77 year old Norman from Hebburn, who started work as a fitter at Wardley & Follonsby Collieries in the ‘60s,has been collecting Tyneside photographs and postcards for over 20 year.
‘I started collecting because I asked my old aunt if she had any old photos and she said ‘We had a lot of photos, but when we moved to a new Council house, we just binned them’. How many other families did that when they moved home, not realising the value of a photo ?’
‘Over the years I’ve helped three authors with photos for their books, and I’ve often sent photos to be used in the Shields Gazette and Evening Chronicle. Now it’s my time to publish, but not just one book – I’ve published four’.
‘I’ve wanted to compile this set of books whilst my enthusiasm and memory is still good. I’ve always been interested in local history that’s why I decided to compile the photo’s into books’explained Norman.
A number of years ago I volunteered on a South Shields Library project digitizing thousands of photographs from their archive, so recognise some of the images.
Photographers Amy Flagg, James Cleet and William Emmett done an excellent job capturing Tyneside images and left behind a marvellous legacy.
A glaring omission in this book is apart from Dunn’s family photos, no photographer’s names are credited or where they were obtained originally. South Tyneside Council hold a lot of the original images and are available to view on their official website. https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/
‘I’ve collected photos for many years but unfortunately never kept a list of people who loaned me them. I just want to share them with people’ said Norman.
‘I always told my contributors that their photos are valuable. They want to share their photos with others, and often said ‘what use is a photo stuck in a drawer under the bed or in a cupboard’.
‘If they sell I might do another set of books. So far I’ve had marvellous feedback from people who’ve already bought books. They all said fantastic value with so many photos in it’.
‘Good Old Shields’, ‘Good old Hebburn’, ‘Good old Jarrow’ & ‘Good old Bill Quay, Pelaw, Wardley, Felling & Heworth’ are priced at £15 each plus £3 p&p.
Recently watched TV mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and was gripped by its suspense, sharp script and deadly silences. The show had a gritty, claustrophobic look and used shadows to ramp up the pressure.
Shot on old (1979) TV sized 4:3 format, the tight camera angles had no flabby interior widescreen shots. Rather than just watching a scene happen you were brought into the film, making a closer connection to the characters who weaved in and out of the programme.
Office meetings were held where another piece of the jigsaw was revealed, and this old boys network was tearing itself apart looking for the mole. As the credits rolled I noticed the director was John Irvin.
Around 2000 I went to the basement theatre in Central Library, South Shields, for a talk by film director John Irvin, who was born in 1940. A search on Ancestry doesn’t reveal the exact town, but in interview on You Tube, Irvin refers to himself as a Geordie.
South Shields residents may recognise the name as his brother had an estate agents shop near the Town Hall – Finn & Irvin. That’s where I bought my ticket for only a couple of quid – we all like a bargain. And it was.
Before he went on stage John was greeting people in the foyer, a striking six foot figure in a smart black overcoat, pink shirt and grey wavy slicked back hair. In front of the audience John talked about his career starting in TV in ‘60s London, then Hollywood came calling where he directed over 30 films.
He finished off by telling a story about a film he directed with actor Harvey Keitel. They were about to film a difficult scene so to relax the actors John told Harvey to do something he doesn’t usually do. ‘Yes, but only if you do something’, replied Harvey as he danced awkwardly in front of all the film crew. Next was John’s turn and he started to sing. The song ? Blaydon Races.
I’ve pulled some information and highlights from various on-line sources about his career with some big names starring in his movies.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 1979 TV 7 episodes with Alec Guinness, Hywell Bennett, Beryl Reid.
The Dogs of War 1980 film with Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger.
Ghost Story 1981 film with Fed Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.
Champions 1984 film with John Hurt.
Hamburger Hill 1987 film with Don Cheadle, Michael Boatman.
Next of Kin 1989 film with Liam Neeson, Patrick Swayze.
A Month by the Lake 1994 film with Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox, Uma Thurman.
City of Industry 1997 film with Harvey Keitel, Stephen Dorff.
Shiner 2000 film with Michael Caine.
The Garden of Eden film 2008 with Mena Suvari, Richard E. Grant.
From his home in Germany, Edwards recently got in touch and talked about his career in the music biz. Earlier posts have featured his 1976 chart hit Right Back Where We Started From and his smash in Europe Love Hit Me.
