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BARLOW 1925-1935

by Alex Johnson

View Map of Barlow

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The village as far as we young children were concerned, was in two parts; the Top end from the school down to Atkinson's Buildings and the Bottom End - down the bank to Phillipsons's Farm.

The Top-Enders played mainly in Clark's old garden and adjoining the Mission House, the waste land behind and above Front Row, the Quarry Field, the Bark Wood, the Back Field and Barlow Burn. Each area had its own attraction.

In front of Back Row and at the bottom of Front Row we played the game of Tip-Cat. This game had been played in England since the Middle Ages and there is a picture of John Bunyan actually playing it. The game was played by two children. One held a stick and stood in front of a "bay" (a circle of about three feet diameter drawn on the ground), the other threw the "cat" which was a small square stick about six inches long and pointed at each end. This was knocked as far as possible away from the bay. The striker looked at the number carved on the "cat" (1, 2, 3 or X - meaning out) and tapping the pointed end made the cat jump high enough to be hit further. This was done according to the number shown. The striker then challenged the thrower to get back into the bay in a certain number of jumps, steps or hops. If the thrower was successful or if the cat had landed in the bay the thrower took strike and the game restarted.

Even more popular was the game of horse-shoes. This was a child's version of the game of Quoits which the adults played. Some men were very skilful at this game and it was said that the "world" champion came from Winlaton. I remember watching many games in the field below the reservoir and at the Black Horse. Quoits were too heavy for us to throw so we used horseshoes which were easily obtainable. Draught horseshoes were also too heavy for ten year olds so we used shoes from the pit ponies. The miners didn't mind carrying these back from High Spen.

I enjoyed this game and spent hours practising alone so I reached a reasonable standard of skill and accuracy. This stood me in good stead in 1944. I was attached for "D" Day to the 3rd Canadian Division and joined them with a little trepidation.

On joining them however, they introduced me to their regimental game - horseshoes! They hooted with laughter at my stance, throwing the shoe from between my legs as the miners did. Their laughter soon disappeared as I thrashed their champions. I was immediately accepted as one of them and I blessed my boyhood in Barlow.

The Gord (a hoop of mild ¼" round steel) was possibly the most favourite of all the boys playthings. These were made by a blacksmith (mostly at the colliery - if your father worked there) and were propelled by a crook of the same material. We became very skilled in handling these steel hoops and spent hours racing around a track laid out in the field above Front Row and on the lane leading up to Gardners Buildings.

We ran messages wheeling our hoops along the road to the shops. Burnhills Race Track was at its height in popularity at this time and the stars were Tiger Sanderson, Parsons and Fewster, and they rode in races for the Golden Helmet and Silver Gauntlets. We too had our gord races for these trophies (an old cap and old gloves). I remember Harry McGuire and myself running around Barlow Bell and across to Pawston Birks, passing the hind's cottage. Here we stopped to show off hoop skills to impress Molly Bryson and her sister who had just started Barlow School.

When a hoop broke, usually at the joint it meant a trip to the High Spen blacksmith for a repair job. We usually had to wait a little while but we never minded that. Every boy loved to stand and watch the forge glowing and sparks flying as the smith made a shoe and shoed a horse. A repair cost a penny.

Muggles (marbles) too was a popular game and girls sometimes joined in, but most of them were poor losers so we preferred to play amongst ourselves. We had four main games in marbles. Our marbles were made of clay and painted in bright colours; a hard blow could break them.

There was "Powly Up" a game in which you and your competitor threw single marbles up alternately into a small hole in the ground, usually made with a heel. The one with the nearest marble picked them all up, threw them (sometimes with two hands cupped together) to the hole. He then flicked as many as possible into the hole. When he missed a shot the opponent picked up the remainder and went through the same procedure. This went on till all the marbles had been won.

"Blobby" however was a sudden death game. Odds and Evens would be a better name for it. You put a number of marbles with the same number of your friends and either he or you threw them up to the hole. If an odd number went in, the thrower lost all, but if an even number went in, he won them all.

The most skilful of all marble games was "Shooty Ring". A circle was made, drawn by chalk on tarmac or concrete or by a stick on earth. All marbles were put in the centre and the players took turns to shoot them out using a larger "glass-alley". To shoot correctly you held the marble between the thumb and forefinger and by flicking the thumb you propelled the alley forward, at great speed. The forefinger knuckle had to remain still on the ground, or the cry of "Fullocking" echoed around the ring and the culprit lost his shot.

