We had our first Border Voices workshop on 7th June led by Steve Thompson. What an amazing, fun session, reminding me of the importance of social history, especially oral history, It so vitally important to record and preserve memories of what life was like in the past as often this personal information is missing from written sources or traditional history and could be lost forever.
photo: David Harrington
Before we started the workshop Rob Nichols, local historian, gave us some insights into Middlesbrough's pre-industrial history, going as far back as Anglo-Saxon times. and telling us about the archaeological digs which had taken place. It was fascinating to hear about finding the remnants of medieval houses near Sussex Street, the monastery buildings and their links with Whitby Abbey and St. Hilda and the ancient cemetery in North Street. There were so many things I didn't know about and you could tell the whole group were really enthusiastic about all they had heard.
As Steve began the memory sessions at first some of the group were a bit shy and reluctant to tell their stories, but with encouragement from Steve they soon got going and the memories spilled out. We heard about the slipper baths on Dacre Street, which many people used as their own homes didn't have a bathroom or ready access to hot water. These cost 3d, quite an outlay for the time, but provided some luxury homes couldn't as many families had to rely on a tin bath in front of the fire.
Another person told us about living in a pub, the King William IV, or King Billy as it was better known, where her mother and father were the landlords. Her grandmother would come in for a gill of beer when she had the money. The great thing was that as this lady began to share her story more memories came flooding back and she expanded on her early life in St Hilda's providing a lot more insights into what life was like in the community.
Others continued with memories of children playing in the bombed houses from World War II and using what they found in their games. The children played for hours and had a wonderful, if risky, time. They included remembering the singer, Alvin Stardust, coming to the school to teach the Green Cross Safety Code, others in the group nodding that they too remembered this. Now the storyteller was really into it recalling the Catholic Cathedral and the annual Corpus Christi processions which began there.
One memory sparked another and by the end of the session all the group began to join in with memories of their schooling and childhood; they just didn't want to stop and were all so animated and engaged.
I can't wait for the next session on Wednesday 14th June 12 pm to 2 pm at the Custom House, Middlesbrough for more memory sharing.
In case anyone was wondering about the usefulness and reliability of oral history it is a recognised and valuable means of information gathering, but, as with any form of research, it is important to check the information and use a range of information sources to support and corroborate findings.
Below is a preview of one of the stories