Middlesbrough

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DOG ROUGH IN DOGGIE: MEMORIES OF MIDDLESBROUGH

I was born in North Ormesby, which lies within easy walking distance of Middlesbrough docks. North Ormesby’s nickname was ‘Doggie’ which I think came from its development on the south bank of the River Tees by the Pennyman family of Ormesby whose crest was based on a hound. The area between our terraced house and the river was occupied – at that time!- by steelworks, rolling mills, railway yards and coke ovens. Dorman Long, Bolckow & Vaughan, Davy United. The railway journey to Redcar via Cargofleet and South Bank took you only feet away from fiercely burning coke ovens. The recollection of the smell and taste of hellfire is a true ‘Proustian memory’ for me.

But one of the fascinating things about the ‘Boro’ is that it is only a short train or bus ride to the North York Moors National Park with its coastal scenery, fishing villages and moorland. Though when you came back over the crest of the last hill at Nunthorpe, there it was spread before you; a vast metropolis with its steelworks (now gone) and chemical works and often the thick layer of smog from which its citizens gained the nickname ‘smoggies’.

A popular chant with Boro football fans at the time was ‘Steel Me-e-en!’. Indeed, I read a newspaper article at the time (the seventies) which likened the Boro back four to a ‘rock outcrop’, containing as it did such players as Boam, Spraggon and Craggs.  My dad left school early to work in the steelworks. He was blinded in one eye when water got into a ‘torpedo’ full of molten iron and it exploded. At the start of the second world war he failed the medical to join up as a fighting man, instead joining the RAOC which supplied the troops. Ironically, his troopship was sunk in the Mediterranean in one of those convoy battles that look so impressive on programmes such as The World at War. But he lived and I am here.

After the war, he worked as a bricklayer replacing burnt bricks on the insides of coke ovens and told the story of Wilf Mannion working as a storeman. Mannion was the ‘golden boy’ of  english football at the time but went on strike for more wages and ended up jobless and impoverished. I don’t need to emphasise the irony of this compared to the lives of modern day footballers.

Until 1850 Middlesbrough was a quiet hamlet on the south bank of the Tees. Iron ore was discovered in the Cleveland hills and with coal from the Durham coalfield and limestone from the Pennines the town entered its era of breakneck growth based on iron and steel production when Gladstone called it ‘an infant Hercules’. People came from all over the country to work in the growing town. My father’s family came from Cornwall and my mother came from Northern Ireland. Trewin is a typical Cornish name. Family legend has it that the Trewins were unemployed tin miners but a historical check reveals a history of sea-faring as well.

Doggie was a rough place when I was growing up. We lived close to the market place and every Saturday night there would be fights outside the pubs with attendant police cars and vans. The local beer was extra strong in order to slake the thirst of steelworkers coming off a shift and lives on to this day in brands such as Vaux Double Maxim and Cameron Strongarm.

When I first arrived in Liverpool in the mid seventies, I stopped to buy an Echo outside Lime Street station. The headline was ‘Kirkby Ski Slope Scandal’ but that story is for another time (along with Durham County Council and the Poulson scandal). The paper seller was a lad in his twenties. Intrigued by my accent he asked where I was from. ‘The Boro?’ he exclaimed. ‘When I was in Borstal most of the lads were from the Boro. They were great lads!’

One of the great lads he might have met inside was a psycho (I wonder where he is now?) called ‘Knifey’, so-called on account of him knifing his dad and being sent to Borstal. Knifey led a gang that terrorised the neighbourhood. His henchman was a bullet-headed character called ‘Appo’, whose favoured method of attack was with a studded belt wrapped around his fist along with the head butt, known colloquially as the ‘loaf’. In Liverpool it is known as the ‘Kirkby Kiss’.

Needless to say I never managed to get to Borstal myself. I passed the 11 Plus and went to the grammar school on the other side of town, and on to university and a comfortable and tame middle class existence. But a whiff of a coal fire and I am back in Doggie…

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