On the way to school some boys played "Penky Follow", each boy having large glass alley or a steel ball-bearing. The first boy threw the marble about five yards ahead and the second boy tried to hit it; the first boy followed on and so slow progress was made to school. If one hit the alley a marble was demanded. This continued till the school bell went, then it was a feverish rush to get into school, hastily rubbing hands on trousers to wipe them clean.

We had to be very vigilant on occasions while playing marbles, for certain children (who shall be nameless) went to school in bare feet.

These children were adept at picking up marbles between their toes and walking off with them, so when we saw them approaching we watched them carefully. It had been known for a boy to pick up a couple of marbles go away for a while then come back and using the two stolen warbles clean out the rightful owner of his collection so that he was "skint".

The girls loved their skipping ropes and would spend hours happily skipping while singing their countless jingles. When there was a gang skipping, a clothes line was borrowed and everyone joined in. It always amazed me to watch the speed at which girls could skip. I was always very fit but I was no match for Katie McGuire, Laura Needham, Jennie Wills, Maggie Hunter and other girls when it came to skipping.

A broken clothes line was a disaster to our mothers but it was great for children for boys could use it as lariats for Cowboys and Indians, and girls for skipping ropes.

I wish I could remember all the jingles we sang in our games. Unfortunately I can only remember one, it ran like this:-

My Sailor laddie's gone far away, Red rosy cheeks and black curly hair, He'll send me a letter when he's coming back, It's my sailor laddie with his hair combed back.

School games such as "I wrote a letter to my love", "Bobby Bingo", "The Big Ship Sails", "The Farmer's in the dell" were all played on the road at the gable end of Front Street, underneath the one and only lamp in the area.

Hopscotch bays were everywhere. Both boys and girls played it and it varied from plain Hopscotch to Hitchy-Dabber. This was a very difficult game and certainly strengthened our leg muscles. You had to hop on one leg and kick the dabber into each numbered square or circle without standing on a line. The "dabber" was a small piece of flat sandstone or slate. These we carried in our pockets, so that we could play anytime when challenged. We also usually carried a pocket knife some string, a few marbles and maybe a few sticky sweets in our pockets. It was poor mother who had to remove them all when she cleaned our trousers.

Boys wore short trousers till they were about fifteen and red knee were accepted as normal in the winter.

The gable end of Front Row was a marvellous help to us as children. The girls played "Sixes" against it using two balls. They were so quick at this that one could seldom count quick enough. We used it to play "Headers" against and it had many stumps chalked against it in Summer time. It was always well used (as was the lamp-post) as a support for the standing boy in "Mounty Kitty". This was a game in which two teams played. One team bent down in a line supported by a boy leaning against a support, the others ran in turn to jump on to the backs of the other team. The aim of the game was to stay on the backs till you chanted a little ditty. I used to watch the bigger boys the Carters, the Waltons, Waters, Turnbulls and others play this and I used to wince as they hurled themselves on to the back of some poor boy, already sinking under the combined weight of two other boys. Years later I joined in too and many times collapsed under the weights of Chorpy Johnson, Billy Teasdale, Gabriel Hedley, Wallace Proud, Cecil Courtney, Albert Davidson, Robert Lynn or Robert Roddam.

We played many team games. A popular game was "Throw Over". One team stationed itself in front of the Front Row and another at the back. A ball was thrown back and forward over the building till one side had caught the ball three times. The team then ran round the top or bottom of the street, throwing the ball at and tagging with it, as many as possible of the opposing team. Those tagged remained with the victorious team. This continued till all had been tagged and one team only remained. This game was great fun, especially when you ran to catch the ball which was rolling down the slates, cupped your hands for the catch, but the ball at the last moment hit the water spout and shot into the air well over your head. There was of course much noise and laughter and yet no householder ever objected. They enjoyed watching and hearing us at play. I wonder how people would react today if a dozen children started throwing balls over the roof. No doubt the police would be called. One again it shows just what a marvellous village we had.

Another team game was "Reliev-o". One side chased the other side and on catching prisoners returned them to a big bay already marked out and guarded by a boy or two. The duty of the other team was to rush into the bay, tag any prisoner, and escape with him without being tagged by the guard. This was usually accompanied by a triumphant yell of "Reliev-o".

