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Help and advice for HIGH SPEN -A HUNDRED YEARS

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Part 1

by Alex Johnson

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The Author camping with <br />little Billy Sproats
The Author (right) camping with little Billy Sproats

Writing my first book on "Barlow" was so easy. Having been born and bred in the small village I knew every person, dog and cat so I did not have to have my mind prompted by other people. Writing the book was a labour of love, for I had a marvellous childhood and enjoyed every moment spent in the village, from the awakening of Spring to the depth of Winter.

I was nearly seventeen when I moved to "the Spen". Father came home one day to announce that he had asked "the boss", Mr. Strong, for a house in High Spen and was to get the keys to No. 10 South Street.

I was dumb-founded. My life was shattered - leaving Barlow, my whole world had crumbled in a few seconds.

When I recovered from the shock, I pleaded with my Father, but to no avail! He looked at Barlow through different eyes to his second son; after all he spent most of his time there - either at the pit or in one of the three clubs of which he was a member! It meant, to him, no more walking over Barlow Fell to the pit and so much easier to stagger home from the club.

My elder brother away in the Royal Navy cared not - brother Bob didn't care too much; he already had lots of friends in High Spen, for he had been travelling to Spen School since he was eleven years old. I had gone to Hookergate Secondary School for four years so I knew very few people in High Spen, only the boys and girls who were fellow pupils at Hookergate, a few boys I had met playing football and my many relatives, the Johnsons, Hallidays and Donnelleys.

I tried to visualise life at High Spen but found it difficult after the closeness of the Barlow families. I was determined to carry on my friendship with Robert Lynn, Laurence Wills and Maurice Henderson, by walking over to Barlow most evenings. The only advantage of moving, I thought, was that I could catch the bus to work in Newcastle from the end of the street.

Disaster thus struck - we left our little village of Barlow and moved to the metropolis of High Spen, a veritable city - a place I thought, without a heart.

Little did I know then that High Spen although much, much larger was like Barlow, a close-knit community; and that people who moved away to Chopwell, Greenside and Highfield always returned to their beloved High Spen.

Robert Lynn with group
Robert Lynn with Dora Johnson,
Betty Stephenson, Sarah Richardson,
Jesse Edwards, Susan Tilley
and Margaret Stobbart

I did as I had promised myself, travel frequently to Barlow to see my friends, especially Robert Lynn, - but when he met the fair Agnes of Winlaton I gave in to the competition!! and found friends in High Spen.

Mother however continued for years to Visit Barlow to see her old friends; come fine or foul weather, she tramped over the Fell to see the Pringles, Needhams, Waters and many other Barlow families. Gradually I settled in to my new home in High Spen but Barlow had a corner of my heart, as it still has today.

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Although this book is meant to be a book of recollections and memories, it would be wrong of me not mention the history of the village.

I said history - shortlived! Unlike Barlow, which goes back a thousand years as a village, High Spen, a hundred and fifty years ago was just a matter of a few farms - then, the colliery came!! The name Spen is often found in records of Northern counties. "Spenne" appears thrice in Hunckehoyespen (1175-90). The name is derived from the word "Spenne" found in the book of Sir Gawain (Wars of Alexander). The true meaning of the word has not been found. In Sir Gawain a fox is said twice to jump ov r a spenne. This suggest a meaning such as "hedge" and could be a derivative of the old English "spannann - to clasp or fasten. When at school we were taught that it was originally "High Spinney" but this could probably be discounted, for there are many instances of the word appearing in Yorkshire, in parts where woods are few.

The most probable answer is, that it was a boundary - maybe between the Manors of Winlaton and Chopwell. The first mention of the Spen was in 1379 when Katherine de Fery held four messuages (houses) and 100 acres in Barlow and Spen.

These buildings and the land changed hands many times before being bought by William Tempest of the Manor of Thornley then passing to the Clavering Estate.

In 1838 Spen increased in size for houses were built to house the miners working at Garesfield Colliery (later named the Bute). These houses were named Cardiff Square, obviously after the birthplace of the Marquis of Bute who was a large colliery owner and New Row, later called Jawblades Cottages, because a gateway was made up of two Jawblades of a whale brought to the village by a seaman who became a miner. These Jawblades were later removed and were put in place to make a gateway on the hill, south of Towneley Terrace. It then became known as Bone Rill and still retains the name today. Jawblades Cottages, after the erection of more houses became known as the Old Row (Aald Raa). On December 17th, 1865 one of the residents of this Row, Matthew Atkinson murdered his wife in a gruesome manner and was afterwards executed at Durham. 20 years afterwards some more "modern" buildings were erected to the north of the Colliery and were known as Ramsey's Cottages, named after a prominent coal colliery owner and business man. These cottages were back to back and so only had one entrance.

