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An exile remembers: Part 5 – Heaton Park 2015

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories. ‘RS’ still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the fifth instalments of his thoughts.

‘So, it’s time to leave Armstrong Park and make the brief walk to its nearby neighbour. At this point I know what you may be thinking: there’s rather more to Armstrong Park than that which I have described. Too true. There’s the large area behind the old windmill, for example, which I must have explored at some time or other back in the sixties, but of which no particular memory is retained today. Described in Part 4 were simply the features of Armstrong Park with which I was, and remain, most familiar – the bowling green, the tennis courts, the large grassy area in front of the windmill, the windmill itself.

I walk from the windmill’s information board towards King John’s Palace, crossing, on my way, the narrow winding path which leads down to the park exit – much more foliage in this area than there used to be – then carefully negotiate my way down the grassy bank before  walking across Jesmond Vale Lane.

King Johns Palace

King John’s Palace also known as The House (or ‘Camera’) of Adam of Jesmond

Now on the other side of that road, with the ‘palace’ in front of me, several changes are clearly visible. Nevertheless, while standing here, it is another set of images from another experience, existing as a vivid memory from fifty years ago, which briefly dominates my consciousness. It happened like this.

And it’s a bit of a boys’ thing. Back in those days, it was fairly normal for young lads to be carrying a knife when out and about. (Yes, please feel free to read that sentence again.) No harm was obviously intended in doing so, or certainly not among my circle of primary school-age friends, but … well, back then a lad just did. Trust me on this. We even took them to school, where admittedly it probably wouldn’t have been a wise move to brandish them in lessons, even when overcome with the excitement frequently experienced when ploughing through the latest adventures of ‘Janet and John’, but when otherwise I can’t recall there being any particular problem, say at playtime. It could be a small or large penknife. Perhaps it might be a Swiss Army-type knife, incorporating a clever little tool for removing stones from horses’ hooves, always handy in the – admittedly unlikely, but I lived in hope – event that I might eventually stumble across a suitably distressed horse limping somewhere around Heaton. (It’s always best to be prepared – just in case.)

Ah yes: ‘Be Prepared’, the motto of the Cub Scouts, the youthful members of which organisation seemed to be routinely issued with sheath knives as a standard feature of their equipment, and which were worn freely and openly, hanging from their belts, even when not in uniform, with plenty of non-Cubs owning and publicly displaying their own examples, too.

I’m digressing now but, come to think of it, youthful ‘firearms‘ were in plentiful supply, as well. How many lads in those days didn’t own a cowboy-type cap-gun revolver? Or rifle? Not many. Or if so, it was only because they were impatiently waiting for Santa to get his act together the next time Christmas came around. Secret agent-type pistols were very common as well, in the style of James Bond or The Man From Uncle. Best of all was the legendary ‘Johnny Seven – One Man Army’. (We’re talking serious weaponry here. No messing.)

Want to get an idea of the genuine Johnny Seven experience? I can only recommend you click on the following YouTube link:  http://youtu.be/w-tz-9c-g4A

That’s a bit what it was like for a lad on the mean streets of central Heaton, about fifty years ago, although more often in short trousers and, unsurprisingly, without a random unseen American shouting orders in the background. (Come to think of it, like that advert, we may even have played in black and white, but it was rather a long time ago so I can’t be certain on that point.)

Interested? Well come over to my place and have a turn with mine. No, really – I’ve still got my own Johnny Seven. Some bits have gone missing over the decades and some now malfunction – I’m currently having problems with the grenade launcher – so it’s probably more accurate to call it a ‘Johnny Four And A Half’, but it certainly still exists.

You’re going to want a photo to believe me on that one, so here you are:

IMG_0515

(And don’t get me started on the joys of the catapult.)

