Also see up the Ladder part 2
Adeline Hodges, (nee Corkhill).
These are the memoirs of a lady whose life covered the years 1899-1980.
She always told us that she was born in the era of the pony and trap but lived through the innovation of the aeroplane,- she experienced both types of transport.
These memoirs were written only for we four children, to show us our background. We hope you who read them find them interesting and like us will derive pleasure from her history.
She was an intelligent and elegant lady with a disciplined moral code which she instilled in her family. She was well loved and appreciated by all of us and together with my father Ben, brought magic to our childhood.
If more information is required or if you wish to use extracts, please contact us first via Brian Scollen through this website who was instrumental in persuading us to allow you this privilege of a glimpse into the past.
Joan Pace (nee Hodges)
Elder daughter of Adeline.
UP THE LADDER (Complete version) by Adeline Hodges
A fascinating snapshot of life in a Seaham mining community at the turn of the century.
Reproduced here with kind permission of her daughter Joan Pace.
I was born on 20th May 1899 at 70 Swinebank Cottages, Dawdon. (Darden as we called it).
It was a small village of stone built cottages for miners working at Seaham Colliery called the ‘Nack’. The most widespread opinion as to the name ‘Nack’ was that the windmill which stood at the foot of a bank called the Mill Bank made a clicking noise of ‘nicky nack’ as the arms turned round and round and so the pit was known as the Nicky Nack, or just the Nack. This colliery was perhaps three miles from where we lived at Swinebank Cottages and the miners had to walk. One road was called the Pitman’s Walk, now known as Strangford Road. Men had to use this road from Dawdon to the pit. Then, the little village of Dawdon consisted of 83 cottages standing in four rows. Two rows with their backs separated by toilets (middens) and coalhouses standing in a back yard. Gardens were at the front and the two centre rows of gardens were known as Garden Walk, at the top of which stood the village school run by the Londonderry Family. This also served as a church and Sunday School. The teachers at the school were also expected to teach at the Sunday School. The Vicar of Seaham Harbour used to pay intermittent calls and the Vicar of St. Mary’s, whom we called Daddy Copley, paid more infrequent calls, but he was a grand old man and his visits were heralded as if they were royal.
The cottages at Dawdon were built of stone. I have heard my parents say that they were built for two families to each one. One family occupied the front and one the back, which is why there were remains of toilets at the bottom of the gardens. Then they were altered to house one family each, because miners with plenty of sons were given the houses with their jobs. The world often seems to turn topsy turvy. Then men were encouraged to have families, now they are discouraged and the know-alls are scheming how to punish the big families.
Each cottage had a sitting room, a small living room with a big pantry running along one side and a staircase with three bedrooms. I mention the staircase because they were the pride and joy of every housewife. You see, before the houses were divided they just had a ladder to climb up to the bedrooms. Hence the saying ‘up the ladder’ when it was bedtime. My father kept his ladder for many years. He carried it to the bottom of the street, stood it up by the big fence surrounding the football field, and had a free show. Well those with big families could not afford the ha’penny admission for every week.
You notice I always say the top or the bottom of the street. Well everything seemed simple in those days. When parents looked for children they looked at the top or at the bottom, ‘go to the top’ my father would say and watch out for the caller. It was the man who came with a crake and told the miners if it was working the next day. Weather or lack of boats used often to lay the mines off.
My father was a stoneman down the pit and he would bid me listen to the caller to see if he said ‘all the pits idle the morn, shifters, wastemen and mechanics’, ‘and mechanics’ was the vital part for my father because if the caller stopped at wastemen my father would work, but if he added the dread words ‘and mechanics’ my father would loose a shift. I remember the first time I was sent to the top to listen for the caller. My father asked what he had said. I told him ‘all the pits idle the morn, shifters, wastemen and me nannies’, I never lived it down.
The four rows of cottages were surrounded by fields. At the bottom was the football field I have mentioned, called the ‘Stars Field’ after the name of the team which was mainly composed of Cottages men. Then the South Hetton railway running down to the Docks separated the Villa’s field where the Villa team consisting of Seaham Harbour men mostly working at the Bottleworks played.
