Mark R. Parker - memories of Heddon
from an article by Pat Farnaby
I first moved to Heddon on the Wall at the age of 6 around Easter 1960. Our family comprised my father, Norman Parker, who was Head of Department and Vice-Principal of the Newcastle College of Technology which later became the Charles Trevelyan Technical College. My mother, Jayne Parker, who would be described today as a "Homemaker" and sadly died of breast cancer in 1962. And my two elder brothers, Peter and Roger who are 9 and 7 years older than myself and my elder sister, Janet, who is 5 years older than me.
We lived in a converted workshop next to the Old School House in Houghton some 2 mile to the west of the village on the old A69 main road. My father bought the workshop which had been used to make coin cabinets and other bespoke furniture etc. from a Mr Swann who lived in the Old School House It took my father some 12 months to fit-out our new home and I clearly remember most weekends the whole family would make the journey from our home in East Boldon, County Durham to carry out various jobs. I certainly learnt at a very early age how to drive a broom and shovel!
My earliest memory of life in the village is of my mother taking me to meet the Headmaster of Heddon Church of England Primary School, a Mr Davidson, and we met in the front room of his house next to the old school opposite the Swan Inn. I immediately liked Mr Davidson and he came across as a caring man who took an active interest in you as an individual. Only a few years later he was certainly very kind to me after my mother died in 1962. The school was the second school I attended and both at that time, and now looking back, I loved every minute of it.
It was small, only three classrooms and at lunchtime the dividing wall between two of them was pushed back to create a larger single room used as a dining hall. I cannot remember how many pupils there were to a class but having found some old school photographs there must have been some 25 or so pupils in each. Quite small by todays standards but it must be remembered that the Council Estate had only been built a few years before and work had only just started on the Vallum and Bainbridge Estates.
I remember my teachers in the old school very well. Mrs Urwin was my first and I shared the class with both her youngest son John and her youngest daughter Elizabeth. Later, whilst still at the old school, I moved into the class run by Miss Carse. She was a formidable lady as I recall. Short and wide would not be an inaccurate description and she had a voice that could cut through steel at 100 yards and a stare that would freeze boiling water in a matter of seconds. She retired from teaching when the school moved to its new (and present) location next to the Welfare Field on the edge of the Bainbridge Estate and I can clearly remember her being moved to tears when she was presented with a small gift by the school. Despite her formidable appearance she always wanted you to do your best and for many years she always sent me a Christmas Card.
In the early 1960's the school moved into its new premises which comprised four classrooms and a small library area. We had no hall or playing fields and at lunchtimes we all had to walk A crocodile fashion, back to the old school for our lunch. Morning Assembly was extremely cramped as we all stood around the stacks of tables and chairs in the library area. This did not last for too long. If my memory is correct within a year of our moving to the new school site work commenced on extending it to provide a hall, kitchen and three more classrooms. The new school had some wonderful things which I had never seen before in a school. We had the biggest television I had ever seen, a proper library with bookshelves. Previously the very small library consisted of a mobile box which opened up to reveal a small collection of books and when "reading-time" was over all the books and to be put back and this "box" put away.
We had what appeared to be a huge number of toilets and a proper area to hang-up your coats. The classrooms had sinks and proper storage cupboards. Areas for project type work. The oddest thing was the colour scheme. The majority of the walls in the new school were painted white as I recall except for the front wall in each of the classrooms. These walls were painted a sort of yucky green and the theory was that it was restful on the eyes! Finally on the subject of school life in Heddon was school dinners. The Cook was a lady called Mrs Baron who produced some of the most wonderful meals and plenty of it. At the old school we could hear the staff preparing lunch and we used to guess what was on the menu by the smells that wafted through the partition. The only down-side of school dinners was that I now have a morbid hatred of prunes. I can clearly remember being presented with a bowl of thick creamy custard with two black objects "plopped" into the middle. No thanks.... In 1964 I left Heddon school and went to Walbottle West Secondary School along with most of my school friends. That year there was only one of my year group who passed the 11-plus exam and the rest stayed together until I left the North East in September 1969.
