by Alex Johnson
View Map of Barlow
The village had its own small shops. Bartons had a shop in Atkinson's Buildings till about 1925. Here you could buy ½d of sweets or some home-made ginger beer or herb beer for l½d. Later these buildings were pulled down and the Hodgson family, who had been school caretakers moved to Silver Hill and opened a shop there. Mrs Meggie "By-What" Johnson ran her own shop in her house in Atkinson's Buildings. She got this name because she preceded and ended every sentence with "By- what". This shop was dark and dingy so I only went there when it was absolutely necessary. Miss Cissie West ran a small lock-up draper's shop opposite the Black Horse and Mr Matthew (Hatty) Scott had a grocery shop in Clues old shop fifty yards up from the pub.
In spite of these shops the major items of food came from High Spen, a mile away.
Mother walked to Crawcrook every week to shop at Thompsons Red Stamp Stores in order to get stamps to earn extra articles for her beloved children and for the home. It was quite a walk, some four miles, carrying a basket of groceries, I can see why I loved her so much.
We had several tradesmen who visited the village plying their wares. There was Paddy the Fishman, a lame man who came every week for years with his horse and cart. His clarion cry of "Caller hearn" would echo around the village and he would clump his way around the cart having a chat with all and sundry. His club foot never bothered him.
Probably the most important hawker of all was the "oilman". He rang a handbell and his cry of "Lamp Oil" brought everyone to his cart, from every door men, women and children emerged complete with oilcan or a drum. This oil was vital, for all the houses in the village had oil lamps, right up till 1939. If a person missed the hawker it meant a long walk to High Spen or Winlaton to buy it there and no one relished carrying a large can of paraffin oil back to Barlow. On the cart was a large oil-tank with a tap at the corner and over the edge of the cart. There was a miscellany of articles which could he bought but to me they all smelt of "lamp-oil".
Fruit was brought round on a cart and also by Mr Hatty Scott. He was referred to as "Hatty the Hard-hat Hawker" because he always wore a bowler hat. His horse walked at a dreadfully slow pace and one day brother Jim was offered a lift in the "trap" but he politely refused, saying he was in a hurry. It made a good story when my brother told me.
A knife grinder also plied his trade regularly through the village. He pushed his barrow on one wheel. To do business he turned the barrow upside down and the wheel drove the grindstone.
A tinker came round the village. He collected any old scrap iron, sold tinware and repaired pots and pans.
Rag-and-bone men came regularly through the village. If you gave him rags or old bones he gave you a balloon. His cry of "Balloons for Rags" sent children scurrying home to plead for rags. A balloon gave much fun in the home. I remember playing headers and goalkeepers with brother Bob on the fireside mat. This remember, was in the days of no T.V. and even wireless was in its infancy.
It seems incredible but I remember the brewers drays hissing and puffing their way up Barlow to the Black Horse. Those steam waggons were indeed a sight to remember; the sparks shooting into the air with the dirty smoke billowing from the short chimney and the red ashes dropping into the ash box below the vehicle.
The village had many visitors, most of them old soldiers trying to eke out an existence. Every week we would have someone singing in the streets for coppers. Some were good and some were dreadful, but the village people were always sympathetic and they provided them with enough to live on. Some people invited them in for a meal. I remember a family coming around singing and after a few songs they sent a little woebegone waif of a girl around with a tin. It never failed, Mother only had to look at the child and she was off for a coin; so did others. The family probably made more money daily than the miners and they were well fed in the village.
Tramps were quite common. Some passed through the village without stopping but most had their own port of call. These tramps knew the village well. We had a visitor, but once a year maybe, he would call at the house. He was an old soldier, still dressed in his old greatcoat with puttees around his ankles and on his feet a pair of old army boots from which his dirty toes could be seen, like a set of teeth in a gaping mouth. Mother would fill his can with hot tea, give him stotty cake and bacon and he would take it along the hedge and sit and eat it. He never made any attempt to enter the house and when he had finished he would touch his forelock, mumble his thanks and go off for another year. The local farmers were without showing it, very kind to these people for they allowed them to shelter in the sheds or hayricks without bothering them.
View Map of Barlow
Return to table of contents
Several people in the village collected plants as herbs and nettle tea was infused by some of the older generation of that time. Nettles to the children were a nuisance, fortunately wherever there were nettles, docking could be found and when nettled we picked docking leaves, bruised them and rubbed the juice on to the nettle sting. It certainly eased the stringing but of course, still left the rash.
