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BARLOW 1925-1935


by Alex Johnson

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At Christmas Time we sang carols around the streets. If we sang our carols nicely and just before Christmas, we were seldom chased away. We chose our houses carefully, visiting our own homes and those where there was no dog or bad-tempered old men.

Christmas morning brought Santa. We had hung up our stockings and found them full of nuts, sweets, an apple and an orange. Beside our stockings we found our Christmas gift, and I mean a gift. Money was not available for more than one present for each child. This was quite normal in the village. My favourite present, I well remember was a small clockwork train set, with a circular track of about eighteen inches diameter. It had a tender and two coaches, nothing else, but I had a vivid imagination and soon I had made platforms, bridges and sheds out of shoe boxes. Children then had to be masters of improvisation.

Christmas was a very happy time. We decorated the house with paper chains made at home by children helped by Mother, with school decorations and with berry holly which grew in abundance in the Gill Wood and the Little Wood. We always had a Christmas Tree, laden with cheap baubles and cardboard cut-outs (made mostly at school). Each of these was a labour of love.

I remember too, the Salvation Army Band coming up from Blaydon to play carols. People used to go out into the road and join them; thoroughly enjoying the spirit of Christmas.

Pancake Tuesday was welcomed and we all streamed home from school having been given half-a-day holiday, to guzzle our pancakes, cooked by the dozen in the old iron frying pan.

Easter was really the beginning of Spring. Homes and school were full of Willow Catkins, hazel catkins, celandines and other Spring flowers. We collected our frog spawn from a pond in the Back Field, named the Tadpole Pond. It was a spring, which has long been dried up. Watson's Pond at High Engine also produced tadpoles but it was more popular for its newts. The Great Warty, Common Newt and the Smooth Newt were all residents of this pond. Tadpoles were watched with great interest and with much bragging as to the size of them. The resultant frogs were, in my case, taken to our garden and released; but some were used by nameless boys to frighten young girls. They dropped the frog down the back of the girl's dress and she would run home screaming. By the time the girl had got home of course, the frog had long since dropped out and the boy, having enjoyed the joke, denied putting it there.

Carlin Sunday was the day we had carlins with our Sunday lunch. They were small blackish peas soused in vinegar and were very popular. This tradition appears to have died with the advent of war.

Carlin Sunday was followed by Palm Sunday then Pace (or Paste) Egg Day. On Palm Sunday those who attended Chapel or Church were presented with a cross of palm. This was carefully taken home and pinned up for all to see.

The Easter tradition of "pace" eggs was strong. Mothers boiled many eggs and dyed them in onion peelings or cocoa so that they were nicely coloured. Most parents could not afford the delicious chocolate eggs which were on sale in the shops. We gave all our friends an egg each and in return were given one back. Some we kept to "jaap". This was an old tradition in which everyone joined, every male that is. One person held an egg in a cupped hand showing only the end. The other person used his egg to tap the held egg. The loser was the holder of the first egg to break. The winner collected the broken egg as a prize. I remember Father coming in with a pocket full of broken eggs. Occasionally some scheming boy would hold a "pot" egg (a china egg) and so would create havoc with the smaller boys till the deception was discovered.

Easter Sunday was walking-out day. Every child would be wearing a new outfit. Mothers scraped and pinched at home to ensure that their children had a new outfit to wear on Easter Sunday.

Another tradition was "Boolin' of the pace egg". Where this came from I know not, but it was an old tradition so we booted our eggs down the quarry field.

Weddings were exciting. When the bride and groom were due to depart from the house a large crowd of children gathered outside, and on entering the carriage, the party was greeted with, "Hoy-oot! Hoy-oot!" The groom and Best Man then threw a handful of coins out of the windows of the vehicle and the interest of the children was quickly diverted from the wedding party to the more mercenary task of fighting for the coins.

Funerals were for adults. It was rather an awesome sight for children to watch. The hearse draped in black and sombre with glass sides, was pulled by two horses also draped in black and with large plumes pointing skyward from their heads. Close relatives rode in a carriage but others and friends of the deceased walked solemnly in a long line, three or four deep behind the carriages. It was a long walk to Winlaton Church or even to High Spen Church and back and yet everyone did it as a duty. Everyone wore black of course and the old ladies had a veil or shawl to cover their heads.

