There was a fine old man lived in the next street to us. He had a tall military bearing, snow white hair but a black face. We were told that he had been in the Nack explosion and his face had caught the blast. This had been the second explosion within a few years. Mining was a dangerous job in those days and when we went to bed we were taught to pray for them. We also had to pray for all the family. I remember this prayer that we all said:-
God bless me ma
God bless me da
God bless me ganny and granda, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters and brothers
God bless everybody in the wide world
God make me a good little girl
Forever and ever Amen
We would never dare go to sleep without saying this prayer. I remember one night we had all got smacked because we carried on in bed. Mother came up with the tawse and gave each one of us a lash. Come prayer time and as my sister and I started (God bless me ma) my sister said ‘the bad bitch’ and we went off into giggles which we couldn’t stop, so we got another lash each with the promise of double the next time. We had to cover our heads up with the bed clothes to smother the laughter which was now mingled with tears. But for the life of we couldn’t stop. We laughed over this for long enough. Now when it’s too late we understand that Mother’s nerves must have been stretched to breaking point often and often. Yet she was a very happy soul, singing and dancing at the least provocation, and I can still see her laughing over some little incidents. She would be so helpless that at one touch from one of the boys and she would roll over helpless. They got a great kick out of this.
Johnny Race my oldest brother’s pal was the best laugher I ever heard. He was like the laughing policeman.
The whole Cottages would pop to their doors and say “Johnny’s off again” and all would join in although they didn’t know the joke. In contrast we had an elderly couple who never smiled. They had very little to say although my father used to tell the tale about him joining in a conversation once down pit. The men were talking about their wives and how they managed and this fellow outdid them all by saying his wife was so clever she could make a good pan of broth out of the dishcloth. Father said it was so unexpected the pit rang with their cheers. This same man never went out excepting into his garden, or across the road to the football field fence on a Saturday. Like father he had a free ticket.
Boys used to earn coppers by ‘putting the coals in’, ‘hoy your coals in Mrs for tuppence’, ‘what, tuppence?’, ‘allreet then a penny’. A penny for nearly a ton of coals, hoisted up and through a hatch at least four feet from the ground. You see all exploited somebody without knowing it. If two boys shared they still got the same between them. But coppers were of great value. A penny took you into the theatre or bought you a good fish and chip supper. Hoy meant throw and was the common word at that time.
Hoy the coals in.
Hoy a ha’penny out.
As I have said before there was real socialism practised amongst us. You could not buy a loaf in the Cottages but you could borrow one. If the coals did not last the allotted time and some had more relatives or friends to help than others, someone would volunteer to help you out. No-one paid for domestic assistance while having a baby as there were plenty of neighbours willing to help out. A night out was an hour in your neighbours house having a chat. But work had to be done first and also all depended on the shifts of the workmen in the family. Mother would take an odd Monday afternoon to look for bargains at the Co-op or the highlight of her life was to go to Bloom’s Sale. This was held in a big marquee on the Bottle House field. This was an annual occasion and mother would not miss it. That was where she bought her seven piece green suite and her turkey red carpet. Another time she bought my father a gold watch and guard for his birthday. This was to be a secret until he returned from work on the morning of his birthday and although father did not mention it to her he already knew from the men ‘down pit’. Evidently another miner’s wife had bid for the watch but mother outbid her. Of course, spiteful people wondered where she had got the money from, but I can assure you all it was by dint of her own hard work and clever management.
On this same Bottle House field used to be ‘the shows’. Murphy’s Amusements used to come every few years. The place was brilliantly lit, and people from Murton, Easington, Horden, Hendon and many more surrounding districts used to congregate. These amusements would be there for about a month and it was a time of great jollity. Boys and men were running around with balloons, coconuts, feather brushes, monkeys on sticks, windmills etc. which they had won on the stalls. There were chip vans, hooplas, shuggy boats, horses and maypoles. A good time was had by all. But in the midst of all this our family had to be home in time for father to go to work. He would not have gone if any of us had been missing. Of course Sunday was respected by everybody.
When I think back on the work and life of my parents I think their living was much more meaningful and noble than the lives of great men and women who have been landed to the skies but then as Shakespeare said:-
‘gnats are unnoted, whereso’er they fly, but eagles gazed upon with every eye’.
