My Swalwell Tales
I have called this section My Swalwell Tales, they are really some
of my memories of Swalwell, complimented with the odd bit of pure
fiction. As they may be a little inaccurate due
to my age induced loss of memory, tales seems a more apt term. They
are not in any particular order but were written down as
they came to mind. If
you recognise anything here which you may be able to correct or add
to, please let me know through email or the Guest Book. All communications
Knew Them - The nicknames we had for local places.
(and for the most
part I don't know why)
The Yorkshire Bumps - a field at the top of
Ruskin Road where we used to sledge during winter.
The Seven Sisters - a clump of Birch trees at the top
of Woodhouse Lane.
The Giant's Grave - a mound at the end of the lonnen
near to Lizzie Cursips house. Formed by part of the
12 Score - marshland and silt ponds where the Metro
Centre now stands.
Cutty Throat Lonnen - the track that lead from what
is now The Poacher's Pocket down to the old Dunston power
The Damn Head - part of the River Derwent where we
used to picnic and swim when we were kids.
Miller's Bridge - the junction of Clavering Road and
Crow Trees - what is now the Pavilion housing estate
and formerly Swalwell cricket and football clubs.
Top Lonnen - a track at the top of Woodhouse Lane
running from Swalwell to the junction with Clockburn Lonnen
Bottom Lonnen - running from Swalwell to the Giant's
Grave / Lizzie Cursips house.
The Holly Woods - woods which ran between both
The Bagnells - a group of houses and a quarry near
the Top Lonnen and Giant's Grave.
Lizzie Cursips - a house just North of the Giant's
grave. Occupied at one time by Lizzie Cursip I guess.
The Dark Woods - small pine forest at the Clockburn
Lonnen end of Woodhouse Lane / Top Lonnen.
Lang Jack's - home and statue of John English at the
junction of Woodhouse Lane and Clockburn Lonnen.
The Greenfields - area east of Coalway Lane
Coaly Wells - Coalway Lane at the top of which was
Coaly Well and Coaly House.
The Marble Square - a piece of wasteland at the top
of Napier Road - used for playing marbles (liggies)
The Delta - an area at
the junction of the Derwent and the Tyne.
Hikey Bridge - Sands suspension bridge over the
Derwent - built in 1905.
The New Street - Ridley
Gardens, which was built some years after the other
If you can
remember any more, please refresh my memory.
I guess it is not so odd
that the earliest memory of my life in Swalwell was on the day I
suffered two quite serious injuries at the hands of my elder sister,
June. It was 1955 / 56 and we were living in Mount View (the old
concretes!) at the time, and June was balancing a garden rake on the
palm of her hand. Unfortunately for me the rake slipped and the
spikes penetrated and ripped my upper lip - I still bear the scar 53
years on!!. A trip to Whickham Cottage Hospital ensued where I
received 10 stitches before returning home. My sister, full of
remorse decided to give me a piggy back ride as compensation, but
unfortunately (again) for me, she dropped me on to the back of my
head which was promptly split open—another trip to the hospital and
more stitches - all in one day! Hardly surprising that I can't
forget the event.
Until the early
60s, Remembrance Day in Swalwell was an event to be waited for.
Members of The Royal British Legion, local military and TA units
plus elements from the local army cadet forces and war veterans
would all parade through Swalwell. The parade would start at the RBL
building at the bottom of Ruskin Road and would march along
Clavering Road, down Masefield Avenue, along Crowley Road swing into
the bottom of Napier Road and then turn left on Market Lane to Swalwell War Memorial which was then next to Keelman's Bridge on the
Waterside. It was a grand sight. Led by a military band the RBL
would be flying all their banners and flags, the military units
would be in their different uniforms and the veterans would be
bedecked in medals. All would be carrying poppy wreaths to lay at
the memorial - it was an inspiring sight and despite the solemnity
of the occasion it did have a kind of festive air if you were just a
kid. It made you feel proud to be British. Sadly this day is no
longer what it used to be.
As kids in 50s
Swalwell the best you could ever expect to get on your bread
was margarine except, that is, on Sundays, when out would
come the 'Best Butter'. I can remember buying this for my
mother the day before. It was stored in the grocery stores
in large wooden barrels and the shopkeeper would cut it with
a wire and wrap it for you in grease proof paper. No
pre-packing then! The 'Best Butter' would be served up with
bread for our Sunday Tea and it was FORBIDDEN to put
anything else on your bread when the 'Best Butter' was used.
I remember the beautiful creamy taste and rich yellow colour
much different from the butter sold today. It was a treat
and Sunday was the only day we were allowed to have it.
