Memories 3

Memories 3

This page is devoted to some more memories of Swalwell, both old and new, including some reminiscences of Swalwell in the period after the Second World War up to the 1960's. There is also a daily quote from a film, changed irregularly, and anything else that I feel like adding.


Until the sixties there was a council rubbish tip on land adjoining the Crowley pub. It is now the site of the BMX track whose entrance it was. The old refuse or bin wagons used to come around every week before the days of wheelie bins, and the dustbin men would lift the metal bins, made heavy with the daily ashes from the grates of all the coal fires, onto their shoulders emptying them into the wagon through a hatch which had a sliding top. On snowy or icy days the householders would scatter the ashes onto the pavement to give a good foothold, After a period of snow which had turned to ice on the pavements, council workmen would break up the ice with shovels and throw it into lorries to be taken away. 1947 was an exceptionaly severe winter and roads and railways suffered serious disruption, leading to a power crisis, made worse because Britain was still recovering from the war. In Swalwell householders cut paths in the snow so that they could walk down their street and the snow was piled high in drifts alongside the road going up to the cemetery and the Crowley.

Kids would often make snowmen with lumps of coal for eyes and mouth and create giant snowballs by rolling an ordinary size snowball downhill in the snow until it got bigger and bigger. Snowball fights were common, especially in the mornings while waiting for school to start, and when the overnight fall was still fresh. Sledging took place down Coalway Lane, then an unsurfaced path, and known as The Bankies, and which gave a nice long run down to the bottom at Clavering Road. Other streets were used too, Grosvenor Avenue up the Greenfields being one. Lying face down on the sledge and steering with your feet was known as going belly-flappers. With all the dirt of industry, smokey chimneys, steam locomotives etc. the snow did not stay pure and white for long. The picture shows Colbeck Avenue in the snow in the 1960's


There were two farms, East Farm (Clark's) and Mill Farm or North Farm (Oxley's), Some of the fields around Swalwell were farmed and animals were often grazed on the fields to the south and east of the village, also in the fields above the railway line. Potato pickers were sometimes employed in October, especially in the field now occupied by Beverley Drive and Oaklands. Cows were often seen in the field which was entered between Coalway Lane and Colbeck Avenue and were taken to and from the field each day. In the same field (Italian?) prisoners of war worked during the war.

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After the war bus services to Swalwell were operated by Northern and Venture,(tickets illustrated), the latter's distinctive yellow buses running from Marlborough Crescent in Newcastle, to Consett via Scotswood Road and Swalwell Bridge. Northern ran the number 9 service (Newcastle to Blaydon), 9A (Newcastle to Whickham via Swalwell Estate, i.e. Milton Road and North View), 11 (Newcastle to Consett via Dunston, see picture, right) and 89 (Gateshead Wellington Street to Blaydon).

When this last service commenced in the early 'fifties it was the only one to use double-decker buses through Swalwell and it was reported in the Evening Chronicle that some boys had spent several shillings just travelling back and forth on the first day, upstairs of course. The fare to Blaydon in about 1952 was 5d (about 2p) return and in 1968 one and twopence (about 6p) to Newcastle.

The routes and numbers have changed over the years and most services are currently operated by the Go North Eastern company. There is also a service to Hexham No 602 operated by Arriva and various mini bus services, mostly to the Metro Centre. Also the 639 which goes from Ryton to Sunderland via a very indirect route indeed taking about 2 hours. It is recommended if you have time to spare and want to see Blaydon, Winlaton, Swalwell, Whickham, Lobley Hill, Bensham, Low Fell, Wrekenton, Springwell, numerous obscure corners of Washington New Town, Fencehouses, Penshaw, Hylton and, of course, Sunderland.

Dale Coaches and then Frasers used to operate a bus service over the first part of this route from Ryton to Whickham via Winlaton and Swalwell which ran up Whickham Bank. You could sit right at the front opposite the driver on wooden slatted seats and the Bedford engines made a great sound as they slowly climbed the steep hill (1 in 6) up to Whickham. Finally there was Derwent Coaches (private hire) and Thirlwell's established 1919, and which still operates from a former Axwell colliery building.

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Click on the pictures for bus timetables for summer 1968


Some things about Swalwell you may not know.
  • There were wells -giving Swalwell its name - at Coalway Lane, hence Coaly Wells; High Well at the foot of Beggar's Bank, (maybe the well used by the brewery); the Spout Well; the Hungry well, near Waterside; Maggy's well near Spencer's Bank; and Hodgson's Well near where the station platforms were built.
  • Before Masefield Avenue was built there were allotments on the site between there and Coalway Lane, A few allotments remained opposite there until the 1990's and there were some more opposite Millers Lane until the 1960's when the area was landscaped.
  • There was an air raid shelter on the land next to the caretaker's house opposite the the doctor's surgery. The Blaydon bus stop was here too, before moving 20 yards east, in 1950 and another 20 yards east in 1968 to its present position, and the Newcastle one was at the top of Miller's Lane.
  • Behind the Ebenezer Chapel were the Co-op stables.
  • The houses in Brinkburn Avenue, Derwent Crescent and Mount View were called 'the concretes'.
  • The village buses were once run by a Mr Folds who also drove a horse and cart selling vinegar and lamp oil. Other characters included Andy Best, a one-legged violinist, and Jimmy Foster who sold firewood from a horse and cart and kept pigs under the railway arches. His horse, Prince, used to gallop around the streets and would appear without warning forcing people to jump into shop doorways for safety.
  • Angus Smith the 'stick man' used to come around Swalwell selling firewood and he died in 1964. George Ruddock was the 'egg man' and came around with a wicker basket selling eggs, until his eyesight deteriorated and he was unable to continue.
  • Sammy Arnett was a familiar figure in the village and lived in Masefield Avenue. Those who knew him will have their own memories.
  • There were once advertising hoardings on the wall next to the Keelman's Bridge, and a hoarding on the railway bridge wall on Hexham Road always had a large bill advertising the current programme at the Empire Theatre in Newcastle. This bridge was known as the Black Bridge.
  • Market Lane and Hexham Road were part of the road linking the area's two biggest markets, Newcastle and Hexham.
  • Next to the bottom of Quality Row the houses were known as the Streets.
  • Along the east side of Millers Lane there was a four foot ditch with a small stream running down which was replaced with underground pipes by the council.
  • Coaly Wells runs from Whickham to Swalwell and a well once existed at the Whickham end. A stream ran down the east side of the lane, running in a deep gully, and Coalway Lane itself was just a rough track, not the well surfaced footpath it is now. This stream continued under Market Lane and the part that ran alongside Millers Lane was visible until the 1970s (see above) until it was put underground in a pipe.

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Because this last part of the page is about cinemas and because films are one of my interests I have added a daily film quote. A screenwriter often puts in his screenplay a piece of dialogue or action which is memorable or quite clever or which sticks in the mind; so, for every day of the week a different quote will appear that might be either famous or completely unknown, but which I at least, find interesting. These will be changed from time to time.

Here is today's film quote
The Cosy was a tiny upstairs cinema tucked away up a back lane (on the west side of Spencer's Bank) just past the Co-op buildings and near Arthur Kimber's newsagent's shop. Opened in 1908 as a hall it was converted into a cinema two years later and catered for about 200 patrons. Starting life as an assembly hall it was the Central, then the Bijou and finally The Cosy. The cinema was triangular with the screen at the base and the projector at the apex, behind a partition. There was gas lighting and it seated less than 200 persons on wooden seats and in a far from Odeon - like atmosphere. Poor ventilation and the absence of any natural light led to its closure in 1957 after a police inspection resulted in magistrates refusing to renew the licence on safety grounds. It was demolished on 29 October 1971.

