South Shields Local History Group

Under Construction

Ford, Jim

James (Jim) Ford was born on December 17th 1919 at 84 Egerton Road, he later lived in Stanhope Road (Cobblestones).  His father also called James a coal miner had been badly wounded during World War One so was never able to work after the war, so the Means Test, Guardians and pawn shop were part of daily life (Back to Back, Past).  At the start of the World War Two he was on “Reserved Occupation” working at Vickers at Newcastle (Fifteen Shop, Tyne Dock Station).  Near the end of the war he enlisted in the army (R. I. P. John Willy). In the 1970s when unemployment was high he moved to Wales (Surplus to Requirements) where he was honoured by winning the “Funniest Poet in Wales Award” in 1995 (Goodbye George).

On barbed wire clothes lines, hanging out to die,
Warrior descendants of the Iceni,
Their dripping blood stained khaki, discolouring the land
As they fought for reasons they didn’t understand,
But all of them were special, for they carried in their packs
The spirit of a people, from the houses back to back.

Hunger was the enemy in the strike of ‘twenty six’,
Brought on by selfish men and dirty politics,
This was no industrial dispute, it was more like civil war,
The upper class betrayed them, but they were solid to the core,
Most of them were starving, but what they didn’t lack
Was the spirit of a people, from the houses back to back.

Then came the savage ‘forties’ and with them genocide,
Death came from the heavens but they took it in their stride,
Houses fell like matchwood, and with them families too
But a Nation was united and they saw it through,
For they had a special weapon that withstood each attack,
The spirit of a people, from the houses back to back.

Now the mines are closed, colliers on the dole,
They don’t want their labour, they don’t want the coal,
Shutting down the factories, redundancy the cry,
Draw a thick red line on a Curriculum Vitae,
They may pay them off in thousands, but they could never sack,
The spirit of a people, from the houses back to back.


Steel shod shoes striking sparks, from cobblestones, that shone
Like diamonds in the gaslamp’s yellow glow,
Cloth cap miners dragging deep on that final cigarette,
On their way to mine the savage coal below.

The clattering wheels of handcarts, the old man with balloons,
In his daily search for rags and bones,
The old lady selling fish, the lad with firewood,
A rumbling tattoo on those cobblestones.

Grim faced women in aprons, scrubbing front door steps,
Or waging war on well worn home made rugs,
The milk man with his placid horse, going from door to door,
Measuring milk, into willow patterned jugs.

That cobbled street, our playground, where we spent many hours,
Playing football with old rags tied with string,
Skipping ropes and iron hoops, tops and marbles too,
And the lampost from which we used to swing.

They put straw down on the street when anyone was ill,
Then when the blinds were drawn in all their rooms,
We would peep from our windows, at the man in the top hat,
The glass carriage, and black horses wearing plumes.

Those houses back to back, with the tin baths on the wall,
Coal dust speckled clothes on backyard lines,
Smoke thick and black, from weathered chimney stacks,
Faded snapshots from the camera of my mind.

They demolished all the houses, the cobbles have gone too,
Just memories left of where I used to play,
The planners call it progress, those Town Improvement men,
But you can’t play football on a motorway.

A cavernous machine shop where I served my time
An apprentice engineer wallowing in grime,
Where cloth capped craftsmen with creative skill
Built weapons of destruction, all designed to kill.
Welders; Fitters; Turners; Millwrights; Grinders; Smiths,
Massive machinery, like metal monoliths,
Reciprocating, sliding, lathe chucks spinning round,
Harmonic in their movement, discordant in their sound,
A hive of industry with countless worker bees
Producing deadly honey to bring an enemy to its knees.
Naval guns and field guns, armoured cars and tanks
Lined up symmetrically in even evil ranks.
Weapons they call conventional, was the killing conventional too,
What should we call the killing using weapons that are new
Just a finger on a button and thousands are cremated,
Put it down to progress, call it killing…Atomated.

Black-faced, white-eyed, from the pit, miners, going home to sit
By the fire in baths of tin, with battered knees tucked under chins,
As caring wives scrubbing backs, watch the water turning black.
Early morning at the gates, dockers standing with their mates,
Apprehensive, in a queue, will they join the chosen few,
Those lucky ones who get the nod, as the foreman stands, there playing God.
With carbolic soap and wooden tub, tired women stand and scrub,
Worn clothes on lines hanging slack, between the houses, back to back,
Best flat caps, knotted scarves, smoking woodbines, drinking halves,
Saturday night out, politics, and getting drunk on one and six.
Barefooted children walk to school, the cane for those who break the rules,
While caped policemen on the beat, from every child in every street
Command respect without fear, with gentle clip across the ear.
Pregnant housewives when in labour, call for midwife, next door neighbour.
Cobbled streets, cobbled shoes, terraced houses, outside loos,
Cats whisker crystal sets, bookies runners taking bets,
Music halls with novel turns, selling milk from metal churns,
Black leaded stoves, coal fires, delivery vans with solid tyres,
Charabancs, Sunday trips, tuppence buys the fish and chips,
Lamp lighters, clanging trams, boys on bikes with telegrams.
Means Test, Poor Law, bailiffs knocking down the door.
Bitter strikes, lock outs, Workhouse full of down and outs,
Smallpox, typhoid, T.B., rickets, the Monday morning pawn tickets
Of paupers pledging precious chattels, constant hardship, constant battles
In an everlasting war, keeping wolf away from the door.

