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Two Rooms And A View: 5 - The Three Rows

...Single and Double Row were part of a group of very old houses adjacent to the colliery. Alongside, there existed a number of houses reserved for colliery officials. This was appropriately named Quality Row. Families born in this very close environment tended to form friendships that lasted a lifetime. This was certainly true of two particular families who lived in Double Row during the early years of the twentieth century...

Robert Owen tells us of the Durham miners who were his forebears.

The movement of miners and their families from the various Durham coalfieds to South Shields continued for many years into the twentieth century. Joe Robinson (1995), explainss how his uncle and others moved from Brancepeth, just west of Durham City to Harton Colliery in 1911. With relations and friends in both areas, I wonder if, many years later this was the reason for the No. 62 bus service from South Shields to Esh Winning, a little-known village a few miles west of Durham City The route chosen was not the most direct. It passed both Harton and Boldon collieries and finished its journey in the mining villages of midwest Durham.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Owen family lived in the new terraced houses of Alnwick Road while the Chapmans resided in an old colliery house in Double Row, about a half mile away. Both fathers of respective families worked at nearby Harton Colliery and the youngsters of each family attended local schools and All Saints Parish Church in Boldon Lane. Although coming from Irish, Welsh and southwest Durham backgrounds, the families now had a great deal in common.

They had even more in common when James Petrie (known as Jimmy) Owen a colliery token man, married Mabel Chapman on 8th February 1913. Symbolically, the Parish Church where they were married was mid-way between where the bride and groom lived. The first half of 1913 must have been a busy time for the Chapman family. A few months later, their son Robert married Catherine Isabella Graham, (known as Kate). Mabel and Kate were to become life-long friends.

Single and Double Row were part of a group of very old houses adjacent to the colliery. Alongside, there existed a number of houses reserved for colliery officials. This was appropriately named Quality Row. Families born in this very close environment tended to form friendships that lasted a lifetime. This was certainly true of two particular families who lived in Double Row during the early years of the twentieth century.

The Chapmans lived at No. 25 and the Baileys at No. 16. Mabel Chapman grew up with Elizabeth Ann and Ethel Bailey. Elizabeth Ann was the first to leave home when she married miner Michael Clark in 1908. Tragically, her husband was killed in a mining accident at Harton Colliery in 1914. After this, she must have been very industrious because she qualified first as a nurse and then as a midwife. Throughout the West Harton area she became known as 'Nurse Clark'. In later years, she also became a property owner, something that her childhood friend Mabel was not to forget when she needed help twenty years later. Ethel Bailey married Frank Halliday in 1917 and both sisters continued a life-long friendship with Mabel, their old school friend from Double Row.

During the early years of their marriage, Jimmy and Mabel Owen lived in Whitehall Street, near Stanhope Road School. It was there that a baby girl was born in February 1914. In the tradition of the time, she was named Jane Edith after one of her mother's sisters.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 appears to have had an unusual effect on the marriage of Jimmy and Mabel Owen. First, for some unexplained reason, they had no more children until the war was over. Secondly, although two and a half million men volunteered for war service between 1914 and 1916, Jimmy Owen was not one of these. Nor was he called up when conscription was introduced during the final two years of the war. One can only detect that his job in mining must have exempted him from call up.

This was in complete contrast to his younger brother Edward, who volunteered for service in the Royal Navy and lost his life on 4th June 1915 during the battle of the Dardanelles. The oldest brother of Mabel Owen -William Chapman - was also killed during the war. He was a
private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and died in action in Belgium on 14th October 1917, leaving a wife and three young children, Mabel, Alice and William junior.

By the end of the war in 1918, Jimmy and Mabel Owen had managed to obtain a colliery house in Gerald Street in the nearby hamlet of White Leas. It was here that their second daughter was born on 30th January 1919. She was named Adelaide after one of her father's sisters. Like most children of the time, Jane Edith (known as Jenny) and Adelaide (known as Addie) were to suffer many childhood illnesses. Their parents were happy however, believing their family was complete.

After the First World War, the nineteen-twenties were troubled years for miners where-ever they worked. Most of the Owen and Chapman families worked at Harton Colliery and although they tolerated the 1921 Lock Out and the 1926 General Strike, the economic depression and its consequences in the thirties, forced them to consider an alternative life-style. Mabel Owen's brother Jack Chapman with wife Alice and family, Evelyn, Jane, Paul and Ethel, moved to London. Her sister Ada Peacock with husband Jimmy and family, Albert and Jim junior, moved to Newcastle - both men taking non-mining jobs.

Mabel Owen's other brother Robert (Bob) and his wife Kate had a previously unknown family problem. Their oldest daughter Ethel was the first person in the family to be successful in passing the Scholarship (now the 11 plus) and to be offered a place at a grammar school. It was not uncommon for working class parents to refuse such offers because of the expense involved. Bob and Kate Chapman thought otherwise. They made financial sacrifices to send their daughter to grammar school and then on to teacher-training college.

When Bob became unemployed and their daughter's place in higher education was in jeopardy, what did his forthright wife Kate do? She went to London, found a job and sent money home so that her daughter could continue with her studies. Years later, Ethel repaid her mother's faith in her by holding a senior post in education and being the first in the family to be a property owner. Not bad progress for someone whose great grand-parents, seventy-five years earlier, could not sign their own marriage certificate.

A work colleague of the Owen and Chapman families at Harton Colliery during the early part of the twentieth century, was someone called William Blyton. He also passed for the grammar school, but his parents could not afford to let him attend. As a result he started his mining career at fourteen years of age. During the war, he served in the navy and returned to mining in 1919.

The following years saw him progress via Trade Union work to Chairman of the Miners' Lodge, councillor for the Tyne Dock Ward and to Member of Parliament for Houghton-le-Spring from 1945 - 64. On his retirement he was elevated to the House of Lords and known as Baron Blyton. Throughout this long and distinguished career, William Blyton continued to live in a council house not far from Harton Colliery and drink at the local Working Men's Club. He was the family's local hero who never forgot his working class roots.

Throughout the troubled times during the nineteen twenties and thirties, when not on strike or locked out, Jimmy Owen continued to be one of the lucky ones at Harton Colliery - he still had a job. Now employed as a time-keeper and living in a colliery house, with his oldest daughter, Jenny, working in a tobacconist/sweet shop in Boldon Lane, and youngest daughter Addie coming up to school leaving age, they were relatively comfortable compared to family and friends. Jimmy and Mabel Owen must have hoped the economic problems of the time would soon pass by and not affect them too much. Little did they suspect the trauma of the next few years that was to turn their basic but comfortable world upside down.


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