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BARLOW 1925-1935

by Alex Johnson

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BARLOW SCHOOL

The school was opened in 1912. Being built of corrugated iron it was scheduled to last twenty years. It still stands today at the head of the village, proud and defiant. It had two entrances one for boys and one for girls and infants. Inside each door was a cloakroom. Connecting them was a corridor which went the full length of the school.

There were three classrooms, one for infants, one for middle school and one for seniors. These led off the corridor and on the opposite side in the centre was the "Holy of Holies" - the Staff Room. On the wall of the end classroom, in large letters was the motto "TRY"; pointed out very often. In the senior classroom, also in large letters was the motto, "PLAY UP AND PLAY THE GAME". On the walls were large pictures, awarded to the school for good attendance. I remember two of them very well. One was the arrival of the Danes at Tynemouth, watched by a worried Briton. The other was the building of the Roman Wall, showing British slaves working under the Roman supervision.

I started Barlow School in 1924, together with Katie McGuire, Elsie Mordue and Ivy Atkinson. Katie and I were related and had been brought up almost as brother and sister in the Back Row. I gather we walked up hand-in-hand with our parents, Emma Johnson and Tottie McGuire. We were then handed over to Mrs Duddy who dressed in black with a ribbon round her neck and with pince-nez spectacles balanced on her nose, frightened me to death. She was however a dedicated teacher, a "battle-axe" and a strict disciplinarian. I had learnt my alphabet at Sunday School in Chapel so I missed her wrath, and her knuckle on my head. I enjoyed my schooling and I have vivid memories of Mrs Duddy winding up the school gramophone, turning the horn so that we could hear it better, and we children sitting spell-bound listening to records of A.A. Milne. "Buckingham Palace" and "I want a Rabbit" were my favourites. Many years later I taught with her niece Mrs F Robson of Winlaton, and at my request searched for those records but they had been destroyed after the death of Mrs Duddy.

Christmas Time at Barlow School was wonderful. The school was lit up with coloured lanterns (a rarity in those days). Large pictures of the Nativity covered the walls. A crib was there for all to see and wonder. The teachers seemed to be all artists for we made all kinds of Christmas cards and novelties to take home. These were greatly prized and adorned most of the houses in the village. Decorations were made and were put up about three weeks before school broke up and on the last day of term we took them home to be put up in our houses. Carols were sung with great feeling. Christmas was really Christmas in those days.

Miss Gilholme was my favourite teacher, tall and young, I worshipped her and cried when she left (at home of course!) She gave me her Bible when she left. Miss Gilholme took the middle class children of about eight to eleven years old. She left to marry a Mr Forster of Blaydon and they ran a Newsagent shop in the Square at Blaydon. Unfortunately she died a few years after leaving Barlow School. The top class was taken by the headmaster, Mr Holland.

Mr Holland was a fine example of a schoolmaster. Stern of visage - yet kind; formally dressed in a dark suit with a winged collar and bow tie, he ruled the school with firm discipline (and a stick).

Such was his standing the village that all men touched their forelocks to him as a mark of respect and, "Good morning Sir", was heard throughout the village as he walked up from Winlaton.

What a contrast to the respect shown today for members of the profession. Probably if teachers today dressed and acted in the same way, they too might be placed on the pinnacle on which those teachers of the pre-war days were undoubtedly raised.

The boys of the village however, if they saw him coming either hastened to school ahead of him or tactfully retreated, till he had passed the house. His standards were high and rules simple. If you broke a rule you were punished. I learnt this very early in life so I kept to the rules and avoided having to put out my hand for the painful swish of the cane. Some boys were punished regularly and used to tell us, that they had put a horse hair across the hand that this had minimised the pain. I accepted their word!!

Mr Holland was succeeded by Mr Cox, a gentleman from South Durham, a veritable foreigner. He too believed in discipline but was much more approachable than his predecessor. He made me work by putting me in X7 with the older boys and I can thank him for enabling me to pass the entrance examination for Blaydon Grammar School.

