Harold Stock was born in 1920 and died in March 2002. A few years ago, he wrote an extensive history of his formative years. The extracts produced here relate to his growing up in Middlesbrough through to the mid 1930s. We are grateful to Paul Stock for allowing us to put these extracts on to our website.
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Some children were inadequately dressed in winter, and my memory, is of quite a number of cold winters with deep snow lying white, for several weeks at a time, when I went to school sliding and running all the way, but the snow did not stop all the kids having snow fights and pelting teacher when he or she came into the school yard to blow the whistle to go back into class, after the break.
I liked my teachers, even those who were strong and skilled in inflicting pain with the cane. There was one teacher in particular who had two canes, a fat one which he called 'big daddy' and a thin one called 'little daddy', which were chosen carefully in accordance with the seriousness of the offence. He used the cane without venom or rancour, always explaining the sin to the class. We all hated the cane but I swear that we all loved Daddy Waites, the teacher, and many boys visited him at his home in Devonshire Road Middlesbrough long after they had left the school. We had a secret antidote for the cane which did not work, but we still believed in it. The secret was to get one or two strands of hair from a horse's tail and lay the strands on the outstretched palm of the hand. Another trick was to pull the hand away as the cane came down. However that only postponed the punishment and it was better to take punishment like a man and get it over with. A good dose of caning today would deter and possible cure some of the nations juvenile pests who joyfully inflict physical pain on others, well knowing that retribution will never come their way, that no one in authority dare chastise, or even lay a finger on their precious bodies.
Middlesbrough had a magnificent tram system. The trams made such a noise that people used to say that the trams had square wheels. The tram sheds, where all the trams went at the end of the day, were situated at the Newport end of Parliament Road after the junction with Union Street and Longford Street. I am sure that the old sheds are still there, and from time to time as the road surfaces get worn down, the old iron tram lines become visible, the burial having been very shallow. At the other end of Parliament Road at its junction with Linthorpe Road which I passed four times a day, the tram lines diverged. One set curved to the right and went all the way up Linthorpe Road, through the 'village' of Lirithorpe, along the Avenue for a little way, then curving slightly to the right along The Crescent right to the junction of Roman Road and Oxford Road which was the terminus. If my memory serves me right, the tram did not turn round. The driver just disconnected his starting/stopping/steering/handle, walked to the back of the tram, fixed his handle and the back became the front.
The driver or the conductor/ticket seller also had to take a long bamboo pole from the side of the tram and use it to unhitch the connecting mast from the overhead electric power cable, pivot it around and refix it to the overhead cable so that the connecting mast sloped backwards again.
The other route out of Parliament Road was to the left along Linthorpe Road into and towards the town centre. At Grange Road the tram route turned right and about one hundred yards later it turned left into Albert Road and continued northwards past the magnificent Town Hall and onwards to the railway station (note: not British Rail, which people apparently love to hate, but one of its constituent predecessors, the London and North Eastern Railway Company Railway station).
Without any certainty I feel sure that the tram continued carefully under the Albert Railway bridge, up a gradient and onwards to its terminus at the River Tees, which though very wide at that point is still to this day spanned by the great landmark of Middlesbrough, that monument to the skill and ingenuity of its engineers and steelworkers, the Transporter Bridge. It is not only a monument, though as such it means as much to Middlesbrough as does the Eiffel Tower to Paris or the Tower Ballroom does to Blackpool. The bridge still works and transports foot passengers and motor cars from Middlesbrough on the South Bank and Port Clarence on the North Bank. Rather than coming back to this point later on I will stay with the transporter and recount some of my memories associated with it.
In the twenties it was quite safe for children to wander the streets alone to explore the whole town, discover where roads and street led to. Both my sister Blanche and I were great explorers, though we each went our own separate ways most of the time. Very early in life I stood and gazed at the transporter bridge and watched the platform, suspended from the huge high superstructure, move on pulleys from one side of the river to the other and back again with an endless stream of travellers and vehicles. Middlesbrough was a great iron and steel town with blast furnaces and foundries stretching for miles on both sides of the river. There was a boat ferry service for those who preferred to cross at water level, and there were interesting small boats to watch. The river police had a very fast boat that could throw up spray at speed and the Crosthwaite shipping line supplied all the pilot's boats. Big ships and tall ships could come up the river as far as the Transporter and beyond. There were berths for ships at Newport . The bridge at Newport is five miles higher up the river from the Transporter, and high masted sailing ships - 'tea clippers' - could navigate right up to Stockton on Tees, or at least to Thornaby. The reason for the Transporter being built so high was to permit sailing ships to easily pass under it at high tide. Every ship had to have a pilot locally based who went out to meet the ship at the Tees estuary and went on board to take charge of the navigation up the river, whilst the tug-boats would have lines thrown down to them and two or more tugs would take a big ship up to its berth, so there was always interesting activity to watch.
In winter time and spring time and right up to most of summer time, the river was and is a very cold place. The winds from the North East blow from Northern Scandinavia and beyond right up the river. I never particularly felt the cold because my father was a tailor and fortunately he could keep us warmly clothed and well fed on egg and chips and rice pudding which was my favourite diet. However in my mind’s eye I picture to this day seeing daily, every time I was down at the river, at about four o'clock in the afternoon especially, crowds of barefoot children of my age and younger and older clothed in raggy shirts and cut-down men’s pants begging for food. Why at four in the afternoon and after? Because they crowded around the comparatively few men in the iron and steel works who had work to go to, and at that time they would be returning from their work to the Middlesbrough side, having just finished the day shift of 8 am. to 4 pm. Their cries were " HAVE YOU A CRUST LEFT IN YOUR BAIT TIN MISTER?' You have seen the posters for the theatrical performance Les Miserables; well the children I saw were not as well dressed. You have seen on television or on the streets of our cities today beggars and people stretched out on the pavement. Well, they are comparatively rich, with endless opportunities to improve themselves. but for the kids of my childhood there was no apparent future. No one in the country today knows what poverty really is and means, but we are still a nation of complainants.