Mrs Doris Mitcheson, born in 1905, remembered the Cosy about 88 years later. "The Cosy was there as long as I can remember and I went there from the age of about seven or eight years. It was on Spencer's bank, a short cobbled road leading up from Market Lane and stretched over several shops on the west side of the street. There was a fruit shop, Faldon's, also on Spencer's Bank. Then on Market Lane was Butcher Brown's, Kimber's, a paper shop selling sweets, cigarettes, tobacco, stationery and all sorts of oddments, like fishing nets for catching baggies, tops and whips etc., and up the alley on Spencer's bank was Davey's fish shop, while The Co-op , Spencer's House, lay opposite, with Butcher Brown's killing shop behind. Watson's kept the Cosy until about the 1920's or 1930's. Then Nichalls (foreigners from Scotswood), then it was taken over by the Whitfields. Hockey Watson, the owner*, acted as projectionist. He was helped by his two daughters and his son who was also called Hockey. One daughter, Bella**, had a voice like a foghorn and kept the kids in order. Like most of the other children, not to mention the adults, I went to the pictures once or twice a week, almost always including the Monday Matinee, which was at 4.30. I used to meet my father on The Hopping Field coming home from work. (He was a moulder at Archer's foundry in Dunston. His father (my grandfather) was Foreman there and when they were short of work he always sacked his own sons first. (That was why he later became Licensee of The Old Crowley). I would tell father what was on and that I had no money. He always had enough coppers in his pocket to give me the entrance money, 2d or 3d, and a penny extra for dates, which I would buy at Faldon's fruit shop, to eat during the show."

"When you went to the Cosy door you had to go up stone stairs, and paid at a cubby hole at the top. It was very bare inside with rows of wooden seats, the kind that were joined together in sets of about seven or eight. They made an awful racket on the bare floor when people sat down. The seats were all on one side of the hall, right close up to the wall on one side, with an aisle along the opposite wall. The bairns all sat at the front."

"The best seats at the back cost a little more. Uncle Jonty and Grampy Gillender always sat at the back and went to every change of picture. Hockey would come from behind the partition where the projector was, to talk to the men at the back At the front was a stage with a a screen and a piano in the corner beside it. Young Alex Hockey*** played the piano and he didn't half rattle it."

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"The hall was lit by gas lamps on the walls. They would be turned down when the first picture began. The programme changed twice a week and we would look at the poster on the door to see what was on. There were usually three pictures, first a comedy (Charlie Chaplin, The Keystone Kops, and Fattie Arbuckle among them). Then a serial like The Peril's of Pauline with Grace Cunard. And finally a drama."

"There was an interval between the serial and the Big Picture, when Bella** and her sister would come around with a bogey selling ice-cream and bottled pop. (No glasses). Sometimes the projector would break down but there would be no big fuss, the kids would talk and carry on until Bella**, a rough and ready character, yelled at them and threatened to 'put them out'. At the end of the show a short piece of The National Anthem would be played while some people edged towards the exit. We went out down an outside staircase at the opposite side from where we went in. The stairs went down to a little landing then turned and you came down the alley between Kimbers and The Seven Stars Hotel, near to Market Lane."

I would go to the pictures on my own, or with my friend Norah Norvell, whose grandmother kept The Seven Stars, or with my brother Bill. Everybody went to The Cosy. It was a canny little place and a regular meeting place for the village. At Christmas they always had a barrel of apples and oranges, and all the kids were given one of each. They were given out to the kids by old Mr Kimber.

"The Cosy was open every evening except Sundays and there were matinees on Mondays at 4.30 and Saturdays at 2.30. The Cosy Picture Hall probably closed down in the late 1940's." (Actually in 1957)."

"The hall became the Cosy in 1926, three years after being taken over by James Ritson of North Shields and was managed by a Mrs Nichols in 1929 and from 1939 until closure, by Louisa Wright. It was a dance hall for a few months and eventually demolished with other buildings, including Kimbers shop and The Seven Stars at the time the Western By-Pass was built."

It has been pointed out that:
*Hockey Watson was the Manager, the owners were Michael's from Scotswood.
**The daughter was called Bertha, not Bella.
***A friend of one of Hockey's daughters called Tella Todd played the piano.

