Big River ~ Rescue

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
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:

Spanish City
Durham Light Infantry

Bridge ~ Haiku

Today’s post is inspired by Haiku Heights prompt ‘Bridge’.  Bridges have always held a fascination for me.   My father worked all his life in the steel industry and I loved listening to him explain the engineering behind the iconic structures that fascinated him.  There was no shortage of inspiration in Newcastle on the River Tyne where I grew up as a child.  Having 7 bridges in less than a mile close to my home on that great river, each one totally different yet perfectly suited to their task,  there was always something to look at and learn about.

River Tyne god

River Tyne god

It is recorded that Hadrian built the first bridge on the Tyne in AD 122 before he built his wall.  He named the bridge Pons Aelius in honour of the his family name.  The family crest was a Goat’s head which is where the name ‘Gateshead’ is thought to derive from.  From then on records show there was a crossing at this point over the centuries until 1248 when it was destroyed by fire.  But in 1250 a medieval bridge was built with turreted guard towers, a chapel, shops and houses on it.    In 1771 that bridge was virtually destroyed by a great flood but in 1778 a Georgian bridge replaced it.  This bridge made navigation difficult at times and dredging impossible upriver so an opening  bridge was proposed in 1851

The seven bridges at the heart of the city are

Gateshead Millennium Bridge, known as the ‘Blinking Eye’ because of the way it opens, was opened in 2001

The Tyne bridge, was opened by King George V in  October 1928.  My mother was 3 years old then and remembered sitting on her uncle’s shoulders on the bridge actually watching the ceremony!

The Swing Bridge was opened in 1876 to enable ships to pass along the Tyne.  At its peak the bridge swung open 30 times a day.  In 1924, 6000 vessels were said to have passed through.  The opening mechanism is still in full working order and the bridge still opens on special occasions.

The High Level Bridge was needed when the railways came to town!   Originally trains had to stop in Gateshead and passengers were then ferried across the Tyne to Newcastle where they were faced with a very steep climb up steps to the city.  This bridge was designed by Robert, son of George Stephenson.  It is double decked with rail lines above and a road beneath.  It was the first bridge of its kind (double deck rail/road) in the world and was made of 5000 tons of local wrought iron and cast iron.  It was opened by Queen Victoria in September 1849.

The Metro Bridge is officially called Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge as our Queen opened it with Prince Philip in 1981.  This was designed and built to cater for the new integrated transport system from Newcastle to the coast at South Shields.  Believe it or not when I was a child in the 40s and 50s in gateshead/Newcastle we still travelled on trams or trolley buses!  The Metro was after my time, but I have been on it in recent years and it is a superb system, being fast, clean and efficient.

The King Edward Bridge was opened in 1906 by the then King Edward VII.  It was desperately needed as railway travel was now so popular that the High level Bridge could not cope with the traffic.

Lastly on this short and busy stretch of my favourite river is the Redheugh Bridge.  To be honest this is the third Redheugh Bridge as the original two were unfit for purpose.  But the final one was a triumph of pre-stressed concrete with 4 lanes for traffic and one path for pedestrians.  This bridge was opened by the Diana, Princess of Wales in 1984.

Any Geordie will tell you that the view from the train as it crosses the Tyne is enough  to set the heart racing.  Just the word, ‘Bridge’ set my muse going so I am posting some of my haiku here for you.

Captured on canvas

The city of my childhood

A lifetime abridged


Train carries me back

Beyond landmarks unchanging

Loved city unfolds


From the bridge I see

My family’s history

Slip away from me


Poor men paid a toll

A penny from a pittance

To cross the ‘Coaly Tyne’


Painted bridge belies

Oily blackness deep below

Hidden history


Under the arches

The homeless shelter each night

In cardboard boxes


Standing on the edge

She saw no life before her

Flowers lie there still


bridges on the Tyne painted in watercolour by Ron Thornton.jpg

bridges on the Tyne painted in watercolour by Ron Thornton.jpg

The 1781 stone bridge, with the High Level Bri...

The 1781 stone bridge, with the High Level Bridge in the background, from an 1861 illustration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge t...

English: The Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge that carries the Tyne and Wear Metro over the river Tyne, viewed from Forth Banks in Newcastle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gateshead Quays across the River Tyne at night...

Gateshead Quays across the River Tyne at night – Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Sage Gateshead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)