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 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.

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

SEPT 25 1905 copy

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.

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.

SKUETENDERS – documentary about The Lawe, South Shields.

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Over 7 years from 2009-16 I produced over 20 documentaries around South Tyneside. I never received any funding to produce the films, each DVD was sold to help fund the next one. ‘Little Ireland’ sold well and was sent to ex-pat’s around Europe, Canada and Australia but ‘Skuetenders’ was the most successful. I’ve lost count the number of copies sold, but it’ll be around 800. 

The length of any programme can differ from very short adverts to full length films of 100 minutes plus. It just depends on the story that you are telling. An interesting documentary on tv can be turned into just a number of soundbites. They can tell the story but rush over some really good bits with the interviewee talking for less than 10 seconds. I’ve watched a few. When I had the idea to make a documentary around the Lawe Top in South Shields I didn’t want it to be full of soundbites. I wanted the interviewee’s to have enough time to tell their story. Not only was it important what they had to say but it was all in the Geordie accent. The idea was to wander around The Lawe Top collecting stories from residents. Plus a narrator explaining the history of this oldest part of South Shields, it even has a Roman fort.  

As with all documentaries made over the 7 years, arrangements were made with Hildred Whale at the South Shields Heritage Club to screen the film in the Library. Downstairs had a great theatre with over 100 raked seats, a stage, large screen, video projector hanging from the ceiling and projection room with various VHS and DVD players. It also had an audio mixing desk and mic’s for invited speakers. A great set up. A date for the first screening on 2pm 19th October 2011 was arranged and that quickly sold out. A later show at 7pm was added. That sold out. Another date was added. Same again, a quick sell out. This was repeated until the film was shown six times. Further evidence of a thirst that people have to see and hear stories from their home town. The documentary had a running time of 70minutes and was repeated in the next documentary ‘Tyne Dock Borders’. Another area of the town with a long history. 

For the purposes of uploading the documentaries on You Tube and sharing them on social media I have recently edited the films down to short stories.

To view the film go to GARY ALIKIVI You Tube channel and subscribe to watch more.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.

LITTLE IRELAND – documentary on Irish immigration into Jarrow, UK

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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 then went out in his car again to Jarrow. I started filming and Tom started talking. 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 and to check out other films on You Tube subscribe to my channel. GARY ALIKIVI.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.

ON THE FRONT LINE – miners strike documentary

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I was walking down King Street in South Shields when I noticed a group of lads walking up the street laughing, joking and looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world. I wondered if any of them had jobs? Were they killing time until their next shift at work ? Or their next giro? This led me into thinking about the unemployment problem in my hometown. 

I sat down on a bench where two old men were. I overheard them talking about how they had spent their working lives down the mines. Westoe Colliery used to be nearby. Listening to their banter, made me think back to when the strike began in March 1984. I was 18 at the time, about the same age as those young lads who passed earlier. It was always on the telly. Scargill, Thatcher, pickets and police. TV footage of the battle of Orgreave. Explosive scenes of a class war. 

Reality was that thousands of men weren’t working. There was no money coming in to pay bills and feed kids. How did their families survive ?  Whole communities were brought to their knees due to financial insecurity. Families torn apart. I thought it would be interesting to find how people coped in that time of crisis. People who were directly involved given a voice to record their cold, hard and bitter truths. 

During research for the film the stories that I heard were laughter, sadness, courage and pride. Some people didn’t want to talk about the strike, or for any of their comments to be recorded. After all these years feelings still ran deep. Emotional scars. 

The years have rolled on and out of the ashes of the pit’s new business’ and housing developments have appeared. But the mining industry will never be forgotten.

Link to the documentary and to check out other films on You Tube subscribe to my channel: 

 

 

Gary Alikivi.

SECRETS & LIES – New documentary about Baron Avro Manhattan

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As the blog hits 35,000 views Journalist Peter French wrote in The Shields Gazette 7th August 2018….The life and times of Avro Manhattan, an Italian born Baron whose artwork and writing made him friends and enemies throughout the world, and who chose to spend his final years, living with his wife in South Shields are truley fascinating. But don’t take my word for it – let the man himself revael to you all about it’.

To read the story go to…www.shieldsgazette.com/lifestyle/nostalgia/hit-man-s-target-settled-in-south-shields-1-9288202

Or watch the documentary ‘SECRETS & LIES’ posted on 17th July 2018.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.

WESTOE ROSE – making the documentary about historian and photographer Amy Flagg

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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 history of the town she loved. But who was Amy ? By the Second World War both her parents had died, plus the town she loved was falling apart from the German air raids. Her life was crumbling around her. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera. 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.

Just some of the script from my documentary about South Shields photographer and local historian Amy Flagg. I came across her photo’s a few years ago when I was part of a group who volunteered to digitize the photographic collection held in South Tyneside Library. They were excellent photographs especially her record of the Second World War bomb damage in South Shields. A brave woman.

In my research I found that Amy had a darkroom so was able to print her own photograph’s. I know the magic that can happen there as I had my own set up during the early 90s. My darkroom was in a cupboard under the stairs where I’d print my black and white’s. Before I had the home set up I went on a short course in photography and darkroom techniques at a local community centre. If I was investing time and money I wanted to know my way around a darkroom first.

I’d go out with a roll of film and shoot some photo’s, develop them into a roll of negatives then put them into the enlarger and exposed the photographic paper to the light shining through the negative. Then put the paper through the tray of chemicals. The image started to come through –  it was like magic. Real magic. Not the Paul Daniels showbizy stuff. This was the real thing… like voodoo. I knew I had to do more of this. And I did.

 

In June 2016 the time was right to make a short documentary about the life of Amy Flagg. Using archive information, diary entries and photograph’s from South Shields Library I put a script together. North East playwrite Tom Kelly provided the narration, local journalist and writer, Janis Blower, added the voice of Amy. We recorded the voice over’s at The Customs Space studio in South Shields. As with many documentaries I’ve made, North East musician John Clavering captured the mood with some great music. On March 8th 2017 ‘Westoe Rose’ was screened at The Word in South Shields on International Womans Day.

Watch the documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ and to check out some of my other films go to You Tube and subscribe to my channel.

 

Gary Alikivi June 2018.