When I first moved to Heddon it was quite small and, as stated earlier, the Vallum and Bainbridge Estates were only just stating to be built. There were few shops. The Co-op was located next to the Three Tuns Public House, the Post Office was at the top of the hill on the Hexham Road and was run by Willy Waugh. There was a small grocery store near where the entrance to the Vallum Estate is now located run by a Mrs Amos. Other businesses were active in the village. There was the blacksmiths owned by the Armitage family, Mr Cooper, a cobbler who ran his business from a shed in the back garden of his small house near the Council Estate, another blacksmiths owned by the Amos family located in what is now part of the Swan Inn opposite the old school, the Pegasus Stables near the Vallum Estate, the village carpenters and undertakers located on the Hexham Road and owed by the Avery family and finally, the Filling Station owned by the Tulip family. In addition there were also vans that came to the village to sell bread, groceries and meat. There were, of course, many local farms, indeed we lived next to the farm run by the Laws family and opposite the farm run by the Hendersons.
However, the whole centre of the village changed over the period 1961 to 1965. The Bainbridge and Vallum housing estates were built which brought into the village new families and indeed some of my best school friends lived on these estates. A new shopping centre was built near Heddon Banks which comprised a small Spar Supermarket, Paper shop/Off Licence, Hairdressers, Electrical/Hardware shop and a new Co-op. I clearly remember the old Co-op being demolished along with a couple of the cottages at the rear of the Three Tuns and a new car park created along with the whole of the junction of the Hexham and Military Roads being re-vamped.
The Library used to run out of a small room in the Knott Memorial Hall, it then moved to part of what is now the Mens Institute. The new school was built in two phases. The Welfare Field was formed with swings, a slide, a teapot lid roundabout and a climbing frame. Businesses changed also. Willy Waugh, the Postmaster died and the Post Office was eventually moved and located in the Paper Shop. Finally, in my time living in the village perhaps the most visible change was that the Bays Leap open-cast coal mine was eventually exhausted and the land turned back into open farmland. I remember "Big Geordie" working on the site which at that time was the world's largest shovel excavator and the massive bite of its huge bucket. It was very shortly after the time that I left the Village that the Co-op closed and blacksmiths owned by the Amos family was converted into an extended Swan Inn.
Life in Heddon for a child growing up had plenty to offer. There was always something to do with my friends from school. I spent hours playing on Heddon Common building dens, playing "Cowboys and Indians" or just exploring. The building of the new housing estates provided a wonderful playground, something which today would not be allowed under any circumstances. On special days we would go down to the river and try to catch fish, although I think the only thing I ever caught was a cold! Cycling around the outskirts of the village towards Ponteland. Saturdays were special days because it was then that Heddon Football Team played on the pitch next to my home in Houghton. Many times I would arrive home after the match covered from head-to-foot in mud having played with the spare ball during the match. It never did me any good since till this day soccer and I are like oil and water, never destined to get together. Most times I could not even remember the score!
It must have been in 1961 that I joined the Church Choir. Every Thursday was choir practice under the beady eye (or is it ear) of Mr Hall the organist and Rev Hay the vicar. Every Sunday I would try my best not to get too bored. Certainly Rev Hay had this magical ability (or was it divine intervention) to see out of the back of his head and if your had every been doing anything you should not you knew about it after the service. Rev Hay left as the vicar and was replaced with Rev Farence. This saddened me, not because I did not like Rev Farence but Rev Hay's son Charles was my age and we spent many a day playing together in the attic of the huge vicarage. Over time I became a Server and I used to announce to the congregation at the start of the service which particular Sunday it was and where in the Prayer Book the order of service could be found. As I grew older I decided it was time to find an income to supplement my pocket money.
At the age of 12 (something which these days would not be allowed) I got the job of delivering the Evening Chronicle to the old village and along the Military Road and finally within Houghton. During the long summer holidays I would also deliver the morning papers to either the Vallum or Bainbridge Estates because the regular delivery boy or girl was on holiday. Delivering the evening paper was easy since it was just one newspaper. During the summer "holiday relief" periods many times I was convinced that I had correctly delivered all the different newspapers yet I still ended up with a copy of the Daily Mail or the Daily Express in my bag. Thursdays were by far the worst day of the week because you had the Radio Times and TV Times as well as the papers. But this was accepted as part of the job and there were some benefits. One house had "Playboy" every month, I will not say which but I am open to persuasion in exchange for some pictures of the Queen! Naturally it took longer to deliver the papers that night. Finally, of course, the money was useful. I can still remember the names of the households to whom I delivered papers and I remember sitting down to work out the best and quickest delivery route by both on foot and on a bicycle.