John Willy Jones was unemployed
When he scaled a colliery wall,
Filled a little sack with coal
But they caught him with his haul.
It was in the nineteen thirties
When John Willy came to grief,
At the tender age of seventeen
They branded him a thief.
The local squire sat on the bench,
A Magistrate, who thought
The quality of mercy
Most unwelcome in his court.
“You must understand, “ he said,
That crime no longer pays
You will either join the army
Or go to jail for thirty days.”
So John Willy chose the army
In a frightened boyish voice,
For that young first offender
It was surely ‘Hobson’s Choice’.
And so the months went passing by
A Country went to war,
Fusilier John Willy Jones
Was killed on a Dunkirk shore.
I wonder how that J.P. felt,
Was it with a sense of dread
He read in the local paper
That John Willy Jones was dead?
Now he’s on a roll of honour,
His name upon a scroll,
But did he die for King and Country,
Or did he die for stealing coal?

Without pity or compassion they gave him an award,
The “Freedom of the Streets, “ an iniquitous reward,
There was no alternative so he could not respond
For they’d put him on the pathway to the “Slough of Despond.”
Embittered, disillusioned, inconsolable, in despair,
Redundancy’s a dirty word, does anybody care?
Another piece of jetsam, someone null and void,
Just another unit in three million unemployed.

He’s selling his micrometers, his verniers and rules,
Disposing of his spanners, that kit of precious tools,
Forty years a fitter with eight more years to go,
Discarded….on the scrap heap…a paralysing blow,
Now he feels quite useless, no longer does he earn,
In spite of all his efforts there is no return,
At fifty seven years of age his skills can’t be deployed,
He’s just another unit in three million unemployed.

He writes letters by the dozen with very few replies,
And those who do, deflate him, with a few well chosen lies,
“Sorry, but we have your name if something should transpire, “
Just another answer which he throws onto the fire.
His lawn is mown like velvet, with borders free of weeds,
The gardening that he used to love no longer is enjoyed,
He’s just another unit in three million unemployed.

Thousands more are victims of some employer’s knife,
Luggage that’s not wanted on a voyage full of strife,
Welders, miners, builders, every type of trade,
Youngsters who have never worked and feel they’ve been betrayed,
Disgruntled, pessimistic, there is pain behind their eyes,
Stagnating in their misery, can no one hear their cries?
Frustrated and dejected, of hope they are devoid,
Unacceptable statistics of three million unemployed.

Platforms wet, reflected gaslight
Yellow bright in iron frames,
Bars of chocolate for a penny,
Slot machines that stamped out names.
“Putteed Squaddies” in drab khaki
Loaded down with heavy packs,
Bound for Aldershot or Catterick,
Goods and chattels on their backs.
Woodbine coughing cloth capped craftsmen,
Waiting rooms with wooden floors,
In the days of forelock touching
Sign of rank upon the doors.
Victorian caste marks signifying
First class, second class and third,
The Upper crust, the middle clique,
Third class for the common herd.
Trolleys full of metal milk churns
Shining in the morning rain,
Milk intended for the city,
Waiting for the early train.
Hudson’s Soap, Prices Candles,
Friars Balsam, Pears Shampoo,
On brightly coloured metal posters
Painted vivid red or blue.
Hissing, snorting, iron monsters,
In livery of brown or green,
At a time when locomotives
Chewed on coal and spat out steam.
Sweating firemen, faces glowing
In the fires fierce glare,
As they fed those hungry Titans
Smell of sulphur in the air.
Gone, all gone now, those old stations,
The days of steam that won’t come back,
Nothing left except nostalgia
Shunted in, on memories track.

“We know why George gave up the ghost, “The doctor said, “He smoked
Sixty cigarettes every day, that is why he croaked.”
His wife Jemima, sadly, said, “He wished to be cremated.
We thought he’d had his final smoke, but we underestimated.”
George smoked a lot in his short life, he was only eighty four,
But at the crematorium, he will smoke once more.
“It’s too bad I’ve no insurance, ” Jemima softly sighed,
“Poor old George left nothing, before he coughed and died.
Oh, but just a moment! there’s something I forgot,
He left a million cigarette coupons, they should be worth a lot.”
“I’m sorry I can’t take them, “the undertaker said,
“Our business only deals in black, we’d soon be in the red
If we accepted coupons, then I am afraid
The undertaking business would become a dying trade.”
Then he said, quite kindly, “I know what we can do,
Our special bargain offer may be of help to you.
I’m sorry but there’ll be no hearse to help your man depart,
But to send him on his way, we’ll use a horse and cart.”
Just to show old George respect, the cart was painted black,
And the casket on it’s little wheels was loaded on the back.
They set off up the steep incline, the distance just a mile,
The mourners following on behind, in sombre, single file.
But when only half way up the hill, a most peculiar sight
Someone whipped the tired horse, the animal took fright.
It kicked it’s legs up in the air, tilting up the cart,
That’s when the dear departed, decided to depart.
The casket slid clean off the back, with very little warning,
And scattered all the mourners, who forgot that they were mourning,
Then it shot off down the hill, with mourners in pursuit,
Jemima yelled, “Be careful George, you’re wearing your best suit.”
She had dressed him very nicely, in fact he looked a toff
In a well cut hacking jacket, to match his hacking cough.
On and on that coffin sped, going like the ‘bats,
As little children stood and stared, and old men raised their hats.
Jemima was hysterical, “George why don’t you stop?”
That’s when the errant coffin crashed into a chemists’ shop.
It came to rest at the counter, just by the chemist’s side,
And with the hard collision, the lid flew open wide,
It was then they heard an unearthly voice from the box they saw him off in,
“What can you give me please, “it said, “To stop this awful coffin?”

Jim Ford
Terry Ford

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