Tommy Jones – 1913

The sound of the hooter filled the still night air and echoed off the river fog that rolled up-river from the mouth of the River Tees. It was the end of the two ‘til ten shift, on a dark night in 1913. Tommy Jones slipped on his jacket, picked up his bait box1 and his dented enamel billy can, and headed for the dock gate. He was exhausted after shovelling stone from the depths of the ship’s airless hold.

The Amsterdam registered ‘Norseman II’ had been laden with ironstone from Sweden, and most of the cargo had been craned out by mechanical grabs. The remaining ore in the edges and corners of the hold had to be removed manually and it was backbreaking, dirty work.

He paused at the dock gate near a pile of rubble, knelt down, scooped loose gravel into his billy and replaced the lid. Swinging it by the wire handle to test the weight, he smiled grimly and stepped out into the street. He had been warned that the local Irish gang were unhappy with him and his wife Eliza. Tom was especially worried, as Eliza was heavily pregnant with their second child.

The area around Marsh Road was populated by the poorest families in Middlesbrough. To supplement their income, Eliza utilized the laundry copper in the back yard to make soup that she sold from their front doorstep. In opposition to the O’Malley’s impossible interest terms, she had also started to offer modest ‘pay day’ loans to families that found it near impossible to manage until the next pay day.

Only a few streets separated the docks from Marsh Road but it was soon apparent that Tom was being followed. He lengthened his stride and as he rounded the corner of the street he took off. He could hear the footsteps of his pursuers and figured there were at least two men.                                                                              The front door of 93 Marsh Road was unlocked. He dashed in, ran a few paces up the stairs and waited in the dark. The stairwell was on the left of the hallway, which continued to the kitchen at the rear of the house. The two assailants came through the door and headed towards the kitchen. Tommy waited until they were alongside, and from his elevated position, leaned over the banister and swung the billy with as much force as he could muster.                                                                   The billy connected with the back of the first man’s head. He yelled in pain as he dropped to the floor. The second man tumbled over his fallen comrade. Tom swung the billy can threateningly.                                                                      “Now bugger off and don’t come back!” he yelled.

The O’Malley brothers made a bloody retreat.

Eliza gave birth on Monday 23 March 1914. The child (my dad) was named after his father Thomas, as his father was before him. He was a brother for two-year-old David and older brother to his sister Doris.

Tommy, Doris & Dave

Most of their growing up years they lived at 93 Marsh Road and all attended Denmark Street School.  When Tommy turned fourteen, he was required to contribute to the family expenses and so left school and became a ‘working man’.

Although he suffered all his life from chronic bronchial asthma, Tommy was a hard worker and multi-skilled. In the early years he worked as a property repairer, turning his hand to anything from blocked sewers to solid wall plastering, from bricklaying to fireplace replacements.

Charles Harrison – ‘Chasing Rainbows’  1913
I’m always chasing rainbows
Watching clouds drifting by
My schemes are just like all my dreams
Ending in the sky

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