12 thoughts on “Norton Green c1895

  1. Can I be the only person who sees a striking similarity between this scene and “Dimanche apres-midi a l’isle de la Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, painted a decade earlier in Paris? Given where we all grew up, there is less of a need for parasols in Norton in the summer, the scenes are strikingly similar. There is a shocking realisation that Sunday afternoon, 120 years ago, whether on an island in the Seine or in what was then rural Co. Durham, was for spending time with the kids and meeting friends in a relaxing situation; not for polishing the car or going to ASDA.
    As kids growing up in the 40s and 50s, we saw Teesside as a dormitory for ICI; and that was the way things had always been. Our house was built around 1932. Yet the Dixons still ploughed the fields and grew wheat, right at the top of Roseberry Road where we lived, across to Sandy Lane and Wolviston Back Lane.
    Picture Stockton has brought forcefully home to me the impact the industrialisation of those villages around the Tees estuary has to have had; the bucolic elements of life that disappeared abruptly in the early decades of the 20th century, and the disruption and resentment this must have caused to hereditary residents of the area.

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    • Nostalgia Malcolm, it comes in many forms, a Seurat Painting could well have been done in any of the local ornamental parks or greens in the area in my time as well. Norton Green pre-war was were people met usually after Church or Chapel. Us boys and girls well scrubbed dressed in our Sunday best, told to behave properly young as we were and be respectful to our elders when they all stood passing the time as we looked around for mischief.

      Nothing else happened on Sunday apart from morning and evening Church and of course Sunday School for us kids, no Cinema’s or TV we a radio though I do not think there was anything on it before the six o clock news, so we paraded, across the green down the High Street and back. Summer nights as we lads and lasses grew a bit we would leave the elders to their perambulating whilst we took off down Mill Lane over the Willow Garth and back up Station Road to the Green, always in groups never in pairs, every Dad had a shot gun behind the back door.

      Norton was still a village with a thriving shopping area and though the last Tram ran in 1932-3 we had the 0 bus to Stockton which ran every five minutes though much less on Sunday. The bus would bring people from along its route to the Green and Show field for recreation and a few lung full’s of fresh air to relieve the soot accumulated from living in mass street houses with only coal to heat them plus the muck and dust from the many Factories in Stockton, many of them would be in clothes redeemed from the pawn shop and would be returned on the Monday.

      We saw Norton become enlarged and then a satellite of Stockton over the years, yes we were many of us ICI people but that meant we had food to eat houses to live in and clothes on our backs, the same went for all the other industrial monoliths in the area without them we would probably be living elsewhere.
      There would be many missing from that picture, the very poor of the village in a time there was no dole only hand outs from the Church funds, a time before the run up to war when many men were out of work and women did not work as a rule. I saw children come to school in rags no soles in their shoes and no food in their tummies, the time of the Mayors boots tagged so they could not be pawned by desperate parents, behind every picture there is a dark side. We were lucky being part of the picture though at the time it did seem very boring as we waited to escape to play in the fields and lanes surrounding the green.

      The run up to war meant men got work, life became easier for many and then war came and so many vanished into the forces some not to come home for five years or more some never came home. For a very few brief years after the war the Green became a meeting place then Cinema’s opened on Sundays, TV and other venues came to occupy us and so the once social green became one huge car park as it is today, I sit and watch the odd dog walker, a Mother and child and remember the Green full of children playing, our fabulous cricket games and every thing in season from football to top and whip also the total innocence of those times, for us the lucky ones so many were not so lucky and will remember those days as deprivation, we all see it through different eye’s.


      • Thank you, Frank: I’ve seen your other contributions on the Archive, and your insight is opportune and welcome. You are right; those of us who were members of ICI families had none of the privations of which you speak. I am from one generation later than you (b.1945) and remember the first house with a TV in our area… a 12″ screen. That was probably 1953, and it essentially spelled the death-knell of the era you describe as part of your own youth. The Sunday stroll was replaced by Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
        However, the area went through similar major sociological shifts from the year of this photo forward; the 1900s brought home entertainment, like the gramophone; the teens and twenties saw cinemas, then radio, all of which diminished the open-air gatherings like this one, (as well as church attendance) plus a dominant area employer that grew exponentially as a result of the war. Even when I was a youngster, however, Stockton, Billingham and Norton (and for that matter, Billingham North and South ends, divided at the then station,) were discrete populations, with their own meeting places for populations of varying age and yes, things like poverty, charity, the means-test and the dole were not only dreaded (since many of our parents had been through such things before our days); but they and factors like unmarried childbirth and even divorce were things that no “decent person” could envisage being part of life. Hence, I credit completely your story of a shotgun behind the door of every Nortonian with a daughter.
        I don’t doubt, having left in the 60s, that “over there”, as here in the USA, entertainment is now a solo activity, viewed on an IPAD, and social contact has devolved to e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. Where are the 7 1/2d Hopalong Cassidy and Pathe News matinees of yesteryear? But in truth, each generation’s reality is the good times it grows up with, so we are as much a part of horse-and-carriage days for today’s kids, as are the people in this picture.