Plantains were used for weapons. We plucked long stemmed plants, bent the stem to form a loop over the head. By pulling the stalk through the loop it broke at the head and it shot away in the direction in which you pointed. You could hit a target up to nine feet away. Many men in the village caught wild birds for pets. The linnet was the most popular but finches too were caught. I remember following these men to the hedge below the reservoir. They planted a caged bird in the hedge and surrounded it with twigs covered in quick-lime. The men then hid and watched. The caged bird pleased to be in the fresh air, sang heartily. Soon the wild birds flew down to join it and quickly became entangled in the sticky twigs. They were then quickly captured, legs cleaned and caged. A sad ending to a life of freedom. To boys of eight it was all exciting, we were not old enough to realise the cruelty of it all.
Parliamentary Polling Day was a big day in the village. I remember seeing a gang of teenage boys walking up and down the village chanting:-
Oh! We'll vote, vote, vote for Mr Whiteley, Whiteley's sure to win the war, Oh! We'll buy a penny gun, And we'll make old Simpson run, And we'll vote, vote, vote For Mr Whiteley
Two boys carried a huge sheet, dyed green and fastened to two clothes props. Green was the colour of the Labour Party in those days! Tension mounted as the day drew to its close and there were many battles, not only verbal although the majority of the village were staunch Labour. Grandfather Waters was a die-hard Tory (he had once been a farmer) and used to have great fun heckling at Labour Party Meetings and wearing a red hat (Tory colours). Such was his fame as fighter that no one dare attempt to eject him.
Village entertainment was virtually non-existent but there was an occasional Barn Dance. This was held in Rochester's Barn and it was always crowded. The fiddlers played merrily and the young (and not so young) danced and sang till early morning. Many ladies must have groaned next day as they nursed their sore feet after dancing on the stone floor all evening.
I must mention our evenings at Chapel when we sat and watched Magic Lantern Shows. I was very young and I sat amazed at these truly magical performances. One in particular springs to mind - Livingstone in Africa. I can still see the huge lions leaping out.
On other evenings we entertained ourselves with Shadow acts. A large screen was erected and we mimed behind it, with the lights playing on the actors. The audience were entertained by watching the shadows.
I was a keen collector I collected wild flowers, cigarette cards and sporting pictures. The Saturday evening Football Paper was read avidly from cover to cover then I would cut out my favourite footballers and paste them into a scrap book. This book was made of brown paper the leaves stitched together by Mother and the paste was purely flour and water. I was very proud of my scrap books and they gave me hours of entertainment.
These were the simple pleasures of life.
Football as you have probably gathered was my favourite hobby and we played it inside on our big dining table. We played Blow-Football using oak-apples for balls and Hemlock stems for blow pipes and cotton reels for goals. Mother was quite happy to clear the table for us and she busied herself mat-making.
These mats were made of hessian and strips of old material. Mat hessian could be bought with a design already printed on it, but only the rich could afford to do that. Most women scrounged a pair of sacks from a farmer or fruiterer, unpicked the seams, stitched them together, then drew a pattern with crayon or a thick pencil on to the prepared hessian. The hessian was stiched to a frame and then it was ready for filling with long pieces of material which were pushed through and hooked back, or by short clippings about three inches long. Many long winter evenings were spent progging away. These mats were first kept on the bed for winter warmth till needed. Usually laid for holiday periods.
Having travelled extensively I can still recall vividly my fondest memory and it is not of America, North Africa, Europe, Russia or Australia it is of Barlow.
Walking from High Spen to Barlow approaching the village, little rabbits playing around the quarry to my left; my school garden (6ft by 3ft) with others, showing off its London Pride, and far above me, what better sound to hear, than the Skylark soaring higher and higher into the sky; far above and away from its nest in the Back Field. No other village could boast so many skylarks and no bird gives as much pleasure.
Tulip's cottage, as picturesque as ever, a dog idly scratching itself in Front Row and crossig from his garden to Back Row a miner carrying the vegetables for lunch (dinner). The smoke from the coal fires, burning even in Summer, rising in a long column, in the still Summer air and on the window sills stotty cakes cooling.
Even today I get a warm feeling when I motor over the Fell top for I can still, like many others, see the village as it was. Unforgettable!
We made our own stilts by using tin cans the bigger the better. We pierced the cans and threaded string through them so that we had a loop to hold. We then raced each other, tried various skills on them and generally had fun. Scraped knees were an accepted part of the game.
I have previously mentioned playing in Scott's Field. To get into the field you either jumped from a high wall, forced a way through a hedge or went in with Frankie or Norman Scott. They simply opened their back window and we climbed out. The Scotts kept goats and at milking time the goats came up to the window, someone opened it and the goats climbed through. They were then milked and they climbed out again. That was organization!!