Clayton Terrace came next followed by West Street, Glossop Street, Collingdon Row and Towneley Terrace. At a much later date came East Street, South Street and Howard Terrace, Co-operative Terrace, now Wishart Terrace; was built as the premises of High Spen Branch of the Co-op. Front Street was then built to provide the shops to supply the wants of the miners and their large families. High Spen was a typical mining village. In green fields, in 1837, a colliery shaft was sunk, workshops erected and a few houses built to house the miners. With the colliery expanding, more houses had to be built. The miners had to be fed so shops were built and the village developed; with the pit-head gear rising like a gallows against the sky, dominating the village.

Men, looking for work, Came from as far afield as Ireland. Cumbria and the neighbouring county of Northumberland. Hence the names of Kennedy, Robson, Waters and Johnson, all border names.

These miners were a breed apart. They were hard-working, hard drinking sport-mad, generous fit men, who when not down under working in the bowels of the earth were working in their gardens, walking their whippets, flying their pigeons, playing football or drinking in their clubs. Dressed in navy blue suits, flat cap and muffler they lived life to their rules. Pigeons and whippets were the prerogative of the miner - no other trade or profession at that time indulged in such hobbies.

The pigeon duckets were usually painted white, with a splash of red or blue on them, and were at the bottom of the garden or up on the allotment which most miners had.

Whippets were kept for the hare-coursing which was popular right up till 1959.

The miners also enjoyed other sports. Between 1830-1900 horse-racing, cock-fighting and bare-fist fighting took place on Barlow Fell. Jim Waters of Barlow was the local champion.

Spen Colliery was not a deep one, so gas was seldom encountered. This meant that naked lights could be used and illumination was offered by candles or carbide lamps It was no wonder that many miners suffered from eye-trouble. Boys began work in the pit at fourteen years of age. It horrified me to hear the boys at school just longing to start work, and to get a pit-pond of their own. It was the last thing I wanted in fact it was the "big-stick" for me at Grammar School. If my work was not up to standard my Father would say, "Aalreet: If yor not gaan te work, ye'll gaan doon the pit!". That was enough for me - for I wanted to be a teacher.

The miners of today think they are hard done by, but they are very well-off compared to the miners of those days. Working eight or nine hours a day, lying in water, using a hand pick, pushing heavy tubs, seams of only eighteen inches' All this for a mere pittance - no wonder they all went on strike, although it gained them little.

Miners were hard workers but so were their wives. I won't say much about them; I praised them in detail in my book on Barlow.

The wives were the centre of the family. They brought up large families on little money; cooked and baked the home-grown produce; washed clothing in antiquated fashion; a chore taking all day in most houses, disciplined the children, ensured that the worker of the house had his "bait", baccy (or tabs) his cold tea to drink and his carbide or candles to take to work. when they slept I don't know - for they were up with their husbands early in the morning and were always waiting when they returned. A marvellous race indeed and in spite of all this work they maintained a spotless house. These wives made good mothers. They loved their children and saw to it that they were always in when the children returned from school. Nothing was too much trouble when it was for the children. This is a great difference to present day mothers for most of these are quite happy to foist their children on to baby-minders, grandparents or anyone who is prepared to take them; for their own social life or work must not be interfered with. Perhaps this is the reason why children today are less well-mannered, well-behaved and not as stable as those of previous generations.

Miner's daughters had to work hard. Before school and on returning, work was there for them. At week-ends they had to help Mum before going out to play and it was quite a common sight to see a group of children playing a game, with nearby two or three prams containin6 little brothers and sisters - big sisters had been sent out to look after the little babies of the family. Sons escaped lightly. They were the future breadwinners of the family so they were allowed to 60 out when they wished. Others having cooked meals for the family would put out the plates and even salt the meal for the men! They carried in the coal, cleaned the shoes and waited on the menfolk like slaves. When my girl friend came North (from Salisbury Plain) for the first time in 1961 she was horrified to see my Mother doing so such for Father. She turned to me and very firmly told me not to expect that sort of treatment from her. I told her that my generation didn't expect it - but there are still a few men in High Spen that expect their wives to do most things for them.

