March 22, 2009

Nancy McLauchlan - A happy Bellingham childhood

Northumberland, history, Bellingham, North Tyne, railways, schools, childhood, evacuees

By Nancy McLauchlan (nee Brown)

Passenger train at Bellingham station. Station House on right

Moving south of the Border
My Dad (Harry Brown) left his home village of Stow (situated on the Waverley Line, between Edinburgh and Galashiels) to go to Bellingham, North Tyne where he had been appointed as a railway booking clerk in 1930/31. He was unmarried and lodged with Mrs. Milburn who was the wife of the local joiner and lived in High Street. He married my Mum, (Susan Miller) also from Stow in January 1932, and their first home was in the Bellingham Station House.

Station master's house 2009

The Station Master at that time (Mr. Peter Bird) had his own house in Percy Terrace. I was born in the Station House in July 1933 and have often wondered if there have been any other births in that impressive building. Dr. Kirk was in attendance along with nurse Miss Cissie Little who lived in the village. I was six months old when we moved into No. 4 Reedsmouth Road to one of the council houses which had just been built.

Harry Brown and Nancy on left, Signalman Jack Barrass on right,
(Bellingham station 1937)

Our next door neighbour (Mr. Bob Richardson) was either an engine driver or a fireman and his younger son, Brian was a favourite of mine. I knew him well, but at the annual Railwaymen’s Children’s Fancy Dress Party when I was about two or three years old, I unfortunately didn’t recognize him when he came rushing up to me all dressed in black as he was a chimney sweep. The result was I howled the place down!

Dad’s illness
Around 1936/37 Dad developed rheumatic fever, was very ill and off work for a long time. Dr. Kirk or the other doctor (Dr Clements) called at least twice a day. This must have been a very worrying time for Mum as she had to administer his medicine even through the night. Dad’s sister came to stay with us to look after me, and I remember her taking me to a dancing class held in the town hall once a week. I can’t remember what, if any dances I learned, but I did learn to curtsey! After his illness Dad had to have his tonsils removed and also all his teeth. The Bellingham dentist came to the house to extract the teeth.

Warm milk to the door
I remember our milkman, Mr. George Breckons coming every morning and emptying the warm milk into a jug inside our front door from his can. Dad used to sing a lot, and when he sang “Keep your feet still Geordie Hinney” I thought for a long time that he was singing about Mr. Breckons!

There was another milkman who came along at nights on his horse and trap - a Mr. Hume from the Boat Farm, so we were never short of milk. Mr. Joe Maughan came along with his horse and cart once a week to empty our bins – he always waved to me as I watched him from the bedroom window. Another highlight was when McVays van came from Wylam with ice-cream cornets and wafers.

Maud Bell the baker
Miss Maud Bell at the baker’s shop (run with her sister Ethel)was another favourite person of mine as sometimes she used to pop a sweet into my mouth from the glass case beside the window. I also remember the Tyne being frozen over and Mum taking me to see the skaters – somewhere down by the gasworks.

There was also a chocolate machine on the station platform, which if you put a penny in, you got a small bar of lovely chocolate with cream inside I think it was made by Reeves. Our postman, Mr. Adam (Pop) Dodd, who we met on our way to school, always told us that we were going to be late.

Highlight of the year
The highlight of my year was going to Stow to visit my Granny; the journey seemed to take forever. I would dash from side to side of the carriage counting the sheep stells (we used to call them sheep rings) or if we were in a carriage which had a corridor I played at being a bus conductress. The worst part was the wait we had at Riccarton Junction for the train coming up from Carlisle. We seemed to wait for ages, but I don’t suppose it would be longer than maybe half an hour or so.

I enjoyed the Stow visits, but my two boy cousins who were much older used to tease the life out of me – calling me English and imitating my Geordie accent. When it was nearly time to go home they tried to get me to say, “I don’t want to go back to dirty old Bellingham.” Try as they might I would never say it. These cousins enjoyed coming to stay with us at Bellingham – the conker trees on Russell Terrace were a great attraction also my Dad’s garden peas, which they demolished one day when he was at work.

Starting school
I started at the Council School in the summer of 1938. We had a lovely teacher called Miss White. The first hymns I can remember singing at school were “There is a Green Hill” and “Do No Sinful Action.”

We must have had a concert in our first year, though I cannot remember it, but I have photographs of us all in our nighties and pyjamas taken outside the school and can remember singing “Goodnight Mr. Moon.”

Bellingham Council School 1939

Back row (L to R): Glenis Mole, Nancy Brown, Lavina McLelland, Edna Armstrong, Jane Turnbull, Maidal Daley, Margaret Murray, Janet Mason.

Front row seated (L to R): Teddy Wilson, Margaret Allen, Cathleen Beattie, Edwin Armstrong.

