When researching the book did you come across any unusual or strange stories ? Maybe more shocking than unusual, but the amount of gun crime I uncovered surprised me. Jarrow really was like the wild west of the North-East! Also included in the book is a story about a Jarrovian one-legged arsonist who later became a popular comedian and dancer. That was certainly one of my more unusual stories.
What inspired you to write the book ? I’ve always been interested in true crime and had been studying Jarrow from a genealogical point of view. I was trying to understand what the town would have been like when my ancestors were living there in the Victorian period. My interest widened and I began to keep notes on the stories that had shocked me the most. I then had several days last spring when I was feeling more inspired than usual which resulted in me contacting Amberley Publishing and securing a book deal.
What is your connection to Jarrow ? Half of my family are from Jarrow, including my dad and grandad. I can trace my paternal family in Jarrow as far back as 1848. Over the years, the Windham family have lived on High Street, St Paul’s Road, Catherine Street, Bede Row, Sheldon Street, Buddle Street and Valley View. My dad and distant cousins still live there today.
What are your memories of the town ? I remember visiting my great-aunt, Jenny, on the Hedworth estate. She lived on a street called Greenlands and I remember the sounds of the metro trains passing by. Jenny was quiet, sweet and unassuming, and every time we visited, she would give me and my brother mars bars and bags of jelly babies. She had an incredibly kind and helpful neighbour called Billy who really looked after her in her old age. Sadly, they’re no longer with us.
Have you any ideas for your next book ? I think so. I’m considering one idea in particular, but I’m unsure whether it will come to anything. There are moments in my life when my mind is filled with too many creative ideas and it’s difficult sometimes to untangle them and decide what to focus on.
‘Jarrow Murders and Misdemeanours’ is released 15th May and available to pre-order from Amazon, WH Smith and other online retailers including the publisher Amberley.
Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2020.
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.
Sarah McFadden, (7th from left) my Great Grandmother, at Haggies Rope Works, in Willington Quay, Wallsend. A long way from Donegal.
Little Ireland came about after I’d been researching my family tree. It was late 2007 when I started. I knew I had mostly Irish background but not sure of the exact locations where they lived. The Local Studies Library in South Shields was a great source for information. The filing system with the old press cuttings and the brilliant photographs by Amy Flagg and James Cleet of Tyneside in the 1930’s. The area’s where some of my family lived.
The old maps were really interesting. I could see where my Great Grandfather Dawson Downey from Derry lived. A house in Bell Street, East Jarrow. Across the road was the chemical works where he worked. Next door was The Alkali pub and just up the road was St Bede’s Church. I thought thousands of families would be exactly the same. Never having to go very far. Living a small life.
I never realised the full impact that the Irish had on the North East and in my case, Jarrow. The population had grown so much that the village became a small town. I started to jot down a few notes when I read an article in The Shields Gazette about Irish immigration. It was written by Tom Kelly (Jarrow born playwright) so I got in touch and we met up at The Customs House in South Shields. Quickly a plan was made, a structure for a documentary and interviews with Jarrovians with Irish ancestry fell into place. It wasn’t forced, it was easy to put together.
Tom Kelly and I started filming at St Paul’s in East Jarrow. Tripod up, camera ready, Tom reading the opening lines from the script but it didn’t feel right. We stopped and went back to my studio. Had a cup of coffee, talked about it then went out in his car again to Jarrow. I started filming in his car and Tom started talking as he drove. This was more like it. Hand held felt more comfortable, being part of the film. As though an old Irishman had come back and was searching for his town. ‘Like driving into the past’.
Over the next few weeks I filmed interviews with people who had Irish relatives. For one interview I arranged to talk to singer Leo Connolly at his home in Jarrow. I turned up, knocked on the door but got no answer. I knocked again and heard someone in the house. I looked through the front window and there they were. Two blokes with acoustic guitars and Leo in the middle singing his heart out. That was Little Ireland right there.
The documentary was successful it was screened for the first time to two sell out audiences at The Customs House on St Patricks Day 2009. The film has been shown at various venues including St Bede’s Church Hall where most of the Irish attended when they first came to Jarrow over 100 years ago.
Link to the documentary, to check out other films on You Tube subscribe to the channel.
Gary Alikivi August 2018.