Memories 4

Memories 4

More memories - of bonfire night, some pastimes of the late 1940s and 1050s, comics and schooldays.


In October material was collected for the bonfire on Guy Fawkes or 'bonfire night'. This could be bits of trees dragged from the local fields or old pieces of furniture, wood, linoleum or any other combustible material. Kids went around the doors near the big day 'guising' which meant blacking up with soot scraped from the fireplace and maybe some old clothes or a mask and a knock on the door with the request 'Penny for the Guy'. This custom, of guising, seems to have been replaced by Halloween, an American idea. The money collected went on fireworks which were then easier to obtain, and more dangerous than now. Bonfire sites were located variously on the marble square, on waste ground near the Three Tuns, near Valley Drive and in Colbeck Avenue next to the Methodist Church before two new houses were built on the land. Coalway Lane (the Coaly Wells) was another site and probably the only one still used in recent years. The bonfire would be protected from raids from other groups trying to pinch material for their own bonfire, and when the great day came fireworks would be set off from morning to night, especially bangers, sparklers and London Lights, although most were saved for when it got dark and the bonfires lit and potatoes roasted, or burnt, round the fire. Catherine wheels could be pinned to telegraph poles and so spin round when set off, while rockets were launched from empty milk bottles. With today's emphasis on safety it seems the kids don't have so much fun now, although there were of course, many injuries from fireworks and bonfires. An old 'fifties Standard box of fireworks is pictured below right.

Click here for contents of the fireworks box. Other makes were Brock's, Pains and Wilder's

Another pastime in the colder months was the construction of winter warmers. These were empty Ostermilk tins with lots of little holes punched in them to admit air and then filled with sticks and paper and tarry toot (old bits of linoleum). A wire handle completed the job and by lighting the paper and getting a fire going in the tin and swinging it around your head on the wire the fire would really get going and sparks would fly from the holes in a spectacular pyrotechnic display.

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Although cigarette cards had largely ceased after the war, some brands, notably Turf, still issued them in the late 'forties and 'fifties with 16 different series appearing. The series depicted were; British aircraft, fish, railway locomotives, celebrities of British history, British films, cricketers, dog breeds, film stars, footballers, film favourites, film stars 2, footballers 2, Olympics 1948, radio celebrities, sports and zoo animals. They were not, strictly speaking, cigarette cards as they were printed on the slip/slider inside the packet rather than on a separate card, and had no descriptive text on the back like the pre-war cards. However, they were collected by many boys and so, for a time were the cigarette packets themselves when after the war manufacturers issued few cigarette cards and so the packets may have been a kind of substitute. There were many more brands of cigarettes then than there are now and boys would cut off the front of the packets showing the brand name and save and swop them. Apart from the more well known brands like Craven A, Gold Flake, Woodbines, Piccadilly, Kensitas, Players and Senior Service, there were the lesser known brands too, some of which are shown in the collections illustrated below. Note the local ones from John Sinclair of Newcastle, with the picture of the Castle Keep, and from T E Ward of Sunderland. In 1954 a packet of 20 Waverley Straight Cut cigarettes cost 3 shillings and 7 pence (about 18p). Cigarettes on Tyneside are called tabs (from the old brand called 'Ogden's Tabs') and cigarette ends are dumpers. (Apple cores are gowks and sweets are bullets. You can still buy Black Bullets, a kind of mint). 'Candy tabs' were sweet cigarettes sold to children, usually issued in packets resembling real cigarette packets. The ends were coloured red to represent the glow of a lighted cigarette.

Click here for pictures of Turf cigarette cards from 1950.

