|Prudhoe & District Local History Society
Home guard circa 1940. 2nd from the left back row is Bill's dad - George Hunter.
Bill Hunter was born in 1936 in Prudhoe and was one of three children. He was the third generation to live in Prudhoe.
One grandfather was a horse keeper at the West Wylam Colliery. The other worked for the Blackett family at Matfen hall as a jockey groom and then moved onto work for Vickers-Armstrongs.
His father worked at Vickers-Armstrongs and then at West Wylam Colliery as an engineer in charge of the fitters. He was the final man out when the mine closed in 1961 after which he returned to Vickers-Armstrongs.
Photo courtesy of 87-year old Mrs Molly Smith published on 19th August 1994.
Things have changed a great deal down at West Wylam since this picture was taken back in 1926.
The country was at a standstill, with the General Strike at its height. These men were all workers at West Wylam Colliery, and we passing the time playing quoits at the rear of now demolished Clive Street.
Molly could identify some of the people in the picture including her brothers Will and Jonty Mitchell, and Willie Jackson who like many working men in the Depression decided to seek a better life by emigrating to Australia.
His mother was brought up in a miners cottage in West Wylam and her mother was fortunate to have escaped the Bog's Disaster of 1910.
Glass vases were produced to help raise money for the survivors and Bill is a proud owner of one which has been passed down to him.
His uncle Bob was a miner but having been talent spotted he took ten years out of mining to be a footballer in the 1920's for Bradford City and Reading.
Bill went to Prudhoe West school and then to Prudhoe East. Having passed the 11+ he went to Hexham Grammar school leaving school at 17.
During his National Service in the airforce Bill travelled to Germany and Belgium and worked as a plotter.
Bill is the third generation in his family to keep bees. One of his earliest memories is going with his father and other bee keepers up to Edmund buyers to take the bees to get the heather. In those days with only one bee keeper with a car they had to hire a wagon to take the hives. Bill still keeps bees and has been interviewed several times about bee keeping, including the BBC Listening Project. He has also kept pigeons from the age of twelve.
His early memories during the war are of going to school carrying his gas mask.
Bill has clear recollections of the air raid sirens and the sound of the planes overhead. He remembers the Inns of Court, King's Own Scottish Borderers and the South Staffordshire Regiments all being billeted in Prudhoe.
The Hunter family were fortunate not to lose any members of their family during the two wars.
Five uncles survived the trenches in WW1 and survived WW2. His father and four uncles all worked for Vickers-Armsrongs who were making armaments.
The company had twelve hour shifts with 28 days on and only one day off to change shift. His father apart from working these long shifts was a member of the home guard and was given a rifle and five rounds of ammunition.
In those days Prudhoe had two Methodist churches. West Wylam and Mickley also each had two and Low Prudhoe had one Methodist church. The chapels often became known from the families that ran them.Prudhoe had a miners hall and two cinemas, the Rio and the Rex and two co-ops, the Blaydon and district and the West Wylam and Prudhoe. Prudhoe had a lot of allotments for theminers who kept pigs and hens as well as producing their own produce.
Bill can remember Mickley Square more square shaped than it is now. It had Low and High Row North, Low and High Row South and East and West St and Cross street. The netties (toilets) were across the road, shared one between two houses.
Bill recollects big changes in the town in the early 60's with the closure of the collieries and ICI.
Many younger miners moved to Yorkshire or Nottingham to find work down the mines. Older miners were sent to more local mines such as Wallsend and Walbottle.
They were not welcome though, with stories of mistreatment from the miners already there, their lives were made very difficult for them.
Two stories Bill remembers being told was of the Prudhoe blacksmith having been paired off with his counterpart and being taken down to some old workings and left there to find his own way out.
The other was when the two cages one on top of the other descended the shaft. The Prudhoe miners were put in the lower one with the Wallsend miners above them. As the cages descended the miners above urinated on those below.
In 1969 Bill married June who worked in behavioural support for the List team. They have a son and daughter and four grandsons who all live locally.
They share an interest in bees and are keen to encourage young children in the importance of bees and are setting up hives for a Broomley Bee Project.