Jack Allen: Gran & Grandad Chapman

Margaret & George Chapman outside their house in 16 Childers street on V E day or V J day 1945

I would like to recount memories of my grandmother and grandfather, Margaret and George Chapman of 16 Childers Street in the Cannon area of Middlesbrough near St Columba’s Church.

Granny Chapman was a remarkable person, born around 1885 in Middlesbrough.
She married my grandfather George Chapman, in 1905 at St John’s in Middlesbrough and went on to bear thirteen children, of whom only eight survived into adults – four sons and four daughters. My mother Hannah was the second oldest daughter.

Due to circumstances during the war both my mother and my sister and I along with my mothers eldest sister aunt Aggie and her two daughters, went to live with gran and grandad Chapman and their two youngest daughters at 16 Childers Street. The reason we went to live with our grandparents was because my father and uncle were serving in the Army and Royal Air Force. My mother and aunt had to go into the local steelworks to replace the men who had been called into the forces, as did women all throughout the UK.

Granny Chapman as well as keeping house, providing meals for six adults and four children (two children aged four years and six months, and two aged two years and four months)  also did several other things.
One of them was a ‘knocker upper’. The job of a knocker upper during the war was vital for people working in the steelworks on shift work. The first shift was 6am till 2pm, second shift was 2 pm till 10 pm, the night shift was 10 pm till 6 am the next morning.

If you were on the early shift you had to be ready for work by about 5 am, this is where the ‘knocker upper’ came in.
Gran used to have about twelve people who relied on her to wake them up. She usually left home around 4.45 am to start her rounds. She had a long pole with which she used to tap on the bedroom window, the person used to come to the window to acknowledge they were awake. She was so conscientious she would always check on her way back home that people were up and ready to go to work. For this she was paid half a crown a week by each person she knocked up (allowing for inflation this would be about £4.30 a week).

One of the many other things she put her hand to was helping the local midwives with the birth of the babies in the neighbourhood, helping the local undertaker with the ‘laying out‘ of recently deceased people, queueing at Meredith’s bakers for bread, but not for her family – she baked her own. It was for other people at 6 am every morning bar Sunday.

My Grandad George was born in Middlesbrough in 1880, the second eldest son of the Chapman family who came to Middlesbrough from Scotland earlier in the 1800s. One of his uncles was the captain of the SS Ironopolis, he was apprenticed as a pipe moulder, it was through this job he met my grandmother whose father was the foreman pipe moulder in the foundry.

When the Second World War started in 1939 Grandad would have been 59 years of age. He had to learn a new job in the making of steel for the war effort. His working day started at 8 am till 4. 30 pm. He usually got home at 5 pm, had his tea then changed into his ARP uniform which was a black tunic and a white steel helmet (same as the warden in Dad’s Army). He would report to the ARP building which was on a common at the back of Childers street, from there he would go out with another warden patrolling the streets mainly to see that there were no lights showing from the houses. During the early part of the war air raids by the German Air Force where frequent in our area looking to bomb the nearby steel works which where only about a mile from the houses in the Cannon Street area, as history shows a lot of damage to houses, people were made homeless and people died.

The job of the ARP wardens was to direct the rescue services to the damaged areas, I am not certain but I believe that there was a lookout point in the tower at St Columba’s church where they pin pointed the damaged areas and reported the information to the ARP building.

Often in the early days of the Second World War Grandad would not return home till 3 to 4 am in the morning, but still went to work the next day, times were hard for them but we never heard them complain and family life went on as usual.

After the war ended Grandad retired, he had six grandchildren then, we used to line up in 16 Childers street on a Saturday morning for our Saturday Penny from him. Being the eldest of the grandchildren, at eleven years of age I was sent on an errand every Saturday morning to the ‘Offal ‘ shop in Harris street near the Infirmary for six pence of sheep’s brains which Grandad had for his Saturday tea with bread & butter (Offal shops sold Tripe, pig’s trotters, cow’s udder and various other parts of animals intestines).

My Granny Chapman’s preparation for Christmas began in early October every year. The first thing she started to prepare was the family’s Christmas cakes, in all she baked four cakes for the family. The ingredients were put into a large bowl and mixed, there would be flour sultanas, raisins, candy peel, nuts, along with lemon and orange essence, these were mixed thoroughly by hand (no food mixers or blenders in those days). The mixture was put into tins lined with grease proof paper, then for her four grandchildren came the best part, we were allowed to scrape our fingers around the inside of the bowl to taste the mixture that was left, have not tasted anything so nice.

Gran Chapman would not put the mixture in the oven till everyone had gone to bed, her reason being no one would be going in and out of the kitchen opening and closing doors therefore the heat in the kitchen would be constant and the cakes would not go ‘sad’. Ovens then had no time or temperature controls.

The cakes would be on the kitchen table next day wrapped in grease proof paper, put onto the cold shelf in the pantry, every week Gran regularly turned the cakes a half turn stuck a darning needle in the middle of them , then poured a small amount of either Rum, Whiskey, or Sherry into the hole made by the needle.
After the cakes came the making of a new clippie mat for Christmas in which all of the family became involved, usually four people started one at each corner.

The next task was making decorations pieces of coloured paper about 2 inches wide by 6 inches in length where folded and the ends stuck together to make paper chains. We then used to make wool Pom – Poms (similar to what you see today on Woolie hats) in those days milk bottle tops were made of cardboard with a perforated hole in the middle to stick a straw through, we took the middle out of the top then wound wool tightly through till the hole was full tied the ends, then with a pair of scissors cut through the middle, result a Pom-Pom.

Christmas time was when every member of the family became involved in the preparations for Christmas Day.
These days sadly seemed to have gone forever, we didn’t have much money but in my Granny Chapman’s words ‘ what you never had, you never miss’. People such as my gran Chapman do not exist today.

As long as I can remember going back to the Second World years our family has always celebrated the New Year by “First Footing” at new year, or as my Gran & Grandad called it “Letting the Lucky Bird in “
A few minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve the person who was to be the “First Foot” went outside the house to await the beginning of the New Year. Traditionally in our family this had to be the man of the house or any other male member, preferably dark haired.

Tradition had it they brought into the house to give to the lady of the house a piece of silver, usually a silver coin so she would have money in her purse throughout the year, A piece of Coal meaning the home would always have a fire in the grate, A piece of Green Holly for luck throughout the year.
The cake was cut by the “Lucky Bird” a piece of cake with cheese , and a drink was given to everyone in the house, and The “Lucky Bird” proposed a toast of good health & wealth to all present.

My wife and I still follow this tradition to the letter, the piece of coal we use is put away to be used the following year,( I believe it is over 25 years old.
When we first moved to our present home 26 years ago most of the houses in the road had men outside at midnight on a New Year’s Eve to let the first foot in, sadly in the last few years this has dwindled down to about four houses.
Sad to see our old traditions dying out.

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  1. I loved this memory, and will include aspects of it in my dissertation on WW2 if that’s ok. I’m 37 years old and we “let the new year in” every year, with a traditional argument with my mother in law over what you are meant to bring in. This has proven me wrong for the last 16 years and I need to get some props for this year.

  2. Yes Mary Louise to give her her full name was the youngest daughter of Margaret & George Chapman born on Halloween day in 1926, Married David Donachie in May 1948. Mary & Dave had no children but looked after my aunt Bessie until Bessie passed away in 1976.

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