Where did it go???
The Meat Safe
Our family never
got a refrigerator until sometime in the late 60s. As most
of our food was always bought fresh anyway, there was never
much call for the fridge. We did however, have a meat safe.
This was basically a wooden cupboard with fine wire mesh
front and sides and was designed more to keep the flies of
meat rather than to keep it cool. It was kept in the bottom
of the pantry which was probably the coolest spot in our
house anyway. All of our meat; the joint, sausages, bacon
etc was stored in here. In all the years that it was used, I
can't ever remember our meat going off in this contraption.
I think it eventually became a rabbit hutch.
Lass's Demise It's odd some of the things you remember, but
there used to be a lass in Swalwell whose name was
escapes me. She was a massive lass and towered over
everyone - lads and lasses alike. She was at least
twice the size of anyone her own age and her height
was complimented by her bulk. To cap this all off
she was a very tough looking character and she used
this to the max to bully everyone. Then her day
arrived! A bunch of about 10 kids, myself included
were spending the day in the woods near the Dam Head
when the big lass and some of her hangers on arrived. We
had been playing on a rope swing which was slung
from the bough of a massive beech tree. The tree was
on a very steep slope so when we reached the maximum
swing, we were about 20 - 30 ft above the ground.
The friends of the big lass snatched the rope from us and
began swinging. Unfortunately she decided to
hang on the rope with them and out they swung. Just
as the swing reached it's maximum, the rope snapped
unable to bear the additional weight of the big lass, and
down they all plummeted! Even more unfortunate was
as the rope snapped, the big lass and her gang were
directly over a very thick Holly bush in which they
all landed. The screams from the big lass and her gang
was only outdone by the hysterical laughter which
emanated from the rest of us. We were crying with
joy!! We never saw much of her after that and I
often wonder if she ever married some poor soul.
The Club Trip
The annual 'Club Trip' used to be one of the most awaited events in
Swalwell - up until the mid 60s anyway. Most kids
never really got out of the village much. Even a
shopping trip to Newcastle 4 miles away was an
adventure, so the Club Trip was something special.
The village would empty on the day of the trip and
whole families would converge on Swalwell station to
take the special train to Tynemouth, Cullercoats or
Whitley Bay, whichever was the chosen destination
for the day. Going to the beach may seem like
nothing these days but that ONE day would be talked
about for weeks. Our mothers would spend the
previous evening preparing sandwiches and other
nibbles which would be complimented by Fish n' Chips
at the Beach. (I don't know why but they always
tasted better there) Our clothes would be prepared -
nearly always new t-shirt and shorts - and our
sandshoes would be painted white. We were spick and
span when we turned out for the event. The steam
train would normally take about an hour and a half
to reach the coast (about 13 miles away) and the
ride was an exciting part of the day. Once at the
beach, fathers and elder brothers would disappear to
the nearest pub, mothers would rent the deck chairs
and tents (for changing clothes) and then spend the
rest of the day sunbathing and nattering with the
group they were in. The kids would head straight for
the sea or to the rocks to collect shells and crabs.
Later we would get money from our parents to go to
the Spanish City in Whitley Bay or the Tynemouth
amusement arcade. A great day would be had by all
and we would return home with our candy rock and
souvenirs, tired, sunburned but still excited from
the great day out we had had. A few years ago I
spent 3 months touring the US and a further 3 months
touring Europe - yet they couldn't compare to the
feeling I had when I went on the Club Trip.
Maybe being younger things were more exciting.
Sometime around Easter for a two or three week
period, It was ‘Liggy’ season in Swalwell. A liggy
as all Swalwellers know, is a marble. They came in
all shapes and sizes and had wonderful names like
‘White Tornado’ and ‘Tiger’s Eye’ with the favourite
game being ‘Killer’ played out over three holes***.
Wonderful expressions were used like ‘Nowts nee Belchies’ which literally meant “Don’t hit my marble
too hard”, and ’Tibby’ which was obtaining a free shot by hitting
two marbles at the same time. A 'Backynack' was when your
marble bounced off another object before hitting
your opponents marble. Where these expressions came from is
anyone’s guess. Games were fast furious and caused the odd fracas
when disputes arose for strange offences like throwing the marble
instead of flicking it. There was a special name for this ‘offence’
but I can’t remember it at the moment. It may have been
anyone remember? Then there was the ‘Iron Ponka
Brigade”, those who used to use ball bearings
instead of glass marbles—frowned upon to say the
(have been advised by Brian Gascoigne in Australia
that ‘fullicking’ was the correct term. Thanks
game was 'Hitty Once' which only involved
players having to hit their opponents marble to win
it from them. Players would chase each other all
around the marble square in an attempt to win -
generally the best flickers won.
