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Toy Planes from Gamages
We used to send off to A.W. Gamages for these model aeroplanes made from balsa wood.
They were made with three-ply tea-chest wood and had a propeller with a bit of an elastic band. Gamages were at 116-128 Holborn, London. They sent you a 900 page catalogue every Christmas. Billy and I got paid lugging this equipment around for Lubbock, making deliveries to the big houses, which is how we got to know everyone, and fixing the cars. We knew what made the things tick and with no mechanics about we learnt to do the job. I could drive at 13; I’d manoeuvre them about the yard and from time to time father would take one of the cars saying he had to run it in or check the new tyres or something. There was no traffic to speak of, mostly gigs and tub traps. You had to watch out for startling horses and upsetting old ladies who liked to carry their loads down the middle of the road.
Theatres and Pubs
J.G. used to build a theatre and a pub together.
He had the ‘Three Masons Arms’ and the ‘Globe’.
In those days there was nothing else, no cinema, just these theatres. I remember Gracie Fields was pelted with tomatoes at Stanley with the miners; she was a Rochdale girl and my age. She was in ‘Our Towers of London.’ She started out in Music Halls and became a film star in the 1920s and 1930s. The cinemas helped to black the music hall artists out.
The cellars held two gallon jars of gin and Irish etc:
The cellerman had an office which had a speaking tube running up to the first floor; you had to whistle down it to get your attention. Wagons would come in by these big double doors round the side. There were steps down in the cellars.
The manager of the Globe would ring his beer order down.
I’d run down to the phone in the corridor to take it down. I was just a boy and the man, a Cockney, asks for “Three barrels of oil.”
I went back to the office and asked.
“Where can I get some oil?”
They all laughed.
“Ale” they said. “He wants three barrels of ale.”
One day J.G. had my father carry this ‘Blick’ up from the car; it was a German typewriter.
J.G. tried to show me how to use this Blickenfurentstater. It was a portable affair with a wooden case. The top row of letters began ZXKGB so it came in before QWEERTY when they had to slow the action down on account of the metal keys getting jammed if you typed too fast. I did all the typing after that, up until the war. We started doing the letters with carbon copies. After the war they had girls in doing that job.
There were no girls in the office before 1914.
The Royal Hotel
The Royal Hotel was a huge stone built building with these five massive windows.
It was built for business; it’s all finished now. There was a station near by and next door the Mart for all the Blackhill farmers round about Lanchester. There was a huge yard. The station took all the deliveries for the Paper Mill and Flour Mill in Shotley Bridge.
There were six in the office above the bar and taproom.
J.G. had a private office across the passageway. I was the office boy. Joe Trones was on the sales ledger, Bill Barron, was the principal ledger clerk (tenants, free trade). Tommy Morland, who came from Medomsley, was the cashier; he held the bank cash book. He was 38 when I stared. Then there was Ernie Caldwell, the estate agent and local brewery area manager. Mr Gardener was General Manager of the branch and stores. Mr Gardener was in his fifties. He’d been with the North Eastern Breweries for 26 years. I got to know his son later on. John Gardener was just a year older than me. His mother lived into her eighties as did John. I must have been the Spa water we were used to drinking!
Bill and I used to do the column.
We’d sneak out of the office and go down the corridor to the billiard room that overlooked the spirit store and bottling factory.
There were two tables. We’d slide in and keep the door from the office locked. We’d sneak back as if we’d come back from the telephone. We got to know Tom Brown who worked for the Consett Iron Works. He used to play billiards when it was open. Tom and Bill were a similar age. Tom was from Wokington. He was nearly 30 when I started at the North Eastern Brewery. He lived at 7 Constance Street, Consett . They were a five of them, there was Bill, Dick, George and his sister Florence. His father, George was from Yorkshire. His mother, Mary was from Durham. Tom was a big strapping lad. Before the war his brother was shot in the leg and he lost it from gangrene.
Bill had a brother called Ridley who was a good footballer.
Just before the War Bill got a message to say his brother had been killed in a fall of stone in the mine at Busty Pit, Medomsley. Ridley had started out as a coal hand puller ‘underground’ at Busty Pit when he was 14. He was killed on 8th October 1912. He was kirning in a longwall gateway in a seam 2 feet 2 inches thick when a large stone fell between slips canting out some props and crushing him.
Bill was broken hearted. In those days all the mines were going: Hunter, Busty and Derwent interlinked with their own railway with iron ore from Spain.
Ernie Caldwell used to count all the coins, it was all gold then.
He had this desk next to a massive iron safe. When the figures didn’t add up he’d put it down to petty cash. When they came to move the safe they found all these coins stuck down the back. Ernie Caldwell came to me one day.
“John, I’ll show you how to work a pub stock out.”
And he put this pub stock sheet in front of me.
One of my jobs was to take all the coins down to the bank.
With it being the brewing trade a lot of them got sticky. I remember once the bank manger got fed up with getting sticky fingers and handed me the bag back.
“Go and wash them; I’m not handling them like that.”
So from then on before I went to the bank I’d take the coins into the lavatory and wash them in the sink.