        • Malcolm, The children of today are not much different to us my own Grandchildren are just as active as we were even though they have every new electronic wizardry going but then we are also writing on some of that electronic communication aid though I still write letters by hand as well.
          Last night the family went to Norton Drill Hall to see my grandson pass out as an Air Cadet, it brought back memories of my own Army Cadet days, marching on that same floor 72 years ago and dancing on it many times. The place was packed as we watched our kin very smartly do their stuff and win their badges. That is what makes me think that things change but stay the same.
          Once a month as an Army Cadet we did the Sunday morning Church Parade marching from the William Newton School down Junction Road to Church then after down the High Street Band playing and proud as peacocks as crowds turned out to watch, my Grandson has already done the Remembrance Sunday Parade some things live on.
          My Uncle Frank Holland lived in a new house on the corner of Roseberry Road Billingham now knocked down to make the road into Billingham Town Centre then it was a short road, he was the old style children should be seen and not heard my Parents were let the children talk with the adults it is how they learn so my Mother and Uncle Frank were at loggerheads when we went to Tea there, he was an ICI Fitter which was middle class back then. My Father a Haulage Contractor with his own trucks was classed as slightly higher, the curse of the class system was rampant.
          The Green Norton was still the centre of things until as you say TV came on the scene, before that it was the pictures for us kids, the Two penny rush on Saturday mornings to the Avenue Cinema or after the Modern opened the Four penny rush, same films more refined screaming. My Parents Danced at the Co-op Hall Norton Avenue or the one at Billingham, we had a car one of the few around so Mum’s ball dress did not get wet walking.
          Bank holidays even in wartime the Green and Show Field would be packed with people, small show stalls appeared with stop me and buy one ice cream tricycles they stopped early in 1940 when the war really started and sweets went on ration.
          About once a year there is an event on the Green when it fills up with children and parents, the small stalls and roundabouts turn up and the place is filled with laughter as the kids have fun and adults meet and talk, what we had as normal is probably still hankered after by people after all we are social animals. My own family still all get together as last night at the drill hall or at my house weekends, talk about the good old days eat my biscuits and drink my tea caddy dry, the children chiming in with total confidence. I sit back and watch thinking nothing really changes, thank goodness.
          I have family living in California and we communicate almost daily by e-mail, they have tried to get me on Skype but even though laptops are second nature that is one step beyond, my belief is the days in the picture never went away the spirit of the social interaction still lives in us all.


          • Frank: it’s refreshing that the rhythm of life has stayed somewhat constant for you, given the changes in the way the world works. This may be due in some degree to your own and your youngsters’ having stayed fairly close to the homestead. For one like me, who made drastic changes (South America for the 70s and six different locations in the US since 1980) change has been a constant, and family visits “home” an annual thing of short duration and much pre-planning. However, e-mail, Skype and the like have been a boon to families like mine; my son, who does a lot of volunteer work with orphans since being a US Marine, is able to chat with me from Truk Atoll in the Pacific, or where he is right now, in Mombasa. This has made a major difference in this society, from the time in the Norton photo. As an example, you may remember that when we were kids, we would say that a toy that broke or a roller skate that lost a wheel had “gone West.” The expression came from American pictures, with a British interpretation, but had a historical meaning.
            When researching my wife’s family history, our search took us to Tennessee, where a brother was recorded in the local archive in the 1860s as having “gone West.” He was my wife’s great-grandfather, who went through the Cumberland Gap and worked on a canal in Indiana; but in those days, 150 miles away was the same as gone for ever, especially across a mountain range. Emigrating to Australia had the same connotation when we were kids: Gone. Canada, maybe less so.
            Similarly, my wife and I drove out to Ohio this year for a school reunion. We thought nothing unusual of the three-day drive, until my friend in Derbyshire pointed out that it would mean the same for him, to drive to Libya. It’s all relative and you’re right; the ties that bind are the same, but between “over there” and “over here,” it’s a matter of scale.


