I was 15 years old and playing table tennis for Montagu and North Fenham Boys Club. Our number one player was Dave Rogers who was a member of the YMCA. He suggested to me I should join the YMCA to practise and improve. As I was only 15 , ( you had to be 16 to join) he introduced me to Arnie Warrents who was a county ranked player. Arnie spoke to Mr. Hoggart who was the Secretary and agreed to let me join. This was in April 1968.Many county players played and practised there:
- Peter Hoyles ( future county champion 3 times)
- Arthur Chilvers ( we won the county men’s doubles title three years later)
- Terry Hart
- Ron Kettlewell
- Arnie Warrents
Other players who were members were; Rob Lawson ( still my best pal to this day), Gordon Carlisle , Denny Wilson , Denny Davison , Ernie Wilson , Malcolm Anderson , Mickey Ford (county champion in 1964) , Joe Smith , Steve Smith , Dave Antilles , Tony Dott , Wally Allison , Peter Holt , Chris Shepherd (and his father Lou) , Dave Donaldson and Frankie Burns.
I would be at the YM most evenings playing table tennis and also go into the snooker room where there were four full size tables. A man called Bert was in charge of the snooker room. His brother Percy was one of the porters. The other porters were Gerry Kelly (head Porter) and a man called Jack who was ‘on the door’. Mr. Hoggart was in charge of the place and he had a female assistant called Drew.
Other members I recall were Peter Brewis, Teri Redpath, Dave Keogh, Jimmy Hurst (Porter at Boots on the corner of Grainger Street), John Lewis, Tom Oxnard, Peter Garrod, Mike Brown and Len and Mollie Heppell. There was also someone called Aaron who used to come in on his cycle.
Each lunchtime during the week snooker table 2 (the best one) was booked from 11.30 until 2.00. Different business men came in every half hour or so to play. I remember Ben Form who had a motor cycle place on Westgate Hill and Bernie Cunningham whose company was North East Paper Co. Ltd. that sold paper bags and carriers to Fenwicks and some of the traders in the Grainger Market.
On Tuesday and Friday evening I often made up a group of four on table 2 with Jack Dewey (he owned the Rothbury Shop in the Grainger Market) and his relatives David and Harry. The three of them came in every Tuesday and Friday. On Saturday evening Mr Bennett and his two sons came in. Mr Bennett was well dressed in jacket and trousers. He would have a game of snooker and then go off to a pub.
The table tennis room was the highest part of the building. Also on the top floor was the gym. It was used for badminton two or three times a week. Some of the players played for Northumberland and the head coach was a lovely man called Jack. Weightlifting also took place in the gym.
In about 1970/71 the final of the National Rose Bowl (national ladies team of three) was held in the gym. The Northumberland team of Maureen Heppell, Cynthia Duncombe and Phil Clarke beat a southern county who had two England internationals playing for them, Karenza Matthews and Judy Williams, in their side and another lady called Alma Taft.
On the first floor of the building was the snooker room, office, the jukebox room, the canteen and the reading room. Many older members spent much of their time in the canteen and reading room. The jukebox room also had a table tennis table where some of the none team players would have a game. I remember ‘The Son of Hickory Hollows Tramp’ and ‘In The Ghetto’ were played almost constantly when they were number one in the charts.
In about 1972 a girl called Barbara Kearney joined the YM and used to go into the jukebox room with a friend of hers. She started to play on the table tennis table and Ernie Wilson say her and showed her the table tennis room on the top floor. She took up the game and later became Northumberland ladies champion. I played in the county team with her once or twice. She later moved to Australia and went on to be the Australian ladies champion. She later returned to England and now lives in Yorkshire.
On the second floor was the dining room. Many local businessmen came in for the three course lunch which I think cost 3 shillings and sixpence. Between the second and third floors was Connaught Hall. This was used for lectures and entertainment. I remember Jake Thackeray (a tv personality at the time) performed there one evening and I got his autograph. I probably still have it somewhere upstairs in a box.
The table tennis room was always very busy and by the time the YM closed I had played for Northumberland juniors, senior first and second teams and had won the county youths singles and men’s doubles. All of this was down to joining the YM.
In about 1970 a new deputy secretary was employed, a really nice man called Geoff Hopkins. Opposite the YM in Blackett Street was Emerson Chambers which housed the Sunrise Chinese Restaurant. Many of us had the special lunch there and I got to know John Chan who was on of the waiters. He said he could play table tennis. The Chinese were generally some of the best players in the world at that time. So I took him to the YM one day to have a game. He played penhold, but unfortunately was not very good.
When Blackett Street closed in late 1972/early1973 quite a few of us joined the new YM in Ellison Place. This had a bigger table tennis room, squash courts and a large gym which the badminton players used. Most of the YM table tennis players were now playing for different clubs, but we still practised at the YM for a year or two.
I’m not sure when the new YM closed, but I would guess the opening of Eldon Square Sports Centre contributed to its demise. I’m fairly sure Mr Hoggart and Geoff Hopkins moved to the new YM and they had a new assistant called Janine. Some of the older members also moved to the new YM.
In June 2019 we had a table tennis reunion and met at a bar called Banyan in Blackett Street. We sat outside in the sun and it was mentioned we were only about 40 yards away from where that most fantastic building used to stand. What a great place it was and can never be replaced.