Billingham – My Home Town

I was born on the Cowpen Estate in Billingham just after the War, in January 1949 my parents and I moved to our new Council house on the Junction Estate, this was located just off the bottom of this image. I was too young to remember any of this but within a few years I was wandering around the area where most of the buildings are in this image. At that time the whole area from the Kennedy Garden flats at the bottom of the image to beyond the La Ronde near to the top and everything to the right of the image was open country.

In 1953 the first part of the new town centre was opened, prior to that the North End field was a huge playground, Billingham North End football team had their pitch there, the travelling fair pitched there every year in the 1950s.

Over the years the Town Centre grew until it looked as it does in this image by around 1970.

Some of the structures have since disappeared, the three level Kingsway car park that bridged the road, The La Ronde nightclub, the Stockton and Billingham Technical College, the Billingham Arms among them.

The Council Offices have been demolished and rebuilt and Dawson House has been built since this picture was taken.

The buildings include Kennedy Garden Flats, The Billingham Trade Union Club, The Forum, the Billingham Arms, the Stockton and Billingham Technical College, the Community Centre, the Bowling Alley, parts of Pentland Avenue and Malvern Road and the Causeway, also shown is the John Whitehead Park. Everything apart from Pentland Avenue and Malvern Road was built in my time in Billingham.

I left Billingham in 1976 and rarely visit the town but it is still a great part of me, it is where I made lifelong friends, received an excellent education and enjoyed the freedoms we had to roam wherever we wanted and stayed outdoors until the street lights came on, many people of my generation will remember doing all of these things with fondness.

Photograph and details courtesy of Bruce Coleman.

Did you know…

Marley Close, Stockton-on-Tees was a Former Intelligence HQ for the Royal Navy? This building has been described as the first radio station the Royal Navy had which was capable of intelligence gathering at the outbreak of World War One. It was based in Stockton and eventually became part of a network of sites feeding information to the military. The “Y Station” has been described as the first line of defence against Zeppelin raids.

A local historian described how staff slept in bunks on site. Radio masts were dotted around the building, which was powered by large batteries. The house was purchased from the Navy in the 1920s and has been a private home since then.

The “Y” service stations was a network of British intelligence collection sites established during the World War 1 and used again during the Second World War. The sites were operated by a range of agencies including the Army, Navy and RAF plus the Foreign Office (MI6 and MI5), the General Post Office an receiving stations ashore and afloat. There were more than 600 receiving sets in use at Y-stations during the Second World War.[2]
The “Y” stations tended to be of two types, for intercepting of the signals and for identifying where they were coming from. Sometimes both functions were operated at the same site, with the direction finding hut being a few hundred metres from the main interception building. The sites collected radio traffic which was then either analysed locally or if encrypted, passed for processing initially to the Admiralty Room 40 in London and during World War II to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.

Photograph and details courtesy of Bob Wilson (Wiki primary source).

The Pinnacle, Billingham Green

This shot taken along the south side of Billingham Green shows St Cuthbert’s Church in the background and the three storey building known as ‘The Pinnacle’ by many people, it was also known as ‘Robson’s Folly’, its proper name was ‘Tower House’.

The story is that John ‘Tatie’ Robson wanted to extend his cottage along West Row but was refused permission, his response was to build upwards, this building is the result. In its later years it was the office of a solicitor, it was demolished in 1963. The funny thing is that I was born and brought up in Billingham and must have passed this building numerous times but I never ever noticed it.

Image and details courtesy of Bruce Coleman.

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.