The other photograph seems to be about the old woman who lived in a shoe and some of us were in fairy costumes. I can also remember reciting “The Blackbird.” “Oh blackbird with the shining yellow beak, you’d tell me why it’s yellow if only you could speak.” “I’ll tell you why it’s yellow, though I can only sing, I dipped it in a crocus on the first day of Spring.”

Bellingham Council School 1939

Back row (Lto R): Sadie Colling, Betty Hall, Glenis Mole, Cathleen Beattie, Nancy Brown, Margaret Murray, Margaret Allen

Middle row (L to R): Billy Daley, Peter Cordiner, Billy Thompson, Edna Armstrong, Teddy Richardson.

Front row (L to R): Morris Benson, Edwin Armstrong, Lavina McLelland, Maidal Daley, Janet Mason, Ronnie Armstrong, Margaret Wood.

War was brewing - evacuees
Soon war was brewing and I think it was the Friday before war broke out that we were allocated evacuees - sisters - Jean and Margaret Foster from Heaton, Newcastle. It was this weekend that we were supposed to be going to Stow, as my Dad had his two weeks holiday and he was quite annoyed when he was told by the billeting officer that we couldn’t go as the war was about to start. I loved playing with Margaret Foster as she was about my age, but Jean didn’t settle at all and kept saying that they had been told they would only be with us for two weeks, as it was just a trial. Their parents came to get them at the end of the fortnight.

I was in Sunday School in the Methodist Chapel when word of the outbreak of war came through, and I can remember running home while the neighbours and Mr. Ted Dobbin, the village newsagent were going round the village in his car blowing the horn. We mustn’t have had an air raid siren in Bellingham then.

I also remember another neighbour, Mr. David Daley going off to war very early on as he was in the Territorial Army. I kept hoping that my Dad wouldn’t have to go, but after his illness he didn’t pass the medical. He couldn’t even join the Home Guard, but did join the ARP and Red Cross. To begin with our class at school only had to attend in the mornings at the Methodist Schoolroom as with the influx of evacuees the schools were packed out.

Hospital visits
It was around this time that I had my accident. I was threading rosehips when the needle stuck in the rosehip, I tugged, up came the needle and pricked my eye. It watered profusely and I seemed to be seeing three of everything. I was taken to the RVI at Newcastle and they wanted to keep me in, but Mum didn’t want me to stay as there were fears of the Newcastle area being bombed. For weeks on end we went to the RVI three times a week but I ended up with impaired vision in that eye.

Dig for Victory
When we moved up to the junior class our teacher was Miss Ross, an evacuee teacher from South Shields. I can remember learning the poem “Big Steamers” by Rudyard Kipling in her class. Some afternoons we went over the playing fields to the allotments on the side of the Hareshaw burn where we ‘Dug for Victory.’ The lads were always going down to the burn to get water for the seeds and I remember them swinging on tree branches playing at being Tarzan. Other afternoons we had to go to the Town Hall where we did dancing and acted in plays. At playtimes you weren’t allowed outside and I enjoyed running about in the downstairs part of the town hall.
Excitement taken by Kodak medium format folding 120 bellows camera from our bedroom window in Reedsmouth Road - a derailed engine being lifted back on to the track.
More evacuees
Another batch of evacuees arrived at Bellingham and this time we got a boy, Jackie Taylor from North Shields. A few more evacuees had their temporary homes on Reedsmouth Road, Jimmy Downes, Eva Mickleson, Jill Rogers and Connie Glendinning. I enjoyed having Jackie stay with us – he was a real character. He kept challenging my Dad to a game of draughts and Jackie always won! He sometimes got asthma quite badly, but this didn’t stop him from plodging in the Hareshaw Burn in the middle of winter.

Jackie had one very bad attack and my Mum, never having seen anyone with asthma before, was worried. However, in between his gasps for breath he kept assuring her that he had often been worse. One night strange noises were coming from the bathroom and when Mum eventually got him to answer her calls, he said that he was just seeing how long he could stay underwater!

"Dear Mam ..........."
Mum had quite a task getting him to write home every week, but he did it even though his news was brief, e.g. “Dear Mam, I hope you are keeping well, I am.” Mum tried to get him to vary things a bit so the next week when he passed the finished letter over for inspection it read, “Dear Mam, I am keeping well, I hope you are too”.

Jackie went home for Christmas – he was so excited that once we were past Reedsmouth in the train he kept wanting to open the carriage window to see if he could see his Dad who was to meet him at Newcastle Central Station. His Dad was in the navy and I remember feeling so rich as he gave me half a crown that day.

One night my Mum noticed that Jackie’s gasmask case was leaking and he said that a boy from Reedsmouth had thrown it into the burn. My Dad vowed to get to the bottom of this and spoke to Mr.Cairns, the headmaster who found out that Jackie had thrown the Reedsmouth boy’s bait into the burn first. This was before school dinners came to Bellingham. I hated when we had to practise with our gasmasks, as I couldn’t breathe in mine. It got all steamed up and I couldn’t see out of the celluloid window.