Spen people were never religious! Even when Methodism swept the North and new Churches were being built, the men still preferred the comfort of their clubs to the Churches and Chapels. Parents, fortunately sent their children to Sunday School and Mothers attended the Sunday Services. One religion was exempt from this criticism. The Roman Catholics, who had come from as far away as Ireland to work in High Spen still attended their own church. Termed "leftfooters" they were not popular with a lot of villagers.

The Mansions, Smiths, Pollards, Donnellys, Maguires and Bradleys were just a few of the families who could be seen every Sunday and some other mornings, walking smartly down to Highfield to St.Joseph's Church to catch the first Mass at some very early hour.

The house in South Street was a palace after the Back Row, Barlow. I had been brought up in a one-up and one-down house with only one door - we had a front window only and our garden was over the main road fifty yards away. Now we had two rooms upstairs and a front door which led into a neat front garden. Father thought that this was great for he was a keen gardener.

Next door to us lived the Armstrongs, a nice family with a lovely, young girl named June, who spent a lot of time with us. A few doors away was the Vickers family who had two children, Tommy and Margaret. Margaret was a chubby little girl or probably four or five years of age and she was a dear little girl. She loved her "Aunt Emma", as Mother was called by hundreds of children, and brother Bob and I spoilt her dreadfully. Margaret spent hours in our house and I wonder how she is now. I hope that if she reads this she will get in touch again.

A year later we were on the move again, this time to East Street, No. 5, sandwiched between the Hemmings and the Lowes. This time we had no garden and I think Father was glad of that for he was having trouble with arthritic knees. The house was on the main road, which was not so good, and we had a back yard. I'll never forget seeing, on a Summer's evening, all the women sitting outside their back gates, on brackets or chairs, chatting away to each other. Two doors up was Mr. & Mrs. Young or Morrely (I never knew which), and their children, one boy and two girls. Mrs. Young died early in life and my Mother took over the mantle of Mother till they were old enough to cater for themselves. This is the kind of thing that happened in those days. People did not rely on Social Services - they just stepped in and took over. Mother also took care Of Mrs. Hemmings when senility became apparent.

Up the street was the Waters family - Mr. Waters was my Mother's cousin. He played the clarinet in the Territorial Army band of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. I loved to see him go out on a T.A. night dressed up in his dress uniform. He had three daughters, Mary, Evelyn and Peggy, and two boys "Pop" and Jimmy. Mary played the piano at the Palace Cinema in the days of the silent films (so also did Mrs. Cranston). Pop was one of the village characters. Always happy he was a great leg-puller. Be played football for any team that wanted him and enjoyed every game. Jimmy left home at an early age and has resided in South Africa for fifty years.

Grandparents lived at 33, West Street and I never cease to be amazed at the organisation Grandmother must have had, to feed, clothe and sleep so many. After leaving school all the boys went down the pit. There was Bill, Bob, Kit, Jim, Alex, Matty, Albert, George and Joe and as four of them went off to work, the other five just climbed into the warm beds!! Grandmother, a wonderful baker, used to bake 40 loaves at a baking. The daughters all helped in the house and a happier family you couldn't find. My Grandfather had three wives to bear his family, but Mr. Geordie -- of Cardiff Square had twenty children and one wife. Whatever one may think of this generation one must give praise to the Mothers for, without modern kitchen aids they brought up their children with great credit.

Sundays were quiet days in the '20s and '30s. One dressed up in what was termed one's Sunday-Best and behaviour was therefore of the best.

I went to Church with Jim Withrington, Billy Sproats and Ronnie Tompkinson and my brother and George Tidman usually joined us. The rest of the day was either walking, cycling or going to Church again.

Sunday night in High Spen to most teenagers was strolling down to the "Hen Run". Every village had a stretch of road, usually just outside the village where the young people would promenade.

High Spen had Ricklees Bank (after the new road was built) and, there on a fine night dozens of girls would stroll up and down the hill. Boys would probably sit on the railings and whistle or shout at the walking girls. If the boys liked what they saw, or if the girls showed any interest by replying or by flirting with their eyes; the boys jumped off the fence and slowly followed the girls, gradually catching them up and finally engaging them in bantering conversation. They then walked the girls for miles. Many of the old married couples of the village will no doubt smile as they remember how their romances started - on the "Hen Run". Burnopfield Bank and Ryton Willows were also well known locations for this type of entertainment. My friends and I seldom visited these roads, we were usually far too busy cycling in some distant part of Northumberland and only on our return, coasting down the hill did we see those lovely girls of High Spen and of course from Greenside.

