Mrs. Ethel Ward of 10 Ilchester Street, Seaham 28/7/78
Q – First of all please tell me where, and when you were born?
Mrs. Ward – Well I was born in Sunderland in what you call the ‘Long road’ Sunderland. I came to Seaham when I was two and I’ve been in Seaham ever since. I lived in Cornish Street, Seaham Colliery and when I was six my mother moved down to the Harbour. From there we lived in Pilot Terrace and my father he was a horse keeper when they sank the new dock. He was the boss and he used to look after all the horses.
Q – Would you know the year of that?
Mrs. Ward – Well I was about six.
Q – You were about six, well we’ll work it out and
I get 1897. What are some of your early memories then, when you were a kiddie, before school age?
Mrs. Ward – Then you never heard anyone complain about little or anything and we just spent our time on the beach and when we came back we used to play in the back streets, with all the bairns together.
Q – Did you come from a big family?
Mrs. Ward – We stayed with my grandmother and she had twelve sons. She always had an adopted one and there was always somebody coming to stay. The twelve lads went to the pit so you can imagine – the washings, the baking, and every Monday morning every one of them had a clean white bag on his back with their sandwiches in to take to pit.
Q – Did you have to help your mother in the house?
Mrs. Ward – Oh yes, I was the eldest of eight in my own house, but this was my grandmothers I was talking about, we stayed with her until my mother got a house.
Q – What kind of things were you expected to do?
Mrs Ward – Well at six years old I couldn’t do very much, but I used to do the shopping, I always went with a note to do the shopping.
Mrs. Ward – My mother had seven other children and I was the eldest so you’ll understand what I had to do. Every night I came in from school, there was either a floor to wash, or dishes to wash before I could go out to play. I had these chores (jobs) to do before I went out. The girls would shout, “Are you coming out to play?” and my mother would shout, “When she washes the floor.” My mother was a cripple you see, and she couldn’t kneel.
I remember the first time I washed the floor, I was only ten. Well there were four tenants in the yard and you had to go to the tap down the yard, so my mother said to me, “Take that enamel pail and wash it out and put some clean water in it and I’ll give you a kettle full again. I said, “What for?” She said, “I want you to wash this floor.” It was a great big kitchen, 10 yards of canvas, 2 yards wide so it will tell you the size. The girls were still shouting for me to go out and play. I got it all washed, as I thought -lovely, and she turned round and said, “Now go and wash the pail out again and put another drop cold water in.” I asked, “What for, what have I to do now?” She said, “I want you to wash all this floor over again.” So I said, “What’s the matter with it, it’s clean?” She said, “No it’s not, I’m going to teach you how to do a floor properly. You see those marks where you finished off one part and the other, I want you to take your floor cloth right over them and leave no marks at all on the floor, now that’s how you wash a floor.”
Now those times there was poverty because our fathers were only bringing 30/- a week in (£1.50 in today’s money). You couldn’t afford a bit of oil cloth for the pantry shelves, but they were scrubbed lily white every week, you could eat your meat off them.
Interviewer – So from the point of hygiene, your particular family were very keen on that.
Mrs. Ward – Yes. If my mother went into the pantry and picked a pan up that hadn’t been washed she would have crowned you (hit you) with it.
Q – Different to today. What about prices in the shops?
Mrs. Ward – Oh, the prices were good because you used to go down to the Maypole Dairy and you got a pound of margarine for 6d. (two and a half pence in today’s money) and a half pound given in with it.
Q – For being a good customer.
Mrs. Ward – No, they used to say, 6d. a pound margarine and a half-pound given in with it, that was a pound-and-a-half we got for 6d. Butter then was only l/- (5p in today’s money) a pound and our mothers couldn’t afford to buy it.
Q – What kind of food did you buy?
Mrs. Ward – Just the necessities, flour, tea, sugar and bacon. We alway got a 4lb. jar of jam every week and that was used every week.
Q – How much did that cost?
Mrs. Ward – I think it only cost 2/2 (l1p in today’s money) for the 4lb. jar. Our mothers baked every day, we never ate a bought cake. They always managed to get a bit of margarine and knock something together. When we came in from school and there were tea-cakes standing, we used to go mad, they were a luxury. Mother used to bake some bread, what you called a limpy cake’. You’ll not know what that was. She used to roll the pastry out as if she was going to make a stotty cake and she put lots of lard on it, turned it over and rolled it out again. Put a few more bits of lard on and roll it out again then bake it on the oven shelf. Well when that come out it was three times the size and it was just like shaped leaves, you could cut it through. That was a luxury for us with butter and jam on. But mind we always got a good mid-day meal, my mother saw to that. When we used to come in from school at 12 o’clock all our dinners were standing on the steel fender keeping hot.
