By Mary Whitaker (Nee Appleton)
With thanks to Mary for sharing her memories of growing up in Port Clarence in the 1950's & 1960's.
Growing Up in Port Clarence in the 1950's’’ and 60’s.
I was born in Port Clarence in 1950 at 1 Victoria Terrace along with my 3 brothers and sister. As I remember, most babies were born at home then.
My mother was also born in Port Clarence in 1927. She lived with her mother, father and two sisters in Kensington Terrace in the house next door to the Royal Hotel. My Grandfather always said he could tell when it was closing time as Mickey Tierney would sing Danny Boy and could be heard through the wall. My Aunt Margaret had her wedding reception in the room above the Royal. The Landlord had a big dog called Sambo. He was a sort of big “Dulux” dog and we used to ride on him like a horse. I don’t think he liked it, because one day he bit someone. Poor Sambo, I think he had to be put down.
My mother’s mother was also born in the “Old Port” in 1890. My mother’s father was born in Tyrone, Northern Ireland and came to work in the iron foundries. Lots of people came to Port Clarence in the early 1900’s from County Tyrone. This gave rise to a strong Catholic community with Irish roots. We always had a concert at School on St. Patrick’s Day and wore Shamrock, which relatives sent over from Ireland.
My father came from Middlesbrough and worked at Dorman Long’s By-Products. He was not a Catholic. We would ask him what religion he was and he would say he was Church of Turkey. He did say that he might not be a Catholic but he had carried plenty of them out of St. Thomas’s Church. I think he was referring to the fact that he was often asked to help carry coffins at funerals.
I recall our house was the last house in the terrace and was separated from Queens Terrace by a back street. Queens Terrace fronted the main road. The houses had two rooms downstairs and a small kitchen. They had three bedrooms but one of ours had been turned into a bathroom, so we only had two bedrooms. They had a back yard with a high brick wall around it with a door opening out into the back street. The toilet was also in the yard. There was a small garden at the front of the house.
Port Clarence had quite a lot of shops in those days. There was a small parade of shops on the main road at the end of Queen’s Terrace, which comprised of a newsagents/sweet shop (Bob Harrod’s), a butchers and two grocery shops (Frank Vernon’s and Dick Povey’s). There was a fish and chip shop at the end of Kensington Terrace near to St. Thomas’s church and quite a large Co-op shop just past St. Thomas’s School. There was also a Post Office shop at the end of Seaton Road. High Clarence also had a parade of shops which included another Post Office and another fish and chip shop. High Clarence began past High Clarence School and was always regarded as a different place from Port Clarence. Haverton was different again. Whatever did not exist in Port Clarence could be found in Haverton which had plenty of shops including a chemists, the doctors, a barbers, a bakers, a butchers and several food shops. All in all, it was a fairly self- contained community. The town was Middlesbrough rather than Billingham or Stockton. This was probably because you could walk to Middlesbrough Town Centre after crossing the Transporter Bridge which ran continuously back and forward in those days and rarely seemed to break down. It only cost a penny. You were in trouble however if you missed the last Transporter which went around midnight. Luckily, I never did.
I went to St. Thomas’s RC School, as did most of my friends. My mother came to teach there when I was about 7 or 8. Miss Kernan was the Headmistress in my day. She took over from Mr. Payne when he left to become Head of St. Michael’s in Billingham. I was terrified of her as were most of the pupils. It was a senior school as well then. I left when I was 11 and went to St. Joseph’s Covent in Hartlepool. The Convent was the girls’ Catholic Grammar School. I got the bus from Seaton Road end along with several other girls from the Port.
We moved to live in 9 Laburnum Grove when I was about 10 or 11. We had 4 bedrooms there. It must have seemed massive. We lived next door to the Lambs. Keith Lamb later became Financial Director of Middlesbrough Football Club. He still is I think. I lived there until I went to University in 1968. I never returned to live in Port Clarence. My mother and younger brother and sister moved to live in Billingham but my brother Jimmy and his family still live in the Port.
They say that you always view your childhood through “rose-tinted spectacles” and perhaps that is right. I seem to be able to remember lots of good things about growing up in Port Clarence and not many bad things, though I am sure that there were. It wasn’t posh and neither were the people who lived there. But it was a community where every one knew everyone else and that made you feel safe and at home. It gave you a sense of belonging.
What do I remember about my childhood in Port Clarence? I remember my Grandfather plucking a chicken in his back yard. I remember spending long days playing over the fields and the “stell” making dens and fishing for tiddlers and newts. We only came home when we were hungry or it was getting dark. I remember playing in the “swings” near the Cenotaph. It’s a car park now. I remember playing on the Centre Field; spending hours round my father’s allotment; my first Saturday job in Frank Vernon’s shop. I remember my father sitting on the bench near the Cenotaph on a summer’s evening having a cigarette and talking to a neighbour. As a teenager, I would go to the Saturday dance in Haverton, “Haverton Hop” and also to the Saturday dance at the “new” Community Centre in High Clarence. No drinking at either venue. That came later, when the Railway Club on Marton Road, Middlesbrough was the in scene (hence the risk of missing the last transporter).
I recall two families, the Dales and the Lenaghans who emigrated to Australia in the early 1960’s. Both of then came back to Port Clarence after a few years, so it must have had something going for it.
I recall going to a Port Clarence re-union held in 1993 at the Low Grange Club in Billingham. It was a great night and I met many people I had grown up with. It’s time we had another one.
Mary Whitaker (nee Appleton)