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Shirley Copeland

Shirley was born in Wallsend at the GB Hunter Memorial Hospital on The Green in 1952.

Her father was a Commissionaire at Swan Hunter and the family lived in the ‘Big White House’ was at the top of Swan Hunter’s bank. Shirley talks about her memories of living in the “Big White House” and some of the launches at Swan Hunter.

Shirley was interviewed by Alex Magin on 24 November 2006. The interview took place at Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum and lasted for 33 minutes.

Shirley Copeland's Memories

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Because my father was a commissionaire in Swan’s we were given a house that applied to the job we weren’t expected to go and find a house.  My mother and father lived in Gateshead before we travelled over to Wallsend and obviously they gave a house with the job and that was why in 1964 when he died my mother and I had to move out of this house because the house was with the job.  And we actually lived in the big house – that was what is called to everybody that knew it at the top of Swan Hunter bank on the opposite side of the road.  Very, very strange house it was, because the admiralty office – now I was always told I wasn’t saying that word properly,  admiralty is not said admiralty – I’m not really sure how you say that word but I’ve been told I’ve not been saying it properly, but never mind.  The offices were at the back of the house and upstairs so our house had a strange setup, my mum and dad’s bedroom was way back from our bedroom, then we had a living area, a kitchen and then our bedrooms were at the other end of the house.  The only house in the street with a bathroom so we were the posh people in the street.  I seen friends from school funnily enough in the last couple of years there’s been a school reunion, I never knew people thought of me like that but I was always classed as the posh person – I never thought that.

Was that a shock to you to find out?

It was a little bit of a shock, yes, because at the time I never thought that, I was just like everyone else.  I never really thought much about it that we were the only house on the street with a bathroom. At the time obviously it was a big thing to other people.  We had a big area where there was a big garage area and I remember my mum always had a big wash house because she didn’t have a washing machine ‘til very late in life and she had a tub and sosser and a ringer and we used to hand wash the clothes by that.  And we always had clothes hanging out in the back lane; everybody did the same thing, y’know.  So it was a strange set up in the house but very happy memories from that house.  Big kitchen area and there was always lots of cooking going on and I remember the people from the offices – I can’t remember the names of the people from the offices – I asked my brother and my sister, they weren’t sure, but they seem to remember me going in and helping the cleaners doing the dusting and cleaning the phones, things like that. It’s something that’s there in my mind, obviously I was quite young at the time so there’s not a great deal that I can remember like that.

So although you lived there, there was a lot of coming and going?

Yeah, definitely! I mean our house was separate to the offices but the door was adjoining to the corridor where the offices were.  There were cleaners, but I’m sure my mum had a bit to do with what was going on there, y’know, and my dad.

So what sort of work happened in the offices?

I would think the drawing, the technical drawing and things like that for the boats that were being built.  The designers and possibly people like that.