Tyne View by Port of Tyne Writer in Residence
This page is for longer and more considered pieces of writing, anything from poems, short stories, plays even, to pieces of reportage or crafted pieces of reminiscence
It's early days yet, but it's interesting to note that what's been submitted so far is mostly based on personal experience and has the power and immediacy to take the reader instantly back to a time and place. Reading them I was often as touched as I was impressed.
But then, as I keep saying, everyone has a story. Be inspired by what you will read below and send me yours, at email@example.com
Chris Wright has answered some questions, but raised others, in this glimpse of the lives of his parents, boarding-house keepers of Gateshead, who took in Norwegian sailors during the Second World War, and helped foster such good relations with their home country across the water. He reckons this is why Newcastle gets a tree every Christmas from Norway, and I think he might be right. I'd be delighted to hear more on this subject if anyone out there can add to the stories...
My parents, Alex and Mabel Wright lived on Cemetery Road in Gateshead and provided lodgings for Norwegian seamen during the 1939 - 1945 war. Some of the seamen became regulars and parties would be held when they came back. They provided special drinks by saving up the naval rum ration and adding dried fruit to it in the shape of raisins and sultanas.
My parents also told me that they tried to brew their own beer as well using potatoes in the tin bath. However this fermented for days on end and so violently that it overflowed the bath and ran out of the back door and down the steps. I of course can only relate this from the odd bits of conversation that I picked up as a child because I was born in 1946.
Built to last
The history of the Tyne is littered with the stories of remarkable ships, but this one from engineer and naval historian John Bage just about tops the lot. Prepare to be amazed. Prepare to meet the good ship Sviatogor - or is that Krassin? And the tale begins with a letter, as John Bage writes...
I had a request for info from a Russian Maritime museum after they
spotted a ship on my Charles Mitchell, Low Walker Shipyard website. It seems
the ship is still in one piece and a museum now!
Here is the message.
My name is Pavel, I work for the Museum "Ice-breaker Krassin in Saint-Petersburg.
Krassin is one of the oldest icebreakers; the ship is famous for rescue of the General Nobile expedition in 1928 and participation in Polar Convoys in WWII.
The icebreaker was built in Newcastle by the Armstrong and Vickers Ltd for the Russian Government in 1916. The vessel was called SVIATOGOR.
We're trying to find any material about SVIATOGOR in Great Britain archives - photos, drawings, schemes, ancestors of the people who built and designed the vessel.
We'll be grateful if you help us to make any contacts, any information to
start contacting and discussing the issue!
Here's a tantalisingly brief but superbly evocative piece from ship's master John Moir. I hope we can persuade him to write more...
I never fail to have warm feelings when I see a depiction of the smartly painted Swing Bridge on the upper Tyne.
I first sailed up that then bustling busy river in 1948. At the time I was studying, I had hoped, for a university course in agriculture.
I came from a long line of seafarers and farmers. My father, a Shipmaster and Nautical Surveyor, by that time had died. He left me with the dire words "No son of mine will go to sea". Reluctantly I was following his admonition.
During the summer holidays, a friend of mine invited me to sail on the good ship Lochside II. Affectionately known as the ‘Beery', she sailed once a week from the Deuchars Brewery in Montrose with a precious cargo of ale to the bottling plant at the foot of the Dog's Leap Steps and above the Swing Bridge. On her stately passage up the Tyne the racket of riveting would stop to cheer her on her way, a well known and loved sight on the river.
Strictly speaking, June Simpson's story 'Kitty Hewlett' isn't a story of the Tyne - it's set in the Cullercoats fishing community of a century or more ago. But let's not be pedantic - this is a lovely tale that will remind some of Catherine Cookson in her pomp and told with great brio and spirit by June. I also think I'm right in saying it's the longest entry we've had so far...
Thank you, June.
KITTY HEWLETT (a Cullercoats fishwife)
By June Simpson
Kitty tutt tutted to herself, and shook her head in a bad tempered manner.
Reaching into the deepest bottom drawer of a chest of drawers, she produced a heavy petticoat to wear on top of her others.
‘October', she said out loud, and I'm having to resort to this already, what am I going to do when winter really sets in?'
The petticoat had several tucks, which Kitty had hand sewn into the garment to shorten it a bit, also it was a habit, a tradition of the fisher folk, for the more tucks in the underskirt the more strong the item became and the better the fit for it's wearer.
