Thursday 8 April 2021

A honeymoon in the Lake District, Peak District and Cambridge

The first night of our honeymoon was spent in a small hotel on the shores of Lake Bassenthwaite in the Lake District. Although it sounded idyllic, by the time we got there we were too late for the evening meal: the landlady had cleared up and cleared off to the local pub. Apart from a chunk of wedding cake there was nothing for us to eat so we went to bed early!

After sleeping for a couple of hours I woke up with my stomach rumbling while Eileen lay fast asleep beside me. I got out of bed to eat wedding cake washed down with cold water. The sound of my gulps hitting an empty stomach woke Eileen who then shrieked at the sight of this figure standing next to the bed in the dark. What a way to end a wedding day!

In the morning we were both starving so headed down to breakfast. Eileen looked radiant but she took one look at my baggy eyes and sunken face and decided to make me sit with my back to the other guests - somehow I think they knew we were newly-weds. The weather was appalling in the Lakes so after a second night, we moved on. 

Our next port of call was Buxton in Derbyshire and the drive down was great fun. Eileen enjoyed returning the waves of all the lorry drivers as we passed them, thinking how friendly they all were. We duly arrived at our posh hotel, the Old Hall Hotel, a fine classical building in the centre of Buxton. After checking in we were escorted to our room, No. 7, high up at the front of the hotel overlooking the entrance and car park. It was only then we realised why we appeared to be so popular on the road. There, on the roof of the car, were the words 'Just Married' painted in white. Even the heavy rain overnight had not washed them off. 

The comparative luxury of this hotel made us feel very sophisticated so we dressed up for dinner and had a superb meal with wine. We kept the invoice for the hotel and you can see below the cost for board, dinners and wine for two nights - a total sum of 4 pounds 11 shillings. 

Our final stop before returning home was Cambridge. I had always wanted Eileen to experience something of my former time in Cambridge and to do so on our honeymoon in early summer was very special. We had been invited to stay with my friends, John and Sylvia Christiansen, who were renting accommodation in a local vicarage (In John's words, 'if there was ever a can(n)on which should have been shot, it was him!') It was predictably chaotic but we had a great time touring the most popular pubs with them. All the students had finished for the summer but Cambridge was full of tourists. 

The weather had improved so it was the ideal opportunity to visit the colleges and take a punt out on the river. This was my chance to be romantic, punting up river to Grantchester on a summer's afternoon. We reached Grantchester Meadows and I duly steered the punt into the bank, securing it by digging the pole deep into the river bed in the time-honoured way. We stepped onto the bank and settled down together in the soft meadow grass. The romantic setting was soon shattered by the rude intrusion of other young things wandering through the meadow, expressing amusement at what they had interrupted. I found myself muttering a range of four-letter words while Eileen reacted with peals of laughter at our predicament. 

Those few days in Cambridge were, however, a fitting end to our honeymoon and we were now looking forward to spending the second week in our new home. Being fully-furnished with all mod-cons, there was nothing to do but relax. During that week we enjoyed looking at our wedding presents and we began to send out thank you letters. We walked the short distance into town, went shopping and had some meals out. Like all newly-weds we took full advantage of the freedom to spend as much time as we liked in bed with no threat of interruption!

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Our wedding, 6 June 1960

The day of the wedding was fast approaching. The days leading up to Monday 6th June 1960 were warm and sunny. Last-minute arrangements went smoothly. Eileen had her wedding dress made for her, together with the dresses for her bridesmaids - her sisters Anne, Pat and a friend of Pat, Ann Weatherstone. 

We arranged for my family to stay the night before the wedding in the house we had just begun to rent in Spital Tongues. They decided to travel up by car from Peterborough. To give you some idea of the enormity of a journey up the A1 in those days, before the dual carriageway was constructed, my parents and sister plus her boyfriend, John, decided it would take two days to travel the 200 miles to reach Newcastle. They stopped the night in Northallerton in North Yorkshire to break the journey. My best man, old school friend John Walters, drove the same distance with his fiancee, Gillian, in one day, although he had a little white sports car to do the trip. 

No other relatives on my side of the family felt they could attempt such a long journey. I was, however, delighted that my Uncle Wilf and his partner, Flo, took the train over from Manchester: he was such a favourite uncle of mine.  

Rather than have an all-male stag party the night before the wedding, it was decided to book a room at the Rising Sun pub for guests who wanted to meet up. Eileen had too much to do, including looking after her future in-laws requirements, so she didn't attend. I looked after my best man and his fiancee so put in an appearance for a while without getting drunk. 

I had one important task in the morning which was to pick up the wedding cake and take it to the Bath Hotel, Tynemouth, where the reception was being held. John picked me up in his sports car, we collected the cake, then drove down the coast road at great speed on that fine Bank Holiday morning, with no traffic to worry us. Mission accomplished!

