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Ellis Jervis: Memories of West Hartlepool


The following are the early memories of Mr. Ellis Jervis, mechanical engineer, latterly of the Atlantica Bay Hotel, Limassol, Cyprus, and formerly of West Hartlepool.  They refer primarily to the 1930s and Mr. Jervis writes that his Christian name was taken from his great grandfather, father and uncle.  He did not, however, adopt “Burt” until the age of ten or eleven – being fed up with the nickname “Alice!”

“Woodbine House, No. 2 Lucan Street, West Hartlepool, was the site of my earliest memory.  I must have been about three years old, confirmed by my Aunty Byna’s funeral sticking in my mind.  . . . I recently confirmed that I could go straight to her grave in Hartlepool Old Cemetery, but this is probably by going later with mother to place flowers.  Cousin Lily [Robinson, formerly Oliver and nee Jervis] said that she was born in the house [c. 1932]; that noisy baby I remember crying must have been Lily.

“My grandfather Andrew Tait owned the corner block, his house faced onto York Road, No. 82, while our house faced sideways into Lucan Street.  Uncle Bill [Jervis] and Aunty Lily [nee Birkbeck, grand-daughter of Joseph and Mary Jane Almond] lived with us.  Later, I realised it must have been rent free.  When we all moved out, the reason was because grandad needed the rent.  He had an ironmongers shop in the Market Hall and spent most of his spare time maintaining the property.

“Uncle Bill and Aunty Lily lived on the middle floor and our bedrooms were in the attic.  Downstairs there was a large kitchen and a large living room, dad with his brother had a punch ball strung up from floor to ceiling in the bay window for boxing practice.  The dining room was full of motor bikes and parts.  I recall mother saying that on her first visit to dad’s home they were repairing a motor bike engine on the kitchen table.  There was a large cellar, very black, and I was too frightened to go down there.

  “Before proceeding further I feel I must fill in the background to enable readers to appreciate memories and events. . . . paternal side first.  “Staffordshire” Joe Bates returned from Sydney, Australia, in 1896 with his three daughters, Alice, Jessica (Jessie) and Flo.  I think he had been a mining engineer on the Broken Hill site.  He returned to Staffordshire (Burslem?).  Jessie married Ellis Jervis, son of the licensee of the White Swan.  Joe next appears to be working for Dorman-Long, Middlesbrough, on the Sydney Harbour Bridge contract. . . .

“Presumably because her father had moved to the North-East, Jessie and Ellis moved to Blackhall where Ellis was in charge of all of the pit ponies at Blackhall Colliery.  There were six streets at the colliery; their address was Fourth St.; their sons Reg, Bert, Bill, but not Ellis the cripple, all teenagers, were “down the pit.”  When Grandad Ellis died, Grandma Jessie was quick to get the lads out of the pit and moved to West Hartlepool from where all three were working for ICI Billingham.  Ellis had a green-grocery round with his own pony and a little, flat, two-wheeled cart.  No. 60 Cornwall St. is still in the family today.

“The maternal side is a little more simple.  Grandad Andrew Tait and his wife Christina came from Clydebank to West Hartlepool when he was appointed manager of the new CWS Furniture Department.  They lived in Milton Road, opposite 82 York Road, with their three children; John, Wilhelmina (“Minnie”) and Andrew.  Mother said she was five years old when they moved.  There were no other relations in the area.  Grandma Tait said that Grandad fancied 82 York Road from the day they moved into Milton Rd; it was a large, prominent house and it had a wonderful view straight up Milton Rd.

“So, we now have both parents in West Hartlepool but both years and miles apart; how did they happen to meet?  The simple answer is Sport!  With a big capital “S.” . . . mother grew up, always tops at school sports she graduated to championship swimming, from 100 yds free style to a mile or so across the bay!  Her trainer was Tommy Craggs, a name which is still well known on the Northeast Coast.

“Father and his brothers Reg and Bill were health and strength fanatics, this meant that the Engineers Club in the centre of town was the centre of their activities.  Gymnasium, weight-lifting and boxing thrived here like nowhere else, due to another trainer, Seth London.  My dad and his son were the same age and were regular sparring partners.  Jack London became British Heavyweight Champion.

