This is posted with kind permission from J Rafferty and the copyrite remains with the Rafferty Family.
Preface page 4
Early Days page 5
The ‘Quarry’ page 7
‘The Street’ page 8
Dolls page 17
The Little School page 18
Valley Gardens page 19
Games page 21
The Works page 23
The School Trip page 25
My Parents page 26
The Derwent page 29
Bottle Bank page 32
Postscript page 34
To look at Blackhill now I can understand our younger ones not being able to visualise what our life here was like when we were growing up. So these pages are for my grand children, who might wonder in later years and ask as my daughter Sheenagh used to “what did you do in the olden days, Mam”? I used to smile when I was posed that question, but now looking back things have changed so much that it really does feel like the “olden days”. Everybody has a story to tell – although this is not a story – just a handful of memories which have been related now and again to anyone who voiced any interest at the time, but if T.V. interfered it was suggested that I “write it down Mam”, so I am “writing it down”.
Each one of my contemporaries could tell the same general memories, but each one has a slightly different view point and shading from the other with their own variations and colours. So at this suggestion these are mine as far as I can remember.
I was born in Ireland in 1922, and then lived in Blackhill from about 2 years of age. The name of the little square was Christopher’s Yard which was tucked into the back of Derwent Street and faced Durham Road. It was officially 127, Durham Road. My earliest recollections are all gathered around the yard. The yard was a small enclosure of about seven or eight small houses and families which eventually gave way to Mr Robson’s coach building business, and is now the Celluware warehouse completely covering the whole block. My father lived in the corner house. It had a big kitchen, a downstairs room and, I think, two bedrooms upstairs.
We were seven of a family, John, Sarah, Michael, Mary, Frank and Rose were born in Christopher’s Yard. My eldest sister Sarah was living in Ireland with my grandmother – Mary Lee. One of my earliest recollections is of a crowd of people gathered around the entrance to the square – a lot of noise and a van which was taking some pit men to work. It was the 1926 Coal Strike and I was just 4 years old.
John, my eldest brother was a good musician and played the fiddle, and the bottom room was used regularly for musical evenings by him and his friends. I remember especially one of the boys playing the concertina being accompanied by John on the mouth organ or the “bones” which kept a lovely rhythm going to the melodies.
I remember following along after my second brother Michael and sister Mary, who as “leader” brought us down the little back road opposite the square swinging a candle lantern and chanting “Jack shine the muggy in the middle of the night”. I never heard anything more of the rhyme or where it came from, but I expect it was quite an adventure for us as it was dark, probably early evening in the autumn really and all I could see was a dancing light bobbing along before us down the little bank.
Michael must have been the entertainment organiser and he would allow us into an old coal cellar on payment of a plain pin which he arranged in a wonderful way into a circle on his “gansy”. Our treat was to see little cut out figures which he had stuck or drawn on a paper “dancing” by being held in front of a lighted candle which he moved around behind the paper. Our first moving pictures?
I must have always been last man in the games of “follow the leader”, because on one occasion when we were all supposed to be horses and had to drink from a horse trough in the yard. I fell into it and was left while the rest of the other “horses” galloped off on their way. One of the neighbours opposite looked out and saw what she thought was a piece of cloth sticking out of the trough, to find it was my dress floating on the water and I was upside down in it. I can’t remember it happening but I recall sitting in front of our fire, soaking wet. I must have been about 3 years of age. My mother told me years later what had happened.
I have lots of little pictures of this time. One of my earliest is of looking at a coloured tin, probably a tea caddy, which had pictures on the sides, telling whoever was with me that the “birdie took the baby’s cakie”. There was a bird flying away with some bread a baby had been eating and the other picture was of a dancing bear being held on a chain by an old man.
We had community games – being “taught” by one of the older girls in our “classroom” in another small yard of one of the houses – being told to say “present miss” in answer to our names being called by our “teacher”. I could never understand what on earth it was all about.
I had a playmate my own age and we played happily in and out of the old buses in a scrap yard below us. We had a great bit of excitement when we looked into a shiny tin and saw what we thought was an eye in the bottom of it, not realising it was the reflection of our own eye.
I can remember the kitchen lit by gas, my father and brothers sitting around the table sorting out and discussing lovely cigarette cards.
Backing onto Christopher’s Yard there was a huge vacant council square – the “Quarry”, the centre of great activities for us all. The boys played football and cricket, the men had their quoits and the girls rounders and “Hot Rice”. It was a wonderful time when the “shows” came each year for about 2 or 3 weeks. It was magic! To have a penny for a ride on one of the roundabouts was great. I must have been very little when my mother put me onto a little roundabout and paid the man. I can remember crying all the whole ride through because I hadn’t paid for my ride myself.
The big dragons were something out of another world with their beautiful velvet seats and golden painted cars and the way they moved up and down around the track. Michael shepherded us on this ride – it was too big for us to cope with ourselves. Even without getting any rides it was great watching the mechanical figures and the music blaring out when the ride was in motion and to watch the big steam rollers chugging and keeping everything going. It was a long time before I realised that the steam rollers had anything to do with the rides moving. The “Shuggy” boats were a great favourite. There were always lots of coconuts won by the boys and men. The children of the show people attended our school when they visited Blackhill – the envy of us all.
The bonfires were always centred in the Quarry and we enjoyed the fireworks all around. The whole square was fenced off with concrete posts holding lengths of round steel railings which made ideal exercise playing bars. I must have been just about four years of age when I became the focus of attention for the mothers of my friends. We had been “crouping our creels” on the top bar of the fencing and my frock had got caught up and fastened around it. I couldn’t get down from the bar and I had to be rewound over and over until the edge of my frock was released. I expect the episode would be accompanied by my usual bawling and tears.
A small council depot yard behind Durham Road backed onto the “quarry”. This was demolished when the block of flats was built and the “Pimpernel” factory took over the rest of the Quarry after Robinson’s coach building business closed.
It must have been the during Depression, I remember all the men used to gather at the corner of the Quarry just to talk. This was at the end of the junior school yard and was called the Doctor’s Corner. There was also a wood at the back of the school known as Doctor’s Wood. I believe a Doctor once lived in one of the little cottages, now demolished, adjacent to the school, but I never ever heard who he was.
We lived next to the shopping centre of Blackhill – the “Street” as it was known to us. We were always “round the Street”. The shops ran the length of the road on both sides up as far as the little houses which started at both sides from the break at Water Wilsons’ corner. We had everything we needed to buy in the one locality – going to shop in Consett was unnecessary. There were about six butchers shops and fish merchants, newsagents, clothes shops, shoe and boot shops and fancy goods of all sorts. There were really good grocers, hardware and ironmongery shops. The wonderful Co-op with all its departments, even to the tailors, and of course the post office and several banks. The fish and chip shop was exactly in the same place as it is now and there was another up beside the post office which is now in Durham Road.
Each shop was a source of great interest whenever we were sent on a message. I remember the Chemists – Lowe’s, and Mr Lowe, which was on the corner of the left hand side of the street. There was a cane bench where we entrenched ourselves waiting for some medicine from the dispensary. Hopefully it would be some lovely cough medicine. I used to look at the big glass, beautifully shaped bottles containing green or other coloured liquids which were a great puzzle to us as to how the liquid in the lid of the bottle stayed in its place. Lowes the chemists later moved over directly opposite of the other side of the street and took over from Waggets. Waggets was a big shop which sold draperies and haberdashery of every sort. The windows were always full of lovely goods and at Christmas we all crowded around the displays to watch a mechanical life-sized bull dog nodding his head and wagging his tail. Bowman’s took over from Lowes shop and later it was taken over by Bartons.
Next to Lowes was a lovely little gem of a shop catering especially for the needs of babies. It was called the ‘Baby Linen Shop’ owned by a Miss Calvert. Always there was a big baby doll in the window dressed in beautiful baby clothes. Every Christmas Miss Calvert had the windows full of dolls each one dressed in hand knitted outfits. We all got our first communion dresses and the boys satin blouses there and any ribbons or handkerchiefs we needed. She sold woollen baby shawls. Last year, 1992, the whole of this block was demolished and I saw the old sign “Baby Linen Shop”, exposed again before it was levelled.
All these shops had living premises with them. Up from Miss Calvert’s there was a man’s barber shop. Then there was Miss Amos and her sister who ran a greengrocers. Miss Amos wore her hair swept into a bun and fastened on to the top of her head with huge hair pins. She always wore a high necked crochet blouse fastened with a big brooch. My mother was a favourite customer of hers.
Miss Amos’ shop was later converted into a modern grocer’s store – Moores. Much later Mr Oliver, a butcher, built a lovely shop. The front of the shop was all white marble as well as the window shelves and displays. The beasts were all killed on the premises and there were large cellars under the shops. My brother Michael started work as the errand boy delivering the orders on his bicycle with a huge basket on the front.
Palliser’s grocery store was a very high class shop that was the next one up, then another butchers – Westgarths. Across the little road that led over to Silver Street (long demolished) there was Walter Wilsons, a very popular shop. There was a big stand in the centre of the shop holding many square biscuit tins each with a glass lid through which the various biscuits could be seen and chosen. A penny purchased a big bag of “broken biscuits”. The ones we liked best were very small plain biscuits decorated with a coloured star of icing. Our mothers used to save us the little figure of a baby from her packets of Fairy washing soap and for two we could get a quarter of chocolate caramels. Next door to Walter Wilsons, which is now a printers shop, was Thompsons the bakers, a family firm which sold lovely bread and cakes. The penny buns all variously decorated were a great attraction. The bakery was later moved into big mew premises directly opposite – now the Pimpernel Celluware factory where the little houses used to be.
The next shop up from Wagget’s was Gradon’s the Jewellers, which provided us with hours of window gazing – lovely beads and necklaces, watches, clocks, jewel boxes and beautiful china. I remember when the war had started buying two cups for about 6d each and very carefully chipping away at the bar across the top of them. I didn’t know it but found out later they were moustache cups – probably antiques now! Mr Gradon mended and repaired clocks and watches. I also bought a lovely pearl shell brooch there many years later.
The Danish Butter shop was next in line. The shops in Derwent Street all had huge cellars which backed onto a little lane running beside Christopher’s Yard. There were dwelling flats up above the shops. When I left school I worked in the “Butter Shop” which was privately run then by Mr Sanderson. The cellar was spacious and very cool – all whitewashed – except for the front portion which was used for coal. The casks of butter, margarine, the huge cheeses, bacon hung up from the rafters and anything perishable was kept there. The butter was serrated with wires and carried up the cellar steps and placed in a little marble alcove – cold water was put onto the slab and then the butter was shaped into one pounds and half pounds with two wooden patters. Whatever quantity was needed could be shaped this way. There were round wooden moulds decorated with various designs of cows and flowers which left the impressions moulded onto the butter or margarine. These were mostly used as displays for Christmas and window dressing. The cellar covers which were in the pavement outside the shop with steps were made of opaque material, some pink, others white glass which allowed light through into the front of the cellar. I always wondered how they could be so strong. Just last year when the shops at the left hand side of the street were demolished I found a bit of the broken cover and discovered it was very heavy glass set into small iron squares. There are only three left now in the street – the two outside the chemists and one at the top of the street where the fitters shop was – opposite the “Pimpernel” factory. I see that the two covers outside the chemist are holed now and it seems to me they have been deliberately broken by a very hard instrument. So I suppose they will soon have to be replaced – another little bit of Blackhill history gone!
The ironmongers, Pallisers were the next fascinating stop – a family business, Mr & Mrs Palliser & Sons. The shop sold paraffin – a penny for a pint bottle. The last purchase for me were two handles for my sideboard. The shop was later taken over by Gralands – still an ironmonger and still selling paraffin – I don’t know how much money a pint is today.
The neighbouring shop was a big clothes shop – Hurd’s. My mother bought my sister, Mary and I a lovely coat each. Mary’s was a purple wool coat and mine was an emerald green with green silk embroidery around a black velvet collar and cuffs. After we had moved to Valley Gardens, Mary sat on the fender, her back to the fire and her lovely coat was scorched over the back. Hurd’s was later taken over by McGarrety’s bread shop, later on by Carlyle’s bakery and now is part of Gralands I think. The greengrocers, Atkinson’s and then Reece’s fruit shop gave us lots of interest – especially at the beautiful Christmas displays. There is a dentists there now. Tucked in between the fruit shop and the newsagents was a little shop owned by Mr and Mrs Lovat; a sweet and tobacco shop – really lovely people gentle and kind, who lived opposite us in Pemberton Road when we moved to Valley Gardens.
Next to Lovatt’s was Milihouse’s newsagents, sweets and fancy goods, which was taken over later by Lough’s who kept it as a newsagents who also took over Lovatt’s shop below them and joined the two shops inside by some steps. The newspaper boys always gathered around the shop front waiting for the delivery of the evening papers and then ran off shouting ‘Chronicle’. One lad had a great fondness for Gordon Richards and always shouted out about him whether he had ridden any winners that day or not.