Pictures of cigarette packets showing various brands from the early post-war period. Twenty packets, ten packets and some five packets are shown together with some American brands available in the UK.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 |

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Comics were very popular and most children growing up after the war would see at least The Dandy and The Beano every week with stalwart characters such as Desperate Dan, Ego the Ostrich, Lord Snooty and his Pals, Keyhole Kate, Hungry Horace, The Strongarm School Marm, Black Bob, Jimmy and his Magic Patch and many more. Other comics were; Lion (Captain Condor), The Eagle (Dan Dare-Pilot of the Future, Harris Tweed), and Girl (Lettice Leaf), Radio Fun (Derek Roy, Arthur Askey, Ted Ray, Tommy Handley), Film Fun (Laurel and Hardy, Red Skelton, Frank Randall, Martin and Lewis, Old Mother Riley and Abbott and Costello), The Knockout (Ernie Entwistle, Stoneage Kit) and Rainbow for younger kids. The Adventure, Hotspur, Rover and Wizard were boys' weeklies with a mixture of stories and cartoon strips. 'Jack Flash the Flying Boy' who had wings on his heels enabling him to fly, and the incredible athlete, Wilson, who broke every sports record in the book at one time or another, and who remembers 'I Flew With Braddock', an RAF adventure story. The front page often featured several football club badges, Army regiments, British customs or something similar. There was also The Sun and The Comet but these two did not last long. The Beezer came along later in the 'fifties while the The Daily Express also had a comic in the early 'fifties, Express Weekly. There would often be free gifts given away with the comics, sometimes a booklet with racing cars, aircraft, space travel and the like or a small toy.

There were also American comics which cost sixpence as opposed to the twopence or threepence for British ones, and titles were Superman, Batman, Buck Rogers, Nyoka-Jungle Girl, Kit Carson, Lash La Rue and The Lone Ranger among others. There were a whole family of Marvels comics, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, and Mary Marvel who sometimes appeared together as The Marvel Family. Captain Marvel featured a villain, who had killed Captain Marvel's parents, called Doctor Sivana (but Doctor Sivana Junior in the Captain Marvel Junior comics). When Billy Batson (a junior reporter) changed into Captain Marvel he did so by saying the word SHAZAM, while Freddy Freeman, a crippled paperboy, became Captain Marvel Junior by saying 'Captain Marvel'. Mary Marvel was Billy Batson's sister. There was another series of American comics called Classics Illustrated which told various classics (Oliver Twist, Black Beauty, Treasure Island, etc.) in comic strips. Another short-lived US import were the horror comics, but after a campaign in the press these were banned in the mid-fifties. Tales From The Crypt and The Heep were two titles I remember. There were several sixpenny British comics often with stories about the war. Finally, The Sunday Post newspaper from Scotland featured The Broons and Oor Wullie cartoon strips every week in the Fun Section of the paper. Many of these comics came out as annuals at Christmas. Comics, once read, would be swopped and so had many readers. Older children might have graduated from comics to the magazines about films such as Picturegoer and Picture Show, or to sports magazines like Football Monthly.

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At the old infants school just after the war a game played by the kids was called coach and horses. Two children would start off the game by linking arms across their backs and wandering around the playground shouting 'who wants a game of coach and horses?' As other children joined in, a line of 6 or 7 kids would run around the playground at full pelt with arms linked crashing into children who didn't get out of the way fast enough. Kids would also pretend to be an aeroplane and 'fly' around the playground solo, coming in to refuel at the school gate by having the gate hook inserted behind their collar. The position of hook operator was a coveted job. Miss Bergstrand was the Infants School Headmistress and classrooms had small blackboards around the walls where children would write their lessons. There was also a music class and among the instruments were drums, castanets and worst of all if you got one, triangles. The senior school would sometimes put on a show at the old Methodist Chapel in Napier Road and performers would sometimes have to wait outside in the back lane waiting their turn to go on. The top picture shows a staff photo from the early 'sixties and the bottom picture a school group from 1923 .


