“What a privilege to come back and see the old place…oh god this really takes me back,” says Tom Charlton, pointing to a 10-foot-high row of bricks where you can still see the outline of the coal holes through which once a family’s fuel supply was being shoveled.
“That wall was where we would play. We were in the park all day and on the road at night. There weren’t many cars, and when it got dark, the lights came on with a 15-watt bulb. You would choose a door or a charcoal pit as targets.
“Everyone played. Could be 20 per side. It got pretty tough. Nine times out of 10 it was with a tennis ball. Bob always had a tennis ball in his pocket. He walked to school kicking a tennis ball off the wall or sidewalk, trapping it and playing catch up. That’s one of the reasons he was so skilled.
The ‘Bob’ Tom refers to is Sir Bobby Charlton, England’s greatest footballer, and we are located out the back at 114 Beatrice Street. It’s the terraced house among the parallel grid of mining houses in Ashington where Tom grew up sharing a bedroom – and only one large double bed – with older brothers Jack, Bobby and Gordon.
The current occupant is looking out the window as we speak and nods in agreement as a neighbor – Patrick Kelly – suddenly appears at his back gate. It’s not unusual, he says, to have people visit the old Charlton family home, but there’s enough in Tom’s physical features — particularly his hairline and kindly face — to tell immediately that he’s a particularly special guest. special.
“I was born near Ashington Colliery,” Kelly tells us. “I am a former miner but now work at Morrisons. Times have changed but everyone still knows everyone. I would never move. Ashington is the best place I have lived.
And how does Kelly feel about what Jack and Bobby have achieved? “We are all very, very, very proud,” she says.
Tom smiles and then remembers how he once sat here with their mother, Cissie, and correctly remembered the names of every family that lived along this street of more than 100 tightly packed houses.
With Union Flags draped along the road and local children perched on the walls, it was where Bobby and Jack were famously driven in a Rolls Royce for their triumphant return home after the World Cup Final 1966. It was also where Jack last passed in the summer of 2020, when most of what was once known as “the largest mining village in the world” turned out to cheer the his funeral procession.
Tom was following us in the car both of these days and, as they do on numerous occasions during our morning together, his eyes water with all the memories.