Miss Hannah Simpson had the next little shops. She had a little home bakery and sold lovely bread and teacakes and sweets. She had a little counter where she would sell anyone a glass of lemonade. She was very much like Miss Amos in her style of dress and hair. The shop has been converted into a dwelling house and I believe the big cellar is being used in a manufacturing business recently started by a young woman – making flags. Miss Simpson was there at the beginning of the 1939 war.
On the corner at the top of this part of the street was a little shop sweets and fruit and lemonade. This was Futter’s shop. Taken over afterwards by Mr Reid the cobbler, and now a dwelling house. I can still see the coloured beaded curtain which covered the shop door window and the bell on a spring which jangled every time the door was opened.
After these shops there was a row of little houses on each side of the road which led up on the left hand side to the Olympia Cinema and on the right to the branch of the Leadgate “Co-op”, or as it was known by all – “the store”.
This was a huge stone-built building – the grocery, hardware, drapery and shoes, and the tailoring departments all facing Derwent Street and around the corner out of sight with several outhouses and warehouses enclosed behind the gates in the private yard.
The “store” was the hub of Blackhill – always busy and full of life. Here we all went for “messages” – carried away flour by the stone for the weekly bread – baking and every other days cooking. We watched the bacon machine endlessly cutting up sides of bacon – the sugar being weighed from a brown hessian sack into blue paper sugar bags. The sacks were later given away and were greatly prized as backing for mat making. The butter of whatever weight was cut out from half-barrels of golden colour – the cheese being expertly cut with wire cheese cutters.
There were huge rolls of brown paper at intervals on each counter beside each roll a tin holding string. The assistants were very adept at neatly parcelling the groceries and could snap the string with one quick jerk. The hardware department provided anything that was needed from big wooden mangles, perambulators, bicycles, barrows, to the smallest of household utensils:- teacups, tea sets, teapots, jugs and pint pots. The boots and shoes were sold from this front part, sand shoes working boots, Wellingtons and clogs, bedroom slippers (mostly sold at Christmas).
The drapery department catered for us all with bales of dressmaking materials of all sorts, and wool which would be kept for us as long as it took to knit it. I remember my first attempts at knitting and being able to buy my wool – at 41/2d per ounce – which had to be rewound by hand. It must have been about six months before I finally finished my jumper as I could only buy the wool very slowly. We
could get coats and dresses and skirts and haberdashery of any sort. This is where my mother always got the hessian backing for her mats, which was stamped with a design.
The tailoring department catered for the men. We could bring several books of patterns home, and anyone needing a suit could choose the material and know exactly which he wanted before he went up to be measured by Mr Muir the tailor.
Each purchase in every department was recorded onto two slips bearing your own store number. (I still remember my mothers number which later became my own). The slips were then, with the money, put into a little round tub attached to overhead wires. The assistant pulled the string and off went the receptacle winging over the heads of everyone and landing in a little cubicle presided over by the cashier. The purchase slip was retained and the change with the second slip and number was returned to the customer. The slips were carefully kept, so that the dividend which was paid quarterly or half yearly – I’m not quite sure – could be calculated on the purchases.
Dividend day was a great day – be it small or maybe a bit bigger than expected, and my mother always gave us a little treat – maybe some sweets or a special tea that day. We knew all the assistants by name – and in turn they knew us and if we had forgotten what sort of brand or name of anything our mothers wanted they could always keep us right.
Immediately up from the store there were a few little houses – which backed onto a square again with some houses, this was called Chappel Square. These were tucked beside the beautiful structure of Our Blessed Lady Immaculate Church – St. Mary’s – a small convent to the side of the church has its own history – almost 150 years now – the only change in its structure has been the removal of a weather cock for safety reasons. The interior of the church is as beautiful as the exterior. St. Mary’s Junior School, – the little school – as we called it was immediately below the church. Both junior and senior schools have now been moved to a beautiful big new school at Bridgehill. Straight up from the little houses in front of the church we had the League Room which was part of the church premises and was used by the men and the boys of the parish as a reading room and where there was a very good billiard table. These opened into the hall and stage where all the concerts were held – by the school children and the church choir.
