It’s almost winter.
Fair warning first, this is another one of my rambles, both literally and in it’s writing form so you might want to grab a drink and make yourself comfy if you feel like doing it all in one hit. OK, if you’re sorted, let’s get to it.
After the somewhat packed day on the Wednesday, which I hope you have read about in my previous post, there wasn’t too much planned for the Thursday the 31st of October. Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve if you subscribe to Judeo – Christian mythology or the Eve of Samhain and the last day of Summer if you are a pagan. Given my experience in the raw conditions of North Shields the previous evening Summer was far from my thoughts but it was a clear, bright day if still very cold.
I am actually composing this three days before Xmas 2019 and am once again amazed at the blatant hijacking of a long-standing belief system based on Nature, crops, the seasons and all things natural. I mention Xmas as I had long known that it was merely a means of imposing Christian beliefs onto non-believers by declaring Christ’s birth as the 25th December even though there is absolutely no historical evidence to support this. With my innate curiosity I had to look up the pagan calendar, which has taken a couple of hours and has proved fascinating not to mention explaining to some degree why I m always so far behind in my blog entries!
The first mention of a Christian celebration in late December does not come until 336 AD. Similarly, it was not until 1000 AD that the 2nd of November (not the 1st as it is now) was declared All Souls or All Saints (hallows being an old word for saints) Day was superimposed on the older Samhain festival and mimicked many of the rituals associated with it, especially bonfires.#
Just to add some further confusion to the whole matter, the Romans had not one but two festivals in late October / early November. One was Feralia which commemorates the passing of the dead and the second is the Feast of Pomona, goddess of fruit and trees. Obviously the Romans controlled most of Western Europe for about four centuries and so the Christian Church was effectively tacking on a totally invented festival onto not one but two much older celebrations from different, and often warring, cultures. As final proof of this, All Saints Day was originally on May 13th and not in Northern Hemisphere autumn at all. QED. Right, enough of the history lesson, interesting though it was to research, and back to Fergy in Northumberland.
We had another Working Man’s Club gig in the evening but, with Sue volunteering at the shop again and Paul up to his eyes in work, I was going to be fairly much left to my own devices all day which suited nicely. A bit more looking round Jesmond and maybe a wander into the centre of town would fill the time nicely but Paul had something to show me first. He had mentioned a cafe nearby which he raved about and we took off there for breakfast.
cafébar one (no, neither word is capitalised) was small and seemed terribly trendy probably because Jesmond is terribly trendy. It also gets extremely busy and we were lucky to get a recently vacated table on a late November Thursday morning. At one point there were actually people queuing for tables not to mention those sitting outside which I would not have fancied in that freezing cold. The menu is extensive to say the least and bang up to date with all the latest eating fads. There are options for just about every food allergy, intolerance and preference with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings much to the fore. The selection of teas, coffees, herbal infusions and the like made my head swim.
I had a bit of a double take moment when, in the middle of all the superfood porridge and warm rice salads etc. I spied poutine. What, in Jesmond? If you do not know what it is, poutine is the unofficial national dish of Canada and I had sampled a few plates of it on my travels there. It is basically sautéed potatoes topped with cheese and sometimes bacon and then drowned in a homemade gravy. My friend Lynne’s father Ron, a fine cook from Nova Scotia, does a particularly toothsome version.
Paul and I are both of a certain age and so a nice, simple full English breakfast each was called for and quickly served up by the very friendly waitress along with the coffee you can see which was effectively a minor work of art. I have long wondered a) how people do this and, more importantly, b) why do they do it? It is very pretty but a bit pointless really. The breakfast, as you can see, was nice and simple as required and also extremely tasty. Paul really was giving me the full culinary tour of Tyneside. Again, it was only whilst I was researching this post today that I found out that they source all their food locally and even name all the suppliers on their website as provided above. Special mention needs to be made of the sausages which were the tastiest I have tasted in many a long year of eating fry-ups so credit to the Amble Butchers in Morpeth, a few miles to the North.
Duly fortified we headed off on our separate missions, Paul to slave over a hot keyboard and I to, well, I wasn’t quite sure. I knew I wanted to have a look round the two large cemeteries a short distance down the road but other than that I had little idea. All I knew was that I would find something to interest me and the first such item was the charming planter you see in the image above.