Vinny was brought up in the seaside town of South Shields where he listened to the ‘60s sounds of Sam Cooke before he joined his first band The Invictors. Then he joined The Answers who recorded two singles and were managed by Tony Stratton Smith.
‘Just after The Answers parted, amicably I might add, United Artists record company signed me and I went into a studio in Tin Pan Alley, London and recorded the track ‘County Durham Dream’, that was 1967. In fact it was the first song I wrote when I left South Shields, it reminds me as a kid every day at Shields beach looking out to sea – still makes me emotional’.
’Recording in the studio on drums we had the great Clem Cattini, on guitar was Big Jim Sullivan who later played with Elvis. Loved that time. You know ‘County Durham Dream’ achieved everything I wanted – it opened lots of doors and most of all let me know where I come from, still does now’.
The choice for the b-side ‘It’s the Same Old Song’ was written by Holland/Dozier/Holland. During the ‘60s they were the masters of Motown who wrote classics recorded by Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas and The Four Tops to name a few.
‘This led me to the next single which was ‘Aquarius’. That record was also on United Artists and I got a contract to open the musical ‘Hair’ at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London’.
Hair is a musical focusing on the long haired hippie culture and sexual revolution of the late ‘60s. The focus is a tribe of politically active hippies living a bohemian lifestyle in New York City fighting against conscription to the US army and the Vietnam war. The show has been staged worldwide with a Broadway revival in 2009, a West End revival in 2010 and in 2019 the production staged a UK tour.
‘That 18 month run was the greatest time of my life. There was Paul Nicholas, Elaine Page, Maxine Nightingale – who sang my hit, ‘Right Back Where We Started From’. Tim Curry was in with Olivier Tobias, Marsha Hunt, Sonja Christina and many more’.
‘I remember the opening night like it was yesterday – I danced with Princess Anne on stage. Yeah ‘Hair’ led to more show biz doors opening as a performer, writer and record producer. It’s still performed around the world today. Check it out on You Tube’.
Really when I was young I wanted to be a stuntman. I was a huge fan of Jackie Chan. I watched every martial arts film, Bruce Lee, the lot. I thought acting would help me to be a stuntman because a lot of Asian stars are actors and martial artists.
So at school I got into acting on stage, but when I got further into it, it just felt right, natural really, it was never hard work. Playing guitar was harder work but acting definitely came easier and it helps a lot playing someone else and forgetting my day to day worries.
I first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1998 on a three week run with a show called The Machine Gunners. That was at the end of our year in drama with South Tyneside College. While we were up there we saw a few shows some were in venues the size of a cupboard.
It’s like Russian roulette you might get one gem from five shows. Some have gone on to be professionally produced like Jerry Springer the Opera, I saw Six the musical which transferred to the West End, it’s on a UK tour this year.
It’s a testing ground for shows, some people think they’re going to make money, but you’re a fool if you think you can – if you do it’s a bonus. The best thing is test your work out, get some reviews, draw up some interest, and if you have a tour planned use it as a springboard. You might be lucky if a promoter spots it and comes onboard to produce it.
You aren’t going to please everyone. If you’ve sold tickets and people come back you’ve done a good job. One critic can give you a good review, the next doesn’t. That’s just the nature of the business.
It’s the hardest slog doing the entire month of August because you are competing against thousands of shows, it’s a big competition fighting to get people in. You get in 5-10 minutes before showtime, get all your props in place, costumes on… then bang, on the button, perform, take yer bows. At the end you’ve got 5 minutes to get out the building. Some companies have three shows on so they have to scoot over the other side of Edinburgh to do a show.
Just knowing you have done that slog is a proud thing and to have it on your posters and sometimes share a stage with well-known companies. After Edinburgh we brought The Machine Gunners back to South Shields and sold out The Customs House theatre for a few nights.
A few days after that show I went down south for a year to Maidenhead drama school, it didn’t do a lot for me if I’m honest. I wanted to improve my voice and movement but the majority was learning and reciting monologues. It wasn’t really working for me and while down there I was receiving offers of work, one being Wearside Jack for ITV.
