John’s was a life less ordinary
Published at 09:10, Monday, 30 April 2012
THERE was nothing out of the ordinary about John Hodgson from Fourstones.
He grew up in the village in the 1920s and 30s and quietly went about his business, like many other people.
But what is fascinating about his early life is the fact he recorded every detail of his youth in a journal.
That document has now come into the possession of the group that publishes the Stanegate Magazine which covers Newbrough Fourstones and Warden.
They were so impressed they have published John’s memories in a book simply titled One Man’s Memories.
John paints a vivid picture of his early life after arriving on the scene at Butt Bank in March 1923, tipping the scales at a lusty 10lbs.
Among his earliest memories is seeing his father at the end of a rope; he was not on the gallows, but being lowered down a quarry face to hack coal from a narrow seam and pop it into the bag round his waist.
John is convinced that this was during the General Strike of 1926 when coal was hard to come by.
The family then moved to Prudham Cottages, a cold, damp house with bare, stone flagged floors, which almost certainly contributed to the death of his elder brother, Frank, through bronchial pneumonia and pleurisy.
Although the house was very damp, the only running water came down the walls; drinking water had to be carried from the well, a round trip of 700 yards.
Rainwater, gathered in large wooden barrels set beneath the roof guttering, was used for personal hygiene and washing clothes.
John tells of his miner father’s daily scrub in the tin bath in front of the fire and the common belief among pitmen that washing the back weakened it!
His mother knitting dad’s socks on four needles, as well as making stobby mats, also features.
Then it’s on to Newbrough Church of England Primary School, where his scrawny physique led to the prescription of a pint a milk per day at the education authority’s expense from Newbrough Farm.
There was also a rhyme about the teacher which went:
Jimmy Gloag is a very hard man, he goes to church on Sundays, He prays to God to give him strength to bray us lads on Mondays.
John tells of collecting empty beer bottles, to be returned to the Red Lion pub for a penny a time to the spent in John Willie’s shop across the road.
Other characters included Alan Aitchison of the Post Office, who was always immaculately dressed, with grey spats over his highly polished shoes and a Homburg hat.
In pre-Tesco days, John also recalls the number of traders who used to come door-to-door, including a man who cycled all the way from Prudhoe to sell yeast for baking.
There was also “Ha’penny Hettie” who made periodic visits to sell “rubby stone” which was used by proud housewives to produce a nice pattern on their freshly donkey-stoned steps.
Then there were the tramps like Brampton Johnny, with his Harry Lauder impersonations, and bullock wallopers Big Sam and Little Will.
There is much more fascinating detail of life in Newbrough and Warden, before John’s story continues with his wartime service in the RAF as a Spitfire pilot
His experiences included being shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Italy and parachuting to safety.
John’s personal experiences end abruptly at this point, but his life story is completed by his widow, Margaret.
They met at a dance in Newbrough, and were married in 1949.
He was working at Acomb Colliery, and they lived with her parents at Carrawbrough on the Roman Wall.
A minor claim to fame is that he was involved in the discovery of the Mithraic temple at Brocolitia – he kicked a piece of turf, and uncovered the top of the central pillar.
John worked briefly at Bardon Mill Colliery and then at a short-lived private pit at Midgeholme, which involved moving to Halton Lea Gate.
However, in 1965, he and Margaret, together with their five children, upped sticks and emigrated to Australia.
There John worked in the gold mines of Kalgoorlie outside Perth, but after four years, took an office job after contracting pneumonia.
He retired in 1984 and only paid a 10-month visit back to Fourstones before his death in Australia in 2004.
One Man’s Memories is available from Fourstones Garage, and Cogito Books in Hexham priced at £4.50.
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk