February 28, 2009

Bill Charlton: Bellingham memories. 1940s

Northumberland, history, humour, childhood memories, 1940s
By Bill Charlton

Swimming & skating on the Tyne
During the school summer holidays we'd go swimming in the river Tyne which is where I learned to swim. On our way down from The Croft we used to pop the tar bubbles on the road with our sandals, which we wore a lot in the summer months. We used to get long Indian summers in those days.

In the winter, we'd go ice-skating on the Tyne and our mother used to skate too. I learned to skate around the diving board holding on to it for confidence. The two local stars were Jean Milburn and Jack Telford and they used to help us young folk improve our skills.

In the evenings and after dark we used to stack steel barrels which had been cut in half and placed one on top of each other with the open end upper filled with branches and logs, which gave a nice fireplace in the middle of the river on the ice for night skating. The fires would melt the surface ice a little which made for good smooth ice next night.

One year when the ice broke up, we found a salmon frozen into the ice with a piece bitten out of its neck probably by an otter. The local Catholic priest measured the ice thickness one year while we were there, and it was 18 inches thick. During that particular winter, Kit and Joe Maughan used to cart sand from the island in the river with horse and cart over the ice into the opening, and stockpile it for building work.

The Northern Farmers meal store
During the autumn we laddies would go down to the Northern Farmers into the meal Store and help load bags of feed for the local farms, and ride on the back of the wagon around these farms, sitting on the bags of feed and cake slabs. It was great fun eating a few of the smaller dog biscuits and locust beans etc. Approaching the farms, there were often apple trees around, so we'd collect one or two on our way in or out as the case may be. It was a fun day for us.

From gas to electricity
We used to have gas at the Croft in those days which came from the Bellingham gas works. But up at the Croft we had problems with water in the pipes as the gas would come through in surges as pressure built up to force its way along the pipes. Water lay in the low points along the pipe track down near the end of the Tyne bridge. So we always had to have candles at the ready just in case we were blacked out.

But in about 1935 progress arrived and we were fitted out with electricity all along the Croft. We even had a street light too. In the house we gradually changed over to all things electric with the kettle and the iron being some of the first things bought. The old Bellingham gas works was no longer needed and became redundant, later being cut up for scrap. You could smell the gas around the old place for years afterwards.

Honey, fruit and nuts
For more entertainment, we would dig up Bumblebee nests and eat the honey which was in marble-sized sacks by sucking them out. Then there were hazel nuts, beechnuts, buttercup bulbs, wild strawberries, wild rasps and bilberries to supplement our diets. Then in autumn we would collect the uneatable chestnuts to play “konkers” at school which could get very competitive.

We all used to have fun in those days gone by. No mobile phones, TV, computers, or ipods. We made our own entertainment and remember that we all left school at age 14 to start earning a living.

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