This article was published in the Northern echo (weekend section) on Monday August 11th. It describes the author’s memories of idyllic summer holidays in Weardale, and some of the more interesting stories and characters from his family connections to that area. A link to the full text as it appeared: CLICK HERE or see below:
Every summer, my parents would take us to spend the school holidays with my aunt Vi and uncle Willie Iley at White House near Eastgate in Weardale.
We would run wild for the whole summer with our cousins along the river Wear and in the woods nearby, splashing about in the shallow water, making bows and arrows, and playing endless games of hide and seek. Sometimes, tempers would fray. I remember one cousin chasing the rest of us across several fields with an axe, after I broke his new penknife. We had to climb a tree and wait until he cooled off.
I also remember wild strawberries and other fruit in the woods, and the home cured bacon with fresh eggs for breakfast (rationing was only just being phased out) while my sister remembers the men returning from the river with trout and field mushrooms for lunch.
FAMILY GROUP: the Wilkinsons at the White House in Eastgate. The author’s father, Sydney, who became headmaster of Hurworth Comprehensive School, is on the right. The other adults, from the left, are Olive and William Bainbridge, Betty Wilkinson, and Vi and Bill Iley. The four little horrors at the bottom of the picture are cousins
On hot days the adults would take us to the ‘bathing pool’ next to a waterfall where a branch of the railway crossed the river – later, the cement works would ruin the pool, though it did create badly needed jobs.
My uncle nicknamed me ‘Bud’ after I picked the heads off his flowers; I remember him lining the drive with turnip lanterns at Halloween one year, a bonfire, and him telling us ghost stories in the dark, while passing around a lychee to illustrate what happens when an eyeball falls out…
Another of my mother’s sisters lived at the top of Crawleyside; my sister remembers being very impressed by a collection of adder skins which were hung up outside the house. We also remember hearing the noise from a terrible crash at the bottom of the hill when the brakes failed on a descending lorry – or ‘wagon’, as they were called in those days. Laden with stone from a quarry, it smashed through the wall at the bottom of the hill, killing the driver – it must have been nearly a decade before the 1969 Crawleyside bus disaster in which 20 people died (Memories 188).
My mother’s childhood included harsh winters in various remote smallholdings, with the compensation of watching her mother make butter and being given some cream to drink every day. During our childhood, her father Billy Dalton ran the shop and post office in Eastgate (before that, he had the post office and the pub). He had an open topped car and my sister remembers the thrill of being driven across the tops of the moors in summer. He used to treat us to ‘Mivvi’ iced lollies from his freezer, but his own favourite dish was a pie made with wild bilberries (very tart, and it turned your lips blue).
His father had also worked for himself, working one of the old lead mines along with his sons after the big mining companies pulled out. Sadly, that work in his youth left my grandfather with a touch of ‘miner’s lung’ which would eventually kill him.
My maternal grandmother came from a family of cattle dealers who had crossed over from Teesdale after having to move out of what is now the Morritt Arms when the landlord decided to make it into a coaching inn. Later, my great-grandfather Thomas Bainbridge reputedly drove a herd of cattle all the way to Liverpool for export to Canada. After selling them for a good price, he went for a celebration drink. He must have been fond of the animals because he decided to say farewell to them, but passed out on the boat and when he woke up… it had sailed.
At least, that’s what he told his wife when he turned up a year later, having spent his money by joining one of the gold rushes of that era. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall at that reunion…
QUARRYMEN OF WEARDALE; probably Frosterly area, marble quarry
My paternal grandfather William Wilkinson was a quarryman in Frosterly (above, third from left) before landing a job as a gardener at Stanhope castle; the family scrimped and saved to send my father to teacher training college. One of my earliest memories is of watching a fire caused by lightning in the castle grounds from the window of my grandfather’s tied cottage (now demolished, though my father salvaged the precious greenhouse).
My father’s best friend was Bert Peart; as boys, they used to hang about with Edward Hillyard, whose family owned Horsley Hall. The story goes that the three of them took the Hillyard Rolls Royce out for a spin one night, and hit a tree with it. Edward wasn’t driving at the time, but he very nobly volunteered to take the blame – and the secret of who was driving that night was never, ever divulged. Edward went on to carry out a number of archaeological digs in Weardale, discovering artefacts dating from the Bronze Age through to medieval times; my father helped with that work. Perhaps this was his way of paying Edward back…
The article was introduced as follows:
After a lifetime in child psychology, Ian Wilkinson has just written his first novel. It weaves a dramatic story from his wife’s family about the murderous machinations and strange secrets of life during the Irish Troubles with other exciting tales from the second world war era. Here he goes back to the halcyon days of his youth in Weardale…
with the postscript:
Crossing the Water, by Ian Wilkinson (Makri press, £9.99) is available… etc (cover image of book also pictured)