There were three joiners and two horse keepers for the twelve Cleveland Dray Horses. The pop factory was run by Tommy Blackburn. There were six bottling girls and a bottler we called ‘The Dummy.’ They bottled Bass, Guinness, Wheatley Hops and their own beers.
Crossley Gas Engines ran the machines – there was no electricity. That factory was sold to the Venture Bus Company, now the Northern.
All the letters were hand written with copying ink.
You put an oil sheet in, damped the blotting paper, put your letter in and squeezed it to make a copy – that was before the typewriter.
Canon Ross Lewin
There was Tatty Walton’s the Grocer’s and Addison’s the Newsagents. These supermarkets have killed all of that.
The pubs were the ‘Kings Head’ and ‘The Commercial’.
Canon Lewin lived at the Vicarage at 1 Church Bank.
He was in sixties and lived with his two sisters. They had two domestic servants. St. Cuthbert’s was designed by John Dobson, which says something about the money that could be raised in Shotley Bridge at the time.
I noticed in the Homemaker section of the Journal a house for sale by the riverside for £330,000 with twelve stables and lodges and fishing rights.
That was Lois Priestman’s House.
There were three brothers, another one was Jonathan Priestman, a long time MD of Concert Iron Works; he lived at Shotley Lodge. And one of them lived up at Snow’s Green.
Spa Fields Fair and the Char-a-banc
Every year there was a fair down at the Spa Fields by the river
The Spa was noted for its waters which came out of the rocks by the swings; it was icy cold. The bath house and saloon still remain.
I remembered a Char-a-banc coming down from Blackhill to Shotley Bridge Spa grounds that crashed. That was on 26th August 1911. Those killed belonged to the Consett Co-Operative Choir. There was a couple that died a John Joseph Person and his fiancée Ettie Stokoe. I held her hand while we waited for the Doctor. It was shortly after my 15th birthday. There were many I say die after that, but she was the first. A lovely woman. Full of ideas and hopes. There were a lot that missed out.
Every year there was this fair and the Choir had come down for that
There was a Toll Gate. You paid once and there were swings attached to these huge trees with heavy steel bars and hooks and roundabouts and a Flower Show. Carriages carrying twenty people would come in from Newcastle. I won a First Prize for a handwriting competition and for my drawings. I did one of a Roman Soldier and another of a tulip.
I remember in 1902 going down to the Spa where they had a huge fire to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking. My father used to get a magazine, ‘The Black and White Budget’ on the Boer War.
The fair in Shotley Park was stopped eventually by a Quaker family who owned the land.
He was a banker, this Jonathan Richardson, a Quaker Banker. That was a rum deal. One of his sons refused to fight in the Great War. He stayed out until conscription came in then refused. He lived by his bible, he said and obeyed the Fifth Commandment, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill.’ They had him shipped out to France all the same and put under military command; they might have been shot for that, but Parliament stepped in and gave them hard labour.
Fig. 1. Shotley Bridge, above the Flour Mill. The boys on the road are brothers John Arthur Wilson (Jack) and William Nixon Wilson (Billy) … and by the pavement ‘a boy called Moffat whose family ran the baker’s’. Cutler’s Hall Road.
William Lubbock – Photographer
There was a teacher called Lubbock; he was a good amateur photographer.
His name was William. He was born in 1871 and had a wife called Thomasine and a daughter Marion who was two years younger than me. Lubbock taught Standard Seven so I had him in my final year. He didn’t half wallop you with a cane.
He got out to take pictures of these real winter scenes.
I was thought to be a bit of a strapping lad, all the Wilson’s were big lads, we have the blood of Blacksmiths running in our veins which explains why we last so long. I’d go out to help him carry his equipment, trudging out onto the fells through snow that came up to your waist – the drifts could cover a barn.
Talk about winters. It went on for weeks, nothing like now.
Lubbock was Chairman of the Tyneside Photography Society.
He used a box camera with all these brass fittings a tripod, a large wooden affair that weighed a few stone.
The camera used glass plates.
He took a photograph of me and Billy in 1903 or thereabouts.
We wore these wide brimmed straw hats against the sun and I was carrying a cane and jam jar. We were off to fish for tiddlers in the Derwent by the Papermill. It was in front of what is now the King’s Head, with the bank running down to the flour mill and bridge at the bottom. The road back then was wide enough for carriages to pass but was no good for motor cars. A whole row of houses were knocked down for the motorcars and wagons to get through as that was the main route to Newcastle.
Lubbock turned up at the Chancellor Pub once. I filled him with beer and walked him back to the train.
There was another teacher called Evans and a woman teacher whose name I don’t recall.
I took part in Aladdin, a Chinese Play and I was a bugler in the Boy’s Brigade.
They were masterminded by Baden-Powell around 1900.
He who went on to establish the Boy Scout movement. One time we went camping up to Allen’s Ford.
There was a Saturday Matinee in Dally’s Hall.
We’d see these cowboy films and someone would play the piano.
Shotley Bridge and Benfieldside School
Shotley Bridge was a metropolitan, a proper town, a thriving place.
