The CWS made it and the Co-op sold it.
The CWS was a great place to work, because as an CWS employee you could buy everything at wholesale price plus a small handling fee. When I got married we furnished and carpeted the whole house from top to bottom.
Barry has asked me to write about my experiences as an apprentice electrician for the CWS with insider knowledge of the dozens of buildings and factories they used to own.
Fortunately, I can do that, because a lot of the work we were involved with was carried out behind the scenes, and thinking back, a lot of these buildings were full of industrial and architectural treasures which probably ended up in a scrapyard somewhere.
The problem is where to start.
I’ll start with one building that everyone knows, what is now the Science Museum on West Blandford Street.
I started to serve my time as an electrician for the CWS Engineering Dept. in August 1958, having worked as an office boy for Rowell’s Brewery in Gateshead from leaving school at Xmas 1957. I started with another young lad called Dave Allan from Whitley Bay, who was later in a band called “The Peacemakers”. The name was bought off them by “Gerry and the Pacemakers” and they then called themselves “The Originells”. He left before finishing his time and went professional. They had a few low chart hits and a couple of spots on “Top of the Pops”, but nothing came of it and they ended up on the club circuit.
The engineering department was on the land between Blandford St. and West Blandford St. and was almost opposite where the main entrance to the Science Museum is today, where the museum car-park is now.
It was an odd-looking building.
Part of it must have been two or three stone built terraced houses which had been left standing when the street was demolished. The ground floor interior walls had been removed to make one big work area and a new red brick section added on to the end of it. The bedrooms were left as they were and were used as store-rooms, full of old pumps, gear boxes and motors. How the floors never collapsed under all that weight I’ll never know.
What is now the Science Museum, was one of several CWS warehouses around the lower Westgate Road area of Newcastle. Other warehouses were in Waterloo St. and Thornton St.
What is now the main entrance to the museum was once the entrance to a huge lorry loading bay, and where the “Turbinia” now stands was where the lorries loaded and unloaded, bordered on three sides by wooden loading docks.
The building held stock for the buyers from the Co-op districts around the north east. Everything you could imagine was somewhere in this group of warehouses. They stocked carpets, beds & bedding, furniture, kitchen items, TVs, you name it, it was there somewhere.
The building in West Blandford St. stocked men’s-wear, suits, shirts, sports-wear and shoes, each on its own floor. There was even a Travel Agency.
They also had a bacon preparation department where sides of bacon were cut up into the various cuts of meat to be shipped out to the outlying co-op districts. They also had a smoke room where joints were cured for smokey bacon.
They had a bespoke shoe department on the ground floor where you could have a wooden pattern made of your feet, which was numbered and kept until you wanted another pair hand-made from this mould.
When the bespoke shoe department was closed, the shelving holding all the little pigeon-holes where the moulds were kept was stripped out. Behind the shelving was a door way with MoD signs on the walls. It was the entrance to an air-raid shelter. There was a “blast-wall” just inside, then a tunnel which ran under the road outside to a concrete lined shelter underground in the next street. There were bunk-beds, a dining room and kitchen with shelves which had once held tins. The tins were long gone, but the marks on the shelves were still visible.
It had a change-over switch to its own power supply from a small diesel generator We tried to get the generator to run and got it to splutter a bit. Someone had drained the tank, but there must have been a few drops of diesel in the fuel line, because we managed a few turns out of it. It was a diesel motor with a crank handle. Alan will know the type, a lever to take the pressure off the pistons, crank like mad, then drop the lever and hope.
When we went home that night, all the cars in the car-park were covered in black ash. We found out later that the ash covered car-park was built on the land above the bunker. The exhaust pipe for the generator had been chopped off when the car-park surface had been laid with the ash and our cranking had blown a hole through the surface.
A real live time capsule. Sentiment wasn’t running very high back then and the doorway was bricked up and the wall painted over. I wonder if it’s still there.
The dinning-hall was on the top floor and is still frequently shown on the “Antique Show” when they are valuing in this region. It is a beautifully decorated room and the massive light fittings are the original ones, I remember them well, but not with fond memories, they were a nightmare to work on.
I’ll stay in Newcastle with my tales for a while, there are still a load of other fascinating buildings which are slowly becoming clear again as my mind is wandering back 60 odd years.
We’ve still got the pop factory on Westgate Road to visit yet, the fruit and veg warehouse on Stowell Street, the hide and skin building on Forth Bank behind the Central Station, the butter and cigarette factory on the Quayside, the transport department on City Road where the long distant lorries were maintained and the body building workshop on Claremont Road where they built the mobile shops.
To be continued when my brain cools down.
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