When I explained to father he said the men would be hiding their pipes near the wall, with their matches so that when they left the pit at the end of their shift, they could have a smoke on their way home. This proved correct as the two men recognised me and explained to father. You see when mother was a little girl, a playmate was murdered on Feather Bed Rock and we got so many warnings all men were suspect, so I was forgiven. I do not know how or where the note was collected.
I forgot to mention the game of quoits which was very popular. A big spike was driven into the ground and the mean threw heavy rings called quoits to land on the spike. All these games have many rules which must have made them very entertaining as they were very popular. Collieries played collieries for prizes.
Every morning very early say two three or four o’clock a man called a caller used to come round to call up men for the first shift. He would knock on the door with a knobby stick, and shout ‘caller’. He would continue to knock until you answered so it was best to jump straightaway or all the house, or even the street, would be wakened.
I remember one caller was very deaf and would go on knocking until someone opened the door. My brothers thought it would be good fun to frighten him. They waited until they heard his footsteps at the yard gate and then they hammered on the inside of the door.
He was mad and they could hear him cursing all the way down the street. The man who came to warn about the working of the colliery was called ‘the crake man’. He rattled this crake up and down the street before telling that the pits would be idle.
I have told about funerals, now I shall tell about christenings. These were big events, almost as big as the weddings. Even the fathers would not miss or the uncles. The woman who carried the baby to church would give away its ‘cheese and bread’. This was the name given to the little parcel presented to the first girls she met if it was a baby boy being christened, or the first boy she met if it was a girl being christened. The parcel had small cakes, a piece of the christening cake and some money in it. Weddings were big occasions too. It wasn’t common for the bride to be in white. Any gay colour would do. Everybody wore buttonholes and most people walked to the church, but the bridal party went in a cab drawn by two horses gaily decorated with ribbons.
All the children of the Cottages would gather and as the bridal cab began to move we shouted “hoy a ha’penny out”. The men would throw out coppers and we would scramble for them. The men would all go off to the pubs after the meal and then return late to end in a punch up. The newly married couple usually set up house in one upstairs room of their parent’s home. In Seaham Harbour there were many houses with little cottages built in the back yards. These little two bedroom cottages were greatly prized but one had to know the landlord to be able to acquire one. Key money as it was called was often exchanged as bribes in those days as houses were in short supply. They were between 1/6 and 2/6 a week rent. My cousin set up in one of these cottages and it was very comfortable.
My Aunt Annie whom I mentioned earlier had one room downstairs at the corner of Adelaide Row and above her in one room was an ex-schoolmistress. Aunt Annie was very religious and thought God has blessed her in choosing such an aristocratic lady to be her near neighbour.
All the ‘elite’ of Seaham lived in Marlborough Street. Seaham Harbour Station stood at the top. There was a ramp to walk up to the Station and as children we used to love to run up and down this on a Sunday morning. To get to it we had to walk down to Seaham Harbour and go up Marlborough Street. There was an alternative, but we had to cross the South Hetton Line and walk along the Black Road which brought you out at the cabin crossing. But this Black Road was very narrow and hemmed in on one side by the railway embankment and on the other by alley-ways leading to the allotments. One man who had one of these allotments was a bad character so we were forbidden to go along the Black Road without escort. So we used Marlborough Street but we were often chased away. These houses had small front yards and footpaths.
The occupants all boasted maids who scrubbed the steps and paths so we were not allowed to walk on them. We had to walk on the road and even so were often made to turn back. Class distinction was very rife. We went down the docks to play on a Sunday morning, because we knew there would be no one around. We were forbidden to go there, but children have always been the same. Then we went back home to our Sunday dinner. After dinner, Sunday School and mother would have an afternoon nap on top of the bed. This was a great treat for her.
As I have told you before we all had earth closets. There was a big wooden seat which stretched from wall to wall narrow ways. This had to be scrubbed after washing day, because one could not throw out good hot soapy water. Then it was scrubbed again at the weekend on a Saturday morning. It was a rotten job and we used to wrap a scarf around our nose and mouth. Poor Paddy the midden man had to shovel them out and lead his load away to the tip. Some people used to scrub their chairs and tables. We scrubbed, baking boards, rolling pins, potato mashers, brushes and broom handles and anything made of wood and used in the house. Then we cleaned knives, forks and spoons with bath brick every Saturday morning. An older member of the family would do the brasses.
These consisted of fender, tidy betty, brass kettles and stands, candlesticks etc. The hearth was whitened with whiting, and the fireplace blackleaded. This would all take up to dinner time. Then the floors would be scrubbed downstairs and mats replaced which took up to teatime, when the men would return from their football matches. The females of the house relaxed after tea until it was time to bath the little ones and put them to bed. Monotonous? Well we were so glad of a relaxing hour or two that we enjoyed it. Anyway it was our way of life and grumbling got you nowhere. There were no places of amusement as in these days, but we enjoyed an early evening with “The Band of Hope” or at church concerts. Sometimes we had a ‘magic lantern’ show. These were generally shown to help missionary work. These all took place in the long winter evenings, in summer you could find your own recreation in the fields or streets.
Religion in those days was a scary thing. We believed that for every lie we told we would pay for it in the hereafter by having a hot poker pushed down our throats. ‘Don’t eat while you sit on the netty, or you were feeding the devil’ was a firm belief. The netty was the name for the earth closets. It was so widely used we thought nothing of it; in fact people had the name in whitewash on their back yard doors, because any hawker or beggar could use it without question. God was never presented as a kindly fatherly figure but more of a spy watching, unseen, any little misdemeanours one committed, yet overlooking the good. One expected him behind any door ready to pounce and slap you down to size.