On dark nights we played "Jack-shine-a-maggy". A similar game to the last but everyone had a torch and on the cry of "Jack shine a maggy" they had to flash their torches, thus giving away hiding places which meant a quick switch of positions. We ran miles in these games, so no doubt we slept well when we went to bed.

"Kick the Block" was another favourite game. It was really just Hide and Seek but one had to try to kick away a tin can without being spotted thus giving the seeker more work to do as he had to retrieve the can before continuing his search. Another variation was "Hick and a Holler". The chaser when searching for the others would call for assitance by yelling, "Hick or a holler or a whistle if you're near" and those in hiding would respond.

Cigarette cards gave us much enjoyment. We had great fun collecting to make up sets; cigarette packets were pounced upon and a jubilant shout rent the air when a discarded packet produced a card. Swapping was a business and if you were clever you could inveigle a lesser intelligent boy to part with three cards for your one. Fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins were all persuaded to collect these cards. The sets covered all topics. My favourites were, The Royal Family, Do you Know, Famous Footballers and Famous Cricketers. There were also cards which when placed together like a jigsaw puzzle gave you a picture of "The Laughing Cavalier", and "When did you last see your Father", "Mother and Son" and "The Boyhood of Raleigh". When you had collected a set of these (48) you posted them off to Players who sent you a print of the picture. I have no doubt that there are many homes in the North East which still boast of having one of these pictures.

We also played games with cigarette cards. We had a game called "Knocky down Polis". One card would be propped up against a wall and we would then take turns flicking a card at the upright card. The aim was to knock down the standing card. The boy who did so then picked up all the discarded cards. The "polis" was put up again and the game restarted. An easier game was "Putty-on". You simply flicked your card from between your first two fingers along the ground alternatively with your friend. When a card rested on another card the thrower picked up all the thrown cards.

No doubt many of my old friends wish that they still had all the cigarette cards they swapped, gave away and lost in games. At today's prices they would be worth a fortune.

Spring, with its balmy breezes, brought us into kite season. These were made at home. A crossed stick with string around it; brown paper or newspaper pasted over it and around the string (using a flour and water paste) and a long string tail, interlaced every foot or so with rolled paper. This was to hold the kite steady. The kite therefore cost nothing to make, but you needed twopenny worth of kite string (ordinary thin string). This was attached to the kite and off you went. The Back Field (behind Back Row) was always our destination. I am sure that Mr Bullerwell knew about us, but let us play in his field. Nevertheless we kept a wary eye open for him. The field was ideal for our purpose for it had no trees or wires to bring down the kite. Hours were spent making the kite twist and dive then soar again into the sky. "Messages" were sent up to the kite by making a hole in a piece of paper, slipping it over the stick on which the string was fastened and the wind did the rest, sending it whirling up the string.

We all had pocket knives and it was a common sight to see boys sitting in the sun carving sticks. Hearts, diamonds, snakes and initials were all marks of the skilful artist. If a boy had no skill he just whittled. Sometimes we just sharpened sticks and used them in a game. We threw a stick into the ground, as vertical as possible and our opponents tried to knock out the stick while keeping it point-first in the ground.

This was just one of many we played with sticks, for they were useful as hockey sticks, golf sticks and of course as bows and arrows.

I remember playing "Bows and Arrows" in Clark's old garden. We were all dug in behind stones etc. and we were popping-up to fire our arrows. I was too accurate in one attempt, hitting Jackie Needham on the temple. I ran home screaming as Jackie dropped like a log. Mother dashed over and carried Jackie home. He had recovered quickly and suffered no ill-effects - unless his wife has another story. I was duly chastised!

Every child had a top and whip. The tops were coloured with chalk by their proud owners. The experts could make the top jump over objects and direct them as they wished.

Trees were always a challenge. The Letch produced many trees to tackle. Some were for the young ones and others were for the Tarzans of the village. I well remember our local tomboy Laura Needham.

She could climb a tree as efficiently as any boy. Indeed Laura would join in any game if we were short of a boy, whether it be football, rounders or cricket mattered not.

