Old ferries fire up the memories

LEGGING IT ... Boldon Lane in the winter of 1958.
LEGGING IT ... Boldon Lane in the winter of 1958.

THE strange things that come to mind – like how many people do you see these days with tartan legs?

Remember them? You will if you’re of an age to recall when most homes round here had still to have central heating. In winter it meant, instead, hugging the fire, the consequence of which was often a toasty cross-hatching of the shins.

The thought occurred after hearing from one or two readers about that beautiful picture of the old Tyne ferry Thomas Richardson pulling away from the ferry landing at North Shields.

Former Shields lad Bill Newton across in Australia was reminded of that other service, the Direct Ferry, that operated a little lower down the river.

“I remember the Ha’penny Dodger, which used to berth next to the Satellite Quay,” he says.

“I think it closed down in the 1950s, so instead of a ha’penny ride, we had to use the one that left from the Market and cost us threepence instead!”

But it was my describing the acrid smell of smoke that often used to hang over the town and the river that got John Bage thinking.

He was born just after the end of the war.

“I loved the old ferry when I was a youngster – the smell of the smoke, the lovely, powerful throbbing of the engine and the heat and smell coming up from the engine room,” he says, “I don’t get any similar feelings on the present ferry.”

A source of some of this smoke, of course, was the old coal fires that everyone had.

Says John: “My memories of those are having to get one going with crumpled-up newspaper, wood sticks and cinders. There definitely was a knack to it, in order to get it going quickly.

“Sometimes we would use another full page of newspaper to place across the fire opening to make a better draught and to encourage the fire.

“I think we called this a ‘blazer’ and sometimes it did just that when it would catch light and we would hastily push it onto the fire. It all sounds very dangerous nowadays.

“I also remember that we would all sit in front of the blazing coal fire trying to avoid the sparks which would shoot out sometimes.

“When the weather was very cold our fronts would be warm but our backs would be freezing – single glazing in those days meant the rest of the room was pretty chilly.”