Heaton at Play Part 1

In this his fourth piece, Eric Dale, who grew up in Eighth Avenue, Heaton from 1939 describes how Heaton children amused themselves in the 1940s and 50s:

Street games

‘Due to the complete absence of cars we were able to use the streets as playgrounds and there were always lots of of kids around to make up the numbers required for Tuggie, Tuggie-on-High, Hide and Seek and its variation (that we liked to think we’d invented): Kicky-the-tin. Then there was Mr Wolf, Football (and Headers), Cricket, Knocky-nine-doors, Hopscotch, Olympic Games, Mountakitty (known as Harra Levens only a few streets away), Chucks, Marbles and Tops and Whips. If we made too much noise, even during the day, we risked being shouted at. The sash window would slide up, a woman’s head would emerge and it would be ‘why divvent youz lot bugger off  t’the park, me man’s a’bed’ (on nightshift).

Once we graduated to riding bikes we used to organise races around the block without even considering there’d be any traffic hazards; such as buses on Second Avenue. It was certainly only down to good fortune that we escaped any such encounters. A popular hobby was collecting empty cigarette packets and it was quite a craze for a while, there being some quite exotic ones such as Du Maurier, Abdulla, Passing Clouds, Kensitas and State Express. The cardboard these were made from was also useful for jamming against our cycle spokes. To our ears this made a very authentic ‘motorcycle’ sound as the wheel turned so we would then take the machines to rough ground nearby to play speedway.

Our street also claimed to have invented ‘clay boilers’ but the idea was probably handed down. They were about the size and shape of a present-day pack of butter but were hollow and made from slabs of clay dug out from the sand-pit in the park or from the brickyard at the bottom of Rothbury Terrace. There were several variants but the one I remember had a lid covering the top from the back to about two-thirds of the box length. Through the back of the box a half-inch hole was made. The idea was to stuff the box with rags, set them alight then extinguish the flames so that only the glow remained. Then holding it in one hand at about head height the idea was to run so that plumes of dense smoke spilled out from the hole. Innocent fun from our point of view but how come we always had matches?

Speaking of matches the father of one of our number had a painting and decorating business so we were able to make up what we called fire-raiser from all the inflammable odds and ends such as turpentine, linseed oil and paraffin. Our favourite spot for experimenting with this highly volatile mixture was the ‘waste-land’ at the Coast Road/Chillingham Road corner. It was there on more than one occasion that having set the surrounding grassland on fire we almost lost control of the result, only just in time subduing the flames whilst choking on the billowing smoke drifting across the carriageway. Not at any point in the proceeding were we ever warned off by nearby residents or passers-by. And we were never troubled by police. Kids who indulged in that activity today would rightly be branded as arsonists and be up before a magistrate.

A rather more innocent (but rather strange) pastime was to buy lengths of multi-coloured electric cable, strip out the copper then cut the plastic outer into lengths of about half an inch, place one of these on an ordinary pin so that it stopped against the pinhead. The next move was to stick the pin through another pre-cut length of plastic, slide that up to meet the ‘handle’ and voila! you had a miniature sword. These were pinned onto jacket lapels for no other purpose than for decoration.

Hardly qualifying under the heading of ‘Games’ our curiosity about cigarette smoking got the better of a few of us during a short period at the end of the forties. It sounds horrendous now but we trawled around picking up discarded ciggy ends and when enough were collected extracted the usable tobacco and made smoking roll-ups with Rizla papers and a little machine. Thankfully this activity put me right off smoking for ever after.

Armed and Dangerous

We were so lucky as urban kids having access to open spaces just minutes away from our homes, all without even having to resort to the any of the modes of transport mentioned above. And didn’t we take full advantage of them all?

Heaton Park, Armstrong Park, Jesmond Vale, Paddy Freeman’s and Jesmond Dene were our natural habitat all year round. Anyone remember the sandpit at the old windmill? In my day this was a sizeable lake populated by thousands of frogs in the spring.

 

Old Windmill

Heaton Windmill, 1977 (Copyright:Eric Dale)

 

We virtually ran wild in those days and were always being chased by the Parky for some misdemeanour or another.

 

The Parky's House

‘The Parky’s House’, Armstrong Bridge, 1977 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

One summer the Parky Wars were stepped up a notch or two when much younger, fitter men wearing sand-shoes (the ultimate in speedy footwear) were employed to run down any miscreants. I am happy to report that we managed always to escape their clutches, though can’t exactly remember what it was we were doing that we ought not to have been. Might it have been hacking y-shaped branches from small trees and shrubs in order to make catapults? Most of us carried a knife of one sort or another; it being commonplace to see boys with a long-bladed edition strapped to their belt in a scabbard. We also went in for water-pistols, pea-shooters, bows and arrows and sometime even spears! We played war games in the more densely wooded areas (‘dadadadadada…got ye, Brian!’) in summer, with pretend guns made from sticks, and in winter it was snowball fights and sledging.’

(To be continued)

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Eric Dale for his photos and memories. We’ll be featuring more in the near future.

Can you help?

We hope that you will add to what we know about how children played in the Avenues and Heaton generally. Either post your comments direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. It would be fantastic to find some more old photos.

 

2 thoughts on “Heaton at Play Part 1

  1. Keith Fisher

    On the more innocent side: Eric’s mention of cigarette packets brought to mind a trick we would play with the outer sleeve of a ‘ten’ packet, which could be formed into a cylinder, placed vertically on a smooth bit of paving, then stamped on accurately so the air inside was violently compressed, blowing the cardboard apart before it was squished, and consequently generating a loud bang. One of our gang was the son of the local chemist and encouraged an understanding of explosives. It never went much beyond stuffing a short length of lead sheath (from a cable – common in those days) with match-heads; crimping both ends, then hitting it with a hammer: very dramatic. It seems that my entire life has been punctuated by loud noises of one disagreeable sort; or another, hopefully less offensive, and certainly more profitable. And “yes” we always had matches – but we never did any damage. We were good boys, of course!
    Less innocent would be our expertise at fashioning weapons. Bamboo shafted arrows, propelled using a ‘throwing stick’ was one good example: we could hit the tree at the bottom of the bank from beside the swings in Heaton Park, or I could anyway. I was subsequently punished for inserting a sharpened six inch nail into the end of the arrow shaft so it would stick in the tree; and I’ve subsequently apologised to the tree for such mal-treatment (but no apologies for my bad grammar). We’d also make ‘blow darts’ from embroidery silk wrapped around two fingers, half bound, then trimmed to produce the ‘flights’; rendered lethal by inserting a good long sewing needle. These were ‘blown’ using a length of narrow copper tube (liberated from where-ever, and capped with the plastic mouthpiece from pea-shooters) and they had an astonishing range, and scary accuracy. Obviously none of us were stupid enough to shoot anything living; besides, Curare was a bugger to find in Heaton. Of course, our interests rapidly escalated from war-fare to girl-fare when romance became the disorder of the days – and nights – in the park. There are many trees could tell many tales, I am sure, about many of us! I could go on, but I suspect I may be digging my own grave here. Perhaps all this was not quite what you had in mind when you invited contributions Chris.

    Reply
    1. Jack Goodwin

      Keith
      I think I knew your father – Ronnie Fisher. He had a younger brother whose name I think was Norman?

      Reply

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