We also had to grease the pit boots. This kept the leather pliable. We would put tallow candles in a tin, put the tin in a warm place to melt the candles, then after removing all dirt with a scrubbing brush, we used a cloth to rub on the tallow. Men’s feet were often covered in blisters by the time they had walked three to four miles from the pit in ‘clarty’ socks and heavy boots. When the pit clothes were ‘dashed’ we put them in the right order, the coat spread out first, then the shirts then the socks then wrapped the sleeves of the jacket around the lot and put them into the cupboard under the stairs. When the time came around for another shift we lifted them out and spread them before the fire on the fender.
Daughters had to work very hard in a family of pit workers. Woe betides you if you ever forgot to fill up the boiler at the side of the fireplace. The boiler was on the right and the oven on the left with a flue to feed each with hot air. The back of the fireplace had a shelf of two bricks wide. Coals were heaped on here to rake down with a big coal rake when needed. We had to take our turns at filling the coals’. How many mother? ‘Two on and two to stand’ was the answer.
One full pail stood in readiness at either side of the back yard step. We had two steps up and a foot scraper at one side. This was sorely needed as streets were like ploughed fields in wet weather and at your peril to bring mud in on the good mats. People made their own mats in those days. Mother made one or two, as was needed, every Christmas time. As soon as the mat back was stitched into the frames we smelt Christmas. Mother would buy some red, green and gold felt at the store and cut it up into clippings. Some people measured these with a match box. Not Mother, she was as quick as lightening snipping the clippings and I bet you all would be the right length when she was finished.
These coloured clippings were used to outline a pattern which my father had already designed. He was very good at drawing although he could neither read nor write. Mother was a good reader but oh the fun we had with her spelling! As she ran out of things for the pantry she would write the items with chalk on the back of the pantry door. We have spent hours trying to decipher them. She could, and always said the same thing ‘you talk about scholars, I can beat the lot of you’. Back to the mats. The rest of the mat was filled up with mixed clippings from old trousers or coats or such strong material so as to give good wear. Oh yes – and the border was always black.
When the mat was finished and cut out of the frames it was my father’s job to make a big pan of toffee and this was shared amongst those who had had any share in the making. What a time to look forward to and to be the first to roll on the new mat. Great days. You will all notice that our pleasures had to be without cost. Mother many times had to go to bed as soon as my father had left for work, around 8:00 to 8:30, because she had no money for oil or the gas when it was installed.
Only twice can I remember my father and mother having a trip on a Saturday. Once they went on a train trip to Stockton. We children thought they had gone to the other side of the world. We had never been left on our own for so many hours, although my older sisters and brothers were quite capable. Father told us the train would pass along the line at the bottom of the street and we were all to wave farewell. We waited and waited but most of us were asleep before they came home, but we wakened up, came down stairs and they had brought a big bag of horehound candy. What jubilation. The other time they went to Sunderland. My mother brought a new hat for me. It was bright red and exactly like the helmets worn by Dad’s Army, only it had a big feather sticking out at one side. I hated it, however one of the girls in my Sunday school class chewed the feather almost entirely and finally when out one blustery evening the crown blew away and I was left with just the rim. Mother always bought our clothes when she saw bargains. Whether they fit or not was a different matter.
I remember the sailor’s suit she bought for my brother John, to wear on the Sunday school trip. The legs reached down to his ankles, but it was Mother’s contention that that was the wise way to buy clothes then you grew into them. Poor bairn – he looked comical and matters were worsened because he had to wear his straw bertie with it.
These were very popular but not with a sailor’s suit and to make matters worse everybody laughed and pointed. John had a violent temper and I often wonder that he did not take the offending trousers and rip them to pieces, instead of which he just walked with a red face and a very set mouth. It made him look worse. But we did not realise then as we do now in these affluent days, the struggle mother had to make ends meet. We were well fed and warmly clad thanks to her ingenuity. She could always manage a trip to the pantomime on a Saturday afternoon in the winter, a small present each from the three penny bazaar, with a new hanky and a new penny at Christmas time, a paste egg at Easter and carlings on Carling Sunday.
No birthdays were celebrated, but then ‘there were too many’. Mother used to get very angry when one used this phrase in any connection with her family. She would say never say too many if you were talking of her family, because if God gave her a choice to sacrifice one she would not be able to decide. She was a good wise woman, but very strict, but then she had to be as there were twelve of us every day, including father, mother and Jack Blake.
The latter was a cousin to us, nephew to my parents. His mother was my mother’s only sister and when she died, Jack, who was thirteen, joined our family. We always referred to him as Jack Blake. He was a good worker, and every fortnight on payday he would give each of the little ones of the family a penny. We looked forward to this as we never got any other money; men were paid every fortnight. One weekend was called pay weekend and other was called baff weekend. The pawnshops did a good trade every baff weekend. I remember one family, in our street, would have a glorious time on pay weekend. Friday was payday and all the family would be off to the theatre on the Friday night, into town on the Saturday and dead broke after that. Everything possible was pawned the next week. Mother was too proud to live this way. She schemed and pinched and made her money serve. Theatres and pictures were out of the question.
Boys and girls all played together. We played with balls and skipping ropes and hitchy dabbers and diablos (father called me the diablo queen) but he always predicted a broken nose. We played rings, choosing the boys we wanted to kiss and we played boy’s games as well. In winter the boy would put a candle in a jar hung with string. This was known as ‘the Maggie’. They would run away in the dark, shine their Maggie and we had to follow the light and try to catch them. As we ran we shouted the jingle: ‘Jack shine yer Maggie, or the dogs canna foller’.