Memories of a childhood in Wheatley Hill (1944 -1959)


Who am I?


My name was Lucy Chaffer, daughter of Stan and Susie Chaffer.   I was born in December 1939 at Pesspool Hall Farm, Haswell, home of my maternal grandparents, Jack and Sanna Clark.    My paternal grandparents, George and Jenny Chaffer farmed at Fleming Field Farm, Shotton.     My father was exempt from active war service on two counts - he had a weak heart and he was in farming, which was a reserved occupation.  When I was quite young, he set up as a farming contractor, ploughing etc. by tractor for farmers who had little other help.  My parents and I moved to Wheatley Hill when I was four.  We moved into 25 Granville Terrace which was a two bedroomed house wedged between Fletcher’s butchers shop and the barbers and right on a bus stop.

My brothers, Peter and Philip, were born in Wheatley Hill in 1951 and 1954 respectively.


Wheatley Hill schooldays 1944-1951


I started school at Wheatley Hill Infants School in September 1944, being 5 that December.     Miss Bellinger was the headmistress (she later became an education advisor for Durham County).   My first teacher was an elderly lady (or so it seemed) whose daughter, Mrs. Charlton taught the top class infants.  Her name might have been Mrs. Saunders - there definitely was a Miss Snowdon.    Then there was Miss Lee (Peter Lee’s granddaughter, Miss Young (who disappeared one day and was later found dead near a school in York, having committed suicide after a breakdown), Miss Grieves with a glorious mane of red hair (her father was cemetery keeper at Trimdon) Miss Ferry and Mrs. Atkinson who lived in the house behind her husband’s butcher’s shop in Front Street.

Me in infants school


Memories of the Infants in wartime include Christmas Parties funded by jumble sales (my mother bought an orange taffeta dress at one to make me a party dress) and taking two ounces of sugar and two ounces of margarine wrapped in greaseproof paper which was deposited in a cardboard box in the hall and then distributed to mothers to bake for the party, a visit from Mr. Charlton in full uniform to take about his exploits as Captain on a ship at war, making papier mache dishes, a Nativity Play in which I was Mary and an older boy called Durant (David ?) was Joseph, being chosen to be Rapunzel in a play and getting Scarlet Fever so the part was taken over by Leonora Middleton much to my sorrow, Charlie Churlish falling from the roof of the toilet block - across the yard of course - and breaking a leg so there was the excitement of the ambulance coming, Tommy Dawes trapping his fingers in the heavy metal gate leading onto the back of Church Street and losing some fingers and Sydney Saxby who started school the same day as me but in a push chair (which was stored in Mrs. Shevels’ cupboard) because he had a broken leg, lessons about Mary Slessor, the missionary who must have had local connections.


The photograph shows seven of the Top class Infants: - June Henderson; me; Betty Burdett (left to right) Glen Cowan; Eric Bell; Billy Craggs; Paul Harper (left to right).


There were two pre-fab classrooms erected in the field behind the Infants School wall at one point - chronologically I don’t think it could have been to house the post-war “baby bulge” so it must have just been because Wheatley Hill was growing as the pit expanded.   The school dinner kitchens were down the ash lane at the side of the schools and there food was transported in insulated aluminium boxes to neighbouring village schools - the children who had school dinners at Wheatley Hill were lucky because the food was hotter and fresher.

We progressed to the Junior School which, at this time was the school nearer the back of Church Street, being escorted there on our first day by Mrs. Charlton and co. through the gate connecting the two school yards and formally “handed over”.

Before the school holiday that preceded the “move”, Mrs. Charlton drummed “pot hooks” into us on special lined paper - pot hooks above and below the lines so that we could do joined up writing.   She insisted that all her top class infants were proficient in “cursive” writing before she passed them over to the Juniors!     

The Junior School teachers all had such vivid personalities that I am sure they were the ones who made many of us decide to become teachers!    There was Mr. Willan, the Headmaster who lived in the School House in the middle of Front Street - his son Don became a big name in the NUT and he had a daughter called Margaret.  He had a knack of standing at the blackboard at such angle that, while writing on the board, he could get a reflection through the lens of his spectacles and chastise miscreants without turning his head - we thought this was by magic because we were too young to “suss” out his trick.     He once made a boy called Robert Young (I think) who was in the Salvation Army stand on a box to play the trumpet and predicted that he’d be famous one day.   But there again he predicted that I’d be a maths teacher as I was very good at mental arithmetic - I became a Domestic Science teacher so he wasn’t always right!

There was Miss (Annie) Hutchinson who took the top class of the middle year group - she lived opposite the Cemetery gates and was very musical.    She also taught ballroom dancing in the evenings and Saturday mornings (I think) in the Embassy Ballroom in Front Street.   I learnt to dance with her.   She was a disciplinarian, a character but an excellent teacher.   There was Miss Hart, Mr. Lister - joined later by his wife who had been Miss Angel when she taught at Shotton, Ted Thompson and Joe Wright.   These last two took the top and second class of the Scholarship year, had done their military service and travelled to school together by car from Ferryhill.   Mr. Wright taught in his shirtsleeves with elastic “bracelets” at the elbow.   Mr. Wright & Mr. Thompson couldn’t get through to Wheatley Hill for several days during the big snows of 1947.

We were taken by coach to Easington Colliery Miners Welfare Hall with the school to watch Wilfred Pickles broadcast,  “Have a Go!” and the warm-up singer sang “Margarita picking grapes with me”.   Many of my school friends said that I had no right to be included in the outing because Wilfed Pickles had come to meet the miners and my dad wasn’t a miner!    That “”wrankled”” me a lot at the time.   