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The village people were very proud of their dancing team. They had had a dancing team for many years, they were called the Spen Sword Dancers. These sword dancers originated in the coalfields of Northumberland and Durham and at one time was almost solely done by pitmen. Nowadays it is kept alive by all sorts of people.

The Blue Diamonds were formed in 1926 by Mr. Freddie Forster who had married the sister of one of the original Spen dancers and who had become interested in the dance. In 1927 the team consisted of Mr. Freddie Forster (senior) and his son young Freddie, Tommy Wilkes, Billie Holroyd, Nigel Bell, Joe Farrage, Jim Crompton and Billy Herron

When they first formed the Blue Diamonds had no proper swords but bust used bed lats with the ends wrapped up in pieces of cloth. Fortunately they were a popular act and soon raised the money required to buy Sheffield swords.

Jimmy Johnson later joined the Team and played the concertinas which l he still does when required. In 1933 the Team left for London, hitch hiking and playing on the way but having only got to Kettering after three weeks, they returned home.

The Team continued till the War in 1939. After the War, the response was poor and some girls were brought in to augment the old members who were left. The girls however were not allowed to play in public.

Freddie Forster senior, died in 1964 and young Freddie took over the reins. This Team consisted of Freddie and his four children and carried on till recently when the Team brought in a few outsiders to supplement the act.

The village owes much to the Forster family for keeping alive the sword dancing name of High Spen which can boast of a 100 years of Sword Dancing.

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People who pass through High Spen now, must regard it as a dead village. Only the odd shop is open and few people are to be seen.

Front Street
Front Street 1910
Wood Street
Wood Street c. 1910
Hookergate Co-op
Hookergate Co-op c. 1910

What a difference to the 1930s! High Spen was a thriving community. On Saturday morning it was all bustles! Front Street was crowded with people and in spite of the low wages and unemployment everyone was cheerful. To some women it was a social occasion, a time when they saw and could talk with friends from the far end of the village.

The shops were always busy, especially the Co-operative Store, for the "Dividend" was most welcome.

The three clubs in the village - the "Road-end", "Headsy's" and the "Field" were all busy in the evenings and lunch-times, especially at week-ends.

The two pubs, "The Bute Arms" and "Miners Arms" had their own patrons and managed to survive!!

Most of the village shops were concentrated in Front Street, twenty three of them in a matter of four hundred yards. [See sketch-map of Front Street below]

Ganny Spears shop, on Pawston Road was well used by the children of Barlow - it was the nearest shop. In 1890 it was a butchers shop but by 1930 it had also become a sweet shop.

Next to it was the splendid Picture Palace, owned by Mr. Greener. It was the hub of the village for the ladies and children. Every Saturday morning there was a children's penny matinee and they showed exciting serials, with the hero hanging in some precarious position!! This was to ensure a packed house the following Saturday. The full house meant bedlam, about two hundred excited children, talking and shouting, before the show started. Poor Mr. Lowes tried to keep order by shouting above their voices, and threatening to "hoy them oot!". It was to no avail, and he was lucky to avoid the orange peel and other missiles hurled through the air. As a small child, I was horrified after my first visit and never returned. Even Tom Mix couldn't get me there from Barlow!

In the evenings, with prices at 9d, 5d and 3d the cinema was usually quite well attended, young couples getting in early to grab the back seats, to do a little cuddling.

Next to the Palace, very conveniently, was Rossi's Ice Cream Parlour and Temperence Bar! It had seats and tables in it so that one could sit and enjoy a soft drink or an ice-cream. It was of course a popular meeting-place for some of the young people, especially of Ramsey's Street. It changed hands several times but I remember Mrs. Best who owned it in the 1930s.

There was then the bus garage of the Venture Bus Company - ran, it appeared to me by Mabel Urwin.

