Wearside Echoes: Grangetown under the spotlight

Phyllis Nord with her first born Emily in 1917.
Phyllis Nord with her first born Emily in 1917.
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OLD stories are helping to breathe new life into the history of a Wearside village.

People and places are the focus of the second in a trilogy of books written by Rob Shepherd - Just Like It was Yesterday, A History of the Village of Grangetown – Volumes One, Two and Three.

“Grangetown would have no history were it not for the people who lived and died there, and who poured their efforts into building a community,” said the local historian.

Rob, a GP, was inspired to start digging into Grangetown’s past after hearing the village dismissed as “without history and uninteresting.”

It was a statement he was keen to challenge – and his three weighty tomes packed with facts, figures, maps and nostalgic stories are more than enough to prove the statement wrong.

“Ordinary people, living ordinary lives in ordinary times forged Grangetown. But it is anything but an ordinary village,” he said.

Among the scores of people mentioned in Volume Two of the trilogy are George and Phyllis Nord, who for many years carried on the fresh fish business of George’s parents, Theodore and Annie.

“We used to go down to the docks on a Tuesday morning,” recalls Phyllis in the book. “I used to shout, ‘Fish alive! All alive! Fresh Fish! Fresh Fish!

“The customers used to say, ‘We’ll keep the back door open, and then you’ll know that we want fish, for fear we`re at the front and we miss you.’ We used to charge about thre’pence per pound.”

Phyllis’s fish round would see her walk the streets of ‘Little Egypt’ in Hendon, hawking her wares, before travelling on to Ryhope Hospital and the colliery villages.

“I also used to go to Seaham Harbour with the fish on the horse and cart, along Lord Byron’s Walk, but I used to keep the horse whip at one side, and the fish knife at the other,” she added.

TV agony aunt Denise Robertson is another local character mentioned in Rob’s book. Many years after her childhood in Stratford Avenue, she still remembers the Grangetown of her youth with fondness.

“As a small child my favourite place to go Peggy’s house in Spelterworks Road. Peggy English was our maid and was paid 10 shillings a week,” she recalls.

“Her mother got 2/6 for doing our washing, which went off in a big case and came back immaculate. Peggy’s father went to sea and there were foreign dolls to play with and budgies in the backyard.

“Mrs English always took down two pence for me to go to Jones’s shop on the corner to buy a palm leaf – mock cream sandwiched between puff pastry leaves. Jones’s shop was an Aladdin’s cave.”

Although times were often hard, as Rob is to quick to point out, the residents of Grangetown still enjoyed a feeling of “real community spirit” - despite the occasional ‘street battle’.

“Families often had a falling out, mostly over kids. But these fall outs were soon forgotten when a family needed help,” recalls former Margaret Street resident Eddie Pipe.

“I can recall on at least one occasion when there was some kind of fall out and the heads of the families doing battle in the back yard.

“Man and wife taking on their opposite number, verbally and physically. But the fall outs did not last long: the next night would see them having a drink together in The Grange.”

Many of the hard-working members of the Grangetown community found employment at the local paper mill, while others took jobs in traditional industries such as mining and fishing.

Robert Calder, of Kitchener Terrace, recalls in the book. “Father was a canny old man, he used to wear a tartan muffler, and he went to sea all of his life.

“He was shipwrecked seven times, and he used to say to me mother he couldn’t swim. Me mother said ‘Well, you must have been a good floater if you can’t swim and been shipwrecked all these times!’

“But they just looked at it as if it were normal, and didn’t make a song and dance about it. Me da used to say there were iron men and wooden ships!”

Despite the tough times, much merriment and enjoyment was still to be had in the local inns and hostelries – such as the two Granges – Hendon Grange Hotel and Ryhope Grange Hotel.

Stories still abound of the antics witnessed within these walls - with one tale recalled in the book focussing on Nipper Carmody - by all accounts a real Grangetown character.

“He enjoyed a drink and was often seen in the Hendon Grange Hotel,” said Rob. “One afternoon he was drinking with his pals, Alec Harvey who made his living selling sticks, and Jackie Ham.

“On this particular afternoon Alec lamented the fact that he did not have an axe to chop his firewood. Nipper said that he could help, and that he had an axe that Alec could have.

