Florence Margaret Heslop’s Stories

Florence Margaret Heslop (nee Mason) 1902 -2004

Florence was born in Ingham Row in Wylam in 1902 at her grandparents’ house.This is her own account of her early life:.

“I had one sister, Esther, born in 1904(She died in 1988), and one brother, Thomas, born in 1915(He died aged 19 and is buried in Heddon Churchyard).”

“My parents were James Charlton Mason(1871-1968) and Elisabeth Jane Mason(nee Newton, 1882-1977). They both went to the Old School(on Woodcroft Road) in Wylam. Mother’s family had come from Hayton in Cumberland. My Grandfather Mason was a butler when he married at Simonburn, and later a checkweighman at the colliery. He lived with us until his death in 1909. My father told me he could remember his father carrying him(when he was small), then his mother across the Points Bridge in Wylam while it was still under construction when returning from a visit to relatives who lived in Prudhoe. My grandfather Newton was a stonemason, he died when I was young.”

“My parents moved from Blayney Row to the Mushroom Row when I was 1 year old. Our neighbours were Mr. & Mrs. Hawkins and the Brown family. I went to school in Heddon until I was 14. My teachers were Mr Pestle(head-master), Miss stephenson(She lived with her brother Charlie at Town Farm where they had a dovecote and lots of doves), and Miss Brabbon?. There were 3 classrooms, an Infants room and Mr Pestle’s office?.”

Heddon CofE School c1910

Florence is next to the Schoolmaster and Esther is next to her

“Mr Pestle was a good choirmaster and we had lots of singing and poetry lessons. At Christmas the choir were invited to a Christmas Party at Close House by Sir James Knott and were given a present. Mr Amos’ Blacksmith’s shop was opposite the school and he used to say that the singing from the school was lovely. The Purvises lived in Carter’s Cottages opposite the school and we could hear when he was killing a pig(the master asked him not to kill them during school time). Sometimes when Mrs Purvis was not well my mother would send my sister Esther round to scrub her floor. It was stone flags and Esther had to chalk capital ‘E” with sandstone on each flag that she’d scrubbed.”

“When it was time for school the bell was rung. The bell was on the roof and the rope hung down inside. There were always several children hanging onto the rope wanting to be the one to ring it. The desks were long and held several children. It was a church school and the vicar(Mr. Pringle) used to come in and ask us scripture questions. I think that he thought we should all be Church of England but several families were chapel. I remember him saying to one little boy you should be able to answer this as your father’s a Superintendent at the chapel, ‘What did Pharaoh’s daughter say when she found Moses in the bullrushes?’. The boy was very nervous and after a while replied: ‘Come oot. Yer copped’. I think the vicar was very clever and had some pupils to whom he taught Latin and Greek.”

“When the hunt came to the village they used to meet outside Wrights’ Post Office and Percy(?) Reay used to bring them drinks from the Swan. Mr Charlton at Keepers Cottage used to have the hounds kenneled next to his house(Where the arch is), it was open at the front with an iron gate. There was a mounting block near the Post Office. On hunt days there were a few pupils missing from school as some of them liked to follow the hounds. My friend’s brother would get his bike to follow them.”

One Christmas Clara Mansfield and I took my cousin Dick Mason carol singing to Heddon House(Rev Burdons’). Clara and I were about 12 and Dick was 5 or 6. We were asked to go in and he asked who we were. Clara said: ‘She’s his cousin and I’m his aunt(Her oldest sister was married to my uncle who was Dick’s father). We were given 6d, but Dick, who was always a good singer, sang a solo and was given it all for himself. Mr Burdon used to keep bees and we often saw him in his beekeepers’ hat and gloves.”

“The house at Mushroom Row was a colliery house and gas was put in in 1905(the day my sister walked for the first time). A man used to come on horseback from the mill at Wylam to get the order for flour. He never got off the horse but rapped on the door with his whip. The order would be delivered later, a stone or two of flour since all the bread was home baked. Sometimes the man was drunk but fortunately the horse knew the way itself. If we ran short of anything my sister and I had to fetch it from the Coop at Throckley. There were no buses to Heddon so we had to walk or sometimes we would run down with our hoops and goads. My friend was Annie Wolland. She had several brothers and sisters. Her family came to Heddon with Rev. Richard Burdon of Heddon House, as I believe did the Frizzel and the Scarlett families. Annie’s father was very musical and he played piano, violin, mandolin and cornet. He played for the Spencer’s Steel works Band.”

“At Christmas my father and some of his friends used to go guising in the village. They dressed up and played music. My father had a squeeze box. One year my mother was very cross as my father had taken her best hat as part of his guising outfit and had put the stem of his pipe through the veil.”

“On Sundays my father sometimes took my sister and I to Wylam. we walked down Shields Lonnen and through the fields. My father went to the Black Bull where he was friends with the landlord and while he was in the bar my sister and I had some lemonade in the kitchen with Mrs ?. We went to Sunday School at the chapel. When it was the anniversary we recited our pieces or sang. We had concerts at the chapel and sang or gave sketches. My sister and I were in the Anniversary until we were about 11.”

“When I was about 16 my family moved from the Mushroom row into the Square. there was still no running water in the houses and water had to be carried in from a tap at the top of the square and out to a sink in the middle of it. We still had an earth closet with a wooden seat.. The ashes from the fire were also tipped in here.  When we moved I was already in service having left school when I was 14. When I left school I wanted to learn shorthand and typing but my parents couldn’t afford it so I went daily to Wylam to Miss Ruddick’s to learn tailoring and dressmaking. However times were hard. Often the buzzer would blow which was the signal that the pit would be idle. No work meant little money so I went into service at South Wylam at Mr & Mrs Brough’s. Mr Brough had grocery stores and travelled into Newcastle every day. They had no children. Their house had oil lamps. Mr Brough had wanted to get electricity but the rest of the inhabitants in their road refused to contribute to the cost so he didn’t put it in.”

” My father had.a bad accident at the pit. He was injured in a rock fall and it left him blind in one eye.He was offered £100 lump sum compensation but turned it down in favour of 3 shillings a week(Probably a wise move on his part as he lived to be 97 and the weekly amount did increase). However this meant hardship for my family. My brother was still very young so my pay went to help my parents as did that of my sister. When my sister left school she worked for a time at Laws’ farm at North Houghton and when we were older and we went for a walk that way she used to point at a big pile of stones that used to lie in the corner of the field at the top of Houghton Bank and say that she had picked nearly all of them. After she worked for Laws she worked for Grays also at Houghton. One day my mother got a visit from Lady Bates(wife of General Sir Loftus Bates) asking if my sister could go and work for her in service, so she did.”

“While I was in service at Mrs Brough’s, I used to come home on my day off, walking home when it was fine or occasionally coming by train(which would have still involved a considerable walk as Heddon station was at the bottom of a very steep hill). One day Mrs Brough gave me a pair of shoes with heels, they were very smart, and I wore them to go home. Unfortunately they hurt my feet and so that I could walk back again my father sawed off the heels. I was quite happy in Wylam. My aunt Dorothy who lived at the Points, used to do Mrs Brough’s washing and ironing and I used to take it or fetch it back and sometimes I collected bread from an old lady who also lived on the way there.”

Unfortunately that’s as far as her own account went so the rest is what she told me. She could still recite many poems from memory in later life.

She used to tell me that the schoolteacher didn’t want people to kill pigs during school hours as all of the children used to take the day off school when that was happening and go round with bowls and plates as everyone got something from the animal. There was not a lot of entertainment in Heddon but one form of entertainment that they had was when the ‘missionaries’ came, I presume that they would have been Rechibites or some kind of primitive methodists, they would put up a tent and preach hell and damnation and get people to sign ‘the pledge’. My gran said she’d signed the pledge several times.

She used to tell a story about her uncle Willie who had gone to the fair at the town moor and must have got into a game of pitch and toss in which he won a lot of money(100 guineas I believe). He sent a telegram to tell her father to come into town and collect him but predictably by the time her father got into town the money was gone – gambled away again.

