Growing up in Boldon Lane slums

SIT IN ... miners outside St Hilda's Colliery in Shields during the 1926 strike.
SIT IN ... miners outside St Hilda's Colliery in Shields during the 1926 strike.
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THE late Harold Grant grew up after the First World War in the community that surrounded Harton Colliery, then on the edge of South Shields.

In memoirs he left, recently discovered by Mark Galbraith in the town, he wrote about the area in and around Boldon Lane, including his and his neighbours’ experiences during the 1926 miners’ strike. This is an extract.

COAL BUSINESS ... 'Men came home in all their pit muck.'

COAL BUSINESS ... 'Men came home in all their pit muck.'

“In the 1920s, when I first became aware of our surroundings, I realised Boldon Lane was not just part of West Harton and Tyne Dock, but a complete village which revolved around Harton pit, which was then under private ownership. It meant long hours and low wages.

At that particular time, we lived at 48 Brinkburn Street, in the downstairs – only two rooms. There was my mother, dad, older brother Les and I.

Looking back, by today’s standards, it would be classed as slums and yet there was more warm friendship and love generated in those grimy cobbled streets than you would find in 10 square miles of today’s unsmiling, so-called new estates.

I think poverty bred unselfishness and good neighbours were in abundance.

The good people of the mining community had to swallow their pride and ask sympathetic shopkeepers on Boldon Lane for ‘tick’ to feed their families.

I remember with a vividness that almost hurts, the 1926 strike.

The good people of the mining community had to swallow their pride and ask sympathetic shopkeepers on Boldon Lane for ‘tick’ to feed their families.

Our dads used to go looking for coal in shallow seams around the Seven Fields, which started in the Whiteleas area.

They used to make bogeys out of old pram wheels and planks of wood and load them up with the bags of coal, literally torn from the earth with their bare hands.

PROPAGANDA ... posters like these demonised miners' wages during the 1926 strike.

PROPAGANDA ... posters like these demonised miners' wages during the 1926 strike.

The surplus used to be sold at tuppence a bag to non-mining families.

At the start of the strike this sort of thing was embarrassing for the miners.

Although they were looked down upon, they had a fierce pride and their wives kept the houses like new pins.

Fireplaces, which included ovens, were blackleaded until they shone bright; even under the fire itself was always whitewashed and the ash pans and fenders used to shine like silver. Linoleum used to cover the floors, and clippie and hookie mats took pride of place in front of the fireplace.

PIT HEAD ...Harton Colliery.

PIT HEAD ...Harton Colliery.

Miss Newham’s was a small grocery store on Boldon Lane and she allowed miners’ wives to ‘tick’ the essentials throughout the strike.

Dear Miss Newham. After the strike finished, people were allowed to pay what they owed her in easy stages at so much per week.

On Friday nights your groceries were delivered to your door by dear Cloggy Woodvine, known affectionately as Clog, or ‘Newham’s Horse.’

‘Duncan’s horse’ was a lad called John Normile and he and Clog used to wait for each other at Simonside bridge, which was so steep it was hard to pull a barrow with groceries on one’s own, so they had this unwritten rule to wait and help each other up the bridge, especially on an icy night.

I’ve watched them at about 8pm in a swirling snowstorm, with large sacks on their heads and tied at the waist, leave their respective shops with barrows loaded as high as possible.

Poor lads – they could hardly pull them away from the shop, yet they were a welcome sight at everyone’s door, especially by the children, for Miss Newham used to put a bag of boiled sweets with everyone’s order, which was usually in a brown paper parcel, neatly tied with string. It was the highlight of the week in most households.

PIT HEAD ... looking from Green Lane across Boldon Lane to Harton Colliery.

PIT HEAD ... looking from Green Lane across Boldon Lane to Harton Colliery.

There were no bathrooms in any of the houses, or at the pit, so men came home in all their pit muck and had to bath in front of the fire.

They used to strip down to their pit hoggers. They were a pair of grey flannel shorts and nine out of 10 miners wouldn’t suffer to have their backs washed.

It was an old superstition that to wash the back would weaken it, so what happened was they would bathe in the tin bath, dry themselves then rub off the square of dirt on their backs.

My dad served his time to be a rivetter in Readhead’s and when work fell off he started at Harton, and even he upheld the ritualistic superstition of keeping his back dirty.

Every back yard had a zinc bath hanging on its wall and right until we children were about 12 years old we had to bath in front of the fire at weekends.

On the corner of Wilkinson Street back lane was the famous Granny Bell’s, where you got all kinds for a ha’penny on the way to school. She was a dear, dear lady, known and loved by generations of children.

Our dads used to get their chewing tobacco, usually Lady’s Twist, from her, because nearly all miners chewed down the pit.

It was reckoned to help their throats and chests cope with the appalling breathing conditions.

With the pollution from stone and coal dust, the death rate was high from chest complaints, usually pneumoconiosis, which in those days was never recognised by the medical profession, and coal owners denied its existence.

But the poor sods had to soldier on regardless. There was nothing else for them.

After the strike was settled and all miners got their jobs back, some of them, like my Uncle Bob and Uncle Dick Giles, were kept waiting for nearly eight years.

They were my mum’s older brothers, who were looked after by my Auntie Meg, mam’s oldest sister, who never married.

Les and I used to love to stay at her house in Belle Vue Terrace, which was part of Boldon Lane, facing Miss Fletcher’s shop and in between Johnson’s the grocers and Fred White’s dairy.

Fred White was later to become something of a tycoon, with a big dairy just through the bridge in Stanhope Road, alongside the ‘White Wall’.”