'Killer' was played by 2 or more players using 3
holes which were generally a few feet apart, and
were designated Top, Middle and Bottom holes. The
game started by each player standing behind the
bottom hole and throwing his/her marble towards the
top hole. The player whose marble landed nearest or
in the top hole would start the game. Each player
would start at the top hole and flick his/her marble
towards the middle hole, followed by bottom, middle,
top, middle. Once a player had got all holes, they
became Killer and could then attempt to hit the
marbles of the other player(s). On doing so, the
player whose marble was hit, lost the game - and
their marble. A new
game would then start.
game which we played was 'Odds n Evens' which
consisted of 2 players contributing a similar number
of marbles which were cast into a hole - some
marbles went in, some didn't. Each player
would then select odd or even and the winner was the
person who guessed the correct number in the hole.
They then kept all the marbles which had been used
for the bet.
venue for these games was ‘The Marble Square’ which
was a patch of land located next to the shop of Ian
Hepple’s family at the top of Napier Road. The
square held its name even when games were not
played. It was a landmark!!
still can’t figure out why we decided that there was
a season for playing liggies? Maybe it coincided
with the Easter school holidays. It’s in the distant
Located on the side of a hill, Swalwell was a
natural place for sledging during wintertime. I
didn’t know anyone who didn’t have a sledge. Some
kids had the swish store bought kind but many were
just home made and having fathers who worked in the
local engineering factories, runners were easy to
come by. There were many odd looking constructions
but they all went.
on Ruskin Road I had access to one of the best
sledging run in the village. We would start our run
in North View in Whickham then down Henserson
Avenue, across the ‘Yorkshire Bumps’ (anyone
remember them?) down Ruskin Road, across Clavering
Road on to the Hoppings Field and eventually we
would end up at the back of Swalwell Club. The run
must have been about 1 to 1.5 kilometers in length
and used to take only a few minutes to complete.
Hurtling across Clavering Road in Front of the 9A
bus to Newcastle or Whickham (whichever way it was
going) never phased us. How we were never killed is
there was the ‘DEATH TRACK!’. A 30 foot almost
vertical drop located in a field at the top of
Plantation Avenue. Never quite saw the fun in this
after smashing into a rock and nearly setting my
neck!! Popular with those who lived in the Pre-fabs
Spud Bashing was not the preparation of mashing
potatoes for the Sunday Dinner, but the cold, wet,
back-breaking work of picking potatoes for the local
farmer. I did it once in 1963 for the princely sum
of 10 shillings a week. It was the worst job I had
ever done in my life and was glad when the week was
morning at 7.00 armed with enamel buckets and a
couple of jam sandwiches, we would be taken up the
Lonnen to one of the potato fields on Smith’s farm
and spend all day bent over collecting the potatoes
churned up by whatever the appliance was called
which did the job. Half an hour for a jam sandwich
and a cup of tea and we were back at it until 5.30
in the evening. The 10 bob was spent at the Blaydon
Pavilion at the end of the week and I realized the
true meaning of slave labour.
Apparently, and incredibly, similar
still exists, although in this day and age - done by
(or Ladies' Steps as
it was known many years ago) was a favourite place
to go in the Summertime for picnics and to paddle
and swim in the River Derwent. Although many old
photographs show people at the weir at the Dam Head,
in the 50s and 60s families generally went to a
field a few hundred yards up-river from the weir. We
would spend all day here and it was our equivalent
of going to the beach.
'The art of
smashing one chestnut suspended on a string with
another' What was the point?
there still a conker season? Is it still played?
Half the fun of conkers when I was a young lad was
finding the things! I can't remember there ever
being a conker tree (Horse Chestnut) in Swalwell. We
had to travel as far as Fellside Road in Whickham or
the small wood near Dunston Hill to find them, yet
everyone else seemed to have them in abundance!.
They were beautiful to look at when first pried out
of there skins- glossy and brown - but quite
useless to play with in this state as invariably
they would break at the first hit. The Grannies
tales of baking in the oven or soaking in vinegar
never worked either. So where did all those 9ers and
10ers come from. There was always someone with a
rock hard skinless conker which would smash everyone
else's to smithereens! I never had one like this.
Apparently conker playing is now banned in schools
because it is too dangerous..????
remember in the late 50s / early 60s collecting Rose
Hips for Swalwell School. I believe they were
despatched somewhere for making Rose Hip Syrup which
was subsequently distributed by the then Ministry of
Health because the syrup held a very high Vitamin C
content. Collecting the rose hips was a school treat
farmed out to pupils who had been either very well
behaved at school or had achieved something special.