When she was in service at Broughs’ she was a parlour maid. She used to tell me about when it was the cook’s day off, being asked to boil an egg which she put in a saucepan over the coal range, however she was busy doing something else and the next thing she new was there was a bang and a puff of soot and the egg had boiled dry and shot up the chimney never to be seen again.

Mr Brough also had a house in Allendale where the family used to spend the summer taking the servants with them. Grandma used to say that in those days there was no electricity in Allendale and the locals used to keep trying to get Mr Brough to pay to get the electricity brought in as he was a wealthy man, but he wouldn’t do it so I expect he remained wealthy.

Florence also worked as a domestic for other families later on. She worked for the Doctor(Dr Bishop I believe) in Wylam for a while and for the people in Castle Hill House. She worked for Lady Ridsdale out in Northumberland where she used to tell me that the mother of Hughie Gallagher(the famous footballer) used to come and work with her to help scrub the floors when they were spring cleaning. She also used to tell us a story of how she’d been putting out washing when she glimpsed what she thought was a small dog that ran into the coalhouse, so she shut the door on it and told her ladyship. When the lady looked in the coalhouse she saw that it was a fox that had run in there to hide as the hunt was out. Telling my gran and the other servants that the fox had come to them for protection, she got them to swill the yard so that the hounds wouldn’t pick up the fox’s scent, and when the hunt came she sent them on their way, so the fox lived to run another day.

Another place in which she was in service was in Jesmond for a family called Adams who were shipowners. She used to tell me about how wealthy the family were. She also used to talk about her day off when she used to go home or would go and meet some of her numerous relatives some of whom lived or worked in Newcastle. There were also stories about occasional family outings, sometimes there were charabanc trips and on one occasion an outing to visit some of her father’s cousins in Bedlington when he’d prevailed upon the coachman of one of the local Heddon dignitaries(General Sir Loftus Bates who was away at the time) to borrow the carriage and horse and take them to Bedlington and back.

Many of Florence’s parents family lived locally in the Tyne valley and she had aunts, cousins and second-cousins all over the place. She used to talk about one uncle who had worked on Catcleugh reservoir(that was completed when she would have been 3) and who had worked on the building of Ingham terrace and also worked on the building of the Wylam Institute.

She also had several relatives who lived at Hagg Bank, one lot of cousins lived in a terrace that’s no longer there but was partially destroyed in a landslide that must have been a kind of mini Abervan – the cousins were fortunate as the end of the terrace in which they lived was not affected, but I believe that lives were lost.

Another family that lived at the Hagg Bank where she often visited, were an uncle and aunt who lived in one of the two houses that stand at the end of Railway Cottages, and some other’s lived in the bungalow called Park Glen that was originally built from wood by one of her mother’s, cousins.

One of her aunts that I can remember was Hannah, she also had grown up around Wylam, living in one of a row of houses that used to stand near the junction of BlueBell Lane and the old A69, and later living in Oakwood cottages when they were in service at Oakwood House. Yet another of Grandma’s cousins(Jack Newton) was known locally as ‘Captain Jack’, he’d got his nickname from being an officer’s batman when he was in the army and ‘borrowing’ the uniform to get his photo taken. I’m not sure whether he got caught but apparently he was promoted and demoted on more than one occasion. She also kept in touch with a legion of relatives who lived elsewhere in the country, many in Cumberland(where her mother had been born).

Later in life when she’d left domestic service she had a variety of other employments. She worked in Fenwicks in the cafeteria initially as a kitchen helper but she said that the chip fat caught fire one day and as she had extinguished the fire by covering it with a cloth she was given the job as cook. She also worked in the pit canteen at the Maria pit in Throckley when she lived on Maple street after she was married. She was widowed when her daughter(my mother) was only 14 and attending Lemington Grammar School, her husband died from Tuberculosis. After that time she continued to work on into retirement employed in schools as cook and cleaner but the hard life did not do her so much harm as she lived until she was 102 and was still mostly fending for herself(cooking,cleaning,washing, ironing and going up and down stairs) at her house in Heddon-on-the-Wall right until a few months before her death.

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