“Trainers in a small town were great friends and in the centre of social activities for the athletes and swimmers, so that’s how mum and dad were brought together.  In the course of events they married and went to live in Stockton-on-Tees with Aunt Alice who was on her own and had room for them.  Later, after I was born, they came back to Lucan St.  Uncle Bill married his fiancée Lily and they moved in with us.

“My father must have been amongst the earliest victims of the Depression.  While both of his brothers were on production jobs he was on security.  Some clever manager worked out that if they increased the length of shifts without paying more money, then there would be some surplus men who could be dismissed.  Dad was not only the youngest but also last in.  So, first out!

“There was no way that the family could exist on 26s per week dole money, even living rent-free in Grandad’s house.  Dad was aged 22, extremely fit and a quite competent mechanic who was not frightened of work.  He attached a bicycle side-car chassis to his sit-up-and-beg bicycle.  On to this he built a large crate which could accommodate three milk churns.  With this equipment he was in business!  Twice a day he rode up round three farms in the Crimdon Dene area and took their milk churns down to a dairy in old Hartlepool.  This did not occupy him full time, so after the morning run, down to the Fish Quay in Hartlepool Docks, [he would] load up with fresh herrings or cod and either deliver cod to fish and chip shops or up into the villages like Elwick or Dalton Piercy to sell herrings direct to the villagers.  On the way back [he would] pick up the milk churns plus pick a few mushrooms for breakfast! . . . he made enough to buy a second-hand BSA chisel-tank motorbike to take over the pedal power. . . . I rode pillion . . . and honked the bulb hooter to bring the villagers out.

“Lucan St was less than 90 yds long with no other houses.  Opposite were rear entrances to Park Rd.  Next to our back street were the CWS stables with all their coal delivery horses.  This was one of the largest stables with over forty horses kept there. . . . Uncle Ellis’s pony Dolly was kept in an out-house in the back-street.  It was not much bigger than a normal stall and she ate and slept in there.  During the day she was semi-loose and wandered in an out with a certain amount of fouling the area. . . . With all the horse droppings in the streets there could have been a problem of filthy streets but there was always a member of the bucket and hand shovel brigade ready to pounce and collect fertiliser for their gardens.

“My tricycle was a flat, wooden-shaped board with a pedal wheel and handlebars at the front, and a back rest and small wheels at the back.  I used to ride it along the pavement and also across the busy York Rd to get to playmates in Milton Rd.  I say busy, about one or two cars every ten minutes; there were probably more horses.  I graduated to proper tricycles, very noisy, no rubber tyres left on them.  Grandad had to hammer nails into the front wheel axle to key it to the pedals.  Dad got them from Clarkies, the scrapyard behind the Market Hall.  Harold Clarke was an old friend of dad’s, so he got them cheap.  My first two-wheeler fairy cycle cost a shilling, with tyres.  It was orange and grandma taught me to ride it.

“At this time, Summer 1933, mother was still in very serious training so a considerable amount of our time was spent in the Corporation Baths on the front at Seaton Carew.  This was her normal base and was preferred to Hartlepool because it was heated.  We went in the afternoons or early evenings . . . the general public were limited to sessions but we were privileged to come and go as and when we wished.  Mother changed me in her cubicle, then virtually forgot me as she got on with her training.  I had no conception that children were supposed to be frightened of water or that there was a deep end and a shallow end.  I could not touch the bottom at either end.  I simply dog-paddled around as I had been doing from nine months old or jumped in off the springboard!  My antics had been duly reported at fifteen months old in both the ‘Northern Daily Echo’ and the ‘News of the World.’  If I had any aim at all it was to get into the ticket office for a free bag of Smith’s Crisps.

“In due course on Gala Night, mother retained her title as Ladies Freestyle 100 yds Champion.  That meant another plaque in the line up of cups and trophies on the sideboard.  At this point mother decided to drop out of competitive swimming on the grounds that she had too much to do and could not spend enough time training.

