Thoughts, quirky insights and experiences in my meandering life.


Lindisfarne is an island off the north east coast of England, and the home of a monk called Cuthbert who lived in the mid 600s.  Lindisfarne is a completely undefendable island and the abbey there was eventually abandoned after repeated assaults by Vikings.  Cuthbert, who was dead and a saint by the time the island was abandoned, was dug up and dragged all over the countryside until, legend has it, he indicated that his bones should come to rest in what is now Durham.  I am sure that the monks who were carrying him all over the place also noted that it was highly defendable, being a hill on an oxbow in the River Wear.  Only a small neck of land had to be defended against any marauding foes.

And so Durham came to be.  The original church was eventually replaced by the magnificent cathedral built by the last successful invaders of Britain, the Normans.

Iconic view of Durham Cathedral

If you have seen a picture of Durham Cathedral is is very likely to be this view, and it has special meaning for our family.  The window on the top left hand side of the building on the river bank was our Dad’s office.  He had two windows, this one, looking across the river, and around the side of the building another one that looked down the river.  It was the Department of Archeology of Durham University and Dad was a lecturer in Roman History there.  In North America he would have been called a Professor but here only department heads are called professors.  The building was a fulling mill, and is, of course, called The Old Fulling Mill.  The weir across the river held back water so that the river could power the mill wheel.  I never thought about the name, never wondered what fulling actually was.  Only recently I found out that fulling is the process of making felt!  Talk about circles in life, I now make felt, but without the aid of a mill and water wheel.

I grew up on a subdivision.  Funny to call it that because I certainly did not think of it that way when I was a kid.  It was called an estate back then.

1 Grange Road, brand new in 1957

I too had two windows in my room, the two that you can see on the extension on the side of the house, but I shared it with  two sisters until I was 14 when Jane left home for medical school.  Sally moved into Jane’s room, which she moved into when Mary left home for bilingual secretarial course at London College.  The oldest girl and only boy got their own rooms and the others had to share, but it was a big room.  I loved having it to myself!

1968 or 69 Christmas card picture

Besides having a cathedral and an ancient university Durham also has a castle.  You may assume it was for the local lord, but no, it was for the Bishop of Durham, who was in effect, the local ruler, and for a while Durham was known as the Land of the Prince Bishops.  The castle is now a residence for students at the university, as is much of the old city of Durham.  It is rumoured that the Marks and Spencers store just off the market place, which shocked me when I heard it had been closed, is being converted to student housing.  Even Durham is not immune to the effects of big box stores being built on the outskirts of towns, and city centres being gutted.  So sad.  The end of another era for Durham.

Besides being the land of the Prince Bishops, the site of a famous Cathedral, the home of Englands 3rd University it is also the centre of coal mining in the north east.


Miners Gala, Durham

As a child I felt we had a foot in each of two worlds.  Dad taught at the university, but his father had been a chemist in a coal mine, testing coal.  When Dad was about to enter Grammar School the mine owners cut his fathers wage in half.  No wonder coal miners unions become so powerful.  In the seventies they managed to prevent deliveries of coal to power stations and England experienced enforced power cuts on a rotating schedule until the strike was resolved.  Can you imagine enforced power cuts due to a strike today?  I can hear the screams demanding “back to work” legislation!  And of course, places like Walmart ensure that wages are so low that they are barely above the poverty line.

Coal mining is as much  a deeply ingrained part of the psyche of the north east of England as cod fishing is in Newfoundland, even though both are now long gone as a way of life.  The Miners Gala is still held in Durham every July, and the tradition of the brass bands, hand painted banners and political speeches continue to this day.

This is the same street as the previous picture, Elvet and Elvet Bridge, a street I have walked up and down many hundreds of times.

So many memories stirred by being here, and so many places to visit.  Seaham Harbour, Hadrians Wall, York……………


Sunshine in England happens more than you are led to believe.


Stories, myths and memories


  1. Kathie Oakden

    Hi Maggie,
    I have enjoyed your postings immensely. The stories and the photos.
    Much love and bret wishes,

  2. Carol Blehm

    Fond memories of visiting you in your “subdivision”!

  3. K

    Great memories Maggie. How great that you’re able to spend the time to really immerse yourself in your history. Love the family photo.

  4. Mary

    The photo was from 1968 – my first year at City of London College on Moorgate (that’s my ‘college’ scarf I am very proudly wearing!!). It was in the same building that Mum worked in when she first came to London! Quite a coincidence eh? The ‘college’ became a ‘polytehnic’ when they were all in fashion in the ’70s and now it has been absorbed by some other entity – can’t remember the name sorry although Sarah and Chris and I did a ‘trip down memory lane’ there last September to celebrate our 50 years of friendship. Sorry we did not take a pic though because the building was covered in scaffolding.

    One year (the only time I remember actually going to the Miner’s Gala Parade – (Dad did not like taking us where there were crowds) we went to a building where Ray Hurst worked and watched from above. He worked for the Coal Board. Do you remember that Maggie? I suspect you were too young… it was very early on when it was still a very, very big event. Every pit (local name for coalmine) had a banner and a band and a big following so it took a long time for them all to file through the relatively narrow street. They ‘pitched’ up on the fairgrounds at the end of the parade, at the foot of ‘Whinney Hill’. Have you been back there yet? Is it still standing? I know part of it is protected but not the rest… may be another site for student housing?!?! lotsa oxoxo

  5. Elaine

    I am really enjoying your reflections, Maggie. That family photo is precious!! xoxo

  6. Daniel

    Now we have to add “Durham” on the list of places to visit. Thanks for the brief history lesson… always fascinating how places come to be.

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