St Columba's Catholic Church was just around the corner from James Terrace in Wallsend so the bridal car didn't have very far to go. When John and I arrived at the church we could see the street outside was already lined with local people ready to greet the bride who, of course, was well-known in the area as a singer. The guests inside the church were already seated, having been caught on cine-camera as they entered, filmed by one of Eileen's cousins, Jimmy Flannery. 

The wedding ceremony itself was short and without trimmings. As it was a 'mixed marriage' (Catholic and Protestant) the priest would not allow music for Eileen to walk down the aisle with her father and wouldn't even arrange the time for her to walk to the sound of the church bells at 11 o'clock, by switching the time to 11.15. We were also denied a nuptial mass associated with Catholic weddings. It was usual for the officiating priest to stand at the altar to welcome the bride but this old priest insisted that the bride and groom stand together and wait for him. He sent his altar boy, Eileen's young brother, John, to the back of the church to inform Eileen of this as she had been standing waiting for him. The marriage ceremony was therefore a short and rather sober affair.

Once outside of the church the whole atmosphere changed and celebrations began in earnest. As we appeared on the steps, Eileen's little nephew, Mark, presented her with a special posy of flowers. Half of Wallsend seemed to have turned up to give us a send-off as we stepped into the official car. It was the tradition for the bride and groom to throw coins from the car for local children to collect. Known as a 'hoy-oot', we duly obliged and the kids scrabbled for pennies as the car headed to Tynemouth. We savoured these special moments as we looked forward to our future together. 

The weather held out for the reception which began with us receiving guests on the lawn overlooking the harbour. No-one could deny this was the perfect setting, sipping sherry and mingling with our family and friends.


The reception itself was a sit-down meal in the hotel ballroom. Speeches went well as far as I can remember. I was able to make reference to a number of people there of special significance including Eileen's granny who was in her eighties and her Aunt Mary who was visiting from Ireland. I also mentioned the amazing coincidence that our wedding day, Whit Monday 6th June was the same day as my own mother and father's wedding in 1927. The father of the bride, Jimmy Brennan, almost made the mistake of addressing the guests as 'Mr Chairman and Gentlemen' as he was so used to public speaking at the Co-operative Directors meetings.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Eileen singing 'This is My Lovely Day' from the musical, Bless The Bride with her usual accompanist, Joe Bennett, on the piano. She had often sung this for other people's weddings but this was her day so it was a very fitting end to our 'lovely day'.

While we changed our togs for our going away outfits, the younger guests decorated our hired Ford Escort with Just Married slogans and white ribbons. The final send-off, before our honeymoon travelling around the UK, was colourful and noisy. We drove off and headed to our house in Spital Tongues to tidy the car up and collect our luggage. As we approached the house we realised my family were still there, packing up their things ready to drive south. There was no way we were going to arrive in the middle of all this so we turned around and parked the car at the top of Claremont Road, overlooking the Town Moor. The coast was then clear for us enter our new home together. We cleaned up the car, packed our bags and began the first stage of our honeymoon journey to the Lake District. 

Thursday 4 February 2021

A new job, finding accommodation and a wedding date set

Back in Newcastle I began my career in architecture. Ken Appleby and I continued to share the house in Bowsden Terrace and we both started work with Edward & Partners on the same day. As a junior architect in a well-established practice, I was given some of the more mundane jobs to do such as building surveys and assisting senior staff in producing detailed working drawings. 

The first job, with Ken, was a full survey of the old Rutherford College in Bath Lane. Some of it was dirty work, scrabbling about in cellars and attics. We would come back to the office in the afternoons to draw up the survey from site dimensions. 

I gradually progressed to bank premises for Midland Bank Ltd (now HSBC) and domestic work seeing small alteration jobs through to completion. 

At the end of my first full year, I had completed my first design project, a student residential block, Ethel Williams Hall, for Newcastle University. The original building had been opened for female students in 1950. This new extension I designed was actually built after I left the company but it stood the test of time for nearly 40 years before being sold off and demolished to make way for a private housing development in 2000. At the time of writing, we live only a few hundred yards from the site in Benton, Newcastle. 

Ethel Williams Hall of Residence (Newcastle University Archives)

My time with Eileen was now an integral part of my life. I no longer had studying to do so my evenings and weekends were free. I accompanied her on singing engagements which brought me into contact with a whole new world of formal dinners, conferences and local concerts. I like to think I gave her some moral support. In the process I began to appreciate what it was like for her to perform in front of different audiences. 

In November 1959 we set the date for our wedding: 6 June 1960. I decided to formally ask Eileen's father, Jimmy Brennan, for his daughter's hand in marriage (much to the amusement of the rest of the family) but I think he appreciated the chance to talk man to man with a squad of women in the house. 