Anyway, so there we were, roaming around central Heaton, openly carrying our fearsome assortment of knives, revolvers, pistols, rifles and Johnny Sevens – veritable armed militias of 8-10 year olds – perhaps, on reflection, rather as if ‘Crackerjack’ had decided to broadcast a special one-off edition from Vietnam. Can you imagine children playing like that today? Some horrified onlooker would get out their mobile phone, and within five minutes you’d be deafened by the sound of approaching squad cars, before the whole of Heaton would be put in ‘lockdown’ for the rest of the day, while Social Services implemented the politically correct provisions of their latest ‘children at risk’ intervention strategy.

Which takes me back to where I was. No, not in Vietnam – back to standing on Jesmond Vale Lane, just by the ‘palace’, sometime in the mid-sixties.

Standing with a friend, as it happens, name now long forgotten. There I was, holding my pearl-handled, multi-function, Swiss Army knife, no doubt still optimistically on the lookout for that perpetually elusive limping horse. In the meantime, as we’d been walking up the lane, on the way home, I had been amusing myself by aimlessly hacking away at random twigs, overhanging leaves and the like, as I went – fair enough, not ideal behaviour, but essentially harmless. The trouble was, he’d obviously been watching and following us for the last few minutes. And ‘he’ was … the ‘parky’!

Or should that be the ‘parkie’? No matter – it was going to take more than correct spelling to get us out of this one. This was serious. Appearing from seemingly nowhere was the man more officially known as the Park Keeper, and who seemed to operate in both Armstrong and Heaton parks. A smallish, perhaps fortyish gentleman, he very much resembled a typical bus inspector of the day – remember them? – with dark gabardine overcoat  and black peaked cap, an impression reinforced by the fact that he carried some sort of silver-coloured ticket machine slung over his shoulder, and which dangled by his waist, in his case for the purpose of issuing tickets in exchange for the sixpence needed for the use of the tennis courts.

And he wasn’t happy. Curtly he demanded that I hand over my knife. On reflection, I could have simply refused. If matters then became difficult, I suppose I could have sent my anonymous friend to my house in Simonside Terrace to get some back-up firepower. I’m sure Mr Parky would have thought twice about the wisdom of his demands – or at least considered entering into negotiations – when confronted with a fully loaded Johnny Seven: the anti-tank rocket, in particular, is some serious piece of plastic.

But of course, I did none of those things. I might ‘talk the talk’ now, but back then I didn’t ‘walk the walk’. Or rather, I did. All the way back home, in fact. Somewhat sheepishly, if the truth be told. Without my knife. Which, of course, I had meekly handed over to the ‘parky’. In those days, to defy an adult was often not such an easy thing to do, but to defy an adult in a uniform was close to unthinkable. So I didn’t think it, and didn’t do it.

And would you believe this? Just as we turned into Rothbury Terrace, there it finally came, hobbling uncomfortably towards us … clipetty, clop (painful whinny) clipetty, clop … (No, I didn’t think you would, and you’d be right not to.)

But in any case, the welfare of the infrequently encountered limping horses of Heaton were from that day on someone else’s responsibility.

And yes, Mr Parky – that person was you.

 

An exile remembers: Part 4 – Armstrong Park 2015

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories. ‘RS’ still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the fourth instalments of his thoughts.

‘For the first time in several decades, it’s time to cross Heaton Road and enter Armstrong Park. I can already observe one obvious change across the road, but l’ll talk about that once on the other side.

Crossing Heaton Road, from this western end of Rothbury Terrace, is not what it used to be. Now there are two pedestrian crossings to assist in that process, positioned surprisingly close together; a lad just took his chances back in the ’60s. Choosing the nearer one I walk over, mildly disappointed to note the lack of Hillman Imps, Morris Minors or Ford Anglias among the cars that pull up for me at the lights. Strange, that.

The difference that was observed from across the road is this: no longer are the entrances to Armstrong Park protected by large iron gates, which previously functioned to supervise its opening and closing times. Now there is a situation of apparently open access, from which it seems reasonable to infer that the park is available to all-comers on a 24/7 basis, as the modern saying would have it. And that’s progress, I suppose.