Q – Lovely. You were a close family, were you?
Mrs, Ward – Oh yes, and to this day she used to say, “Give the bairns plenty of suet puddings.
Q – To feed them up,
Mrs, Ward – Feed them up, yes. We used to get porridge every morning and porridge every night for our suppers; just plain oatmeal which she boiled, not these fancy boxes. You used to get half-a-stone of that meal.
Q – How much did that cost?
Mrs. Ward – Well it cost 6d. (two and a half pence in today’s money) for us all nd we got a soup plateful on a morning before we went to school and one on a night before we went to bed. I used to go to Dawdon Farm with a great big quart jug for two pennyworth of milk. That was to put on our porridge. We never took any harm, we never had an illness.
Q – So your mother was preparing you for a hard life.By now you were near the start of your working life, please tell us about that?
Mrs. Ward – I had a fortnight to go at school when my mother had twins. At that time I could have gone away and had my education free, I was one of the head ones at the school. There was a teacher off ill for six months in the infants school and I was sent across there every morning when the register was marked and I used to teach her class. I used to teach the five year olds and I was over there for months and months. Now when my mother had these twins, my father went long to see if he could get me off that fortnight. The teacher said, “Oh no, we can’t let Ethel go, we’re only sorry that she’s coming of age to leave.”
Q – How old was this?
Mrs. Ward – That was when I was fourteen. My father said, “Why we need her at home.” So she said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll let her do, she can come in after getting the children ready for school, and has seen to her mam.” Because you had to boil the kettle for the nurse coming in you know.
Mrs. Ward – She said, “She can prepare forthem and then come to school and we’ll still give her, her mark. I’ll let her out at half past eleven to ‘fettle* the meal for the bairns coming in at 12 o’clock.’ There was no school meals then you know, and I used to go back to school at 2 o’clock after I’d washed all up and that and she used to let me out at half past three – which I shouldn’t have got out till four.
Q – So this would be helping you to learn more.
Mrs. Ward – Then I had to do the work when I came in at night. You were up with your mats, sweeping the floor, washing the floor out and scouring the steel fire irons. I remember I was that young the first time I did the fender, I was scouring the fender, my father said, “Put some elbow grease on.” I was that young I asked him where the elbow grease was. He got hold of my hand and he was scrubbing my hand along the fender. He said, “That’s elbow grease.” (put more effort into the work). Now we couldn’t even afford to buy a box of bath-brick, that’s what you used to clean them with, powder bath-brick. Bo you know what we had to do? Well people were that poor, wet a cloth and rub it along the fine ash under the bars, then use this to scour the fire irons. Now they went up onto the big square table a Wednesday and they weren’t put back until Saturday morning.
Q – Was this to keep everything clean?
Mrs. Ward – Yes, when you put them back for the weekend they were all covered up with papers. That’s how our mothers worked. Now if you couldn’t afford a bit of net, you got a pair of curtains, but you couldn’t afford a bit of net. The fancy flowered paper, well everybody used to put that on the bottom three panes, an imitation of a curtain. By there’s nobody knows. At Christmas time our mothers used to always make a mat. Also they made the mistletoe with one big hoop. If we got a halfpenny or a penny we used to buy a toy to hang on this mistletoe hoop.
Mrs, Ward – My mother used to make a big one with three strings, then just used to put like a pair of paper curtains over it then our toys were all hung round for Christmas, see.
Q – Oh yes, I understand.
Mrs. Ward – She always used to make a new ‘hookie’ mat out of old rags and we thought we were ‘A1 at Lords’ because we all had a new mat down. Then at Christmas mother maybe could afford to buy a bit of oil cloth to put on the kitchen table. Well you had a bit new oil cloth, you had the new mat down and the mistletoe.
Q – Everything would look nice and cheerful.
Mrs. Ward – Then when we used to get up on Christmas morning for our stockings they were all fastened on the line and if you got a little apple, a little orange or sometimes a wooden-Betty (doll) (the girls got a wooden-Betty) and maybes two new pennies – well we thought we were millionaires. Now look what they get, £20 and £30 for a toy?
Q – What age did you eventually leave school?
