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Kirkfield Place

Built around 1870 this building stood on Ferry Lane where Saint Swithens Court stands today. The layout of the building was unusual in that it consisted of two shops on the front that were either side of a central archway that led into the yard area. Once through the archway you had a row of 16 houses to the right that were two up and two down houses with a further two houses at the bottom of the yard, again with a central archway. On the left of the yard were the blocks of outside toilets with a out house between them, behind the toilets was a wall that run the full length of the yard that was five or six feet high. The houses were brick built with sash windows and four panel doors with slate roofs.


The yard was originally a loose surface with a brick path that ran down the side of the houses. The interior of the houses were also very basic and often cramped due to more than one family sharing the same house. Originally built to house local miners at a time when large coal mines were being sunk in the village attracting miners from areas as far away as South Wales, Kirkfield place would have been a very mixed group of people. Over the years the yard became known to locals as Chuggler Bunk, this was one of three nicknames for the yard, the others being; Burgulars Alley and Sheppards Rest. It is not known how the yard come to get these nicknames but the one that most people seem to remember was Chuggler Bunk.


During Victorian times the male inhabitants of the Chuggler were seen as a real rough and ready lot by the village that spent their lives either down the mines or in the pubs on Ferry Lane. There are many tales of these folk. On weekends the men from the yard would meet up on a strip of land at the back of the Chuggler called Beesam Lane where they would spend the evenings bare knuckle boxing, taking bets on who would win the fights. Several of the men were regulars in the Ship Inn, one man was a miner from Abertillery in South Wales who came to Stanley looking for work in the mines. According to stories told he would leave his gold pocket watch on the window cill outside the Ship Inn knowing no one dare take it for fear he would find out and beat them.


The woman of the yard would sit out in the yard chatting to passing gypsies and even smoking clay pipes. It is said one woman from the yard did not turn up at her daughters wedding because se did not approve of her future son in law who was too posh for her liking, so she stayed at home and black leaded the kitchen fireplace while the rest of the family went to the wedding. The children who lived in the yard in those days had a tough childhood, a large number of them never made it to adulthood. Infant deaths were common back then, i know my own Great Grand Parents lived in the yard and had seven children out of eleven die through various illnesses.


The houses remained virtually unchanged through out the first half of the 20th Century, slowly falling into disrepair. The water pressure was so bad that if somebody else on the row was running water you would have to wait until the had finnished before you could get. The houses never had toilets fitted indoors, a real shock for one woman who was used to indoor toilets before she married and moved into the Chuggler with the inlaws. The male folk would just open the bedroom window during the night if they needed the toilet and pee down the wall. By the early 1960s the houses were so bad that people started to move out and by the mid 1960s the houses were condemed by the local authorities. Many of the remaining residents were moved into the prefabricated houses that stood next to the yard allowing the bulldozers to move in.


The building was partly demolished in 1969 leaving only the front section that housed the two shops. This was left standing for a few years, a real eye sore until 1971 when Harold Wilson MP was due to come and open the new bridge at Stanley Ferry. Months before the visit the whole area was cleaned up and the remaining part of the Chuggler knocked down. The land remained overgrown for many years until Saint Swithens Court was built in the early 1980s. Many former residents of the Chuggler still live in Stanley today, some have moved further afield. All have their own stories to tell, many of their photos are on this page. One thing is for sure, with a name like Chuggler Bunk and with as many characters as the place had memories of the yard will live on for many years.

Origins of the name Chuggler Bunk

Many people may wonder where the name comes from, an unusual nickname that eludes all of our older village folk as to it origin. We know Kirkfield Place comes from “Kirk” meaning church, added to fields we get church fields, the name coming from the area being the fields of the old Saint Swithens Chapel that stood near to Clarke Hall. But to find the origin of the nickname “Chuggler Bunk” we need to surmise a little. If you look at the yards other nick name Sheppard’s Rest this may hold a significant clue. The name Sheppard’s Rest is normally used as the name of a pub or old ale house. Together with the fact that the word “Chuggler” is the name given to a beer mug that holds 30oz of ale, that has since long disappeared from our pubs today there is a real possibility that there was either an ale house within, or nearby to Kirkfield Place.

When the Chuggler was built in the 1860s, Stanley Ferry was a buisy centre linking us via a network of waterways to the sea. The area would have been full of people who were either just passing through or coming to find work. The 19th Century ale houses provided invaluable help and comfort to the indigent, catered for the financial hardships of the lower orders, and were important in providing cheap accommodation for the traveller, trader, immigrant, and young men on completing their apprenticeships. It was also an important social and entertainment centre. It is common knowledge that several of today’s pubs in the village started life as ale houses, so it seems then even more likely that a ale house would have been at the top end of Ferry Lane.

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