Personal History

Bill Hawkins

Druridge and Villiers Avenue ; My Early Years

It is difficult to know quite where to begin, as I have a hotch-potch of early memories but am not sure of their chronological order. I suppose I had better start with photographs, although strictly speaking I was too young to remember them being taken! 

My parents and I in 1945, at Druridge Farm, Northumberland.

As mentioned earlier, my Grandmother Younger was ill when I was very small, and my mother had to go back to Northumberland from Bilston to nurse her. I was taken with her, which caused a certain amount of gossip amongst the neighbours who knew nothing of my grandmothers maladies. Actually, I do not know what her illness was, but I can remember  referring to her as my "poorly sick Nana" as opposed to the healthy Nana Hawkins in Bilston!

I remember several things about my stay in Northumberland at this tiime: I was only about two but managed to get into trouble by wandering off along the beach on my own in search of my Uncle Dick who had gone off with a bucket to collect coal. ( In those days at Druridge a lot of coal was washed in by the tide.) This resulted in being walloped and put to bed early, a tactic which seems to have failed as I have been wandering off ever since! I can also remember sitting on my Grandmother's bed as she was recovering from her illness, looking at a book with pictures of racing cars - vivid colours which generated a sense of exciterment even at that age.

There were paraffin lamps being trimmed (no electricity), my grandfather selling bottles of pop to passers by, the sweet sickly smell of the earth closet at the bottom of the garden, tiny kittens drowning in a bucket of water, and the most uncomfortable trousers I have ever worn! These arrived by parcel - a gift from my father. They were full length and navy blue, and so itchy I could not bear to wear them. Even now I can remember the acute discomfort they caused, and the acute discomfort I felt when father arrived for a visit and I did not want to put them on! How disappointed he was.

On a later visit to Druridge with my parents (it must have been a holiday) I recall being terrified of the steam trains at the station; walking with mum and dad from the station at Widdrington towards Druridge, dad trying to carry the cases and sometimes me as well. There were wide grass verges at the side of the road and I was fascinated by the colour and profusion of the poppies growing there. I have loved the sight of them ever since. Eventually and very thankfully a car pulled up and the driver offered our little family a lift to Druridge.

There we often went to the beach, about 100 metres away! I was shown the wooden lookout towers from the war, the tank defences, the wires and where the minefields had been. Father I think enjoyed revisiting his wartime haunts. I was about 3 or 4, so it must have been about 1948/9. There were shell cases in the loft of my grandparents stone cottage, and strings of spent machine gun cartridges from aeroplanes. Mother polished some of the larger cases to make candle sticks. She also made clippie mats, thick and warm for the hearth.

On one visit to the beach (we were the only people there!) we were met by a man who asked us to keep to the sand dunes as the beach was to be used for gunnery practice. So we sat in the dunes for a while and suddenly two aeroplanes appeared flying low over the flat sand. The concrete cubes that had once been tank defences were strafed as they flew over. I can recall the sand flying up as the bullets hit  and the rattle of the guns. The planes were either hurricanes or spitfires.

 

 On the beach at Druridge in about 1948. My father is standing next to my Grandparents with me in his arms, while mother sits on the sand with Judy the dog. The scaffold like construction was part of the wartime defences. My Uncle Dick must have taken the photograph.

 

 My grandparents cottage stood at Druridge Farm where the road from Widdrington bends to the north towards Cresswell. Just along this road was Bell's Farm and "Shaky Joe's", a cafe which occupied what once had been a Nissen hut. I recall walking to Cresswell one day, where we stood on a quayside for a while, and then I was taken into a small shop and a brightly coloured tin bucket and spade was purchased. Ah, the bliss of making sandcastles! Actually, I don't think I made any, but Mum and Dad enjoyed themselves! (I eventually lost the spade down a drain in a gutter in Bilston, but it was retrieved when the drain was cleaned by a couple of kind Council workmen.)

My proper home at this time was at 33 Villiers Avenue, Bilston, where we lived with my father's Aunt Nell, my grandfather's sister. She was a kind but somewhat severe lady, having been for many years the local district nurse. We had one downstairs room in the house, two out of the three bedrooms, and shared use of the bathroom and kitchen. I used to enjoy sitting in her room with her; she had a cabinet full of china pieces, including a teapot in the shape of a house. She told me Fairy Mabel lived in it. I doubt the truth of that.

There was a rather large cleaning lady called Mrs Brown, who came once a week. I was once standing in the hall as she cleaned the stairs, transfixed by the sight of her. My mother arrived and could scarcely conceal her laughter. This was because Mrs Brown, on her hands and knees, could scarcely conceal the large knee length bloomers which I apparently found so fascinating!