Barlow School was a happy school. We learnt our Hymns, many were written especially for children and we enjoyed singing them. Hymns such as "There's a Home for little children above the bright blue sky" - "Jesus Loves Me" and many more were sung with great fervour and totally believed. Unfortunately most of these old hymns have been discarded in the mistaken belief that they gave the children the wrong concept on Heaven. How wrong they are.

Songs were taken from the National Song Book and I still remember them today. Others too will remember "The Golden Vanity", "Sweet Polly Oliver", "Billy Boy", "Dashing away with the smoothing iron", "The Minstrel Boy", "Land of Hope and Glory". One song we sang throughout the school and I sang it always, so much so that when the war began I was one of the first to volunteer. The song was "What can I do for England, That does so much for me?" One of her faithful children I can and I will be". I was, I gave up seven years of my life to serve England.

The teachers were all Patriots and so were Royal Family minded, and we too loved the Royals, King George V, Queen Mary and her children.

I well remember the day, I think it was in l928, when we were told that the Prince of Wales would be passing the school. We went into the yard and lined the school railings, peering through the gaps. There was a buzz of expectancy then, after about an hour the Royal car came past with its retinue. I remember seeing the car and a blurred vision of a face. It mattered not; I had actually seen the Prince of Wales. I walked on air that day and burst home to tell my parents. My Father listened and remarked, "Aye, He's a canny chap!"

I remember too, the long portions of Scripture we had to learn. John XIV, Isiah LIII, Beatitudes and the 10 Commandments being just a few.

I can quote them even now. Many children suffered, because of their inability to memorise these passages.

Unilever Soaps held a "Clean Hands" competition in Schools. Hands had to be inspected morning and afternoon for a month and stars were given to the children who passed the inspection. When the card was full, a badge and certificate was given to the child. Boys love badges and desperately wanted to win these precious gifts but were seldom able to do so for it was marble season and no boy could resist playing marbles on his way to school; so, try as he may, he always presented his hands fairly clean (a spit and a wipe on his trousers) except for his first finger knuckle joint which was used to propel the marble and so was filthy. Alas, I was one of these boys.

Armistice Day, was a very serious day. We were all paraded in the school yard and when the pit-hooter went we stood silent for two minutes as a token of respect to those who had given their lives in the cause of freedom.

The whole country stood still for those two minutes. Cars, cart walkers and even people indoors showed the same respect.

Empire Day was exciting. We had lessons about the colonies then we dressed up to represent our colonial friends, and carrying flags we paraded around the school yard. We were proud to be British. It is a crying shame that so few of us still retain this feeling for our marvellous country. We were given the afternoon for a holiday; a tradition which has long since disappeared except in Australia where, strangely enough, Empire Day is still celebrated.

Pancake Tuesday was always popular. We all sang on the way to school and in the playground, "Pancake Tuesday's a very Happy Day; If you don't give us holiday we'll all run away." The teachers must have been amused for they knew, and we knew, that we would get the afternoon off. We would all race home to devour copious numbers of pancakes covered with sugar and vinegar or lemon or honey. If it were fine we were straight out with our tops and whips and skipping ropes. If it were a winter's day out came our sledges.

Maths was the most difficult subject for the majority of pupils and mental arithmetic in those days was really advanced. I doubt if many pupils today could master the sums of those days and I have the text books should any doubt my word.

I could not leave the subject of school without mentioning Transcription. This was the art of writing. We had to use school pens and ink. The pens would be regarded as monstrosities today. They were small rods with a nib holder at the end. The nib-holder sometimes was a little too large for the shaft and nipped your finger. You dipped the pen into the inkwell. It had to be just far enough into the well to cover the bottom half-inch of the nib. Most times however it went deeper so you either had blots on your paper or ink-stained fingers; either of which brought you "the stick". The pens had to be held firmly between the thumb and first two fingers, with the knuckle of the first finger flat on the pen. The pen had to be held at an angle of 45° pointing over the right shoulder. Every upward stroke had to be thin and every downward stroke thick, by a little more pressure. We had to copy from the blackboard, on which the teacher had written (in perfect writing of course) a Thought for Today. The teacher walked round with his stick or a ruler in his hand and if you knuckle was protruding skywards, a sharp rap by the rod soon brought it down. Some children learnt to write beautiful copperplate writing. I wonder why my knuckle is swollen. It was never a popular lesson!!!