Mrs. Ward – I left school at fourteen. I came in on the Friday from school, I had to start with the work for the weekend, all the windows and those fire irons. My father came in from work and said, “Ethel, you start work on Monday in the bottle-works. I said, “Why I’ve just left school.” So he said, “Well, your job’s there for you.” On the Monday morning I had to get up at five o’clock to go to work. I was in tears because I was just a bairn, you know, just being woken up out of sleep to go to work. I said, “Oh this is awful going to work at this time.” Father said, “You’ll get used to it.” When I went I had to get fitted up with a blue apron, trimmed with red, and a cap. I was sent into what you called the ‘Warehouse’ to sweep up at first. I used to start at six o’clock, come across home for breakfast at eight o’clock, go back across at half past eight and come out at twelve o’clock for dinner. I went back at half past twelve and was “there till five o’clock, for 5/3 a week (26p in today’s money).
Q – That was for sweeping up.
Mrs. Ward – Yes, twelve hours work a day for 5/3d (26p) a week.
Q – How long were you doing that?
Mrs. Ward – I was doing that for maybe two months, then I got a promotion. I got what you call ‘measure girl*. You didn’t measure the bottles with a tape-measure, you know, (laughs).
Q – What did you do then?
Mrs. Ward – You had like a tank, turned over like a cylinder, and it was pointed. It had the marks on where the water should go up to. Well you had to fill them when the bottles came over from where the men made them, you know, in the tanks. You had to take two bottles off the top, fill them with water and put them in this tank thing. Well if they didn’t come up to the measure where the marks were, they were sent back to the men for the men to make over again, they were melted down and made over again if they were ‘too light’. If they went over the mark they were what you call ‘too heavy’. They couldn’t transport them, so they had to be the right measure.
Q – What were these measures used for?
Mrs. Ward – Por the whisky bottles and wine bottles. You used to make little ‘flasks’ which just held a glass of whisky. After that I got a ‘sorters place’. Well the sorters, when the bottles came over in the big bogies, you used to have to begin measuring twelve dozen bottles. Well you held two up together and if there was a flaw in either of them you had to put them out, they had to be perfect. The table used to hold two mats (wrapping bales) of twelve dozen each. Well I worked in that for nearly a year.
Q – Did you get much money for that?
Mrs. Ward – No, I got 2/- more (10p in today’s money) so I got 7/3d a week (31p in today’s money) instead of 5/3d. I then came to what you call ‘packer’ that was the top.
Q – Was that the top job for women?
Mrs. Ward – Yes. Mind you worked for your coppers (money)there.
Mrs. Ward – You used to start at six. When I’m saying packing, you used to have to go down to the mat-lock (where all the women used to be mending packing bags) and you brought one up. You had a frame with four big iron pegs and you had to put the mat inside the frame and put the pegs on. Then you had to go across to the yard and get straw and probably carry three or four batons of straw in. You laid the bottom with this straw and your twelve dozen bottles were standing ready to be packed. You put a dozen at one side and you wrapped every other one with a bit of straw on the other side and put the necks in between all the way, till you got the twelve dozen used. Well after you got the frame off you had to pack right down the sides and right round with straw. Then you used to go down to the office and get a token, that was a bit of paper with the number on and a ticket. You had to pin this token onto the ticket and shove a bit of string through. There was what you call a ‘mat-sewer’, (a man) and he used to come and sewthis mat frame after you had packed it and he fastened this token on. There was another man who used to come from upstairs (the warehouse) with an iron bogey to pull the frame on.
Now sometimes there were so many on the lift to go, a bottle would break in the mats. We would see them come up from the warehouse and say, “Oh, I wonder who he’s coming to. He’d just toss it onto the end of the table and mark it with a great big ‘B’ in chalk.
Q – What was the ‘B’ for?
Mrs. Ward – Breakage.
Q – Then what did you do?
Mrs. Ward – So when we were finished our work for that day we used to have to get this mat and knock it to see where the broken one was. Sometimes you could get your hand down and get it out sometimes you couldn’t. Now if you didn’t, you had that mat to pick over for nothing.
Mrs. Ward – So we were well paid, weren’t we? (laughs) for all that bother I used to get three ha’pence (less than lp in today’s money)
Q – Just lp for packing each of those……..
Mrs. Ward – Twelve dozen bottles, seeking the mats, the straw, and the tokens, you got just lp. So you understand how many of them you had to pack a day to make any money.
Q – It must hare been really hard work.
Mrs. Ward – By then we were drawing about 30/- per week (£1.50p in today’s money).
Q – Well that was marvellous, you have really given me a lovely description of that job. What I want to ask you now is about the women you worked with, I would like you to tell me some of the amusing stories that happened while you were at the bottlehouse.
