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The Jarrow March, Copyright The Evening Chronicle.

 

 

 

 

Fisher's Pawn Shop, North Shields,

 

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The memoirs of Cissie Ewen

 

The Great Depression

 

The soup kitchen

The depression came along a few years after the end of the 1914-18 war, and was a very hard time for everyone. The lads along with everyone else were out of work. Soup kitchens were set up at the back of the Co-op store butcher’s at the top of our street. The voluntary women used to go up every day to make soup in the big coppers, and the people were given a slice of bread and a cup of soup for each member of the family. No one knew where the next meal would come from. I think the depression lasted a long while. Perhaps, it was during those years that most of the furniture was sold from the home. At that time, Mam's lovely gold tear-drop earrings, which I used to admire so much, and which I expect were a gift from Dad, as well as other jewellery, were put in the pawnshop. It must have been a big heartache for Mam for I don't think she was ever able to get them out again, along with many other things that went the same way.

My brothers, along with other lads in the street, used to go running around the village, and do exercises in the backyard to keep fit for when there was work available again. Hundreds of men from Jarrow and Tyneside marched to London to the Houses of Parliament. Many joined them on the way to demand work and help for the destitute and the unemployed.

There were times when we didn't have a penny for the gas meter, so we had to sit in the candle light; if we had no candle, we sat in the firelight. When the lads weren't working at the mine we, like all other families whose men worked in the mine, we had no loads of coal coming in. So Eddy and I who both had old second-hand bikes, used to go to the pit heaps to find coal, but it wasn't much more than coal dust. We used to put it in sacks and bring it home across the frame of the bikes. Sometimes we had a long walk back and were away most of the day. When it was mostly dust, we had to wet it with water and kerosene and make into balls to get it to hold together; otherwise, it would drop right through the grate. We also went to building sites to collect cinders thrown from the watchman's fire, or anywhere else where we could find anything that would burn to give us some heat and some sort of a fire.

I learned to ride on Mary Barrass' bike. It had a 26-inch wheel at the front and a 24-inch wheel at the back. If Mary wasn't around and her mother wanted an evening paper, she'd get me to go on Mary's bike. I liked that for I liked riding the bike; so when I found my friend Laura was selling hers for five shillings I was pleased to buy it. It was a big heavy bike, not really comfortable to ride, but it came in very useful when Eddy and I used to go for coal.

A neighbour, who had no children of her own, and whose husband was a bookie, used to get me to do her messages for she could not go herself. She had to stay home to take the bets for her husband while he was collecting them elsewhere. So, Mrs Armstrong gave me threepence or sixpence each time for going her messages, so I was lucky. If I wasn't around she called out for one of the others of the family to go. I was never very pleased, when Mam paying me back money she’d borrowed, would say “Now don’t spend it; I might want to borrow it again.”

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