The best part of the treat was that we were taken in
the car of a teacher (rare then) to places we would
never normally go to and then spend all day picking
the hips which were found on the bushes of the
Dog Rose or Wild Rose. We collected tens of pounds
of these and people all over the country were doing
was however, a much more ominous side to the Rose
Hips because the hairy seeds inside the hip created
an incredible itching and rash when placed down the
back of someone's neck. We called them 'Itchy Coos',
and I remember a teen dance once held at the
'Miners' in Whickham on a Saturday afternoon, when
George Gillender and myself created havoc by bunging seeds down
Dougie Howell at least, was one of the victims.
In the early 60s two Swalwell lads made the local
headlines (well...The Blaydon Courier anyway). The
lads, Arthur Simpson (lived at Swalwell Station) and
his friend Billy (Cowboy) Rodgers (lived in Park
View) discovered an old hand grenade on a patch of
land near Swalwell brickworks off Miller’s Bridge.
Thinking very clearly(?) the lads decided to carry
it to Blaydon Police Station some 1 1/2 miles away.
Being very cautious of their safety they each took
turns in carrying it on the off chance that it might
explode. The rationale being that if it did, only
one of them would get killed - (Brave stuff
indeed, but what is the radius of shrapnel from an
exploding grenade, and how many people did they pass
on the way to Blaydon??) On arrival at Blaydon
Police Station the grenade was handed over to the
Bobby on desk duty who promptly evacuated the
station. Army bomb disposal was called in and the
grenade was taken away. The lads were hailed as
heroes! I wonder though if it would not have been
better to have left the grenade where it was and
just called the police!!
The Broon Ale Witch
Although I have never tried Newcastle Brown Ale I
have been told that it is quite a potent drink. If
my father were alive I am sure he would attest to
this as it was through ‘the Broon’ that he first
encountered ‘The Broon Ale Witch’. It was 1955 / 56
and we were living in Mount View when the incident
occurred. My father was returning home after a good
session at The Sun, Seven Stars and Highlander where
he had consumed copious quantities of Broon. His
route took him up Coalway Lane or Coaly Wells as we
used to call it, which at the time was nothing more
than a muddy path. Suddenly, he heard wailing and
moaning behind him. He was afraid to look back and
tried to run for home. Quite a difficult feat
considering he was pissed, it was windy, raining,
the path was thick with mud and it was uphill! He
slipped and fell into the mud but clambered and
dragged his way home where he arrived with his suit
torn and mud covered. He was a gibbering wreck and
it took quite some time for my mother to calm him
down. He swore blind that he had been pursued by a
witch who had chased him all the way home. The Broon
Ale Witch was born and my mother ribbed him for
years about this.
Ever heard the wind moaning in telephone wires?
The School Board Man
don’t know if they still exist but up until the 60s
at least, one of the most feared officials for
school kids was the School Board Man. The role of
this gentleman was to wander the streets looking for
kids who were playing truant (or playing the wag as
we used to say).
the 50s and 60s in Swalwell, maybe even before then,
the School Board Man was a gentleman called Mr.
Foster. A short, bald, bespectacled and bemoustached
character in a Burberry raincoat, (a Kafkaesque
figure comes to mind) Foster would lurk around
corners waiting to pounce on unsuspecting truants.
If caught, you were generally dragged by the ear to
your parents who would be lectured to by Foster on
the erring ways of truants with a warning to ensure
that you attended school.
many occasions Foster would be spotted in the
distance and we would run like hell to ensure that
he didn’t catch us. He would never chase you but
would yell after you that he would get you next time
- he often did!. Foster disappeared sometime
in the 60s and was never replaced.
anyone else remember him?
The Milk Man
horse and cart is not something which you see very
often these days but in 1950s Swalwell, that’s how
our milk was delivered.
name of our milkman was Eddie Nixon. He used to have
a stable for his horse at the side of South Farm
Cottage on the lonnen. You could hear his horse
clopping away every morning as it dragged Eddie’s
enormous cart up Ruskin Road. It was a powerful
brown beast and was a wonderful contributor to the
growth of old Seppie Herd’s Rose Garden at the end
of Dickens Avenue.
used to park his cart outside of our house and hand
deliver the milk and orange juice to the adjoining
streets. It was always an opportunity to nab a free
pint or a bottle of orange juice while Eddie was
away. Never found out what happened to Eddie, he
just seemed to vanish! Anyone got any ideas?