Will the bowling green and its associated pavilion still be there, to my right? Reassuringly, I soon see that they are, but there is a change in evidence. In the opposite to what has happened to the park entrance itself, where hindrance has been removed, access has been restricted to the bowling green in the sense that its southern side, along which I am walking, is now protected by a tallish, brown, wooden, stockade-style fence. A protection from intruders with vandalism on their minds, perhaps – and maybe linked to the fact that people can now seemingly wander around the park at anytime of the day or night.

Armstrong Park

Early 20th century postcard of Armstrong Park

 

So a little further on and down, to the six tennis courts, bisected by a narrow path; the courts on which one could play for sixpence an hour or, if you prefer, two and half pence in new money. I occasionally played (inexpertly) here myself, but seem to recall that the courts were not particularly busy other than during Wimbledon fortnight, and a bit beyond. Six courts may still be there but, once again, something has changed. The first three remain as they were, but the courts to their right are now configured for basketball, rather than tennis.

On to the large grassy area, just past the courts, and with more changes to observe. On the front part and to my right there used to be a playground area of swings, see-saws, roundabouts and the like, all standing on tarmac – or was it concrete? – but now all gone. Has this area been transformed only recently? I wonder, because the now entirely grassy location where the playground once was still retains the impressions and outlines of what used to be here, which seems a bit bizarre given that it all originally stood on hardstanding. (I rather wish I’d saved my ‘Turin Shroud’ metaphor for this experience, rather than have used it up in part 2 – but you get the drift.) No more can younger children enjoy themselves on the playground that once existed here. On the other hand, the area is more open for games of football, cricket, frisbee throwing etc. So, it’s all swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

(Or, er, rather it isn’t. Anymore.) Cough.

But I can no longer ignore or deny the existence of the timeless, defining feature of Armstrong Park, now looming up in front of me. Yes, gates, fences, tennis courts and playgrounds may come and go, but the old windmill remains and endures. There it still is, the sturdy, silent sentinel of Armstrong Park, mighty but mute, necessarily revealing nothing of the numerous stories that the stony, stoic stare of its ever-watchful windows must have witnessed over so many generations past.

A disused Windmill, Armstrong Park, Heaton.

The disused Windmill, Armstrong Park today

Today it is dignified with a path around its circumference, although the quid pro quo for that improvement is the loss of dignity unavoidably incurred by the cutting of a door-sized hole in its side, necessarily obliging it to relinquish some of its cylindrical secrets – although, if the truth be told, there is precious little of interest to see in there. More helpfully, there is now a notice-board to the front and other side of it, giving much interesting and useful historical information. Fifty years ago none of these features were present. Although I have vague memories of being told it was indeed an old windmill, it was just – well, it was just … there, sprouting out of the grass with no realistic way of seeing inside and with no information provided about it at all.

A short walk away is, of course, Heaton Park itself. In truth, I spent more of my childhood there than in Armstrong Park, so it will be particularly interesting to visit it again, after all this time.

We’ll soon take that brief walk together …’

An exile remembers: Part 3 – changes

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories. ‘RS’ still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the third instalments of his thoughts.

‘And so I cross the road to the south side of Rothbury Terrace, and continue my westward walk to the parks, now becoming steadily more visible ahead. As I do so, I absent-mindedly reflect on two obvious changes in the demography of this area which, for the sake of convenience, will be referred to as central Heaton. Neither of the changes are regarded here as being necessarily good or bad in themselves, but noticeable and interesting changes they most definitely are.

The first is the clear establishment of so much student accommodation in central Heaton, including my own 1960s home on Simonside Terrace (see part 1). I recall none of this at all half a century ago, although I suppose there must have been some, somewhere in this area, even then; however, there was certainly nothing on the scale that there is now. I suspect that the rising student population has been a steadily growing phenomenon over the last few decades, rather than being the result of any single event or cause.