Someone at Tyne Tees saw me in a play and passed on my contact to Sheila Matheson, I think it was. At first I thought it was a wind up (laughs). I mean Wearside Jack I thought he was a lot older than me and really everyone didn’t know that much about him.
It wasn’t until we met that I got to know more about what the production team thought he was like. They said he might have been someone working away on the lorries with Sutcliffe. I grew a beard to look a bit older and he did have a Wearside accent. There was so many possibilities, one of the theories was that there was two people involved. We had various storylines for him.
We filmed a few scenes in Sunderland, then over in North Shields Fish Quay because there was witnesses that said they had seen Sutcliffe there. One woman in a café near the quay said she had seen Sutcliffe talking to a guy with a North East accent. We also filmed a version where he was a loner, where he just wanted to attach himself to something, make him feel like a somebody.
We put it out later at night after the 10.30pm Tyne Tees news, and they broadcast an ITV Real Crimes version. We done the same on a programme about a murderer called Billy Dunlop and that focused on the double jeopardy law which was looking to get changed at the time.
This guy had killed his girlfriend, got arrested, went to trial and he was found not guilty. Later he confessed to it but couldn’t be tried again for the same crime, that was the double jeopardy law. Living those roles was hard, I got to meet the family in the Dunlop case during filming, I was worried about that. To get to know that story and everything around it was hard.
Yeh for a few years I was the go to man to be North East killers. I was getting dodgy looks on the bus from old ladies – they looked over but couldn’t place me, they knew they had seen my face but not sure where, they’d nudge their mate or shuffle away. I thought not to get typecast I’ll have to go to panto land and make people laugh.
Then it was the North East plays by Boyle Yer Stotts, me and the lads had this theatre company and we were putting our own shows on – Beer Monsters, Pray for Rain, a few others. But it was hard surviving then, paying the bills. I was also playing rhythm guitar in a few bands – Shake Yer Tailfeather, MG’s and Cookin’ On Gas. The music thing was great at first but at the end it got a bit pressurised.
Really at first it was a bunch of mates getting together playing music and I didn’t want to get in the situation of having to gig a certain amount of times a week. A friend, Michael McNally was running a Government programme called New Deal for Musicians which helped in between gigs and I done a few pantos so that sort of kept me going. (interview with Michael McNally August 2018)
Cookin On Gas played the workingmen clubs, the whole circuit. Sometimes we’d strip back the numbers because in Shake Yer Tailfeather there was eleven in the band so we hardly played pubs, we done more one off clubs, theatre venues, private shows and corporates.
That lasted until the mid-2000’s when it started to get thin so I began writing and directing stuff at The Customs House. I knew panto inside out so I wrote some of that and added in some stuff for a children’s show that sort of came easy to me.
I proposed some school holiday shows to The Customs House, they welcomed the idea so I wrote and directed shows for kids. Parents will always put their hand in their pocket for their kids to do something or go places rather than for themselves. It was steady at first then eventually I was getting a full diary of work.
I prefer writing now because I feel less pressure, I write in my own time where if I’m acting I have to learn a script by a certain time, act at a certain time – I’m up against the clock and if I’m producing a show I have to oversee every part.
CARRY ON COVID
We set up Walton-Gunn productions last year to produce pantos and do some new writing where we can take a risk with shows that might not make any money but are balanced out with panto profit. Last March we played our first show and at midnight everything was locked down for Covid, so we only did one show in the run, but now we’ve just announced we have a panto season starting.
We have our adult panto Dickless Whittington – bringing back the filth. In the show is Kylie Ann Ford, Jen Normandale, Steven Stobbs and Megan Robson. I’m a huge Carry On fan, absolutely love them. I was a huge Sid James fan when I was a kid, yeah Carry On films were panto, the bawdy humour and jokes (laughs).
Then it’s Sleeping Beauty in August and Wendy the Witch in October. These things like everybody else will be in jeopardy if we are back in lockdown so we’ll see how it goes.
In October my play The Big Time is on in North Shields Exchange and then in London where it’s playing in a fringe pub with a pub downstairs and the gig upstairs with the seating and small stage. The Big Time was originally put on in Edinburgh Fringe 2018 where it sold well and got good reviews. I wrote it back in 2013 so it’s good it still has life in it. You always look for that in a play.