Amongst my school contemporaries were Nora Stone, whose dad was killed in the pit, Joan Curry who went on to work in the Co-op, Joan Gowland who went to work in the Post office with Mr. Knights, Lorna Moorin, June Henderson, Betty Burdett, two Marjorie Browns (the one in Mr. Wright’s class being Marjorie Brown 1 and the one in Mr. Thompson’s being Marjorie Brown 2), Edna Taylor whose elder sister Joyce had lovely auburn hair, Joan Readshaw, Margaret Thubron, Marlene Lee, Rosalie Saxby with blonde curls, Mary Ruth who lived in the top house in Shop Street, Joan Dinsdale, Enid Poulson, Leonora Middleton with the fantastic singing voice who won Eisteddfods year after year, Hazel Walton, who lived beside the Co-op garage, Hazel Alderton, whose dad was the Co-op pork butcher and showed us how to make sausage links and who married David McBriar from the shop in Cemetery Road, Beryl Baxter, whose father had the photographic studio near the schools, Colin (Chic) Henderson, whose parents owned the shop near the Regal and who was drowned in the Grand Canyon while working in America, Willie Walton, who is now the vice-principal of a college in Canada and who was scorer for the Wheatley Hill cricket team that played on the cricket pitch behind the colliery manager’s house, Jean Wylie who lived next door to Annie Hutchinson and had two older sisters, one of whom was Miss Wheatley Hill in the Miss Crimdon competition and was 

called Charlotte, Ray Turnbull, Joan Tindall, Mavis Mullen, Joyce (Joy) Young who lived with her grandparents near Paley-Yorke’s and who fought for years to get her father’s name added to the war memorial clock on the wall of the Boys’ Secondary School in Front Street ...... and then there was the thirteen of us (a record number!) who passed the scholarship to go to A J Dawson Grammar School (Wellfield) in 1951.        

On the enclosed photograph: - these are (back row - left to right): - Ray Clish (joined the Durham County police force and whose brother Tom was a well-known local footballer); Ronnie Watson; Frankie Burrell; Charlie Lister (died May 1999 after a teaching career in Newcastle); Billy Craggs; Colin Hughes; Paul Harper (worked for Durham County Council); (front row - left to right) Eric Henderson; me; Gwen Jones; Gwen Brownless (both became teachers - Gwen B. had a twin brother, Ernie and they lived next to McBriar’s shop in Cemetery Road; Cilla Sweeting (trained as a nurse and lived in Bristol and who had a younger brother, Tommy, whom an acquaintance of mine met by chance in Australia about ten years ago), Brian Wilson who had a younger brother Barry and, for a short time, a boy with the memorable name of John Boyd-Perkins.


Memories include: - the corner open fire in the “baby” class of the Infants where the milk was thawed out around the fireguard in winter; Mr. and Mrs. Shevels, the Infant School caretakers who lived in a very old house (as old as Gregory’s farm) on the edge of the school; taking dinner money (2/1d for only children like me, 1/9d for those with 2 or more children but free to large or needy families); National Savings money - with a young Prince Charles on the halfcrown stamps and Princess Anne with golden curls on the 6d ones;  lunch at the British Restaurant above the Co-op (delicious stews and steamed puddings - Mam and I could only go once a week because my dad was working and I was an only child); the cricket matches where we walked to Thornley to challenge their Juniors;  rounders in the schoolyard in the Juniors and playing Cowboys and Indians at playtime when the girls HAD to be captives of the Indians with arms tightly linked around the uprights of the “wet weather” shed awaiting rescue by the cowboys.; the gypsies and fairground children whose parents camped on the waste land near the school and who joined our lessons for a week or so before moving on; drawing fish which were then embroidered onto a piece of “black-out” material and used to cover the back of the school piano; the outside toilets across the yard; the wet weather shelter with iron uprights and slate roof; the snowball fights; mothers standing at the school gates waiting to walk us home and the ringlets that were all the rage for girls, meaning they had to endure “rags” in their hair all night or curlers - it was surprising how many different variations were achieved - Lorna Moorin, Hazel Alderson, Cilla Sweeting and I all had ringlets of completely different types.

The “big snows” of 1947 meant we were sent home from school early to ensure that the teachers got home safely.     The snow plough had been along Front Street and the snow was pushed into a “wall” along the edge of the pavement that was higher than us - quite frightening.


The people I have mentioned were not all in the same year as me in school - some were a year or so older but, strangely enough I can’t recall many younger than me. 

I wonder how many still live in Wheatley Hill?

(Me at  about 15 (as featured in Baxter’s Photographers window)


Memories of Wellfield are not really relevant here but could make another chapter” of my memories.    We waited for the school buses (from Ludworth & Thornley) - 2 G & B’s in brown and cream livery, every morning outside Doctor Gray’s house on the corner of Front Street and Cemetery Road.    If you missed the bus, you had to try to catch the Triumph, which went around Council Estate and carried the pupils from Easington, Shotton etc.    Dot, the small, stocky conductress had a hard time keeping us in order and was quite capable of stopping the bus anywhere along the Four Mile road and forcibly ejecting the troublemakers.


Our street and our neighbours


Living as we did in Granville Terrace between Fletcher’s the butcher’s and the barbers, we had no close neighbours but there was Doctor Gray and his son Doctor John in the big house (with adjoining surgery) on the corner of Granville Terrace and Cemetery Road and in Greenhills Terrace which was the street behind us there were the Readshaws, “Little Grandma” Brown, her son Jackie who was a County Council

roadworker and a daughter, Doris, who was a nurse.      “Grandma Brown” was tiny and always dressed in a long black dress, the epitome of a Victorian grandmother.  She taught me how to fold sheets single-handed, using the drawer of the tallboy and how to make “flowers” from hand-moulded wax fixed to twigs.   There were also the Gregorys and their son John.     On the corner of Greenhills Terrace and Cemetery Road was the big house we called the Nurses House - I presume the two ladies living there were nurses and opposite, on the corner leading up from Tonks’ shop was the vicarage and the big house where the Whites lived.   Vicars I remember include Mr. Casey who seemed very old but had a young wife and a son called Maurice and Mr. Preston whose wife wore weird and wonderful self-made hats.    The Whites had one son, John - an artist and teacher in a Hartlepool school (by a strange coincidence, they moved to Hartlepool and lived next door but one to where I now live in Granville Avenue).  

