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Hubert Terrace

A Memory of Bensham

I often wondered who Hubert was. Other road names around were obvious. Bank Street was on a bank; School street had a school at the end of it. But Hubert Terrace? One side of my street was brick and the other was stone; something else I wondered about because all of the streets down from us towards the river were brick. Just this one terrace in stone. I say my street but in fact we lived on the corner of Bank Street and Hubert terrace; for a short while my mother ran the corner shop but her soft heart and unsound business practise of extending credit meant the venture was short lived. In the 1970s I came across a photograph by Graham Smith; one of a series he did using a cut out of his father placed in different locations, this shot was taken from across the road looking up towards our old front door on Bank Street, with a couple of strangers (well to me anyway) on the step. I lived here until I was 11 years old in 1967 and have fond memories of running around the streets and back lanes; ball and bat games like Hot Rice; A new variation of Statues every summer, Hide and Seek; Japs and Commandos, Cowboys and Indians, Elastics, Skipping, Two baller. In my memories we never stopped. Weather was rarely a deterrent and the smog of the early 1960s was a delight to us as kids. We used the ongoing housing clearance on the Windmill Hills as our own personal Adventure Playground including an old anderson shelter next to what we always knew as Half Way House, where children without proper families lived. It sat there in plain view of the playground like a warning of what could happen. Every 5th November we built our bonfire at the junction of the back lane with Hubert Terrace. We did it - the children. Can you imagine that these days? Until the year that the council erected two no vehicle access poles at the entrance to the back lane and our fire melted the plastic bits; and some door numbers on the other side; and scorched a few doors, I guess we got a bit carried away that year. Those posts were a sign of the times in more ways than one. In time we were totally driven off the streets by cars. There were no strangers in our street, grown ups kept a collective eye on us. Mrs Batey, an ancient crone would send us off to buy her halfpenny twist of snuff; Mr Bosser would let us feed the pigeons, show us his barometer and scratch our heights into the wall next to his front door. Some would tell us to play elsewhere.
Bank Street ran straight down the south bank of the Tyne to the Redheugh Bridge complete with old toll booths. At the end of the day crowds of men who worked in factories in Newcastle would swarm up the hill, haversacks on backs and caps on heads. Friday was best. Payday. Dad would always bring us some sweets on a friday.
I have two very vivid memories of Bank Street, one real and one imagined. The first is of a fire in a church or church hall further down the bank. I was a toddler, wrapped in a blanket and carried by mum to join the whole neighbourhood in witnessing what was a spectacular visual event; skeletal timbers of the roof against the sky and the flames whipped by the prevailing wind that blows up the valley and all the faces of people watching huddled. The destruction was total. My second comes from a nightmare I suspect from the winter of 1963 when we had blanket snow for ages. Our steep back lane became a sledge run, at the bottom we would shoot out into Hubert terrace into a big bank of snow that had we built to bring us to a halt before smashing into the wall opposite. Perhaps it was the feverish excitement of it all. We were fearless and competitive. Speed freaks. But the sledge run began to invade my sleep and in my nightmare the snow bank bounced me around and sent me shooting to the end of the street and out onto Bank Street where I hurtled at ever increasing speed towards my certain death in the river below. I would wake up as my sledge shot off the land, my heart racing 19 to the dozen. Bank Street was a steep hill and I grew strong legs.
Hubert was parallel with School Street which had its own kids and territory. We didn't mix; to us School Street was only to be visited on a Friday for fish and chips from Robinsons on the corner. I guess there was a lot of us back then and we had no need to look further for playmates, our little gang could be as large as twenty but mostly we were about a dozen, a good size group in which to learn how to fight, make up, get along, communicate and invent imaginative games to play. Our back lane had a jam factory. In summer the doors would be thrown open to allow in the air and you could see the women working making those jelly sweets covered in coconut. I never liked them. But a freebie is a freebie and I always took one when offered.
Despite the obvious poverty, the air pollution and the total lack of trees and green spaces I grew up healthy in body and mind. Those years of roaming my area with my friends; across Windmill Hills to Mulgrave baths, Saturday mornings at the Odeon on the High Street, the terraces, backyards and lanes transformed by imagination into anything we wanted them to be; the freedom, the independence and the responsibility for younger ones, all of these made for a good childhood and upbringing.

A memory shared by Susan Green , on Oct 29th, 2010.

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