wayne: Lo’ and behold we defeated the villain and right boys and girls were gonna sing Reach for the Stars now so if you’d like to get on yer feet and… where you goin’ where you goin’ !

Cunny: There was a jingle and right at the back there was Santa.

Miller: 400 kid’s just get up off the floor and run towards the back. We’re just singin’ Reach for the Stars in front of this only kid that’s scared of Santa and is cryin’ his eyeball’s out.

Cunny: Christmas Eve show’s were brilliant. The excitement.

Miller: Yeah they knew it was comin’. Santa’s on his way. But come Boxing Day it was like chalk n cheese.

Cunny: Nobody wanted to be there. Including us. To be fair me and Miller had to go on and whip the crowd up to a frenzy, get them joining in. Remember doing one club in Gateshead and I came running on first, the music started I shouted Hiya gang. I looked out and the kid’s were (looking down) just playing with the new toy they had brought.

On concert chairmen…

Miller: Going in the club the concert chairman would greet ya’… ‘I’ll show ya’ round the club lad’s, show yer round the club. There’s yer stage, there’s yer stage right. See that…that’s yer organ.

Both together: Can’t move that. Nah can’t move that.

Miller: There’s the drumkit ower there.

Both together: Can’t move that. Nah can’t move that.

Miller: So do you think yer’d get yer set on there ?

Cunny: Most of the time we couldn’t. We’d have to scale it down to one bit of scenery and a cloth. And the dressing rooms. Every dressing room ya’ can gaurentee some turn would have wrote a note on the wall.

Miller: Turn back lad’s. Unplug yer gear. Get in the van and get yersel away.

Cunny: Yeah don’t bother. It’s rubbish here.

On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…

Miller: It is quite sad and people aren’t goin’ in and learning their craft. Like group’s, singer’s, acoustic act’s, stand up comedians.

Cunny: There is no better place to learn.

Miller: Comedy isn’t in the club’s anymore it’s going into the theatre’s, upstair’s of pub’s. You are seeing now comedian’s don’t know how to handle a crowd. That’s what the club give ya’.

Cunny: Yeah they don’t know how to handle the drunk man hecklin’ them (laughs).

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‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).

Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.

9min edit at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSBp5XD242U

 Interview by Gary Alikivi.