When I was about 7, we moved around the corner from Granville Terrace into a smaller, more modern house with a small front garden and an enormous back garden - 5 Gable Terrace (which we sold to one of the Hedley twins in 1959).   Gable Terrace consisted of 20 houses with a road between no 7 and 8 and an alleyway between houses further up the bank.    When we lived there, there were the Dowsons at no. 1 (Mr. & Mrs. Dowson and their sons? and Albert and daughter Margaret.   One of the sons eventually married and moved into no. 2 and when the parents died, the elder son stayed on in no. 1 - they had a milk collection business and built a huge garage for the tankers.    In no. 3 were the Evans and their daughters Lynn and Marian - Ted was killed in a pit accident in 1957 and Mrs. Evans later re-married.  At no. 4 was the Poulsons and their son - Mrs. Poulson was a Hedley by birth; we were no. 5 and no.6 and 7 were two flats.    Amongst the tenants there were the Coates, the Langs (who moved to Coventry and the Holcrofts.   No. 6 was the home of Alice and Tom Allen and their daughter Alice - Tom was the driver of a colliery coal lorry.    Then there was the Browns and the Gradons.    The house after the alleyway was also two flats and the upstairs was occupied by Nurse Beeston or Beston who had been nursemaid to Dr. Mclean’s family.      No. 20 was the home of Sep. Woodward, his wife and daughter, Thelma - Sep. was manager of the Co-op garage and later the Co-op undertaker and Mrs. Woodward was Tom Allen’s sister.


Memories of “our” houses


Our house in Granville Terrace was Victorian.   It opened straight onto the street but it had a big bay window and the door was set back so that there was a recess between the bow window and the butcher’s shop window.   The front steps were right on the bus stop and people would shelter there if it was windy or wet and we’d also get courting couples - this did not please my parents and Dad, when very annoyed, would pour water on them through the letterbox!    It was a two bedroomed house with a central staircase boxed in from the “kitchen”.   The understairs cupboard was large and became my playroom.      The “kitchen” was really the room we lived in with a big black coal range with oven, trivet, side boiler etc.     The “back kitchen” was for washing up etc. and Dad installed a bath under a lift-up table top.   In winter we didn’t have baths - the bath was in use because we had bacon salting there (dad was in farming so he had contacts with “black market” meat).   Outside and adjoining the back kitchen was the coal house and toilet and the wash house with a corner “set pot” boiler for wash day.  Mam acquired a washing machine - a galvanised square box on four legs with a hand-operated paddle set into the lid to agitate the washing.  It was called a “Wonkey” and it must have been strenuous work but it was an improvement on the old poss stick, dolly tub and wash board.    She had a huge mangle with rollers operated by a handle at the side and later got an electric wringer between the rollers of which she once got her arm caught - after that, it was replaced by a safety model with a release bar on the rollers!

The back yard had a tiny raised garden area and a gate as tall as a house doorway set into the wall.  In the big snow of 1947, Dad had to climb over this doorway to get out to go to work - the snow was so deep!

Upstairs were two bedrooms both with small fireplaces, which were never lit to my knowledge.  One day I tripped over something and split my lip open on a chair leg.   Dad nursed me all that Sunday, holding the lip together till it “knitted” - I still have the scar.

The house in Gable Terrace was more modern - possibly 1920’s or 30’s but still two bedroomed.   There was a small front garden and a front porch (useful for “Postman’s Knock” at parties!).  Again we lived mainly in the “kitchen” which had a more modern combination range - beige/brown vitreous enamel with side oven, back boiler and two trivets.    Once Mam put my newly whitened plimsolls into the oven to dry so that I could go to church and forgot about them - they were singed by the time she got them out because she’d stoked up the oven to cook the Yorkshire puddings!   Dad altered the “back kitchen, incorporating part of the wash house to make a bathroom extension and put a sliding door across the bottom of the stairs.   The toilet and coal house were in the lean-to extension and were built onto the back street wall so that coal could be shovelled through after delivery.     In the back yard was my rabbit’s hutch and a huge pot-bellied boiler, which was used to boil potatoes for pig food.     Across the back street was the long and wide garden.      Dad built a wooden garage for our Austin Seven van (and later Ford Thames), there was a hen house and run and lots of space for vegetable growing.     At the top end was the pig “crees” because my parents were also into pig breeding (farming habits were ingrained in them I suppose).   Dad took over Tom Allen’s garden for a pig run and the money they earned by selling the pigs to the bacon factory made our life a bit easier - I always maintain that I was educated courtesy of these pigs because I don’t think Mam & Dad would have been able to afford to keep me on at Wellfield and then send me to college on dad’s wage.   We three children were “given” baby pigs to look after - John George and Bessie - and we were very upset when they too were despatched to the bacon factory.    The lorry driver used a big stick with a sharp “prodder” on the end to get the pigs, who seemed to sense their fate, into the truck and the pigs squealed dreadfully - I refused to eat my breakfast bacon next morning declaring tearfully that it might have been “my” Bessie and in fact I did not eat bacon for years!

At one point Dad bought an old Rover car, which he installed next to the garage (minus doors and engine) as a play place for my two young brothers and for all the children around about too.    He once brought a railway sleeper home to cut into firewood but Peter and Philip spent weeks with hammers knocking nails into it to such an extent that dad couldn’t get the saw into it.   I think it was still lying in the garden when we moved on.     After the boys were born and Granddad Chaffer came to live with us (he had to sleep downstairs in the front room), we had to find a bigger house.  We moved to Hartlepool because dad was working there by then - no longer in farming though.

