John Wanless: Growing up on Cannon Street

The photo above (Teesside Gazette) shows the area I was brought up in for the first 10 years of my life and were probably the best years of my life. I was born in September 1958 and lived on Cannon street right next to where the horse and cart is stood in the photo. This is the only photo ive ever seen of the area that had such great memories of my child hood and has gave me the idea of writing it down for others to enjoy. What the photo does not show is between the big white wall on the common, and the black looking fence which was called the shorty park, Where a special type of pigeon was kept which i will get back to later on was a childrens play ground .The play ground had swings ,a slide ,a tea pot lid,a round about ,and a sea saw ,and a sand pit ,Lots of things for children to play on and keep amused .Then later on in around 1970 they made what we called an adventure play ground on the opposite side of the wall more towards the big black shed .Which was the coal yard and builders yard another place we used to like to play in .The highest part of the coal yard was about 20ft high and when your only 9 or 10 years old looked a lot higher than it does now as an adult. But i can remember that a big pile of building sand was dropped off close to the highest part of the coal yard and we would jump off the roof onto the sand .How none of us were injured is beyond me .As a kid I can rarely ever remember using the play ground I always remember the long warm summers and always seemed to be chasing and catching butterflys or lady birds. There was always sky larks hovering above us singing their heads off something i never see or hear these days. Living on cannonstreet to out siders was all doom and gloom but thinking back now I loved every minute of those days and would go back to those days tomorrow . Although cannonstreet was a very heavily build up area with lots of streets with thousands of houses running off it there was lots of open space for us kids to play . From the age of 8 or 9 we would walk over newport bridge and walk along the river up to Thornaby to where the ponds were .Which had frogs and tadpoles in which we would catch, it was like been in the country side . Just goes to show how in those so called bad old days we could play anywhere we wanted and feel safe unlike these so called modern days where our kids are not allowed to venture far without us been with them .What went wrong ?.At the back of the play ground was a piece of land or common which the older lads played football on ,really it was just a piece of dried up hard mud in between the play park and the railway lines .When I was around 8 or 9 i remember there was a big football game going to happen .My uncle jack tait was 1 of the players and he helped organize the game .The reason i remember the game was because of all the preparation that went into marking the pitch out and making of the goals .I can not remember who the teams were but they played in their normal clothes they did not wear kits . But the goals were the thing that stand out in my mind even today. they were the 1st goals id ever seen with a sort of net on them if thats what we can call it .Jack Tait my uncle helped make those goals and i was with him .They were a mixture of different metals joined together to resemble goal posts ,then had old pieces of wire and old bed springs draped over the posts to act as nets .Those goals stood there for a very long time and when i was a bit older i also used them to play football on .I would love to hear from anyone that played in that game of football .Going back to the pigeon park which was directly opposite my house and had around 12 pigeon lofts built on a small fenced off piece of land. Again my uncle Jack was involved with the pigeon park he raced birds from there .But he also had fancy pigeons at the back of his house in Elizabeth street and it is those birds that got into my blood and lots of my friends from the area .The pigeon park was for a very special type of pigeon that is very very rare in the U.K now and is almost a dying breed .Infact they are no longer any of them left here in Middlesbrough the last of them were stolen from a man called Morris Bishop from his allotment behind the Majestic bingo hall .Morris and his brothers and a few other fanciers were made to move from cannonstreet pigeon park to the allotments behind the majestic .These lads were the last few to keep this type of pigeon that was once the most popular pigeon in the north of England .They were called shorties or milers as that was, as far as they were raced from as they are the sprinters of the pigeon family. And these birds were the real working class type of pigeons as they were cheap and easy to race and did not need lots of training unlike the long distance racing pigeon . The birds were taken by bicycles to 1 mile from their lofts mainly the males racing back to their mates flying very low and fast .So not was it only good for the birds but also helped keep their owners fit cycling to the release point . A few years ago i went to visit Morris Bishop at his allotment to do a bit of a story as Morris was now in his 70,s and he was the last person in Middlesbrough to still have these sprinting racing pigeons.But unfortunately just a few days before i met him someone had stolen the last of these special birds and now they have gone for ever here where they were once so very popular. As far as I know the only place where they still race these birds from is Leeds once they stop racing them they will have gone for ever . As I said earlier the racing pigeon was never my type of bird I pref aired a pigeon called the Birmingham roller and so did a few others from the cannonstreet and newport area .Over the years Middlesbrough has become the really hot bed of the Birmingham rollers world wide . People from all around the world have birds that were bred here from our lofts in Middlesbrough .And we have really helped put our town on the map in the Birmingham roller faternity by winning all the major competitions that there is .I have sent my birds all around the world for friends to breed from and it gives me great pleasure when they talk about what they call the boro birds been the very best quality birds in the world .The Birmingham roller was like its name made in Birmingham but is now so popular here in Middlesbrough that theres probably more people keep them here than anywhere else in the world .In 2015 i was asked if i was available to judge the biggest birmingham roller competition in the world which is called the world cup. I had to take 12 weeks off work but got to travel to places i would never have seen . I started in the states then went to Canada then Hawaii then Serbia Bosnia Croatia Holland Ireland South africa Australia .All for the love of pigeons that started from the old pigeon park on cannonstreet .As if the pigeon park had not been opposite my house on cannonstreet i doubt id have had the interest in pigeons that ive had all my life . I certainly would not have got to visit all those places where i judged the competition .And i would not have met and made friends with so many people from all walks of life from all around the world .

Posted in Memories.


  1. Did u live at 376 I lived at 382 and was there from 1949 to about 1964 I remember Lena,Sheila and Geoff Wanless I new Jackie Tate played football many times on the common many fond memories remember well the close neighbours the sikins,Hamilton’s,Wanless and the speighs

  2. Brilliantly put john i remember my childhood days living nearby you and going to Newport school as you did when not in hospital… I was haemophiliac as a kid and was literally wrapped in cotton wool but i recall you always looked out for me John.. And as you state our adventures were many in them long gone happy days

  3. Hi john our mam used to babysit for your family mary nixon and she used to go out with your mam and dad dorreen and dad terry good friends with sheila for years i know your lorraine aswelll used to go to schhol together your wifes sister my mam iwell was your julias god mother

    • Hello Mark
      You should try the Facebook page Cannon Street Revisited. There is a post on there that mentions an Emily Elsdon from Heywood Street.

  4. MY Gran lived 368 Cannon St from the 20s to mid 50s then moved to Thorntree. My Gran was Martha Allan aand lived there with Pop (William) and her 11 Children.

  5. Absolutely brilliant John bring back many memories for our age group I remember in my youth being often in hospital due to haemophilia so I was literally wrapped up in cotton wool when we were at Newport school and then eventually stainsby even at a young age John your knowledge and devotion to pigeons was second to none as it is even to this day I lived near you in severs st and now in West lane I’ve lived on many of the estates but I’m a Newport lad born and bred so I’m back near to where it started😁

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