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Memories from Luke Daglish
Memories relate to 1943 - 1951

The Cottage Homes overlooking the Lake grounds, Houghton-le-Spring
In 1943, as a three year old, I was placed in the children’s home just off Sunderland Street, Houghton-le-Spring, along with my brother and sister. I was still there in 1951. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

The address was always 1, Cottage Homes, Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham, and it was a home for orphans, for kids who had lost their parents in the War, and kids who were taken from their parents by the State. We all had the same clothes and everyone called us ‘home boys’ or ‘home girls’; looking back we were looked down upon by the other kids.

I have often wondered who the first owners were and how it ended up in Government hands. It was like a large manor house; it had been divided in two, with twelve boys on one side and twelve girls on the other. There was a ‘mother’ for the boys and one for the girls; our mother’s name was Mrs Appleton. Mrs Appleton was strict but fair, and had a hard job looking after twelve boys, with ages from two to fifteen years old. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

The head Matron of the hospital was also in charge of the home. She was a nasty, vicious woman, and scared the life out of those poor kids; I hated her and still do. She also had a nasty, vicious son, who nearly blinded me with his air rifle.

A drawing of the Cottage Homes site - click to enlarge

Some of the kids who were at the home when I was included: Norman and Alan Bastow; Raymond and Dennis Frost; and three Day brothers. The only girls there I can remember were Margory Kean and Margaret Smith. The Kean girl and Frost boys were brothers and sister, but I never knew why the name difference. A lot of kids came and went. Some were adopted. I remember every now and then we would be lined up to meet these strangers (childless couples) who would ask a lot of questions, then a few days later the ones they picked would suddenly be gone; I guess I never gave the right answers. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Raymond Frost was adopted by the farmer who owned all the land by the burn. One day he was in home boy clothes, the next he had all new gear and money in his pocket. He was all right, Raymond; he used to look after his ex-home boys.

The children’s home itself was part of a larger establishment, which included a farm (cabbages, turnips, swedes and potatoes), a piggery, and a hospital. The whole place was self-serviceable. The home was always separate from what we called ‘the infirmary’ [Heath House hostel, the former workhouse building].

We had a gateway in the wall with a path through to the laundry and infirmary, and we used to take the washing up to be washed; the head lady in charge was very nice to us.

On the Sunderland Street side, there were walls with glass on top, next to the electricity sub-station. We used to put our coats on top of the glass and drop down in to the cottages [Stocksfield Terrace] to pinch their rhubarb!

At the other side, the home overlooked a place called the Lake, where the Houghton Feast fair used to come once a year. There used to be a dairy at the bottom of the Lake, where a lady on a horse and cart would deliver the milk around Houghton. It was quite a nice setting. We kids, in the children’s home, always looked forward to the Feast. The showmen always parked their caravans next to the big wall that separated the home from the Lake, and we used to climb the wall and the showpeople gave us heaps of toys and free tickets for rides. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

The fairground on the Lake site, with the grounds of Heath House and the Cottage Home in the background, 1963

We all went to the primary school near the burn, which is now a shopping centre, and the secondary school, which became the Grammar School. We used to cut through the Sunderland Street arcade on our way to school. It was a butchers shop [Harry Clifton’s] and the floor was covered in sawdust. Every morning they would kill chickens, hang them upside down, and cut them. With blood dripping on the new sawdust, the poor things were still twitching. We would be just mesmerised! Some of the boys I went to school with from Houghton are still there, including Alwin Stafford and Bobby Curry, as I recall.

Luke's class at Newbottle Street Junior School in 1949

One night a week was set aside for religious instruction and we all had to go to church every Sunday. We each got a penny to put in the collection plate.

We got sixpence a week pocket money: thrupence for the pictures on a Saturday and the rest for sweets, so it was not all bad. We had the Scout Cubs and then the Scouts, and lots of trips to the seaside in the school holidays. We had plenty to eat and I suppose we may have been better of than a lot of the kids outside the home.

We used to climb up the top of Miller’s Hill and I remember falling down the steps. We also used to go into the old churchyard, Houghton Hillside Cemetery, where we thought there was, what we thought, a church cut into the side of the rocks [the family burial vault of Sir George Elliot]. It had an old wooden door on it but we could look through the keyhole and see what appeared to be an altar and pews! Years later it was concreted over. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

I do not know when the home was pulled down. It must have had some history to it, and I often wonder what happened to all the children that went through the gates…

Luke Daglish, 2009


Collected & Edited by
Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

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PAGE UPDATED: 14/03/2011

Houghton-le-Spring Cottage Homes Ref No. CC/X 128 Deeds, contracts etc. re Houghton-le-Spring Union (inc. bill of quantities for proposed cottage homes (1914); deeds re land on north side of Manor House, Houghton-le-Spring, (1876-1914), 1876-1922; deeds etc. of messages in New Elvet, Durham City, 1804-1965