My name is Alan Edgar
Alan Edgar has written a fascinating memoir of the 18 years he spent working in a historic Tyneside institution, sadly now gone - the Elswick lead works. It's a great insight into an industrial process, and the men and women who kept it going.
Thank you, Alan!
My name is Alan Edgar, and I worked in various capacities at the Elswick Lead Works from October 1947 to February 1965. I started as an apprentice chemist, and was at various times research assistant, shift foreman, and refinery manager, this latter only temporary.
The Works was founded in 1756, I think mainly to make lead shot, and the shot tower will be most people's memory, or awareness, of the lead works.
Work related memories by Cyril S Rickerby
The ingenuity and skill of Tyneside engineers and craftsmen is renowned, and I'm very grateful to Cyril Rickerby for sharing this brilliant example...
In the 1940s, I was a ventilation draughtsman at Thermotank. Unless you were permanently stationed atone shipyard, you had to travel by public transport - and getting from one yard to another was often very time-consuming.
One miserable day, late in November 1948, I had spent most of the day at Hawthorn Leslie's shipyard in Hebburn and decided to squeeze in another call, to John Redhead's at South Shields. By the time I arrived it was late afternoon and the light was fading. Making my way down to the berth, I met one of the yard foremen, who informed me the vessel I had come to see had been moved upriver to the Parson's Turbinia Yard! As a throwaway, he suggested I might cadge a lift with their tug, which was just about to leave for Parsons.
I approached the engineer in charge, who readily agreed to give me 'a lift ' upriver. By this time it was almost dark and in the very small wheelhouse, which was just about able to hold two beefy men, there was a bare minimum of lighting. Conversation was limited so I was looking around the controls and realized there was no speed indicator. When asked the engineer about it, his reply was typical of Tyne humour - ' De ye see the (smoke) stack behind the wheelhoose? - Well, when that stack starts stottin ' up and doon - we're gannin too b ...... fast!'
Tynemouth Mermaid by Elaine Page
Here is a fantastical tale about a mythic creature of the Tyne from Elaine Page. Thank you, Elaine - I especially like the way you end the story, with tongue stuck firmly in cheek...
Many, many years ago, long before the twin piers of Tynemouth were built; sheltering both land and shipping, returning vessels were often dashed by the strong and stormy seas upon the jagged Black Midden rocks, on the north shore of the river Tyne. Many ships foundered and many lives were lost on these treacherous and infamous rocks.
Occasionally however the rare survivors of such tragedies recollected being helped ashore by a beautiful maiden. "She had the reddest hair and eyes of green. Below her waist she had a silvery green fishes tail." In their drowning, semi-conscious state the sailors were swum to the safety of the shore in the arms of this silent beauty (half woman half fish) She spoke not a word -just smiled, to reassure them.
To tell such a story invited derision and accusations of drunkenness and insanity. The rescued men therefore would only speak of their meeting; with the kind and lovely 'Tynemouth Mermaid', amongst their families and loved ones.
This lovely lady was sometimes seen swimming in the area of the Black Midden rocks, which, were soon concealed by the incoming tide. Sailors and fishermen knew when they had sailed past this fleeting vision that they were home and safe.
With the building of the twin piers the waters at the mouth of the Tyne became safer and the Tynemouth Mermaid was seen less and less. But, wise local folk and fishermen think she still lingers to guide returning seaman safely home.
When storms whip the North Sea into a frenzy and the night is as dark as ink - when most folk are safe at home in their warm beds that is when I imagine the Tynemouth Mermaid is around - keeping vigil to guide the returning heroes home safely.
I'm sure she is still around - have you seen her? Are you brave enough to tell the tale?
Were you sober?
Summer in South Shields by Norman McGlasham
I love these two poems by Norman Henry McGlashan, which marvellously capture the atmosphere of a lost England of 50 years ago. Thank you, Norman!
The beaches are empty - the sun's got a frown
Summer's arrived in old South Shields town.
Fairground deserted promenades wet
Lots of day-trippers head home with regret.
Kids in the back seats of family cars,
Sit staring like aliens from that planet Mars
You've blanco'd their sand shoes and packed a deckchair
Left home with that attitude of devil may care.
