Spike Memories of Dora Kirvan.


This lovely poem was written by Dora in 1986. It tells of a very happy childhood on The Spike, in the late 1920s/1930s. Dora passed away in January 2010 aged eighty three (born April 1926). It is reproduced here with kind permission of her family.

My memories go turning round, like wheels on a bike
To ‘Blaydon Haughs’ where I was born, it was better known as ‘The Spike’
There were just five streets of houses, standing side by side
Everyone knew their neighbour, there was nothing they could hide
Two pubs, two shops, and no trees
A couple of fields surrounded by factories

Two families lived in railway carriages, some in the ‘Old Castle’
And some lived in the wooden huts, without complaint or hassle
To the doctors and the schools, we had quite a way to go
With no buses in the early days, to take us to and fro
There wasn’t much excitement, and yet it’s strange to say
We enjoyed our bonfires and the street gangs, and the games we used to play
There were snow fights in the winter, ball games by the score
At the bottom corner hot rice and skippy’s, in the back lanes ‘knockie-nine-door’
Cold nights at the top corner, with coats wrapped round our knees
Singing songs and telling ghost stories, that made our blood freeze

We took our bottle of water, to Hogg’s Field to play
Down by the waterside, to make our cakes of clay
Concerts in the back yards, where you only paid a pin
For some noisy entertainment, we made an awful din
I wore my big sister’s dresses, and shoes with very high heels
Parading around and showing off, they called me Gracie Fields
Singing through a make believe mike, all the songs I used to like
Secretly I would hope and pray, that they would call me Alice Faye

Our radios ran on accumulators, our homes were lit by gas
The fireplaces were big and black, and decorated with brass
They needed a lot of cleaning, to keep them shining and bright
And to go to the outside toilet, you needed a torch or candlelight

Washing was a horror, on very rainy days
The house was full of damp and steam, from limply hanging claes
We were always very well fed
On dumplings, mince and home made bread
In the winter nights with our friends, sitting side by side
Making proggy mats to keep us occupied
We cut clippings from old coats, and pieces of cloth
We often got rewarded, with a basin full of broth

Christmas was a marvellous time, with our stockings in a row
Some sweets, am apple and an orange, with a sixpence in the toe
There weren’t many luxuries, in the way of toys
A book or a doll for a girl, and usually a torch for the boys

We walked for miles to Ryton Willows, with very aching legs
To play on the little grassy hills, and bool our coloured paste eggs
We couldn’t wait for summer holidays, for a very special day
With whitened sandshoes and paste sandwiches, for a trip to Whitley Bay
The buses full of excitement, and as we left the street
Singing ‘The Blaydon Races’, made it such a treat

There were concerts in the chapel, where we sat entranced
Socials run by Mrs Ainslie, where we sang and danced
And the ‘Anniversaries’, the children said verses and sang hymns
Of those lovely moments, my memory never dims

There were also the Saturday Matinees, of those we would never tire
Flash Gordon and Ken Maynard, at the Blaydon Empire
The queue was very long and rough, the fun and laughs were many
With thrills and lots of excitement, all just for one penny
And when the film ended, and you left the magic behind
The doors opened and in one mad rush, we were hustled and pushed outside
There the brightness made us blink, so we could hardly see
But we raced down through the railway crossings, always hungry for tea

Ice Cream sold by Buck and Perna’s, was what we used to like
A man from Wall’s came with a freezer, on a huge three wheeled bike
With these words written on
‘Stop me and buy one’

The funerals were well attended, no one seemed to talk
And from The Spike to Blaydon Cemetery, was quite a long walk
We were very lucky if our mother waited on
We would go around to the back door, for a cream cake or a scone

A man sharpened scissors, coal by the ton came to the back door
The fisherman called ‘Calla Herring’, a horse and cart brought parcels
Our groceries from ‘Blaydon Store’ (the Coop)
The ragman shouted for rags and woollens, and promised you a balloon
But if he gave you two pegs, you really felt ‘let doon’
If you took the peelings to Mrs Tench, she gave you a sweet or two
We always took a lot, so she gave us quite a few

We played buttony and bays, if the weather was fine
When you threw your dabber you hoped, it wouldn’t land on the chalk line
We played sixy and queenie whose got the ball
Walked on tin cans with a string, and tried not to fall
We spent boodies for money, used pieces of glass
The white bits with gold on, were really high class
Outside Maddock’s house, when the weather was fair
Underneath the lamp playing ‘truth or dare’
Marbles were flicked and rolled in the gutters
Some of the windows, had big wooden shutters

There was also Mick Bowles’ garden, with lots of marvellous things
We played each Sunday morning, in the sheds and on the swings
We never touched the vegetable patch, it was always neat and trim
There was no vandalism or destruction, for we all respected him
There was Mrs Houston’s peas and pies, Chapman’s home made pop and ginger beer
A notice hung outside John Lewins’ wall, saying you may telephone from here
Lizzie Kelly made toffee cakes, and toffee apples too
Old Mrs Stobbs did dress making, and Mrs Tumelty cobbled our shoes
If you needed anything at night, like cigarettes and pop
You just went to Townley Street, to Katy Jameson’s shop

Then there was the Leek Show, that was a yearly treat
With prizes that were very good, sometimes a bedroom suite
When the show was over, my mother would say to me
Take the can round to The Tavern, the leek broth was always free

Joe Somerville took us on the river, in his rowing boat
There were so many of us, I don’t know how we kept afloat
He pinched us some snannies (turnips), covered in dirt and grime
We dipped them in the water and ate them, and had a lovely time

But I liked the weddings best, with the bride all dressed in white
You waited outside the door for ages, on your tiptoes to catch a sight
Of someone who looked quite different, whom you’d seen the day before
In her turban and her pinny, washing the step and polishing the door
And when she came out smiling, with her father in his best suit
The kids all ball and shout at them, ‘Hoy, toss a ha’penny oot’
As you see those coppers cascade, and fall upon the ground
You look around all bewildered, there’s not a penny to be found
Some quick thinking kids, have taken most of the loot
But you know for certain, there’s money under someone’s mother’s foot
And so you walk away dejected, as if you didn’t care
But you know now you can’t go to ‘The Hall’ (a cinema), to see Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

When a baby was getting christened, we would hang around the street
If it was a baby boy, the girl would get a treat
You were given a little parcel, and when you opened it
It would contain a scone and some spice cake, and a silver threepenny bit

Friday was pay day, I would hand around the factory gate
When my Dad gave me a penny, to spend it I couldn’t wait
As I gazed in the shop window, wondered what to buy
Would it be a sherbet dab?, but something would catch my eye
A lovely lucky tattie, with a prize inside
With lots of licks that lasted for ages, that helped me to decide

The ‘Empire Day’ carnivals, were days of happiness
With grown ups and children, wearing fancy dress
We went along the turnpike, everyone on foot
To a field but I’ve forgotten its name, to receive a bag of fruit
The Union Jack was hoisted, in loud voices we would sing
‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘God Save the King’
We decorated all our streets, our doors and windows too
With flags and with bunting, in red, white and blue
Everyone would help, for they were really keen
Two chairs stood outside Hurst’s door, for our King and Queen
Old Mr and Mrs Anderson, sat there side by side
As we stood and watched them, we were filled with pride

Some people had nicknames, Hacker, Stiffy, Grip and Dabbit
Sausage, Minty, Scone and Tut, their names just became a habit

We walked to school passed Douglas’s factory, and the Scar Heaps every day
Sometimes just to change the scene, we went the Bottle House way
I would hurry up Mary Street, till I reached that big green gate
When I saw the kids still playing, I’d know I wasn’t late
When the whistle blew, we stood in our line
Shivering in the winter, fidgeting when it was fine
One by one we all marched in
Lessons with Miss Kitty Clark would then begin
School friends names I still recall
Annie, Rena, Blanche and Peggy, I remember them all

The May processions in St. Joseph’s Church, in our veils and dresses of white
Singing hymns to our lady, I remember with delight
Now all those days are behind me, and if at memories I want to look
I just sit back with my feet up, and read a Catherine Cookson book.

Below is another of Dora Kirvan's amazing poems. This one written in 1988. Thanks to Sylvia MacPhail for sending it to me and for kind permission to show it here.

This was a good move
The house was very nice inside
Three bedrooms up and a large living room
We were really filled with pride
It was next to Patterson's factory
At the very end of the street
An engine had knocked the corner off
So we had a small stone seat

Nearly every day
Joe Tench shunted the Dilly past
The noise and steam seemed endless
As it didn't go very fast
We got some brand new furniture
A brown leather three piece suite
Four dining chairs and a Cossor wireless
Everything looked a treat

We got rid of the big steel fender
Got a curb with two seats covered in hide
Meppo shoe polish and brushes
And dusters were kept inside
We got a nice piano
All modern, shiny and black
And to make room for it
The press went into the back

But we still had a gaslight
Changing the mantle was a chore
Sometimes just when it was fitted it broke
When that happened my mother swore
We had to have the wireless jars changed
And took our turns each week
Mary complained when it was her turn
The accumulator acid would leak

Sometimes Barbara and I would go
Through Douglas' factory gate
All the way to the blacksmith's shop
To give my father his bait
Of course we always dallied
Made the journey twice as long
As we passed her grandfather, Mr Tench
She always used to get wrong