As I have told you washing days were terrible days with a family like ours, so father decided he would turn the big back yard into a washhouse. He put a roof on and built a set pot as it was called that meant a big boiler with a fire underneath. There was great joy when he finished and tried a fire, for it worked perfectly. He built a long table on which to scrub the clothes and mother was set. She declared washing day was a pleasure. He had found all the materials he needed at the Blast Sands or on the dump. Mother could even hang the clothes in there in wet weather to take the thick of the dampness out of them. They had good mangles in those days with large wooden rollers and they would wring clothes of any thickness. There was a very big wheel to turn which was hard work.
Father used to whitewash the walls regularly to make it lighter and found he had to put in a skylight both for light and ventilation. Nothing deterred him if it was to assist mother. I can see him now crossing the back street with his pail of whitewash and his brush, and dressed in one of mother’s voluptuous nightgowns as protection. There was always much banter from the neighbours, but mother was the envy of them all until their husbands built them the same.
Oh yes, life was still good, and love which we were taught meant service was the order of the day. I have always been surrounded with love first from my parents, then from my husband. God bless him and now from my family. Again I quote Shakespeare ‘my crown is in my heart, not on my head. Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, nor to be seen, my crown is called content’
Yes, my childhood was spent in a world of contentment for we longed for nothing we could not have. The small shops only sold what was within our means to buy and no-one could outclass another. Of course, some never tried to improve their status but even so they were content with a warm fireside and the food they could afford. I knew no-one in dire poverty living at the Cottages until the big strike came. Mother had foreseen this and had two huge bags of flour stored in readiness, because she said you would not starve if you had bread. But I remember these bags were stored in the front lobby and the mice got in. There we all were with sheets of clean papers spread out all over the place and with a knife we were searching amongst the flour for the mice dirt.
Mother could not afford to waste it and so we fished amongst it. “The graded grains make the best flour”. I always laugh at this and think of the mice and our grading. We had heaps of fun and our full share of clean fresh air spring, summer, autumn and winter. I remember mother making her Christmas cakes, one for Christmas and one for the New Year. We all had a stir and a wish and we fought hand over fist to ‘rake the dish out’. As soon as the big dish came into sight someone would shout ‘rakies’ and the fun would start. Mother would say ‘I notice none of you shout clean the dish out’. So one of us would get the order. Then she would make her ginger wine. I often wish I had got her recipe. I know she put in four things, but it was a delicious syrupy mixture. Of course, we argued again as we all tasted it at its various stages, some wanted more ginger others didn’t but it was always settled by the boss. But mother’s Christmas pudding was just a ‘spotty dick’ because she could not afford fruit for cakes and puddings. But it was a Christmas pudding to us. It could not be anything else because it was boiled on Christmas Day, and it was decorated with holly.
I remember Mother and her staircase.
She went to the Co-op on Monday and when she came home she had looked through the open door of a ‘quality’ house and seen the staircase. At the foot of the stairs was the banister with a large knob on it which Mother thought was elegant. She told father and soon afterwards he found the very thing washed up on the beach at Blast Sands. He brought it home and polished, smoothed, and polished again and again and finished up with a beautiful mahogany knob which he installed on the stairs. Mother was very proud of this I am sure she thought it could vie with any staircase in castle or palace. Little did the poor good and little did they get. Not Shakespeare this time but one of Maria’s quotations.
Whenever she quoted, one of the gang would shout a poet’s name. One day one of them shouted ‘John Bull.
Another game we played was ‘rhymes’. One would say a line then another would make another to rhyme and so on. It was great fun. One of my brothers had on a pair of velvet trousers and he would always make up the best rhymes so these were called his poetry trousers. Life is great and lived to its fullest in a big family. We would have musical evenings. One of my brothers would play a tune, by ear, on the piano another on the organ, yet another would beat a rhythm on the brass fire irons and one on the music stand. This was a bamboo affair and on each of the four poles was a gilt trimmed disc which rattled when you touched them. It was surprising the music that came from all this. The girls sang, that was their contribution. Any of our friends would come in for an hour or so in the evening in these later years.
Life was good in spite of very hard times, but we had to make our own fun and we had the numbers and the capacity to do just that in our family. Mother used to emphasise the goodness of God in preserving her family from fatal illnesses or accidents.
We always welcomed a baby into our house. The joy was unbelievable when a new one came and time after time we were astonished at the size of its little hands and feet and revelled in the soft pink, blue and white nighties mother had ready for it –
Life is good and full of joy if you look for it
The sun, the sky, the flowers, the birds Raindrops falling or the whistling wind
Are gloriously free
But the smile of welcome on a loved one’s face
Or the little hands of your child