People who were passed by or passed the cortege stood to attention and doffed their caps as a token of respect to the dead.

The occasion merited a Feast. Funerals were graded according to the funeral meal afterwards, so whole legs of ham and pork were sliced and a pan of peas pudding made, bacon and egg pies produced to make sandwiches for the funeral followers. Children of the family had to wait till this macabre frolic was over. It was common knowledge that many old men and women attended all funerals knowing that they would get a free meal afterwards. This helped them to eke out their budget. In some instances the widow of the deceased stayed at home to supervise the meal; because it was so important to her that people could say at a later date "By Lass, that was a good funeral you gave yor Bill!" Many old people were convinced that when a baby arrived someone had to die. If a couple did not have a family or if the baby was late, the grandparent thought that he or she was holding up the birth.

Christenings were carried out as soon as possible for it was accepted that it was bad luck to take a baby out of doors without a name. It was also a tradition that on first seeing a new baby you pressed a silver coin into its hand, to ensure that it had some good luck in the future. On the way to Church for the Christening the parents carried a small parcel. This was given to the first child they met of the opposite sex to the baby. It usually contained pieces of cake, a cheese sandwich and a small silver coin. I received two parcels.

Guy Fawkes Night was kept up, with a bonfire in Scotts Field and one at the bottom of the village. Naturally, a little raiding went on, but both fires were big ones on the night. "Guysing" or begging was carried out by making a small guy and dressing it up, carrying it up and down the village. We never made much (if anything) but we were always optimistic and it was always a bit of fun. One year we did remarkably well. We dressed Jackie Needham up as a guy, sat him down outside the Black Horse and as the customers emerged we chanted "Penny for the guy!" Jackie played his part well by sitting motionless and the men coming out were very impressed with our guy. We made enough to buy several fireworks. I also got a "ticking off" from my parents for this downright begging.

New Year was celebrated in every house. Doors were open to all and young children were given ginger wine to drink, and were packed off bed.

We never slept, we were not going to miss the cheerful chatter, roars of laughter and fiddle music, which filled the house as visitors called in, had a drink and moved on next door.

We could hear the cries of "Many O' them hinny!" echoing around the village as the semi-inebriated men passed each other on the way.

This merrymaking went on till nearly breakfast-time but by 2 o'clock I had fallen asleep through shear exhaustion.

The village was quiet in the morning for all houses had been visited after midnight by a "first-foot".

The first footing was a tradition dating back hundreds of years. It was said that if the person who crossed your threshold first on New Year's Day was a dark man then you would be lucky.

To help even further the dark "first foot" was sent out of the house before midnight complete with a piece of coal. He returned just after midnight, threw the coal on the fire and wished everyone a Happy New Year.

Women were up early on the 1st January. They had to prepare another feast and once again the men celebrated in style, coming home for a late lunch in amiable spirits, usually with a friend he had picked up at the pub.

The women of the village drank little and then only at home, for women were not expected to go into pubs or clubs.

They did not object to their "men" drinking. They realised that it was a safety valve from their dreadful work in the pits.

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To many people passing through Barlow it looks a very small village indeed with only about twenty five houses in it, but when I was a boy it had sixty five houses in it. If my memory is correct it had a population of 265 people, 26 dogs and l9 cats. How do I know? Simply that, quite often before going to sleep at night my brothers and I did a census. My brother Jim had a quick wit and his description of some Barlow people were so funny that we sometimes evoked parental wrath for making noises and not being asleep.

The village to us began at Barlow Fell where, at the High Engine lived Mr Watson and family. Herby was a friend of mine, unfortunately he was killed in the War. On top of the Fell there were three houses occupied by the Farrells , Johnsons and Mr and Mrs Iley. The Farrell children were at school with me and I remember one of them sitting beside me during a Test and he even copied my name on his paper. The Headmaster was livid and the stick rose again and again.

Mr Jack Johnson (Sparrow) was my Uncle but I was always afraid of him. He was stern and bad-tempered. He had lost two fingers in the War and the other fingers were rigid which used to frighten everyone, adults included. Auntie Mary however, with her blue eyes and fair hair was delightful. Her sons were Jack, Christopher and Billy, Helen being the only daughter. I remember Helen, with Ada Lishman, taking me to the High Spen Picture Palace matinee. She also took care of me when I was an infant. Helen went to Blackpool on domestic service, married and never returned. She died many years ago.