One lesson I did enjoy was General Knowledge. This was held in the last half hour of lessons every Friday. If you answered questions correctly you were allowed out early. I loved it for my general knowledge was good so two or three of us would gleefully make our way homewards or into the field for a game of football.

Today children have trips world-wide and accept them without even getting excited. This is probably due to Air Travel and TV making the world a much smaller place. What a difference in my day. We had an annual School Trip to Whitley Bay. This was always greeted with great excitement and enthusiasm. Mothers and children clambered aboard the buses, carrying great bags of food and buckets and spades.

All schools in Blaydon District had the trip on the same day and the buses were programmed to dovetail into a long convoy, all numbered.

Arriving at Whitley Bay one could see about fifty buses disgorging happy, excited children. This trip was the highlight of the year.

The schoolyard was divided into two parts, one part for Infants and Girls, the other part for Boys. In this yard we played all types of games. The one I hated was when the big boys grabbed everyone and shoved them into the urinal, with a guard on the entrance. It became packed with every child pushing and shoving and small boys were nearly suffocated. The culprits of course had no idea of the distress caused.

Outside the school, on the North side, and beside the main road were small rock gardens, probably a dozen or so, each about six feet long and tended lovingly by volunteers. It helped to make the school look "cared-for" and added a splash of colour to an already colourful school. The Authority always kept it a nice primrose yellow.

It may be of interest to know that I have bought the village school, so soon it may ring with childish laughter as it did years ago. I intend to use it as a School Adventure Camp for the children of Linden School which I own.

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THE CHAPEL

Barlow must have been a hot-bed of Methodism in John Wesley's day. He left behind a very sincere disciple in Christopher Hopper. Hopper taught the village people in a building we called the Mission House, occupied in my day by a branch of the Scott family. There was a date above the door, I think it was 1743.

A new Chapel was built in 1870 and as my Great Uncle Jack was a local preacher in it, my family were all baptised in it. He died before I was old enough to hear him preach but I well remember sitting on the hard wooden pews near the front, listening to Mr "Dodey" Gair and Mr Matty Scott preaching Hell and Damnation from the pulpit! This was really Primitive Methodism. Mr Scott ranted and raved enthusiastically and from the congregation would come thunderous choruses of "Amen", "Praise the Lord" from Mr Gair, Joe Hogg and other village elders. They used to "frighten me to death" and every Sunday I promised God I would behave - Hell was not for me!! I remember the Chapel well! On the back wall for everyone to see was GOD IS LOVE; somehow it didn't quite fit the image from the pulpit.

Sunday School was compulsory for most of us. It was a good habit to get into, indeed it was at the Sunday School that I learnt my alphabet. I remember sitting holding a large black card. It must have been about 2½ ft by 1½ ft and had the alphabet in white - capital letters on one side and small letters on the other side. It was dog-eared, worn with the constant handling of countless boys and girls of four years. I can't remember who my Sunday School teacher was, but God Bless her she certainly started me off on my academic career.

Anniversary Sunday was a big day. We were all given poems to learn and I was usually upset, for being a little ahead at school I was always given a very long and usually boring poem. It was useless complaining to Mother, she was too proud of me to accept anything shorter.

I remember Gwenda Hogg reciting, "I saw a mouse upon the wall; It caught its tail and that was all." She was about four so won great appaluse as she stood there in here frilly dress. Gwenda was never able to come out and play with us when she grew older. Her mother was very fastidious and so Gwenda had to play indoors to keep clean.

Harvest Festival was a lovely time in chapel. We all took fruit and vegetables and flowers to decorate the building. There were fresh sheaves of corn around the pulpit, and loaves of bread in the shape of sheaves on the walls. I used to collect wild flowers and they too were prominently displayed. I joined the singing of "We Plough the Fields" with great joy. I think that this service means more to country people than to townsfolk, and probably meant more then than now, for we lived then on our own village produce.