Armstrong's shop was next door, it was a well patronized sweet shop, but the most popular shop adjoined it - Charlton's Fish & Chip Shop. Inside was a partition with tables behind it! Here, you could sit and devour your chips while they were hot, or you could wrap them well in newspaper and rush home with them, or you could do what most young people did - walk along eating them out of the newspaper in your hand. The Central Club (Heedsy's) was next - a retreat for men only. It was called Heedsy's or Headsy's because of its popular steward Mr. Jack Heads. At the end of the Club was Mrs. Mannion's draper's shop. She was a nice lady I always thought. Mr. Joe Bell had two shops split by Murray's the Grocers (visited by many people during the Strike for a pennorth of bacon scraps!) and I well remember Gladys Watson serving there being watched carefully by the dignified figure of Mr. Bell. Another grocer was next door - it was owned by Mr. Cumberledge a very popular local man - Joe Farrage, a friend of my brothers worked there. On the corner of the entrance to Watson Street was a little shop owned by Bob Brown, I well remember going in with a penny and asking for a ha'porth of sweets and a halfpenny back - I was always careful with my pennies!!

Across the lane from Bob Brown's was Cooper's Butcher's Shop, later to be Adamson's. Mr. Cooper was a prominent man in the village life and an enthusiastic Wesleyan. Next to his shop was Wright the Chemists. Mr. Ralph Wright was a travelling salesman and could be seen most days in Greenside, Barlow or Hookergate selling his medicines from a large brown bag. He travelled on a bike and wore large thick spectacles.

We then had a large double-fronted shop, which for a few years after the Great War had been an Ex-Servicemen's Club but later became a Temperence Bar, run by Mr. Lockey. He was a nice man and I had many entertaining conversations with him. There was a Pool Table inside and tables and chairs, and it was here that many of us made out way on an evening, to have a milk shake. These were new drinks at the time and were very popular. Probably Charlie Kidd will remember sitting drinking them with me!!

Beside the Temperence Bar was Jot Richardson's Barbers Shop. There was no love lost between Jot and John Musgrove, whose shop was on the other side of the street, and they were continually popping to their doors to look for trade and to see who was going into each others shop. Young people today probably don't realise, that these shops were called barbers shops and not hairdressers, for most miners went there to be shaved and only occasionally for a haircut. On the corner was a shop owned by Mrs. Fairless a remarkable woman. She had owned the shop for upwards of forty years and was a prominent member of all village activities. During the War (1914-18) she ran a ladies sewing club which raised money for returning soldiers of the village.

There was then a lane leading to the end of Watson Street, and a large building which contained a house (for the Manager) a butchers shop, a drapers shop and a grocery shop; while upstairs, above these shops was a very large long room. This was at first a Cinema, then became a Concert Room. This block was the Blaydon Co-operative Store (High Spen Branch). Originally the store was in the row of buildings now known as Wishart Terrace near "The Bute Arms" but moved to the new location in 1913. The Co-op was the last building on that side of the road till one reached the farms opposite "Bute Arms".

On the opposite side of the road was the Old Row. Next to it going East was a large shop owned by Miss Kitty Donnelly who also worked in the Co-op Store. This was adjoined by the Wesleyan Chapel, followed by some flats and Walter Willson's Shop. For many years this was managed by Mary Robson, a cheerful happy-go-lucky girl, who won the hearts of everyone entering the shop. On the corner was John Musgrave's barbers shop. There was then the road down to the Field Club and Co-operative Terrace. Behind Front Street there was Liza Ward's Fish Shop and further along Mr. Bell's Blacksmiths Shop. A venue for all small boys, who loved to watch the horses being shoed, and their gords repaired with the forge roaring and sparks flying.

Opposite John Musgrove, on the same side of the road was the Miner's Arms, then Bobby Holmes the Cobbler and attached to his shop, a small shop selling vegetables grown by Johnsons on a patch of ground adjoining the sewage beds!!!

Three colliery houses ended the buildings on that side of Front Street.

Virtually opposite the Bute Arms, next to the crossroads, Mrs. Smith had her new Fish and Chip Shop. This was patronized by all of her faith, for she was a staunch Roman Catholic, and by many of us from the west end of High Spen. She was a lovely person and "pulled my leg" on every visit. She had two sons Leo and Gerald. The latter was killed in the war, Leo built a shop next door and had it for many years after the war.

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In the South of England and in Yorkshire the village pond was a thing of beauty. Surrounded by trees and thatched cottages, probably with a village green they were a pleasure to see. This was not so at High Spen.

The village had two ponds. One was a bricked square pond surrounded by pit houses. It's purpose was to supply water for the steam-driven engines of the pit. It lay immediately behind Glossop Street. It was well fenced in but that did no stop the local boys from using it as a swimming pool. Most Spen boys will probably admit to learning to swim in this pond. People today would be horrified to see their children swimming in such a filthy pond, but those children of the 1930s seem to have taken no harm from it.