The main village started at the village school built in 1912. The reservoir stood on the corner opposite the school, well protected by railings, over which no one ventured (except to retrieve a ball).

Opposite the reservoir, a little further down, stood the nicest house in the village. It stood back from the road, fronted by a lawn edged with a privet hedge and on the lawn was a monkey puzzle tree. The house was spacious with two large bay windows, pointed at the top. It had a large back garden and was occupied by the two Miss Tulips and Mr S Boyd. They were charming people and obviously came from a good middle-class family - a rarity in the village. Opposite this house but well away from the road with a track leading up to them were four houses called "Buildings". In these lived the Bartons and Courtneys, the Ritsons, Hodgsons and the Waters family, in whose garden was the strike-pit. These houses were pulled down about 1927 or 1928, the Courtneys moved to Winlaton and the Ritsons and Hodgsons moved to Silver Hill Cottages. In front of these buildings was a small field which became an ideal playground for us.

Davy Lynn driving a hay bogey
Davy Lynn driving a hay bogey

Further down still on the right of the road and almost on to it was the Front Row, a terrace of six colliery houses. These were occupied as follows. In the top house lived the Iley family. This was a large family but, in spite of a hard life they were a gentle family. Did I say all! Nay one was not so. That was the father, Cappy Iley to everyone. He was the most bad-tempered man in the village and no-one appeared to like him. We played in and under a tree (The Big Tree) beside his garden. It was just the right size for climbing and its branches spread over our playing area, but if he saw us playing in it he raged and stormed and I can still see his red angry face today. His family, fortunately inherited the characteristics of Mrs Iley who was gentle, quiet and generous. The other five were filled by the Lynns, Redheads (later the Waltons), Carters, Bilcliffes and Dunns (later the Wills family). David Lynn joined the Navy with my big brother. He married Ella McEnry, a cousin who spent most of her holidays at Barlow. They live at Forest Hall. Robert Lynn was for many years my closest friend and was my No. 1 in all games of Cowboys and Indians, Soldiers, etc., as well as being monitor when playing schools. The Redheads moved to Blaydon and are probably still in that area. The Carters were known by everyone in the locality. Mrs Phyllis Carter was a small bent wizened lady, who had brought up a large family of boys and one girl. She had a heart of gold and her house was open to all and sundry from Winlaton to High Spen. Her window sill was always full of "stotty cakes" cooling in the fresh air. Her husband, suffering from the dreaded miner's eye disease spent most of his time peering shortsightedly (paper about three inches from his nose) at the Sporting Life, sitting in a wooden armchair on the cobbles in front of his house.

Both he and Mrs Carter enjoyed their little daily flutter (3d each way) as did many others in the village. There was enough business to keep Mr Barks going as a "go-between" for the Commission Agent; a job which was strictly against the law.

The Dunn family were ruled by little Mrs Sally Dunn. Her raucous voice could be heard regularly, not only putting her house in order, but other people's too. I was also very polite to her so I was a great favourite. Young -- Dunn had a dreadful habit of sitting sucking her thumb and rocking gently from side to side. Nothing stopped her and we all believed that her thumb was much smaller than the other - it was certainly much cleaner. When they moved to High Spen the Wills family moved in from Back Row where they had been living with their in-laws, the Lishmans. Lawrence Wills was one of my gang for many years. I gather he is now in the Antipodes.

The Back Row was situated well off the main road, hence its name. A road led along the bottom of the Front Row and down the length of the Back Row. Waste land stretched from this road to the Main Road, probably about 30 yds of it.

Geordie Lishman and family lived in the end house of Back Row. Ethel and her two sisters lived here. They had a lovely old organ and I can remember listening with delight to, "The old rustic bridge" and "The old rugged cross". Old Geordie was a terror to us. His hens only had to cackle and he was out waving his stick at us wherever we were. We used that neglected area to play "Hide and Seek" and we were quickly hidden when we saw him coming. He was too fat to catch us but his voice was enough to keep us away from his hen crees. Next, in No. 45 was the McGuire family, headed by Danny and Tottie McGuire. This family of five girls and a boy was probably the only R.C. family in the village. Harry was a few years older than I was but was my guide for a time when I was very young. He was killed many years later in Greenside Colliery. Katie was my favourite and we grew up together under the approving eyes of our mothers. When the school sent its dancing team to take part in the Area Festival at Scotswood (now a Steel Warehouse) Katie and I were always partners; she in her summer dress and I in my white shirt, grey short trousers and sandshoes; my belt was the popular "snake" belt.

