Early Years at Nova Lima

Mam, nana and me at Nova Lima

I was born in a house named Nova Lima at Moor Edge, Crossgate Moor, Durham City in the April of 1939. I was named Albert Littlefair Simpson after my dad who, just a few days after my first birthday, was conscripted and in the royal artillery. After a few months training he was in one of many anti aircraft gun crews at Spurn Head on the Humber.

Meanwhile in the June of 1940 my mother Ruby Gladys had given birth to my brother William Fenwick Littlefair Simpson. Though I have no memories of her at Nova Lima, photographs show my mam’s mother Jessie Wells was living there and helping my mother care for us. Also living there before their marriages , though again I have no memory, were my mothers younger brother Sydney (married 1942) and youngest of the family sister Maude (married 1941)

William, later known as Bill, was named after Jessie’s husband and mam’s dad William Maurice Wells who had died in 1936 aged 58 at Office Street, Browney. That property had been owned by Browney Colliery for whom he had worked as an electrical foreman and his death required Jessie to move her family elsewhere.

In the back garden of Nova Lima – Bill’s birthday? – he is holding on to something. Me on the right with a Douglas, Laurence and Gordon behind. Cheer up lads.

We believed for many years that Bill’s Fenwick name had come from Maude’s husband Ernest Fenwick but much later discovered it was in memory of dad’s cousin Fenwick Harrison Littlefair who at the age of 14 and in the January of 1940, some 5 month before Bill’s birth, had been crushed and killed by a colliery lift shaft.

Nova Lima was the house of mother’s older brother William John Wells known as Jack. It was in a then “well to do” area of Durham and I suspect most of the neighbourhood kids went to private schools. Jack, at the age of 19 had gone to Brazil to work as an electrician. He was employed in a British company owned gold mine and living in the company owned town of Nova Lima. He came home about 18 month after his father’s death and bought this house in the Cul de Sac at Moor Edge and named it Nova Lima (now number 20). He then moved his siblings and mother from where they were living at Mowbray Street in the City into his house and returned to Brazil.

Memories of my time at Moor Edge are few and far between. One memory shared with Bill was of my being on a trike and not looking where I was going. I ran into the midriff of the milkman’s horse and it bolted the few yards to the end of the cul de sac. I was run over by the tiny two wheeler cart but unharmed. The bike was mangled by the bolting horse. My mam was most concerned about the bike which belonged to an Arthur whose mam was more concerned about me.

A 3.7″ heavy anti-aircraft gun.

I have just two memories of the war. One was of looking and seeing some things in the night sky as we made our way to a corrugated steel sheet bunker sunk into the back garden. The other is of standing on a street corner with my mam and dad. Dad had left his mates and a large gun that stood on the outskirts of streets to come and talk to us. My mam must have taken me to Thorne, near Doncaster where dad was residing with a Betty and Tommy Nichol. We visited them several times in later years and referred to them as aunt and uncle. The year must have been 1943 when I was 4 and Bill nearly 3. Bill must have stayed at Nova Lima with his nana Jessie. The gun was most likely a 3.7″ heavy anti aircraft gun and there to shoot at German planes on bombing paths from Hull to the industrial areas of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

At moor edge we had access to a field next to Arthur’s house at the bottom of the cul de sac where we would play. I remember a number of us being told off by a girl’s mother when playing at “doctors and nurses” there. Across the top of the cul de sac ran the then main north south road but with only a tiny fraction of today’s traffic on it. I was at that time frightened of dogs and remember their concern, when walking with mam and dad, at my running onto that road in front of an approaching car to avoid a dog.

At Neville’s Cross school I remember someone in front of me getting a clouting for spilling an ink filled well onto the teacher’s stockings as she walked the aisle between the desks. They did not hold back in those days and accident was no excuse. On another occasion I got stuck in deep snow at the top of the cul de sac on my way to school. It was over the top of my wellies and my mother must have been watching out of the window as she came to rescue me.

When I was 5 and a half and in the December of 1944 my youngest brother Derrick was born. I have a memory of playing in the cul de sac outside the front of the house and excitedly telling others that he was there in the front room, a room not so much used. Dad was at the time training at Blairgowrie in Perthshire and I think Derrick had been conceived on one of his leaves from there. He was training to be one of a ten man gun crew that would later take to France their 25 foot long, five ton, 6″ gun towed behind a Leyland Matador truck. He was in a medium regiment that would have 16 of these guns that operated as two 8 gun batteries about a mile apart

Derrick is a type of crane and I was told that the spelling of his name was a mistake at the registry office and that it should have been Derick. However Derrick was a name long before it referenced a crane. Seemingly a 17th century hangman at Tyhurn called Derrick gave his name to gallows and subsequently to that crane type.

I have no memories of going to school with Bill but I think we must have walked to and from the Neville’s Cross school regularly together and I think in the company of a Barry Smurthwaite who lived in Tollhouse Road and whom we had befriended.

A further memory I have is of us as a family walking up the steep Red Hills bank heading for Moor Edge with dad pushing Derrick in his pram. Dad must have been superbly fit because the bank itself is a hard climb but he was giving the pram hard pushes so as to send it up the bank and collect it on its coming back to him. I know not whether I remember that because I feared for Derrick or because I had not seen such things before.

The record shows dad was a Gunner in the Royal Artillery from 18/4/1940 to 13/4/1946

The above memory must have been after dad got his army release papers in the April of 1946 when I was 7 and before August/September of that year when Jack and his Brazilian wife Nelly arrived in the country via Tilbury.

Jack and Nelly had no family and never had one; they were not used to kids and were desirous of their own space. Bill told me and I suspect dad had told him that Jack had said “get these f” ing kids out of here”. Seems harsh but let’s remember it was his house that we had enjoyed in those early years. We consequently moved across town and into a Council property at Musgrave Gardens in Gilesgate Moor whilst Jessie remained with them until the house was later sold. My understanding is that she went into service as a sort of ladies helper come companion in properties including one at High Shincliffe.

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