Jackie was also good on roller skates as he used to go to the skating rink when he lived at home. However, there weren’t all that many good places to skate in Bellingham as the roads were all rough tarmac. We did sometimes go down the pavement at Russell Terrace until an old lady came out and put a stop to that.

German planes in the night
According to Mum, Jackie, after going to bed at night prayed for all his relatives and friends in Shields and beyond, as his prayers lasted until she shouted up for him to stop. We were allowed to get up and look out of the window the night the German planes passed over on their way to bomb Glasgow and Clydebank, with strict instructions not to put a light on. The noise was horrific. Jackie and I were good pals and I cannot remember fighting, but one Saturday we were larking about in the living room where Mum had bread down in front of the fire to rise. Jackie gave me an almighty shove and I landed in the middle of the bread bowl – a good job it was covered!

One Saturday morning we got word from Stow that my Granny had died. Jackie had gone up the Tyne that morning with Willie Wright who drove the railway wagon, but Dad said they would be back by lunchtime. Willie came back, but Jackie had elected to stay on as they were moor-burning up the Tyne. Mum and I went off to Stow and it was late afternoon before Jackie returned and according to Dad he was in some state. After getting him cleaned up, he was eventually put on the bus for Newcastle where his Mum was to meet him. Most of his pals had gone home by that time and Jackie didn’t come back. I often wonder what became of him as he was like a brother to me.

Games and names
There were always plenty of us to play games along Reedsmouth Road, like hopscotch, hide and seek, rounders, etc. The lads also played cricket in the back field which belonged to the Demesne farm, but quickly had to take the stumps out and disappear when they saw Mr. Hedley, the farmer coming along to look his sheep.

One night we had a great seesaw cum roundabout going on tar barrels along the road. We had two planks and were going both up and down and round, until someone extra jumped on the other end to us – up went our end and off we came, someone landed on my arm which broke. Graham Batey said he would set it for me as he was a Scout, but I wouldn’t let him touch it. More visits to the RVI, but at least my Dad got to put his Red Cross skills to use with the arm having to be in a sling.

I can’t remember any fighting or bullying, but one girl used to annoy me by chanting either “Nancy Brown went to town with her knickers hanging down” or “Nanny Blot had a hot spot on her bot.” Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anything to rhyme with her surname!

Sunday afternoon walk – and trouble
One Sunday two friends (Jim and Sadie Colling) and I went off down Reedsmouth Road for a walk. On the way back we came part of the way on the railway line. I knew this was wrong as my Dad told me never ever to go onto the railway. However, it was a Sunday and I knew no trains would be coming. We found some lovely firewood, some keys (wooden blocks) which kept the rails in position had fallen out, so we decided to take them home for the fire.

We also took some which were only half out and the three of us arrived home with these blocks of wood which were covered in creosote clutched to our chests. Of course we were in our Sunday best – I had a lovely cream dress on which a neighbour Miss Elsie Jackson had made, along with a red blazer.

I’ll never forget the row I got into – my Dad asking if it hadn’t dawned on me that I had been stealing and that this could cost him his job? At the same time Mum was creating about the state of the blazer and dress and how they would never clean up etc. Dad never liked rows so it was decided that he and I would go back along the railway and put the keys back. All was right with my world again!

Roddy Thompson’s chips
I liked when we were sometimes allowed to go into the village at night to get chips at Roddy’s chip shop. There was a lady from up the Tyne who worked there sometimes called Miss Mary Mewes and we just loved to ask for “Two twos Miss Mewes”. I wonder how many chips you would get for 2 pence today? They were served in triangular shaped pokes and if you put plenty of vinegar on you could suck it out of the bottom.

We seemed to have snow every winter and sometimes we went along to Redeswood farm with our sledges, but at other times we went to two places on the way up the Hareshaw Lynn – the Cinder Track which was too steep for me and the Wagon Way which was good, but a long way to walk back up.

Town Hall ‘Kinema’
I can remember when the ‘Kinema’ came to the Town Hall. I was at the first matinee and as everybody pushed and shoved to get in, I thought I would be killed in the crush. I remember they once showed a film called “Glimpses of Bellingham.” I was on it with Sadie Colling (our neighbour) coming up Russell Terrace from school. The bit I remember best was of the railway station, but my Dad wasn’t on it.

We roared and laughed as they had speeded the film up and made it go backwards and we saw Mr. Ted Parker, another railway employee flying along the platform backwards. I didn’t go to the pictures much, but it didn’t stop me from writing to the film stars - Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Tommy Trinder and lots more, asking for photographs and saying that I was a fan of theirs. I still have these photos today.