As you can see, this is the Cradle Well, so named because………. Go on, take a wild guess. Actually, it has given it’s name to this whole part of Jesmond and the frighteningly busy A1058 Coast Road is called the Cradlewell bypass along this section of it’s length. The well is long gone and I am guessing this was once a water trough for animals although it is rather pleasant in it’s present state.
With the images of the well duly captured I headed off at a brisk pace towards the cemeteries and City respectively. It was no day for dawdling and the dubious delights of the bypass certainly didn’t inspire stopping to take in the view.
The next place of interest I came to was a sight that would normally have depressed me greatly and did at the time although subsequent research has lessened that blow somewhat. It was the remains of the Cradlewell Hotel which looked like it had been closed for quite some time, 2012 to be precise. Since then, plans to turn the upstairs into a bona fide hotel (the premises had been merely a bar for many years) were scuppered by local objections, mainly about parking which is ridiculous in that area. Later plans to convert the building into flats in 2016 foundered on the same rock.
The hotel was opened on the site of an earlier pub of the same name dating to 1833 by Robert Deuchar in 1904 and he is an interesting character with strong local ties. Originally from Scotland, he and his three younger brothers moved to Tyneside in 1861 and opened a pub, the Chancellor’s Head in Newgate Street which is sadly now demolished. They must have been good at the pub game as they went on to own forty of them and breweries in Edinburgh and Newcastle. The side street beside the hotel is even called Deuchar Street! Their Duechars beer, unlike their first pub, exists to this day under the umbrella of the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh (now part of the Heineken attempt at world domination) and I even have one of their T-shirts in my vast collection.
The reason I was marginally less saddened than I might have been is that Paul and Sue told me that the Cradlewell was well-known as the meeting place for all the gangsters in the City and not at all a good place to visit although I do have a vaguely suicidal tendency to seek out the roughest bars I can find so no doubt curiosity would have got the better of me. I do wish they would do something with it as it really is a bit of an eyesore in an otherwise very attractive area.
Not 100 yards further on I came upon another “hotel” which could not have been in more direct contrast to the Cradlewell. This is the Punch Bowl Hotel and it is odd! I am not sure how to begin describing it to you so I shall let them do the work themselves with a quote from their excellent website. “Three rooms, specialising in records, doggos, vermouth, craft beers, absinthe, live bands, cinema screenings, theatre, delicious plates of scran, stand up comedy and everything in-between”, and that is just the start as you shall see.
The Hotel has been there even longer than the Cradlewell and dates from the 1870’s although there was an earlier hostelry here. I liked the look of it externally and discovered later that it is Scottish Baronial style. Every day’s a schoolday. I also noted the distinctive blue star device above the door which I instantly recognised as the Scottish and Newcastle Brewery logo, brewers of the world famous Newcastle Brown Ale and now another minor cog in the Heineken machine. Sorry about the age gate on the website, it is a legal requirement by our nanny state. It’s not as if under 18’s aren’t just going to lie about their age anyway.
I went in to one of the two bars, which is typical of old British pubs and it was very pleasant as it should have been having only very recently been refurbished to the tune of £1 million. Like it’s now decaying companion up the road, the Punch Bowl had lain empty for a few years, 2015 to be precise, until it was bought over by a company called Frank and Bird who had re-opened it in April 2019. F&B, as they style themselves, had performed a similar trick at the Brandling Villa in nearby South Gosford which they took on as a failing / failed venture and which is now one of the top venues in the area.
I said it was odd and it is. Many places try for an eccentric / quirky feel and most don’t manage to pull it off but this place does somehow. I ordered my pint of cider spritzer with an accompanying chat to the very friendly barman who was decent enough to sympathise with my alcohol predicament when I explained about the odd mixture. That was one plus point, friendly staff and on subsequent visits he was not a one off.
The place was pretty quiet at that hour so I had plenty of choice of seats in what is a fairly sizeable room and I naturally plumped for comfy looking Chesterfield sofa beside the real (enclosed) fire which was sadly not alight but the place was certainly warm enough. Chalk up plus points two and three for the seating and heating arrangements.
My “table” was, at best guess, made from a goods trolley, possibly at a railway station, with a Monopoly board inlaid, but not just any Monopoly board, it was Russian! Although I have visited the place where Cyrillic script allegedly originated (it is near Ohrid on Macedonia) I do not know the alphabet properly although I find it very similar to the Greek alphabet which I can get by with. Even I know that Mockba translates as Moscow which is where the board represented and I spent some time trying to translate the various locations with limited success as I do not know Moscow at all.
I thought this was just a little curiosity but not so. When I went to the Gents later, the signs for the toilets are in Russian as well. I found out that the upstairs concert area, which features music, poetry, comedy and cinema showings amongst other things is called Bobik which meant nothing to me at the time but which I have now discovered was the name of a dog in the Russian space programme who managed to escape before being blasted into space and certain death. Poor old Laika would have done well to follow Bobik’s lead. There are a few more nods to Russian culture around the place although I still cannot find out what, if any, the connection is to Tyneside.
Speaking of the toilets, they are strange as well and I have to preface this paragraph by stating that I am not in the habit of taking pictures in public house toilets but I had to do this and there was nobody else there obviously. The facilities are spotless and rather retro as the cistern of the toilet suggests but what is below the cistern is anything but retro. It is a fully electronically controlled bidet complete with heated seat and inspired, apparently, by the toilets in a Tokyo McDonalds of all things. A bidet in a Gents in a Newcastle boozer? I don’t know what Alan Hull (RIP) would have made of it all.
I know I labour the point but travelling and even moreso writing about it both here and previously elsewhere really does teach me so much. Who would have thought that a simple lunchtime pint in a Geordie boozer would have taught me all about the Russian space programme’s use of dogs (and rabbits) or the sanitary arrangements in Japanese fast food outlets?
The Russian theme is continued on the cover of the menu which depicts a Soviet cosmonaut and it is also a bit zany with liberal use of Geordie vernacular. It is not entitled menu or food but scran which is a local word for grub and has passed into wide use in the armed forces, I use it frequently myself although some visitors might struggle with it. The vegetarian / vegan section is entitled Vegan Arseholes and the children’s menu goes under Your Little Shites. I kid you not (pun intended).
Perhaps the most unusual section of the menu, and one which I have never seen before is the one for Doggos. Yes, they have a dedicated menu for our canine friends and this is in keeping with the pub’s policy of dog-friendliness which I was to witness on a future visit. I had never heard of dog popcorn or ice-cream and how dog beer differs from the human variety is anyone’s guess but they are all on offer, at a price.
Hanging from the roof I spied a lovely little model railway set-up which, like the fire, was not in operation that lunchtime. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of what the Punchbowl is like and there was much more to be discovered in the other bar which I was to visit later on in the trip but I shall save that for then and for now we shall head back out into the cold and the noise of the bypass and make for the cemetery.
I love old burial places and the older the better as far as I am concerned but I knew before I went that the two cemeteries on opposite sides of the road were not going to be that old. The history of the area told me as much as virtually nobody had lived here until the middle of the 19th century. Judging by the size of the two graveyards many people not only lived but also died hereabouts in the intervening period. They were both well-tended and I had a bit of a chat with one of the chaps responsible for that as he was doing his sweeping. The memorials were pretty much what I would have expected from the Victorian period onwards and I only had a brief look round and the obligatory image or two.
About the only thing of real interest I discovered was that the little chapel in All Saints cemetery appears to be the meeting place for the local Russian Orthodox congregation of the Parish of St. George, hence the image of the eponymous holy man and his unfortunate draconine victim as pictured above. It always amuses me that George is the patron saint of England, amongst many other places, when he was from modern day Turkey and never actually set foot on the “green and pleasant land”.
Of course I had never previously considered the presence of an Orthodox Christian community in Newcastle but it appears there is one and it is fairly active if it’s Facebook page is to be believed. It seems like everyone has one now.
I crossed the road at the pedestrian crossing as doing otherwise would have been exhibiting a death wish which I really do not have, contrary to some people’s belief. The Old Cemetery there was not really that old, dating only to 1836 and so is much similar in it’s appearance to it’s fellow across the road. What is undeniably impressive is the entrance which is to the design of John Dobson who I have mentioned before. He was the man who seems to have virtually single-handedly designed Newcastle, including the wonderful railway station and is fittingly buried here as are other notables like Robert Deuchars who I mentioned earlier and the father of Lord Armstrong of Jesmond Dene fame, himself a noted engineer.
The list of those who have their final resting place here is long, about 25,000 or so and includes the man who invented the clear sticking plaster, the founder of Fenwicks department store which still trades in the city and Miss Muriel Evelyn Robb, the 1902 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion. Sadly, Miss Robb did not live long to enjoy her achievement as she died tragically young five years later.