The Big Time is about two wannabee gangsters who want to get into a criminal organisation so they agree to kidnap someone but end up taking the wrong girl. They take her to a hut in the middle of nowhere and the gangsters turn up and see it’s the wrong girl. It’s a criminal farce all set in one place and the story is how are they going to get out of it.
Being set in one hut in real time it isn’t restricted about when or where its shown. At it’s core it is so basic you aren’t restricted by any scene changes, it’s just pure dialogue. The plan is to put it on with its sequel – The Big Goodbye– as a double header.
The goal and sign of achievement for a show is for it to last and be brought back time and time again and this one has done really well in that sense.
Adult Panto Dickless Whittington – 8.30pm 11-13 June 2021 at Armstrongs Bar, South Shields
Tickets £12 from ticketsource.co.uk/walton gunn
The Big Time – 8pm 2 October 2021 at Exchange Building, North Shields.
Eva Elwes was born on 1 February 1876 in Somerset. A prolific playwright, she wrote over 50 plays with her first a musical drama His Sister’s Honour in 1907, her last being Rudge, Martin & Baker in 1938.
She married comedian Henry Gilpin in 1898, the couple were cast together in several stage productions but unfortunately her husband died young. Eva went on to become a successful touring actress performing in plays and variety shows around the North.
By 1911 she was living in Walsall, West Midlands with actor and scenic artist Llewellyn Eykyn. The couple lived in the market town for ten year as she regularly performed her own plays which were staged by William Glaze’s touring theatre company.
Applications were made to official Play Examiners to license Eva’s plays. They would check if any political, religious and moral issues went over the line, if the Examiners showed any concerns the famous ‘blue pencil’ was in force to amend or cut scenes.
In a report about one of Eva’s plays the Examiner commented…..‘The plot of this melodrama is disgusting. It involves incest and rape, its chief scenes are in a brothel and two of the characters are the keeper of the brothel and her assistant. Its appeal is simply morbid and disgusting sensationalism’.
Although primarily seen in the Midlands and Northern England, her plays were performed in Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, and Newcastle, as well as in smaller towns – Eastleigh, Lowestoft, Falkirk and Ushaw Moor to name a few.
In 1921 the couple moved to South Shields in the North East where Glaze took on the lease of the town’s Alexandra Theatre. Eykyn became the theatre’s stage manager and artist, and Elwes performed in the Alexandra Players.
Eva wrote two plays on local Tyneside characters in Dolly Peel and Fifty Fafty. Dolly Peel (1782-1857), was a South Shields fishwife and smuggler and the play premiered in 1923 with Will Glaze and Elwes in the cast, the scenery was designed and painted by Ernest Eykyn. Also that year Fifty Fafty was staged by the Alexandra Players, the play was about an old North Shields sailor.
After marrying in 1925, Eva and Llewyllen continued to perform in her plays and in 1930, Elwes began co-managing the Alexandra Theatre with Ethel Hird.
Eva wrote mainly melodramas with several plays having wartime themes, such as Joy – Sister of Mercy and Billy’s Mother. While Heaven at the Helm featured German spies and a U boat.
In 1925, Edith Cavell, Nurse and Martyr, a story of the British nurse who was shot by the Germans in 1915 after being suspected of spying, was submitted to Lord Chamberlain for a licence. Cavell’s sisters were consulted but didn’t feel the play was accurate.
In 1927 they resubmitted its application, initially it was refused, but when Elwes changed the title to The Price She Paid and changed names of characters a licence was granted.
But in 1940 during the Second World War the German Luftwaffe targeted the docks of South Shields, and sadly the town centre theatre was forced to close due to the blackouts.
This forced Eva and Llewyllen to retire and sadly on 16 June 1950 she died in Cleckheaton, south of Bradford, West Yorkshire. Her husband died in 1956.
I’ve been involved in music since I was 6 or 7 years old when I demanded piano lessons because I was a classic younger brother, and therefore a bit jealous that my older brother was getting them. A few years later I started playing the drums and performing in bands, which was the first time I’d played with other musicians and in front of audiences.
It’s safe to say I loved it, and it really cemented my love of music, to the point that when I was offered guitar lessons as part of an A Level Music Technology course, I snapped them up and never looked back.