“Summer afternoons were spent with family and friends at Seaton Carew on long, wide golden sands with white breakers coming in way above our heads.  Mother demonstrated how to dive straight through them.  It was much calmer in the deeper water out beyond the breakers.  The main occupation was digging large, round holes that everyone could sit in to have our picnic teas.  We were not right up where the shops where so we had to depend on the ice-cream trolleys that cycled along the road with the steelworks on the other side.

“We always walked down to the sands the short way.  Later we used the long way back across the fields, when “auntie” Dot Massey, mum’s school friend, moved to Four Lane Ends.  There was a spectacle on this route which was the steelworks tipping red-hot slag down the slag heap.  It seemed to be timed for late afternoon when we were on our way home.  I’m told it was much more of a spectacle at night but I never saw it – way past my bed-time.”

Burt now recounts how he was taken to Park House, a large cottage with an orchard north of Kircaldy in Scotland, by his maternal grandmother, there to visit family.  Great-grandfather John Tait was a former Station Master and his wife ran a coal-delivery business.  Burt continues:

“On our return . . . it was nearly time to start school and somebody decided it was time for me to have a proper haircut.  Until then mother had trimmed my hair with the wonderful set of Sheffield steel scissors provided by granddad from his ironmongers shop in the Market Hall.  Pringle’s the barbers was just along the back street and across Park Rd.  Grandad escorted me and told Jack Pringle “Short back and sides, please.”  Mr. Pringle put a board across the arms of the chair and plonked me on it.  In less time than it takes to tell, my golden locks were on the floor.  For this assault the charge was sixpence.  My dad said “Too dear.”  Next time I went on the milk run it was four pence in the shop next to the dairy.

“I started school along with about fifty others in Miss Pinkney’s infants’ class at Avenue Road School.  We were sat in rows, two to a desk, girls and boys all mixed up, in ‘alphabetical’ order.  That was a new word and it was one way of helping to learn these new things, reading and writing.  The first thing we learnt was to respond ‘Yes Miss Pinkney’ when she called out your name, so that she could mark the register twice a day.  We were given wooden-edged slates to write on with chalk crayons together with a wood block rubber to clear things off.  This was all very new to me.  I had all sorts of toys but not crayons or pencils.  Looking back, my poor handwriting and painting, for example, can be put down to lack of early pre-school practice with writing materials.

“Lessons were concentrated on the three Rs and we had few distractions from the job in hand.  Miss Pinkney played the piano and we sang songs and there were coloured crayons but little else, except plasticene.   Now this I did enjoy.  We had sticks of five colours which rapidly got all mixed together into a big brown ball.  Making matchstalk men, cars and the like all kept me thoroughly engrossed.  Other than this, school became very routine except for perhaps playtimes, with so many others to play with.

“Sunday mornings became an important feature of my life.  This was due to granddad taking me on his walks down through Hartlepool docks and back.  Assuming the weather was suitable I had to be ready by ten o’clock when granddad would call for me.  Quite a slow walk; we would not be back till dinnertime.  The route was always the same – down towards the docks, to the old ferry, then the breakwater, followed by St. Mary’s and bus back home.  When we passed through the docks if any of his friendly captains, as Grand Master of the Freemasons Lodge he had many friends, were tied up, we invariably went on board for a chat.  I was shown round engine and boiler rooms by the dozen.

“At the ferry there was a choice . . . the council ferry had turnstiles, pay window and red corrugated iron covers at either side.  The other was the old men’s ferry with nothing but jetties and boats rowed by the old men.  Needless to say, we used the latter.  Going along from the ferry, one of the houses on the left was another friend, this time a breeder of beautiful caged birds, as was granddad.  There were rooms full of cages.  Grandad’s were in the attic.  Next on the right, by the sea, was Hartlepool open-air swimming pool then the breakwater.  We always went to the end of the breakwater to sit on a bench where granddad peeled an orange and we fed the swooping seagulls on bread, cake or biscuits.

“The way back was past the lighthouse, up the side of the school to Mary’s Church where we caught the ‘trackless’ tram or, in modern parlance, trolley bus.  This dropped us at the Police Station from where we walked the short distance home for dinner.  Later, when I was seven or eight years old, these walks became trips.  Middlesbrough, to climb up to the top span of the Transporter Bridge, Blackhall Colliery, to go out under the sea to hear the waves breaking on the shore above us.  Cameron’s Brewery, feeding their prize dray horses in the newest stable in the area.  The steelworks, dodging hot metal on the mill table.

