A return to memories of boarding

In earlier ramblings I mentioned that I worked in two boarding schools and looking back from the 21st century, it is hard to believe some of the accepted norms back then.

Before starting at the LV in Slough I had never conceived that there might be such a thing as a mixed boarding school, and indeed, having applied for the post and been offered an interview, I rang the headmaster (from a red telephone box), just to check. He seemed surprised that I should ask! When I arrived for interview I was met by what to all intents and purposed was the headmaster’s manservant, short, white jacket et al. A far cry from my urban grammar school on Tyneside.

As I probably said elsewhere, my time there was probably among the most pleasant I have spent anywhere, with London on the doorstep, a new flat, a swimming pool, tennis courts on site, resident sixth-form babysitters and staff, many of a similar age to myself. There were of course the usual ‘odd bods’ found in schools like this, some of them seemed older than the place itself, but then people seemed older then.

The routine of a boarding school is important as out of lesson time, the boarders are supervised, by perhaps only one member of staff (or two in a mixed school) , hence the need for prefects. Rising times, bed times, meal times, times for prep and sport are all fixed so there is no reason why any boarder should be in a place other than expected. It all seems like a prison, but pupils seldom tried to ‘escape’ to their home, although one enterprising lad managed to get to Plymouth from Slough and was promptly returned by his father the next day. New pupils were sometimes homesick, briefly, but most got over it once the parents left and were not there to play up to.

Boarders were usually kept busy in their free time with sport and clubs, but both schools had a Saturday night film. Television was available, but children’s programmes were limited then, so each Saturday, all the boarders gathered in the main hall to watch a film, hired in by someone (I never found out who was responsible). You can imagine the smell of a room full of boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18 on a warm summer evening with the curtains and doors closed. It was no wonder that while this was happening the staff chose to have their evening meal. I really have little recollection of meals at Slough, but staff supper in Devon followed immediately after the pupil’s meal. However it was usually preceded by ‘sherry’ in one or other of the senior resident’s flat. The senior, senior resident would ring a bell for the kitchen staff to the small staff dining room and woe betide anyone attempting to serve themselves.

Most of the mischief I was aware of took place in Shebbear, perhaps because I was there longer or more likely because it was originally boys only. From time to time we would find ‘smoking-dens’, strangely not out in the extensive grounds, but in a loft above a dormitory in a wooden building where a fire would have been a disaster. I ran a photographic club with a darkroom in the science block. Two of the senior boys seemed to spend a lot of time there and being suspicious I barged in one evening and was surprised to find that they had quite an extensive home brewery running in the loft above.

The night before Leavers’ Day was a main cause for concern although initially it was usually good humoured. The farmers’ sons who ‘boarded’, on one occasion dismantled a tractor and reassembled it in the quad via very narrow entrances and at another time managed to get an old Austin 7 car on to the roof. That car, used to learn motor skills, was eventually  buried in a ‘tip’ near the house where I lived and will be there still. It was not until staff cars began moving mysteriously during the night, that staff night patrols were found-necessary.


34. It’snow better than it ought to be.*

It’s been snowing here on Tyneside, in February 2018, like nothing I have seen since I lived on the fringes of Dartmoor. True it was worse there in 1979, but that was exceptional even for Dartmoor.

People of my age seemed to think it was much worse in ‘the old days’. “It snowed every winter and was much deeper then”. But was it?

When I was at ‘junior’ school (they call them ‘primary’ now) we had an excursion to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland (scene of Harry Potter films). I distinctly remember entering via a huge ‘armoury’ where pikes, spears and guns of all shapes and sizes had been artfully arranged in ‘fans’ and circles all over the walls.

Many years later I visited as a ‘grown-up’ and was so disappointed by the small size, not only of the display, but also of the room itself. Indeed I asked the custodian whether I was in the right place; he assured me that I was.

It got me thinking how many things seem smaller than they were. I’m not thinking here of Mars Bars or the clothes in my wardrobe, but buildings and streets and parks visited when I (and you dear reader) were smaller.

Did it snow every year? Probably not.  I made reference to first-footing in the snow in article#26, but I doubt it snowed every year. I do remember  sledging on Tynemouth Golf Course, as they did this week, but I only remember doing it a couple of times. Dads made wooden sledges with metal runners for their sons! Girls didn’t sledge back then (or play football) BTW where did all those plastic sledges spring from last week?

Was the snow deeper? I doubt it. True it came over my wellies, but then they were little wellies. Perhaps, because there were fewer cars, the snow lay piled up on the side of the road for much longer and it just seemed worse than it was.

Perhaps because it happens less often, we, the news hungry TV viewers, make such a fuss. Schools never closed; councils coped with snow ploughs attached to their lorries, even in side-streets. Gritters were open lorries manned by men with shovels casting salt on a rapidly spinning ‘fan-blade’. Eat your heart out health and safety.

Everything now has to have a ‘title’. This was The Beast from The East because it originated in Siberia. Windy days have names like Henry or Gladys. Why? Weather forecasts have improved beyond measure because of satellites and computers so why weren’t we better prepared when we knew so far in advance?

* The title is a quote from Nora Batty in Last of The Summer Wine (BBC TV) about someone who is “No better than she ought to be”. Which I don’t understand, but strangely I know what it means.


32. “Mine’s a pint.”

I developed a taste for beer; way back in 1957, when beer was 1/- (5p) a pint.  Then the weekly wage was ~ £8 which equates to 160 pints. With the current wage at ~£500 a week and the price locally at ~£3.30, it is almost exactly the same.

I was well under age, but nobody bothered much back then. I said ‘developed a taste’, as I have never met anyone who enjoyed their first taste of beer and admitted to it. Still, we all persisted and became experts, or pretended to be. Back then many people drank ‘halfs’ and often in a dimpled glass mug with a handle.

Most local pubs served ‘keg’ bitter, which is pasteurised to keep longer and propelled to the tap using carbon dioxide under pressure. The resultant product was rather flat and any ‘head’ soon disappeared, but we knew no better. My experience of ‘real hand-pulled ale’ came much later, although it must have been around at the time. Competition between breweries was fierce: local brands included McEwan’s Scotch and Best Scotch,  and Newcastle Exhibition (stronger and dearer),  but  national brands such as Whitbread Tankard and Trophy, Watney’s Red Barrel, Ind Coope  and others came and went. Serious drinkers drank the stronger, bottled, Newcastle Brown Ale, known variously as ‘Dog’, ‘Newky Broon’ and ‘Jorny inti Space’ among others. There was also a weaker, lighter, companion call Amber Ale along with many of the bottled brands still on sale today. There was also a period when breweries brought the draught beer to the pub in tankers and pumped it directly into storage tanks in the cellar.

Pubs were different places in many ways. They were primarily the haunt of men. All pubs had a men-only bar, although often not labelled as such, it was understood. I was told that this was so that men could go directly from work in their working clothes without worrying about dirtying the furniture, but I suspect it was really a place to escape from wives and screaming children. You should remember that at that time wives were treated in much the same way as they are now in the Middle East and probably would only be taken to the pub at the weekend after cooking the meal , doing the washing-up, putting the offspring to bed and in the charge of grandma.

There was usually a lounge-bar  where women could be taken (women seldom drank alone).The drinks in the lounge were 1d or 2d dearer, even though they were served by the same staff and often from the same pump/bottle. This was a significant price difference when considering the price at the time. Some pubs had a small room (the snug) and often a ‘bottle and jug’ which was only accessed from the outside; where beer could be purchased in your own jug without entering the main building.

Although I am told that pubs near the shipyards opened early in the morning to fortify the workers, it was before my time and although it was a long time ago, I remember licencing hours being from around noon to 2.30 pm (2 pm on Sunday) and then from perhaps 6.30 until 10 or 10.30. It varied a little from one local authority to another, but only by half an hour or so. Hours on Sunday and Good Friday were shorter and still are, if the licensee chooses. Now, of course, licensees can apply for longer hours or close whenever they choose, whereas the old hours were strict, both on the customer and the landlord.

Spirits at one time in history were very cheap, but in my time were traditionally expensive. A single whisky was dearer than a pint of bitter until quite recently, whether because of changes in measure size or tax, but when offered a drink people used to say “do you mind if I have a short?” or even offer to pay the difference.

Drinking in company can be a very odd ritual of ‘buying a round’, something I was warned against while still at school. If you drink this way, in a group, then each person buys drinks (a round) for all the others in the group. This is fine in a small group, but can lead to over-indulgence by trying to keep up with the fastest drinker or losing friends by not paying when it is your turn.

Beer and spirits were just about the only drinks on offer in pubs at one time: even early ‘temperance’ hotels sold beer, to keep people off gin. However, when wages improved and people took package holidays, then Lager and Sherry appeared with all manner of small drinks and mixers to attract the ladies.