BooooM! During the last visit of the ‘Hoppings’ to Swalwell in 1963
some strange explosions were heard around the village. The
source of these explosions was myself and a number of other
Swalwell youths. The old railway station had just closed and
being curious, a few of us were exploring the buildings of
the station where we found a number of unmarked boxes. The
boxes contained small round metal objects about 3 inches in
diameter and 1/4 inch thick. We didn’t know what they were
but someone suggested that they contained gunpowder and our
reaction was to try and open them to find out if this were
true. We placed one on a rock and attempted to open it by
crushing it with another rock the resulting bang was
deafening and could be heard around the village. We tried
opening another one near the hoppings with the same result.
Word soon got around that we were carrying dangerous weapons
and it didn’t take long for the police to turn up and
transport us to Blaydon police station. It turned out we had
stumbled on some old railway detonators—devices which are
placed on a railway track in foggy weather to warn trains
when they are
approaching stations or hazards. Our curiosity resulted in a
ticking off from the police but little else.
was having a cup of tea in a café in Whickham when I
heard a reference to ‘Blackberry Week’ something
which I had not heard of in years. I learned later
that Blackberry Week was not the season when we all
used to go out picking
Blackberries, but when we went spud bashing (see
previous). Actually I preferred picking Blackberries
and can remember in the late 50s / early 60s when
most Swalwellers armed with empty, washed jam jars,
would converge on the lonnens and railway
embankments in search of this delicious fruit.
Invariably they would end up in a pie and would be
eaten for Sunday Tea along with home made scones,
cakes and sandwiches. When I revisited Swalwell last
year I noticed while walking along the old forge
road, that there were lots of very old blackberry
bushes laden with enormous blackberries yet no-one
seemed to be picking them. I couldn’t
believe it! In my day there would have been a dozen
Night, or Guy Fawkes Night was always eagerly
awaited by the kids of in Swalwell. Weeks before
would be spent collecting wood and other burnable
junk to build 'bonnies' in our gardens. Guys would
be made and these we would take around everyone's
houses begging 'pennies for the guy'. The resulting
revenues would generally be spent on a bag of chips
and penny bangers which we would set off almost
immediately. Bangs could be heard many days before
the big night.
One of our favourite
antics was to creep into the gardens of 'rival'
bonfire builders and either nick some of their
collection for our own bonfires or burn theirs to
the ground. Seems kind of malicious now but it was
great fun for us at the time although I guess those
who had spent many days building their bonfires were
none too happy. Oddly enough I never lost one
I think it must have
been around 1964 when the biggest bonfire was built
on the hopping field. Lots of Swalwellers came
together that year and a monster bonnie was erected.
People from all over the village attended on the big
night and roast spuds and apples were had by
everyone in addition to a great fireworks display.
Does anyone remember this event?
The Mill Race
The Mill Race doesn't exist anymore (except bits in a pipe under Swalwell) and few Swalwell folk will remember it, but it
used to serve both a functional and pleasurable purpose. The
Mill Race was a water feed from the River Derwent to the
old forge and ironworks of Sir Ambrose Crowley in Swalwell. Starting at
the Dam Head, the Race wound its way down to the old forge
and then on through what is now the White House, into
Crowley's works across from the Highlander, under Keelman's
Bridge, past the Waterside houses and Errington Terrace, and
finally ending up back at the Derwent behind what is now the
old Metro Radio building. It has all gone now but I can
remember many a happy Summers day picnicking near the Race
and collecting Tadpoles and bullrushes. There were many
Willow trees along it's bank even though it was only a few
feet wide, and as kids we used to have a great time climbing
in their boughs. The wall which diverted the Derwent into
the Race could be seen at the Dam Head. The picture on
the front of the historical brochure produced by the Swalwell Local History Society shows both the old Forge and
the Mill Race. (see Local History Society page).
The Seven Stars Ghost
Until the late 60s / early 70s a public house called
The Seven Stars used to stand on the corner of
Market Lane and Hood Street. Sometime during the 50s
a number of people experienced an unusual incident.
They were crossing “Keelman’s Bridge’ at about 11.30
in the evening when they saw a woman running down
Hood Street. When she reached The Seven Stars
corner, the woman just vanished into thin air. The
observers were amazed and on telling other people of
this event over the following days learned that many
years before, a woman had run out into Market Lane
from Hood Street and had been killed by a passing
any reader heard of this? If so, please let me know
if you can add any details
Well, that's all I remember so far. If you would like to send
me your memories of Swalwell, I will be happy to put them
on the memories page.
SUPPORT A VERY WORTHY CAUSE
BACK TO TOP