Meals were not elaborate in our early days. All bread was baked at home. We had small round ovens, which were always hot. Mother used to bake 48 loaves at a time. She and her neighbour had an arrangement whereby one would bake one day and half was baked in the neighbours oven after she had made her midday dinner. Then when she wanted to bake Mother would stoke her oven and return the compliment. Then mother baked forty eight tea cakes each week.
The boys liked them for their ‘bait’ down pit. A couple of tea cakes with jam in between was considered a good ‘bait’ down pit. Then she baked a large ginger cake in a big dripping tin and it was cut into squares. I can still see my father with a pint pot of cold water, a large chunk of ginger cake and his cracket, strolling across the back street. He would sit in the sun with his back to the backward wall and have his snack. He was also very fond of rhubarb pie and Victoria plums.
We had a big bed of cherry rhubarb in our garden, so while it was in season we had plenty of rhubarb pies and puddings with white sauce over them and rhubarb jam. Gosh! I could never eat rhubarb jam again. There were stacks of seven pound jam jars stored on the top shelf of the big pantry. Some with a little apple mixed in and some with ginger. Mother worked exceedingly hard to make ends meet. She sometimes baked bread for sick neighbours, or washed a few shirts or towels to help a neighbour to ‘put over until she was well again’. She made all of our dresses and underclothes and night clothes.
Everything she made was decorated with feather stitch. I remember she made my father and brothers some new flannel body shirts for the pit, and my father who was very witty said how nice they were but one thing was missing – the feather stitch. These shirts were put on when they finished their shift so that they absorbed the sweat and helped the miners to prevent them catching cold when they came to the cold atmosphere at bank. She also made ‘bait pokes’ and many a family bought them from mother. She also made ladies aprons, just very plain, made of white calico for best and blue and white checked ones for every day. She made a lot of chemises (shifts as they were called). Some were very decorative and lots of people having babies would buy them. All babies were breast fed in those days. Then there were things called abbot shirts which women wore when feeding babies.
These prevented them from being too exposed. Pit men wore flappers. These were very simple and while covering the men allowed them plenty of air. They were worn like bathing trunks. When pitmen came from work these flappers were so wet and covered in pit dust one would have thought they had been dipped in a muddy pool. It was the job of the girls of the family to ease the lives of the miners by having hot water ready to fill the tin bath, and after the bath we had to wash out the flappers and socks and put them to dry.
Then we took all the pit clothes outside and dashed them against the wall to remove the pit dust. One had to feel in the pockets and take out face cloths or bait pokes and often one found beetles in the pocket. My father and brothers would often say that they hung their clothes and bait pokes on pit props down pit and when they went for them they were covered in beetles. So a tinsmith set up a shop and began to make bait tins which were carried in their pockets. Then they had tin bottles made by the same man to carry their drinking water. Often we had to take these bottles to have new bottoms put in. They had a little ‘lug’ at one side of the neck through which a string was passed and it was hung on a button stitched to the shoulder of his coat. My father loved to scour the beach at the Blast Sands’ to collect corks washed up from the sea. Mother kept these in a special drawer after she had sterilised them, and everybody in the Cottages knew where to get a new cork for a pit bottle.