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Paper Sticks: A Childhood in Byker in the 1960s

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

In his own words, Brian Thompson relives his experience growing up in the midst of a changing Byker - a time when Tyneside flats and the rag and bone men of old faded for redevelopment.


I was born in Byker in November 1960, and my brother Lance was born July 1957, to Eden and Margaret Thompson, we were both christened at St Michael’s Church. We lived, until 1965, in a Victorian ‘Tyneside flat’ on Shipley Street which was built around 1870. In 1965 we moved to Molineux Court on Heaton Park Road, as Byker Redevelopment got underway.

My memories of my first 5 years of life are fragmentary to say the least. We lived in a first floor flat of Shipley Street, just down from Shipley Baths. Our landlord was Tony Jegier, a Polish immigrant. His family, which also consisted of two sons Anthony and David, lived on the ground floor. We had, as many will have, an outside toilet in the back yard alongside the coal bunker at the bottom of the stone back steps.

Byker was a very friendly community, everyone was helpful, and although no one had much people shared. I remember the rag and bone man coming down the back lane with his horse and cart, and if you had anything to give him the children would receive a balloon. I also remember loving the arrival of the coal men; they would heave sacks of coal off the back of their lorry and empty them into the bunker.

Everyone at the time had a coal fire, and dad would empty a bucket of coal into the fire, and then make sticks out of sheets of newspaper, probably the Daily Mirror – dad was a life long socialist and Labour supporter. I used to watch fascinated as he made these paper sticks, carefully folding them over and over like pieces of origami that in a few moments would be gone, putting them between the coals, lighting them, and then holding a double sheet of newspaper in front to bleeze the fire.

We had five pets in our time in Shipley Street. A goldfish, we won at the Hoppings on the Town-Moor, which lived in its bowl on the side of the kitchen sink; two white mice we called Pixie and Dixie, named after the television cartoon, which we were allowed to let run around the living room; and a tortoise. We didn’t know tortoise’s hibernated, and after it went missing for a few days, we found it hibernating under a wardrobe. We also had an Alsatian puppy we called Sparky, named after our favourite comic. We only had Sparky for a few months, as we moved into Molineux Court; dogs were not allowed, so dad had to find a new home for him.

Children in the back lane of Shipley Street. Courtesy of Brian Thompson.

Everything seemed to happen in the back lane of Shipley Street [pictured]. All kids have accidents and scrapes, none more so than Anthony Jegier. On one occasion he cycled down the back lane and straight onto Brinkburn Street and got hit by a car. Another occasion we were exploring a derelict off-licence at the bottom of Shipley Street and Anthony fell through the floor into the cellar. My brother had a three wheeler bike, which was passed onto me, and I, apparently, used to go haring down the back lane pavement, turning at Brinkburn Street.

We used to go once a week to Byker Library on Brinkburn Street. One teacher I will never forget was Mr McMahon, a jolly, rotund, teacher who used to play the accordion at school assembly.

The houses on the other side of Shipley Street back lane began to empty and fall into dereliction as residents moved out to be re-housed, as we were in 1965 and moved into Molineux Court, one of the new, cheaply constructed tower blocks built as part of the regeneration plan for Newcastle. After we moved to Molineux Court I remember walking through the gradually disappearing houses to get to school and playing in the rubble, throwing bricks with my mates, trying to hit the last piece of glass in a window, keeping a look out for a Headlam Street bobby.


Brian has kindly shared this piece which can also be found on his website, Here, you can see Brian's research into his family as well as the Byker area.


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