Now pubs are centres of entertainment and providers of food, with singers and musicians, piped music, fruit machines and menus to compete with restaurants, unless you know where to look to get a decent pint in peace!

At one time the nearest a pub came to food was a bag of crisps or a curling cheese sandwich in a glass case on the bar. Entertainment was strictly in-house with darts, dominoes, cards, bar-billiards and even shove-halfpenny and skittles, further south. Juke-boxes put an end to peace and quiet and even then you had to pay to hear your favourite hit record. Pool tables appeared in the late ‘7os, but are seldom seen since the millennium.

Fruit machines of the one-armed-bandit variety appeared, but their pay-out was strictly limited unless it was in a working men’s club (note the ‘men’). They, of course, might even have snooker tables, a function-room for parties and, best of all, cheap beer and longer hours. See more here

In the ‘60s there was a spate of building new pubs. Home entertainment was mainly through a small black and white television with only a few channels on offer. Now pubs are closing unless they can offer what people want and even then they tend only to be profitably busy at weekends even though the weekly cash pay-packet is long gone. See my closed pubs page


31. The bellringing thing

If you have been following my blog, you will have realised by now that bellringing has played a significant part in the life of the Scott family. The first documentation, discovered by my brother Mike, the family historian, states in the notes of  St. Paul’s Church, Winlaton, Co. Durham: “In 1847 Zachariah Scott, Sexton, was one of the ringers.”. Since then, one or more of the family has rung church bells, particularly in Tibshelf, Derbyshire and North Shields, where the main family homes were, but now, wherever the descendants of Zachariah have come to reside.

Church bells have over time played an important role in society, particularly when church-going was either compulsory or an expectation of any ‘proper’ person. For much of this early period clocks and watches were rare and expensive, so the church bell(s) could be heard for great distances and tall towers containing the bells made this possible. Even now when it is quiet and the wind is in the right direction a distant church clock can sometimes be heard. Imagine how it was with no cars, buses or aeroplanes.

The ability of a bell to be heard over long distances meant that not only was a ‘call to prayer’, but a warning in times of trouble. However, bells which are designed for ringing in peal are a much different thing, and this is based upon the way they are ‘hung’.bellfrt

The bells are attached to a wheel with a rope around it and it rotates 360o. Each time it does this, it strikes once. This means that once it starts moving, it cannot be stopped, speeded-up or slowed-down until it next reaches the top.

This may be seen here: Bells in action

Some towers can ring tunes with a carillon, which uses hammers on the side of each bell and is either mechanical or has a kind of giant keyboard.

Change ringing is the name given to the method that is usually heard in the UK and a few places around the world. A ‘change’ is literally what it says: two or more, adjacent bells change places e.g. if two bells ring in the order 1 – 2 then they swap so that 2 rings before 1 (2 – 1) then that is a change.

Now comes the complicated bit so you can skip the next bit if you wish and go to *.

Bells always start in the order 1 2 3 4 5 6 (or however many there are). This is called ‘rounds’. Any bell now can only do one of two things: it can change places with the bell next to it, or stay where it is e.g. from rounds a new order might be 1 3 2 5 4 6 because 2 & 3 swapped as did 4 & 5, but 1 & 6 stayed where they were. This is regarded as one change. With six bells there 720 possible different changes of order, and with seven there are 5040 possibilities.

There are two ways of knowing what change comes next: the easiest is call-changes where the conductor calls out the change e.g. ‘2 to 3’ in the case above then ‘4 to 5’ to arrive at the order shown. The other system is ‘method-ringing’ where each ringer memorises a pattern which has a name, and there are lots of them. These are the ‘methods’ and are carried out without shouted commands (more or less)

Winchendon Place Doubles_cr

The diagram shows the first ten changes of a typical method. The red line shows the simple path of bell no. 1 (the treble), while the blue line shows (part of) the more complex route of no. 2. The other bells are executing an identical path to bell 2, but obviously starting from a different place. 120 changes later it ‘should’ all come back to rounds.

Five bell methods like this are called doubles methods, six bells are minor, then triples and so on

Every method has a name. The one shown is Wichendon Place, but there are many, some common and some rare and thus, usually complex. Most tower bands would aspire to ring for Sunday services with a practice night during the week, but there are groups who meet at other times and places to hone their skills. ‘Peals’ usually consist of around 5040 changes and last about 3 hours 10 minutes (without stopping or going wrong). Quarter peals, lasting ~45 minutes are often rung to commemorate special events.