St. Mary’s Street crossed down here and then we had another little fruit shop and two high class grocers, Parkers & Robertson. Mr Parisi’s ice cream shop was next, then a wallpaper shop and the last buildings on this side were a bank and then the Rose & Crown Hotel at the corner where it is now. Directly opposite on the Park Road corner was Thompson’s Red Stamp Store. On the left hand side of the street
there was a fresh fish shop, a fish and chip shop and the post office run by Miss Sloanes. Miss Oliver had a lovely shop on the corner of this block, selling draperies, and footwear of every sort. Below this was the little woodwork training centre for the school boys – another bank – then the council school known by us as the “Tin-mill” school.
At the very top of the street – directly opposite the Rose & Crown there was a big store building – the Mechanics Institute where the men and boys could have a game of billiards and use the reading room. It is now a printing business. Every week the cattle from the surrounding farms were driven through Blackhill up to a cattle mart situated at the beginning of Consett Bank in Park Road. The boys used to join in the business of getting them safely into the mart.
There are only three shops now and a private dwelling at the beginning of Derwent St. The whole street is an elongated car park and almost deserted especially at the weekends. The supermarkets at Consett have taken most of the trade away from Blackhill, since all the company houses have been demolished, a big contrast to the busy, jostling, shopping, happy place it used to be.
Facing the Co-op was the imposing frontage of the Olympia Cinema owned by Mr Adams – another magical world. My earliest recollection of the “pictures”, was being taken by Mary my older sister to the back of the cinema where we sat on wooden forms. The dividing wooden partition separated the back from the middle section and another partition shielded the very best seats at the front. These were in red plush velvet. The organ was at the front just underneath the screen. The first pictures I saw were silent. The partition hid me from Dr. Fu-man-chu, who in a sickly green shade on the whole screen menaced and grimaced at me. This was the weekly matinée – a penny and twopence – depending on our seats. Ours were always the backs seats; a penny. I was brought by someone, probably my mother, to see Uncle Tom’s Cabin and I can still picture Lisa jumping over the ice floats with her baby.
All the years when we were growing up until we left school, Saturday afternoon was always spent at the pictures. We were all rich beyond measure with our penny for the pictures and a halfpenny to spend on sweets. My halfpenny usually went on a long lasting brightly coloured orange lollipop, or some aniseed balls or spearmint tasting boiled sweets, “everlasting” toffee in a long strip or hard liquorice stick. Later on there was great excitement when the “talkies” arrived. We had Tom Mix, and I remember John Wayne in his very first cowboy serial. Before the serial we had a short of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy (Fatty & Skinny), Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Andy Clyde and Our Gang, or a cartoon when they arrived. Mostly Mickey Mouse & Co. The Three Stooges were almost permanent in their appearances. Woe betide the operators if the film broke with all the stomping of feet. At the Christmas matinée, Mr Adams gave each one an apple and orange and later on we were all given a voucher for about three pence which was handed into a sweet shop of our choice for sweets. Mr Adams must have been a very generous man, as my brother John told me he had got a lovely teapot and my sister Sarah a lantern, when the cinema was first opened. I still have the teapot which is over eighty years of age now – the lid is broken. The best end of the cinema was around the corner from Derwent Street. on the little road which led up to the railway station. The railway station and bridge is demolished now. Mr Adams had a little wooden shop opposite the entrance’s big doors where he sold sweets and cigarettes, ice cream and fruit drinks. Later on he built a little shop adjoining the corner of the Derwent St. entrance and transferred his confectionary business there. He held a competition for a name for the shop and the winning name was “A.B.C.” – Adams’ Best Confectionary. I can’t remember what the prize was or who won it. When Mr Adams retired the cinema was taken over by Mr Atkinson who already owned cinemas in Consett. The little sweet shop became a dress shop. The whole building later became a D.I.Y shop and is now a carpenters. The two big leaded domes on the roof at the front of Derwent St. were removed when the buildings changed hands. The cinema was also used for concerts. The juniors and the seniors of St. Mary’s had a big concert there.
After we had moved to Valley Gardens, Mary and I had to go to the store for the groceries. My job was to carry two little cartons of woodbines for my brother, John, (they were very small enveloped packets – price 2pence with 5 cigarettes in each packet – open at the top) whilst Mary carried the heavier goods.
