Today’s Header – Hebburn Quay 1973…
Posted by Barry Cram on October 8, 2019, 6:28 am
From the book, ‘A Lifetime's Journey - Old Man of the Tyne': |
Later, after viewing the Hebburn website, Davy felt he couldn’t let Geordie leave without offering to show him Hebburn, itself. Geordie was very keen. Together, they wandered on foot over every part, discussing the detailed history of the place, ending the tour at the part of the town known as Hebburn Quay. Standing on open ground, covered here and there by flowers, small bushes and the odd tree, Davy turned to Geordie.
“I don’t have much to guide me, but I’d guess that my parents’ house was somewhere round about here.” He wagged his finger about in the air.
There was a landscape contractor standing nearby, hoeing round a small shrub.
“There’s Jimmy, an ex-council worker from the parks. He used to be a neighbour of ours; one of the only ones I’m still in touch with. If you don’t mind, I’ll go and ask him if he knows exactly where our row of houses was.
Davy left Geordie and walked over to speak with Jimmy.
“Hello Jimmy; how are you doing?”
Jimmy lifted his head back and leaned on his hoe.
“Oh! Hello Davy; not too bad, you know; especially with my retirement coming up soon.” He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.
“You’ve worked in landscaping for quite a few years, haven’t you?”
“O’ aye, Davy... it’s coming up to 47 years, now!”
“My goodness, Jimmy, that’s a long time, and worthy of anyone’s respect - well done! You must have seen a lot of comings and goings.”
“O’ aye, I’ve seen it all!” he laughed.
“Jimmy, I wonder if you have any idea where our street used to be; I’ve been looking, but can’t seem to locate the exact spot with certainty.”
“You’re standing on it, Davy!”
“Never in the world?”
“You see those bunches of white roses there… placed at intervals in a row?”
“Well, that’s where each individual front door used to be… my idea. In fact, most of the doorsteps can still be found a few inches beneath the soil. When the Quay and the Colliery areas were pulled down, we just covered the remaining streets and rubble with a few inches of topsoil.”
“You mean the front streets and back lanes we used to play in as kids, and the layouts of our old houses are still there, just below the soil?”
“O’ aye, Davy! Many times, we hit roads just under the soil while trying to plant trees, and had to send for a drill to make holes. It’s astonishing what turns up; we’ve found just about everything you could imagine to be found - from doorknockers to chimney pots. Like I say, I’ve seen it all.” “I don’t doubt it, Jimmy!”
“I remember one time, while trying to plant a tree - we hit an old white glazed sink. We had to smash a hole through it - it’s still there!” Jimmy pointed somewhere over yonder.
“My goodness, some mother probably washed her bairns in that sink!”
Just then, the conversation was cut short as a wagon pulled up alongside them.
“Well, Davy, it looks like I’m finished here for the day.” He dropped his gardening tools and a few bags of rubbish onto the back of the wagon. “It’s been nice talking with you.” “You too, Jimmy; watch how you go; and thank you for the nostalgic touch with the roses - you’re a good man.”
Jimmy climbed into the passenger door of the cab, pulled it shut, and poked his head through the open window. “Thanks, Davy; I’ll see you!”
When the wagon disappeared from sight, Davy beckoned Geordie, then smiled and made little stabbing motions with his index finger towards the ground. When Geordie came within hearing distance, Davy restarted the history lesson.
“Geordie, in my childhood days, the Hebburn Quay and the Hebburn Colliery were vastly populated tight communities - buzzing with life and excitement. Now that the main industries have gone, these two communities have almost gone too. Many properties were razed to the ground, leaving the Quay and the Colliery looking desolate, underpopulated, and void of life and laughter.
“Where did they go: the friends, the neighbours and the many characters?
O’, how I miss my companions and the familiarity of those surroundings.
We never had a chance to say goodbye. Alas, I’m reunited with many of them through the death columns - it seems so unfair. I miss the old buildings too; they used to hold the memories of my family and friends - many of whom are long-gone. Our old Schools: St. Aloysius, St. Oswald’s, the Quay School and the Colliery, are all gone; and so are most of the old friends we went there with. The shop windows we pressed our faces to; the rows of houses where we lived; even most of the public houses - gone! Our whole small world has almost disappeared. The memories in my head are often lost without something tangible to hold on to.” Davy moved his hand through the air. “This very spot here is where my childhood home used to be - this used to be the front door.”
Geordie placed his hand softly onto Davy’s shoulder. “Davy; breathe in the past; relax and remember once again your childhood memories.” Davy breathed in slowly and then calmly closed his eyes.
“Davy, go in through the door and greet your parents.” Davy stepped into the warm, sunlit passage, and was instantly met by his mother. She lifted him gently up off his feet, then hugged and kissed him, and asked where he had been all this time, as she had missed him. She set him back down, and then led him by the hand into the parlour. The familiar aroma of baked bread and other delights filled the room. It was Saturday; the table was set for high tea. Davy looked around. The same oak framed family portraits hung upon the whitewashed walls - walls decorated here and there with light green, hand-painted roses. The sideboard - dotted with ornaments and a crystal wireless set - was backed against the wall opposite the chimney breast. The unlit paraffin lamp sat on the windowsill, framed by a half window net and two heavy green curtains, tied back near the centre. A row of small gold-rimmed tumblers sat atop the pelmet.
Davy noticed the green paint flecks missing from the skirting board, where he had once run his toy truck against it. Joey chirped in his cage near the full-length, dark brown wall cupboard, above which hung the empty clothes maid, pulled up to the cornice, out of the way.
The baking was done, and the fire still burned in the grate. The old black clock sat ticking in the centre of the mantelpiece, accompanied either side by two very old and cracked porcelain dogs.
Then, Davy was overjoyed with emotion, as there, looking over from the dark green, high-backed armchairs, either side of the old fireplace, sat his father and his favourite uncle, Tommy. They, too, were overjoyed to see Davy. They all hugged. The moment was heightened yet further, as Davy’s dog, Laddie, appeared with wagging tail from beneath the table and proceeded to leap and jump up excitedly, spreading its paws onto Davy’s chest. Davy hugged and fussed Laddie as much as he had ever done.
Surrounded by so much love, Davy chatted excitedly, catching up, as his mother happily served tea. Davy was so very happy that he thought he must surely be dreaming.
Just at that moment, out in the open air, Davy opened his eyes, as if from a dream. “What happened? Was it a dream? How long have we been standing here, Geordie?”
Geordie removed his hand from Davy’s shoulder. “We’ve been here but a moment.”
“Thank you, Geordie. You must be an angel. I don’t know what you did or how you did it, but I’m incredibly pleased you did. To meet my family again has been a blessing. My mother was a big woman, and when she put her precious arms around me, I knew I felt safe; oh, how I missed that!”