Archives for the month of: May, 2012

Since my first post on 10th May when I gave a bit of history about Benwell Towers, ie. originally the Bishops Palace, etc.  I now find that in fact since the BBC pulled out after making the series Byker Grove, which incidentally was the start of a very successful career for Ant and Dec, the building has been taken over by, and turned into an Islamic School.  My sister-in-law told me it has been very quiet since they moved in.  As a teacher, I can’t imagine a school being always quiet.  I never found one on my peripatetic travels.  Are Islamic children quieter than other children from different backgrounds?   It’s hard to get my head round the idea of an Islamic school in Benwell.  I was born and bred there and only left when I got married and I don’t think I saw one coloured person.  I lie, I did, when I went dancing at the Oxford Ballroom in Newcastle city centre where there were coloured men.  Some of them sailors I think whose boat was docked  at Tyneside.  But I never saw coloured families.  How times change and we have become multi-cultural in such a short time.

It’s quite ironic but I worked for a while for the Home Office in a school for ‘girls in need of care and attention’. That was what I was told.  It was one step up from Borstal acually.  They were from all over the country but the great majority were from Brixton and similar areas.  I learned more from them than they did from me I think.  Often they sat crying or were missing from class and when I asked where a certain girl was, which was often, I would get the answer “She’s gone AWOL  Or ‘over the wall’.  It was a sad place in a wonderful building.  More like a castle in beautiful grounds.  When I went for the interview it was during the holidays, very quiet, and I noticed the swimming pool was empty of water.  I thought that it would be great when they filled it up next term.  They never did – thought the girls might try to drown themselves.  It wasn’t unusual to go in in the morning and see a 15 year old sitting outside Mother Superior’s office waiting to be seen, wrists bandaged having tried to commit suicide.  It really was a depressing place and I felt so sorry for the girls.  They looked forward though to a weekly visit from the psychiatrist – not so much for the help he might give them but as they said for the ‘ciggies’ he gave them.  They opened their hearts to me and found it easy to talk to me when they found I was married with children around their age and when I told them to tell Mother Superior what they had just told me and that she may be able to help them they said they could not speak to her as she was a nun and wouldn’t understand.  It was run by nuns and really those girls had seen more life than the nuns ever would – unless they left the order and went out into the world.  The nuns had to sleep in the dorms with the girls so I was sympathizing with them as it’s something I wouldn’t have fancied doing. but then I’m not a bride of Jesus, not even a Catholic – more of an atheist – but when I heard one of them shout down the corridor to one of the girls “My child, you’ll go to hell and damnation via borstal and prison” – well what can I say!  I would have expected something like “My child, may God forgive you as I find it difficult”.  I never felt that school should have existed.  The girls were  ‘locked’ in – except on the occasions when they went AWOL or ‘over the wall’ – it amused me the way they had all the jargon you expect of hardened criminals which they weren’t  – just girls who had gone astray, had bad experiences, et-cetera

Not long after I left I wasn’t surprised to hear the school had closed down and this is where the irony comes in.  It is now a school for rich islamic boys.  Someone I know went to one of their summer garden parties where there were stalls selling the usual things that you get at these do’s.  Apparently boys were buying  things you get on the stalls – cheap bits and pieces, cakes, drinks, etc. and were handing over 10 and 20 pound notes and not bothering to  wait for the change.

What a change – from girls to boys – from poor to rich!  Hope it’s a success time.

It can’t fail if they keep having Garden Parties can it!