Games were played with great enthusiasm and improvisation. We were seldom lucky enough to have a real football to play with. A small ball or an old football stuffed with rags, even a paper parcel well tied with string was enough to suffice. Maurice Henderson was lucky. His mother and grandparents supplied him with a football, although he was no footballer. When he arrived with the football we made him captain and we took great care not to hurt him, in case he picked up the ball and went home.

He also had a toy steam engine to play with and I was lucky enough to be asked to play with it many times - I then helped him with his homework!

Cricket and Rounders were popular Summer games, but once again we had no real equipment. Bats were made from railings, stumps were dust bins or anything which could stand up. Balls were usually "bouncers" of sorbo rubber so six hits were quite common. Over the garden shots were discouraged and although the batsman got 6 runs he was also out.

Most of the Summer days were spent on the farm, down the Quarry, up the Bark Wood or down Barlow Burn. It may seem incredible to people living today, that we children played so far from home and yet mothers never worried about us for crime was virtually non-existent. We roamed around the village returning home when our tummies complained

On the farm we worked for nothing, for it was pure joy. We helped with the threshing of the wheat and our reward was being allowed to take the horses to water and to their stables. This meant we could ride the horses we didn't have to guide them, they knew their way.

Threshing was exciting; the steam hissing, smoke belching skywards, the great wheel turning and the belt flapping as it drove the smaller wheel which operated the moving parts. There was lots of activity as men and boys threw up the sheaves, cut the string and others took away the grain and the straw. Boys chased the mice which scampered from the sheaves and the dogs, with wagging tails, eagerly scampered from end to end, nosing out any mice or rats which were still hiding in fear and bewilderment.

Hay-time was wonderful. The children of today miss so much fun because of progress.

The joy of riding on a hay bogie, being pulled along by a huge cart-horse; chattering away to one's friends and on reaching the hayfield helping Billy Bullerwell or Norman Iley or Billy Roddam to tip the bogie, then to wind the ratchet till the weight of the pike levelled out the bogie. On the return journey you either stood on the front beside the driver, a much prized position, for if you were lucky you were handed the reins or on the back behind the pike. This was quite safe for one seldom saw a car and in any case, the horses knew every inch of the road.

Oh! those Summer days. The run shining - I'm sure that we had many more sunny days in the Twenties than we have now! The sweet scent of new mown hay, the colourful Red Admiral and Tortoiseshell Butterflies and gorgeous Hawk Moths, the hum of the lazy bees, the ever-present skylark all helped to make those days so memorable.

Potato picking was not so lovely. We started at eight o'clock and finished at five o'clock, completely worn out. For this we juniors got the princely sum of one shilling a day and a pail of potatoes. If you were over fourteen you received two shillings a day.

The only pleasant part of this chore was pay day when you handed your pay to Mother. We expected none of it, for we knew just what that extra little cash meant to the family budget.

The Quarry was a natural rendezvous for us. In it and around it, we played "Chase", "Hide and Seek", picked blackberries, tried to catch rabbits and climbed the quarry face. At least we did for a time - till one day Robert Lynn fell backwards and was knocked unconscious. Saying prayers for him at school next day I vowed never to climb it again; and I never did.

I remember as a small boy watching the teenagers and adults chasing rats in the quarry. This was to keep the numbers down for they were prolific breeders. Armed with spades or sticks, and accompanied by various types of dogs these men dug out and killed the fleeing animals. I watched fascinated and a little fearful.

The path leading past the quarry led to Barlow Burn. This was only a shallow stream but by building a dam we could make it deep enough to "plodge" in. The building of the dam was always great fun and there was much laughter as stones were dropped into place, soaking other children. The Burn was halfway between Barlow and Greenside and if any Greenside children came down there was always a battle between them and we Barlow children. The battle was usually a stone-throwing activity with lots of verbal abuse. The smaller side usually withdrew to the taunts and jibes of the victors.

The stream was in a deep valley and on the far side was a plantation named Spion Kop. On this side was a wide area of springy turf and behind it some lovely gorse.

On this area sometimes in the holidays we had parties. The McGuires, Needhams, Wills, Johnsons and others would take food and drink. Someone would take a portable gramophone and records and we would dance gaily to these lively tunes, mothers included. In the Autumn we picked heather and ling at this spot.

