My name is Barbara Conway and I live in Normanby and these are just a few reflections that have
been engendered by pictures by Mckenzie Thorpe.
"Crossing over" by Mckenzie Thorpe.
They do more than cross a bridge, some cross over never to return.
This painting by Mckenzie Thorpe encapsulates the history of my family coming as they did from
Ireland and Wales. Social conditions forced young men and young families to leave their home hearth
and look for work. Nothing could have prepared them for the change of scene, smells and conditions
they found. Green fields for dirt and dust, flowers and moors for smelting fumes and two up two down
for Irish farm cottages. We cannot imagine the heart break as these people left families to come to
South Bank knowing they might never see father and mother again. They were locked in a time
capsule of work often seven days a week. My great grandfather broke his foot in the steel works.
Days off- nil, there were many mouths to feed, eight children. Life was hard in many ways, tiredness,
stress perhaps contributing to the title 'the fighting Irish'. Conflict between the Welsh workers in the
mines and the Irish in the iron works didn't help. Catholics working in the mines having to keep their
religion secret. Many differences were 'sorted out' in the local meeting place Eston cemetery.
"Walking the Plank" by Mckenzie Thorpe.
My father walked it as I did. I walk it today and tomorrow. This painting to me indicates the continuity
of work. My great, great grandfather, great grandfather and grandfather following each other into the
steel works. The stress of life. Life lived in the branch end had its compensations. They had a
community spirit to be envied. Family supported each other, cared for each other. As my grandmother
said it was not unusual to find an extra child in the children's bed. Leisure time, such as it was
revolved around the church. St Peters and the pubs, the Mucky Pots. Singing was a great release , St
Peters having one of the best choirs in the area. My grandfather's love of music extended to a great
love of opera. Walking along the black path to the Middlesbrough opera house, he also loved boxing
and walked with steel working mates across the Transporter Bridge to Hartlepool for boxing bouts.
Education was another love of his and did in general the Irish valued their schools. No wonder so
many teachers had their origins in the branch end.
Mckenzie Thorpe "The Trinity", men of discovery, men of iron, men of steel, lifts Teesside much
maligned to an area to be treasured, to be valued for the contribution it has made not just to the world
but to the lives of individual families as we saw our lives transformed through our families' endeavors