It needed a lot of elbow grease to make a shine. Jack Blake was an expert at making his boots shine. He took a great pride in his boots, so much so that no one had to touch them but himself. It was the girls’ job to take all the Sunday boots into the back yard on a Monday morning before school and clean them ready to put away until the next Sunday.
Then when we got ‘off the floor’ that meant school or bed, in this case school. Mother would brush all the Sunday clothes, remove anything from the pockets and they were then folded and put away in the two bottom drawers of the tall boys (chest of drawers) until the next Sunday. Nothing but a funeral would disturb those clothes until the following Sunday. ‘Funerals’ – there was an occasion, alas not an uncommon one. Everybody in the Cottages would rally around the bereaved and on the day of the internment the body was brought from the house into the street and set upon chairs. The population would gather around and sing hymns and standing in the background would be the ‘waiters on’. These women would be dressed in their Sunday black with a white apron on. Mother was usually amongst them. Then the coffin would be carried to Dawdon Cemetery. Only the better off could afford a hearse. These huge black painted, glass fitted monstrosities were decorated with plumes at each corner. The bigger the plume the dearer the service.
The mourners rode in cabs. If it were a child being buried, a box was hung on the back of the cab. It had sides of glass so that you could see the coffin. But I remember as a child seeing women carrying little white boxes under their arms. These were babies of a few hours or days old being taken by the midwives to the cemetery.
But even at death the miners could joke. They had a very keen sense of humour, and so many of their pals met with fatal accidents in those days that they must have developed this humour to protect themselves. The powers that be at the collieries showed no respect.
It seemed to be considered as one of those things. I remember a man falling down the shaft into the sump. His wet dripping body was brought by comrades through the streets on a very roughly constructed hand cart. He had been a very short sighted man who wore very thick glasses and I, as a little girl, wept as I saw it go along. But I heard the men joking and actually laughing about it afterwards. Again I remember the story father told mother when one of our neighbours was killed.
The official at the colliery chose a man to go down and break the news to the family. This was always a terrible job, so the chosen one tried all the way to think of a gentle or subtle way to break the news. This particular messenger knocked on the door and the housewife answered. He said “does widow Brown live here?”, she said “my name is Brown, but I’m not a widow”. He said, “well you soon will be when you see what is coming”. Yet they were only callous outwardly. Underneath they were a grand lot of men extremely kind to all children.
Men played several games in the little free time they had. I remember seeing them at marbles with a huge ring chalked at the bottom of the street. Street played street in competitions, and their knuckles would be red raw by the time the game was over. Remember we had no well laid roads or streets and no footpaths as we have today. They used to box, bare fists, and wrestle, all in fun but there were many black eyes and bloody noses, when they were finished. Another popular game was handball. The miners had a ‘ball alley’ at Seaham Colliery.
This was a high very wide wall built on some waste ground near the bridge which led over the railway to the pit. It was smoothly cemented and was always kept in good trim. Men would smash a hard ball with their fists against this wall. They counted and followed various rules. They played in teams, and other collieries joined in matches just as they do with darts today. Then they had cards and domino matches. My father’s hobby was pigeons. Most men kept them. They had dockets at the bottom of their gardens, had pigeon races and really enjoyed their one day off at the weekend. Some men had whippets. You always knew a whippet man because he wore a red handkerchief tied tightly around his neck. These men were the gamblers, so my father wasn’t amongst them. Many men went fishing, especially those with male families. They owned their own cobbles, so fish was plentiful and cheap.