What I found rather sad during my research was that the first interment here on 9th December of that year was Margaret Redford Hoy, the 14-year-old daughter of a Newcastle grocer and her grave was unmarked. I have long thought that all are equal in death and here is a prime example of this poor young lass whose kin could not even afford a headstone lying alongside the great and the good of the City. OK Fergy, pull yourself together and don’t get maudlin because you still have a lot more places to show your good readers.
I knew that the bypass would lead me right into the centre of the city but I had had about enough of it by then and so I took off on another one of my *happily getting lost” treks. I had seen that there was a rear entrance, considerably less grand than the front and so I headed for that. On the way, I passed the South Lodge which I did not know at the time is a listed building and was originally home to the Superintendent of the Cemetery. I came out directly opposite the Sandyford Social Cluband idly wondered if Paul had sought gigs in there, it would have been walking distance from home for him.
I was working on the not unreasonable assumption that if I kept going downhill I would eventually end up at the river and hence the centre of town eventually so I took a completely random route along back streets which is a favourite pastime of mine. In total contradiction of the old cliche “onward and upward” I was heading very deliberately onward and downward and thoroughly enjoying it. I do hope that is not reflective of my life in general. People think I am crazy for taking pleasure in wandering unremarkable residential streets but I find it invaluable in getting feel for a place and I had not a care in the world, let alone the faintest idea where I was.
Eventually I came to a main road which my map now tells me was the A193 if you are interested. I wasn’t then but I was interested in the New Bridge pub across the road which styled itself as a neighbourhood bar which sounded great to me. I have to say it was not what my pre-conceived idea of a Newcastle neighbourhood bar might have been but, then again, what exactly is a neighbourhood bar? Surely by definition surely every urban pub must be in a neighbourhood. Yes, I am rambling again and I shall stop. #
The bar was sizeable, modern and empty. I would not have expected much lunchtime trade round here and it looked much more like an evening sort of place with the big screen TVs, pool table and apparently occasional live music. What it also had was something I had never seen in a bar was the huge item you can see in the image which is apparently a shuffleboard. I thought shuffleboard was a game played on the decks of cruise ships but apparently it is becoming popular in bars if you have the room as I have since seen one in newly opened hotel / bar not five minutes walk from my home. I had a bit of a look at the rules and it looks a bit like shove ha’penny on steroids to me.
As I was getting used to in this part of the world, the welcome was very warm and I had a good chat with the two young ladies serving before having a seat and catching up on the sports news on the TV. Pleasant as it was, I knew I still had plenty to see and I was rationing my drinks so I could potentially visit more pubs and there was still a gig in the evening to consider.
Back out the door and a right turn as that was very clearly downhill and fairly steep to boot so I reckoned the Tyne was getting close as indeed it turned out to be. A couple more images here which may appear random but were taken for a reason. The first shows exactly how down I mean by downhill, I wouldn’t like to tackle this in the snow. It serves a double purpose as the buildings on the right, which look to me like a five year old’s attempt at a colouring-in book, are student accommodation. Maybe the bright colours are some sort of homing mechanism for when they roll out of the Student’s Union drunk.
The second image is of a gateway in the same building and shows why it is a student residence. If you look through the gates you see what looks a bit like an advertising hoarding with the logo GBRf on it but is actually part of a rather long freight train which was rumbling past literally feet away from the back wall of the building. Nobody but students would have lived there!
Following my downhill route to it’s logical conclusion I emerged onto the Quayside and the image above is the first of a rather large amount I took featuring the various bridge
s over the Tyne from every conceivable angle. To avoid the blog turning into Bridge Enthusiasts Monthly I shall post a separate page of nothing but these images which you can skip if cantilever, suspension and cable stayed leave you cold (they are all types of bridges). OK, I admit I slipped one of the Tyne Bridge in as the header for this page which was taken from about the same spot and I am very fond of because it of the lowering sun. I work on the principle that if I take enough images I might get one I like every once in a while.
The Quayside has obviously had a few quid spent on it recently like nearby North Shields and it’s Fish Quay which featured in my last post and it is now crammed with upmarket eateries and watering holes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking it but again I couldn’t help thinking how different it must be from when it was a busy working quay with it’s attendant bustle, smells and noise.