Other Local Cinemas Most Swalwell filmgoers, however, patronised the cinemas in nearby Blaydon after the war, and so I record here a brief note about them.
The Empire
In Church Street (opened 1910, closed 1954) was the oldest of the three cinemas. It had Saturday afternoon matinees for children in the 1950's (prices were 4d, 5d and 6d; doors open 1.30 PM and commenced at 2.0 PM) and could be quite rowdy, but a formidable usherette kept order by flashing her torch on offenders and shouting 'I'll put ye out mind ' in a high pitched voice. There is now no trace of the building. In 1948 admission for adults was one shilling, children 6d, in the circle; in the stalls 9d and 5d respectively; while in the pit stalls it was 6d and 4d. The programme changed mid -week and there was a Sunday show.

The Pavilion
click here for a picture. the Pavilion in Shibdon Road (opened 1910, closed 1964) was smaller and had no circle. The site is now occupied by old people's housing.

The Plaza
Click here for a picture. The Plaza (opened 1936, closed 1968, demolished 2005) was a much grander cinema than the others. Saturday (morning) matinees were again a feature and usually consisted of a serial, say Flash Gordon, a cartoon, maybe Bugs Bunny, or a Joe McDoakes, Three Stooges (pronounced Three Stoogies by the kids) or a Bowery Boys short. Then came the 'big' picture (which might be a Hopalong Cassidy or a Johnny 'Mack' Brown western or maybe an Old Mother Riley picture. Matinee admission in 1948 was 6d but by the early 1950's had increased to 9d (about 4p). Like the other cinemas, evening performances had one programme showing on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, then a new programme Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Old films were usually shown on a Sunday. There were two houses commencing at 6 PM and 8.10 PM on Saturday and holidays, otherwise the programme was continuous from 6 PM, except Sunday when it began at 7 PM. Prices in the mid fifties were, Stalls one shilling (5p) and Circle one and sixpence (8p). The manager always wore evening dress and the usherettes wore a maroon uniform. The Plaza had its own sweet and tobacco shop at the front. A major fire in 1953 closed the Plaza for over a year. The building was demolished in 2005. A typical programme at a Blaydon cinema might have been, first a cartoon or short film, then the news, Gaumont-British, with signature tune March of the Movies (or was it British Movietone), at the Plaza and Pathe News, with its famous crowing cockerel introduction, at the Pavilion, then trailers for the following weeks' films, then the 'big' picture. The newsreels were the only chance to see moving pictures of current events and brief coverage of political, sporting, social events, royalty and disasters was the staple diet with 'Geoffrey Sumner reporting ' (or usually Leslie Mitchell in the case of British Movietone News, EVH Emmett for Gaumont British and Bob Danvers-Walker for Pathe) on the soundtrack. Sometimes there was a 'little 'picture as well, that is a shorter film, often cut to keep the programme to a reasonable length. Sample programmes are shown below. The big town cinemas usually had both big and little pictures or sometimes a double bill consisting of two big pictures.

Click here for Blaydon cinema programmes for week commencing 31 October 1948 and Click here for programmes for week commencing 18 June 1950. The Pavilion did not advertise in the newspaper. (The Blaydon Courier)
Advertisements were shown at the start of each programme, some of these were stills advertising local businesses like cafes or hairdressers. 'Meet your friends at Betty's' (a cafe in Scotswood Road), was one which was often shown at the Pavilion, an orange soft drink, 'No-ra!, Kia-ora!' was another. A visit to the Pavilion meant getting off the bus at James Street and on the way you'd maybe buy some sweets at the shop you passed on the way - Spangles, Rowntrees Fruit Gums or Trebor Mints were my own favourites. At the Plaza's children's matinees you could get an Eldorado ice cream for threepence - whatever happened to them? On the way back for the bus from Wesley Square you could buy more sweets at Shanley's if you had any money left.

Click on the pictures for Albert cinema (Dunston) programmes from 1954
Whickham had a small cinema, the Regal in Church Chare, and there were two cinemas at nearby Dunston, The Imperial and The Albert, both in Ravensworth Road. Typical programmes for the Albert dating from 1954 are shown above as an example of cinema programming of the time. The Albert was demolished in 1968. A Mr Stephenson was manager - he was also an amateur ventriloquist. The dummy eventually turned professional and the act split up.

Some facts, dates etc. are taken from 'Cinemas of Gateshead' by Frank Manders, published by Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council.
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