The tale of the German Rhubarb
Charles recalls a childhood playing games in the Ouseburn and finally solving the mystery of the German Rhubarb!
When we were lads in the late 50s and early 60s a tall weed, which we called German rhubarb, grew profusely on the steep banks, which stretched down from Lansdowne gardens to the gently flowing stream called the Ouseburn. This weed grew in dense thickets which we would charge and roll through emulating scenes from world war two movies set in the far east with combat against an implacable Japanese foe. My bedroom in Lansdowne gardens looked straight across the burn towards Heaton Park where the steeple of St. Gabriel’s church stood proud above the tree line. At night I could occasionally hear the trains as they crossed Biker Bridge further down the valley. In the summer if there was an early morning mist rising from the burn I knew it was going to be a warm sunny day. Even better if that was a Saturday morning when it provided a rather wild and exciting playground. In those days what is now a pleasant landscape part of the valley was an unfenced municipal tip for building rubble, which came from demolitions else where in the city as a result of modernisation schemes. Despite the somewhat hazardous landscape the water in the burn must’ve been relatively clean as we used to fish for sticklebacks with nets on the end of narrow bamboo poles. Any unfortunate fish caught didn’t survive long when kept in jam jars of water at home. The part of Jesmond Dene and the Armstrong bridge was know by us as the blind park where between the flowerbeds it had lush lawns which made for a great place to play football which my pals and I often did. But unfortunately, ball games weren’t allowed so every now and then we would be chased away by the park keeper, the parky to us, and we would leg it down stream, hop over the wall out of harms way. The council tip provided a ready source of material: joists, floorboards and other assorted timber for a bonfire on guy Fawkes night which was erected on the flat strip of land on top of the burn in front of our house. One year the heat from the blaze was so intense it cracked one of our front windows. During winter the banks of the burn provided a great spot for sledging and the winter of 1962-63 was memorably long and severe. In those days the Flora Robson theatre was located at the bottom of Benton bank besides which a roughly gravelled area served as its car park. During that long bleak winter the car park was covered in black ice for several weeks. We would sledge down the bank, hit the black ice and shoot across at high speed towards the icy waters of the Ouseburn beyond. My sister Anne and I had our picture taken by an evening chronicle reporter one day when we were sledging and we appeared in the newspaper later that week. Heaton Park on the other side of the burn was also a great playground for us with tall swings, a slide, roundabouts, shuggy boats and in the summer tennis courts on which we played frequently. There was also the café where we would by floats; a fizzy drink topped with a scoop of ice cream. Nearby Heaton high library was also a frequent destination where after I would visit my great aunt Jane who lived on either hotspur or mulberry street, she was a lovely warm hearted lady who always had cakes or biscuits to hand. When I was 16 after my father and grandmother died we moved out of our big house for some inexplicable reason to Wideopen, for me a godforsaken place but my oldest pal mike’s mum Renee Chaplin gave me a key to their house in Kimberly gardens, the street where I was born so I always had somewhere to stay if I was out late in town. She was still in that house some 40 years later. Recently my friend Mike spotted some of the aforementioned German rhubarb in Heaton park and he emailed me a photo of it, I decided to find out what it was really called so I asked Cowell's garden centre in Woolsington, the answer came back, Japanese Knotweed; Fallopia japonica, a highly invasive species so now we know that really we should’ve called it Japanese Rhubarb.
Beyond the Map
Community groups come together to record stories about Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley.