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Joan Parker: How to have fun in 1940's England

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

If your garden property didn’t have the range of food required to satisfy you, I guess you could always secretly scour the neighbour’s yard for ‘turnips’. If that didn’t enthuse you, there was always the haunted house gardens that were filled with apple and pear trees. You would just have to dodge the policemen, for a bite to eat. Life had no televisions or game consoles to absorb your time and no mobile phones, tablets or computers. If you wanted to have fun, you had to become a ‘game designer’ – from the classic game hoop and stick, to rolling coins, or tobogganing down hills (and swerving from barbed wire fences). These are the stories of my granny, Joan Parker (previously Pelling / Burton), and her experiences as she grew up in Cleadon Village, Sunderland, England, during the 1940s.

At the time, Miss Pelling (later Parker) was living with her mother in a semi-detached house in Cleadon Village, which is in South Tyneside in the North East of England. As her mother and father had parted ways, and during this period of time ‘that wasn’t something that happened often’, her mother would try and keep that side of her life a secret, or “people didn’t know our business”. As it was now only her mother earning most of the wages, money was something you had to respect, something you had to utilise efficiently.

“[We didn’t own] very much, therefore at that time, whatever you had was very important to you.”

Due to the lack of games available, children had to entertain theirselves. If it were winter, then a trip up to the Cleadon Hills for some tobogganing was in order. The issue would be the barbed wire fence at the bottom of the hill that you had to "swerve from". Upon asking Mrs Parker what other hobbies that she enjoyed doing, this is what she had to say.

“I’ve got to tell you this. It has gone down in the family. Sunnyside Lane was a slight incline. So, to go down from our house to the village, I would go down the lane, and I had – this particular day, a half-crown. A half-crown! And I rolled it, and this was to see how far it would roll. And I watched this jolly coin go down and I would get it. Then I would roll it again. And this particular time, it just kept rolling. And before I knew what had happened, it had rolled into the little village pond [where cows would drink]. This was honestly a disaster.
I had to go back to my mother and tell her what I had done. My mother was very, very keen that people didn’t know our business – because of my father leaving us – but she had to put her wellingtons on and go, me with my wellingtons, and fish [for the coin] in this fishpond. We searched and searched and sadly, and really sadly - Mr Eggleston, the farmer, came ‘round and said, ‘What are you doing?’ My mother was so embarrassed. We never found it."

I would have loved to say that this story had a romantic ending, that just like the movies the saviour came along just in the knick of time, the hero dressed as farmer, riding his steed. He arrives by the fence and asks the young mother, ‘What are you doing, miss?’ Then upon dismounting the horse, lands on the outer rim of the pond. Gazing for a moment, he reaches into the murky water and lifts up the missing coin. However, whilst my father describes the same story with these details, Mrs Parker unapprovingly and sadly stated, “no, that didn’t happen”.

In Cleadon village there was an abandoned hall, referred to as the Cleadon Old Hall, however to locals it was called ‘Humble Hall’, and to Joan and her friends - it was better titled the “Haunted House”. And it was rightly named, as the legend states the ghost of a monk resided in its architecture, haunting one of the bedrooms.

The grounds of the hall encompassed “a big garden” and there were apple trees and pear trees. Since no one was living there, the fruit was going to waste. Instead, Joan and her friends decided they would do some ‘charity’ work. The following story resembles something from Beatrix Potter, and I imagine young Miss Pelling as a version of Peter Rabbit.

“So, there was two boys [Alan and another boy], Elsie, and myself. [We] were to go in and to raid, to get the fruit. Of course, the fruit is up the trees, right, and we could never wait ‘til the fruit was ripe, because by then the birds or someone else had got it. We thought we were so clever. Elsie was to be outside the brick wall, Sunderland Road, and if the policemen came by – she would whistle. Well, if she whistled or not, I don’t know. But it was [an] understood thing that if the policemen arrived, you would give a false name and address. We were caught. He came through the bushes. And he asked my name, and I said….”

Now at this point in the story, Joan Pelling would be crafting a unique and creative new ‘name’ and address, because she wouldn’t want an unexpected visit from the police. So, the creative and unique name and address that she decided on was this:

“Joan Pelling, Roseden, Sunnyside Lane.”

Oops. That wasn’t the name she was meant to blurt out. In reminiscing, through the laughter, she said:

“I got such a shock, and so did Alan, and so did the other one. I am saying the ‘other one’, we used to call him gigglepots’. That was it, he would giggle. So instead of speaking, he was giggling.”


May you enjoy these stories, laugh a little, and reflect on times gone by. If I can recommend anything, ask a friend to hear theirs, if not – I will.

Contact me if you want to share your story.

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