Arriving home late one winter’s night after my parents had been helping a farming friend to decorate, Dad switched on the light and the kitchen floor was a heaving mass of black “bodies” - an infestation of cockroaches meant urgent action next morning!

Before our move to Hartlepool Dad made an offer for the smallpox hospital, which was on the market - the offer was exceeded so we moved away from Wheatley Hill.

Can anyone else remember sitting for hours carefully trimming the edge off both sides on rolls of wallpaper before it could be hung?    Of course this was post World War 2 - during the war it was distemper and “stippling” in a contrasting colour with a stiff brush or a special rubber tool to grain wooden doors.


The shops


I remember queuing for off-ration sweets outside Jenny’s in Patton Street and the Tin Shop near the Royalty; buying liquorice root because it was not rationed; Horlicks tablets and sherbet dips.    On one occasion I was sent across the road to Walter Willson’s for an uncut loaf, dropped it in the road on a very wet day and was sent back to pick it up because it was rationed and we needed it - my mother cut off the “soggy” bits.   Walter Willson’s sold butter in knobbly greaseproof paper packs, being cut with a wire from a tub-shaped piece, sugar weighed into blue paper bags, single eggs, broken biscuits (cheaper than whole ones) and not pre-packed and cooked ham by the slice.  Getting food “on tick” was a common practice too.

The shops in Front Street that I remember include the little lean-to barber’s next door to us - Les Richardson’s, Fletcher’s the butchers, Wilf Gibson’s electrical shop, Dr McClean’s house and surgery, a chemist’s, Blakemore’s the barber’s (he had a daughter Jenny), the post office with Mr. Knights and his mother, Hodgson’s the newsagents, the dry cleaner’s,

a grocer shop (Meadow Dairy, later Liptons) Galley’s the fruiterer on the corner of the road leading down to Hedley’s yard.     Then on the other corner, there was Hunter’s wallpaper shop, Tommy Brown’s cobbler & shoe shop (later run by his son Kenneth), Colvine’s sweet shop, Hedley’s the butcher, Knowles the barber, Scott’s department store, Atkinson’s the butcher, Newmans fruit shop and then the Co-op pork butcher, garage etc. before coming to Rock Farm (Gregory’s Farm).

Coming along Front Street in the opposite direction was Vincent’s hardware shop, Baldesara’s sweet shop, the Club, Walter Willson’s, Hannah Robson’s front room” shop, a shop that became a chemist’s, next door to Mrs. Wigham’s (she was a teacher with a daughter called Joan), Ralph Bell’s newsagents with his sister Peggy Carr’s hairdressing salon behind it, Gibsons cycle shop, the public library, the chip shop - Jordison’s? where you could also buy “wet” fish to cook at home (early memories of a fish and a penn’orth and a bottle of lemonade for a shilling ), Bob Robson’s, the cobbler, a cake shop and then the School House, the Boys’

Secondary School, Baldesara’s ice cream shop (marble topped tables and Vimto), a chemist (remember “Friday Night is Amami Night” and Drene shampoo?), a wool shop which also had a penny lending library, Tony Carr’s wood shop, the Liverpool Insurance offices and then the Nimmo public house before you got to the Royalty and the Tin Shop.    Bob Yuill’s smithy backed onto the waste land we had to cross to get to school and on the next corner was another grocery shop and Baxter’s photographic studio.   In Church Street there was the optician’s - Gascoigne’s and on the bottom corner another grocer’s - Nixon’s - before the prefabs. and across the road were All Saints Chuch and the Colliery Manager’s House (Airedale House) - which became a nursing home.      There were the two chapels in that area too - the Wesleyan which became the anorak factory and the Patton Street Primitive Methodists. 

Going down Thornley Road, there was Tonks’ wallpaper and hardware shop on the corner opposite Vincent’s; there was a general dealer’s, a cake shop and Heron’s general dealers, then the Co-op butchers and the imposing entrance to the Co-op, which sold EVERYTHING!    At one time there was a “craze” for making bracelets by plaiting individual strands of plastic coated, single-ply electric wire and the Co-op had a wonderful range of colours available.     Twice yearly - Summer and Christmas - huge posters decorated the Co-op windows declaring the 6 monthly dividend for those who used their “share number” - ours was 5671!     Share numbers seem to be

something people still remember!)

Then there was a garage and Mr. Paley-Yorke’s dental surgery and further down the road on the opposite side was St. Godric’s R.C. Infants and Junior School.

On the opposite side of Thornley Road was The Corner House - Lucy Hutton’s dress shop.

Going left from Tonks’ shop was Quitstyle Road with the new extension to the Co-op,

the “Big” Club, a betting shop, the Regal and adjoining sweetshop (huge queues for the Saturday morning matinees with the serials that kept you in suspense till the next week and made sure you went!), another general dealer’s (Henderson’s) and another chip shop. Opposite this was the Girls’ Secondary School.      I think the shop near the main entrance to the Girls’ School was Burlison’s.

Evening classes were held in both Secondary Schools and my mother went to the Girls’ School to learn dressmaking.  I wanted to learn to type and to ice cakes but, being still at school, I needed a letter from the headmaster to say that evening classes would not interfere with my studies and homework.   The letter was refused so my attendance at Evening Classes was thwarted.

Up Cemetery Road, past the cemetery was McBriar’s general dealer’s and Mrs. McBriar’s hairdresser’s shop and Hartley’s fish and chip shop.    On the top corner near the new Police Houses was another general dealers. 

There were more shops opposite the Tavern - Doyle’s general dealers, chip shop and hairdresser’s in the estate near the Girls’ Secondary School but these were not within my usual walking range.


I might not have got all these in the correct order and I’m sure I have missed some out as well.   It seems strange when listed to realise that Wheatley Hill had five butcher’s, three barbers and very few public houses compared to say Thornley.