Many readers will remember the boys song which they sang as they walked around; it went like this:-
We are some of the Barlow Boys We are some of the Boys We know all our manners We spend all our tanners We are respected wherever we go Alligators up the spoot Nancy Caters looking oot We are some of the Barlow Boys
The first street light to operate in Barlow was opposite the Black Horse. Here, all the children congregated and when the light came on they danced around chanting, "The Lights are on; the lights are on." Later others came on but the novelty never wore off.
Robert Lynn, I seem to remember was the only boy in Barlow with a bicycle. He had one because he delivered the village newspapers. That old bike was used by us all and on it we all learnt to ride. It was years afterwards when my parents finally managed to buy me my own cycle - a heavy model with a Villiers two speed gear on it.
View Map of Barlow
Return to table of contents
When I was about twelve years of age a football team was started in the village. There had been one many years before, so my Father told me; it was called Barlow Lily Whites.
There was great enthusiasm when the idea was first mooted and word spread swiftly around the area. Soon players from High Spen, Winlaton and Chopwell were offering their services. Many Barlow boys played. We had the Carter Brothers, Danny, Billy, Jimmy and Tommy. What they lacked in skill they made up in sheer enthusiasm. Bobby Ritson was a first class full back and master of the sliding tackle. There was Tommy (Snatchy) Alexander, a steady half-back and Stan Clark from the Fan Blast, who excelled at dribbling. He later married Jennie Wills, who died tragically at a very early age. Master of the field was Wilkie Temple. He left Barlow Celtic to play professional football for Aldershot. I worshipped him when I was younger for he was a real footballer and my family were friends of the Temples.
The Club Captain came from Chopwell. He was a sturdy, well-built young Chap who had interested Bolter Wanderers. His name was Joe Bird; a gentle giant, beloved by all for his tenacity on the field and gentleness off it. He had a wonderful sense of humour. I can still hear his whistle through his clenched teeth, and his jerk of the head as he passed you on the street. George (Pop) Waters and Harry McGuire also played their part for the team.
The club had several goalkeepers; Tommy Carter, Bobby Bilcliff (another local boy) and Jack Bradley who broke his leg in a match and limped badly till the day he died.
The club mascot was Billy (Chorpy) Johnson who dressed up in the club colours and led them on to the field.
These were happy Saturdays for the village boys. Father was on the club Committee so I met all the players (all heroes of course) and at every home game Father brought one or two players home for tea. This was a bit of one-up-manship for me. I could always brag about it to my friends. Every player was taken to a house for tea and romance inevitably reared its lovely head in some houses. Ralphy Smith of Chopwell, a very tricky winger, met and married Doris Iley. Tot Neasham married Doris Lynn and Joe Bird married Ada Lishman, a delightful girl who "mothered" me when we all went to High Spen Picture Palace Matinees or for walks, when we were young.
This custom shows once more how generous were the people of Barlow. Every door was open to a stranger.
View Map of Barlow
Return to table of contents
||School opened under Mr E Holland with 76 pupils, 32 boys and 44 girls.
||Classroom Temperatures were 36°, 40°, 41°.
||Playground asphalted. School closed for two days for Winlaton Hoppings.
|1st November 1912
||Alice Needham, whilst playing in playground fell and hurt her shoulder. Her collar bone was found to be broken.
||A competition for pressed flowers and leaves submitted to Blaydon Secondary School for judging.
Results: l. Rachel Waters. 2. Mary Ashman. 3. Jennie Wishart.
||School closed for two weeke due to local epidemic sickness. School presented with a picture "Danes came up the Channel" for good attendance.
||Ida Miller, Jennie Hood and six others reported to have Scarlet Fever. Three have Diphtheria. School closed for two weeks.
|25th March 1914
||School Report (extract):- The children are punctual and regular in attendance and are easily kept in satisfactory order. Reading and written composition reach a fair standard but arithmetic is a backward subject.
||Conditions are desperately bad. Wind has forced all windows open. There was two feet of snow in the staff-room. All rooms leaking. Heating inadequate. Children commended for attending school on such a day. Parents arrived at 3.30 to take children home. Room temperatures were 31°, 33°, 33°.
||School roll now 99.
||Miss Gilholme absent four days, attending the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.
||P.O. valued 4/- handed over to William Turnbull for winning the Health Week Essay.
|10th February 1925
||Laura Needham absent with Scarlet Fever. School presented with picture "Spur in the Dish" for Good Attendance.
|7th July 1925
||Smallpox in the house of Mr Bright. School disinfected.
|10th July 1925
||Fifty six children vaccinated. Twenty four not vaccinated so were sent home.
|15th July 1925
||Evelyn Waters, not vaccinated, contacted smallpox.
