October 6, 2008

Farmin doon the Tyne valley

Photo credits: Copyright iSee Gateshead, a magnificent record of Northumbrian imagery and history, including this marvellous image of East Grange farm, coincidentally taken by one JP Dalton, the town surveyor in 1900; and the Station Bank below. Well done Gateshead Council!

By Dr Deric Charlton

You may well detect a funny accent when you read this, because I was born and brought up in Ryton, County Durham, which lies further down the Tyne Valley than the North Tyne – to the south of "Daft Laddie" country. Ryton then was a village of around 5,000 people. Ryton is about six miles west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and is on a borderline between urban and rural Tyneside. From the farm gate to the North sea twenty miles away was all urban country, whereas out the back door was nearly all countryside all the way past "Daft Laddies" country to Carlisle. It is still that way today.

Ryton has little claim to fame other than that the inventor of the "steam torrbine", whom we knew as "Paarsons at the Haal", lived there once, and only three miles away was Wylam where Geordie Stivvieson invented the railway. We were also proud that Crawcrook (caaled Craacruk by us Geordies), which was the next town on the road west to Hexham, was once reported as having been bombed and sunk during World War Two by the infamous traitor that Britain knew as "Lord Haw Haw". More recently I was delighted to hear in a recent episode of Coronation Street, that Curly Watts and his lovely police inspector wife had chosen to make Ryton their "new home" after they left "Wetherfield".

Ryton is also the site of the first-ever penny bank in England, so the people around there must have aalways been canny with their pennies! This very building was my father's birthplace, and still exists today above the village green, an easy stroll down to the Cross Inn or the Jolly Fellows, two well-known Ryton hostelries. My grandparents (on my father's side) lived at East Grange Farm on the southern banks of the River Tyne, near the local landmark, Ryton Church, erected in the early thirteenth century.

Ryton Church was built et the tap o the "Chorch Bankies", a steep field full of hawthorn bushes that ran down from the churchyard to the railway line between Newcastle and Carlisle, and there was a road down from the Village Green to Ryton Station, where in some bygone years the commuters used to catch the train into and back from Newcastle. In the winter this was a champion sledge track, as you could zoom down it at ever-increasing speed and then veer left as you reached the railway station and literally grind to a halt in a shower of sparks when the sledge's runners met the dry concrete of the tunnel under the railway. It was a really steep haul back up with the sledge however!

Grandpa Charlton used to deliver half the milk in Ryton village, and his friend who farmed at Runhead, on the eastern side of Ryton, covered the other half. Every morning the two milk floats would trot around the village, delivering fresh milk to the residents, and then the two horses would be seen parked face-to-face outside the Lane Head pub (where seven roads converged), so that the deliverers could quench their thirst and discuss farming problems before being taken home by their horses, who knew the way (and the routine) by heart.

I wasn't born on a farm but in the uppermost house of a pleasant terrace about a mile away, uphill from the farm that we eventually moved to when my grandpa died. During the War my father worked in a drawing office, helping to design battleships for Vickers-Armstrong, but he always had a yen to farm himself and so at weekends we frequently visited his parents, my grandpa and grandma, on their farm further downhill towards the River Tyne.

I was taken there from a very early age, during World War Two, and was soon converted to the farming way of life. When the war ended my father left his job there to work on the farm with his father, and our family took it over when my grandfather died in 1950. By then the National Coal Board owned it as they apparently found it cheaper to buy the local farms than pay compensation for land subsidence. It seemed that they mined coal at shallower levels in that district, and my grandpa swore that he could hear them working below when he was in the house by himself.


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