Not really qualifying as a “shops” were: - the scissors grinder who came periodically, collected up any scissors to be sharpened and sat on the ground in the back street sharpening knives and scissors for a living (as remembered elsewhere on the web site); the Co-op “bread” van came around the streets selling bread, cakes etc. - the driver in the late 50’s was Maurice Munro. there was a man who came round with a horse and cart selling paraffin, firewood and vinegar (by the pint into your own bottle) - he had a shop just over the railway line as you went into Thornley and his arrival was heralded by shouting “Oy el !”

My first memories of “black” people were the Indians in turbans who came to the door selling from a suitcase.


Village families and personalities I remember


Mr. Crosby was the caretaker of the Embassy Ballroom.   He put the records on for Annie Hutchinson’s dancing classes and, when the “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” (Henry Hall’s version) was played, I always thought it was Mr. Crosby who sang the words!  His son Bob is still an acquaintance of mine, a retired teacher living in Morpeth.

Mrs. Amies must have been the village washerwoman who lived behind Galley’s fruit shop somewhere.   She always had lines full of washing drying on the land opposite.  Her grandson Walter Amies became one of the youngest headteachers in England.

Tony Carr, who had the wood shop, married Rita Osbaldestin and built a house in the woods on the Four Mile.

Ralph Bell, the newsagent who had Airedale dogs.  One sister, Jenny, helped in the shop and the other, Peggy Carr, had the ladies’ hairdressers behind.     A perm took up to 5 hours and you had to go back a week later for a re-set and how the chemicals smelled!

Dr. McClean- a Scot who lived in the big house in the middle of Front Street with his wife, daughter Josephine and son James.    They later had another son Alexander whom I remember as a delightful child.     The McCleans hosted a large party in the upstairs concert hall of the Welfare (for a birthday celebration, I think) and I remember the baby being about 9 -12 months old in Nurse Beeston’s arms.    Within a few days, we heard that the baby had died and I overheard something about it being unethical for a Dr. to treat his own family - I was very young at the time and, of course wasn’t included in any discussion so I don’t know the true facts but I do remember what a bonny, happy child he was.

The Holcrofts were family friends for years.  Joe worked in the pit until his health deteriorated, Mabel later worked as a cleaner in the Junior School (at the time of Mr. Wright’s retirement which must have been about 1970) and they had two sons Eric and Leslie - one of whom lived near Hodgson’s newsagents when last we heard.    The Holcrofts had a variety of houses in Wheatley Hill, the first I can remember was over the railway line, what we called “the tankie road” because of the coal trucks, leading

to the beck near Lynn Terrace in one of the two streets there (John Street and Smith Street).          Eric was sent to the pub. nearby (The Colliery Inn known locally as The Beck) on Sunday lunch time to shout, “Da, you’re dinner’s ready” and had to stay there till Joe came out.   They were re-housed into a prefab. in Taylorson Crescent - a wonderful building with fitted kitchen, bathroom and fridge!   - things we couldn’t afford.    Delights of the Holcroft household stay in my memory - bread and marge. dipped in sugar to disguise the awful greasy taste and vile yellow colour of the margarine, conny-onny on bread (condensed milk to the uninitiated), the deliciously orange taste of Welfare orange juice (for which I didn’t qualify) and jellies set quickly in the fridge so that they were like ice lollies ........ and delight of all delights! sitting on the clippy mat with many others watching the Coronation on their TV in 1953!    They moved on to a colliery house over the road from the pre-fabs.  and to the bottom of Institute Street.   Finally Joe & Mabel were caretakers of the Aged Miners’ Bungalows in Cemetery Road and we lost touch when we moved away.

The Burrells and Middletons.     Grandma Burrell lived in the street leading from Front Street down to Hedley’s yard and the Rec - Stephens Terrace.    Her daughter Maggie (who married late in life was a cook in the school kitchens and the other daughter Bella was Mrs. Middleton, mother of Beryl, Leonora, Billy and Margaret.    Beryl married and opened a hairdresser’s shop in Thornley in the early 1960’s, Leonora, as I’ve already recalled, had a wonderful singing voice and enjoyed Eisteddfod success while at Junior School.  Their father came home from the war, was injured at work in the steelworks, contacted and died of TB in 1951.   Mrs. Middleton died of cancer not long afterwards in 1952. 

Mr. Knights, the post master lived behind the post office with his mother (to me, she seemed ancient).   They sorted the letters in a wooden hut in the garden across the lane from their house.   When Willie Walton, Charlie Lister and I were in the Sixth form at Wellfield, Mr. Knights employed us as relief workers to deliver the Christmas post.   It was a long slog around Johnsons Estate and along Quetlaw Road for me and one winter in particular was extremely cold and icy under foot.  One of the “perks” of the job though was the “Christmas tips” - cash, chocolates etc. - things that, on reflection, really ought to have been given to the regular post staff!     One of my “mistakes” on this job was to trail up the long front garden of every house on Quetlaw Road to deliver the post and finding that few of them had letterboxes.   Commenting on this strange phenomenon back at the “sorting office”, the regular post lady (who was also the lollipop lady) laughed and told me that the letterboxes were in the BACK doors!

The Whites and Marshalls - Mrs. White and Mrs. Marshall were sisters.  Both families were stalwarts of All Saints’ Church.   The Marshalls lived in Gowland Terrace

where the pit offices were situated, with their son Billy.     Billy was a few years older than me and he was a brilliant scholar.     He was a server in the Church (as seen on a photo on the Web page) and, in his early teens had an accident with his bike and the school bus, resulting in several months in hospital.    He saved the money he was given during this time and, in gratitude to God for his recovery, donated a ruby coloured glass and gold “chalice” which hung centrally in the church.    As a consequence of this accident, my mother wouldn’t let me have a bicycle and, to this today, I regret this because I’d like to be able to ride one.      Mr. Marshall was in the church choir and I think Mr. White was church warden.    Mrs. White and Mrs. Marshall were very active members of the Mothers Union and my mother became friendly with them there.   All three of them were excellent needlewomen and worked hard embroidering tablecloths etc. for Church bazaars - they were so good, they did work to order, and knitted etc. as well.   Mrs. Marshall contacted my mother during the 1960’s, after we had moved to Hartlepool, and asked her to embroider vestments for the vicar.   This she did with great pride - I wonder if they are still in use?   I have written more about the Whites in the “Our Street” section.