It must have been early evening as there were several youths waiting at the doors of the Olympia for it to open for the first house:- just straight opposite the Coop doors. We had only gone a little way homewards when I discovered my woodbine packets were empty. I probably had held them upside down. I set up my usual wailing and I remember every one of those boys (they were big men to me) coming over to me and handing back the cigarettes they had picked up which had blown across the road. I always remember that incident. They must have thought it was manna from heaven when they found those cigarettes or “tabs”. I know my two little packets were full again for me to take home. I can’t imagine that happening today.
The railway station along from the cinema was a busy place with the trains running extensively throughout the day. I remember a trip to the sea side for the children – leaving with hundreds of excited children and parents. The station and its waiting rooms and offices has been demolished for many years. The railway bridge was another great place to play around.
Durham Road ran straight past Derwent St. and it had its share of interest. Robinsons the butchers which was directly opposite to Christopher’s Yard was a great attraction at Christmas. The whole of the front window was beautifully lit and every cut of meat possible was displayed and decorated with holly. The stars of the window were two pigs lying one at each side, all dressed up with an orange in each mouth. The family firm of Robinsons has not been gone very long. The shop is now a fancy goods shop run by Joan and Brian Bell.
There was then a newsagents ran by Mrs Brown & Family. The shop has changed hands a few times but always as a newsagents.
Next was Settreys dealing in bicycle goods and accumulators. Foggins the dairy was next – a big open shop where the milk was in big brown bowls on top of the counter and served out by steel measures which hooked onto the top of the bowl. They also sold eggs and butter. The floor was flagstoned and cool.
Further down with just an ordinary house windows Mr Aldred had a little business and sold flash lamps and batteries, bulbs, bicycle wheels, repair outfits and inner tubes. He was our local handyman and mended anything he could for us – alarm clocks or watches – most things ended up on his counter. The lads could borrow his bicycle pump. He would thread our precious strings of beads onto cat gut so that they wouldn’t snap so easily. If Mr Aldred could do nothing to help us out there wasn’t much point in hoping anything could be salvaged. He charged the radio batteries – heavy glass cases which had to be carefully handled in case the acid they held was spilt.
Below this shop was a fresh fish shop. All the fish was collected early every morning from the station – straight from North Shields – wheeled on iron barrows and sold straight from the huge crates. Cod, turbot, haddocks, herring and kippers. There were always fresh rabbits and at Christmas, fowl. The fish shop was the only shop ever open on good Friday.
On the corner above Mr Aldred’s there was an ironmongery shop also for paraffin and sweets. Mr Turners & Son.
The “big school” – which is going to be moved this year in conjunction with the infants, is straight opposite Mr Turner’s, which is now a dwelling house. Mr Turner would serve us a halfpenny worth of sweets in an expertly made poke of newspaper. Up from Mr Robinson’s the butchers we had another grocery shop ran by Mr Ward. He used to have a huge grinder for coffee beans on the counter – then the fish and chip shop. The walls of the fish shop were tiled in beautiful scenes from the fishing ports and lovely views of the sea. I’m very happy to see they are still there.
Mr McRoberts shop was further up the road, full of little drawers all labelled with their contents and then below him came the Consett Co-op, two departments.
The shop keepers were all generous and kept their empty boxes for the pupils of the schools who would invade them at the beginning of each new term as we needed them for our books and pencils. We kept them on a shelf under the top of the desk.
I remember my first doll, a very small stuffed figure with a pottery head and arms and legs. It’s hair was painted black. I know I didn’t like it at all, so I wasn’t bothered about it.
When Millhouse sold out my mother bought several dolls for a few pennies. One was a beautiful China doll with a sweet face and lovely blue eyes which opened and closed. I still have the picture of it after I’d dropped it, and picking up the two blue eyes which were now at either ends of a piece of metal. They certainly had no resemblance to the lovely eyes of my doll when I twirled them around in my hand. I was also given a lovely wax doll. She had long blonde hair and her dress was red velvet. For obvious reasons this doll was hung up on the wall in the kitchen and survived until a much later date. Her fate was to be put into a cupboard when we moved down to a new council house in Valley Gardens. Unfortunately the hot water pipes ran through the cupboard and her lovely face was melted. I was sad about her. Her dress ended up as a polishing cloth for John’s fiddle.
