Tatty picking on South Tyneside farms

Potato pickers at Whitburn in 1957.
Potato pickers at Whitburn in 1957.

For some people, young and old alike, “tatty picking” used to be a way of earning a few extra bob during the weekly school holidays.

It was a time when farmers up and down the country would invite droves of people onto their land to pick the potato harvest.

Daily chores being carried out in 1969 in the shadow of the tanker Esso Northumbria, which is to be launched on the Tyne by Princess Anne.

Daily chores being carried out in 1969 in the shadow of the tanker Esso Northumbria, which is to be launched on the Tyne by Princess Anne.

And for those who filled the sacks, there was a bit of extra cash and lots of aches and pains to be had at the end of the day.

One of those who did just that was Agnes George, who took to Facebook, after seeing the attached old photo, to tell us about her times toiling away in the soil.

“We loved the summer holidays to go tatty picking,” said Agnes.

“The farmer picked us up at Boldon Lane on his tractor and trailer. Had a right laugh but it was hard work.”

Elizabeth Martin agreed, saying: “hard work but the money was worth it” while Glenys Bainbridge simply stated “I did that!”

Kath Morrison went online to tell readers that she “got paid 50p an hour from a farmer in Whitburn, my dad went to see him as the adults got double, didn’t get picked the next day”.

John Carrick remembers the “sore back”, something many more of you who went potato picking will probably still do.

Meanwhile, other online readers responded to another Facebook-posted photo, showing a local woman shaking the dust from her front door mat, while at the top of the street stood the huge Esso Northumbria tanker.

The wonderful picture was taken in May 1969, shortly before the ship was due to be launched on the Tyne by Princess Anne.

Linda Connolly said: “Shaking out the mat. You don’t see people doing this anymore” while Blanche DuBois adds: “Back when the North East was a great place, with great people and spirit”.

Bob Sawicki told how he “saw this from the North Side,very impressive” while Caroline Austin explained that: “My grandad was a welder back then, at Swan Hunters”

Robert Purvis posted: “This is ship building”. Colin Warkcup took to social media to say “before the Tories killed the ship building industry” and Irene Scott admitted: “This terrifies me.”

A little while ago we heard from local historian Andrew Grant, who has been researching his family history.

He told how a neighbour of his mother’s, a Mrs Reeves, would look after his grandparents during the German raids on South Shields during the Second World War.

Today, Andrew reveals how Mrs Reeves’ son, James, helped in the film industry.

“James left South Shields to live and work in London at Pinewood Studios,” says Andrew.

“He said actor David Niven was a good person to work for. James’ job was to see that the actors were at Pinewood Film Studios to begin their jobs on time.

“Meanwhile, my aunt Annie met Doctor Michael Ramsey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, when he was Bishop of Durham through the Church of England’s Mothers Union, in Durham at the cathedral.

“She also met Gladys Aylward, the Christian missionary who worked in China during the 1930s.

“My aunt said Doctor Ramsey and Gladys Aylward were remarkable people, and so, may I say, was my aunt.”

Another relative who Andrew admires is his uncle William Thompson, who worked for the United Nations.

“He was in Thailand when the UN introduced a project to improve people’s water quality.

“The American government granted the money and the project was very successful, helping many people in Thailand and the developing world.”