The Reverend Casey was a fiery character, well-known for his caustic comments from the pulpit.   He was likely to comment that a certain lady had come to church merely to show off her new hat or that there was a “sinner” in our midst - someone who must be needing forgiveness i.e. someone who was a rare churchgoer.   When Mr. Casey died, I believe Mrs. Casey and Maurice moved on to do missionary work.

Louie Tyers was the owner of the scrapyard near the greyhound track on the road at the bottom of the 15 Number Streets.    His son was also called Louie.

Bob Yuill was the blacksmith.  The Smithy was near the Junior School, backing onto the waste ground.  Because of my father’s work, we often visited the smithy and I recall the bellows and forge and the smells peculiar to smithies - heat, steam, hot metal and hot “horsey” smells.    Bob lived in a house in Sandwick Terrace next to The Tavern and he was killed in a car crash after we left Wheatley Hill.

Martha Walker was another close friend of my mother’s.   She had a son called Billy who was older than me by a couple of years and, for some concert or other, he had the embarrassing task of singing, “I’ll be your sweetheart” to me.   Martha was a wizard at home decorating especially the art of “stippling”.

“Hester” whose job it was to tap on bedroom windows with a long pole to wake up miners in time for their shift.   He was the “knocker-up-er” or “Hester” because he used to shout “Howay, tha’ hester gerrup!”


All Saints Church


There was a lot of “rivalry” between the Church of England and the two chapels and some ardent church -goers were appalled if a “church” person wanted to marry a “chapelite”.

I went to Sunday School - you got a very colourful religious picture to stick in a booklet every morning and a “star” was stamped on the back cover of the booklet when you attended in the afternoon.   Sunday School prizes were awarded at a special ceremony every year based on the number of stars and stamps you had collected.    We went to visit my grandparents every Sunday afternoon so I never got a Sunday School prize as far as I remember.   Later on when Joan Adams and I became Sunday School teachers (albeit briefly) before going to College, the same system was in operation.    One memory firmly implanted in my memory was covetting a set of tinplate scales in Hodgson’s window for weeks and finally succumbing to temptation one Sunday morning - I used my church collection to buy them (5d) and put the change (1d) onto the collection plate.  Childlike I couldn’t resist showing them to Mam, who was very angry and took me to see Mr. Casey to “confess” and hand over all of next week’s pocket money to him.

There were the Sunday School trips every summer - everyone saved up all year and there were busloads of excited children and parents leaving from outside the Co-op near Tonks’ shop one Saturday each year.   Seaton Carew, Redcar and South Shields were marvellously exciting places to visit when you had no means of transport other than the TMS (Trimdon Motor Services commonly known as “Trimdon Muck Shifters”), G & B (Gillett and Bakers), United or Triumph service bus.  Sandwiches and “pop” were the order of the day plus swimsuits (if hand knitted they stretched embarrassingly in the sea or sewn in cotton material with shirring elastic to create the “cling”), buckets and spades - and if you were lucky - there might even be fish and chips with bread and butter (probably margarine) and a pot of tea in a sit-down cafe!

The G.F.S. (Girls Friendly Society) was also very popular (as an alternative to the Scouts and Guides).     I was a member and we learned gymnastics (more like keep fit) and country dancing and were taken to compete against other church GFS groups in St Margaret’s Church Hall in Durham City.     We also staged plays in All Saints Church Hall and it was while acting the governess in one of the productions at the age of seven that I met Joan Adams for the first time.   She went to elocution lessons in West Hartlepool and was playing the Princess.    We didn’t know each other at primary school because she went to school in Shotton where the family had lived.   We met up again at Wellfield and our friendship developed and we are still close friends.  (Joan married Charlie Lister who had been my scholastic rival all through Junior School and they both became teachers - Charlie (Chas.) died in May 1999).

Altar servers I recall are Derek Alderton (brother of Hazel and son of the Co-op pork

butcher) and the boy who lived opposite the Tavern and later married Marina Jones - Edward Goyns sister of Gwen from the scholarship photograph and Billy Marshall.

The small rooms at the rear of the Church Hall were used as dressing rooms and for storing stage and drama costumes.   Amongst the items stored there at one time was a huge pair of angel’s wings made from real feathers - they were known as “Gabriel’s wings”.    The small room at the side had a fireplace and the main hall boasted a huge pot-bellied stove.     The floor was the source of many splinters in bottoms for those who tried sliding around, when we were asked to sit cross-legged (and we shuffled) or even when we were doing keep fit.     

The hall was used for fund raising fayres and for drama productions by the Thornley & Wheatley Hill Players.

At All Saints’ I learned my catechism and several psalms and hymns by heart, went to Confirmation classes, was confirmed by the Bishop of Durham and took Holy Communion every Sunday thereafter.      Harvest Festivals were fantastic with a huge sheaf of corn made from bread dough as the centre piece and there was the procession out of church to the grassy area behind for the Rogation Sunday blessing and service.

When we first moved to Wheatley Hill there was a man who went to church and took communion regularly who had been “shell shocked” in the First World War - a sorry sight.

Dorothy Burlison sang in the choir and also sang solos at weddings etc. - she had a beautiful voice.


