South Tyneside family save many from drowning

Colley's Farm at Westoe in 1951.
Colley's Farm at Westoe in 1951.

Today local history enthusiast Andrew Grant continues his fascinating look-back at South Shields’ farms, farming families and cottages.

“It seems hard to imagine today, that a farm existed in the centre of South Shields,” ponders Andrew, “but this is exactly where Colley’s Farm was.

“According to Caroline Barnsley’s excellent book, South Shields Through The Ages, the Colley family’s farm was situated where the main site of South Tyneside College is now, in Westoe Village.

“The family owned the farm for 100 years but there had been a farm on this site for more than 300 years .

“The haystacks and lovely leafy trees looked south towards Grosvenor Road, and its pond and ducks brought children flocking down the lane during the summer.”

Andrew reveals that before Colley’s or South Farm was built, the lane led through Wilkinson’s Farm yard, Meadowcroft and Ivy House, which was part of the original farm buildings.

“My mother, Phyllis Grant, whose maiden name was Charlton, told me that my cousin, Dorothy, who was a little girl, aged five in the 1930s, asked her mother Annie and mine, to take me to Colley’s Farm to pick buttercups and daisies, which they did.

“Sadly, the farm was demolished in 1953 to make way for the building of the college.

“Thomas Colley, who owned the farm in 1953, was the grandson of Ralph Colley, who established this wonderful family farm in 1865.”

Next, Andrew looks at The Nest, which was the old thatched cottage, near the Trow Quarry.

“Doris Johnson, in her book South Shields in Old Picture Postcards, writes that this was the home of the first on-site foreman for the building of the South Pier,” continues Andrew.

“My family connection with The Nest was with my grandfather, who was obliged to go there to obtain his instructions from the foreman regarding his duties for that day.

“There were quite a number of these cottages, built by the workers when they arrived in the 1950s.

“These cottages must not be confused with the rows of buildings, called the Bent’s Cottages, which were built for the miners working at Westoe Colliery. The Nest was, writes Doris Johnson, quite close to the old borough boundary stone.”

This led to the road running from the Broadway Estate, down to where the Water’s Edge public house car park is today, at the Trow Rocks.

“My cousin Sylvia Hudson’s research has revealed that my great grandfather James Hall, from my father’s side of the family, was the stableman at Trow Cottage.

“My father, Lewis Grant, lived at Trow Cottage, with his grandfather and grandmother and his uncles and aunts, from 1910 to 1938 – the first 28 years of his life.”

Andrew said his dad had terrible asthma, which was helped by the fresh air and relatively good living afforded by living where he did.

“He was well loved, and looked after by his family.

“My father’s family had a small holding with some animals such as hens, chickens and ducks. They also made cheese. His family, the Halls, were called upon to go to the town docks to bandage up boys who were injured when they climbed the rocks in this area.

“My family were also very brave. They swam out and rescued people who were trapped by the tide.

“My father’s grandfather, uncles and cousins saved many people who would have drowned without their help.

“Sadly, my father could not swim, and so he was unable to take part in the rescues.”

Andrew goes on to say that there used to be games of pitch and toss held at Trow Rocks, when his family lived at Trow Cottage.

“At first the police could not stop these game because the police force at Houghton-le-Spring (whose authority they came under) could not get to the games quickly enough, and because people were watching out for them.

“Then the government placed the police under the authority of officers in South Shields, who soon obtained intelligence that a big game was going to take place in the town and raided the Rocks.

“A lot of people were arrested and the game was broken up, and a lot of money recovered. The games stopped, though they were talked about for a long time afterwards.

“South Shields has changed from being a rural area, when there were many farms and cottages, to the urban area it is now.”