Like most hobbyists, there are those who are interested in ‘grabbing’ the most different towers, the most peals, winning competitions for good striking or just going on an outing to a few towers with a meal and a pint or two.

There is much more that I could add. Perhaps I might come back later.

For details of our tower and links to other ringing sites try www.christchurchringers.org.uk

30. Is it a record?

Back along when the world was in black and white, ‘records’ were thin discs of black shellac (the resin of a female beetle, believe it or not). They were 10 inches (254 mm) in diameter with a hole in the middle. A spiral groove ran from the rim to the centre on which were ‘indentations’ which carried analogue sounds. The sound was re-created by placing a needle in the groove and rotating the turntable, which carried the record, at 78 rpm. The record player was called a gramophone. The turntable was powered by a spring which was wound with a handle and the tiny movement of the steel needle was amplified by a mica disc to some form of cavity e.g. a horn which amplified further. The record usually had another recording on the reverse side and labels on each side to identify the music.

Such then was the home sound system of my childhood, but in a technological explosion in the 1950s records became discs, shellac was replaced by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and the power was electricity for both the motor and the amplification through loudspeakers. With such advances, it became possible to have discs of differing sizes 7, 10 , and 12 inches; then they mucked about with the speed 16, 33, 45 and 78 rpm. This was an attempt to a) get more information on a disc, b) make the disc more portable and c) to improve the quality of the sound. This sound quality became known as high-fidelity and hi-fi was the holy grail of what we now call the nerds of the period. Large sums of money was spent by people, who could afford it, to achieve perfection by controlling the speed of rotation to the nth degree and the weight applied to the sapphire or diamond stylus, which had replaced the steel needle. When stereophonic sound came along then the grounds for acoustic pretension knew no bounds, even if it meant sitting at the apex of a triangle subtended by two sets of speakers called woofers and tweeters and which cost a fortune.

The standard LP (long playing record) was the 12 inch version which carried several tracks on both sides and was later called an album. Single songs were on 7 inch discs and the standard optimum speed was set at 33 rpm LP and 45 rpm otherwise. It should be noted that one of the selling points of LPs was the design of the sleeve or cardboard jacket that it came in. These were the very early days of TV and few people had their own means of recording from radio or TV so the purchase of recordings was the only way most people could listen to their favourite star when ever they wanted to. This resulted in the rise of the pop-star, groups, recording studios, TV programmes like Top Of The Pops, and the hit parade.  The Top 20 was an eagerly anticipated 1 to 20 chart of the best selling records, usually broadcast on a Sunday night on radio, when the Saturday sales had been tallied. This was also boosted by cafes (and later, pubs) which had record-playing machines called juke-boxes which played singles for anyone prepared to pay. At home the gramophone became a record-player, which might play a stack of discs, one after the other. These were often portable and could be played in your own room while parents might boast a radiogram, which combined radio with record player in one polished item of furniture.

For a short time cassette recording was king. You could buy your album on a pocket size cassette tape and play it on smaller and smaller portable machines. It was no good for single recordings, but you could record directly from the radio and make your own album. In the world of the pretentious the car version took over, and things like 8-track stereo with 10 inch speakers in the back would make your ears bleed. It was always a joy when their cassette player ‘ate the tape’.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the CD (compact disc) was born. Now an ubiquitous part of our computer storage, the retail CD was an audio device which gradually replaced the disc album. The cost of the player and its unsuitability for singles, meant that it never vanquished the record player entirely. Since then it has matured into storage of data and a reincarnation in 1995 to DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) which like its older sibling can be recorded over more than once. Of course there are the born-again record listeners who claim that the CD does not have the ambience of a record and this has resulted in sales of turntable record players.

I seldom hear of the discos of my children’s youth. Record shops where teenagers used to listen, in a booth, to the latest hit with their friends, or pore for hours over which album to choose are gone. I hope the music channels I see while idly browsing through my digital TV are an adequate substitute for the young nearly-adult and not just enjoyed in private.

As I write type this in to my desktop computer (although I could have dictated it directly), I am listening through my old hi-fi speakers, to a track,  that I have downloaded from the web, to the same pc. I have it saved on my hard-drive along with thousands of others and I can cast it to my tablet or phone, should I choose to. If I use them then I would use headphones or earwigs so that I do not intrude on others, but I fear that the world would cease to intrude on me and that would be sad.