In the run up to the wedding we made a couple of attempts to find alternative accommodation for me, but to no avail. Ken had taken a flat in Jesmond to live with Valerie. No other students were able to take on Bowsden Terrace at that point in the academic year. I was therefore left to deal with the final handover to a landlord who had not visited his property during several years of student occupation. When I showed him round I thought he was going to have a heart attack on the spot as the old chap was not in the best of health in the first place. He was so shocked by the years of student 'wear and tear' that he made no attempt to ask for damage payments. He just wanted to go home and forget about it. Having said that, he hadn't spent a penny on the place in all those years. 

I almost rented a ground floor flat in Gosforth. I had actually moved in on the Saturday morning. Eileen and I went out to lunch to celebrate however, when we returned, the landlady was immediately on her high horse, laying down the law about female company with severe restrictions imposed on visiting hours. It was clear we would have no peace so tempers flared. The result was we called a taxi and I was out of there within the hour. 

We also tried to rent a flat above a shop in Walkergate but because we were not yet married the agent would not allow me to rent it. Can you imagine that happening in today's housing market? We were resigned to having to wait until we were actually married before we could find a place to live together, even though our plan was always to wait until the wedding before Eileen moved in. In the few weeks before the ceremony I moved in with Wynne and John Hipkin, Eileen's sister and brother-in-law. 

Eventually we struck lucky and were able to rent a fully furnished end-terrace house in an area of Newcastle with the delightful name of Spital Tongues. (The name is thought to be derived from spital, a corruption of the word 'hospital', and tongues meaning an outlying pieces of land.) No.1 Burnside belonged to a retired couple who were planning to visit their family in Canada for nine months so it was clean and comfortably furnished. The main living room was on the first floor with wonderful views overlooking Leazes Moor. 

All these years later, Eileen and I still have very fond memories of those early months of married life in our first home together. 

Monday 18 January 2021

My first commission - designing a bungalow for my parents.

Eileen and I visiting the new bungalow

Once the exams were over, the end of year celebrations could commence. It was the conclusion of five years of study so there was much to celebrate. There were several events to go to, including the official revue at the Empire Theatre and a special end of year dance.

When I packed up for the summer holidays I knew I would miss Eileen even though I would be starting work in Newcastle in September. Back in Peterborough, I invited Eileen to stay for a few days so I could show her my family life. Everything went well for that first meeting: Mother was happy in her old home environment and she made Eileen welcome; Father was a good host and my sister, Betty, seemed to get on well with her. Things became a little uneasy when it came to Sunday morning and I had to drop Eileen off at the local Catholic Church for her to attend Mass. Other than that, there were no awkward moments. However, we weren't ready to tell anyone at this stage that we were planning to get married. 

The most important thing for my family at that time was the building of their new bungalow which was now well-advanced.  We would soon be moving from Newark Avenue, in the centre of Peterborough, to Royston Avenue in Orton Longueville. At this time, 1959, Father was 59 and Mother was 61. Imminent retirement at 65 had prompted my father to move into his own property, because the house in Newark Avenue was rented from the British Sugar Corporation where my father worked as a Senior Purchasing Officer. The new place would be fairly near the BSC offices on Oundle Road. 

Over the years he must have been putting money aside in order to buy his own property. He had taken the plunge and bought a plot of land on a new development by a local builder. Each property was to be individually designed by the purchaser or selected from a catalogue of house types. Father had decided to put his trust in my design ability and gave me my first commission. He was never one for words of praise and encouragement so I was very flattered by him putting his trust in me. I put a lot of energy into the design in the summer of 1958. It was a great opportunity to test my architectural skills not only in design but other aspects of building project management such as site surveying, planning procedures and financial control. I had to produce drawings in sufficient detail to agree a firm price with the builder. 

In the following months, expenditure on the new house must have been a worry to him. The original design was for three bedrooms but this was reduced to two, with the planned attached garage converted into another small room. A cheaper detached garage was built on the other side of the house. However it was clearly a move upmarket and, after a number of years in a 1930s house, Mother was looking forward to her brand new bungalow. To Father it was a headache. 

Later that summer I made it clear to my family that I intended to get married to Eileen. It was evident that my parents did not approve. My sister, Betty, who was single at the time and still at home, decided to keep well out of it. 

Me, Mother, Father and Betty

The house move didn't seem significant at the time but, on reflection, it was a milestone that would affect all our lives. I still considered myself part of the family but, with my decision to stay in Newcastle and the fact that there would be no room for me in the new bungalow apart from for occasional visits, I felt I was likely to be detached from my family as I began my own career. 

Things were never the same again at home. 

Thursday 26 November 2020

Back to the drawing board

I returned to Newcastle after the Easter holidays to face my final term at university. The design thesis had to be completed and I began to revise for the final written examinations. A decision also had to be made on finding my first job. Central to these issues was Eileen.

During the day I spent several hours on the design thesis: a proposal for student accommodation in Cambridge. The atmosphere in the studio was more intense as the deadline for submission approached. It was then that Eileen offered to help with finishing the drawings because of her skills in draughtsmanship and engineering drawing. Although her technique was slightly different from architectural drawing, it was accuracy that mattered. She took my drafted working drawings, borrowed a drawing board from her office and set to, at home, to make them into final drawings. 

This saved me so much time that I was well ahead of the other students by the time the Whitsun break came along. To celebrate, I hired a car for the weekend and Eileen and I visited many tourist spots in Northumberland. It was a romantic interlude which became a turning point in our relationship. 

Having more free time, I managed to get in a bit of rowing before the end of term. This was to be the swansong in my rowing career. Ralph Baldwin and I decided to enter the Durham University Regatta as a coxless pair. We invited Eileen and Ralph's wife to come and watch us race. We didn't do very well but managed to finish the course without 'catching a crab' or hitting the bank. When it was all over we were invited by our hosts, Hatfield College, to attend an evening do but the girls were furious that they were not invited. They had to return home to Newcastle by bus. 

With the design thesis handed in and the written exams just around the corner, I had an offer of a job in Norwich. However, the office of Professor Edwards, the head of the School of Architecture in Newcastle, was also looking to recruit a couple of assistants. (The office was actually located just two floors below the fifth year studio.) 

I knew that if I left Newcastle I would most probably never see Eileen again. My decision to stay was therefore made for me. Ken Appleby had already decided to join the Newcastle practice so I told him that I would be joining him. That weekend Eileen and her sister, Maria, were bridesmaids at a wedding between their friend Margaret McMillan and Lewis Ash, another architect. Ken was also at the wedding and unwittingly told Eileen that I had accepted the Newcastle job. She obviously didn't know. Ken apologised to her but said nothing to me. Later that day, when Eileen came to the studio to meet me, I told her of my decision to stay in Newcastle. She didn't give the game away and the moment was unspoiled and memorable. It was only several years later that she told me what had happened. 

It didn't take long after that weekend for me to ask Eileen to marry me. She said yes. 

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Once you have found her, never let her go.

In the run up to my finals in 1959, life was very busy but Eileen and I did manage to spend time together.  She would often come to the flat in Bowsden Terrace after work, armed with a pre-prepared meal like corned beef hash or shepherd's pie to pop straight in the oven. She must have had a very understanding boss at the marine research station. As a well-known singer, she was often introduced to visiting VIPs such as naval commanders and other high-ranking dignitaries - Prince Philip being one of them.

The late fifties produced a number of American musicals first on stage and, later, on film. The most prolific writers were Rogers and Hammerstein. Eileen and I saw South Pacific at the cinema and it remained a firm favourite of ours ever since, partly because of the love story of two people brought together from different backgrounds in unexpected circumstances. We could identify ourselves in the lyrics. 

After seeing the film I made a card for Eileen to express my love for her. [Editor: Mum still has this card. 2020] 

I had already spent time with Eileen's family in Wallsend, often staying for Sunday lunch which extended into tea and dinner. I began to appreciate the closely-knit family and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. I was obviously aware, at that time, of the differences within the Christian Church and the antagonism between Catholics and Protestants, particularly in Ireland. On a personal level, the welcome I received from Eileen's parents and siblings left me in no doubt about their genuine acceptance of me. While their Sunday routine revolved around attendance at Church, I was never made to feel an outsider. Underneath it all, however, there were concerns about our growing relationship because of the Catholic Church's distinctly hostile attitude at the time towards what it called 'mixed marriages'. 

But, as I was to discover later on, my own parents were very concerned about the prospect of me being married and possibly indoctrinated by the Catholic Church. Easter was rapidly approaching for my next return home to Peterborough. I was naturally keen to talk about Eileen but I don't think they believed our relationship was that serious. 

On a happier note, one of the highlights of those early months together was the annual fancy dress Arts Ball, held by the Fine Art Department. Eileen hired a top hat and tails outfit, complete with fishnet tights and high heels. I wore a Spanish dancer costume, complete with wide-brimmed hat and castanets. After the ball was over our party moved to Ralph Baldwin's house in Whitley Bay. Poor Eileen had a singing engagement before the ball so I don't know how she kept going. 

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Graduation and a trip to the Lake District

 [Editor notes: I have found a selection of photos from a holiday my dad took with three of his Cambridge pals. He doesn't refer to it in the memoir, but the trip may have occurred after graduation in 1957. Although these photos are out of sync with the current blog posts, I though it would be good to share them.]

Graduating from Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1957. Accompanied by my parents plus my sister, Betty.

A trip to the Lake District with Cambridge friends: Waleed El Hashimi, Anthony Hidden and Roy Lander.