Washington County Durham


Memories of  Usworth

An Article by Mary Evelyn Kelly

Behind The Kings Cinema

Caravans behind the Kings Cinema



by Mary Evelyn Kelly

Mrs Nesbitt lived in the caravans which were situated directly behind the Kings Picture House in Monument Terrace, Usworth. She was a very sweet, well spoken old lady who had always been there to my knowledge. She was also a very private person, who, in the main, kept herself to herself but, she always had a kind word for everyone. Even though we were just bairns then, she wouldn’t pass us without a friendly word. She was certainly a well respected character in the area for many years.

Next door to Mrs Nesbitt was the spiritualist’s hut which we nicknamed the spuggies. We would creep up on Sunday nights to peep through the windows, and then sit on the back steps of the Kings telling ghost stories. The caravans were in front of the allotments that stretched the length of Usworth park, nearly all used for fresh vegetables and mostly quite well maintained. It was important to grow food for the table as money was often in short supply.

We were very lucky to have Usworth park on our doorstep and this was situated behind the allotments. Boy were we blessed, as we had everything on our doorstep. Tennis courts, bowling and putting greens, football field, picnic area, paddling pool and a play park with a selection of swings, roundabouts and a slide, as well as the rocking horse and thin lizzie. There was no health and safety issues then, so if you fell from a swing or got thrown from the roundabout you could really hurt yourself, you took it on the chin as that was life. We used to get the circus and shows coming regularly so there was always much to do. Two-thirds of the park has gone now, although what is left is well looked after, and the bowling green and tennis courts are still there.

We also played lots of street games like tin can, bays, hide and seek, tops and whips, conkers and far too many others to mention. We had a black and white television with a 14 inch screen and we were very lucky to have an inside toilet and bathroom as so many had to go to one outdoors in their back yards, and bathe in tin baths, placed in front of a coal fire. Clothes were hand washed too so good weather was needed to get them dry. Across the road from Monument Terrace and behind Havelock terrace were the Squatters. It was known as this because homeless people had began taking over the vacant army huts there in 1946 and were soon followed by a lot more. They were happy to live there until they were re-homed in places like Coach Road and Brady Square (now Columbia).

We lived in Monument Terrace from around 1950 and had a shop called Wadeys which was a general dealers with our hardware shop next door. In the middle of the street was Watsons who made the best ham and egg pies ever and at the bottom of our street was Morans another general dealers. We had Mattie Chapmans fish shop, Jimmy Madisons butchers and Darcy the cobbler, who was deaf and dumb. My dad taught me how to use sign language so that I could communicate with him. I loved going to the Kings Picture House even though sitting on the forms was uncomfortable, it was good fun. The Kings closed down, then became Latimers around 1960/62 when I was around 14 years old. Everything started to change for us around 1967 when Edith Avenue flats were built (Sulgrave) and thus lots of buildings demolished, new houses and roads built. We moved out in 1973 shortly before our street was demolished and hence, a new chapter began …

© Mary Evelyn Kelly  (22 Nov 2014)

This article was written by Mary Evelyn Kelly.  It first appeared at www.washington50.org.  The text is reproduced verbatum.  Thanks for the memories, Mary.

Mrs Nesbitt and her husband George, known to everyone as Geordie, occupied both caravans. One provided their living area and the other was their bedroom. [Thanks to Norma for this additional information.]

Mary's article has reminded me of a story my mother told me when I was a boy.  My paternal grandmother, together with a friend, visited the Spiritualists' hut to find out what they got up to.  When the person leading the so-called service declared that they were in the presence of the spirit of a Red Indian, my grandmother burst out laughing.  She and her friend were promptly escorted from the premises and told never to return.  Did the congregation really believe this rubbish?  Jim