Mr Crozier was a tough headmaster, succeeding Mr Davison 50 years ago,about 1947, and a bit of a martinet. There would be periodic crackdowns on lateness, non-attendance, untidiness, etc., and woe betide you (to use a phrase popular with Mr Brogan, another teacher), if you infringed his rules. Mr Collins was another man who would stand for no nonsense and was not to be trifled with, though kids who did suffered the consequences, (the cane frequently used for law enforcement in those 'unenlightened' days). Miss (or Mrs?) Collins (no relation) would sometimes bring a relative, perhaps her son, or was it nephew, called Harvey Collins who would misbehave in front of the class to the amusement of the pupils. There was also a Mrs Saul who lived in Market Lane just opposite the school (was she ever late?). She would always give you a shilling if you went round to her house guising near Guy Fawkes night or when carol singing at Christmas.

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Mr Tommy Swindle taught history, among other subjects, and was quite entertaining and interesting. He sometimes read the class the Professor Branestawm stories or some of the old Greek Mythology, Perseus or Jason and the Argonauts. I remember him telling the class the story of the Battle Of Hastings with King Harold the hero and Earl Tostig the villain. Mr Brogan (already mentioned), was ex RAF and eventually became headmaster. Mr Richardson, Mr Smith, Mr Telford, the woodwork teacher, Miss Ina Harrison, Miss Margaret Bruce and Miss Hilda Forster were other stalwarts of the school. Sadly, only the latter survives (2004). A few of the teachers even had cars. If you were chosen as car monitor you got to go out into the schoolyard and fetch things from the teacher's car. Or you could be an ink monitor and you had to fill all the inkwells form a big bottle (no ballpoints at school in those days). Mr Balmer was the school board man or school attendance officer, and Mr Hind the caretaker, who and a bucket of sand to mop up when any pupils were sick.

Swalwell Infant School - Head Teachers

  • 1875 - 1883   Miss Alice Liptrot
  • 1883 - 1883   Miss Jane Elizabeth Coates
  • 1884 - 1899   Miss Annie Bell
  • 1889 - 1903   Miss Lizzie Pugmire
  • 1904 - 1934   Miss Annie Fish
  • 1934 - 1949   Miss Pleasance Bergstrand
  • 1949 - 1952   Miss Nancy Hall
  • 1952 - 1961   Miss Mona Kelly
  • 1963 - 1967   Mrs Olive Hodgson
  • 1967 - 1981   Miss Brenda Batey
  • 1982 - 1985   Miss Anne P. Matthews
  • 1985 - 1987   Mrs Margaret S. Brophy

Swalwell Mixed School - Head Teachers

  • 1875 - 1913   Mr W. Speers
  • 1914 - 1925   Mr G. Sutcliffe
  • 1925 - 1947   Mr H. A. Davidson
  • 1947 - 1962   Mr M. Percy Crozier
  • 1963 - 1964   Mr R. H. Richardson, acting Head
  • 1964 - 1976   Mr J. Robinson
  • 1976 - 1983   Mr J. Brogan
  • 1984 - 1984   Mrs E. Atkinson
  • 1984 - 1985   Mr D. Ridley, acting Head
  • 1985 - closure   Miss A. P. Mathews

Click here for a plan of the school.

There was a cloakroom with washbasins for the use of the pupils and a Staff Room and Headmaster's Room at the top of the first flight of stairs. The Headmaster had a secretary. Toilets were out in the yard and pretty basic. There were coal fires and gas lighting although electric lighting was installed in about 1947. There was a board with the names of past headmasters inscribed on it which was on the wall of the main hall and this is now in the new Swalwell school.

In winter, slides were made on the sloping entrance to the 'big school ' yard near the caretakers house and it required some skill to stay upright. Another pastime during playtime (the school break) was trying to make your way around the stone walls of the school building simply by holding onto the stones by your fingertips, your feet resting on the angled ledge below. This was not too difficult in places as the sandstone was considerably eroded by the weather over the years giving a good grip. Some kids could go a long way around without falling off but they were the exceptions.