Black clouds looming over it's getting quite dark,
As you head for the lake in the old marine park.
The boats are all tied up seats drenched with rain,
But you think as you wander I'm glad that I came.
It's such a nice town with some lovely views,
Next time I'll wear galoshes over my shoes.
You'd left home in a hurry and that rain you could hack
If only you'd brought your old 'pack-a-mac '.
You're feeling quite tired
It's the salt air and brine
In that breeze from the great North Sea.
And old Mother Tyne.
My England in the 50'S by Norman McGlasham
My England in the 50's a country full of life
There was full employment and not much talk of strife
Cinemas and coffee bars were full most every night
Everyone seemed happy - the world then felt just right.
Folk would queue without much fuss waiting for an omnibus.
Steam trains thundered in and out - neat stations scattered all about
People going to and fro politely said goodnight.
When passing in the streets - some still in old gaslight.
Houses had coal fires - which glowed and felt so warm
Gave a lovely cosy feeling in the snow or a storm
Households never dreamed they' d have
Hot running water and inside lav.
While popping on them shoes
For that quick visit to the outside loos.
Most things that you bought came from the corner shop.
One always knew one's number as used in the old ' Co-op'
I could dream forever of those splendid years so thrifty
Yes - My England in the 50 's...
Eye of the Mind by Margaret Quinn
Margaret Quinn grew up by the river, part of a family that was steeped in the Tyne's traditions. She draws all of this out with vivid detail and powerful language. Thank you, Margaret.
From the top of the hill a man looks down
At the empty yard below
And the eye of his mind fills the barren place
With scenes he used to know.
The cry of the gulls in the crystal air,
The smell of the salt-tanged shore,
And between, the bar of a steel grey sea
Are dredged from his memory's store
Rattle of rivets and hooter's blast,
The clash of hammer on steel,
The clang and bang of the metal press,
The scream of chain against keel.
The searing flame of the welder's torch
Plays the rod to a glow
And a molten arc of white-hot flux
Dies in the maw below.
Oil on water, green and gold,
Rainbows in the mire,
Gleam of copper, burnished brass,
Sets lambent pools on fire.
At the top of the hill the man recalls
Ships that went down to the sea:
Colliers, tankers, merchantmen
That kept a country free.
Raising his hand, he touches his cap
And salutes those ghostly hulls
Of ships that have long since gone to rust,
Mourned by keening gulls.
He turns away from the salt-sweet air,
To the crystal sky is blind,
And to salmon swimming the tide of the Tyne
He closes the eye of his mind.
The Tyne by John Finnigan
O majestic water of Tyne
How gracefully you move and give life
From your trickling source over moss and dew
Quenching the thirst of border sheep and grateful rambler
You grow strong and deep where the angler flicks the fly
Patiently anticipating the bite of the Trout or Salmon
Competing with the swooping Osprey and cantankerous Otter
The immovable Heron and Kingfisher perched on the bending willow
In a flash they pierce the mirrored water with bladed beak
You have carried ships and men to the corners of the earth
Vessels of the Tyne, resting at anchor in hot dusky ports
The apprentice learned the secrets of his trade in clanking yards on your banks
Men pouring forth like ants from colossal iron gates as the long shift ends
The chugging sea trawlers are returned to you safe where you merge with the sea
Their decks heaving with plunder from the treacherous icy depths
Have a fishy on a little dishy or a hot battered cod with tea and buttered bread
You galvanise our customs and give certainty where there is change and doubt
Before the bridges were built the Ferryman was king
A master of your swirling currents, the young lovers he would unite
The noble floodlit arcs now span your width and illuminate your meandering flow
Moving forward with time yet paying homage to your ageless beauty
The Princess of Felling by Elaine Cusack
Elaine Cusack has written a tender memoir about the effect of the Tyne on her as both a child and as an adult, which also pays tribute to a man whose rich and successful life happened to end in the Tyne. By a curious coincidence I also knew Graeme Stanton - he encouraged my journalistic ambitions in the same way he promoted Elaine's. A most fitting tribute. Thank you, Elaine.
"The hours of childhood ripen as slowly as plums upon a wall and the sun often stands for hours in the sky when children play"
- Kiddars Luck by Jack Common.
