« Shining Examples | Main | 34 - Resurrection »

Two Rooms And A View: 24 - Keeping A Cautious Lookout

...When I was about nine and a half years of age, I started to grow very quickly. By the time I was ten, I was the tallest in the class and the only one wearing long trousers. My mother saw this as a good enough reason to tell everyone I was going to be a policeman when I left school...

Robert Owen tells in fascinating detail of his early life in a Durahm pit village. For more of Robert's story please click on Two Rooms And A View in the menu on this page.

When I was about nine and a half years of age, I started to grow very quickly. By the time I was ten, I was the tallest in the class and the only one wearing long trousers. My mother saw this as a good enough reason to tell everyone I was going to be a policeman when I left school. Her logic behind this was that in those non-politically correct days, the minimum height to join the police force was a tall 5'10".

This rapid increase in height however, caused my mother financial difficulties as she tried to keep me supplied with clothes and shoes of the correct size. She missed the market and second-hand shops of South Shields, so every two weeks she used to take a day off and return to the town to collect her maintenance and visit the family etc. On such occasions, I used to go to John's aunt after school.
During one of her trips, she must have made a fleeting visit to the market, because she brought me back a second-hand pair of shoes. Every respectable family in the village had a hammer and last, and Bob Charlton was no exception. He carried out the family's elementary footwear repairs, but larger and more technical repairs were sent to a part-time cobbler at Lumley. In an attempt to protect my 'new' shoes, Bob put some metal plates on the heels and toes. Little did I know how useful these would be during the following week.

It all started one dark evening when I was sent on an errand to Bob Charlton's brother's house in Pinewood Street. Arriving there, I knocked on the door, got no reply and concluded that the house was empty. I was just about to leave when I was approached from behind by two suspicious looking youths -about fifteen to sixteen years of age. They didn't recognise me and concluded that I was not a local.

"Look what we have here - a new townie lad!" commented the first youth as he blocked my intended escape route.

"He needs some induction," growled the other as he moved behind me and pinned my arms together.
The first youth then muttered some insults, slapped my face and proceeded to investigate what I kept in my trousers!

"Me next!" shouted the second youth, seemingly jealous of his mate's pleasures.

My arms were held firm but my legs were free and I suddenly thought of my 'new' metal tipped shoes. Taking my right leg back as far as possible, I kicked my attacker on the shin. He yelled, withdrew his hand and doubled up in pain. I then brought my foot sharply back and the metal heel plate ground into the tibia of my assailant. He screamed, uttered oaths I had never heard before and released his grip on me.

In a second, I was away and ran as fast as I ever had in my life. I arrived back at Finchale Terrace, shocked and out of breath but typically said nothing except, "Nobody was in!"

During the rest of my stay at Fence Houses, I kept a cautious lookout for my attackers. I never met them again and had no further trouble being a townie in a mining village.

One Monday evening when my mother was away visiting Shields, Bob Charlton took me with him to visit somebody 'coming off shift' at the colliery. They were to meet in the colliery baths. On the way there, I recall Bob telling me how proud the miners were of the baths which were opened just before the war. "Until then," he explained, "miners went home as they came out of the pit, and had a bath in front of the fire."

Visiting the baths was an education to me. I remember seeing blackened miners strip naked and then walk into the shower. A few minutes later, they came out clean and drying themselves with a large towel. I just stared as Bob discussed some aspect of a forthcoming vegetable show, with his work colleague.

Another memory that comes back is of Hardy's the Hairdressers (or barbers) at Fence Houses. This was a converted front room in Station Avenue, opposite the village War Memorial. My hair grew quickly and I was a regular customer. To some extent, I didn't mind going because there was always a good selection of comics to read while waiting.

If the shop got very busy, the barber used to knock upstairs, and a few minutes later a young lad appeared. He used to help with the lathering for those who needed a shave. When it was my turn, a box was taken from under the counter and I was told to sit on this 'to raise me to a man's height' as the barber used to say. Hand shears, scissors and a comb were the tools of the trade.

There was great emphasis on thrift and saving while we lived at Fence Houses. Every community, be it a city, town or village, had a savings target to help build or buy a ship, tank or aeroplane. This philosophy continued at school and we used to queue up every Monday with our savings money. Even the local colliery, Sixth Pit, used to have a target for the amount of coal it should produce. If this was obtained, a flag would be seen flying at the colliery flagpole. The record output was made in 1944.

At the same time, the emphasis on thrift meant individuals and organisations could be prosecuted for waste. Rumour suggested that inspectors came around with the bin-men to see what families had thrown away. Food, clothing and fuel were rationed and most families had very little money to spare, yet few people went without the basics of life. Their needs and expectations were much less materialistic and some researchers even claimed the health of the nation improved during the war due to food rationing.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.