The Black Middens

A story of love and struggle to bring up three children during the war years.
Joe Donnelly, a coble fisherman from cullercoats meets the girl of his dreams when Emily Rose Higgins crashes into him on her bicycle whilst out with her sister Mary Jane. Joe and his brother George, a captain in the British Army ask the two girls out to a dance at the plaza in Tynemouth and they both fall in love. Alan Donnelly the youngest of the brothers is in the Northumberland Fusiliers. it is not long before they all get married. Emily Rose has two children but there are complications during the birth of her third child and she dies leaving Joe to bring up Marina, George, and Helen the newborn child.
After some attempts to try and hire a nanny come house keeper Joe hires a dutch girl called Alina Classen whose parents were both killed by the Germans in the first world war.
Not speaking much English Alina works very hard and teaches the children to speak Dutch and they in turn teach her English. What dev


1. 1

The wind was getting up as it blew across the dunes at Tynemouth. The waves of North Sea grew stronger as they crashed into the pier sending a shower of salt water over the causeway. In the distance a small coble battled against the elements; Joe Donnelly had been out in all weather conditions and he knew the signs only too well as he hurried to gather in his fishing net which he hoped would produce enough fish to sell at the market to feed his family. The muscles in his arms and chest strained as he took hold of the anchor rope that stopped the net from drifting away. Yanking it off the bottom of the sea he hauled it on board the Emily Rose named after his wife.

Joe was a hard working man just like his late father George William Donnelly who had also been a fisherman. He was taken in his early fifties on board the Ocean Dweller off the coast of Norway in 1886. Joe could remember his father even though he was only five years old at the time. His walrus moustache and his clay pipe that he liked to smoke. He liked to sit in his rocking chair by the fireside where he would tell his children stories of the ships that he’d sailed on as a young boy to catch herring.

Then how he then joined the whaling ship called the Fluke Chaser hunting the sperm and right whales where the blubber was turned into oil to light lanterns.

Joe was the only one to take up fishing his other two brothers Alan and George Junior Joined the Army. A huge void was left after his father’s death and Joe was left to look after his mother until she died. Lilly Donnelly took to drinking gin after her husband died; her death was due to alcohol consumption and liver failure.

Joe inherited the fisherman’s cottage on Bank Top. The cottage had been passed down to three generations before him; Joe was the fourth.


The sky turned black and then the rain came down in torrents the heavy woollen sweater that Emily Rose had made for him was soaked but he carried on hauling in the net there were some good fish in his boat and they would fetch a fair price at the market in North shields providing he could get his boat back safely.

He began to row the boat towards the shore it was back breaking work in these swells

He hoped that the current wouldn’t drag him onto the Black Middens a notorious spot for boats and ships alike. His father had told him the tale of the old ships that became marooned on the Middens and were plundered by pirates and smugglers.

Many men were hanged as a consequence. According to his grand father one of his great uncles was caught and hanged for smuggling when they were caught near Jingle Geordie’s Hole; a large cave beside the Priory Castle and the Monastery that was run by the monks who had been there since the Norman Conquests when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings when the King was shot with an arrow that pierced his eye.

Joe heaved harder on the oars and began to make a little head way if he could reach King Edwards Bay he could pull his boat ashore there, then go and fetch  his friend

Peter Thompson who had a strong horse they could use it to place the boat onto the

Cart and take it back to where it was normally moored at Cullercoats Bay.


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