“A little worse for wear, an inebriated Nipper made his way to the Grangetown Workings Men’s Club later that night, where he had been previously barred for fighting, brandishing a rusty old axe.

“More than one or two club members were more than a little frightened and thought that Nipper had come to settle old scores, when in fact he was making good a promise he’d made to his friend earlier!”

Other stories featured in Rob’s book include vintage newspaper articles on accidents and tragedies, obituaries of well-known characters and memories of scores of now long-gone shops.

Tales of street sellers such as ice cream man Peter Somio are included too, together with recollections of black-faced miners trudging home and telegram delivery boys whizzing through the streets.

“The GPO telegram delivery boys were a regular sight, delivering urgent messages; some good, some not so good,” recalls former Grangetown resident Alan Rowntree.

“I think Saturday’s were the busiest days, delivering congratulatory messages to brides and grooms. These lads used to buzz round on BSA Bantam motorcycles, painted green.”

Dozens of archive photos, aerial shots of old Grangetown and advertisements for by-gone businesses are also featured in the book, together with maps documenting the growth of the village.

“The characters may have long gone, but by preserving their stories we can preserve the history of a community, our history, our heritage,” said Rob.

** Look out for the final instalment in this series soon, which will feature tales of sport, school, war and entertainment from Volume Three of Rob’s trilogy.

Sidebar: Business snippets

* Wear Dye Works in Westholme Terrace offered “The best dry-cleaning there is” in 1954.

* M. Cowper, a newsagents in Westholme Terrace, prided itself on “The prompt delivery of any orders - large or small” in 1939.

* H.C. Forrest, a tobacconist and confectioner in Westholme Terrace, also doubled as an “up-to-date lending library” in the 1950s.

* T.W. and Marjorie Lish, a hairdressers in Regent Terrace, boasted of providing “professional skill and satisfaction” in 1961.

* “Everything for the baby” was offered at C. V. Marshall, a dispensing chemist in Windsor Terrace during the 1940s.

* It was “Quality First” at Alec Coombs, a high class meat purveyor in Windsor Terrace in 1939.

* Beef and pork butcher J. R. Blenkinsop, of Windsor Terrace, offered catering for social functions at “specially reduced prices” in 1961.

* Danish bacon and fresh country eggs were on sale at Ayre’s in Windsor Terrace in 1940.

* E. Nesbitt offered “High-class boot repairs” at a shop in Stockton Terrace.

* Chalk’s Fruit Stores, of Stockton Terrace, was “Noted for Potatoes” in 1974.

Sidebar: Margaret Street

MARGARET Street in Grangetown was constructed by builder George Moir over several stages in the early 20th Century - and named after his wife.

Among the early residents was James Edgar “Eddie” Pipe, who was born in 1929 and spent his childhood in the terraced street.

“Our house was shared by two families, one up and one down,” he recalls in Rob’s book. “The Browns lived upstairs and us Pipes downstairs.

“In those days you could rely on your neighbours to help you out if you had a problem. You very rarely locked your door when you went out.”

Working together was a necessity. The families shared washing facilities, such as water, mangles and poss tubs, as well as very basic toilet facilities.

“There was only on water supply, which was situated in the back yard. Every drop of water that you used had to be carried into the house,” said Eddie.

“In the winter it sometimes froze up. At these times we kept a supply in the wash house, which would be warmed up and used to get the tap unfrozen.

“The bath was a big galvanised tin one, in front of the kitchen fire. The hot water supply was numerous pots and pans on the open fire range.”

The Pipe’s home had just three rooms - a kitchen/living room, where Eddie and his brothers slept, as well as a bedroom for his parents and the front room - which was used only on special occasions.

“All the best furniture was in there; a piano organ that Mam used to play, the gramophone, a Welsh dresser with the best crockery. This only came out when we had visitors,” he recalls.

The Pipe’s home was lit by gas lamp when Eddie was a small child, with electricity only being installed just before the Second World War.

“Having no electricity, our wireless was powered by an accumulator,” he said. “This had to be charged up at least once a week.

“We had to be very careful carrying the accumulator. Besides being glass and breakable, it was also full of acid - so no running on this errand.”

Despite the almost primitive conditions, however, Eddie enjoyed a childhood full of pranks, family meals and cheerful company. “Grangetown is a village full of memories,” he added.