I'm ashamed to admit how much of a newcomer I am to Jack Common. I've known about him for years but only read Kiddars Luck six months ago. I was blown away by this vivid account of growing up in Heaton in the first fourteen years of the 20th century. I loved Common's witty and poetic style and found myself scribbling down several key sentences, including the quote above. This sentence encapsulates my feelings about my childhood and teenage years spent playing, walking, dreaming and scheming beside the Tyne.
I was born in 1970 in Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. I grew up down the hill in Felling and was aware of my proximity to the Tyne from an early age. Dad told me that true Geordies were those of us lucky enough to be born within two miles of the Tyne. I don't know if this is true but I continue to trot out this "fact" when describing my birthplace to folk who aren't from the North East.
I soon learnt the importance of the Tyne to my family. Dad told me about playing on Felling shore with his friends and siblings as a boy and Mam told me her father used to swim in the Tyne when he was young. I loved hearing these family tales but at the same time I was developing my own relationship with the Tyne.
Like a Current by Charles Bowden
'This following memoir, affectingly written by Charles Bowden, reminds us that there's another river beyond the Boundary Stone, above the tidal reach and the jurisdiction of the Port of Tyne - a river of sandy banks, browsing cattle and boys having madcap adventures. But the river flows on, like all our lives, down towards the sea...Thank you, Charles...
The River Tyne has flowed like a current through my life since I was born close to its murky waters one fine morning 64 years ago.
My passport states that Wallsend was my place of birth but in truth I wasn't there for long.
All my early years were spent on a farm near Haltwhistle whose land was bordered on one side by the Tyne.
Except that by now "our" river, having split just outside Hexham, was known as the South Tyne whose source is a trickle of springwater high on the Pennine hills.
Childhood on the banks of the South Tyne found me and my friend Alan roaming the area armed with bows cut from hazel bushes and arrows with makeshift points of lead. We were archers hot from the battle lines of Agincourt, dressed in courtly costumes run up by Alan's sister Margaret on her Singer.
We felt we were invincible. And in our imaginary battles we were. But the rabbits we aimed at were much too fleet of foot to ever be hit.
Other free food, however, was everywhere at hand. We cropped wild strawberries and blackberries from the hedgerows and dug up pignuts hidden deep in the soil in grassy, unploughed meadows. We were rewarded if we came home with a basket full of "scroggs", the Northumbrian name for crab apples. And some years it seemed that mushroom crops were so profuse the fields were white with the bulky plate-like shapes.
Bella by Susan Johnson
My experience of the river Tyne started for me when I was about 12 years old.
My mother Bella used to pick willicks on the Black Middens to sell at her stall in Whitley Bay, at the corner of Bournemouth Gardens.
The Black Middens are the rocks directly inside the two piers that go right along to the Fish Quay.
In the late 1950s before the new sea wall was built it was all cliffs, and the path down to it really started where the Port of Tyne cabin stands, as there was no car park then, it was just long grass, bushes and a pebbly path down to a old boat house.
Down the Quay by Gil Milburn, Ex-Docker, Newcastle Quayside
As I stand here on Millennium Bridge
And wonder at the changing scene
Is this the quay, where once I worked?
Or was it theatre, just a dream
Storage sheds and cranes are all long gone
And with them ships, docked bow to stern
Just echoes now, of the quayside throng
Though fading with time, memories still remain
The smell of citrus fruits, malt and grain
The odour of Tyne, often foggy and damp
Curry's from galleys, and bilges that stank
Butter and bacon, and tea chests stacked high
Loaded on wagons in endless supply
To experience this place, was to understand
These Dockers who worked ships, from distant lands
There were men down there, as tough as teak
Comedians, philosophers, guys gentle and meek
I can still hear there banter and distant laughs
Drift from quayside pubs, and local cafs
With fustian pants and cargo hook
And nicknames so apt of there manner and look
Like characters, from the pages of a dickens book
In the Dockers pool, work was a game of chance
Who the gaffers picked, from there rostrum stance
Like a mother bird feeding her young
And her hungry brood fighting for a crumb
Visions of those days gone by
Bring a tear to the memories eye
As I stand here now on Millennium Bridge
And reminisce of memories past
The scenes have changed, the stage is set
This theatre has a brand new cast
Norway Boats by Patricia Fawcett
In the mid-70's I did seasonal work on the Norwegian ferry boats when they came into the Tyne. I worked mainly on the Braemar and the Leda, the Venus and Jupiter when extra help was needed. I was only a cleaner, nothing grand but I loved the job.