A short lived feature of school life were the films shown in the main hall every Tuesday evening, around 1950. For sixpence you could watch such films as Blockheads with Laurel and Hardy, and I remember an Errol Flynn picture, John Halifax, Gentleman. These shows did not continue for long, perhaps there was opposition from local cinemas? I remember one film being taken off during the second reel as it was a horror film and considered unsuitable for the children.

Picking blackberries was popular in the autumn (though the so-called blackberry week holiday was too late for blackberries), and they could be picked up the Loan, the lane going west at Millers bridge past the farm, were there were numerous hedgerows. Lockhaugh near Rowlands Gill was another good place. Kids also collected bird's eggs, blowing out the insides and keeping the shells, or amused themselves by sticking on billy stampers, transfers you bought and then wetted and stuck onto the back of your hand to resemble a tattoo, see picture, or by train spotting and/or copying down the numbers of cars and lorries. A variation on this was to spot a vehicle with the sole number of 1 in its registration, which in those days consisted of 3 letters and 3 numbers, then another vehicle with the number 2, then one with 3 and so on, in order. You usually gave up when you eventually got stuck on a number for weeks. British Oxygen lorries were excellent for this game as they had a fleet which sported the early numbers from 1 onwards to get to get you off to a good start. Making airfix aircraft and car models was also popular in the fifties, the Model Shop in Newcastle being a good place to buy them. What the girls did I can't quite remember, apart from skipping, bays and joining in some of the games with boys.
There was not much contact with other local schools apart from the school football team playing them in the same league. When you were about eleven years old you took the 11 plus exam and if you passed you went to Blaydon Grammar School or sometimes to Hookergate Grammar School near High Spen. The grammar school was often referred to as 'The Tech and was eventually demolished in the 1990's after being known as Blaydon Comphrehensive for many years.

Click here for school slideshow

School Commemorative Booklet

A booklet was produced to commemorate the school when it finally closed in 1987 and was on sale with other items at the Open Day held in the school on July 17th of that year.

Click here for School Centenary Book (PDF file). Takes a minute to load, please be patient.

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read this PDF file. If you do not already have Acrobat Reader you can download it free by clicking on the icon.


In the early 1950s Sundays in Swalwell, as elsewhere, were a mixed blessing. You were off work (or school) but there was little to do, especially in winter. The shops were all closed of course, apart from a handful of corner shops which were, nevertheless, restricted in what they could sell on a Sunday. Cinemas opened in the evenings, but generally only showed old films, not the current releases, and pubs were open from 12 until 2pm, then again from 7pm until 10.30pm. The typical Sunday, if you weren't unlucky enough to be working, was; a lie in, a visit to pub or club, home for the Sunday dinner, usually a roast, then in the afternoon, listen to the radio, or maybe visit relatives, read the Sunday papers, (they sold in vast quantities in those days), and then after tea, perhaps a walk or another trip to the pub, cinema or just stay in and listen to the radio.

No such luck for the woman of the house though, she had the dinner to cook and the kids to look after while Dad was out for his midday pint, and then the washing-up to do. But afterwards she might join her husband in a trip out, unless of course you had company, visiting relations, when there would be tea for several more to prepare. Few had cars, so summer runs out were not an option, but you could get an electric train down to the coast, Whitley Bay, Tynemouth or South Shields. Some people went to a church service in the morning, or more likely, evening, and there were sometimes sick relatives to visit in hospital. Sunday was a day of leisure but with few leisure activities available. How different it is nowadays!

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These are some pictures of various scenes in Swalwell.

A picture of some of Swalwell's older residents from the 1950s. The seat appears to be at the Town Gate, near the Keelman's Bridge.

P C Lilley from the previous photograph is seen in his younger days on duty in Front Street, probably between the wars. The monument is in the background and there is no traffic whatsoever.

Two children sit at the top of Jubilee Terrace with their dog.

The Swalwell Rapper Sword Dancers. Type in sallyport swalwell when YouTube opens and see a Swalwell sword dance performed.

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