“I am certain that under modern Health & Safety rules none of my trips for a person of my age would be allowed but then as now Freemasonry meant virtually free access to anywhere.  I suspect it was probably against all rules at the time.

“It would be in the first term of second year at infant school when, all of a sudden, a new bicycle appeared.  I had not asked for one but it was there.  Furthermore, it had not come from Clarkies the scrap yard.  It was second-hand, but new.  A proper junior bicycle, blown-up tyres, all adjustable bits and pieces etc.  It turned out to be a repossession from Halfords (?) which of course granddad had got cheap.  Needless to say, I was delighted.  There turned out to be a reason – we were moving!  I would need the bike to stay in the same school, cycle to grandma’s, park the bike in the hall and walk to school.

“Dad’s new job was a driver, handy-man and gardener at Pangbourne House, which was right up on the corner by the entrance to Ward Jackson Park. . . . It was not completely full time so he could still do the milk runs.  Our new bungalow was behind the house up past the rear entrances to the houses, to an enormous two storey garage.  There was a paddock along one side of which was a cold glass-house absolutely full of roses. . . .

“It was a long way down to the baths but I used to cycle down there on Tuesday nights for club night.  Old Sam the boiler-man explained how the system worked, sea water was drawn in, heated and pumped into the bath, the overflow went back to the sea.  Although dad had a good sideline selling roses to the flower shops the job did not last long.  He simply hated gardening.  We moved!!

“Our new address was Furness St. near the Old Cemetery.  It was nothing to talk about but dad was happier.  He drew his dole money and was back to his full range of spare time jobs.  I still had to cycle to get to Avenue Rd. School.”

“Nobody particularly liked Furness St. So we soon moved to 23 Penzance St., which just happened to be across the back street behind Avenue Rd. School.  I was now about twenty yards from school.  Also, I think uncle Bill and aunty Lily were there. . . .”

Burt is correct.  A local Trade Directory for 1935-36 shows that W. S. Jervis, a chemical worker, lived at No. 18 Penzance Street.  Burt has written that he remembers Bill and Lil’s daughter, Lily, running behind his bike in her heavily studded shoes and how people commented on the noise she made and that he should get off his bike and walk with her!  W. S. (“Bill”) Jervis later became a town councillor, an Alderman of West Hartlepool, a magistrate and Northern Regional Chairman of the “Mencap” charity.   Also resident in Penzance Street at that time, at No. 21, were Walter Ross and his wife, Isabella, with their three children.  Isabella’s maiden name was Almond and Burt’s aunt, Mrs Lily Jervis (nee Birkbeck), was her niece.  Isabella’s daughter, Cathie Wilson (nee Ross) remembers little Burt.  Cathie’s husband, Jim Wilson, was Project Engineer during the restoration of HMS ‘Warrior’ at Hartlepool and was pleased to show Burt Jervis round the ship.

Burt describes how the family acquired a dog, Jess, that his father rescued from “disposal” at the Council incinerator where he’d been dumping rubbish.  He writes that Jess rode in his father’s side-car but on one occasion, walking home from the sands at Seaton around five o’clock, Burt and Jess “crossed the fields behind the steelworks and were just up to the tunnel under the railway embankment, when an engine driver started hooting his whistle at us, saying hello.”  Jess ran off, but returned about 8.30 pm, safe and sound, having made “her own way back through a maze of criss-crossing streets and traffic.”

Continuing his account concerning Penzance Street, Burt writes that:  “Diagonally across the street was Lawson’s, the corner shop; only small, but it had everything, sweets, groceries, beer, fire-lighting sticks – just about anything you could imagine.  Mr. Lawson was the delivery driver for the brewery so there was always plenty of lemonade.  I used to spend ages staring into the shop window at the display of sweets.  There was another shop at the other end but they had nothing like Lawson’s.”

Burt explains that his father was doing quite well in business, buying a small car and then a larger Morris Oxford, big enough to carry three or four milk churns.