Alan Johnson with his pit pony at the Royal Show in Newcastle (1935)
Alan Johnson with his pit pony
at the Royal Show in Newcastle (1935)

I remember seeing Alan Johnson, with a clothes line around him being pulled across and after two thirds of the way he gradually sank. Two teenagers dived in and rescued him. Alan was, after the spluttering ceased, quite prepared to have another go.

Across the path from this pond was another one, much bigger and with no walls surrounding it. This one was fed from a spring.

A swan lived on it for years. It was well fed by the local people. I remember a story, with a smile, about the swan. One afternoon (after closing time!) Jack -- and his two cronies slowly made their unsteady way up the Back Lonnen and turned left up the Boiler Bank past the pond. It was called Boiler Bank because of a huge boiler, which stood beside the path. It was a popular plaything for the children who climbed up on top and slid down it.

Jack decided here to attend to the wants of nature, having consumed several pints of beer. He staggered to the fence, a wooden fence of slats stood close to it and proceeded to fill the pond. The swan seeing what he thought was a worm had a snap at it. There was an anquished yell as Jack stepped back holding part of himself. Cursing strongly he clumsily climbed over the fence to attack the swan. Jack stretched out to grab the swan, overbalanced and fell into the pond. His two companions rolled around with laughter, before complying with Jack's request for aid, and pulled him out of the water. A sobering act!

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The Old Row (Aad Raa) was the slum alley of High Spen. Being the first row of houses built in the village and with little or no maintenance the street was in a poor state. An open gutter ran the length of the street, between the houses and the toilets, which were ten yards away and it overflowed regularly.

The road was a short cut between Towneley Terrace and East and West Streets and Front Street with its shops. It was therefore quite a busy thoroughfare. Busy or not the residents still had to cross it to get to the toilets (netties) when the occasion demanded. It was no strange sight seeing a man cross the street reading a newspaper and return, shirt-tail flapping with half the paper missing; or to hear the muffled tones Of, "Bring 'is sum paper!".

The posh people of course, cut the paper into squares and hung it up by string on a nail. Young readers probably don't realise that the present day toilet paper is a modern innovation.

In spite of this most of the houses were spotless for I remember visiting the Smiths and the Maguires with happy memories.

I also remember, when I was small and on a visit from Barlow, Father sent me to a house to collect a piece of paper with some money in it (a bet!!). I was shocked when I entered, having been invited in by a bawling voice. The room was in complete disorder, clothes flung everywhere, dishes unwashed, the smell of living and of beer and sweat pervaded the room, with a hush fire roaring in the large grate. A brown china bowl was on the plain, uncovered wooden table, half-full of pot-pie, a big brown teapot stood beside it, a tin of condensed milk, its jagged lid open and a badly cut loaf half completed the picture. Mr. Jack --, with his shirt half tucked into his trousers his galluses hanging loose over his fat, beer-filled stomach, his bare feet in well-worn carpet slippers, holding in one hand a pint pot full of tea so strong that you couldn't see the bottom, and a Sporting Man in the other; addressed me in a broad Geordie accent, informing me that he "thowt aa was a canny bairn" and that "Legs (my Father's nick-name) wis lucky hevin such a fine kids". I took the paper and money and fled!

The Row became infamous because of a brutal murder in one of its houses. On Saturday, 17th December 1864, Matthew Atkinson, a coalhewer, awaited the return of his wife from one of her frequent disreputable visits to Winlaton. On her return there was a noisy quarrel and Eleanor ran out into the street, only to be dragged back indoors. The neighbours heard her screaming and Matthew shouting, and at first presumed it was another domestic row; then realised that it was more than that so one of them, Mr. Hunter knocked on the door. He was told in no uncertain terms that if he or anyone else entered the house they would be shot. The neighbours withdrew and listened to the moans and groans. After a while Atkinson came out and wandered about outside for several minutes. He then returned to the house from where more screams and groans were heard, then complete silence. A few minutes elapsed and then Matthew Atkinson came out, full of fear that he had killed his wife. Two neighbours entered the house and saw Mrs. Atkinson badly battered on the head, arms and upper legs. She was dead. P.C. Harrison from Winlaton arrived in answer to the urgent summons and arrested Mr. Atkinson. He was duly tried at Durham and was hanged on 16th March 1865.

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Sketch Map of High Spen

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© Copyright 2000 Alex Johnson