There were lots of laughs even though it was hard work at times . On quick sailings you had to be going some to prepare the cabins for passengers. I caught the bus to North Shields, then another one along Howden Road, Had to walk (or hitch a lift) down Coble Dene to the Tyne Commission Quay. Matthiesson's Offices were where the Earl of Zetland is now and the Braemar pulled in near there.
Changing Times by Vera Cranmer
There was a parallel existence
Of River Tyne and cobbled lanes
Building bricks and building ships
Chimney tops and giant cranes.
Grinding, crunching, blasting, banging
Blizzards blowing from the sea
Women talking, kiddies shrieking
All in close proximity.
No trees or flowers or grassy field
To dull the thud of worker's feet
But in all seasons ships stood tall
At the bottom of Davis Street.
When launch-day crowds swelled the lanes
It was impossible to be aloof
Folk yelled and waved in jubilation
Side by side on each coalhouse roof.
Flat earth now lies where those houses stood
Proud beside their industry
And now the Shipyard is subdued
Yet the waters of the Tyne run free.
Coming home by Captain Ian McNaught Captain of the QE2
Having worked for Cunard Line for many years it took me a lot of that time to persuade them that we should visit the North East on one of our cruises. That dream for me was realised when in 2007, we took QE2 on a cruise around the UK to celebrate her 40th birthday.
We left Southampton on September 15 to begin this voyage around our islands, and our first port of call was to be North Shields on the River Tyne. The morning of the 16th September found us closing in on Flamborough Head to begin our run up the east coast and enjoy the scenery, but our first job was to come into Scarborough Bay to pick up Sir Jimmy Saville. As we closed into the bay the winds and seas had already begun to increase but Sir Jimmy managed to clamber on board from the deck of a fishing boat, cigar clenched in his teeth throughout, and, having "Fixed it for Jim", we went on our way up towards Whitby High. As the day progressed though, the weather was taking a turn for the worse, and by the time we'd passed the Tees and were off the piers at Sunderland, the skies were quite black, with strong gusting winds and heavy rain, not ideal conditions to take a large ship into the River Tyne, but ever the optimists, we pressed on for our appointed arrival time, two hours before high water that afternoon.
Great River by Kathleen Craig
"I was very struck by the following poem by Kathleen Craig. One of the reasons for initiating this project was to recognise and celebrate the role the Tyne has played and still plays in the lives of the people who live alongside it, most obviously in the provision of employment and leisure. But here is evidence of something else the river gives us - a sense of solace and spiritual comfort when we need it. Thank you, Kathleen for sharing this with us - great river indeed."Michael Chaplin
I laughed and played alongside you as a childIt's to you I turn to when I want to hide
You're always there for me night and day
You'll always be part of my life, you'll never go away
Time after time I come to you for comfort, for solace
I've shared with you my hopes, my dreams
I know Great River you will never betray me
When dusk climbs across your summer skies
As stars and harvest moon reflect upon your ebbing tides
You are always there for me Great River
Great River you give me strength from your very being
You are part of me
Yet I, I am part of you
You give me hope
As I know you give hope to others like me
To other children of the river
Whose secrets you carry deep within your unrelinquishing waters
Shipyard Requiem by Anthony Todd
We all know how much the river has changed in the last 25 years. The collapse of both shipbuilding on the river and the coal industry that once fuelled much of its export trade seemed to happen bewilderingly quickly, which is one of the reasons, I suppose, why many people are moved to write about these changes, reflect on them and maybe try to make sense of them.
Anthony Todd here makes his own contribution to a loss that seems both physical and spiritual. Michael Chaplin
Cranes that once worked hard
Towering over the silent yard
For work to come again
Docks that gave birth to many ships
Built with the sweat of mans brow
Elegant ocean liners, proud navy vessels
Mauretania, Ark Royal, HMS Newcastle
Nothing but memories now
Giant super tankers reaching to the sky
Throwing shadows over streets nearby
Monarchs of the river
Northumbria, SS Ottawa, Sir Winston Churchill
Just a memory too
For the yard has closed
Gone are the working men
What does the future hold for them?