Danny McGuire was a devout Roman Catholic and he chased his family over Barlow Fell to Highfield Church. Tottie was my Mother's cousin, but they were more like sisters. They were both quiet, generous, warmhearted and very popular ladies.

Mrs Needham lived next door. she was the "Helper" of the Row. If anyone was in trouble, be it sickness or bereavement or even a wedding they sent for her. She had a family of seven, four boys and a girl, to bring up alone, for Mr Needham died soon after the youngest was born. Laura was in my age-group and was the tomboy of the village, joining in all our activities - she was born before her time. She would have made a good "women's libber" today.

The Miller family emigrated to Canada when I was very young but I remember playing with Douglas at Highmoor. Once again it was a case of a rough father and gentle mother. The Millers kept pigs and it was a great day when the pig was killed. I kept well out of the way on the day of the killing. I couldn't stand and watch the blood squirt out and listen to the terrified squealing of the animal as it sensed its doom. Mr Jack Armstrong was the pig killer of the village. Several of our families in the street collected their vegetable peelings and gave them to the Millers to feed the pigs. In return we were given pork, white pudding and black pudding. The bladder was used as a football.

The Millers were followed by the Carters, Mr Tommy and Liza Carter They had two children, George and Peggy.

Mother's cousin Mr Bob Waters with his family of four boys, lived next door to us for the first few years, then they moved down to a house next to Clues Shop. Stephen Waters still lives in Barlow. He has never left the village in his 69 years which must be a record. Perhaps he should have written this book as he has a marvellous memory.

We lived in the end house. Below us were two gardens and then high above the road, adjoining the path to Barlow Fell, were three cottages occupied by the Mills family, the Clarks and "Tilter" Foster. Joe Mills was a Cumbrian which was made obvious by his constant use of "Si- thi". He suffered from nystagmus, a miner's disease of the eyes, and so was unemployed. He spent most of the day leaning on a wall overlooking the main road. Here he conversed with everyone who passed, some finding it very difficult to get away from him.

Mother and Mrs Mills were very friendly and we often spent Saturday evening with the Mills family of John Ashley and Wallace. Here we would sit and listen to a gramophone which was complete with a large horn (and a little dog listening). Everyone was asked their choice of records and I asked for the same record every time, much to everyone's amusement. It was a 78 record of the "Sinking of the Birkenhead" and I sat enthralled, listening to the cries of the crew - "Women and children first" - then the Military Band playing as the Officers shouted their commands to the troops on board. Having a vivid imagination I could visualise the soldiers standing to attention as the waves gradually enveloped them and the boat sank. I marvelled at the discipline of the soldiers; perhaps this record instigated my 45 year love of the army.

Tilter Forster was a well-made man with a florid pock-marked face. He had, poor man, suffered much during a mustard gas attack in the war and it had left him disfigured. His face tended to frighten little children which was a pity for he loved children. Today he would have had a skin graft and he would have gone virtually unnoticed.

The Clarks had two children and I remember Hannah well, she always had a cheery smile on her freckled face.

Opposite these houses was the Mission House. There were no buildings between Tulips House and the Mission House only the well-tended gardens of the people of Back Row and Front Row. The one adjacent to the Mission House was uncultivated and was well-used as a playing area.

The Mission House was nearly two hundred years old and housed the Scott family. The Mission House had been part of a bigger building. This consisted of a school-room chapel and an adjoining house. Only the house remained in my childhood days. In about 1870 the school room was used to educate the children of Barlow and the teacher was Mrs Armstrong, Mother of Jack Armstrong, the water-board man and he himsel attended that school at the age of five. The Armstrongs lived in the Mission House before moving to Barlow Bank. Young Frankie Scott had been involved in an accident to his face and he was left with a scarred nose and speech defect. He was a nice boy however and we played with him in the field behind his house. He had two brothers and two sisters, Renie being my age.

