Happy Days


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Looking over Pitmen's Walk (Strangford Road), allotment gardens, railway line, old Engine Works, Seaham Harbour Station and Marlborough Street.














Early Memories

My most vivid memory is of a visit to Whitley Bay in August 1918, to see my mother's eldest brother whom she adored, my Uncle Bob, home on leave from France. He presented me with a great big coloured ball. Next morning I was playing on our stairhead landing (we lived upstairs) when the ball bounced away from me down the stairs, two flights, one short, one long. Alas, I never saw that ball again. Sadder still, I never saw my uncle Bob again either; three weeks later, in September 1918, he was killed in action on the Western Front.

I'd started the Infants' School in Viceroy Street with the war at an end. We overlooked the schoolyard from our house windows and beyond we could see the trains rattling past. We needn't look at the clock as we knew the time of every goods and passenger train, especially the 8.30pm goods train and the 11.30pm express to London which looked beautiful as it went whizzing by with fire shining on the fireman's faces and its well lit carriages. In school our headmistress was Miss Doughty but my brother Donny and I loved Miss Mackay a sweet, gentle Scottish lady who lived in Cornelia Terrace. Because we lived so near to school we used to pop home every playtime to make sure all was well.

My paternal grandma lived nearby in Sophia Street with my aunties. I remember we were all under her bed in the pitch dark when the German Zeppelin came down at Hartlepool in 1917. Although there wasn't a light anywhere I wasn't frightened, being too young to realise what was going on.

Grandma had a bad chest and kept to her bed from October to March. She looked very pretty sitting up in bed in her little mauve velvet bonnet trimmed with lace and her black cape draped around her shoulders. Her house seemed lovely to me - no

stairs to climb. In the sitting room a lovely fire and a lovely gold faced clock which reminded me of Penshaw Monument with its black pillars. This room was also Grandma's bedroom and the harmonium in the corner was played by auntie every Sunday evening when we had all come from chapel. I never remember seeing my grandma out of bed. She died in March 1922. 1 can still see my father's face when he told me to take care of the children because something sad had happened that night.

Our own family house was very small. In the kitchen was a desk bed which folded away every morning, and even took the pillows and bedclothes pushed in at the top. My younger brother Colin and I used to do it. It was lovely to lie awake in bed and hear what mam and dad talked about, and after they went to bed the glow from the fire and the blazer in front still gave us a safe and good feeling. Once my mother went to the Amateurs leaving me to look after the baby. Mother came back during the interval to check that all was well but shortly afterwards I fell asleep across the bottom of the desk bed. Fortunately my younger brother Colin kept awake and the baby did not wake up, but they chided me for years about that.

When mother had a new baby on 3rd January 1917 she was so poorly and the weather so bad that she was christened Gladys in the house. I can still see mother sitting in the best armchair, looking so pale and wan and holding a lovely pink bundle.

The minister came quite often to our house because father was a steward at Church Street Methodist Chapel. We had our own seat at the back upstairs, so that dad could get out easily if anyone fainted or felt poorly. Mother was usually at home with a new baby, so I went with my dad whom I loved very much. During the sermon I often snuggled up to my dad and fell asleep. I used to get a sweet from him too that tasted of tobacco, as it had been in his pipe pocket, but it still tasted lovely.

Anniversary Sunday was really special - the chapel packed to the door, all seats taken, the platform raised up, so that we could see our mams and dads from our upstairs seats. I still remember how frightened I felt when we stood up for the singing of the first hymn., dwarfed by the grown ups. I wore a lovely sweet pea, or Dorothy Perkins buttonhole for the Best Buttonhole Competition when all we girls looked so lovely. We also said special pieces of prose or poetry. Mother used to bring the baby that evening and she used to shout out our names much to everybody's amusement. We were always so well rehearsed at home - Dad used to stand us on a chair and listen to us until we were word perfect - that we knew each others pieces off by heart.

Friday was bath and medicine night, hair washed and a dose of castor oil. I used to run and hide behind the clothes hanging on the door but there was no escape, everyone had to have it. It must have done us good for we have all had good health. I used to be sat on Dad's knees until clouts were put in my hair and next morning my hair would be hanging in beautiful ringlets.

In 1914 Lord Londonderry had provided land alongside the Pitmen's Walk (Strangford Road) for use as allotment gardens. My father had one of these gardens, which supplied mother with an endless supply of vegetables and fruit for making blackcurrant and raspberry jam. I can still picture the fence draped with our old net window curtains, now keeping the birds from the fruit. There was also a very old wooden cabin with a seat outside - no room inside because it held everything but the kitchen sink - implements, old buckets with no bottoms, hundreds of jam jars, and

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