The village Institute
Dad enjoyed the film shows and often went on a Thursday night. Another of Dad’s hobbies was billiards which he seemed to be good at, as we often had a big silver cup sitting on top of the wireless. He played in the Bellingham Institute which was a corrugated iron clad hut in the Foundry Yard on the way up to the Lynn. Mr. Matt Sisterson was one of his opponents whom I remember well.

Knitting for the troops
My Mum always seemed to be knitting, a pastime which she greatly enjoyed. However, during the war she knitted for the forces. She went to collect her wool at either Holmwood or another big house nearby. One weekend she had a lot of knitting to finish for the Monday morning and was going to have to knit on the Sunday in order to have it ready – something she had never been allowed to do when young.

As that Sunday was when my Granny was coming down from Stow, she wondered what she would say. However my Granny’s reply was, “These brave men fight for us on Sundays.” Mum also went to the kitchens in the town hall to help with jam making I think Mrs. Ursula Davidson was the cook – don’t know what Mum did, but it was probably washing the jars or cleaning the fruit.

Hexham musical festival
I can remember going up into the top class in the Council School and our teacher was Miss Leybourne. I liked her and she took us to the Musical Festival at Hexham one year to sing where we came second. A Hexham school was first and Humshaugh were third. I don’t know where Mr. Cairns, the headmaster taught at this time, probably in the Town Hall, but he never taught me.

Back north of the Border
Dad by this time was booking clerk at Reedsmouth Station and in the summer he was a relief clerk for the holidays, so he was sometimes away all week at places like Silloth in Cumbria. He was also applying for Station Master’s posts and in 1943 got his first station at a place I had never heard of – Dirleton, near North Berwick in East Lothian. Oh, the excitement I felt at going to live at the seaside – a new adventure.

We left Bellingham in August, 1943. It was to be another six years and two more stations before we came back to the area to live at Reedsmouth when my Dad got the Inspector’s post, but that is another story.
Reedsmouth station and 'The Wannie' with it single carriage including guard's van, waiting
to leave for Scotsgap and stations between. Note water tank on top of office buildings

(Nancy McLauchlan can be contacted at 12A Cutherbert's Drive, St Boswells, Melrose TD6 oDF, Scotland)


  1. Comment from Bill Charlton
    Once my mother sent me down to the village to get some fish and chips for our dinner. In those days the push bike was all we had for transport so off I went to Roddy’s chip shop along Half Lane in the village of Bellingham.

    While queuing up for my turn to be served, a young lad came back into the shop with his small packet of chips and said to Roddy, “ Hey Roddy, look what Aa fund in me chips”, and held up a fried mouse by the tail which had clearly been fried along with the chips.

    Quick as a flash, Roddy’s responce to the young lad was – “Mind divn't tell anybody else sonny or they’ll aall want one”.

    The mouse would most likely have been feeding on the fat in the vat as the stove was lit and was drowned before being fried along with the chips. Mother had a bit of a chuckle to herself when I told her,- “Aye that’s tipickle Roddy” she said.

    Comments from Clive Dalton
    Roddy’s fish and chips were certainly a wartime treat, and there was always a queue out the door on the nights he was open. There was always Roddy doing the frying and Mrs Thompson doing the wrapping up behind the high counter in the shop.

    As well as fish and chips, he had “meat balls” fried in batter. He called them “Doodle Bugs” after the missiles that Hitler was sending over the Channel to scare the wits out of the folk in Southern England. Goodness knows where Roddy got the meat for them, or if it was real meat. We didn’t ask . They could have done a lot of damage travelling at the speed of a real Doodle Bug.

  2. I am interested in the picture taken at Bellingham station in 1937. Ken Swan married my nana, Jane Aikin in Silloth. I don't think Ken ever wore a trilby in his life! I think the man second from the right looks more like him.

    Jim Shaw

  3. Thank you for helping me remember the Blackbird poem. I was taught it in school in Warwickshire where we lived briefly in about 1964. I could only remember the first and last lines.

    I have never found anyone else who had ever heard of it. Now I can recite the whole thing to my five-year-old daughter.

    I now remember the version we learned was “Tell me Mr Blackbird with your shining yellow beak, you’d tell me why it’s yellow if only you could speak.” “I’ll tell you why it’s yellow, though I can only sing, I dipped it in a crocus on the first day of Spring.”

    Thank you Nancy.

    Julian W

  4. I remember the learning blackbird poem when I was five at Dumfries Academy in 1945. I only remembered "I dipped it in a crocus on the first day of spring" and am delighted to have finally been reunited with all of it! Thank you, Linda Eunson

  5. The version of the blackbird poem I learned from my mother in the early 1950s begins
    "O black, blackbird with your shining yellow beak ...."
    Reciting it was my party-piece when in primary school in West Cumberland because the other children in the class did not know it.
    I wonder where it came from originally?
    Jan B.