Leading from the main road and just below the Mission House was the "Hole-in-the-Wall", a group of six houses. Here were the Brights, Kennedys, Lilleys, Courtneys, Teasdales and Davidsons.

The Kennedys were Cumbrian. Mr "Reed" Lilley was another unfortunate war victim and lost an arm. He had three daughters and Gladys was usually included when we played our games. "Ikey" Teasdale was a war veteran and was very proud of it. All hell was let loose if someone insulted the Durham Light Infantry. He would fight anyone, regardless of size, if they insulted one of his war-time mates. I remember one Sunday afternoon coming out of Sunday School and following a large contingent of men and teenage boys up to the waste land in front of Back Row. Here amid much noise, they stopped. Big Joe Davidson and little "Ikey" Teasdale stripped to the waist and to shouts of encouragement from the watching throng, proceeded to pummel each other with bare fists. I stood, a small boy, mesmerised by this animalistic scene. I wasn't destined to see the end of it - a hand grabbed my ear and dragged me away. It was an irate Mother, who looked darkly at Father, who was obviously enjoying the babble, but she said nothing - this was no place for a woman to be . It was very much a man's world! Ikey and Joe were neighbours and were soon drinking together again.

There were three Teasdale children, Billy a friend of mine, George and Jenny, a happy little girl who loved to visit my home.

The Courtneys lived in the corner house. There was Mr and Mrs Courtney, Owen, Billy, Cecil, Doris, Lilian and Tommy. Mrs Courtney was seldom ever seen out of doors. She probably suffered from agoraphobia. I met her when I went to call on Cecil and always found her charming. Few people ever went into the house, unlike other houses where everyone was welcome. Tommy was the baby. He was much younger than the rest and was wheeled around in a tiny pram. I envied him - he could play the mouth-organ at four years old while I could never play a note.

Below the "Hole-in-.the-Wall" lay Garden House, a detached cottage with a large garden. This was the abode of Mr Frank Scott; christened "Yankee Doodle" by the village people. This was because he strutted around like the popular U.S.A. character. Some called him the "King of Barlow", for he tried to organise everyone and everything in Barlow.

The Chapel was next to this house and was a substantial brick building. Two houses were next to it, they stood well back off the road. These were occupied by the Hoods and Bilcliffs.

A shop was situated just below these two houses. It had been Clues Shop but was then occupied by Mr Matthew Scott, the village preacher, usually called "Hatty". With him was Mr Dicky Scott and his daughters. Polly I remember was a lovely looking young girl. Between the shop and the Black Horse stood two houses, both with neat gardens and wrought iron railings. One housed Bilcliffs and the other old Mr and Mrs Frank Scott. They were the aged parents of the other Barlow Scotts.

Then came the Black Horse, always a scene of activity! This was managed by "Big Billy" Roddam, a huge man but a veritable gentle giant. He had three sons and a daughter. John the oldest son became a soldier with Jimmy Iley. They joined the K.O.Y.L.I. When they came on leave and walked up the village, we youngsters marched with them so proud to be associated with them. They were our idols. Billy left school and went to work at Bullerwell Farm, I often played with Robert and we had great fun playing in the loft above the stable behind the pub. Directly opposite the pub was a small tin building. It was a draper's shop run by Cissie West. She later married John Willy Jones from the Letch. He had a misshapen hand due to a shot gun accident. He was out poaching one day when he saw the gamekeeper approaching and so he hid the gun in a bush. When all was clear he reached for the weapon. A twig caught the trigger, the gun went off and the shot shattered his hand.

Thirty yards down from the tin hut was Silver Hill. Here there were three cottages. In the first live Greenhills (later Hodgson). In the centre lived Mr and Mrs Pringle and Gairs lived in the third.

Mr Jim Pringle was the village roadsweeper. He was also the village fireman and as such was highly respected. He had no engine; only a hose and a hydrant key. His duty was to connect the hose to the hydrant should there be a fire.

Fortunately there was never a house fire in my time. The Pringles were a lovely old couple, much loved by my mother. They were also marvellous grandparents and were very generous to Helen, Joan and Maurice Henderson.