My mother used to save Thompson’s red stamps so Rose and I got our next Christmas dolls in exchange for a full book of stamps. Mine was a big doll, not a very pretty face – made of papier mâché and had a penetrating cry of “mama” when it was being moved around. I dressed her up in some weird and wonderful outfits all my own creations. I always knew if anyone was banishing her as “mama” could be heard all through the house. I would immediately rescue her from being unceremoniously dumped out of sight. I think she finally succumbed to being left out in the garden in the rain. Doubtless the members of the family were thankfully relieved at her demise.
We also could buy little celluloid dolls for a penny – about four inches long which kept us amused making outfits for them.
THE LITTLE SCHOOL
I started school in May 1927. Everybody started straight away on their fifth birthday – we didn’t have to begin at the first day of the term. My mother brought me up from Christopher’s Yard and we stood in the little porch with its row of small wash basins and taps until Sister had put my name down in the register. Several of my friends had been at school for a while before me, so I wasn’t isolated when I had to ‘start’.
There was a big rocking horse but I didn’t get a ride on it. The babies of the class were given a small tray filled with white sand and shown how to make letters in it with a little stick. We then progressed on to a slate which I didn’t like. The slate pencils were squeaky and sometimes the slate was cracked which made the letters look very peculiar. In the next class afterwards we had pencils and paper. The head mistress Sister Peter Francis was our English teacher. I had finished my paper and Sister told me to be sure and punctuate my writing. I made sure my next lesson was all right as I can remember working very hard and carefully to make lovely big full stops at the end of my sentences. Each full stop was worked at until my paper was beautifully decorated with stops each the size of an old silver three penny piece. I thought it was very well done – I don’t know what sister thought about my effort; I’m sure she was very amused.
At eight years of age we progressed into the “Big School” in Durham Road. It was a mixed school and we were there until we left school at fourteen. Each year one or two pupils would pass the seven plus examinations and change up to the technical school at the top of Park Road. We could if we had wanted gone to Broom’s school where the school leaving certificate was available, but very few ever went there as we didn’t really understand much about education and there was no money or help for further education. On leaving most of the girls went into domestic work and the boys usually started their working lives as errand boys in the local shops before if lucky starting work at sixteen in the Consett Iron Company. During the thirties work was hard to get there too and most of the men were unemployed all through the depression.
The two schools which were built in 1859 are this year moving to a new school in Bridgehill.
I had just turned five when we moved into a newly built council house in Valley Gardens, about five minutes walk down the road but facing the countryside around the Derwent Valley. My father was given the top house in the street because he wanted the big garden. He also was allowed to use a small field beside the house as an allotment. My sister Rose was ill with pneumonia when we moved in. On my first day, my brother Michael who was at the big school in Durham Road, took me up to my school and then I had to find my own way home at dinner time. I knew I had to walk straight down the long road from the school – St. Mary’s Crescent but when I got to the bottom at Pemberton Road, I didn’t know which way to go to find where we had moved to and it was with great relief that I saw the new brick houses at the end of the road.
The first day we moved into our new house I announced to all that I was going to the baptist church just straight over the road. However, it was almost sixty years before I ever went into it for a funeral. It is a beautiful little chapel.
The view from the back of our house was beautiful; the whole countryside rolled out before us. Fields spread out all over the hillside. In the summer for the hay and the rest of the year for cattle. All the summer long we could hear the cry of the corncrake – which I have never heard since the Bridgehill estate was built. I read recently that the corncrake was now very rarely seen.
There was a tip always burning just over the hedge from our garden but gradually it moved to the bottom of the hill and in later years has become a lovely open space with a very good football field, surrounded by huge trees. At the very bottom below the football ground there was a well called the Plantain Well, gone now, but I remember it being used for water one year in a drought.
When the hay was being cut we had great times playing in the fields. Sometimes we were allowed by Mr Bagnall the farmer to ride on the big flat horse drawn hay bogies which carried the completed haystacks up to the big barns at the top of Bridgehill. The cow byres were up there beside the farm house. There was a drinking tough for the cows opposite the farm house. A little stream of water ran into it and this was always our first stop when we had climbed the stony bank from the river.
The farmer and his wife were lovely friendly people and very kind. The daughters of the family delivered the milk every morning. They carried it in huge shining cans (no transport) and measured it out into jugs at the doorsteps with a steel scoop which was hooked into the can.
Thinking about it now, how did they manage that job? Through heavy snow in the winter too.
When my mother needed extra milk we took a small can and went up to the farm. If the cows hadn’t been milked in the evening we were always allowed to sit and wait in the farmhouse until we could come away with the fresh milk. The snow shovels were normally left ready for use at the end of October and many of the stone built homes still have snow scrapers built into the front door.
