Everybody skipped and danced, the boys chased the girls and stole their hat pins and everybody picnicked on the grass. Then there was the celebrated race with our eggs. We rolled them down the bank that leads into the Dene. The winner took the egg from the loser. Then there was the game of jarping. You held your egg closely in your hand while your opponent bashed it with his.
The wide boys knew exactly how to win. These eggs were dyed and on Easter Sunday morning we would run to our friends houses with a can full of eggs, one for each child in the family and then they would return the compliment. We had Carling Sunday. These were greyish brown peas, which our mothers steeped on the Saturday and we all had packets of them to eat on the Sunday.
We would pick the wild rose branches and stick a carling on each point. It was who could get the biggest one to hold the most carlings. Simple things, but then we were simple. Our fun never had to depend on money. We had a holiday on Pancake Day, and one on Royal Oak Day. The boys and girls would gather into gangs and roam up and down the four streets singing ‘Royal Oak Day on the 29th of May, if you don’t give us holiday we’ll all run away’.
But I think the greatest day for the children was the Sunday School treat. It was always held on the Friday the schools closed for the summer holidays. We, from the Cottages, joined with the mother church of St. John from Seaham Harbour. We marched in procession from the school along what is now Princess Road and so far through the Dene then into the Jubilee grounds, which have since been closed because of mining subsidence. These grounds were large and had swings and roundabouts and May poles. There was a large building with tables and forms right down the centre, where we had tea if it rained.
If the weather was fine we sat on the grass and school teachers and parents supplied us with the tea, buns and sliced currant loaf from clothes baskets. The boys and the men would take the women and girls up on the swings, but I remember a big row when a new curate stopped the fun because he would not allow such infamous goings on as mixed swinging. He stopped a couple by hooking the swing with his walking stick and nearly caused a serious accident whilst tearing the lady’s blouse. She happened to be the wife of a policeman and there were ructions about it. He, the curate, didn’t last long after that. There were rebels you see in those days too, for they made their voices heard although they stood in awe of church authority.
There was a drill hall beside the Co-operative store at Seaham Harbour. Every year the volunteers staged a big parade – it was a grand sight. All of the officials at Seaham Colliery were the top notchers in the volunteer brigade, and they headed the parade in their grand uniforms and plumed hats, some on horseback, some on foot. There were brass bands and the whole population (en mass) of Seaham Harbour and the Cottages (it was seldom referred to as Dawdon) turned out to watch. At night a big ball was held in the drill hall.
We stood around the outside to watch the people arrive for this great event. We goggled at their dresses of velvet, silk, satin and the jewellery worn by the women. The men were mostly in uniform, but some few were in tails. I remember peeping in and seeing a great cannon standing in the middle of the floor. I suppose it would be moved for the dancing. Yes, times were good and mildly exciting. We were poor, but we did not miss what we never had and we depended mostly on the weather for our enjoyment. What we had most of was fresh air. Families were large, houses were small, so we had to come in only at meal times.
Even in the cold weather we spent most hours out of doors. We were warmly clothed, had good strong boots, had good plain food so we took no harm. When our fingers were cold we would stand up against the gable ends of houses and warm them on the wall. It was surprising the heat that penetrated from the large fires of the miners. They had free coal in an adequate supply so everybody was warm. Bricks or oven shelves were put in the beds to warm them. I can remember when we had only oil lamps. It was quite a ritual trimming the lamps each night before it turned dark. A man came round selling lamp oil. He had a trolley and he would shout ‘lamp oil, lamp oil’. It was a favourite pass-time of the children to stand round a corner, pop out and shout ‘what do you feed your donkey on’ and he would shout ‘lamp oil’.
We only had three little tuck shops at the Cottages. Old Janey had one in the first street. Danny had one in the second and MacDade’s had one in our street. Then a family had a little paper shop in their front room. They had a family of boys, one of whom fancied himself as a yodeller. You could hear Joe yodelling in the early and the late hours of every day. I remember their father used to bath them every Saturday afternoon in the poss tub in the back yard. We would see one little naked body after another running across the back lane into the house to be dried. They were as tough as nails or so we thought. However mother’s predictions came true for they were not a long living family. You see mother thought the best place after a bath was bed, and that one paid the price in after years for all this ‘foolhardiness’. It may have had no such effects.