There are still a few old buildings in more or less their original state and I was particularly taken by the old Custom House you can see above which dates to 1766 although it was altered considerably in 1833. Unsurprisingly it is a listed building now in use as barristers chambers. After a bit more Quayside and a lot more bridge imagery I decided to get away from the river again as there was a wind blowing up it that would have cut corn as they so delightfully put it in Northern Ireland.
A bit more random wandering and I came upon the wonderfully named Dog Leap Stairs which I decided to climb even though they looked a bit steep. Why? Because they were there, to paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary. Up I went, blowing a bit as I was still not back to what passes for full fitness even at my age. The stairs themselves are fairly unremarkble and the I have since discovered that even the name is not as exciting as it might have been. I had vague notions of a brave canine having to jump down off them in the course of some heroic act or other but they are merely named for the dogleg in them. They so get a mention in Dire Straits’ 1978 song ‘Down to the Waterline’ but thn again Mark Knopfler was brought up on Tyneside.
As is so often the way I found an interesting if visually unimpressive item as I was pausing to catch my breath. The rather forlorn looking stone square is all that remains of the original Anglo-Saxon church which once stood on this site and long predates the nearby Castle. Equally interesting was that neither Paul nor Sue, who are both very well up on local history knew of it’s existence which only goes to prove how easy it is to miss things on your own doorstep. I know I am never done finding things in London in places I have been frequenting for over 30 years.
I had managed to get myself into the road called Black Gate which was rather unimaginatively named for the Black Gate of the Castle which gives the city it’s name. It was built between 1247 and 1250 which is Henry III vintage so it is going back a bit although there have been numerous additions over the centuries from the original functional defensive structure. You can visit the Castle but I didn’t bother as, to be honest, I fancied a bit more exploring.
I didn’t have far to go for my next “find” although you could hardly describe it as such for it is hard to miss a bloody great bridge, in this case the High Level Bridge. With a great effort of will I took a quick snap of the lovely looking Bridge Hotel and didn’t go in! That situation was to be rectified later in the trip so I’ll leave the history of the place until then.
If my walking past an open pub was a demonstration of willpower it was nothing to that I had to exhibit next. It is not called the High Level Bridge for nothing, it is a very long way down and I really do not like heights. What persuaded me was that I knew if I braved it that I could probably get some decent images of the other bridges. Again, I am only going to bore you with one of the images and put the rest in the gallery I shall post later. Despite my absolute terror, I think they were worth it, the sun was more or less shining, the river was flat calm giving some lovely reflections and whilst they were not Terence Donovan I was happy with them.
Retreating sharply from the bridge I retraced my steps past the Castle Keep and Castle Garth, again resisting the temptation to go in for a look. I really must do that next time. I was just about ready for another drink now and the Empress Bar came in sight but it was surprisingly not open until the evening. Paul later told me that it wasn’t much of a boozer anyway so it probably wasn’t too much of a loss and investigating it led me to the next point of interest which, as the image shows, is the oddly named Amen Corner.
Readers of a certain age will immediately associate this with a moderately successful 1960’s pop group featuring Andy Fairweather Low, who is till touring at the age of 71 and Blue Weaver, also still active in the music business at 72 after stints with Strawbs, the Bee Gees and Mott the Hoople amongst others. I wondered if the band were from here but a quick bit of research gave the lie to that notion as the band was named after an event in a Cardiff night club. It also led me to discover that there are Amen Corners all over the place including the City of London which I thought I knew pretty well and lying off a street I know for a fact I have walked along often. I have never seen Amen Corner on that street but I’ll be looking for it now. The name itself and the fact that the two locations in Newcastle and London are close to St.Nicholas’ and St. Paul’s Cathedrals respectively, might explain it. It appears the clergy in nearby St.Nicholas Church were in the habit of processing round the grounds praying and this is where they finished up, hence the Amen.
With that piece of pop nostalgia and clerical trivia more or less sorted out, let’s carry on. I walked up past the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas which dates originally to 1080 although most of the building is 14th century and the tower 15th. It is the most Northerly cathedral in England and I would have liked to visit but kept on walking in search of that elusive pint. Just beside the cathedral is the rather fine statue of Queen Victoria and it is interesting that I took both the images above with my back to a revolting looking 1970’s office block called “One Cathedral Square” which houses the Department of Work and Pensions amongst other things. I have mentioned the appalling T. Dan Smith, corrupt politician (is there any other sort?), convicted criminal and architectural vandal and I would love to blame him for this eyesore but I can’t as it post-dates his destructive time in office. Ir is just another example of the blindness of town planners in the latter half of the last century.