But I do know something more definite about the other demographic change that cannot be missed around here. In the early 1960s central Heaton was an overwhelmingly white area, and although the statistic in question was most unlikely to have been 100%, equally probably it was not far off that figure. Certainly, in my first few years at Ravenswood, I can recall no ethnic minority pupils whatsoever. Until things began to change.

And – in central Heaton, at least – they began to change here, on Rothbury Terrace. I can’t give an exact date, but let’s say around 1963-4. That was when the first Pakistani-Muslim family moved into this street, and the two (possibly three) children began to attend at Ravenswood. There was a boy in the year above me, and another in the year below. (There may have been a younger sister – my memory fails me on that point.)

The oldest boy was called Anjem. He and I soon became good friends. He and his brother were great lads, and thankfully and happily there were no problems of racial tension at Ravenswood – or, as far as I recall, anywhere else in Heaton – of the sort that were being experienced and reported in other parts of the country at that time.

As the ’60s progressed and were superseded by the ’70s, an interesting phenomenon could increasingly be observed. The Pakistani-Muslim population of central Heaton began steadily to grow; and the residential focus of this expansion was located here, on this stretch of Rothbury Terrace, between Chillingham Road and Heaton Road. Perhaps initially related to Anjem’s family, but then probably with the establishment of further familial linkages, the population of this particular ethnic minority began to grow, very noticeably decade by decade – albeit fairly gradually on a year to year basis – in this very precise area of central Heaton, before then spreading further afield.

But as I approach Heaton Road, on this particular day, there is hardly anyone, of any ethnicity, to be seen; and anyway, there’s no reason to think that the particular demographic change that began to occur here all those years ago would still be in evidence now. After all, people move on and move away: indeed, just like I did.

So, finally reaching the junction of Rothbury Terrace and Heaton Road, I look along to my left. Too far to be seen from here, I nevertheless recall Heaton Presbyterian Church (just past the Co-op) where I was a member of the Lifeboys and – when older – the Boys’ Brigade. I remember too, our regular, traffic-stopping Sunday morning parades when, dressed in our navy blue uniforms, and with drums a-beating and bugles a-blowing, we ensured that quiet Sunday morning lie-ins for the late-slumbering residents of the streets on our route became something of a practical impossibility. It’s difficult to imagine that such events still occur today; indeed, on reflection, it’s a bit of a wonder that they were actually allowed even then. And do those local Lifeboys and Boys’ Brigade units still even exist? Maybe not as – the last time I drove past – there certainly wasn’t much left standing of the Presbyterian church itself. Possibly demolished by a team of sleepy, hungover and rather fed up Geordies, still in their pyjamas.

Then I turn to my right and gaze in the direction of St. Gabriel’s. This, in fact, was our family church, and where I was confirm … but crikey! What’s that? Across the road, on the other side of Rothbury Terrace. Used to be a doctors’ surgery, back in the day. Clearly it’s something else now; an entirely new building is standing there. It’s the ‘Heaton Mosque and Islamic Centre’. A bit of a surprise. An outpost of Islam … here in Heaton.

Of course, if you are a resident of any part of Heaton, but especially of this central area, you probably knew about the existence of this building already; however, you may not have known how or why it came to be located here, of all places, on this corner of Heaton Road and Rothbury Terrace. Perhaps my ramblings have afforded a little insight in that regard. It’s here because when Islam first came to Heaton, all those years ago, it first came to Rothbury Terrace, in the form of Anjem and his family, and all those who came after them. And from that small seed it clearly took root, and flourished.

But across the road, Armstrong Park now beckons. So it’s time to see what changes may lie in wait for me there …’

What do you remember?

We’d love to hear your memories and see photos of anyone who has lived, studied, worked or played in Heaton. Either leave your comments below the heading of this article or email Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group.