Another popular picnic spot, although quite a walk was Winlaton Mill. Long before they built that eyesore, the Coke Works, Winlaton Mill was a lovely spot. We walked along Cow Lane to the Fan Blast, then down the railway line to Winlaton Mill. The bigger children swam in the deeper water of the weir and we splashed in the river. Once again, families joined forces to make it a day out. Imagine it! Three or four families of mothers and about a dozen children of varying ages between two and twelve years of age; walking about four miles each way on a hot Summer's day, carrying food, towels etc all the way, as well as coping with tired and dusty toddlers. Our Mothers were truly Angels. Walking was an accepted thing. Mother had a friend living in Smailes Lane, Rowlands Gill; and we visited them regularly. We walked over Barlow Fell down past Sherburn Towers and over to Smailes Lane. Having had tea we would talk back via Spen Banks and the Bark Wood, we children picking bunches of bluebells to take to school next morning. It was a long walk but most enjoyable. Alas! It is impossible now to walk this route. Sherburn Towers has gone, a vast sprawling housing estate obliterates the fields to Rowlands Gill and the paths through the Bark Wood no longer exist.

I remember Stampley Moss. It brought fame and hundreds of people to the area when I was young, for a nightingale arrived there and thrilled everyone with its song. The B.B.C. became interested and recorded its song which was most unusual in this part of the country.

We at home, crowded round our crystal set to hear the recording; headphones being passed rapidly from head to head. This story reminds me of the childhood ability of most boys to recognise and imitate most of the common birds of that era.

One of the finest and most thrilling sights to me was the Meet of the Braes of Derwent Foxhounds. I remember them meeting in the field at Pawston Birks, a fine place to begin when the Fox Covert, lies just below the farm.

In those days there were many redcoats and ladies in black, conversing quietly, horses restive and dogs excited, tongues lolling out; eager to be off. Horses steaming on a cold frosty morning. I ran after them for miles always hoping to be in at the "kill" to get the "brush" but never was. It was probably just as well for I was a gentle boy and I think I would probably have been sick if I had seen the dogs tearing apart a live fox. The Pack also met at the Black Horse and this was indeed a picturesque scene of old England. They made their way down the Green Fields, behind the pub and scoured the Gill Wood and Chicken Wood before making off for the Brockwell Wood.

These runs made me very fit and enabled me to win my first cross country run at Hookergate Secondary School when I was just twelve years of age.

A trip to the races - 1920?
A trip to the races - 1920?

Back Row and Front Row were much higher than the houses at the bottom of the village so in the Summer we often had a drought. The water was pumped up from Winlaton and so being at the top of the village, we suffered. This meant that all the villagers had to use the Holy Well on the Greenside Road, near Stand Alone Cottage. I remember brother Jim and I walking to the well to fetch a pail of water. Here we would fill the pail, carry it over half a mile to the Green Fields, a steep slope led up to the Black Horse. We would then walk up the village to the Back Row, arriving home exhausted with half a pail of water! Well it was a long walk for two small boys. The women of the village seemed to accept this as one of their burdens for I can remember seeing some carrying a yoke with two buckets of water.

There was a lovely country lane between Rochesters Farm and the Folly, Greenside. Flowers abounded, wild roses, together with honeysuckle and bindweed smothered the hedges; foxgloves, cuckoo pint, celandines, primroses, mallow and flowers of every hue filled the hedgerows. It was a lovely English country lane leading down to the Burn which rippled its gentle way over the road; a footbridge was there to assist the walkers.

Rochester's fields were good for mushrooms - if you could get them without Tommy or the old Grandma spotting you. They were always a welcome addition to the menu. Grandma also kept a watchful eye on the small quarry opposite her farm. Here we picked bilberries, the only bushes in the area till a voice boomed across the road and we fled.

Rabbits were plentiful in the village at sixpence each (or free if you knew the poachers). Tinkers bought the skins back at twopence each so the family had a meal of rabbit pie for fourpence.

When we were out playing we plucked clover heads and sucked the florets. Grandfather sucked dandelion stalks and tried to get me into the habit but I found them vile. He said that they purified the blood. They probably did! Father often took me into the Bark Wood to collect a plant named Bog Bean. He knew where this grew and we picked enough each time for him to make enough medicine to last a year. He drank it as a cure for rheumatism. No doubt it will still be living here if any rheumatic needs a herb.

The road from Barlow to High Spen had no lights but you could see your way along the road quite easily for it was well marked by glow worms. The hedgerows were full of them.

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© Copyright 2000 Alex Johnson