29. A lost village

While trawling the web for material for my website I stumbled upon a reference to ‘The lost village of Havelock Place’.  This intriguing reference has rattled round the inside of my head for some time and it has taken until now for me to do something about it. A few years ago I walked the footpath between Backworth and Seghill taking a few photographs on the way, but little remains of the site of the ‘village’.

It must be said that villages have come and gone all over the world, but coal mining has spawned a good many of these in this part of the country as mines will always be ‘worked out’ sooner or later, but in the meantime workers must be housed while the coal is there, and the village abandoned when it is gone.

The particular coalmine in question was Backworth C-Pit. Backworth in Northumberland was particularly rich in coal seams with several ‘pits’ sunk to reach the richest seams. Some were connected, but others were on opposite sides of a major fault, (90 fathom fault), and so the coal seams were not connected and so separate shafts needed to be sunk.

C-Pit was sunk in 1856 and lasted until 1895. The village of Havelock Place was also known as ‘C-Pit Row’ or just ‘C-Pit’. There were two rows of houses, set at an angle alongside a waggonway which carried the coal down to ships on the river Tyne at Whitehill Point, near Howdon. The West side was Waggonway Row or ‘The Long Row’ and the other was Fisher Row or ‘The Short Row’. The largest house at the top of the village housed the colliery Manager. This later became a school, before reverting to a house.

Each house seems to have had a garden and an outside ash closet (toilet or ‘nettie’) with an attached outside water tap. At some time there was a shop in the middle of Fisher Row and a house was used as a Methodist Chapel until a purpose-built chapel was raised at the South corner, along with a ‘Good Templars’ Hall’ (temperance hall).

One of the by-products of most pits was clay and. C-Pit produced ‘blue-clay’, which was particularly good for making bricks. In 1877 Henry Foster & Co. built a brick works on the opposite side of the waggonway and although the pit closed in 1895, the Hotspur Brickworks continued until 1967.

No doubt residents of the village worked in the brickworks after the pit closed, but the village itself was demolished in 1938, leaving very little beyond two footpaths and rows of trees where houses once stood.


Footpath and trees where Fisher Row once stood. Nothing remains of Waggonway Row except the changes in direction of the footpath.

There are more coalmine sketches here

28. Walking about a bit

When I retired in 2000 I returned to my home town of North Shields. Having been away for 34 years, with only occasional visits, I decided that I would explore the, much changed, area and keep fit by ‘walking it’.

To begin with, I was obviously restricted to the distance I could walk in a day, but once I worked out the bus routes and the benefits of a free bus pass/Metro Gold Card (unlimited travel on the local rail at a small fee), then I could go as far as I wished and walk from station to station, station to home or vice versa. Sometimes the absence of public transport meant the use of the car, but rarely.

Around the town

The first revelation was the conversion of the Albert Edward Dock and the adjacent timber yard to Royal Quays Marina with the adjacent Redburn Dene and Chirton Dene. Closer to home was Smith’s Dock where it was possible to walk and take photographs until the ‘cleaning-up’ began.

Up the coast

Of course the coast from the North Shields Fish Quay to Blyth is always a joy. I actually walked from Tynemouth pier to Blyth keeping entirely to the rocks and beaches where possible (not in one day!). It means a bit of tide-table watching, but very interesting. What had been done to Blyth Harbour while I was away  was a revelation, but the refurbishment is already starting to look a bit tired. The Tall Ships Race this year (2016) should jazz it up a bit.

Heading West

Moving West from Royal Quays drives one away from the riverside and although there is a bit of industrial heritage to see, it’s mainly pavement-plodding until you get to Willington Gut, although there were some good photos to be had when they were building the second tunnel. If you want to stay with the interesting stuff then it is probably best to take the Metro to Howdon and find your way through Willington Quay to the footpath and bridge over Willington Gut, under the viaduct and out on to Hadrian Road. You could, of course, miss out this bit and take the Metro to Hadrian Road.

In passing, there is another route from Howdon down to the viaduct along Wallsend Burn, through Richardson Dees Park, then South to Swan Hunter’s and the riverside.

Although you are away from the river, there is a view of A&P Tyne ship-repair yard from Davy Bank, but nothing worth going down the bank for. Just beyond the roundabout there is a path on the left marked by a red steel whalebone arch which leads to Hadrian’s Wall Path/cycleway. This walk takes the route of the old Riverside Line railway. Passing the former Swan Hunter Shipyard and Segadunum Roman Fort (well worth a visit), the path comes to a temporary end where the railway line crossed the road.