New to blogging I find after publishing my first blog I accidentally pressed a button while flapping around finding out what this button and that button meant.  I find I have pressed a button saying I liked my own post.  How vain does that sound!  Well I didn’t think it was at all bad otherwise I wouldn’t have published it.  But I shall tread warily round all the paraphernalia that makes up WordPress and not randomly flit around pressing buttons willy-nilly. I could just blame the computer like Banks, Building Societies and all the other institutions do when things go wrong.  Actually it WAS the computer come to think of it.  (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

This is my first blog.  I was thrilled to stumble by accident on to a posting by ‘telescoper’ about Benwell, Newcastle – under the heading Sad Streets. It was great reading about places I know so well.  I’m older than ‘telescoper’ so feel I can claim to know a bit more about Benwell.  His mention of Mrs Ludgate jogged my memory and I remember her well.  She was in fact a Miss.  She was a very quiet lady with a quiet, soft Scottish accent.  As telescoper said her shop was on the corner of Deleval Road and Whickham View.  When you entered the shop a bell on the wall above the door ‘jingled’ and Miss Ludgate would appear slowly from behind a curtain.  Often she did not have in stock what you wanted.  I rang my brother after reading about Miss Ludgate and he made me laugh.  Probably the only one I’ll have for the rest of this miserable wet Bank Holiday Monday.  Mam had sent him to the shop for some black thread.  “Oooo’h I don’t have black but I do have some white” she told him in her slow quiet voice.  Close?  I think not.  You would hardly want white as a substitute for black.  But that was the kind of shop it was.  On another occasion mam sent him for 2ozs of ‘nigger’ brown wool.  Miss Ludgate would put aside wool you needed for whatever you were knitting and you could buy a small amount at a time as and when you could afford it.  Can you imagine asking for ‘nigger’ brown ANYTHING today.  You would probably be hung, draw and quartered. But, you know, as children we had Gollywogs and we never associated them with black people.  But Gollywogs were eventually banned.  My brother remembers climbing over that high wall on Benwell Lane and recalls a lake – maybe it was a pond.  He was quite small at the time and a pond would seem like a lake to him.  He went with a terror of a friend called Aubrey Bristow. He himself was a bit of a terror so there was a pair of them.  He said they went looking for birds eggs.  Aubrey said the best way to protect them when climbing back over the wall was to carry them in your mouth – which he did.  Unfortunately, when he landed on the ground on the other side of the wall – I hardly need to tell you – he had a mouthful of broken eggs.  He remembers more about ‘over the wall’ than I do.  He spent a lot of time there.  But I remember sneaking past the Lodge through the gates on Benwell Lane with a friend on many occasions.  It was the entrance to Benwell Towers as we called it then.  It was originally the Bishops Palace, then the Fire Brigade took it over, then the Coal Board – now it’s called The Mitre – a club where you can rent it for wedding receptions, etc.  Also the children’s TV programme ‘Byker Grove’ was filmed there.  One of the houses on Rushie Avenue which is on the Pendower Council Estate was also used in the film and was the home of a friend of mine.  My friend and I went there regularly to play.  It was a fascinating place and to us it was another world.  There were gravestones, beautiful lawns with sundials etc, and a wooded area where we played and never saw a soul.  We pretended to be Tarzan and his mate.  Simple pleasures and happy days – no television.

