Houghton-le-Spring at War

Wartime Memories from Richard Wilson
Edited by Paul Lanagan, 2009
Memories from 1939 - 1945

Five Years Old & Growing

In 1939, at the grand old age of 5, I started school, which was situated in the Dairy Lane, not very far away from my house in Oak Avenue. My only memory of that school is not a happy one. I remember that all the classrooms were joined together, separated only by sliding partitions that had a smaller door as access to the next classroom when the partitions were closed. I must have been a naughty boy because I remember being dragged from one end of the school to the other through each classroom, and made to sit at a very small desk beside the most infant of infants! The coincidence of the War breaking out in 1939, I am sure, had nothing to do with me starting school. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.
My next school, that would take me up to my eleventh year, was in Newbottle Street in the centre of Houghton. The Headmaster was Mr Myers (tbc) and my teacher was Mr Parker. We would play cricket with the wicket drawn on the wall.

I always had on my feet a pair of sandshoes (plimsolls) and whenever there was a trial for sports day I was always ready; I was a good runner.

Newbottle Street Primary School with Station Road in the background - Newbottle St is to the right of the photo

Our play area was concrete, no green field for us poor souls. The playground was below the level of Newbottle Street and people could sit on the benches or stand and look down on you as you were playing in the playground. There was a garden at the end of the school and we used to grow vegetables in it to help the War Effort. We had Air raid practices in case of an air raid, when we would go down to the air raid shelter in an orderly fashion - in a straight line in columns of two - with our gas mask hanging from our shoulder in a little cardboard box.

There was a burn that ran along the bottom of the school and ran all the way to Newbottle and beyond. I used to go fishing in that stream to catch tiddlers and once swallowed an iron marble when walking along that stretch of footpath. Don't ask me what happened to that marble, I only remember swallowing it! Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

I took part in a school play where I had the part of a whistling gnome. My mum had to have a special outfit made for me, very bright in colour with curled over shoes with bells and a hat, which had a jester look about it with a bell dangling from the end. I had a whistle and would play this whistle at certain times in the play. This took place in the miner's welfare hall.

Tattie Picking

Oak Avenue, where we lived, had a good view of Houghton Pit. There were fields at the bottom of our street and a farm belonging to a farmer called Mr Greenhow. To make ourselves a bit of pocket money, my Mum used to take my sister and me to pick potatoes; we used to earn 7s 6p for a week’s work. Those fields were eventually developed into a housing estate, with what was called ‘prefabs’. The houses were pre-made into sections and assembled on site and were only supposed to last for ten years but lasted much longer. My sister was to live in one of them when she was married. The prefabs have been replaced with brick houses and is now known as Villa Estate. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Cows graze on a field with Newbottle Street in the background, 1930s.  This site is now a housing estate!

Everything was rationed and everyone had a ration book. You were only allowed a certain amount of food and sweets each week. There was also a clothing allowance and you had clothing coupons issued. Everyone had a national identity card and number. I still remember mine - FFTG 2663 - and I still have my card, although the card I have is from when I was a 16 year old.

On the corner of Gilpin Street and Wallace Street was our sweet shop; it was called Frankie Reynolds. This was the shop where we spent nearly all of our money, well what little we had. We bought 1p worth of this and 1p worth of that. Going up to Frankie Reynolds for some sweets was one, if not the only, bright light in our day as the War progressed.

Evacuees from Glasgow and London were sent to Houghton-le-Spring during the War


During the War there were people who came to stay with us from Glasgow and London to get away from the bombs, they were called evacuees. One family in particular, the Brown family from London, became good friends and after the War we visited them in London. The parents were Bert and Jessie and one of the children was named Jessie as well. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.
We had an Anderson air raid shelter built in our front garden. We had to go down to the shelter during the air raids. When an air raid was in progress, I sometimes stood outside with my Dad watching the German planes going over on their way to Sunderland docks; we could only see the red glow in the sky as we were down below the Cut.

Sunderland was the biggest shipbuilding town in the world at that time (of course it is now a City and has no shipbuilding yards at all).

An Anderson Shelter under construction.  Image from: www.worldwar2database.com

As always we were only too ready to show the world how to build ships and, with the Eastern countries’ wages being less than ours (some would call it slave labour), we cut our own throats; ships cost less than here. Nothing changes.

We didn’t know what apples, oranges and fruit were like. When the War finished I was up at my grandmother Harrison’s when we heard that down in the Market Place there was a man with a banana. We all ran down to see this banana, which we had never seen before. There was also a monkey that a seaman had brought home with him.

My Uncle, Bill Powney, who came from Bank Head, used to play his accordion to entertain us; he was also down for the end of the War celebrations when we all had a good singsong. Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Richard Wilson, 2009


Collected & Edited by Paul Lanagan, local historian
September 2009


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The Gilpin Crest as found engraved on Bernard Gilpin's tomb

PAGE UPDATED: 06/09/2009

sergeant frank stamp and houghton-le-spring 1941 Hurrican fighter plan crashed in Houghton-le-Spring.
A tank parked outside of Robinson's Brewery on Durham Road, Houghton-le-Spring, during the First World War.
Frederick Denby of Houghton, joined the Durham Light Infantry, was a prisoner of war for four years and returned home at Christmas 1918.
Soldiers marched along Church Street, Houghton-le-Spring, 1940.
Bombing raids in World War 2 in Houghton-le-Spring, included four high explosive bombs being dropped onto Houghton Cut in July 1940, and an incendiary bomb being dropped between Houghton and Seaham in March 1943.
Houghton-le-Spring's adopted warship is HMS Welland, which was adopted during Warship Week in December 1941.
George Fenton of Houghton served with 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, and was a Prisoner of War in Stalag 8B.
During the Second World War, in 1941,a Hurricane fighter tried to make an emergency landing on Houghon Golf Course. The pilot Sergeant Frank Stamp of the Royal Canadian Air Force sadly lost his life.
Captain William Brown, a Territorial Officer, was a solicitor in the Sunderland Street firm of Legge & Miller.