|31st August 1925
||William and Robert Roddam commenced school.
|1st October 1925
||Head Teacher received a message from Mr Roddam asking that two boys be sent to bring his sons to school Head Teacher refused, saying that it was a father's duty to see his children attended school.
|27th November 1925
||At 11.30 this morning the children assembled in Class Room I for the purpose of showing sympathy with our King and the Royal Family in the great loss sustained by them and the Nation in the death of the late Queen Mother (Queen Alexandria). Appropriate hymns were sung and an address given by the Head Teacher.
|30th November 1925
||Hephzibal Miller and Highmoor Miller, James and Douglas Miller are emigrating to Canada and have left the district.
|3rd July 1929
||School closed. 25 children and 2 Teachers are visiting the North East Coast Exhibition in Newcastle.
|23rd April 1926
||Miss McIntosh (Health Visitor) visited school this morning for the purpose of a Head Inspection. She found a boy Robert C.. and Wm., Edward, Jos, Thomas and Robert.. were in a verminous condition. She visited the houses of these people and will report it to the S.M.O.
|19th May 1926
||Feeding of poor school children began. Breakfast was served.
|17th December 1926
||Feeding of children discontinued. Extract from Report:- Credit must be given for the success attending the teachers' efforts to secure good and distinct speech from children who on entry, are very backward in this respect.
|31st January 1928
||Head Teacher, Mr Edward J Holland ceases duty as Head of this School.
||Extract from School Report:- Those children in higher class have been trained to speak distinctly and intelligently. Composition exercises submitted revealed no paucity of ideas.
|23rd January 1929
||Medical Officer visited school today for Examination. A list of those suffering from malnutrition was forwarded to Durham (I have left out the list).
|30th January 1929
||Feeding started today for those on the list proposed by M.0.
|8th-15th May 1929
||The following have been sent home with 'Pink Eye':- Doris Bilcliff, Hannah Dixon, Doris Iley, Ed. Walton, Blanche Bilcliff, Will Johnson, David Lynn, Jennie Lillie, Edith Hunter, William Teasdale, Lawrence Wills, Matthew Scott, Jos. Walton, Alice Forster Gladys Lillie, Esther Johnson, Jennie Bilcliff.
|8th May 1930
||The second part of the Admission Examination for Blaydon Sec. School was held today, Alex Johnson being the only candidate.
|11th January 1930
||Six children admitted to Hospital with Scarlet Fever.
|28th November 1930
||Eighteen cases of chicken pox notified.
|30th January 1930
||Parcel of clothing received from Shire Hall for distribution to needy Children. Many children ill with cold, having no boots to wear. The weather has been very stormy.
|7th May 1930
||School will be closed this afternoon for Shrove Tuesday.
|23rd May 1930
||Three children were sent home again by the Head Teacher. Wm. Atkinson and Catherine McGuire both suffering from Measles returned without medical attendant's permission. Lilian Atkinson, having been sent home for medical advice had not even seen a doctor. William Atkinson having said that the doctor had told him to go back to school, finally admitted that it was a lie. Acting on the Memorandum on Communicable Diseases the Head Teacher sent the children home.
From School Report:- It is evident that further improvement is still needed in the work of this school.
The School Log Book made fascinating reading. I had no idea that the Barlow people had suffered so many epidemics of smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, influenza and "pink eye". It was good reading to find that the poorer children were cared for at school, to ensure that they received enough food. Many times the school temperature dropped to between 32° and 45° but the children stayed at school. Teachers would strike today if the temperatures dropped below 55°.
View Map of Barlow
Return to table of contents
I think that this title is most appropriate. The village of Barlow has ended. It is now purely a collection of houses with no life, and every village should have a heart, pulsating with life. Walking down Barlow now, more often than not, one never sees a living thing, it is dead.
Modernists decry the terrace houses as a mode of living but they did produce good neighbours and thus friendships. Children grew up together, close bonds were formed, team games were played. This form of life developed character and rid the children of selfishness. It is very difficult for a child brought up in a detached house separated from other houses by acres of land to develop close-knit friendships and to learn to share with other children the joys of playing together, the give-and-take of life.
The village pub, once the hub of the village is now largely patronised by "outsiders", in spite of giving more service than ever before.
I am pleased that I was born in an era when life was uncomplicated, happy and satisfying for children.
I have no doubt that many people will be disappointed with this book, but if I have made some people happy with my recollections then I am well pleased.
To me Barlow was a child's paradise and it is because of that that I decided to pen this little booklet, so that the present generation will realise that although we were desperately poor, everyone was happy.
View Map of Barlow
Return to table of contents
© Copyright 2000 Alex Johnson