Duration: 5:07 minutes
Accession No: TWCMS : 2009.564
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Kathleen talks about several stories that were told to her by her parents and family.
By Kathleen Green
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I wish I'd written down the stories my mam and dad told me when they were alive. How many times have we heard that comment or said it ourselves. Looking at the boats on the marina and thinking of the hustle and bustle the Tall Ships will be bringing to Hartlepool, my thoughts go back to a little place which once existed right where all this new activity will occur.
This was Middleton, known as a subsidiary of Hartlepool, a place where, at its height, a thriving and friendly community existed. A place of characters and incident and anecdote, the threads of which were intertwined in the history of my parent's lives.
In 1865, Middleton was neither lit nor paved and sailors were likely to be robbed as they attempted to cross the water to Hartlepool on the ferryboat. My own great grandmother collapsed and died on the ferry steps at a relatively young age. The details are lost forever and no-one is around to tell the tale.
There were ironworks built there and these were taken over by Richardson in 1847 and employed 300 men, many from the growing streets of Middleton itself. I remember as a child, watching the great black snake of men on bikes riding out of the works and making their way across the swing bridge towards West Hartlepool, as it was then known. Once, the story goes, someone came off his bike and what ensued was an earthquake of arms and legs and bicycle wheels, until order was eventually restored.
Both my parents went to school there, at Middleton Saint John's, both attending until they were fourteen. Dad used to say that my mother took his slate from him and did his sums when he was stuck and that was when he fell for her. She always hotly denied this.
Mam was a monitor and one day had to go to school with only one shoe, as her dad, who acted as cobbler for all his ten children, had been unable to fix it. She'd begged to go with the broken shoe on so that she would be equally shod but this was not possible. She was at pains to tell me that many children went to school without shoes and felt the heat of the burning pavements in summer.
Having completed her classroom duties she had to stand to attention at the front of the class. She decided to strategically place the waste paper basket in front of her one bare foot so that her footwear situation would not be discovered. However, the other school monitor saw fit to remove the basket to ensure that the whole class could observe the situation. In the 1950's, I remember as a child walking around the demolished ruins of the school and hearing mam and dad recounting past glories and triumphs.
There was little money for toys then but the surrounding sea and sands provided a place of endless entertainment. Most children there could swim, having learnt in the sea itself. Playing shops was a favourite game, with chalky stone mixed with seawater providing milk to sell and shells being used as sweets to buy or money to pay for bought items.
Sometimes there was the odd shipwreck on the ferry sands and this provided a wonderful source for imaginative adventure. I can remember clambering over a smallish vessel as a child and watching it decay and decrease in size, almost like a human carcass over what seemed like years to me. It probably was.
Dad once told me that when he was working as an errand boy in one of the local shops, he lifted a biscuit tin to his mouth to consume the remaining crumbs and felt something hard hit his teeth. It was a florin, a two bob bit to those of us who remember. This was untold wealth. He went immediately to a toy shop and bought a miniature yacht, taking it home to show his mother. He couldn't understand why he had to return the yacht and give the money to his mother so that she could put it into the housekeeping. Two shillings was a lot of money in 1929.
There is so much more to tell. We haven't touched on my great grandfather who looked after animals in the village. My Uncle Danny who had the last remaining shop next to the Prince of Wales pub. The family home in Commercial Street. The shipyards and industry. The proposed bridge from Middleton to old Hartlepool, which never got past the talking stage. These memories are all floating about on the rolling form. I wish I'd written them all down when I had the chance. Farewell then all you folk from the Middleton gang.