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STORYLINE - 2: ON THE BEACH *- Childhood Seaside Memories Of The Fifties
'Children's Paradise' as the newspaper advert tells below
A Life in the Day ...
We often went to the seaside at Redcar when I was a kid, Mickey and me. First off he would stay overnight with us, we'd have breakfast - usually cereal, jam and bread and a glass of milk. Mam would take off the cream before she'd let us pour the milk. Our milkman always delivered silver top milk in pint bottles to our house, as gold top was dearer by a 'Bob' (shilling) or so a week, but at least it wasn't on ration any more (not for a few years now, at any rate).
We were about ten at the time, Mickey being a few months older than me. A couple of years since, I had moved a couple of miles away with Mam and Dad to Eston and his family, him, his sisters, Mam and Dad stayed back in Grangetown. So there was this distance between us by this time, a walk along the path below the slag heap - I found out what it was some years later, but back then it was always known as 'the tip' - and past the old reservoir that stank to high heaven. You'd walk past it and try not to breathe in, then you had a wide, muddy flat area that you had to pick your way through, keep your shoes resonably clean. I'd catch a bus back usually, the 'T' bus as we called it, the motor bus as opposed to the 'trackless', or trolleybus that finished halfway to Eston and was no use to me.
Anyway, we made our way to the square (more like a triangle, with the High Street along two sides, the other side leading to Jubilee Road) to get the United bus, the sixty-three, to the seaside. Redcar was closer than Saltburn and had more shops so we could spend some of our pocket money at 'Woollies', as the F W Woolworth store on the High Street was known. The double-deckers were our favourite, although you had to clamber over everybody to get to the window seats if the bus was full.
'Bags I the window seat', Mickey would shout as we thumped up the narrow stairs to the top deck. The gangway on the old Guy buses was on one side of the bus, and you lurched all over the show before you got sat down. That might take a few miles, we'd be past Lackenby by the time we had a seat!
Past Wilton Lane end we came level with the chemical works, all sorts of steam and odd-coloured smoke being released into the sky. No 'clean Air Act' back then. Smells like rotten eggs and furniture polish would hang on the air when the wind was out of the wrong quarter in the summer time. Funny that, as when I sometimes waited for a sixty-two bus by the works on Church Lane there was often a smell of rotten eggs there as well. Something to do with Dorman Long's steelworks adding limestone to the iron ore, I think. Lazenby was usually cleaner, as we trundled along past the Half Moon pub on the main road, and then on to Kirkleatham where the Turner family used to own the whole village, just as Wilton by that time was owned lock, stock and barrel by Imperial Chemical Industries, or ICI as we knew it. Passing what was once the fee-paying grammar school - I thought it was the hall - we came off the Yearby road to go east to Redcar. By now we were in something more akin to 'countryside' as we passed the church and rejoined the main road. What looked like castle ramparts at the side of a field always puzzled me.
The Turner family had a castle there that came to grief in the Civil War, or so I thought. I imagined cannon poking out from the low ramparts blasting away at the Roundheads, wherever they would have come from. Kirkleatham was a bit of a backwater, as I found out years after. No real threat to 'Ollie' (Cromwell)**.
The bus trundled past the crossroads at Dormanstown, and over the railway to the Coatham roundabout before turning three quarters of the way round into Redcar past posh-looking terraces and the Cricket Ground. Another couple of turns brought the bus to the town clock roundabout, where we jumped off as it slowed to a crawl on the tight turn, another three-quarter one, before it rumbled down to the bus station past Woollies.
They still had the wooden floorboards in Woollies at the time, but at least they had more tills, not like at the Co-op, where you had to queue up at the counter and queue again to pay for the goods. They had pulleys between the till and the office - which was typically on the other side of the shop, so they had to ring bells and send little packets of change or notes backwards and forwards. Mind you. no-one saw more than pound notes or ten-bob notes (ten shillings) back then. You had a very good earner in the house if you saw fivers being handed back and forth between Dad and Mam (not the other way round, though).
That was in the 'good old days' before inflation caught up with us. It was a dream if you thought you might earn a thousand pounds a year. Teachers did, and they could get mortgages, but in my early youth I knew as much about mortgages as most people my way knew about the theory of relativity. Most people I knew lived in rented houses, but Auntie Jo was a teacher. She and Uncle Jack had a mortgage, and Auntie Betty worked in a bank, so she and Uncle Bill had a mortgage as well. They were going places! Although Dad was getting good money, he didn't have security. The steel works at Cargo Fleet kept threatening to shut down, so there was no security there, was there! Where Uncle Jack worked, at Lackenby Steel Works, was a new plant with contracts from abroad and within the country. That much I knew. Mickey's dad worked at Smith's Dock on the Tees, and there was no job security there, either, as I found out by the time it came to leaving school, but that was in the future yet.
