It was St David’s day on 1st March and my friends with Welsh roots were rightly proud. It got me thinking about the North of England, where I was born and jokingly I suggested that we Geordies should have a patron saint too! There can be few people prouder of their roots than Geordies!
The word Geordie is believed to be a corruption of the name George, which was the most common name for pitmen in the North. It is a slang word for anyone born and raised in the area of the River Tyne, just as Cockney is a slang word for someone born within the sound of Bow Bells.
I certainly qualify as Geordie because I was born in Gateshead, very close to the Tyne. Sadly no blue plaque for me as the house was demolished when the Felling Bypass was built near Gateshead International Stadium!
I was born in the scorching summer of 1947 which followed a record breaking winter. My mum recounted being trapped indoors for weeks by the snowdrifts which were piled up outside the house. The war had recently ended and times were hard for everyone. There was destruction all around from the bombs which had been aimed at the shipyards, coalmines and factories around Gateshead. Food and clothes were still rationed and jobs were in short supply and poorly paid. My father was in the navy during the war then went back to work in the shipyards as a welder. He had to cross the river and cycle many miles each day to get to work. Housing for the majority of working people was atrocious. With gas lighting, tiny kitchens which we called a scullery, and outside toilets, there were no mod cons. There was no central heating, just a gas or coal fire in the living room. Only the local doctor and policeman had a phone or a car as far as I knew. Entertainment was provided by the wireless or the newspaper which had cartoon strips in it. There was no TV for us, and computers hadn’t even been invented. On the rare occasions when we travelled to the seaside at Whitley bay or South Shields for the day, we went by train. To go to the city (of Newcastle), we went on a tram or trolley bus.
Life was tough in the late 40s and early 50s. But Geordies were tough too, reflecting their industrial surroundings ~ whatever their age.
I was certainly a determined child. One of my earliest memories is of telling my mum that I wanted to go and show my favourite aunty my new slippers. My mum must have been busy because I managed to dress, put on said slippers and get my doll and her pram down the 15 steps which led to our back yard. From there I walked the cobbled lanes pushing my little pram onward through Felling Park to Sunderland Road. Now Sunderland Road has always been busy so I sensibly waited at the crossing. In those days there were policemen directing traffic on main roads and this was my downfall. Naturally the policeman on duty was surprised to see such a young child crossing the road alone. And so my trip to show my aunty my new slippers came to a very sticky end. I was taken to the police station where I sat eating chocolate cake until they traced my distraught mother. I was just 2½ years old at the time!
I guess I was lucky to have been picked up by such a kind policeman. But I wasn’t the luckiest child ever rescued in the North. That award definitely goes to Mary Leighton.
Mary was born in 1771 in Wylam, a village on the banks of the River Tyne. She was christened in St Peter’s Church that April. According to newspaper reports, on the night of 16th November there was a dreadful flood which washed away bridges all along the Tyne. The village of Wylam was devastated and many houses were washed away. Baby Mary was asleep in her wooden cradle when the flood reached her home. Her cradle was carried away on the floodwaters with her inside it. Miraculously the cradle complete with baby Mary, alive and well, was picked up by a ship near the mouth of the Tyne.
There are many famous people who were Geordies. The Newcastle University website is a mine of information http://libguides.ncl.ac.uk/content.php?pid=462634&sid=3833544
And many talented people today are proud of their northern roots. Jimmy Nail who is a bit younger than me but his memories are closely aligned with mine. He expressed just what I feel in his song ~ Big River
Some of my other blogposts about the North are here: