memories of John Clay Street
But it's true that so many of the areas that I loved when I was growing up have been swept away. I never visit Shields without kicking myself for not taking pictures of the old streets before they were destroyed.
And I often walk down them, in my imagination.
One of my favourites was John Clay Street - there was nothing special about it, but somehow, it always seemed to have such a nice atmosphere about it.
I lived on the other side of Dean Road, so I often had to go down it if I was walking into town. Marsden Street would have been just as convenient a route, but I seldom chose it, because it was so featureless compared with its companion - maybe just two shops - whereas John Clay Street seemed so much more interesting.
Walking down from Dean Road, it began with a baker's shop on the left-hand side (lovely bread), then terraced flats with tiny little garden areas in front of them, and walls about a foot high, with the stumps of railings that had been removed during the war. Then Maxwell Hall, with windows under street level (I sometimes wondered how dark those rooms must be). I always thought Maxwell hall looked so incongruous, shoe-horned into a terrace rather than standing on its own. Then another baker's on the corner - it was my job to go and get cakes there when my family felt like a treat for tea.
Then came some waste ground, with a pillar-box on the corner (never did find out what had stood there originally), then the one and only factory in the street, Mary Harris Gowns. I often remember hearing the machines going on hot Summer afternoons, and whenever Coronation Street featured Mike Baldwin's clothing factory, I'd always think 'I bet it's about the same size operation that Mary Harris gowns was'.
After that, if I remember rightly, it was all shops on the right-hand side, all the way down to Chichester Road, with quite a few shops on the left as well. I think it was the quaintness of the shops that gave the street most of its odd charm. One shop on the right was a grocer's, and further down there was a chippy (best fish and chips I've ever tasted), but mostly it seemed to be little shops that sold nothing in particular - shops that made you think 'how on Earth does it manage to stay in business?' I remember one that had a shabby, fly-blown window display of toys and other odds and ends - I'd never go past it without looking in the window and wondering why anyone would ever want to go inside.
Towards the bottom, side-streets would get shorter and shorter as they had to accommodate the curve of Chichester Road - I remember Harold Street, that I'd have to visit to take money to our coal-man, which seemed to have only a dozen or so houses in it.
There was one feature about John Clay Street that I've never seen anywhere else, and that was the street lights. Instead of a bulb, each one had a set of fluorescent tubes set in a structure that looked a bit like an electric fire. The lovely pink glow they gave is one of the things I remember best of all.