Monday 8th March 2021 is International Women’s Day and to celebrate it we have chosen to dedicate our March Heritage Blog to all the working women of the Ouseburn Valley and surrounding area.

March 2021

Rather than looking for famous local women we have delved into our oral history collection to bring you the stories of three ordinary, but still amazing, local women talking about their working lives in the early to mid 20th Century. These edited excerpts are from recorded interviews made during an oral history project run by Trust volunteers in the early 2000s. The following three video clips are our first attempts to illustrate these stories using archival images and we welcome your comments.

Ella Clark at the Byker Wash House

First up we have Ellen Clark, known as Ella, who was born on 14th July 1924 in Aberdeen. She got married in 1942 and moved to Newcastle where she lived with her new husband in her mother-in-law's house on Stratford Grove West, Heaton, close to the City Stadium. In this excerpt, Ella tells us about wash day at Byker baths. (Video link). If the concept of a wash-house remains a mystery and you can’t visualise a ‘poss stick’ try watching this fantastic short film Public wash-house Liverpool (1959) available through the British Film Institute (BFI) National Archive.

Our next two amazing women both worked at Maynard’s Toffee Factory on Ouse Street, an iconic Ouseburn building you will doubtlessly be very familiar with today.

Emily Darby, a 1920s working woman

Emily Darby was born on Tunstall Road in Byker in 1914 and lived there until she was 14 when she was re-housed with her family to Wellbeck Road in Walker. Emily was the second youngest of seven children – 5 girls (including twins) and 2 boys. She started work at Maynard’s in 1928.

Irene Osborne, Maynards Toffee Factory sweet packer

In contrast to Emily’s experience of looking for work in the late 1920s, Irene Osbourne went to work at Maynard’s in 1948 aged 15 when it was quite a different employment market after World War 2. (video link). If you would like to know more about the history of the Toffee Factory building and the people who worked there, take a look at Silvie Fisch’s book Toffee Factory Newcastle – A Little History.

Silvie contributed considerably to the Trust’s Oral History project making her the fourth amazing woman today. Our fifth amazing woman is the current Trust volunteer Yvonne who has used her audio editing skills to bring us today's three stories. Our thanks to all five of them.

If you know of someone (male or female) with local stories to tell or if you are an amazing woman working in the Ouseburn today, we would love to hear from you for future contributions to the archive.