            • Malcolm, if fairly close to the homestead takes in Africa, Asia minor, many places on the Mediterranean, Germany and the rest of Europe plus California then yes we did stay close to home. We also had relatives in New Zealand and my children in the forces saw many places around the world including South America but they all came home as did I in the end, one still works in Africa, America and Russia, he comes home drops his kit and its as if he never went away. We all of us wander for various reasons but as they say, “you can take the person out of Stockton you cannot take Stockton out of the person”.

              As a matter of interest I was rushed with a small Company of Engineers to Cyprus in 1974 to service the US Marine Battalion held in Dhekelia main Garrison, they had been put ashore whilst the US Navy cleared the Suez Canal, the first time I met American troops with nothing including money, they did not get any pay so we saw to them having some fun as well as providing everything else they needed.
              Being sent to often dangerous and mainly strange places back then made us appreciate what we had at home so we nurtured those things that meant home to us, with Armour in the Desert where you could open a tin of corned beef and drink it a picture of the cool Norton Green and its pond would come to mind, we would wonder what our friends were up to in the Pubs and Dance Halls of Stockton or the Carlton Norton, sit eating the dry rations and imagine Fish and Chips from the Avenue or Leeds Street fish shops “plenty of scraps please” yes Stockton was the place I always wanted to come back to and did.

              Meeting my Wife at the Maison whilst home on leave we always knew we would finally settle in Stockton and did, I could take my wife to exotic places but 10 days and she was hankering after home, she now rests in St Mary’s overlooking the Green where I will join her in the place we both love Norton.

              My Family insist I have a mobile phone which I thought a step too far but now they complain my texts are as long as War and Peace? well they made me have it, e-mails flash round, two from California yesterday and the distance between us all shortens because of that. A solid family takes work and we work at it, we would have been at home as part of the picture above these posts.


              • I’m a bit late with this reply…. Mr. Mee you mention the Show Field often and I think I remember my Dad, Ken Sheraton, your childhood friend, saying it was situated where Crooksbarn estate was built – is that right? Loved your story of you and my Dad throwing gunpowder bombs into the Show Field as children! We moved to Curlew Lane, Crooksbarn near the ring road in 1978 when I still lived at home. I bet my Dad never thought he’d buy a house on the Show Field when you were all playing there as youngsters. 🙂


                • Sarah, the Showfield was at the back of Red House School, it had two football pitches on it, the one nearest Station Road was played on by Barkers Athletic & the other was Primrose Hill’s ground.


                • Sarah the Showfield was directly behind the Red House School and stretched over nearly to Crooksbarn Lane near to the Farm House. The Norton Tykes cricket ground was in between these 2.


                • Hello Sarah, yes Ken was a very good friend who I often remember as well as your Mum Jean having known both from short trouser days.
                  The Showfield is still there as a field, it is the sports field for Red House School.
                  Our Garden wall at 5 Mill Lane was overlooking what we called the sand pits which had once provided the sand for building Norton, this was a dug out area with banks down which we would sledge in winter.
                  The Show Field was at the top of the banks and my Dad always said the Barnum and Bailey travelling show once performed there as it travelled the UK.
                  Later it was fenced in and became the Rugby Field at one end and at the other end opposite Crooks Barn Farm the Tykes Cricket Field.
                  The Ring Road was built from what was the entrance to the Show Field next to Woodbine House which is still there. The Sand Pits were back filled and it was all levelled off for the playing field.
                  I suppose we never thought about the future back then as care free kids, there was a war on, bombs were dropping we spent nearly two years in air raid shelters at night, it became normal although we lost people we knew so learned to live each day as it came, the future was the last thing we thought about. Saying that our gang of boys and girls all knew in those days of holding hands sweethearts, Ken and Jean would be together.
                  I think I have a picture somewhere of the Sand Pits, I will look it up and post it on here If I find it.
                  Frank or as Ken knew me Phil. (friends and family call me that)


  2. must be a steam tram as electric trams started running on 16th july 1898. I have a photo taken on 16th July 1898 of one of first electric trams to run. driver G E Sidgwick {my grandfather)


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