Other funds were gained by working for at the farms owned by the Laws and the Henderson families. In the run up to Christmas I would help kill, pluck and clean turkeys. The early summer would be haymaking, the late summer the harvest and in the autumn picking potatoes or pulling turnips. All very hard work which is generally all now carried out by machine. Like all children you grow out of your own environment and I started to regularly attend the Youth Club organised by the Walbottle Campus Schools. This extended my circle of friends and I was able to partake in other, more exciting activities such as rock climbing at Crag Lough and skiing in the winter on Cross Fell.
Like any environment in which you live the character of that environment is created by those whom live within it. Heddon was no different. There were families who (or at least as far as I am aware) had lived in the village for years and had there own businesses there. Families such as the Armitages who ran the local blacksmiths. I can still remember watching a horseshoe being made from a piece of flat bar and then being fitted to a horse or pony. The smell of the burning hoof as it was "moulded" onto the foot of a horse or pony is something you just never forget.
The Swan family from whom my father bought our house and how they had the old Tithe Barn part of the vicarage converted into what was then a very "different" house with lots of glass, slate floors made from old snooker tables and an open gallery first floor. I spent many hours playing with William Swan who I remember was musically very gifted playing initially the violin and then the bassoon. Mrs Swan who ran the local amateur dramatic society and tried to involve as many people as possible in her productions of classics such as Blythe Spirit.
As I said earlier I delivered the evening paper for many years and naturally I came into contact with the Gibson family. Mrs (Lena) Gibson was in-charge of the paper shop and woe-betided if you arrived back at the shop having not correctly delivered the papers. Remember the spare Daily Mail! Other individual characters stick in my mind. One person in particular was Mrs Donaldson who lived in Blue Row. She was a close friend of my mother and when in 1962 my mother died from breast cancer she always kept an eye on us. Many times I can remember going to her house after school and she would present you with the biggest plate of the most wonderful chips you have ever tasted.
I know the Donaldsons' lived in Blue Row as a temporary measure. Their real home was Black Row Farm near Throckley which in the early 1960's had literally been dug up as part of the Bays Leap open cast mine. Mrs Donaldson's father was a Mr Hunter who for many years was the caretaker of the Knott Memorial Hall and lived in one of the cottages at the back of the Three Tuns on the Hexham Road. Mr Waugh who when we first arrived in the village ran the Post Office. This was a small shop that sold everything from groceries to vegetables and bread. His sister Violet worked as a post lady and delivered our mail through all weathers. It was not until she retired that I was aware of the size of her round. Not only did it cover the older part of the village along with the Military Road and Houghton but also all the outlying farms towards Ponteland. I remember that the Newcastle Journal ran an article when she retired and they calculated she had walked some 1/4 million miles delivering the mail. No doubt today it is done by a man-in-a-van in half the time but lacking that personal touch.
When I first came across the Heddon web site memories came flooding back of the nearly 10 years I lived there and I have tried to tell you about just some of them. There are others which frankly would send the reader to sleep and others which I dare not to share with you.
As regards to the Parker family, my father re-married in the mid 1960's and we moved away in 1969 when he was appointed Principal of the Hertfordshire College of Building in St Albans. He has now been happily retired for 20+ years and living near Malton in North Yorkshire. My brothers and sister flew the family nest over the time we lived in Heddon with my eldest brother Peter now living in Ponteland, Roger now lives in Somerset and Janet lives in South Wales. As for myself, I continued my education in St Albans, Chelmsford and Central London and followed the Parker family tradition of entering the Building Industry. I gained my Chartered status in the late 1970's and now work as a self-employed Charted Builder acting as Client's Representative and Contract Administrator for a broad spectrum of clients including many schools.
I now reside with my lovely wife Jane in a beautiful house in Paignton, South Devon where we overlook the town of Paignton and across Torbay to Brixham. Not quite heaven but pretty close! I hope what you have read is of some interest and you may know or at least know of some of the people and events I have mentioned. I have to be honest and say I have no desire to return to Heddon other than for the briefest of visits since I don't want to spoil the memories I have and places are never the same when you return. Certainly I would be interested to know what my old school friends are now doing but my memories are just that, memories, and whether accurate or not I want them to stay that way. If some of the instances, personalities or events are slightly incorrect I apologise since it is over 30 years ago and an older mind remembering events of when I was all but a child can play tricks.