I don’t know what happened to Miss Ludgate!  I suppose she just retired or passed away – who knows!  That was when telescoper’s father took over the premises.  Prior to that he had a shop that had been a cake shop.  I remember it well.  It was Denton’s Bakery.  The only thing mam occasionally got from Denton’s was an Edinburgh Maltloaf.  But I used to shop for a neighbour when I was at school.  I should mention here that I lived at No 66 Denton Gardens – one of the Sad Streets mentioned in telescoper’s article.  They were respectable working class streets then where women washed their doorsteps and drew a line with a lump of some kind of chalk along the edge (I never worked out why – it was just a bit of artistic embellishment I suppose), polished their door knockers and made sure their window ‘nets’ were clean.  They weren’t at all sad then.  Except on one occasion when a man who lived in the street was killed in a pit accident and he was brought home on a stretcher.  Everyone closed their curtains as a mark of respect.  People did that then if any one in their street died,  But I digress.  Back to Mrs Makepeace who lived at No 84.  I did her shopping every Saturday morning.  She used to send me to Denton’s for a 9d trifle.  O’h how I wished mam would get one.  But she never did – said she had more to do with 9d than buy trifles.  While I carried that trifle home I would gently press the bag it was wrapped in onto the cream then wipe the cream off the bag with my finger.  Why didn’t I just wipe a wee bit off the trifle – was I aware of hygiene – I think not. I was just being subtle or maybe sly and found it irresistible.  It wasn’t real cream at that time but I never knew the difference.  I had a conscience because by pulse would quicken when I handed over the trifle. Next to Denton’s was the greengrocers – Jean’s. I never knew it by any other name.  During WW2 neighbours would knock on oneanothers doors and say “Jean’s got oranges” and people would rush up and queue, sometimes for just 1 orange.  I don’t remember bananas at that time.  I used to go in and ask if Jean had any bruised apples for a penny – never mind if they were cookers or eaters.  We cut off the bruises and any rotten pieces and down they went – then other kids would ask you to give them your core when you were finished.  We, my bother, sister and I would do the same.  Stand enviously waiting for someone to give you their apple core. On the opposite corner to Jean’s was a small sweet shop and I remember an empty ice cream freezer with the lid raised and I was just tall enough to peer over the top.  I swore I could smell ice cream – but of course I couldn’t – just the memory.  It was always empty. Sweets were rationed then but we never used our full allocation – maybe that’s how we’ve saved our teeth. But as I got older I used to sell a quarter pound sweet coupon for 6d to a girl who always had money.  A bit of a wheeler-dealer you could say – always thinking of ways to make money.  This girl kept house for her father, as her mother was dead, and the rest of the family although she was only my age, perhaps about 10, and I would buy a quarter of sweets with the 6d to share between me, Helen and Billy.  Next to the sweet shop was the chemist, then a larger shop which was the Coop, then the barber shop (my brother went there for a haircut and when he got home my mam would send him back saying “go back and tell him to take a bit more off”- that happened every time. The more the barber took off the less often he would have to go and so money was saved.  I think that was the reason – it certainly wasn’t anything to do with aesthetics.)  The next shop was another greengrocers – the Fat Man’s.  It was on the corner of Benwell Lane and Deleval Road.  As I remember, he wasn’t all that fat, but he had a very round, ruddy, purplish face and big fat ear lobes so he was always referred to as the Fat Man. Next door to him was a small dark shop on Deleval Road which sold bits and pieces among which was peanut butter.  You could buy a small dollop of peanut butter on a piece of paper for a penny.  Then there was Jack’s the fish and chip shop which was very popular.  We used to get a packet of chips and ask if we could have some batter. Jack would shovel batter on our chips and we loved it.  Real tasty, unhealthy food.  But that was when we were older and hungry after having been to the cinema or the local dance – the Pendower Hut as it was called.  More of a ‘Hop’ really.  But crowds would gather there on Saturday nights and stand outside eating chips, whatever the weather, talking and laughing and generally carrying on.  But I never remember any trouble or vandalism.  That all went on down at the Tan Yards, wherever they were.  We just heard of the Tanyarders, who were reputedly a tough, dangerous lot whose territory you never ventured into. We never went down there, met any, heard anything about them and now I’m wondering did they really exist, a bit like the man on the moon.  Jack’s was directly opposite Weddle’s Dairy next to Miss Ludgate’s, on Deleval Road.  I remember one occasion, of many, when gran was at our house and mam sent me round for fish and chips.  When you turned left out of the shop then left again it took you along the back of the shops I mentioned on Benwell Lane then a right turn into Denton Gardens. We called all that shopping area the Block.  That’s what I did that evening and as I passed along the back of the Coop the large doors to the place where the big dray horses were housed was open.  I was terrified of those horses and in my haste to get past I dropped the fish and chips right outside the open doors.  I didn’t know that, of course, they were tethered and could not get out.  I scooped up the fish and chips and never said a word to mam and gran.  Not until years later when we laughed about it.  They thoroughly enjoyed their fish and chip supper as usual. So I’ve taken a journey on paper around the Block where mam and all the others in those now demolished streets did most of their shopping in those now demolished shops.