Norman Potter: Growing up on Milbank Street

Greetings from the great white north.
My name is Norman J Potter and I have lived in Canada for the past 51 years.
I was born in Middlesbrough in March of 1941, and my home was 78 Milbank street until 1957.
I am probably alive today due to the help of family and neighbours helping my mother nurse me through many of what were then, life threatening ailments. I even beat the biggie Diphtheria. No National health in those days.

The house had gas lighting in some rooms, the kitchen was the only room with an electric light and one electrical plug. Each room had a fireplace but nobody could afford the cost of coal, which was also rationed, so only the kitchen had heat. We used candles in the rest of the house. The toilet was outside in the yard. We had one cold water faucet in the scullery. My mother and my grandmother use to do the washing out side in all weathers, using a poss tub with a big wooden poss stick and mangle. Brutally hard work.  If off rationed coal became available and  you had the money, boys under seven would be allowed to tote a stone. If over seven, two stone.

I remember that most men were away “in the war” It would seem strange to people today that I remembered the first time I met my Dad, I was playing in the street & some one said that the man in uniform coming down the street was my Dad. I ran & hide in the bomb shelter, after a while he coaxed me out with the help of a chocolate bar that he had.

I  attended St Patrick’s boys junior school. It had a coal fire place in every class room. The toilets were primitive to say the least. The first year teachers were old men, misses and Nuns. It changed around 1947 when the guys came home from the war, then they all carried a big stick and it was Yes Sir, No Sir.

I went to the senior school around 1950, became a alter boy, had to learn the Latin mass ( with  a thick Cannon Street accent) taught by Irish priests. Hey, turned ten years old, got my first pair of “long pants” until then we went to school year round in short pants.

In 1956 I left the Pat’s and in ’57 said goodbye to Cannon street. I have many memories of Cannon Street. As kids we would go to the scrap yard and buy bits to make a bike. Getting up a 6 am to go and deliver papers, going back to the paper shop after school to deliver the Gazette, it was a seven day a week job for ten shillings, but it beat toting a  accumulator to be recharged and been paid a penny.

I liked Borzumato’s ice-cream store and the roasted potatoes they sold in the winter, the cobblers shop,  the slipper baths, a lot of  things need a prod to get the old memory going…

One of the things I do recall that nobody seems to talk about, was the amount of sickness. TB, being a biggie, but most related to poor living conditions, air quality, poor diet & just sheer brutal living condition,

Living in Cannon Street was a experience and I may be a better, tougher person for it But it is NOT a place I would willingly go back to. Those who populated the area were  probably the most giving, caring, honest people on the earth, and they all took care of each other. My mother who was born in 1898 and lived to be 91 thought that there was no better place on earth.

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  1. I lived in Milbank not far from my good friend Norman potter. I agree with all Norman as said . Happy days never to return i’m glad to say ?

  2. We had family that lived in Spencer St up to the time it was all demolished Charlotte and Billy Wood at No 59, with there son Alan. What ever happened to the other families, like the Larries, Bennets, Proffits. Untold stories of life, and growing up in the 30s to the 50s.

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