You now have two options: you can return to the ‘footpath/cycleway’ at the other side of the road and follow the railway-line route all the way to Byker , and the bridges over The Ouseburn or  return to the pavement for a far more interesting walk.  The footpath/cycleway has trees on one side and buildings on the other,  most of the way, so there only a few places where there is a ‘view’. However further along the path there is a spur which takes you down to the riverside route.

Taking the ‘Low Walker’ route keeps you in sight of the river and the new developments at the former Neptune Shipyard. Further along, you turn down towards the giant yellow cranes at what was ‘The Naval Yard’ and is now a busy enterprise park dealing with offshore technology. At the furthest end of the site there is an entry to a riverside walk, which is joined by the other footpath from the spur.

The riverside walk is one of my favourites, as the river is on one side and trees where the industrial heritage once was. Tar-works, lead-works, shipyards stood cheek by jowl along the bank and only warning signs to stay out of the river give the slightest hint of their existence, although the paint works on the opposite bank give some idea that it was ever there. Eventually you will reach St. Peters Basin marina with its ‘bascule’ bridge; then onward, after a stop at the pub, takes you eventually to Newcastle Quayside.

The Ouseburn/Jesmond Dene option

An alternative route now would take you up through the Ouse Valley, past a number of pubs, a tunnel under Newcastle, an urban farm and even stables. The route then cuts left towards Manors Metro and Newcastle, right towards Byker or under the bridges for quite a long trek overland to eventually reach Jesmond Dene at Armstrong Bridge. As I said at the start, all of these routes go in either direction, and this one is best pursued by starting at Jesmond Dene via one of the Metro stations and travelling downhill to the river.

Newcastle-Gateshead Riverside

I will not attempt to describe the myriad of walks in Newcastle, but there are a number of routes from the quayside to the city, my favourites being the ones leading to Christ’s Hospital or through the old castle itself.

There are a number of short walks on both sides of the river, taking in the ‘tilting’ Millennium Bridge, the Baltic gallery of modern art, with its splendid views of the city, the Sage Music Centre and the St. Mary’s Heritage Centre.

The Loop

On one rather ambitious day I took the Metro to Gateshead, walked down to the Swing Bridge and set off West on the South side of The Tyne. There are a number of ‘artworks’ in the early stages of this route which then settles down to a nice flat path along the river, under several of the Tyne bridges. After a bit of weaving in and out of housing you reach the spectacular Dunstan Staithes. Once a centre of coal exporting, the disused staithes were restored for the National Flower Show some years ago, but despite some vandalism and neglect since, there is talk of their restoration. However I digress. The route carries on over the river Team, past the Metro Centre and over the river Derwent to the next river crossing at the much-maligned Scotswood Bridge.  Once over the bridge, the home run is along the famous, but much-changed, Scotswood Road to a point where a path drops down along the riverbank, with its several artworks, and so back to the quayside. The whole route is about 9 miles and my knees were better then.

South to the coast

There is little to commend walking East from the Swing Bridge on the South bank, but the walk from the Pedestrian Tunnel  between Howdon and Jarrow, itself an experience  (should it ever reopen) or from the replacement bus though the tunnel, gives a nice route along the river past Bede’s World (worth a visit) and The Venerable Bede’s own  St Paul’s church. However there is a long urban stretch along the main road which eventually dips down to the riverside, past The Customs House (theatre), ending at the South Shields ferry landing and back over the river, where a bus is always waiting to take you up the bank.

The Lees

There is a very good, if long, walk from South Shields ferry landing out to the river mouth and along a beautiful coastal path right on the cliff edge. Assuming you want to leave the mile-long South pier for another day, the route passes Frenchman’s Bay, Marsden Grotto (worth a stop-off) Souter Lighthouse (worth a visit – National Trust) past the Lime Kilns to the beaches at Seaburn and the piers at Roker. A trip back by bus to South Shields or from Seaburn or Monkwearmoth Metro, home, completes a 9 mile walk. If 9 miles in one go is too much for you then starting from the South Shields  ferry landing, passing through the centre of town and South Marine Park, takes you to the end of the pier. There is then a much more direct route avoiding the winding cliff path which follows the later stages of The Great North Run to Marsden Grotto, Souter Point and Seaburn Park before heading West to the Metro at Seaburn (about 7 miles).


Photos of many of the places mentioned are on my website at www.jimscott.co.uk

Recommended reading: Tyne View by Michael Chaplin and published by Port of Tyne £18.99 at Amazon

I was going to recommend Metro Walks by Peter Donaghy and John Laidler published by Nexus in 2006 at £3.99, but  I see that it is out of print and available at Amazon at £55! I think I’ll hold on to my copy.