Memories of wartime


Having spent the first four years of my life on a farm and being born early in the war, I suppose I was too young to have a lot of wartime memories.      My father and both grandfathers were exempt from active service because they were farmers - and all three were considered medically unfit too.   They were however in the Home Guard and had their own guns - handy for shooting rabbits too.     My father did farm work during the day and drove a lorry transporting munitions from Tuthill Quarry in the evenings even after we moved to Wheatley Hill.   At the age of seven I was afraid of “that man who comes to our house sometimes and is all dirty” - I didn’t know I had a father and that was him until Martha Walker patiently explained it all to me - I suppose I wasn’t unlike so many of my school mates with fathers in the Forces.

I can remember rationing (and still have my ration book and identity card) and queuing for sweets when they came off the ration.

I remember being woken up by music and looking out of my parents’ bedroom window to see dancing and jollification in Front Street (possibly VE Day) and next day following marching soldiers and a tank to the field at the side of the Rec.

Of course there was the soup kitchen above the Haswell Co-op in Front Street and the tasty meals and companionship there - queuing to get in and sitting at square wooden tables for four where good “ice breakers”.

When I was four or five, Dad got the loan of a small field (possibly in part-payment for farm work done) near the Halfway House at Thornley.   He planted it with potatoes and that autumn I had my first experience of “spud bashing” when he drove the tractor to uproot the potatoes and Mam & I picked them to use over the winter, selling the excess.

The war ended and ex-servicemen returned to their former jobs and Dad was no longer needed as a contractor farm worker.   He then got a job at Cockburn’s gargae in Easington as a tractor mechanic.

When in Junior School I won 5 shillings as second prize in a slogan and poster competition to promote saving waste paper for the War Effort.    The “poem”, which was “Save waste paper and cardboard too.  Save it now so you will rue” has stuck in my mind ever since.   The 5/- I won was spent the next Saturday at Stockton market where I bought a longed-for grey rabbit - and next morning it had given birth to several babies so I got my money’s worth! - until they were made into rabbit pies.  I still won’t eat rabbit!


The Welfare Hall and Rec.


The Welfare Hall, to the eyes of a child at least, was a wonderfully opulent building with curved glass in places, beautiful wooden doors and a huge concert room and stage upstairs.  Wedding receptions, theatrical productions (“Chips with Everything”

and “The Wilmslow Boy” with Les. Barker and Charlie Lister), parties of all kinds were held there.    At one end downstairs was the Library - and I haunted the place because I was (and still am) an avid reader.    The Library later moved to Front Street near the cycle shop.

I went to this room as a teenager when it was the “home” of the tennis club and Les.

Barker, the scoutleader and Secretary of the Tennis Club, played tennis against me to determine whether or not I was good enough to join.  I joined but I was never any good!

There was a lot of rough grass land at the bottom of the Rec. and lots of swings and roundabouts.  The “shows” came periodically and set up either in the field alongside the “Rec” or on the waste land near the primary schools.     The gardens and bowling greens were beautifully cared for and there were lots of trees and shrubs.     Charlie Fisher, the Rec. keeper lived in a bungalow at the Cemetery Road end of the park and chased the children who dared to pick “his” flowers or walked on the bowling green - even on the borders!    He was Charlie Lister’s grandfather.



The games we played


Every game seemed to have a “season”.  The boys played marbles or “alleys” with bulging pockets containing their winnings and each had a favourite “penker”; and

conkers - with the best ones having been soaked in vinegar or slow baked in the oven for added strength.  When Davey Crockett was immortalised on screen, Davey Crockett hats took precedence over cowboy hats but cowboys and Indians was still popular - Indian head-dresses made from bird’s feather stuck into a paper band. 

The girls played “two ballies” against the wall, skipped - individually or with one or two ropes turned by friends or even with one end fastened to a convenient lamp post.   There were tops and whips with the top gaudily decorated in chalk to make beautiful patterns as it spun.    Hotch scotch (“itchy dabbers) played in the playground or street with the grid marked out by scratching with a bit of broken brick or chalk and a boot polish tin or flat pebble to kick.    “Chucks”, Jacks or Five Stones was also played as well as “tiggy on high” “piggy in the middle” “tag” and hide and seek.    The person chosen to be “It” was selected by “Eeny meany miney mo”, “Each, peach, pear, plum”, or “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor”.

We “bouled” our hoops and the wooden hoops from butter barrels were festooned with tissue paper to make a “mistletoe” ring at Christmas - an idea later adapted by “Blue Peter” on TV to make an Advent decoration.   We did headstands and handstands against the wall - with the girls decorously tucking their skirt into their knickers if the boys were nearby.

Paper dolls with lots of changes of outfit (laboriously cut out with scissors) and

attached by “hinges” of paper at strategic points were bought in books from the newsagents and we tried to make our own versions of the fashions with some degree of success.   Using an empty cotton reel with 4 small nails in the top, some wool oddments and a large pin allowed us to produce yards of “cork knitting” and of course the girls all had dolls for which we made clothes from fabric scraps, by knitting or crocheting.      Collecting rose petals and trying to distil perfume was another girlish pleasure.  The more agile among us could do hand stands against the wall and “cowp their creels” - backwards and forwards!

More sedentary pastimes included “cat’s cradle” played with string twined between the hands - alone or by two people.    This must have been international because a German prisoner of war on my uncle’s farm could play it.    Of course there were the usual card games - Snap, Rummy, Happy Families and Patience. and board games like “Snakes & Ladders” and “Ludo”.

I tried high jumping using a clothes line fastened to the garden fence and back yard gatepost and ended up with a broken wrist - I should have known better - at Wellfield the high jump had a detached bar and sand pit!).  I ended up at Sedgefield Hospital Casualty Department after a sleepless night.


Ring games

These were played in the schoolyard, school hall or at parties.   These were “In and out the dusky bluebells”, “Oranges and Lemons”, “Here we go round the mulberry bush”, “Poor Mary sat a weeping”, “The farmer’s in his den” and “The Grand Old Duke of York”.




