Our bonfire stood majestically beside the ‘dip’ (The Bede Burn), on rough grass, on the field at the back of Cambridge Avenue, and adjacent to Campbell Park Road.
At 3 years old I followed along with my older brothers (then aged 6 and 7) and our gang of friends, helping them look for wood for our bonfire; can you see children of that age doing similar now? Hopefully not. After we ‘did’ all the streets around Bede Walk: Marr Road, Palmer Crescent, etc., we started on the streets coming off Red House Road, till we reached Jarrow. Sometimes we’d feel slightly disheartened when folk would say, ‘Sorry, lads, some kids came for the wood earlier;’ but, we’d carry on to the next door and always came back with plenty wood. As a three-year-old, the wood seemed heavy, but I still did my bit, sometime dragging wood behind me, and none of the big lads complained at my ineptitude, God bless them.
After weeks of knocking on doors in the back lanes, we were very proud of our efforts, but were a bit worried when the big lads told us that someone had threatened to set fire to our wood, before the big event. When I say big lads, you will understand what I mean, when I explain that the bonfire was so huge, that the stanchion was constructed from a full-sized telegraph pole! Surrounding this were masses of very long wooden floorboards; so, these weren’t boys!
On the night of the fire, I was so excited, but wasn’t allowed to go as we had our own bonfire in our back garden; it seemed so unfair after all those weeks of collecting wood. As most 3 years olds, I had no common sense, and so, whilst everyone else in the garden was preoccupied, I decided to leave our family bonfire - unknown to anyone - and make my way to the public bonfire near the dip. In the black of winter, I walked across the field on Bede Walk, through the cut, across Cambridge Avenue, and through the cut out onto the field. The fire was lit to a blaze, and was lighting up the delighted people standing about, and the backs of the surrounding houses, like an immense stage show.
I made my way closer to the fire, attracted by the heat, the crackling and the lovely colours coming from it. A good family friend, Brian Winlow, barred my way; I can see him so clearly: I’m looking up at him, as he points an outstretched arm towards the cut in Cambridge Avenue, and says, ‘Go home son, go on now, go and see your mam.’
I was disappointed, but did as Brian said, and immediately left the lovely warm atmosphere and made my way to the cut, alone; but, when I came out of the cut onto Cambridge Avenue, instead of crossing the road straight into Bede Walk, I remember turning right, past the dimly-lit swan-necked lamppost and following the footpath towards Baker Perkins, and making my way down to Jarrow. A nice couple found me wondering around, so took me into their home and called the Police. I have no idea who they were, but would love to thank them.
I’m not sure what was more exciting, seeing the bonfire, or getting taken home by a friendly Policeman, in the back of a very big Police car. We pulled up outside of Nevilles Cross Road, and soon the Policeman talked with both my parents before handing me over. At 3 years of age, I was too young to realise the distress I had caused; my mother was distraught, and at one point thought that I might have crawled into the family bonfire, and she even had family raking for my remains! Anyway, as usually happens in these cases, my parents and siblings were so overjoyed to see me safely home, that I was chastised only a wee bit, and greatly showered with love and hugs.
As if that wasn’t enough trauma, the night wasn’t yet over...
That same night, my brother Colin and his friends had been sitting on an 8' high, thin, flimsy wall at Palmer Crescent, to get a better view of a very large bonfire there. The wall was made weaker by the fact that it had many bricks deliberately omitted as to make a staggered pattern, probably to let the wind blow through. The fire brigade was called as some nearby residents thought the fire was getting too hot, and out of control. Obviously, the lads and lasses were upset, so they began to playfully tease the firemen. The firemen responded light-heartedly, by showering the lads and lasses on the wall with a gush of very cold water… but, as soon as the water touched the super-heated wall - it exploded! The lads and lasses fell in a heap amongst the debris. The fire crew immediately called the ambulance service. Four children were found to be injured: Gerald McCuskin, aged 14, and Frank McIlhatten, aged 10, both of Kipling Avenue; and my brother Colin Cram, aged 7, of Nevilles Cross Road, were all treated for stomach, leg and arm injuries at Newcastle Infirmary. Michael Spry, aged 13, of Clegwell Terrace, was allowed home after treatment at Ellison Infirmary, Hebburn. My brother came off worst, with internal injuries, and was bedridden for a very long time.
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