Mrs. Ward – They were a nice sample of people. They were all friendly and all used to help one another. We used to be singing at the tops of our voices and cracking jokes while we were working, I mean, we had no discipline, we could come and go as we liked. We had a boss, but he never used to bother.
Q – I understand there was one woman who frightened you rather.
Mrs. Ward – Oh, that was when I first went into the bottleworks.
Q – Yes, what about that one?
Mrs. Ward – They put me with her and I was ‘measure girl’ for her. She was just like a gypsy.
Q – Can you remember her name?
Mrs. Ward – Aye, she’s dead now, she was called Maggie Hudson. There used to be her and her mate Sally Blebbins, they are both dead now. She used to say to me, Tack a mat for me, the neet (night) mind, if you can.” I used to have to get up and jump the bottles down.
Q – Jump, what was that?
Mrs, Ward – Yes, you had to jump on the packs to see if they were pressed down properly.
Q – Oh, yes.
Mrs. Ward – She used to say, If there’s no mats packed for me in the morning I’ll ‘sole and heel’ your face.” I was terrified of her, anything she used to ask me to do, I used to go and do it. If there was a truck coming in with soft battons of straw there was a raid on it because we had that much stiff straw. Now we had to wear stockings on our arms, after cutting the feet off, because all the spelks used to get into our wrists when you were packing. If you got a bit of soft straw you were ‘flying’ (pleased and lucky). There was one time I went out, I didn’t give them time to get them off the truck, I got hold of the string and I started to pull the whole truck onto myself.
Q – On top of yourself.
Mrs. Ward – Eeh, they had to dig me out.
Q – Did it all fall on top of you?
Mrs. Ward – It all fell on top of me. Of course in the summer everybody was ‘clammin’ (thirsty) it was so hot and Mr. Valenti (ice-cream man) used to come along with his barrow (he walked from Sunderland) and the girls used to say to me, “Ethel run up and get some sandwiches.” They were only 1d. then mind.
Q – For an ice-cream sandwich, marvellous.
Mrs. Ward – I used to go with a great big tray and get as many as thirty or forty and we didn’t pay him till the weekend, we had no money, we used to ‘tick-on*.
Q – Do you mean you actually got credit, ice-cream on credit?
Mrs. Ward – Ice-cream on credit, and on the Friday they used to give me the money when they got their pays and I used to pay him when he came round on a Friday afternoon. I used to pay him and I got another sandwich, see.
Q – You wouldn’t get that now, would you?
Mrs. Ward – Oh no, a 1d for a sandwich. Mr. Valenti used to do well out of us.
Q – Did you have much contact with the men as work mates?
Mrs. Ward – Not then, we were all by ourselves, at one end of the bottlehouse.
Q – I see, you didn’t bother with young men.
Mrs. Ward – Oh, the only four men that were working in with us were called ‘mat-sewers’, they used to sew our mat frames after we had packed them.
Q – Were they older men?
Mrs. Ward – Oh, they were all older men. They couldn’t do it now, they’d have retired them. They could work in there till they were nearly seventy, you know.
Q – Could you, at the bottleworks?
Mrs. Ward – Oh, there was one man working, eighty-three years old. So you see, when the war came, there were that many lads had to go to war, they were short of men in the ‘tanks’ where they made the bottles. Well they asked if any girls would tackle it, so I tackled it to get more money. My father got me the position, so I went to work across with all the men, what you call on the ‘tanks’.
Q – How old would you be then?
Mrs. Ward – I worked in there when I was only sixteen. I took that on ‘piece-work’. I worked for sixteen men. There were four holes in the tank, and when you looked in the holes it was like the sea, it was the metal moving like waves. You had to look through a blue glass to see in there it was so hot. There was a ‘bottlemaker’ who sat at the top facing this. A ‘bottle-blower’, a ‘gatherer’, a ‘wetter-off and a ‘taker-in’. That was all on one ‘hole’.
Q – What do you mean by a ‘hole’?
Mrs. Ward – That was what you called one’hole’.
Q – A ‘hole’, what would that look like?
Mrs. Ward – It would be where the men put a stamp on the top bottle – say 7.6.A. That would be the 7th hole, on the 6th tank on the 1st shift ‘A’. And the next shift to come on would be ‘B’, see.
Q – Yes. Were these ‘tanks’ very big?
Mrs. Ward – Oh, Aye. There was glass flying all over from the hot pipes you know. There was one fellow who used to go to where the bottlemaker was sitting. He stuck a big iron fawcept into the glass, turned it round and round then ran it down to where a tub of water was and threw water on to cool it and flatten it out so it wouldn’t get any lumps in. Then he passed it on to what you call the ‘bottle-blower’. Well he had the shape of a bottle and he used to drop it in there and then blow through it. His cheeks used to be out puffed right out, till he got the shape of the bottle. Then he used to open it. Then there was another lad only about fourteen or fifteen years old, what you used to call the ‘wetter-off’. He used to get his fawcept through that, carry it up to the man sitting at the top, the bottle-maker, who knocked it off by the neck. He then had a pair of ‘shoes’ and he used to make the neck or the lip. Then there was a lad called ‘taker-in*, he came and got the pin parted through this bottle, lifted it over everybody’s head and put it in what you called a ‘lear’. Now a ‘lear’ was like a great big long oven which was gas-filled and that was what you called to ‘anneal’ them. (Anneal – toughen metal or glass) by heating & slow cooling). I worked at the bottom of this, because I used to draw these bottles.
Q – This fawcept we have been talking about, was it like a metal rod?
Mrs. Ward – It was a metal rod to go inside the bottle. I worked in what you called the ‘lears’ down at the bottom end. Well I had what were like great big iron pans, you know, and each mans bottles were carried up. Well I used to pull this lever, it had like teeth, till I got two pans up to me.
Mrs, Ward – Mind I was pulling longer than this street, and it was hard work. Then I had four wooden bogies, and I had to put these sixteen mens’ bottles into it, (they were marked by just one bottle on the top). I had to pack that bogie up for twenty-three or twenty-four dozen. Then there used to be a man from the warehouse to run them round on like a railway into the warehouse. Now I used to work from six in the morning till six at night one week, then from six at night till six in the morning the next week.
Q – Oh, was there a night shift then, for a woman?
Mrs. Ward – Yes, six at night till six in the morning.
Q – Did you get more money for that?
Mrs. Ward – Oh aye, I was making about £3 then, I worked twelve hours a day for it mind and all nights. If there was one bottle short for any of these men, they could tell you; but sometimes they used to get broken putting them through, they used to fall next to the wall when you pulled the pan, they used to fly off you know and break. Another thing I remember was that the men in the bottlehouse were exempt from government work, my own husband was. They worked on items necessary to help the war effort. They made ‘floats’. These were glass balls, which were sealed – no air in -to put in the sea. After being sent to London, they were attached to long nets and put into the sea. The purpose of this was that if any submarines were around the nets would pop up on top of the water, and the men knew of the danger. If they stayed down, it was alright. These were also sent all over the world.
At two o’clock in the morning I used to go out to call the first shift men up, in the streets, I went up one morning and I was shouting of Mr. Reed, I’ll never forget it. I was shouting, “Ha’way Manny it’s time to get up.” As he put his head out of the window he said, n0h, tell them I can’t lift my head off the pillow,” (laughs) He wanted a day off.
Mrs. Ward – On a Friday the women used to bring the men’s teas in for four o’clock. It was like a supper because they maybe wouldn’t finish till late at night. They used to fetch something nice being Friday. The men wouldn’t have time to eat it because they were sharing the money out among themselves and they used to bring the food down to the other girl and me to eat. (laughs).
Q – Very nice.
Mrs. Ward – Every weekend when they got their pay, they all tossed so much in for our pocket money.
Q – Oh, that was very good of them.
Mrs. Ward – That’s where I got my man. He was a bottle-maker (laughs).
Q – Oh, got him as well, thrown in. But at that time you were still living at home, weren’t you?
Mrs. Ward – I was still at home, I was in Fenwick Row then.
Q – Were you giving your mother some money?
Mrs. Ward – Oh, I was giving her it all, I was giving her the £3 a week.
Q – What did she give you back?
Mrs. Ward – Huh! Sometimes nowt (nothing) it all depends.
Q – Did you get your clothes?
Mrs Ward – Oh aye, but mind it was only now and then you could get a coat, because then you had to save up and save up. In those times you got a ‘club’ out (credit). That was the only way our mothers could clothe us. We were all the same, in the same street, everybody was alike.
Q – So they knew everything that you earned and what you did.
Mrs. Ward – Yes, but if you were getting a club out you were a good payer.
Q – Yes.
Mrs.Ward – They soon stopped you if you didn’t, but we always managed.
Mrs. Ward – I remember the Zeppelin came over Hartlepool, we used to have to close all the doors (of the bottlehouse) because of the red metal you know.