Party games

We played “Postman’s Knock”, “Blind Man’s Buff”, Pass the Parcel, charades and “Nelson’ Eye”.     This was particularly gruesome - a “victim” was blindfolded outside the party room and lead in to hear the story of Lord Nelson.  At strategic points in the long and complicated (and inaccurate) story, he/she was asked to feel Nelson’s wooden leg (a chair leg), the stump of his missing arm - a rolled up cushion, and finally his eye socket - the victim’s finger was pushed into a jam tart and screwed round - it was an awesome experience to the uninitiated.


As teenagers, we went to “socials” at Wellfield or for the more adventurous, the dance hall over the railway bridge as you went into Thornley.     We went to the Regal or Royalty regularly (once there was a power cut and the lady-owner of the Essoldo stood at the door as we left and handed out complimentary tickets for the next night’s performance); there were the double seats at the back for the courting couples - frequently interrupted by the usherette and her torch.  The first time a boy took me to the “pictures” he bought me a box of Dairy Box chocolates which I dropped on the floor and was too embarrassed to grovel around for - the cleaner must have had a treat that night!    There was the ice-cream lady with her tray of popcorn, ice cream etc. who walked backwards down the aisle in the interval with light shining on her tray and queues waiting to buy from her. 

Some of my friends went to the swimming baths at Billingham or Durham but I was never allowed to go - and I can’t swim even now!

We went for long walks - groups of boys and girls with the courting couples lagging further and further behind!   Often I had Peter and Philip in the pushchair “in tow” - the one of our gang with such young siblings.   We walked down Patton Street, over the beck, across the moors past Eddie Collingwood’s farm to Fleming Field and back via the Thostles Nest, Thornley Station (how strange it seemed that it was nearer to Shotton than Thornley!) and back past Greenhills farm and the pit.   Another strenuous walk was around the Four Mile and the “Slack” (Thornley Crossings to Fir Tee) or up Cemetery Road, along Durham road past the Tavern to Hospital Corner, up to the Halfway House (correctly named The Barrel of Grapes and now Crossways) and through Thornley, up Thornley Road and back into Wheatley Hill.   A shorter way but with lots of nettles and hunting for burdock leaves to take away the sting was across the Gassy Gutters from Thornley Road and back down the road past the Regal.


The pit


This was the “crux” of the village and yet it did not figure largely in my life.   

I remember the pit baths being built so that pitmen came home clean, black caps for funerals and the coal allowance being tipped outside the “coal hole” to be shovelled in by one of the family, the Aged Miners’ Homes and the many pit deaths including the Easington and Thornley disasters which were large ones.   On Sundays and for “best” they wore white silk knitted mufflers to cover the collarless shirts - all men’s shirts then had detachable collars and were apron-fronted with a long “tail” at the back.      They also wore wide leather belts as well as their “gallases” (braces) - the wide belt being support for their back during the heavy work at the pit and a necessity thereafter.

It was a common sight to see the miners sitting on their “hunkers” (a habit peculiar to miners) outside a house or pub. smoking. - usually “rollies”.

Miners always called horses”gallowas” - presumably because the pit ponies were Galloway ponies.


The architectural styles of the houses - something which interested me in later years


Wheatley Hill must have been built in several stages over the hundred years or so that the pit flourished.      Apart from Rock Farm and the Shevels’ cottage, probably the oldest houses were those built for the miners who worked in the colliery - Office Street, Institute Street, Shop Street, Wolmerhausen* Street (where did that name come from, I wonder?) - later pulled down to leave waste land backing onto Patton Street -

Stanhope Street, Durham Street, York Street etc. were typical with outside toilets, coal houses with the “let” hole into the street, back yard, front green for drying the washing and two-up and two-down style.   All these streets, and the Fifteen Streets (the Dardanelles) were built back-to-back in that each pair of streets faced each other at either the front or the back.      The houses between the pit and colliery manager’s house (Stanhope Street etc.) had steps leading up from the yard to the back door - was this because they had a cellar or because they were built

on a sloping site?       The Dardanelles were much further away from the pit so must have been healthier.  Streets 1-9 were for workers at Thornley pit and up to 15 for Wheatley Hill workers.

Front Street from the Co-op garage to Galley’s fruit shop had alleyways leading into courts (another Victorian building method) - one alleyway lead from Atkinson’s butcher’s shop and there was another between Knowles’ the barber and Hedley’s butcher’s shop.  This lead to Hedley’s slaughter house, pie making kitchen etc.  The houses behind Tommy Brown’s cobbler’s shop and Grandma Burrell’s street were also a closed “court”.

The back of Front Street from Galley’s fruit shop to Dr. McClean’s house were apparently built above the shops and were accessed by stairs as were those on Alexandra Terrace at the back of the other side of Front Street if my memory serves me right.

The post-World War 1 housing must have been Thornley Road, Gable Terrace and thereabouts with the Council Houses being built in traditional council house style.  Then there were the “Scheme” houses - so-called because they were the result of some special government scheme, Johnson’s Estate and the post-World War 2 pre-fabs.   Then there was “The Ponderosa” estate built behind the Tavern in the 1960’s.

An in-depth study of housing styles in Wheatley Hill linked in with its historical development could be fascinating.





Referring back to your “Guest pages”, I have noticed the name “Donald Miller” whom I recall as being from Thornley; a Wellfielder a couple of years older than me.   He married a contemporary of mine at Wellfield Margaret Pattison who was Joan Adams’ bridesmaid when Joan married Charlie Lister.


Forty years away from Wheatley Hill has probably dimmed my memory somewhat and street names may be wrong.     We used to return to the village in the late 70’s and early 80’s with our vintage Austins as part of the Scouts Gala display in the Girls’ school field.



*Mr. Wolmerhausen was a director of the Hartlepool Coal Company, which owned the three collieries of Wheatley Hill, Thornley and Ludworth.  Most of the colliery rows were named after the Directors or families of the coal company.