My Swalwell Tales

 


While 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 are welcome.


 

How We 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 Bagnall's waggonway.

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 station.

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 Whickham Bank.

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 near Fellside.

Bottom Lonnen - running from Swalwell to the Giant's Grave / Lizzie Cursips house.

The Holly Woods - woods which ran between both lonnens.

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 terraces.

 

If you can remember any more, please refresh my memory.

My Earliest 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.

Remembrance Day  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.

Best Butter  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.

A Big 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.

Liggy Season    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 ’Fullicking’ - 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 least. (have been advised by Brian Gascoigne in Australia that ‘fullicking’ was the correct term. Thanks Brian!).

A simpler 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.

Another 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.

Our 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!!

I 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 past now.

Sledging   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.

Living 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 anyone’s guess.

Then 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 though!

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 over!!

Every 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 work still exists, although in this day and age - done by East Europeans.

The Dam Head (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.

Conkers  'The art of smashing one chestnut suspended on a string with another'  What was the point?

Is 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..????

Itchy Coos  I 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 the same.

There 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 everyone's neck!!  Dougie Howell at least, was one of the victims.

Swalwell's Heroes  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  I 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).

In 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.

On 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.

Does anyone else remember him?

The Milk Man  A horse and cart is not something which you see very often these days but in 1950s Swalwell, that’s how our milk was delivered.

The 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.

Eddie 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.

Blackberry Picking I 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 people there.

Bonfire Night  Bonfire 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 myself??

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 truck.

Has 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.

 


 

 

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