27. The church and me

I may have mentioned, somewhere along the line, that I am a church bellringer, yes a campanologist and have been so since an early age. At that time I was also a chorister in a choir of around twenty boys and a dozen or so men, most of whom has been boys in the same choir. Now there is no choir and we find it hard to get enough ringers for a Sunday service. Indeed when I lived in Devon there were five or six churches with bells, within half an hour of my home and only one of them could get a regular Sunday band to ring. As is my wont, it got me thinking how things have changed.

My paternal grandfather and his antecedents were bellringers, both on Tyneside and in Derbyshire, so their church-going credentials go without question. My maternal grandfather had been raised a Primitive Methodist, but never attended church in my memory although his bible knowledge was so good that my grandmother feared the ‘knock’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who he used to tie in knots until they almost begged to leave. As he could not read or write, this was some feat.

The generation before them was altogether different, particularly if the family were non-conformists. Sunday, The Sabbath’, was strictly observed; meals were prepared on Saturday, cooked on Sunday, and the washing-up waited until Monday. Activities in the strictest homes would be confined to walking or reading, but only The Bible!

Before the time of Cromwell, you could be fined for non-attendance at church, but this was mainly to keep a check on Catholics. When non-conformists came to power, then that Elizabethan law was repealed. However most people, even in my time, would attend church on Easter Day and everyone would have knowledge of the important festivals, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Whitsun. Most of these were bank/school holidays and even Ascension Day was a half-holiday. Most children of my generation and before were expected to attend Sunday-school either during the morning service or separate from it.

Good Friday, until fairly recently, was celebrated in my home town, by the many non-conformist churches with a March of Witness. Hundreds of people in their best clothes would parade through the town, each chapel with its own ‘supporters’ accompanied by bands of The Salvation Army and The Boy’s Brigade. The streets would be lined with people watching, and a service would be held in the town square. There were several Methodist Churches in the town, Presbyterians, Baptists, the Salvation Army and probably others. Such have the numbers dwindled that last year it rained heavily and for those who turned out to march, a service was held in what has become the United Reform Church in that same square.

The Church of England did not get involved in’ the march’, but the main church had two or three ‘satellite churches’ around the town to cater for those in different areas, as there were so many regular church attendants. Then, of course there were The Roman Catholics who always did their own thing.

Apart from the traditional weddings, although they are now more likely to take place on the beach, and christenings, which appear still to be an occasion to wear the full ‘Ascot’ outfit, there were the civil functions. Mayor’s Sunday was a day with processions, soldiers and bands to fill the church and singing to raise the roof. Harvest Festival, not only filled the chancel with gifts of produce, but the gallery was adorned with nets for the ‘harvest of the deep’. That reminds me that the same church had galleries on three sides; such was the size of the Victorian congregations. These were removed as long ago as 1951.

Churches of whatever denomination have always had more to offer than ‘religion’. They are social communities and always have been. The Church Hall kept the secular side separate and whist drives, pie and pea suppers, and later discos kept the church at the centre of the community.

As a once-convinced Christian I still find it hard to see the dwindling congregations of mainly middle-class elderly people who keep the services going with rising costs and dwindling collections. More and more of these once vibrant and elegant buildings have been demolished or converted to another use. Where will it end? I cannot guess, but fear the end is not too far away.

See more of Christ Church and bellringing

26. Christmas Past and who will be the ‘First Foot’?

There has been a flurry of recent TV shows taking us back to the recent past. Christmas always plays an important part in such programmes as it sticks in all our memories. With the danger of sounding like Del Boy’s uncle Albert – ‘after the war’, although it is an exaggeration to say people had nothing, they certainly had very little. The stockings we hung from the mantelpiece, of our ubiquitous coal fires, were our own, not giant ones bought for the purpose. Into them were put, by our parents, nuts, oranges, apples, perhaps a coin or two and maybe a toy car or such. There would be other presents, wrapped in the thinnest of Xmas paper, from aunts, uncles and grandparents, but many of these would be scarves, gloves and other items of clothing. There would, of course, if affordable, be the main item that you had hinted for and even written a letter to Santa about. My first such, was a single ball-point BIRO pen and boy was I ‘chuffed to bits’. It was the precursor of today’s ever-present BIC, but I remember its wonderful blue, hexagonal shape. It leaked like mad, but it was mine. Today it would be a smartphone, a tablet, a bike or a hoverboard, but that pen was the only thing for me.