The garden was well maintained I remember, but who did it I cannot recall. My father would mow the lawn and do odd maintenance jobs. He painted the backdoor once, using green paint. Leaving the paint pot and brush unattended, he went inside for something or other. When he returned I had very helpfully painted some of the bricks adjacent to the door. I cannot recall his reaction, although I could hazard a guess!

 Me aged about two and a half, photo taken at Camera Craft, The Orchard, Bilston.

 

 The garden at 33 was always a source of pleasure; playing football with dad; listening to mum reading stories and poems as she worked at embroidery or knitting on a summer's afternoon; playing with other children from the neighbourhood ( Geoffrey Goodwin, Jane Sutton, Peter Bennet, Brian Bowket); catching butterflies and insects; watching the bluetits feeding on strings of peanuts; threatening to throw soil on Aunt Nell's strawberries when she told me off.  There was only one occasion I can recall when the garden turned against me; mum had bought me a lovely red balloon, and I burst it on a thorn on a rosebush. I've never liked roses since!

When I reached the age of about three I was trusted to go on simple errands to the shops in Villiers Square, about 100 meters away. There was no traffic then; the coalman used a horse and cart, as did the milkman, so there was virtually no danger on the road. Brian Bowkett and I were once asked to get something from the Butchers. On arrival the Butcher's door was locked so we thought we had better knock. Getting no reply Brian found a stick with which to hammer on  the door. We didn't know the panel was made of darkened glass!

I was aghast as the pane shattered, but looking around I could see that Brian was already ten metres away and still accelerating, so I had no choice but to follow. The speed with which we reached home was phenomenal, but we confessed our sins and matters were put right with the Butcher. I don't even think that dad had to pay for the panel, but the price of meat went up.

I had one further adventure with Brian before I lost touch with him. On one of our little wanders we came to a pool, which used to be adjacent to Green Lanes but has long since gone. While gazing into the water at tadpoles or something, Brian succeeded in falling in. I can picture him now, up to his waist in water and screaming his head off. I managed to grab his arm and haul him out, and then took him home and left him dripping on the doorstep. I never saw him again, so I suppose his parents banned him from playing with me. When I got home I proudly told my mum that I had saved Brian's life, and asked if that meant my picture would be in the paper. She kindly explained that it was extremely unlikely

My first car, in the garden at 33 Villiers Ave. Technical Specifications; top speed 1.75mph; acceleration 0 - 60mph in 3.82 days (pro rata)

Another incident indelibly imprinted in my memory concerns a little silver coloured toy cannon which fired matchsticks via a spring from the barrel. I found this little article fascinating because it actually did something. One day I went across the road to play in the shrubbery opposite, where several children were usually to be found. On this particular day a group of older boys was present and being a friendly little chap I showed one of them my toy cannon. After a cursory look he flung it down the bank at the back of the shrubbery and it landed in a large patch of nettles. I hurried after it and was bending over the nettles to see if I could spot it when he crept up behind me and with an almighty shove sent me sprawling headfirst into a hell of stinging pain. I was wearing a tee shirt and short trousers so much of the front of my body was covered in stings, especially my hands. I ran home screaming in agony, only for my mother to slap me as soon as I got there. This was presumably to stop me becoming hysterical but it didn't work. Standing by the kitchen sink being doused with cold water did help to relieve the pain somewhat, but the mental scars have remained ever since. According to some people these have nothing to do with nettles!

Sunday mornings were fairly routine. Mum would prepare lunch while dad and I would visit my grandparents at 94 prouds Lane. Here dad, grandad, and any of my many uncles who might be present would discuss the finer points of the Wolves football match from the previous day. My cousins and I had to sit still and behave. If I was lucky I might be allowed outside, where the delights of the garden included an old log used as a chopping block for cutting firewood. I don't know why but I found it fascinating. Sometimes I would go and talk to my uncle "Tosh" in the old Anderson shelter which served as his bike shed and also stored bottles of pop.( Why I called him "Tosh" I don't know - his name is Geoff!)  And sometimes dad and I would talk to grandad as he tatted with something at the workbench in his big wooden shed beside the lupin patch. The shed smelt delectably of creoste and paint, wood shavings and sawdust, oil and turpentine, and putty and varnish.

I was about three when I was first allowed to stay with one of my aunts. In this case it was Aunty Nellie, who had married Wilf Fellows and lived in a bungalow in Angela Place, Bilston. I can remember her kindness even now. At the time they had no children and so she made a fuss of me, taking me into Bilston town and buying me a toy cowboy gun. When we returned to the bungalow she found my uncle's demob hat from the war and reshaped it into a respectable, if a little large, stetson.  Uncle Wilf was not too impressed but at least he used to tease Nell about it. I was  about 32 before he forgave me.

 At the age of five my life changed dramatically. We moved into a home of our own, just after I had started school.