A Journey taken by Tom Robson

Driving North along the Al Motorway my mind was filled with many thoughts. I was returning to the Durham village of Trimdon Grange; a journey I suppose most people do in their lifetime to the district where they spent their childhood.
When I left school my first job was at Fishburn pit on the screens, and I remembered it as the most soul destroying job any fourteen year old boy could undertake.
Unfortunately it was the fate of most boys in the area.
Going through Fishburn the cinema building was still there on the left. I stopped and looked around. What was the name of the cinema? I couldn’t think, maybe I’ll remember later on.
But I did remember the visits there and all the cowboy films we watched.
It was a regular haunt I suppose for most courting couples on their first dates.
It was then I caught sight of the Fishburn W.M. Club, what a fantastic club, I couldn’t resist a visit since it was only 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
It was only as I opened the club door that I was made aware that I was really here when I heard the Durham dialect. The elderly gentleman at the door greeted me ‘Wat chay lad is the a member.’ I hesitated while I savoured the familiar dialect I had used while growing up.
I explained I was just visiting and my purpose for being here. He listened and was very keen to help. He asked my name ‘Tommy Robson’ I said ‘From the Grange.’ ‘Was Jack Robson thee Father?’ ‘Yes’ I said. ‘Why I new naybody better. Ah worked with em at Deaf Hill pit.’ I told him my father had died. He got someone to sign me in and as I stood at the bar I savoured the talk going on around me. I had now remembered the name of the cinema, it was ‘The Alhambra’.
Climbing the steep bank towards Trimdon Village I could see the large housing complex on the right where I suppose most of the occupants had moved from colliery street houses.
I knew what was coming next, the famous Watch Bank, a steep hill leading down to Trimdon Grange.
I stopped to savour the view. Many thoughts flooded my mind.
The best way to ride up this bank on a bike was by going side to side.
They say it was called the Watch Bank because the Normans lit fires there to keep watch.
The road leading off to the left was known as West Lonning. I remembered the big Army camp there during the war, we would go around there on Sundays for a walk. One Sunday a plane made awful noises and shortly after we saw the two air crew had baled out. It turned out they were RAF. However had they been German we had the local Dad’s Army to protect us.
I hesitated a while before I started down the hill.
My eldest brother Jack told me that when I was about 2 years old he had me in an old pram going down the Watch Bank. He stopped to pick some blackberries and was shocked when he turned round to see that I had runaway in my carriage and crashed soon after.
It was strange to think that that incident still affects me 54 years later. If I am standing on a bus or train without a rail to hold onto my breath almost stops and my stomach tightens up with nervous tension.
Entering Trimdon Grange my first stop was the top school. I moved here from the infant’s school down the road.
Mr. Standish was the headmaster, so different to the teachers of today and the codes of discipline. His word was law.
The school looked unchanged. I remembered the football games in the yard with a tennis ball and playing for the school team in yellow and blue square shirts. The sports master Mr. Hodgson lived at Trimdon Village.
We all learned our gardening here, Mr. Standish was the expert and we wore Dutch type clogs for our tasks. I remembered our gas mask practices and air-raid drills.
Further down was St. Albans’ Church where I went to Sunday school.
Well so far everything was the same but as I pulled away the first change was very noticeable. The big pit heaps were gone and were now grassy slopes. We used to spend lots of time climbing the pit heaps, sliding down on bits of lino.
We sat on here one night during the war and watched the Co-operative store burn down. The policeman, Swanny, rescued the store horses from the stables.
Lots of women worked at the T.N. T. factory at Newton Aycliffe called The Queen Mary. They travelled by bus and next morning thought we had been bombed.
I could now see that the infant school was still standing and looking no different from when I started school there as a five-year-old. It was now a Community Centre.
I decided now to walk along and here was a change I hadn’t imagined.
Front Street was no longer there. I was born there and my heart sank to see it gone. It was now replaced with new houses, the first change I had come across affecting me personally.
At the corner of Front Street I remembered the Methodist Chapel where we all said our ‘piece’.
I stood awhile and heard the ‘ghost’ voices of the past, the pit head, the big street leading up to the pit called Long Row.
I walked along to see the house in Peel Street, No.4, but when I crossed to the Miners’ Hall it was now the Forbes Dancing School, I wonder if that is Tommy Forbes who went to school with me, I remember he was a good dancer.
It was now time to be on my way. I sat in my car for what seemed an eternity.
I reached the top of Watch Bank and took a final look at the Grange through my rear mirror.
It was a special moment I would treasure for the rest of my life.
Reaching the old Sedgefield by-pass I quickly made my way to the A I South and headed down the motorway.
Goodbye to Trimdon, a place which after 56 years still gave me a sense of belonging.