Uncle Teddy sometimes took me down to the breakwater to gather winkles1. We took the trackless bus from the bottom of the street to Grangetown, then walked along the Black Path to Warrenby, through the Steelworks and down the South Gare Road.

We waited on the beach at the breakwater until the tide was fully out, then waded out to where the best winkle beds were. We usually managed to harvest a decent amount before the tide reclaimed the reef. The winkles were later boiled, weighed and bagged with a straight pin2 attached. Teddy sold the winkles at the Pennyman’s for a shilling a bag.

On one occasion, on the way in the bus, Uncle Teddy pointed out some of his workmates riding their bikes to Redcar to collect sea-coal. The coal seams to the north in County Durham surfaced along a reef on the seabed a number of kilometres out to sea. Word had circulated that the last high tide had left a thick coating of sea-coal on the beach. The men carried sacks and wooden scrapers to gather the coal.

One of our neighbours, Gordon Patterson, Coral’s future husband, also collected winkles for his mam to sell on the market or in the pub. One day he left it too late to walk off the reef. The coast guard spotted him with his full heavy bag, stranded as the tide came in and they sent out the lifeboat to rescue him. When they reached him, he cheekily said: “Take my bag of winkles, I’ll swim back!”

Bill Haley – ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’  1954
Get out from that kitchen
And rattle those pots and pans
Well, roll my breakfast
‘Cause I’m a hungry man

Next: G’night G’bless

Previous: Making a living

  1. Small sea snail that can be eaten. Short for periwinkle.
  2. The pin was used to flick off the ‘eye’, then spear the winkle and twist it out of the shell.