I can pinpoint that particular moment in time as it really changed everything, especially as I became a guitarist and song writer in a band which naturally led us needing to record our music.
We were really lucky in those days that Tyne Dock youth centre in South Shields had a rehearsal space and recording studio inside, and as young people we were able to access their services for the absolute bargain price of 50p each.
When we started recording, it was like a whole new world was opened up to me and I had to learn more, so I persuaded the manager of the centre to teach me how to use the gear and then persuaded him to give me a job. And that was it really. I was hooked.
MUSIC FOR THE MASSES
I spent as much of my time in the studio as possible, and when I wasn’t there I was recording at home trying to hone my skills as much as I could. Alongside this, my core musical values were developing and I was realising how important it is for the arts to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.
I was lucky enough to work with a range of people from experienced professionals to first time hobbyists and realised how important it is to treat everyone equally give everyone the same amount of respect regardless of their background or experiences. Which leads to now.
DOCKED & LOADED
I’ve tried to take all my beliefs, values, knowledge and experiences and bring them all together into my new recording studio which is based in Prospect House, Simonside, South Shields. I offer recording, mixing, mastering, session guitar and bass, all for £15 per hour – which is basically the cheapest price I can manage.
Again, I’m lucky that my overheads are fairly low and only have to pay myself so I’m able to offer high quality services for this affordable fee. I really put as much of myself as I can into every project and very grateful to receive amazing feedback from everyone I work with. Head to my website for more info and just get in touch if you need anything at all.
The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90).
Over a number of years I’ve researched the life of Italian born author & artist Baron Avro Manhattan, who spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. In 2018 a short documentary ‘Secrets & Lies’ was produced focusing on what I’ve found about his life so far. The link is at the end of this post.
Looking for Lucifer #2 includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character. Avro was originally called Theophile Lucifer Gardini and the change of name plus a press cutting from 1938 is looked at in this post.
As well as Theophile Lucifer Gardini, Avro used the name Teofilo Angelo Mario Gardini. In my correspondence with his nephew in Italy, he refers to him as Teofilo. Angelo is also the name of his brother. A childhood friend in Italy where Avro grew up, told me his second name Lucifer was given to him by his father as his mother had given their other son an ‘angelic’ name in Angelo.
A lot of artists have used pen and stage names – musicians Farrokh Bulsara to Freddie Mercury, Mary O’Brien switched to Dusty Springfield and writer Eric Blair becoming George Orwell. In 1953 Teofilo Gardini changed his name by Deed Poll to Avro Manhattan. Why did he change his name making him sound like a rock star ?
One suggestion is that post war his art or book publisher might have suggested Manhattan would be an easier sell than Gardini on the European and American market. Or more likely he wanted a clean break away from Italy and the Fascist regime who still had followers in the UK.
This press cutting above is dated November 1938 and is about an art exhibition held in Mayfair, London.
At the Bloomsbury Galleries this week there will be an interesting one-man show by a young Italian painter. This artist is Theophile Gardini and the exhibition was to have been opened by Dr Jane Walker, believed to have been the oldest woman doctor in this country, whose death occurred a few days ago. This clever woman doctor was keenly interested in art, and was known as a discerning collector.
The newspaper article doesn’t give the doctor the credit she deserves. Dr Jane Harriet Walker (1859-1938) was a big wig of the medical profession – establishing a private practice in London’s Harley Street, and was first doctor to use the open air method of treating tuberculosis.
A recent search found the Manchester Art Gallery have a 1938 painting by Theophile Gardini titled Spring at Nayland, Suffolk. Why would he be in Suffolk ? The link is Dr Walker, who in 1901 opened a sanitorium to treat tuberculosis in Nayland, Suffolk.
Back to the newspaper report:
Young Gardini’s art career has been rather unusual. His father, who had artistic as well as literary gifts, was a political prisoner under the Blackshirt regime and sent to a disciplinary regiment to do his military term.
The Blackshirts were the paramilitary wing of Fascist Italy led by Mussolini, and like his father, Avro despised them. In 1928 he was called up for military service, refused to swear to the Fascist oath and was imprisoned in a fortress on Lake Como. As mentioned earlier, he wanted a clean break from Italy.