Q – They would see the glow, do you mean?
Mrs. Ward – Yes. When the Zeppelin was brought down we were all under shelter. Well I left on the Friday when I was twenty-one and I was married on the Monday morning. I left at three o’clock on the Saturday morning.
Q – Fantastic.
Mrs. Ward – I worked right up to the weekend. I was married on the Bank Holiday Monday, at eight o’clock in the morning.
Q – Where did you get married?
Mrs. Ward – Catholic Church.
Q – Which one?
Mrs. Ward – The one that’s up the colliery road now above the station there, St. Mary Magdalen’s. At that time you had to go to the food office to see if they would give you some extra butter and such like (extra rations).
Q – Was this because you were married?
Mrs. Ward – No, this was to make a wedding breakfast.
Q – Oh, for a treat. Mrs. Ward – Yes.
Q – Lid you have a honeymoon or anything fancy?
Mrs.Ward – Why no, honeymoon! You daren’t mention honeymoons. A Mrs. Nicholson, she’s got the shop in Church Street now, (cake shop) well they hadn’t a shop then, but their back door and our back door faced into the bottlehouse. So my mother asked her if she could make me a wedding cake, (you couldn’t get any fruit or anything you know). My wedding cake was made of date.
Q – Oh, dried dates.
Mrs. Ward – It was only two tiered and she had more flags stuck on it than enough, it was all decorated with flags.
Mrs Ward – I was going down Church Street one day and I thought I’d go into the shop. Mrs. Nicholson was talking to some girls “0h,” she said, “Just the one I want to see, Ethel, will you tell these girls what your wedding cake was made of?” And when I told them, she said, “They’ll not believe me.” So I said, “She had more decorations and flags than she had stuff.” (laughs). She had to get us a bit of bacon, a bit of butter and ham to make a breakfast. You could only ask your own family round for breakfast.
Q – Did you still enjoy it even though you had to make do and mend?
Mrs. Ward – Oh I enjoyed it, but you couldn’t keep your job on then, when you were married, I had to give my job up.
Q – Married women didn’t work, did they?
Mrs. Ward – If a married woman went out and worked, oh she would have been talked about. But mind I’ve gone to the ‘blast’ (beach) and carried bags of coal up, off the beach.
Q – Have you, to help out?
Mrs. Ward – Our husbands couldn’t afford to pay a shilling to some of the men to buy a bag of coal. I used to go with my father and carry a bag of coal up the ‘Jinny Dene’ bank, and if I couldn’t manage it he used to carry it till I got to the top to walk on the straight road.
Q – I understand because of what you started to do socially this led onto other things, I am talking about the church.
Mrs. Ward – Well there was a ‘Church Army’, at the time they didn’t make meals (for the soldiers), they only sold stuff to the boys. The priests thought, well there are a lot of catholic soldiers, it’s up to us to try to help them if we can.
Q – What period of time was this?
Mrs. Ward – That would be about 19…, well the war started in 1939 and we had that canteen about 8 years. We got the hall on loan free, from the Gas Company because it was next door to them.
Q – Where was this?
Mrs. Ward – Railway Street, North Railway Street. Well we had to go down and scrub it out, emulsion it out, and this one would give a pair of curtains, that one give something else. The women of the parish helped to furnish it out for the lads.
Q – Set the canteen up.
Mrs. Ward – The joiner made us all the big tables to go in, everything was free that went in. Well they voted me ‘caterer’ which I didn’t want.
Q – You didn’t, why was that?
Mrs. Ward – Why it was a big responsibility, I didn’t mind going in working just a couple of hours, then another one going in.
Q – Was this voluntary work?
Mrs. Ward – I had to be there all day and I did all the cooking for not a penny wage. Not one of us took a penny wage. The priest wanted me to go on a wage, I said, “No, it’s a voluntary organisation, everybody is working for the same organisation.” He said, “Everybody is not working like you, you are doing all the cooking.” So anyway the poor lads used to come in every day, we were never empty. The lads used to come running in on a morning if they were off for a pot of cocoa, or a pot of coffee and buttered scones, hot out of the oven, anything like that.
Q – What did they pay for this?
Mrs. Ward – They paid a halfpenny for a pot of tea and a halfpenny for a scone, so that was a penny. If they had a double it was 2d., and many a time it did you know, because a scone was nowt (nothing) to a man. Well we were free of them on an afternoon when they were on duty, but they used to get off every night. Well about six o’clock they would be racing up Marlborough Street, they were all at the Hall, stationed at the Hall, you know.