Sometime about 1930-1932 the Methodist Church ended a two hundred year stay in Barlow. The Salvation Army stepped in. Captain Stevens came up from Blaydon and found a host of eager recruits. He was ably assisted by "Lottie" an enthusiastic Salvationist. She was about 4 feet 10 ins tall with very bowed legs. Her popularity was immense.

Her cheerfulness won the hearts of all the women of Barlow and she could scrounge, cajole and winkle things from all the villagers.

I must confess I thoroughly enjoyed singing the Salvation Army Choruses, most of them were sung to modern tunes of that day.

Most of the old people of Blaydon will remember Lottie and her tambourine. I have no doubt but that she is in Heaven - she surely deserved a place.

I could not finish without mentioning the lady who for years ran the village chapel. Miss Hilda Phillipson gave up hours weekly to ensure that the chapel was kept clean and tidy, ran the Sunday School and was beloved by all.

The Methodist Church came back to Barlow sometime after the war but only lasted about twenty five years and was left to fall into ruin. It is now a lovely house so most of the building still stands.

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WEEK-ENDS

Saturday was a wonderful day for me when I was very small. Up early to call for Harry Mcguire. The two of us would play football for hours, either in the back-field or on the street corner, using a small tennis ball. I would be Hughie Gallacher and he would be Albert McInroy in goal; then we would change roles and off we would go again. Sometimes however we would be called for by our parents and I would probably have to go over to High Spen on an errand for old Mrs Carter who would come past several houses to call out "Emma, would or Eleck gan to Spen for mi?"

Mother always assented and so off I went dribbling the tennis ball all the way. On my return I would hand in the shopping and refuse point-blank to accept any money. I would have been in touble if I had accepted payment. It had to be an errand of mercy.

On the Saturday afternoon I would collect my penny pocket money and with two or three others, including my young brother, go over to High Spen. Here I had to make a decision. With the penny I could buy my favour comic "Chips", buy some sweets for a halfpenny or pay to go to see Spen Black and Whites play football. I usually bought the comic, was given a sweet or two by someone who couldn't read and so bought sweets, and then we all went up to the Football Field. Here by crafty work we always managed to "sneak" into the field.

In the evening, if it was fine we played under the street light at the corner of Front Row. Here we played school games, Kick the Block and Reliev-o. If it was raining we played indoors.

I usually talked Robert Lynn, Lawrence Wills and Jackie Needham to come into my house where together with brother Robert, we played schools under my tuition or for a change we acted plays or played charades.

Sunday was a quiet day for all except our mothers. They toiled away to produce a huge Sunday lunch, taken in two stages, one for Mothers and Children at about 12.30 and one about 2.30 p.m. for fathers, who came in straight from the pub or club usually in a very amiable frame of mind.

There was chapel in the morning for most of us - the "heathens" played football and wasn't I envious! Sunday School was compulsory on the afternoon and then tea. In the evening families went for a walk. Our family often walked over the fields to the Fan Blast and then down Norman's Riding to Winlaton. Here we stopped awhile to listen to the band playing on the lawn, then continued our walk. We always lost father here; many years later I realised that it was Winlaton West End Club. On the way we would meet, or join up with, other Barlow families, all dressed up in their "Sunday Best" clothes, and we boys would wait impatiently while the mothers chattered away. This Sunday evening walk was a Social Event for the women of the village.

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WINTER

Winter brings back memories - of snowmen, snowballing, sledging and that wonderful feeling one gets when one sees a complete landscape blanketed with snow and no trace of human footprints or even habitation, the view from our front window.

In front of the Back Row was some waste land and on this we built our snowmen and had our snowball fights. Sledging was marvellous. We could actually sledge from Barlow School to Phillipson's Farm without stopping but it was such a long walk back that we preferred a shorter run. The children from the top end of the village started at the Front Row and stopped at the Black Horse; whilst those who lived at the bottom of the village sledged down the bank to the end of the village. Another great and fast run was the footpath past Phillipson's Farm down to Barlow Burn. It was very steep and hair-raising; you had to aim for the gate in the hedge crossing the path half-way down the run.