There was great rivalry between the teams. Don’t talk of rough play, I know, my eldest brother was goalkeeper for the ‘Star’ and he had all kinds of injuries, but it was accepted as part of the game. What rejoicing when the Star players won a silver medal. There couldn’t have been more rejoicing or more honour heaped on them if they had won the Victoria Cross.
There was a road at the bottom of the street and the football field which had only three sides fenced. The other side needed no fence because there was an embankment and at the top the North Eastern Railway ran. My father used to say that people let their pigs feed on this embankment and that was how it was called Swine Bank Cottages. Of course that would be before the railway was laid. Then on the south side of the cottages was the cow’s field owned by the farmer who owned Dawdon Farm. Our garden walls in the last row of cottages formed part of the fence for this field. It was beautiful meadowland and we spent most of the summer playing in it near the garden walls.
Only the farmer himself would chase us. Periodically he would ride round his land on a beautiful horse. We scattered when he came towards us. We did no harm. Our pleasure was picking the flowers, and playing the lovely game of funerals. One child would lie on the grass full length with arms duly crossed on the chest and the other children would heap grass and flowers on top of him.
We made wreaths and crosses of daisies, buttercups, dandelions, bluebells, cranesbill, ladies fingers, cowslips and many more. It was difficult to get anyone to tackle the dandelions for we firmly believed if we touched them we would wet the bed. That would set off an argument as to how many ‘skelps’ mothers dished out on bare bottoms for committing this awful crime. I was once the victim of a funeral.
I was buried under a great mound of grass when all of my playmates scattered. Someone shouted ‘keep down and he won’t see you’. My goodness the horse went very close to my head, too close for comfort and I very nearly became a real dead one. It was the farmer. One hears of so many cases of poison these days and I wonder how we escaped. We ate the corns of the cranesbill dug out of the soil without washing, we ate sour docks, which were the leaves of the dock plant.
We would make fiddles out of them first. That was pulling the centre of the leaves apart leaving the strings or veins like a fiddle. Then we ate them. They tasted like vinegar, we got turnips out of the big field on which Deneside is now built and had feasts off them. We plundered our gardens for mint, lettuce, rhubarb and carrots. We would play on summer days from dinner time until bed time without going home for any food. The taps were in the street so it was easy enough to put ones mouth under and get all the drinks one needed.
Miners were very proud of their gardens. They had the most beautiful flowerbeds in great profusion, the colours had to be seen to be believed. Every little hole and corner was decorated with boxes or barrels. Mother had barrels of chrysanthemums, bronze and white at either side of the front door with boxes of nasturtium growing up the wall under the window. But the good gardeners had Canterbury bells, phlox, marguerites and many more. They were ready for the big flower show held in Seaham Hall grounds on the first weekend in August. It was called ‘the big flower show’. Big marquees were erected in the grounds. There were all kinds of side shows, and refreshment tents.
That was the day of the year, for people came from all the surrounding collieries and there was great fun. I look back with nostalgia on these great days although I always had to sly into the grounds. The first time I was allowed to go with my sister was when I was eleven years old. One had to pit ones wits against the gatekeepers, but we won at last. We had the magnificent sum of one halfpenny between us – but that did not mar our fun in the least. There were plenty of boys to chase us and plenty of other people with a lot of money to spend so we watched and shared in their fun. Then the gardeners had Paddy Finn’s Leek Show which followed a few weeks after the big show.
Paddy was landlord of the Station Hotel and had a big marquee erected outside his hotel at the top of Marlborough Street. On Whit Monday morning was the big cycle parade. Cyclists from far and wide joined in. I do not know where they started from or where they went to, but I can remember taking my stand at the corner of Railway Street and North Terrace to see them all sweep around onto the North Road.
On Good Friday there was a big parade of all the Sunday Schools, excepting Catholics, scholars and adults marched along the main streets singing lively hymns. Nobody would miss this. Then on Easter Monday the Cottages folk en bloc would go ‘down the Dene’. It was a lovely little dell in those days and Easter Monday saw it crowded.