The War and the recession and the rest put paid to that; it’s never been the same. Never will be. Can’t be. Consett and Shotley Bridge drew in workers right up to the outbreak of the War in 1914 for the iron and steel works, the paper mill, saw mill, market gardens, mines of course and the manufactories. Then there were the railways, and shops and theatres of course. And the market every week that filled the town.
I remember taking Billy up to the infant school, Benfieldside School at Highgate and him crying.
Children started school aged six and stayed on until Standard VII. On our when 14th birthday we got a job. There was no staying on unless you had the money for the Grammar School. Lads from the big houses would be sent into Newcastle or they’d be away at boarding preparatory schools from the age of 7 or 8.
The school was divided into two, girls and boys
There was a separate block for infants with the schoolmaster’s house next door and a playground behind where I left him and went back for him. It was a mile walk. There was a two hour break for lunch as most children went home to eat. So back and forth we’d walk six miles a day. There were no buses and no bikes.
There was no gas or electricity either, just paraffin lamps.
The headmaster was Frank Allan; he was a little chap. He signed up, no need, he lied over age, said he was 37, in fact he was 43. He encouraged a lot of boys to lie about their age and got them killed, 14 year olds saying they were 19. Billy did that and joined the Royal Flying Corp when he was 15.
Frank was killed in the Great War.
Swimming by the Papermill Sluice
There were no swimming pools
We went down to the Papermill dam and used to swim under the sluice. The sluice runs for 600 yards alongside a gently running race. There are pools, rapids and diving spots. It’s still there, not operational though. The other place for swimming was Tiger’s below the Papermill.
We spent all our summers with a string and bent pin fishing for tiddlers.
The Paper Mill was owned by the Annandale’s.
They lived in a big mansion, Shotley Grove House up at Snow’s Green. James Annandale lived to be ninety. He was born in 1827 and died January 1917; my mother told me that in a letter I got when I was a Machine Gunner on the Somme. Mr Annandale’s wife was called Anne. They had four children: Charles, Annie, Nora and James. The younger James lived with his old man at Shotley Grove with his wife Elizabeth and their baby daughter Margaret; they had a domestic servant and a nurse of their own.
The Papermill produced 95 tones of paper a week and employed 300.
There were plenty from school got took on by the Mill, which was preferable than going down the mines and liked by some better than going into domestic service. The Papermill was established by John Anandale in 1799; that’s how old the sluice would be they put in to run the machinery.
The First Cars in County Durham
The first person to have a car in the area was Dr Ralph Renton.
Everyone knew when he was coming because you could hear the engine.
“Chug, chug chug, chug.”
You’d then see him sitting there bolt up right like he was at a desk. Dr Renton lived at Oakfield, Blackhill; he was born in 1878. His mother’s name was Mary Renton; she was born in 1850. She had two sisters who lived with her, Marjory and Agnes. They were still in Benfieldside 1901. Ralph’s father, Dr George Renton had been the GP at Shotley Bridge before his son.
Dr Renton’s car was a chain-driven 8 HP Single Cylinder Rover
This was their first motorcar, designed by Edmund Lewes who had been working for Daimler. Before that they’d made motorbikes and before than they’d made bicycles. There were mostly horse drawn vehicles when I was a boy, private cars were very rare.
They next people after that to have a motor car were C.T. Mailings of Ford Potteries, Greenwood, Shotley Bridge. It was a Lanchester.
It had tiller steering and bicycle wheels
When the cars came on the go JG got a mechanic driver, a man called Geldart, to come up from Middlesborough to teach my father how to drive.
The Murrays bought a 10 HP Coventry Humber from this firm in Middlesborough and later bought a 30/40 Beeston Humber.
Thomas Humber was a blacksmith from Beeston near Nottingham
He started with velocipedes, they had no chains, you just sat on them to make them go by running your feet along the ground. He got into bicycles and then tricycles and by the 1890’s he was building copies of Leon Bollee’s tricar. As well as tricycles, they built motorcycles and voiturettes. They had two speeds those first cars, one forwards, one backwards. They were well built and a more expensive car.
As a boy my father used to take me up to the yard to fiddle on with the engines
When old Dick Murray built Benfieldside House he had two massive stone pillars put up at the bottom of the drive. There was a little wicker gate into the lodge where we lived. J G. used to have a go with the Beeston Humber. One day he missed the gate and ran into the pillar which twisted round its base.
“How he didn’t knock it into our cottage I don’t know”.
These pillars were incorporated into the estate agent’s house which is called ‘Glastonbury’ and is on Benfieldside Road.
A second groom was taken on to look after the horses and my father took on the new role of chauffer. He used to drive J.G. all around the branches of the North Eastern Breweries, to the Moor Street Brewery in Sunderland, the Tower Brewery in Spennymore, the Weir Brewery in Stockton and up to the bottling plant at Blackhill next to the offices where I worked.
I blame cars for the growth in crime. You never heard of burglaries, but once the criminal types could nip in and out by car they’d target these big houses. Put the wind up a lot of people that.