Mill Lane Shops, Billingham

Mill Lane in Billingham was one of a number of shopping areas thatexisted before the opening of the new Town Centre in the 1950s. The shops themselves are still there and in use, barely changed in the intervening years.

I have a number of family connections with Mill Lane, an Aunt who worked in Jack Bruce’s newsagent for over 40 years, my uncle David Leek had a DIY shop for many years in Mill Lane, David is now retired but Leeks DIY is still in existence, a Brother-in-Law had a motorcycle shop in Mill Lane and my Father worked in the shop.

At the far end of the road can be seen the Picture House on the left and the Co-op on Belasis Avenue to the right, behind the Co-op can be seen the brewery chimney, there was a small park directly across the road from the Co-op where all the kids streaming out of the Saturday Matinee gathered to re-enact the films they had just seen, we could be Hop-along
Cassidy or Superman or Brick Bradford or one of numerous other characters, brilliant times.

I have a marvellous memory of one of those days, my great friend Brian Storey and I had seen seen a cowboy film at the matinee, it was a standard tale about warring between the cowboys and what we then called Indians, after the usual murder and mayhem there was a scene at the end where the enemies became friends and became blood brothers by cutting
their wrists and holding them together and declaring that they would remain friends for ever.

Brian said we should become blood brothers and I thought it was a great idea, silly nine year old’s we might have been but stupid we weren’t, we wandered down to Charltons Pond, known to us as Cowpen Lake, and pricked our fingers on a Hawthorn bush and pressed them together and swore our oath, it seemed to work alright as Brian and I remained firm friends for the next sixty five years.

I am sure there must be many such stories in the memories of so many people, before Brian’s passing we had both written our remembrances of our formative years and we both remembered this story vividly.

Photograph and details courtesy of Bruce Coleman.

20 thoughts on “Mill Lane Shops, Billingham

  1. Amazing memories of Mill lane shops and walking down Mill Lane to my Nana; Mrs Keir who lived in number 37. Fish and chips in news paper and love and laugher I will never forget. Paul James – now 63


  2. Does anyone recall a shopkeeper being murdered in one of these shops? I have just Googled it and have located the following information: A man serving life for one of Teesside’s most notorious murders has cleared another hurdle in the fight to clear his name. Peter Haggerty has been behind bars since 1993 for the brutal killing of Billingham car spares dealer John Sewell in June, 1991.
    But he has always maintained he was at his sister’s home in Jarrow at the time and that he was framed for the murder. At his trial at Teesside Crown Court, it was claimed he murdered Mr Sewell at his shop in Mill Lane over a rumoured stash of cash held on the premises. Little forensic evidence was found to link him to the scene, but two witnesses came forward claiming to have seen him leave the shop covered in blood. Haggerty has long said he would rather remain in jail than admit to a crime he did not commit and is unaware his refusal to admit to the Parole Board the offence committed looks set to delay his release indefinitely. (Old out-of-date report).


    • Hello Bob

      I do remember the murder in Sewells Motor Factors, the business was run by Father and Son, I used the shop many times during the 1970s, they could supply most parts off the shelf and would go out of their way to get parts that they didn’t have.

      The thing I remember most is the fact that they had a huge selection of specialist service tools that they would lend out at no cost, also if you were a regular they didn’t even want a deposit for the loan, really great lads.


  3. I had an almost identical experience to Bruce’s blood brothers’ story. I had attended the cinema with a friend and had watched a cowboy film in which the hero gets shot in the chest, taken to the local saloon, and laid out on one of the gambling tables to be operated on by Doc Holliday, who removed the bullet and ‘to close the wound’ did so with a red hot branding iron. These old-fashioned doctors knew what to do.

    A week or so later this friend and I climbed over the railway line fence, to walk to the River Tees embankment, whilst climbing this wood fence he slipped and cut his leg on the barbed wire stapled to it, it bled profusely, the bleeding did not bother him so much – what did bother him was what his mother would do if she found out he’d been playing near the railway lines again having been told not to. When we got back to his house his mother was out, we tried to stop the bleeding without much success but being a bright spark (Stockton does have them) I suggested we did what the cowboys had done, so I got the coal fireplace poker warmed it up in the fire and swished it over his leg (I can still hear the howling from him 70 years later) When his mother came home he told her what had happened and showed her his leg, the outcome was he got banned from ever playing with me again. Doc Holliday had no such problems, maybe I had left the iron on too long? Who knows? I was only trying to be helpful.


    • Hello Bob

      Brilliant story, I think most lads growing up in the 1940s and 50s will have had similar stories to tell, I remember so many times taking an injured mate to their Mother and the application of Dettol, Gauze and Elastoplast to the injured party then them being sent back out to play, a hardy lot and happy times.

      Your mention of the railway line reminded me of a job my brother and myself were given by my Mother, where we lived in Billingham our street backed onto the railway line that ran to Hartlepool and on to Newcastle, nearly all of the trains that used that line were hauled by steam loco’s, naturally there were large pieces of coal along the trackside that had fallen from passing trains, my brother and myself were sent out with a huge galvanised bucket to collect the coal so that we could have a fire to heat the water, horrifying from a modern perspective but a normal part of life then.