“Mother was only trying to learn to drive but one morning she drove off unaccompanied to do dad’s milk round when he was ill.

“With dad one day, we were shown round an allotment backing onto Grange Rd.  I was fascinated with the rabbits in cages. . . . Within a few days dad had taken it over.  The fence onto the road was knocked down and turned into a gate at pavement level, a ramp was dug down to the gate, some sort of hardcore was strewn about and lo and behold, we now had an open garage area for cars.  The shed became a workshop, the rabbit cages were for tools etc., and dad was in the car and motorbike repair business ably assisted by uncle Ellis and, in his spare time, by uncle Bill.  Over about twelve months the garage seemed to be filled up with allsorts.  I learnt to drive the Morris . . . up and down by myself.

“On one occasion there were break-ins to steal car parts, so two dogs were engaged as guard dogs, Gyp and Bruce [the latter and Airedale belonging to Bill Jervis; both were mean; the family dog, Jess, slept in the car].

“Penzance St. was certainly a very happy period of my life, with so many people and events combining one after the other.  A new playmate came into No. 27, Billy Painter.  His dad was Herman, gleefully referred to by one and all as ‘Herman the German.’ . . . He ran a greengrocery cart and supplied it from a market garden up at Elwick.  Billy and I used to go on the cart up to Elwick for Herman to work on the garden.  Dixie the pony was taken out of the cart to pull the plough.  Talking of pony treks, Dolly, uncle Ellis’s pony, with dad, once went round through Middlesbrough to Redcar and returned pulling a motorcycle combo, probably sixty miles in the long day.

“Dad’s activities now included running a taxi service at night for a dance band with a large covered trailer for their instruments.  There was a short period of ownership of the fish and chip shop shed at Graythorpe, not a success, the shed finished up in Grange Rd. as a garage.  I think dad acquired it as payment for an outstanding debt for fish deliveries.  Dad’s motorcycle repair work made me the envy of my friends.  When Frankie Vincenzo’s Italian ice-cream motorbike and side-cars came round, I got large ice-creams free!  Dad maintained the bikes and all the drivers knew me!

“I had changed schools and now attended Elwick Rd. Junior Boys Class, class one Mr. Bell.  He played a very boring march tune, the same one every day, as we marched into Assembly for Morning Prayers.  I arrived back home one day to be told to keep my posh new uniform on as we were going out.  We were going to a party.  Mum’s younger brother, uncle Andy, was getting engaged.  Arriving at grandad’s, I met the new arrival in the family circle, full name Constance Cranstoun, but then and forever Con.  Then came the big shock.  She knew everything about me, down to the last little detail.  Uncle Andy must have told her – no, she was a teacher at Osbourne Rd. School and her colleague at University had been no other than Miss Pinkney. . . . Uncle Andy had met aunty Con, to be, in London when he was docked there.  Cranstouns were solicitors to the Furness Shipping Co. so they were well known in Hartlepool – bit of name dropping.

“Early in 1938 dad went down to a place called Birmingham.  One of my friends at school had heard of it.  He said there was a street called Broad Street.  Uncle Reg had got him a job at  ‘the Rover’ [car plant].  Before leaving, dad had raided grandad’s shop for 0-1” mike or micrometre.  He was supposed to be able to use it in his new job as an Inspector and he had never even seen one before.  He spent a night learning what it was for and how to use it.  Grandad’s shop was not just a hardware or ironmonger’s shop.  He carried most hand-tools needed by boilermakers and engineers.

“On a Wednesday, it must have been in May, mum received a telegram ‘Move out on Saturday.’  It must have been prearranged.  Dad arrived very late on Friday night, and we set off for Birmingham on Saturday morning, dog and all.  No time for good-byes – just get on with it.  Grandad had the house key and he later had a railway container loaded and sent the furniture on to us.  We had a breakdown, a puncture, I think, near Northallerton and arrived, in the dark, at No. 1 Brook Lane, Olton, Birmingham.”     

We have been notified by the daughter of Ellis Jervis that he sadly passed away on 9th August, 2016. He was 86 years old.                 


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