Walking a mere 100 yards or so, I turned into Cloth Market and things were not going to get any better as about half of the lower end seemed to consist of long boarded up premises. I don’t know if this is the result of economic malaise or it is part of a planned redevelopment. I found one particularly poignant example of such a building, not only because it was a closed down pub but also because of an important local musical connection. The image above shows Balmbra’s in it’s last incarnation as a Motown Bar, whatever that might be. I had a look in the rather grimy windows and saw that the place was completely gutted although there was some wonderful tile work still visible on the walls which were totally in keeping with the 1902 date of construction but there had been pub on this site called the Wheatsheaf long before and it is this which has the musical association mentioned for it was here that George Ridley first performed “The Blaydon Races”.
If you have never heard the song, it is a sort of unofficial “national anthem” for Newcastle and the Northeast, supplanted only much later to a degree by Lindisfarne’s “Fog on the Tyne” in the early 1970’s. Much more of them later. Blaydon Races is one of those songs that tests the memory as it has about 108 verses (OK, it has six really) and it always reminds me of “The Rocky Road to Dublin” in the Irish canon, neither of which I can remember in full. Paul does a great rendition of the former and I do try and assist on the chorus which I have mastered. The pub is mentioned in the couplet, “Ah tyuk the ‘bus frae Balmbra’s, an’ she wis heavy laden, away we went alang Collingwood Street, that’s on the road to Blaydon”. Yes, it is in dialect! I wonder what the riders on the horse drawn omnibus would have made of Collingwood Street or the A186 as it is less pleasingly named now.
Yes, I know I am rambling again and I am going to do some more right now. One of the images above shows the sadly padlocked and graffitied door which was taken primarily to illustrate the demise of this once popular establishment but I didn’t pay much attention to the graffiti at the time as I just put it down to the usual mindless vandalism that is endemic just about everywhere in the so-called developed world today.
Amongst what are presumably the initials and barely legible “tags” of the idiots that do this you will see the numbers 420-710, so what is all that about? My readership is small, although I like to think they are an exclusive group, and I know many of them personally. They are fine, upstanding people to a man and woman which is why I am providing this little explanation. For reasons which I can explain but won’t bore you with the term 420 refers to smoking cannabis and 710 refers to cannabis oil which is one of the ways it is taken. Why 710? Turn it upside down and read it. So now you know, every day’s a schoolday, just don’t ask me how I know all this.
Balmbra’s was interesting in it’s way but not much use to me so I kept on walking and luckily didn’t have to go far until I was at the door to Pumphrey’s Bar although I wasn’t there long. I was straight through it and up to the bar to go through the rigmarole of explaining the cider spritzer again. This was a bit more embarrassing here than in some other establishments as it was clearly a “proper pub”. It was full of men (very few women) who were mostly intent on watching the various horse racing meets on the different big screens and constantly checking the Sporting Life and Racing Post and whatever other publications gamblers favour. I know nothing about it as I never gamble and would not even know how to fill out a bookies docket. I can only imagine that in more tolerant times the air would have been blue with cigarette smoke. I managed to find a seat and had a look round what was obviously a fairly old establishment.
Again, it was only subsequent research that unearthed all the secrets of the place and, you’ve guessed it, another interesting story. Pumphrey’s is named for Thomas Pumphrey and, as you can see, it is a very impressive hostelry indeed. This is hardly surprising as it had a £100,000 makeover in 2018 courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund and it appears to have been money well spent.
All is not, however, as it appears as the premises here was not the original Pumphrey’s which was elsewhere and it was most certainly not a pub as the business was originally a grocers and coffee and tea dealers founded by George Richardson who was a Quaker and abhorred alcohol. Pumphrey was his nephew and of similar ideas regarding the demon drink and it is only in 1974 that the former grocers, coffee roasters and popular coffee house was converted into a bar. I do wonder what Messrs. Richardson and Pumphrey’s would make of the “Devil’s buttermilk” being sold in their fine, now listed premises.
The coffee side of the company flourishes with several branches and even a training establishment so, if you do not fancy a pint you can get a decent cup of Java in the coffee shop next door.
A quick stop into the excellent Army surplus store yielded a DPM (camo) headover which I use as a bandana and that pleased me greatly as I had been looking for one for ages. It is amazing how difficult those things are to find and my previous one was just about on it’s last legs. After that it was back to the Metro and the quick journey to Jesmond because I still had things to do.
As had been the case the previous day, I could have sat indoors that evening and been well content with an interesting and enjoyable day but I was here for a reason and we had another gig that night and so it was a bite to eat and then back to the Tube for the journey to Jarrow and the Alberta Club. As we were approaching Jarrow station I asked Paul if it was far to the venue and he smiled, pointed out the window and said, That’s it”. The club was literally across the road and it’s postal address is Railway Street which gives you an idea.
30 seconds brought us to the club and again I was amazed at how big and well-equipped it was. I wouldn’t like to say which was the larger between it and the Iona we had previously played in, there is not much on it. The Alberta has two bars, one much larger than the other and equipped with pool tables, dartboards and the like and then, to the rear, a sizeable function hall where we were going to do our thing. Honestly, the social clubs round Newcastle really are impressive. I have played in such establishments before but never anything on the sheer physical scale of these.
Here I was in a working man’s club in Jarrow and I could not help but think about the history of the area a bit, as I had been doing since Paul had told me we were playing there. Jarrow sits on the Tyne in Co. Durham and is effectively now part of Newcastle but in years past it was a separate community and is probably famous in most people’s minds for one thing – the Jarrow March.
The March, officially called the Jarrow Crusade, happened in October 1936 and was born out of the massive unemployment in the town (and the region and country generally) which had been caused by the closure of the local Palmer’s Shipyard in 1934. As it was effectively the only local employer of note this was a devastating blow and unemployment peaked in NE England in 1932 at a staggering 28.5%. Even by the time of the march it was 16.8% and unemployment nationally in the ship building industry was 33.3% so it is easy to appreciate the problem. The marchers, or Crusaders as they liked to be known, carried a petition all the way to London for presentation to Parliament asking for the establishment of some form of industry in the town to relieve the situation.
For much of the way, the march was led by Ellen Wilkinson, the firebrand one-time Communist and then Labour MP for Jarrow. She is very well remembered and there is an Ellen Wilkinson House a block of flats) not 20 minutes walk from my home as well as a primary school named for her a little further away in Beckton and a secondary school for girls, also named for her, in West London.
The March / Crusade made it to London, Wilkinson presented the petition, they went back home by train and that was that. They had achieved absolutely nothing but the endeavour is well remembered to this day as a symbol of the hardship of the times. Coincidentally, in the interim period since I played there and writing this in January 2020 I watched an episode of the excellent Great British Railway Journeys series presented on the BBC by the former Conservative politician Michael Portillo which spent some time dealing with the march and I do recommend it if you can find it online.
When we walked in, we were greeted by a couple of people who had been at the “Fireside” gig in the Iona, it appears the band have a bit of a following. More were to arrive nearer gig time and I was surprised and extremely flattered that several people said hello and called me by name. It was certainly not an arduous gig as a couple of the “turns” were guitarists themselves, and far better than me, so I let them get on with it. There were several of the performers from the previous gig amongst the Iona contingent including Angelina who you see in the image above along with half of me and half of Paul which I should explain.
Martin the percussionist wasn’t required for Angelina’s set as she sings mostly slow ballads and so he was sitting out and took a few images on his ‘phone. Why he used monochrome I don’t know but I think it makes a pleasant change and he was concentrating on the main event i.e. the lovely lady singer and so didn’t frame it with my ugly mug fully captured. Frankly, I don’t blame him for that but I have included this as it is probably the only image I have of me playing on the whole trip and it proves that I did knock out a few chords lest you think I am making it all up.
With the gig safely under our belts and the audience apparently well satisfied judging by the comments it was time for the Metro home, a quick brew and off to bed. This really was turning into a brilliant trip and I was loving it.
Just a final word before I sign off. Right at the top of this post I mentioned that it was three days before Xmas as I was composing this and that was indeed true. How I am now looking to publish it on the 18th of January is testament to a) the fact that I have been quite busy, mostly doing things I will eventually have to write about here and b) the grave failing that I have of being able to put things off almost indefinitely. I shall never get caught up at this rate but I’ll try.
In the next post I do something that I normally don’t do and have not done for years plus I have the most amazing tea so stay tuned and spread the word.