      • Hi Bruce, your scrabbling for coal story suggests you and I, and our respective families and neighbors together suffered the harsh winter weather and severe coal shortages that commenced January 1947. I was 6 years old, and my sister aged 11, for several days we queued for hours outside the Co-op Coal depot trying to buy a bag of coal without success. The queue sometimes contained upwards of thirty people. So we took to standing alongside the railway-train traffic Lights situated on the tracks directly opposite Thornaby Town Hall – asking for coal from the stopped train drivers as they waited for the lights to change. Which was quite successful. I remember one train drivers nearly filled the pram we had. A grand group of men, Patriots one and all. When that failed we had to go on Cork Insulation Slag heaps looking for burnt and used ‘Coke Cinders; from Crosswaites steel furnaces. It took us 2-hours to find half-a-sack of cinders that still had some life left in them. Things were so bad (no coal-houses freezing) my mother got on the bus and traveled up to Haswell Durham Coal Fields area to buy coal from the miners, all you had to do was knock on a coal miners doors and ask him to sell you some coal, they were only too pleased to oblige, they got it free with working down the pits and had lots to spare. The snag was getting it back to Thornaby in a tatty old bag with a hole in it. But, bus conductors looked the other way. World War 2 had United our Nation in a hundred and one different ways, and I recall those long-gone days with a sense of pride. God, we were Giants then.


        • Hello Bob & Ian.

          Bob you are correct in thinking I was around in 1947, but only just, Ian and I were both about half way to our first birthday in January 1947.

          The street Ian and I lived in wasn’t built until 1948/49, my parents moved into our new house in January 1949, Ian may have been a little earlier as his house was completed before mine.

          My Mother often told a story about setting off from my maternal grandmothers house to visit my paternal grandmothers house in the winter of 1947, she was going from the Cowpen Estate to Cleveland Avenue in Haverton Hill, less than half a mile, she got to Greenwood Road and the snow was as high as the fence as far as she could see, about five feet, she turned the pram round with me in it and went back. I know my Father had to walk to the Furness shipyard that day, I had the same experience in the winter of 1962/63, I walked from Billingham to Portrack for my work because of the snow.

          The reason for the coal scavenging was because the water heating and cooking needed the fire to be burning, this meant burning precious coal during the Summer, the council installed an electric cooker in about 1953 but it was too expensive to use so the fire needed to be lit, we collected anything that would burn to save money.

          Ian I don’t know if this strikes a chord but a couple of times we saw the rail engineers checking the wooden blocks that keyed the tracks, they were replacing quite a few so we asked if we could have the old ones for the fire, they were more than happy for us to take them away, they burned almost as well as coal.


      • Hi Bruce, as you know we lived a little further down Cotswold than you. We were closer to the old station and the trains used to sometimes stop at the bottom of our garden. My Dad used to put tin cans and bottles on the fence between the garden and train track so when the trains were stopped there the driver and fireman would throw coal at them and see if they could knock them off. When the train left, my Dad would go out and pick up the bits of coal for our fire. Back then you did what you had to do !!!


  4. What memories. My sister Ann and I always went to the pictures on a Saturday afternoon and cheered the cowboys on! Our family did most of the weeks shopping in Mill Lane and at the Co-oP store. We came to Canada in 1954 and I would love to take one more stroll down Mill Lane.


  5. I was born just before the war started and lived on West Avenue Billingham. I have many memories of Mill lane and the Coop. There was the Household Store who’s moto was ‘We lead others Follow’. Halfway down was a bicycle shop called Deans and further down Ords bakery. As young kids we often went to the Billingham Cinema and sat on the three or four wooden benches at the front often pushing each other off. Coyboys and Indians with Jonny Mac Brown was a favorite. My father used to flirt with an attractive Chemist in the Chemist Shop at the top of Mill Lane and my Auntie Murial worked in a small bakery somewhere at the top of Mill Lane. Once at the bottom of the Lane I would turn right and walk back home along the ‘Black Path’ with a large field on my left to South Avenue turn left onto Middle Avenue to 11 West Avenue. Very fond memories.


    • Dean’s was originally opened by my Grandfather George Dean then taken over by his eldest son, Wilf, then by Wilf’s son in law Bobby Slinn. This would probably have covered about 40 years.


  6. Lovely piece Bruce.
    I remember buying Stink Bombs at a store opposite the Co-op butchers, little glass vials with liquid that smelled of Hydrogen Sulphide. I threw them on the floor (away from where I and my pals were sitting in the picture house) didn’t do what I expected though. Good to remember these things.


  7. I recall getting off the number 10 bus there (from Rievaulx Avenue) (after May 1954, when we moved from Eaglescliffe to Billingham) and walking through the little park when we went to visit Gt Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Jack Lowson, who lived in one of the ICI houses. My Gran had 10 sisters but Elizabeth wasn’t one of my favourites and I didn’t enjoy the visits one little bit. I also remember the Coop & the Picture House well, though we usually went to Stockton for the flicks.


  8. Nice to see this one. I have memories too of dashing across the road to the park to chase up and down the paths, slapping our sides and clicking our tongues clip-clopping. For a year or two my mother, Win Stephenson, had a sewing accessories shop at the top of Mill Lane (The Top Shop, underneath the Picture House? Does anyone remember?) She did dressmaking and was hopeless at saying no to customers who suddenly brought dates forward, meaning she was sewing into the small hours, or deferred payment. Seeing the bikes parked against the kerb, and left there, takes me back too. Joe Stephenson

    Liked by 1 person

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