The closing paragraph of the article revealed:
His son, whose work London is now to have the opportunity of appraising, was designed for the Church and went into a seminary. But his artistic proclivities, especially a facility for drawing nude figures, was judged inappropriate to seminary atmosphere, and young Theophile became a painter.
Avro would have attended the Priest training centre in Monza, Milan, where he was born. But why would the Church protest against his style of painting, understanding this form of art he would have been an asset to the Church as most are covered in paintings and sculptures of people.Surely they can’t have expelled him for a few drawings ?
He might have uncovered secrets and was dismissed because of what he discovered ? In later years Avro wrote many books against the Vatican and the Catholic Church and their position in world politics. A topic he became well known for in religious circles.
If you have information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Between 2009 and 2016 I made over 20 Tyneside films which are available on the Alikivi You Tube channel. In 2012 Vanished was a documentary about the lost heavy industry on Tyneside now commemorated by pieces of public art along the riverside.
They reflected the past of coal, steel and shipyards which dominated our landscape. In 2004 when I was making a video about art on the riverside I filmed some of them from a helicopter capturing the location of the piece.
On the seafront in South Shields is the Conversation Piece with Tyne Anew on the north side of the river, and on the banks of the Tyne at Hebburn I talked to artist, Charles Quick, who designed Flash.
In 2002 I was invited to put a proposal in for a piece of artwork for Hebburn Riverside park. After talking to people in the area and doing some research about the history of the area I discovered there were lots of industries in Hebburn, but not so evident anymore – shipbuilding, coalmining, cokeworks and electrical engineering.
One thing that would link all those together was industrial flashes of light from the arc welding or the cokeworks.
I worked with many different communities to design flashes of light and these were orchestrated through a number of LED’s on the top, it was all solar powered so it really was looking to the future. There was no cabling linking any of the columns, it was all radio controlled. There was a radio receiver that tells all the columns when to come on and off.
They can come on at night and there’s a timetable so they always come on in the dark, and also 30 second flashes of light every 15 minutes during the day. So it was a piece that would work in the day and at night.
Also featured in the film was former Whitburn colliery miner, now artist, Bob Olley.
Well I worked at Whitburn Colliery from 1957 till the colliery closed in ’68. Whitburn was a wet pit mostly and I was working in the east yard seam three miles out under the North Sea. It took us three quarters of an hour to get in and three quarters of an hour to get out. I think it’s because it’s such an adverse industry, danger, and whatever else, a sense of humour developed.
When the colliery closed it was the push I needed to get out. When I first went into the artistic side of my life the stuff I did was very dour, mostly pen and ink work. Then I moved away from coal mining for about 15 years then suddenly I got this urge to go back to the subject.
Up to about 15 years ago I would say most people in the North East their lives were influenced by the coal industry. The amount of people that were involved with the transportation of coal, the winning of the coal, the processing of the coal, everybody’s life was touched by coal.
There was a lot of railway lines which used to criss-cross around South Tyneside, now they are used for walking and cycle paths. One man who remembers what it was like was John Cuddihy.
Well I was 40 years on the railway I worked at Sunderland, up to Consett, Darlington and over to Durham. Mostly worked South Shields station, High Shields station and Harton Junction. You had a Harton railway system and you could see the trains coming from Hilda Yard and through the tunnel under where the La Strada nightclub was, then up to Harton low staithes and then we’d run the wagons back.
Then under the British rail system you had the huge system at Green Lane, a massive system at Tyne Dock bottom where you used to get these big nine ’F’ engines hauling these ore trains all the way to Consett. They would haul through Green Lane at high speed. The fireman used to be really fit to haul all the way up a bank to Consett.
If you were on the Marsden Rattler you could travel from Westoe Lane, a huge station with a signal box there an’ al – it was very impressive. You could travel through from Westoe to Whitburn and travel back it was only a short distance done on an aged rolling stock.
After that they pulled it all down, done away with it all together, there’s photographs of how it was and I took one in 1995 of the station. After that they built flats on it you wouldn’t think there’d been anything there – it’s a shame.
By the mid 1980’s there was virtually no shipbuilding on the Tyne, but one man who spent the early years of his working life there, was Vince High.
I started working in the shipyards when I left school in 1975. My Grandad had been a welder, also my uncle. So it was a natural thing for me to aspire to be the same as them, the fact that they were welders was a no brainer for me – I wanted to be like them.