The Lonnen was also well used, especially by the bottom-enders. The teenage boys used a huge farm sledge on this road. Stephen Waters, Robert Waters, Jim Johnson, Billy Atkinson, Turnbulls and many other boys piled on to this huge sledge. Runners had been tied to the bottom, I think they were blades from a farm "binder". Willing hands pushed and shoved till it finally started off and hurtled down the Lonnen at great speed, throwing aside ice and snow as it tore along. These boys were completely at the mercy of the sledge for it was far too big and heavy to steer. It was a great sight to see boys jumping off in haste, others being thrown helter-skelter into the snow as the vehicle crashed into a wall or hedge. I was a coward - I watched!

We often sledged in twos, sometimes sitting but more often "belly flappers" with a boy sitting astride the prone body. This encouraged racing side by side with efforts being made to push the opponent off the road.

All our sledges were home-made and some were better than others, depending upon the skill of the parent.

I enjoyed the snow when I was free to play but not so much when I had to walk to Grammar School. Sometimes the show had drifted several feet deep on Barlow Fell and it was no easy task for a boy of twelve to plough his way through these drifts to get to school. Occasionally the village was snowed in and I well remember Father saying that the snow drifts were up to the top of the telegraph poles on the road to High Spen. Father and the other miners seldom missed a shift - they just could not afford to lose money.

Mother always armed me on my journey with a small bottle of ginger wine (always Castle Brand of course). She said it would give me strength. Every house had gallons of ginger wine at Christmas Time.

In the winter evenings when we were tired of sledging we usually returned to my house to play games. The boys of Front Row and Back Row usually ended up at No.37. Here in the cosy light of the oil lamp we played happily. Mother, bless her, never objected to the boys for they were never noisy, which is a tribute to the self-discipline expected in those days.

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DISCIPLINE

Discipline in the village was strict but it was more of a family discipline, thus we behaved through self-discipline. If a child misbehaved at home the Father seldom touched the child, it was the mother who administered the punishment and we hated the dreaded words "Wait till your father comes home!"

Fathers only had to growl and children fled. Family honour meant something in those days. If you were punished for a misdemeanour at school and your parents heard of it then you were in trouble at home for besmirching the family name. At school the Headmaster ruled with the cane. Mr Holland was reputed to shave the end of his cane in order to make it more flexible.

We had no village policeman. There was P.C. Dick Riddle at High Spen. He was well-liked by the men. I think he had a "Nelson's eye" for the betting slips and the Pitch & Toss School which went on every Sunday behind the Front Row up the corner field.

Children disappeared when he occasionally walked over on his beat, innocent as they were. Such was our respect for the law. The big boys talked about the birch and it was obvious that they held it in great fear. Tales were told of birchings of boys from other villages and of blood running down their backs. No doubt it was completely exaggerated but it was enough to make them behave. It was never needed in Barlow. I cannot remember a single act of vandalism or thuggery in my boyhood. Doors were left unlocked at all times. No one thought about robberies. Ladies walked from High Spen and Winlaton in the dark without lights and completely unafraid. Children played in the woods and away from the village and no parent worried about them.

Good manners were taught at home. To speak back to one's mother was asking for a slap across the ears by father. Mothers quite rightly, were on a pedestal. I remember being taught that when calling on my friends I had to knock on the door and wait. When I was invited in I had to remove my cap before crossing the threshold. I then had to stand till I was told to sit down. If any lady entered the room I had to stand. Mother's favourite saying was "Good manners cost nothing".

Our "Please" and "Thank You's" were checked. Good manners were a family responsibility in those days; alas, it no longer applies.

When invited out to tea, we were instructed to eat the sandwiches first and then have a piece of cake. A second piece of cake (we were told) showed greediness and so we had to decline with thanks.

If it was a large party, the adults ate first. The children were sent out to play. They had their teas later, eating what was left after the adults had fed. Woe betide any child who interrupted an adult conversation. No matter where he was, he was duly chastised. Children were expected to respect old people and to help them in any way possible, without reward.

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HOSPITAL

One journey dreaded by women and children alike, was the journey by ambulance to Norman's Riding Hospital. Scarlet Fever was rife when I was a child and many village children, including my younger brother contacted the disease. It meant a six-weeks stay in hospital and then two weeks at home. This was a bitter blow to a boy especially in the Summer Time. Once inside the hospital you were allowed no visitors. Every week parents and families would walk down to the Hospital and peer through the iron railings in the hope of getting a wave from a window. A sign of recognition was enough to send a family away in a more cheerful frame of mind for it meant that the patient was "on the mend".