A visit to church was the next order of the day. My father being a bell-ringer and a chorister, we kids went with him, and eventually joined him in both enterprises. Mum stayed home to prepare the big meal . I cannot imagine buses running that day so we may well have walked the mile or so there and back.

We could not afford a turkey, if such a thing was even available. We did, however, have a chicken, but never at any other time of year. Like a scene from Dickens, fathers always carved, and I clearly remember one year when the chicken skidded off the plate and was pinned to the wall to prevent it falling further. It was highly amusing to us, but it took months of lotions and potions to remove the grease stains from the prized wallpaper. I vaguely remember Fuller’s Earth being the solution, but I digress. There would be home-made Christmas pudding and brandy butter, which, as I recall , was butter and sugar (which grated like sand between your teeth) with a smidgen of brandy, or even just brandy essence.

The rest of the day was given over to playing with any toys or games we received until the arrival of the elders. We always looked forward to the visit of my maternal grandparents and mother’s brother and sister, for although they had sneaked in during the night, with the presents we could never find, their arrival preceded another round of exchanging presents. Their visit was also for the ‘Christmas Tea’. This was even more of an occasion than dinner as it involved crackers and paper hats, scones (some of which) had a three-penny piece inside wrapped in grease-proof paper, and of course homemade (and iced) Christmas cake.

The evening was passed with the adults playing cards for pennies (Newmarket was the favourite game), eating mince pies and perhaps drinking cheap sherry until either we were put to bed or the elders went home.

New Year was something altogether different. Folk in the North and those in Scotland celebrated the changing of the year in a much less restrained manner than Christmas. Indeed I am told that Christmas in Scotland was quite a low key affair compared to Hogmanay which could go on for some days, not including the hangovers.

Preparations began earlier in the year in our family. Drink was purchased by contributing to a ‘Christmas Club’. Money was paid to an off-license throughout the year and beverages selected for the celebration. It was a matter of pride not to be found wanting at New Year so our house which normally did not have drink about the place, suddenly had a sideboard, bulging at the seams. Such exotic drinks as Advocaat (for making ‘snowballs’), Cherry Brandy, Emva Cream (or another British or Cypress sherry), joined the usual half-bottles of whisky, rum and gin. Beer was usually bought as required and for a time came in large cans for which you could buy a carbon-dioxide ‘tap’ impress your visitors, although it was claimed to keep the beer fresh if it lasted long enough or the gas didn’t leak. Having stocked-up, the parties began sometime in the evening of the 31st. These were as big or as small as you chose and could be at home or at a dance-hall or pub.

At about 11.55 pm everything stopped!

For those who were at home, a member of the family: male, preferably dark, was sent from the house and the door locked behind him. He had with him: a piece of (Christmas) cake, a piece of coal and a silver coin; I have heard tales of salt and bread, but not in our family! These were tokens of food, heat and wealth to be brought into the house by the FIRST FOOT who until this point had been freezing on the doorstep.

At precisely midnight usually sounded by the church bells ringing out the old year and bringing in the new year, or just the church clock, a watch or the radio (no TV, mobile phones or fireworks), the FIRST FOOT banged on the door to be let in which he duly was. By this time every body had a drink to toast the new year in.


All that carefully bought drink came into play. It was then fair game to go ‘FIRST FOOTING’. Basically this meant you could visit all your friends and neighbours to wish them a Happy New Year and they could come to you. I remember a large group of us trudging from house to house from my home in North Shields to Tynemouth, back to Shields, and then to Tynemouth again, without any clear plan, or the help of cars (as we didn’t own one) or taxis as that would never occur to us. Whether it was freezing as it often/usually was, or snowing, it made little difference, except for falling down a lot more than normal. The best nights ended by getting to someone’s who didn’t mind making bacon sandwiches at dawn. Memories of people leaving their homes open with tables covered in booze with no thought of it being stolen are common. Gradually the numbers in the group would dwindle until it was over

New Year’s Day was another family day with perhaps a beef roast lunch and 4 o’clock tea to finish up the mince pies and Christmas Cake (with cheese, of course). Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day were strict bank holidays with NO shops open. Indeed some of the factories would close from Christmas Eve lunchtime until 2nd January. I suspect that it was unlikely to get any sensible work done over this period, but it was claimed that some machines took so long to start-up that it was cheaper to only do it once.