Q – Do you mean Seaham Hall?
Mrs. Ward – Yes, you could hear them running up in their heavy boots saying, “Three for ten o’clock.” Egg and chips or pie and chips, whatever they wanted.
Q – Were they putting their order in?
Mrs. Ward – Putting their order in and I tell you we used to have them all ready when they came out, sausage and chips, beans and chips. They used to race down and we were packed out till half-past eleven at night. The priests used to come down and put aprons on and help us to serve the lads.
Q – Very nice.
Mrs. Ward – They had all the dishes to wash and every time the sirens went I had a great big dish of pastry to bake and I’d be rolling them out putting them in the oven and dashing under the table.
Q – Good heavens.
Mrs. Ward – BRRRHM, BRRRRM, (describes noise as they were overhead) I would say, if ever I’m killed it will be in the canteen” But these lads were lovely. Their wives used to come down and we used to get them put up with lodgings for a weekend or a week you know. There’s still one from Scotland comes to see me.
Q – I was going to ask, were they from all over the country?
Mrs. Ward – Yes, they were from all over, and they were a nice class of lads.
Q – What happened on a Sunday, did they go to church?
Mrs. Ward – Open all day on a Sunday, to go to mass and we used to give them their breakfasts free. On a Sunday morning they used to get bacon and egg,tomatoes, and so many of the women used to come in and help to do it and the priests used to give them that through them going to church.
Q – Yes, and then would you go to church yourself?
Mrs. Ward – I used to go eight o’clock every Sunday morning,eight o’clock mass and then I was free for the day.
Q – Naturally you had to make a profit, did you?
Mrs. Ward – We were supposed to make a profit, but we were told, “Never rob the lads.” But we did make a profit, and every night one of the priests used to come round, check the money and take it away.
Mrs Ward – We made that much money just on this, (the bus conductors used to come in as well) that we started to give the parish priest £10 a week and the rest was put in the bank. He used to say to me, “Whenever you hear me give this £10 out (announce in church) throw your chest out Ethel because it is your work that’s brought it in.”
Q – Quite right.
Mrs. Ward – When we had to close down he wanted to know would I not like to open that as a fish and chip shop. I said, “A fish and chip shop, no I don’t want to.” He said, “Well we owe you a lot of money, if ever you want to set yourself up in a bit of business, you come to me, because you’ve never taken a penny.” Mind he wanted me to take £5.10s (a week) and mind I was a widow then.
Q – Oh, you were a widow by then.
Mrs. Ward – I was a widow on just 10/- (50p in today’s money) a week pension. But that was my principle, the women were all working voluntarily, so would I. Of course we had to close down when the war finished. We weren’t owing a ha’penny for nothing. Every month I had to go to the food office, I had to keep check of the cups of tea I sold, the butter I used, the sugar and then we used to get the tins of biscuits in from McVities. I used to get all them in from McVities and we used to get all the chocolate in from Rowntrees. They used to come once a month, fill the place up with chocolate and we got all that with our coupons. Well that meant when the men came to the canteen they bought chocolate every time they came in. They used to save it for when they went home, for the bairns, because they didn’t get any coupons for them. Oh they were straight in they knew the chocolate day.
Q – Yes, they would.
Mrs. Ward – Mind it was really interesting work and I was happy. The lads were fine lads that came in. The priests used to come down at night and they used to wait to lock up. There was only one night they didn’t come down and it was pitch dark.
Mrs. Ward – When I locked the door I didn’t turn round, I went straight down Railway Street, (laughs).
Q – Oh, what happened?
Mrs. Ward – I forgot to turn round to come back up home and it was pitch dark and I scraped my feet against the end of the path, you know. At the finish I found the end of the path at the bottom. I said, “Eeh, this is not our street,” Because when I turned round there was no street. I got right onto the grass verge, right down to the bottom where you go to the docks and I stood and saw a little flicker in the distance. I thought I might get murdered there, with the money on me, you know. The priest had to go somewhere and he sent word down to say, would I keep the money till the next night. So when I saw the flicker of light I thought I’d ask where I was. A man’s voice said, “Is that Mrs. Ward?” I said, “It is.” It was a sea-faring man who lived next door to me, Mr. Lewis. He came across and said, “Stop where you are.” He had his torch and when he got to me he said, “Why Ethel where are you going?” I said, “I’ve been at work and I’ve locked the door and I haven’t turned round to go up home, I’ve come straight down.” That’s how I got home – with him, I don’t know what would have happened that night.
