James Charlton Mason was born in 1871 at Tudhoe Hall in County Durham but by the time he was 4 the family had moved to Wylam, their address was given as Wylam Pit Head. During the course of his childhood he used to tell me that they lived in a lot of houses in Wylam and it seemed as though whenever they moved out of a house it was demolished shortly afterwards. He attended Wylam school which at that time was located on Woodcroft Road in what is now a place of worship for the Plymouth Brethren. Unusually for times in which he lived he attended school until he was 12, being a good scholar and a protege of some of the local worthies. It was said that he could have had post working for the London and North-Eastern Railway if his education had continued, however economic necessity prevailed and he started work at the pit when he was 12 first as a ‘putter’ but later working as a miner. When he was 27 he was blinded in one eye due to an accident in the pit and never worked underground again. I suppose that as he was fairly well educated for those times(when not so many people could read and write) he was involved with the miners union. He used to say that he was too young for the first Boer War and too old for the first World War (as well as being disabled due to his eye) He lived until he was 97 years old living first in Wylam and later in Heddon-on-the-Wall.
When I was young he used to tell me stories. One tale was about how they used to have to cross Wylam Bridge to go to work, in those days it was a toll bridge. Apparently when they used to work shifts and had to cross at night they used to take off their boots so they could sneak past the toll house and avoid paying the toll but when they used to be returning from work in daylight the woman who used to keep the tollhouse then tried to charge them double. One chap attempted to never use the bridge and used to take of his boots and socks and plodge across the river.
Another of his tales was about as a youth, taking a ride on a Penny Farthing bicycle but being unable to reach the brakes and having to ride straight across the bridge (which was still under reconstruction) .
There are also stories of when he was a young man in Heddon, he used to play the ‘squeeze box’ (concertina) and several of his fellows used to play various instruments as well. They used to go out ‘guising’, I’m guessing that strong drink may have been involved as on one occasion they are said to have crowned a chap(Someone who was maybe not so bright) as Mayor of Heddon, sitting him on a donkey that someone had borrowed and decking him with chains from the blacksmith before parading him through the village to musical accompaniment.
He had never suffered from rheumatism and claimed that was due to having been struck by lightning. Apparently he had returned home in the early hours one morning somewhat disheveled and his flat cap was scorched, he claimed that he had been caught in a thunder storm and had woken up some time later on the station bank in Heddon and found his cap was scorched as a nearby tree was down he believed that there had been a lightning strike which had knocked him out. However his wife used to say she always suspected that he’d been locked in some pub until late and that his cap had been scorched on the bar-room fire.