My troubles had only started
When I knew children were getting coal
Someone had left a brick out of the factory wall
And left a gaping hole
So Eveline, Annie Hamilton and I went
With our buckets we stood in the queue
While Annie was filling her pail
Someone shouted “police” so we flew

Eveline and I dropped our buckets
Down the Bottlehouse we ran pell-mell
Annie ran with her full bucket
Not a piece of that coal fell
Our pails were taken to the office
To the manager we had to report
We were shaking with fear and fright
At stupidly having been caught

My days of playing in the factory were gone
I was changing my trend
Any spare time that I had
Was spent at the corner end
Betty and I walked up Thomas Terrace to school
We parted at Bell's shop
She walked through the streets to the Board School
And I carried on to he top

I walked along past the Picture Hall
Made myself late gazing at film stars
Displayed on the side of the wall
Ruth and Bill got married
On a lovely August day
She wore a dress of blue
With carnations in her bouquet

Lily Swan used to swill
Nearly half the back lane
Sweep the rubbish to the side
To stop it going down the drain
When Mrs Thorpe broke her leg
I would shake her fireside mat
I wonder if Lily remembers
Dressing up the cat

Then one Sunday morning
September 3rd nineteen thirty-nine
I was ready to go out
The weather was nice and fine
We had the wireless on
And were quiet as never before
When we heard Mr Chamberlain saying
“Our country was now at war”

Then as we all listened
I can still recall
My mother saying to us
“May god help us all”
When I went to Townley Street
Much to my surprise
Nearly everyone was outside
I did not realise

As we stood around wondering
What it all meant
We got the fright of our lives
When the sirens went
l I couldn't wait to go to school
To see what would happen there
Everything just looked the same
As if no-one seemed to care

Of course we didn't understand
The changes that were to come
Lots of families would be alright
But it would be grief and sadness for some
At nine o'clock each morning
Our teacher at St. Joseph's school
Read the front page of her newspaper
Sitting on a stool

She was called Miss Larner
In her nice and quiet way
Asked us to stand with hands joined
And with heads bowed we would pray
For all who joined the services
We hoped it wouldn't last too long
It didn't seem to make much sense
To us it seemed all wrong

Sometimes we had air raid practice
To the shelter we would go
Giggling and laughing when it was fine
In winter sliding in the snow
To us it was very exciting
We pretended to shake with fear
Waiting and talking quietly
Until we heard the “all clear”

We went to the chapel for gas masks
Later on that year
Even the babies got them
That gave us quite a scare
Ours were in beige coloured boxes
Which were very awkward we found
We made covers from nice material
They were easier to carry around
Everyone had identity cards
Clothing and sweet coupons too
We got ration books for our food
Everywhere was queue, queue, queue

There was a shelter at the top corner
The men dug one down the waterside
It was cold and damp
And really not very wide
There were soldiers stationed in the cornfield
At them we would stand and look
There was Benny. Maurice and Tiggy
Also Joe the cook

There were big barrage balloons
Floating around in the sky
We just took them for granted
And never wondered why
A lot of girls worked at Vickers
They wore an overall and snood
The work was really hard
And the wages were very good

There were posters on the walls
Telling us this and that
“Careless talk costs lives”
and “Keep it under your hat”
Shopping was a nightmare
I didn't like it one bit
On this subject I won't write much
Because I hated it

We got meat from Davy the butcher
Our rations from the C.W.S.
Bread and cakes from Worley's
But the luxuries just got less
If we heard there was bananas
We always tried to get more
Mary would stand at Ashton's
And my mother at the store

About the ration of sweets and chocolate
We made a lot of fuss
I don't think it was very fair
To all the kids like us
But we had our dried eggs
Homemade toffee, cakes and pop
And if we could afford it
Chips from Armstrong's shop
Sometimes we had to go to the store
With so much money to spend
We gave our check no. 20187
For the dividend

Mother was always happy
When 'divi' day came around
I once remember her saying
It was ninepence in the pound
We would get a club for Todd's
About five pounds no doubt
Go on the tram along Scotswood Road
And all of us rigged out

But we never got what we wanted
Dresses in pale greens or blues
Always dark coloured tunics
Never patent leather shoes
I would borrow one of my sister's skirts
Put the waistband above my chest
Then I would pull my jumper down
And try to look my best

We always seemed to get new clothes for Easter
Usually white socks and cotton dresses
Mary and I once got pink coats
Just like the royal princesses
A lot of our clothes were handed down
With big hems or bits cut off
If anything really fit
We really felt a toff

Yet we tried to keep in the fashion
In coats that were edge to edge
And thought we were the bees knees
If the heels on our shoes were wedge
We were desperate for clothing coupons
But we made the most of what we had
Fur trimmed coats, 'Halo' and 'Mrs Miniver' hats
We didn't look too bad

Some dresses had elastic waists
And lace around the hem
Checked costumes and satin blouses
We looked quite smart in them
There were Cuban heels and peep-toed shoes
Pill box hats with a small veil
Some wore a fur around their shoulders
Down the back hung a fox's tail

We couldn't afford pure silk stockings
Our legs were nearly always bare
We would thicken them with gravy salt
And put 'Dinkie Curlers' in our hair
The smell of 'Evening Paris'
And 'Californian Poppy' was divine
'Mischief' was lovely
But it cost one and nine

Some girsl wore a stocking called the 'Victory Roll'
And tucked around it their hair
I tried mine in a 'pageboy'
It used to be long and fair
Mother was an air raid warden
She paraded up and down the street
With her whistle and her torch
Complaining about her feet

She took her job quite seriously
Telling us to do this and that
We laughed and made fun of her
When she wore her A.R.P. hat
When there was an air raid
We would pretend we hadn't heard
She would yell and shout up the stairs
Using the odd swear word

We would trail to Patterson's shelter
Yawning and grumbling all the way
Sat in that cold and miserable place
Singing songs and trying to feel gay
We didn't escape the bombing
Sometimes the sky was lit up at night
Donald Brown's and Delacour Road were hit
It gave us a terrible fright

Mother and Mary Harris collected money
In their 'Welcome home tin'
Selling saving stamps and raffle tickets
To get the money in
Father just sat by the fire
Quiet and docile
Harriet used to joke with him
She could always make him smile

Barbara would play the piano
She knew all the latest songs
We would laugh and carry on
And had some smashing sing-alongs
One night when we were choking with thirst
Our Bob filled a big jug to the top
While we pleaded and begged him for a drink
He stood and drank every drop

There were dances at Billy Wheelers
The Miners and Church Hall
We'd do the quickstep and the 'Bradford Barn'
And really enjoyed it all
We sat on seats or sometimes stood
Chatting and listening to the band
Singing all the latest songs
Life them seemed just grand

We sang 'Red Sails in the Sunset'
'South of the Border' and 'My Prayer'
'Isle of Capri' and 'Amapola'
And 'If I didn't care'
When we heard 'Who's taking you home tonight?'
Played very dreamy and slow
We knew the dance was over
And home we would have to go

We listened to the wireless
to 'Music while you work' and 'Monday night at eight'
'Itma', 'Happidrome', 'Bandwagon'
And 'Life with the Lyons' was great
The dance bands were very popular
Crooners were all the rage
We stood in a queue at Newcastle Empire
To see Joe Loss on the stage

We listend to Anne Shelton
Vera Lynn played a big part
She was the top vocalist
And was called the 'Forces Sweetheart'
The adverts told us to smoke Craven A
Use Gibbs toothpaste and drink Ovaltine
For the men Brylcream was advertised
By handsome Richard Greene

When we could afford it
Turf cigarettes we bought
Puffing and waving away the smoke
In case we all got caught
Things were slowly changing
In so many ways
Bells took over Amos' shop
and Ideson's took over Reay's

We went for walks along the high road
On many a Sunday night
Wearing borrowed costumes
And thought we looked alright
As I went to school on my last day
Over the railway crossing stair
Past the Bakers and Mordues
And John Wester in his chair

Kelly's fresh fish shop and Library
Robinson and Cuthbert streets
Swinney's the Jewellers and Mary Layton's
Where I sometimes bought my sweets
The Pork shop and Callers
The Empire where I would stand and dream
The Railway Inn and Joe Sapps
Where I sometimes bought ice cream

Fletchers and 'Cubey's the Chemists'
The Store Grocery, Hardware and Footwear shop
Tobacconist, Store Butchers and Drapery
And Winlaton bus stop
Roberts, Lennards, Rylatts, Armstrong and Batemans
Gallons, Saverstores, Meadow, Tweddles and Billiard Hall
Glanced at the time on the big clock
And hurried around St Cuthbert's church wall

I started work straight away on the Monday
I remember it quite well
I worked long and tiring hours
At the Crown Hotel
So as the weeks went slowly past
Everyone was concerned
Sadly as always in wartime
Some lads never returned

I will not quote these boys names
Of their bravery there was not doubt
For I would never forgive myself
If I left just one name out
So I'll end my Pioneer Street memories
Having looked back along the years
Remembering the nice and ordinary things
As well as the stresses and cares

These two beautiful and evocative poems were written by Dorothy Kirvan nee Amos.

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