A lot of the guys prided on the fact that they never lost anytime at all. I have visions coming back of the time there was a roller shutter that used to come down dead on 7.30am.
So if you were at the top of the bank and the shutter was coming down, myself and my mate would saunter down happy to lose a quarter hours pay, but you’d see some guys running down, throwing their haversacks under the shutter just before it hit the ground and doing a commando roll into the yard just to save a quarter hours pay.
Looking at the river now compared to say 20 years ago it’s actually incredible. Clearly the shipyards to all intents and purposes are gone, that high employment is gone, but what I think is happening is we’re trying to make an alternative use for the river now.
Whereas at one time it was about industry, work and employment, now it seems to be about improving the housing and getting people actually living near the river again.
Watch the film here with narration by Tom Kelly and music from Ron Smith.
Now living near Crook, West Durham, David Kidd is a retired mathematics teacher born and brought up in South Shields. During the 1980’s he studied for a part time degree in the History of Modern Art, Design and Film at Newcastle Polytechnic, where he met fellow student and author Jean Alicia Stokes who shared a common interest in local history.
They have produced a new book The People’s Roman Remains Park about the Roman Fort in South Shields.
Living nearby, I know the impact the fort has on the surrounding area of the Lawe, and its position on the headland looking over to where the River Tyne meets the North Sea. I asked David what inspired you to write the book ?
The Roman Fort is part of my family history. Our first house was in Beacon Street on the Lawe Top although we moved out when I was a toddler. The house was demolished and we were banished to Biddick Hall on the outskirts of town. The fact that we once lived on the site of a Roman Fort became part of our family mythology.
My friend Jean Alicia Stokes was writing a book about Harton Village when she came across a fantastic local history scrapbook by Robert Blair, who had his family home in the village. We both thought the scrapbook deserved a wider audience. Robert Blair was secretary of the Excavation Committee and the driving force behind the creation of the People’s Roman Remains Park. We thought it would be a good idea to write a book about the 1875 excavations and I agreed to help her.
Did you come across any unusual stories when researching ?
Too many to mention. What stands out is the way researching the book brought to life the people involved. Robert Blair is at the centre of the story but there were many other memorable characters who joined the campaign and contributed to its success, they helped save Roman remains from being destroyed by housing development.
The Reverend Robert Hooppell was the founding headmaster of the South Shields Marine School and Blair’s key ally in the publicity campaign to get public support for the excavations. Hooppell was an outspoken opponent of the contagious diseases act and a controversial but respected figure in the town who later went on to excavate the Roman Fort at Binchester near Bishop Auckland, and ‘discovered’ the Saxon Church at Escomb.
Reverend John Collingwood Bruce the charismatic Newcastle schoolmaster who tutored Robert Stephenson and wrote the first guide to the Roman Wall, was another key supporter of the campaign. Then of course there was the mysterious figure of Regina whose monument was discovered by some workmen digging foundations for an outbuilding to a house in Bath Street in 1878. She was the freedwoman and wife of Barates from distant Palmyra.
Regina who was a member of a British tribe from Southern England is depicted on the monument as a Syrian woman surrounded by the symbols of her status and part of the inscription is in Aramaic, the language of Palmyra. She is a potent icon of the multi-racial, multi-cultural Roman Empire and could also be a symbol for the modern cosmopolitan town of South Shields.
What did you use for research?
The research began with Robert Blair’s scrapbook which is held by The Word at South Shields and expanded into an exploration of the artefacts from the 1875 excavation in the collections of Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort and the Great North Museum, Newcastle.
We are very grateful for the support of Tyne and Wear Museums, especially Alex Croom the keeper of archaeology at Arbeia without whose help the book could not have been completed. The excavations were headline news locally and nationally and we were lucky to be able to follow the progress of the campaign and the excavations in local newspapers.
They played a vital role in mobilising public support for the preservation of the Fort, and we hope allowed us to bring the story to life – an archaeological sensation comparable in its impact to the discovery of the ship at Sutton Hoo celebrated in the recent film released on Netflix, The Dig.
In many ways the excavations at South Shields were similar – both were led by an amateur, Robert Blair was a solicitor and in both the quality of the finds shook the archaeological establishment.
