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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.
The Five Wilson Boys
I had five brothers.
Percy, who was born in 1893. He was born over in Dalston, and christened over there. His name was Twentyman, but we called him Percy; he died of TB in his twenties. Then me, I was born in 1896.
Billy was born in 1899
His full name was William Nichol Wilson. His birthday was 23rd August. He died in June 1919 when his plane, a De Havilland Bomber (DH9), crashed over Belgium. He was delivering mail to Cologne. He was a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF. He’s buried in the a civilian Cemetery, Belgium. Flight Lieutenant William Nichol Wilson. RAF 103 Squadron. Died 8th June 1919. Age 19. I went out to visit the grave the next year.
By then the family were living out at Castleside, at 25 Consett Road
Like everyone the Murray’s had to cut back with the War and they had to let go of most of the staff, my father included.
“Why don’t we have a sister?” We kept saying to father.
I think he tried his hand but it didn’t come off.
Spencer was born in 1909. Then Stuart in 1911.
Percy went into a nursery as a gardener
He was a real gardener, not a half inch one. He trained with people called Kidd. The place was established by Walter Kidd of Ashfield, Shotley Bridge, to sell produce into Newcastle. Things were booming then around Consett & Shotley Bridge.
Billy worked at the solicitors J Ainsley & Sons on Tailor Street, Consett.
Like me he left school at 14 and joined them as an office boy. He had lovely writing so they made he a clerk. He did the copywriting. Everything was written out by hand in those days; there weren’t even typewriters, let alone computers to take your words down. You used a piece of copying paper that you dampened and laid across the paper to make a copy.
After the War I was shown some graffiti on a wall at J Ainsley & Sons. Billy had written his name there behind a picture that had been up on the wall. Beautiful handwriting. J Ainsley & Sons were owned by the Murrays. Your Great Auntie Pegg, she’s an Ainsley girl and your mother was at school with one of them.
Spencer was more or less an unqualified architect working for Murrays, Hoyles and Aynsley’.
They were all intermarried the Hoyles and Anandales, Murrays and Ainsleys. Spencer become a draughtsman in Billingham, then a manager to a concreting firm in Birmingham. He was like an architect, but an unqualified one.