In the end cottage lived Mr Dodey Gair, the village preacher. A small man he lacked nothing in his zeal for his religion. Mrs Hodgson had a shop on Silver Hill. Her daughter Rachel (later Mrs Peter Scott) helped her in the shop. A niece named Daphne spent many holidays here and played with us in our games. She came from Fourstones.

Next to the shop were gardens, then the houses of Hedleys and Prouds and in Innisfail were the Hendersons. These houses were called Codlings Buildings and old Mrs Codling was still alive. Mrs Henderson lost her husband abroad and so had to bring up three children unaided. She was school cleaner but was such a charming lady that the teachers treated her as one of the staff, a rare thing in those days.

Opposite the gardens and Codlings Buildings was a field set high up on a ten foot high wall. The wall and the field are still there but the wall is now only six feet high. Stephen Waters was one of a gang of workmen who had to build up the road during the war. On top of the Bank, opposite "Innisfail" was a block of houses called "Atkinson's Buildings" and sometimes called "Split-the-Wind". This was because the end house ended in a point facing up the village. In this block lived Cud Bilcliff and family, Johnson's, Mordues, Atkinsons and Wisharts. Mrs Johnson had a shop in her house, it left much to be desired so it was visited only in dire necessity. Mrs Mordue lived with her two brothers, the Ripleys who were never seen apart, and her daughter Elsie. Elsie was a slim, quiet girl who played with us at school. She married my father's "marrer" at the colliery and we were delighted when they moved into No. 37 Back Row after we had moved to High Spen - a move that upset me for years.

Atkinsons had two girls and a boy, Ivy, Lily and Billy. Both girls married and moved to the Midlands but after over forty years away they have returned to their home district. Opposite these buildings was Coulthards Farm worked by the Coulthard brothers. Billy delivered milk around the area. He drove a horse and trap and carried the milk in a churn.

Just below Coulthard's Farm was Bullerwell's Farm. It was here we liked to help. Mrs Bullerwell was charming and when I went to buy the family milk, a can of fresh frothy milk, she usually gave me a biscuit or a sweet. I think I reminded her of her son who had just been killed in a road accident. Her daughter Joyce has kept the farm so keeping on the family tradition. I was sad to hear of the tragic death of Billy who was an excellent farm boy in my day. Opposite the farm lived Mr Armstrong the waterman. He was held in great respect by us even if we didn't rightly know what he did. Billy Armstrong, one of the children bought a lorry and I think became the first person in Barlow to own his own business. Being a "live-wire" he soon became a success. Telfords lived in the cottage next to the Lonnen, (the lane to Greenside) with the Turnbull boys, Willian and Lance and over the road was Batson's Farm, later farmed by Tommy Rochester.

Opposite was a block of very old houses in which lived the Hood family, Temples, Pringles, Kennedys, Wilsons, Davidsons and old Billy Corn.

The Kennedy girls married boys from neighbouring villages and returned to the land of their fathers, Cumberland. The Wilson boys, Robert and Chris attended school with me but eventually left the village for Teesside. Old Jack Corn had a huge whitish beard and worked on Butterwell's Farm. We children gave him a wide berth because of his wild appearances but he was probably a very gentle old man. He had a brother of similar ilk. The last houses in the village were after the pub. The Green Tree Inn stood beside a cottage in which Alexanders lived. It was demolished during the war. The farm cottage was occupied by Mr Rogerson the hind and the farm was Barber's, later Phillipson's. This was the end of the village itself but half a mile down the Letch were two cottages occupied by Mrs Lewcock, a retired teacher and Mrs Jones. Mrs Lewcock was always at her gate to chat to passing travellers. A little further down the road at the pathway to the Nobbies Wood lived Mr Young the gamekeeper with his two charming daughters. Beyond was Winlaton - another world.

Father was one of a very large family and most were alive so I had lots of cousins living in the High Spen area.

Most of these called in to see us regularly. Dorothy and Alan Johnson, Alice, Bessie and Jim Johnson (who played the melodeon for the Sword Dancers), Nellie Siddoway, Elijah and George Burton, Robert and Gladys and George Halliday were some who often came and whose homes we visited in return.

Family ties were much stronger in those days than they appear to be today; probably because people tend to move around so much today.

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© Copyright 2000 Alex Johnson