Food parcels were left at the lodge at the entrance of the hospital drive. The nurses were very popular, especially our own Barlow girl Katie McGuire a fresh-faced young girl from Back Row. Katie incidentally brought fame to the village when she was about eight years old. There was to be a Charleston Competition at the Picture Palace, High Spen (sadly burnt down recently). The dance was quite new and therefore was in vogue. Katie was entered and we all followed her to the cinema that night. Judging was by applause and Katie won comfortably. I still remember the tune; it was, "Let's all go to Mary's house, to Mary's house, and have a real good time!" Perhaps others will remember the tune if not the occasion.

When an occupant of a house contracted Scarlet Fever the house was fumigated. Doors and windows were sealed, a disinfectant cannister placed in the house, lit and the whole house was fumigated for twenty four hours. The smell was horrible and hung around for days. If the patient was a child at school, all his books were burnt by the teachers.

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WINLATON HOPPINGS

Winlaton Hoppings was one of the highlights of the year. Everyone went to the Hoppings, with or without money. The atmosphere was marvellous. Long before you reached Winlaton the cacophony of sound assailed your ears and you quickened your pace.

We skipped our way down to Winlaton. The Hoppings were in Commercial Square, Hood Square and in the streets.

Being poor we had little money to spend. Mother however always saw that we had something to take to spend.

When we were exhausted, we staggered happily home, laughing and joking and reliving the exhilarating rides we had enjoyed. We made our way across the Windy Fields up to Nobby's Wood. Here we stopped our chatter, paused for breath and dashed madly through the wood. We were convinced that the wood was haunted by Selby's ghost, a suicide of 1660. This idea was encouraged by the older boys who, seeing us nearing the wood, hid and by making groaning noises had us breaking speed records up Barlow Letch.

Nobby's Wood is no longer there and a housing estate has now accepted the ghost of Mr Selby.

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THE GENERAL STRIKE

One of my earliest and most vivid memories of my childhood was the General Strike of 1926. Coal supplies to households ceased, so the miners of Barlow dug a shaft in Mr Harry Waters house at the top of the village. This was actually a well in the house. The miners used the well as a shaft and broke out into the coal seam. The police investigated and finally gave permission to dig as long as the coal was given only to Barlow people.

This house was chosen as it was just above the coal seam. An improvised pulley was used to pull up the coal and this was tipped into prams and other containers brought by householders. I well remember helping my Mother to pull the loaded pram down to Back Row. My Father was working at the shaft; he was one of many who worked in shifts to bring up the coal.

I also remember being taken by brother Jim up to the Bark Wood. Here we selected suitable logs and dragged them all the way back home to supplement the coal ration for the hungry fire. I can still feel the glow of satisfaction as Mother thanked us profusely for our work. It was a family effort to survive.

I vaguely remember the Soup Kitchen. It was in the Chapel and was well used by some families, without it they would not have survived. My Grandmother refused to allow us to go. She said that it was for the poor children!! I wanted to go, so I have been told, because the soup smelt lovely and I obviously thought I was missing something.

Poverty was known and accepted in those days. There is no real poverty, as we knew it, today. In spite of this dire poverty, the women of the village kept their homes spotless and everything shone. Considering that they ate less than the men and the children, this was to ensure that the family had enough to eat. I think that these women worked very very hard. Fireplaces were black-leaded and polished and the brass fenders gleamed in the firelight. Window sills and doorsteps were "sandystoned" and chalked white every Saturday morning. Women's work in those days was never done. Daughters too helped in the cleaning, boys were brought up as potential wage-earners so took no part in the cleaning of the house.

Poor as they were, the miners were never short of hospitality. If anyone called at a house the kettle, already singing on the hob, was put on to boil. Tea was made, plate pies brought out and offered to the guest.

The characteristic still remains in the pitman. He is still a very generous being, sometimes to the point of silliness.

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© Copyright 2000 Alex Johnson