We love to hear the memories of older Heatonians, past and present, so were delighted to receive an email from Eric Dale. Eric was born in 1937 and in about 1939 moved with his family from Corbridge Street, Byker to Eighth Avenue in Heaton. He had a career in typography and copywriting in both Newcastle and Edinburgh before becoming graphic design manager for Northumberland National Park in Hexham. He now lives near Kelso in the Scottish Borders but has vivid memories of growing up in Heaton.
We will publish Eric’s memories in a series of articles over the coming months. The first one concerns his childhood home in Eighth Avenue during and immediately following the Second World War. It is interesting to compare Eric’s recollections, not only with our experiences today, but also with those of Jack Common, born just around the corner in Third Avenue 34 years before Eric, and who, in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, wrote about growing up in the years leading to and during the First World War:
We lived in a rented downstairs flat on Eighth Avenue.
From the front door there was a small lobby to a glass door then a short passage to the living room. On the right of the corridor was the front bedroom. In the living room on the left was the ‘gas cupboard’ which was under the stairs leading up to next door’s flat. A door on the right of the living room led to the back bedroom. Continuing straight through the living room led to the scullery with a door on the right giving access to the backyard which housed the toilet (torn up strips of newspaper for ‘toilet paper’) and coal house.
When I was very young, lighting was provided by gas mantles. There was no heating except that provided by the fire in the living-room. Both bedrooms had fireplaces but fires were rarely lit. For many years we took baths in a galvanised metal bath placed in front of the living room fire which was set in the then commonplace black iron surround with a built-in oven and a hob for the kettle. As far as I can remember hot water was provided by means of a back boiler. ‘Mod cons’ that we all take for granted now; central heating, double glazing, fridge, freezer, microwave oven, dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, television, telephone and fitted carpets were, in several cases, decades away.
Front and back
The front street and back lane were cobbled. Wheeled traffic at the front was in the main generated by traders such as the milkman and his horse-drawn float and the Ringtons tea salesman or, less often, the knife sharpener with his half-barrow, half-cycle. Occasionally we were visited by the fisher ladies from Cullercoats offering ‘Caller-herrin’ and travelling people selling clothes pegs. I can also clearly remember that a man, presumably from the council or gas company, used to visit each gas lamp in the street at dusk, reach up with a long pole and set them aglow.
Back lane traffic consisted of the coal man’s cart (and later lorry), the dustbin men and rag and bone merchants with their carts who would offer balloons or a goldfish for ‘any old rags or woollens’. The coal man repeatedly mistimed his deliveries by arriving on a Monday, much to the annoyance of the housewives who were obliged to gather in their washing strung out across the width of the lane.
We also had a regular cycle of tramps, one of whom always wore a green-with-mould claw hammer coat and a filthy bowler hat (or was it a topper?). Anyway, it looked posh from a distance. He was fairly local as he rarely carried anything other than a small bag. We followed him a few times to see where he lived but he always shook us off somewhere near Byker tip. We named him Greasy Dutt. The other regular who may well have been a WW2 ex-serviceman carried a large kit bag, from the depths of which he would produce a wind-up gramophone and records for our entertainment. He was very polite and cheerful and, as far as I can remember, only ever asked for hot water for his tea.
In addition to the usual dustbins there were also food waste bins distributed in the back-lanes which were regularly collected and transported to pig farms to aid food production. We just called them ‘pig bins’. Whilst an essential waste reduction measure they were unfortunately also a highly productive breeding ground for flies of all kinds. My friend Brian higher up the street was enthusiastic about catching the back lane pigeons which were also numerous and attracted to food scraps of all kinds. The method was to form a noose with string, scatter breadcrumbs inside it, lead the string to the back door which he then hid behind, leaving it open a crack for observation. Then a quick yank on the string and….! I only saw it work on a couple of occasions. Once caught it was possible to sell the better specimens on at the regular Saturday pigeon fanciers gathering near the Green Market in Newcastle (I believe the asking price was 1/6d.); any others were simply released.
Meals in the early years were basic and frugal and from ’42 for about ten years were constrained by the limitations imposed by rationing. I don’t remember a great deal about the war years except for spam, dried egg, dried milk, concentrated orange juice and generous gifts of apples from Canada, but once dad had returned and a wage was coming in again things began to look up in food terms.
Main meals were taken at ‘dinner time’ (midday) and dad who worked on Raby Street, Byker would always cycle home for his. Monday was ‘cad warmed up’ as, being washing day, mam had only the time to fry up the leftovers from Sunday which was the most eagerly anticipated meal of the week. Not lavish mind you, but we did stretch to a bottle of Tizer or even ice cream soda if we felt flush!
Even Sunday breakfast was different, with fried bread and black puddin’ being regularly on the menu. Feeling hungry whilst playing out was commonplace and kids would call for a bit of jam and bread to help boost energy levels until the next meal. We also came up with some self-concocted treats such as the following white bread sandwiches: how about condensed milk, sugar and margarine, or brown sauce? Yum!
Many will remember that the most luxurious food item in the early fifties was ‘The Tin Of Salmon’ which wasn’t eaten until we had ‘Company‘ and then it was brought out of hiding to make sandwiches just as if we had them every weekday and twice on Sundays! Just as a footnote: I don’t remember previously having seen a banana when, just after the war, one of the kids in the seniors at Chillingham Road brought a half-ripe one to school; ‘imported‘ by his uncle in the Navy.
If you remember Eric or have any photographs or memories of Eighth Avenue or Heaton more generally that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org