Q – Did they not have much street lighting? Mrs. Ward – Oh no, the lights were out for the air-raids and that.
Q – Oh of course, sorry.
Mrs. Ward – We weren’t allowed to have them on. We had no lights, it was pitch dark. As soon as ever you put the lights out in the canteen, you were lost. When the canteen closed they did the meals for the children at the school. So of course the priest came and asked me if I would like the job at the schools. I said, “I might as well, I’ve worked all these years for nothing, I may as well go there.” So when he was taking all the particulars he said, “Ethel, I’ll have to ask you how old you are, I know you are more than 21.” So when I told him he said, “Well isn’t that a coincidence, when you die of old age I’ll quake with fear, because I’m the same age as you.” (laughs).
Mrs. Ward – So I went up there to the school.
Q – Was that St. Josephs?
Mrs. Ward – Yes, I was picked over all the women there (for the job). The priests had done that though, because I was caterer down there. The priests said they wanted a forewoman person and proposed Mrs. Ward. I had about 5/- (25p in today’s money) more than them (the meals ladies) and I had all the responsibility.
Q – Did you start work there then?
Mrs. Ward – I worked up there for about nine years. Well I had to fall on the sick because of ‘varicose veins’ through standing on cement, (earlier work days). The doctor put me on the sick and he wouldn’t take me off. So I had to go and give my notice in. It was in three times and the headmaster wouldn’t take it. At the finish I had to go up one day and tell him I was definitely leaving. There was a job vacant for the council, to do the ladies toilets out. I met one of the ladies on the committee and she told me to put in for it. So anyway I put in for it and I got the job.
Q – Where did you go?
Mrs. Ward – I worked on them for seven or eight years. I used to do the ladies places out on the North Road, at the back of Marlborough Street and at Parkside estate. That was three a day.
Q – Oh, you’d be busy.
Mrs. Ward – It was only a penny on the bus then, to travel you know.
Q – How much were you getting in wages?
Mrs. Ward – Oh I was getting above £5 then, so it was added to my pension. Of course when Father Bennet the Curate went to a place at Stockton he asked me to go house-keeping for him.
Q – Oh yes, what did you do?
Mrs, Ward – Well he wouldn’t have anybody else, but I was sixty years old then and I broke my home up to go.
Q – You left Seaham, did you?
Mrs, Ward – I was down Hawthorn Square then, back of the Terrace and I kept my home fastened up for a few weeks, but somebody reported I wasn’t there and neighbours told me they wanted my house because it was nice. Our Billy (my son) was a decorator then, before he went into the Police. So I brought my furniture to Stockton and furnished two rooms through there.
Q – Where was that exactly?
Mrs, Ward – He was at Adwick, only a fourpenny bus ride out of Stockton, That’s where the big hospital is built now, right in front of the Presbytery, I had all of them in the day they laid the foundation stone, I had them all in for coffee.
Q – Yes, lovely,
Mrs, Ward – So I went there in I960 and Father Bennet died in 1964, I was retiring then because I only went to work for him. Well I had to stay another six months till they got another house-keeper for the priest, I was sixty-five when I came back.
Q – To Seaham was it?
Mrs, Ward – I finished up nearly in a wheel-chair.
Q – Oh yes, I know you are poorly now,
Mrs. Ward – When I came back the council was supposed to find me a house, I was here a month after I sent my letter through to the council (I’ve got it to this day in my handbag) and it was three years before I got this house.
Q – Where did you live?
Mrs, Ward – Oh, I was living in with my sister Martha, in this street. This house came empty and I got it that’s how I came to be here This is how I finished up.
Q – You’ve got a lovely house here. How do you find life now? You’ve got your telephone and I know you keep in touch with all your family and friends,
Mrs, Ward – Oh I get plenty of people coming to see me and that. But when I see the sun shining-mind I get out in the car. The son comes and takes me out in the car, in fact I was at Whitby on Sunday,
Q – Oh lovely.
Mrs. Ward – He phoned me up on Sunday morning and said, “I’m not bringing your dinner over today.” So I said, “What for?” He said, “Get ready, we are picking you up. It’s the last day of my holidays and we are having a run to Whitby.”
Q – That’s nice. Are you content enough now?
Mrs. Ward – Oh aye, I have to be. (laughs).
Interviewer Mrs Winifred Colling
Photographs D Angus unless credited otherwise.
Did you enjoy this interview? Could you produce something similar with an elderly relation, friend or neighbour?
Are you still at school? maybe your class could make this a project………….Dave