We thumped about on the wooden floorboards between counters. At this time Woollies' claim that nothing cost more than a penny had gone the way of all intentions. You needed a few 'Bob' pocket money on you, and you had to think about crisps (across the 'Pond' you call them chips, but that's a bit confusing because to us chips are thick wedges of fried potato, 'Tayters', called 'fries' in the US ) and a bottle of 'Pop' (lemonade, soda to some, but there was precious little lemon in it), 'Cream Soda' or 'Dandelion and Burdock', as well as bus fare home. So a few plastic soldiers was my limit. They were moulded in pliable plastic, modelled on 'Yanks' - if you wanted British soldiers they were made from a lead alloy. You had to go to a 'proper' toy shop and they cost a bit more, so 'Yanks' it was, until somebody called Airfix came along! - and forget about accuracy, unless you could find someone later who was daft enough to swap his dearer lead soldiers for your cheap plastic ones. Another school pal Brian, I met at secondary school, was given lead-alloy soldiers by his Grandad, British and Napoleonic cavalry with arms that you could move to look as they were charging! He wasn't going to swap, he was brighter than that, so I just looked and marvelled. Mind you, he let me hold them, so that was chancing his arm a bit!
Well, after tearing around Woollies Mickey and me set off out through the back way to the beach. There were lots of places we could buy crisps and 'pop', as Redcar was - still is - a seaside town. In the days before package holidays to Spain or Italy Redcar, Marske and Saltburn beaches were packed out, end to end almost. There were fairground-type roundabouts, swings for the tots, donkey rides, tea stalls and candy floss stands. Did I say Punch & Judy shows? No? Whoever said English kids are angels? They'd bellow out at Punch or Judy, scream abuse at the crocodile when he stole the sausages, or at the policeman when he came to arrest Punch for 'bumping off' Judy. Then there'd be the pestering or yelling for ice-creams or candy floss. Nowadays people of my generation bleat about spoilt kids kids, but you should have heard them at that age!
We'd play with the soldiers we bought, get bored and wander on, gawping at some people smearing sun tan lotion on their arms and legs. Imagine it! Only my Auntie Jo and Uncle Jack behaved as if they were at the seaside for pleasure; they would go wading into the North Sea rollers and brave the cold, all the other men sat in deckchairs with their trousers rolled up and 'hankies' (handkerchiefs) with the corners tied in knots on their heads. Ever seen 'Monty Python' sketches? Well it was like that. Mind you, Auntie Jo and JUncle Jack also went to Italy on their holidays (furlough) because he'd been in the Navy, in the Med.
There had been a couple of piers once, Coatham Pier at the top end of the beach where Auntie Jo preferred to sit by the dunes in the soft sand. The boating lake was that end as well. Redcar Pier was further down the front, along towards the back of the High Street. A storm saw Coatham Pier off sometime earlier in the century, before the War, and all that was left of that was the ballroom on the promenade***. Redcar Pier was 'seen off' after the War when a German coaster ran aground and rammed into it. There were the foundations under part of the seafront, with arches and stone abutments the depth of the beach. Where the ironwork had been attached were the remains of the spars or traces of bolts.
Time to hit the High Street again! About four or five in the afternoon we'd make our way back to the bus station for a sixty-three. About this time the shops started to shut down as some late shoppers still buzzed about, so there'd be long queues the length of the bus station platform and round. It was a bit like a cattle market, with railings that contained different queues for different bus services until the buses came. then there'd be pushing and shoving.
'Do you want this bus, Luv?', a woman might ask, as different bus services shared stands. A bus might go to Grangetown, North Ormesby or Middlesbrough from the same stand as one for another part of Redcar. Someone else might turn the air blue with swearing, impatient with slow-moving queues, earning dark looks from the housewives with hands over their kids' ears. But at last we'd be on, maybe 'inside', as the conductors called downstairs. A lot of passengers sat 'inside' rather than 'on top' because of the cigarette, cigar or pipe smoke, even though the windows were usually wide open - wound down to the full so it seemed like being buffeted by a hurricane if the wind was coming in from the sea - and the smokers at the back of the top deck.
That was Saturday afternoon done with. Another trip to 'Woollies' and the seaside over with. Stow the new soldiers away in the toy cupboard and get ready for tea. 'Wash your hands!' - or your ears get boxed.
Aah, doesn't it warm the cockles of your heart?
*Names of individuals have been changed to protect identities, (although most who were adults at the time are now dead, as well as some who were then children);.
** There are still the school, the church/mausoleum and the almshouses (still occupied). One of the family, Sir William Turner was Lord Mayor of the City of London at the time of the plague in 1665;
*** Some years ago the front at Redcar served as the backdrop for the film 'Atonement', based on the British and French withdrawal from Dunkirk in Northern France, some of us who recognised it could make out various landmarks such as Warrenby Steel Works to the north and the unmistakable remains of Redcar pier.
Redcar's Post-War and Fifties' memories
Tasty bit of nostalgia with your fish'n'chips? Have a look at the pre-package holiday era Redcar and Saltburn with a brief look at Marske between (below). Days gone... bring them back to life with a look through these pages.
Redcar and Saltburn by the Sea
Buddy, can you spare the time?
The title was changed*
*...from 'ALONG THE BEACH...' to 'ON THE BEACH ...' as a sort of commemoration of a song title by fellow Teessider Chris Rea. The song was one of a number on the eponymous album, another one being 'STEEL RIVER', dedicated to the 'part' Teesside played in producing steel and ships for the war effort in both world wars. How many don't know of Middlesbrough?
Here's another title for you to think of an article: 'DRIVING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS' (used one year for an Iceland TV advert - not the volcanic island, the food store chain).