What are you doing now & have you any projects planned for the future ?
When it is possible, we are planning to have a formal launch for the book and hopefully talks/events/ signings at places associated with the story. The book was intended to raise money for Arbeia with all profits going to the fort and while sales have been good in the circumstances, they are below what we expected due to the pandemic.
Jean is writing a full history of Harton Township, her previous book was a snapshot of the village based topically on the 1901 Census returns. I am in the early stages of planning a historical novel telling the story of a Shields shipping family in the style of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Loving Spirit based on some research I did for Jean’s new book.
Where is the book available ?
At the moment the book is only available from the publishers Harton Village Press (us) at £15 including post and packing and can be ordered by emailing Jean at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now things are opening up it should soon also be available from the Word, Arbeia and South Shields Museum.
I am a retired Art teacher and still live in Harton, where I was born and brought up. My father was born in Ferry Street in South Shields near the River Tyne, he took a great interest in the history of the town. I followed in his footsteps and joined South Shields Local History Group, where I’m currently vice chair.
Harton Village 1900 was written for two reasons, firstly with the aim of raising money for St Peter’s Church in Harton and secondly to prove that Harton had been a village. Locally we hear quite a lot of other villages such as Westoe Village and Cleadon Village, but little is made of Harton Village.
My mam and dad always called the shops in Harton ‘the Village’ and someone new to the area thought that this phase was just an affectation, so I decided to prove it wasn’t. I thought I would collect all the lovely, old, rural photos of Harton that I knew existed in the amazing archives at the South Tyneside Libraries and put them into one book.
They show just what Harton Village had been like at the beginning of the twentieth century when my parents were young and were brought on Sunday afternoon walks through the fields from South Shields town centre to enjoy the delights of the bow fronted sweet shop and the little aviary that then existed. I believed lots of other people would be interested in discovering what the village had looked like and hoped therefore the book would make a profit which I could donate to the church.
I had a copy of the Godfrey Map of Harton from 1895, bought at the museum in Ocean Road, and knew there was a census in 1891, and another in 1901, and since the earliest photographs of the village were from the turn of the century, I decided upon 1900 as a good date to explore just who lived in the village and what happened there.
I’m interested in maps and buildings but also people and their lives. However, unless you lived in a grand house or a pub, the 1891 census does not provide information about where this or that family lived.
Did you come across any unusual stories when researching?
Amazingly I found a hand drawn map of Harton Village dated 1896 among church documents, naming each family and where they lived. A truly amazing piece of luck. With this, the census returns and the Godfrey Map I tried to bring the village to life with names and a little information about some of the individuals.
A small example is that of widowed lady, Jemima Brown who in 1900, lived in one of the cottages next to the smithy, to the east of the Ship Inn. She was at that time the oldest inhabitant in the village.
In 1902, when she was 89 the country celebrated the coronation of Edward VII and on Saturday 28th June Harton Village Council organised, as part of their coronation festivities, a drive for the old people of the parish in a horse drawn omnibus where she was given pride of place. The bus was provided courtesy of the manager of the South Shields Tramways Company, Mr John Wilson, and drove from Harton to Marsden, along the coast to Whitburn, returning through the fields to Cleadon and back to Harton.
What did you use for research ?
Along with the Godfrey Map of 1895, the church warden’s handwritten plan with notes and the census returns, I also had access to some scrapbooks of the period held in the church which contain cuttings from the Shields Gazette and other printed information. On top of this I was also fortunate to be able to contact the descendants of some of the families I was writing about and obtain family photographs.
The South Tyneside Library history site also provided some superb photographs.
What are you doing now & have you any projects planned for the future ?
I am busy working on a second book in what is to become a series on Harton, this will be called Harton Township 1921. The idea for this came about during my earlier research as I began to appreciate that Harton was far more than just the village and in fact was a significant area that stretched to the east along the coast from Trow Rocks to Marsden and westward as far as Simonside.
The area in the west, which included Harton Colliery, was taken into South Shields in 1901 but it was not until 1921 that Harton was completely subsumed into The County Borough of South Shields. This second book will aim to tell the story of Harton Township from medieval times to 1921.
I hope to have the new book ready for November 2021 to fully mark the anniversary of the end of rural Harton and the housing boom that covered the fields of the township.