The fields from the top of Bridgehill down to the level at Pemberton Road were the ideal sledging runs in the winter. Every family had at least one wooden sledge on iron runners and the roads and fields were our runs. There was very little traffic – no bus routes at all around Bridgehill – and as soon as the snow fell we were out in force. My father had been given a big wooden sledge which easily held four and the last time I remember it being used it ended in disaster when our driver Jimmie hurtled us down from the top of the hill and guided us into the wall around a garden at the bottom. Luckily the piled up snow in the gutter slowed us up and Chrissie, Frank and I picked ourselves up and sorted ourselves out. We were all right. Jimmie got a few cuts and lost a little bit of blood, but was otherwise safe and sound.
Valley Gardens had its own little run on the street from the top until it met the big Shotley Bank at the lower entrance to the street. The big lads could sledge form the top of Number One Bank at Consett, right down through Blackhill and straight on down into Shotley Bridge – a steep bank all the way. I doubt if they made two runs on any one night! The one run would take quite a long time and I’m sure it would be too much to repeat. We all got chilblains and sore legs caused by the Wellingtons rubbing against our bare legs. Most of the girls wore what we called “Bicycling Stockings”, woollen stockings which folded back under the knees, and the lads were mostly in short trousers and didn’t wear long ones until they left school.
One of the most vivid memories is of the Sunday morning war was declared. We had just heard it announced on the wireless when the sirens started screaming. Standing at our back door we waited as all the cows of the farm streamed over from the fields to the nearest point against the wall bordering onto Pemberton Road. The siren was coming from the Consett Iron Company. If there hadn’t been a wall at the bottom of the field I’m sure the cows would have followed the noise as far as possible to find it.
I can never remember the words “I’m bored” being voiced after the winter and the snow had disappeared. We were all out in force with tops and whips and long plaited heavy ropes supplied free from the greengrocers. These were used to bind up the large packages brought in from the big markets for sale in the shop. The girls marked out “bays” with chalk on the pavements and we spent our time hitching a flat stone – a “dobber” from the lowest numbered partition to the top of the bay by hopping on one leg, trying to keep the “dobber” from landing on the lines. A favourite game with the girls in the school yard was “Buttony”. The buttons were pitched up to a wall and the best thrower was rewarded by being allowed to keep any button picked up by a moistened thumb which was firmly placed over it. I don’t know that it did much for hygiene but we all had great fun. One of our popular occupations was playing shops. We collected all the broken pieces of pottery or China we could find. These were called “boodies”. There always seemed to be plenty about with stone jam jars in cream and brown. The pieces most treasured were from white cups which had two or three rings of gilt around the rim. We used these pieces as “money” – sovereigns we called them – according to the number of rings on them. Sovereigns were three ringed and a half sovereign two. Why sovereigns I don’t know as we had never seen one.
We played hide and seek, ‘tiggy’ and a game called “Hot Rice” – played with a small bat and ball – something like rounders.
The boys had their jars and bags of marbles – at first I can remember mostly small hard baked marbles that looked like clay. Then the glass marbles became popular. They had lovely coloured stripes and nice designs on them. Most of the boys had one or two steel ball-bearings which they valued as “shooters”. They had a game with cigarette cards where they could win extra cards. These cards were collected and swapped around until whole sets were completed. They could be put into special albums which were about twopence to buy. I remember one set of beautiful cards which were given with Kensington cigarettes. They were lovely flowers embroidered on white silk. The girls in the family had them as decoration on various things. The boys had their football and cricket “heroes”, and most were good swimmers and they had a game called “Mounty-Back”:- jumping onto the backs of a long line of other boys, until they all couldn’t hold up any more. If we could get hold of a comic, we read it and swapped it around until it disintegrated. The penny comics were “Funny Wonder”, “Chips”, “Comic Cuts” and quite a few more. The coloured comics were twopence. I can only remember one called “The Rainbow”. My brother John got the “Magnet” every week and we all enjoyed the adventures of Billy Bunter and Co. at Grayfriars School. We had a few library books at school in addition to our class literature but there were no facilities for children at the council library. I used to plead with my sister Sarah to get me a “Just William” book out. The books were issued one evening a week from the council school in Derwent St. – we called it the ‘Tin mill’ school. When I see the wonderful books the children have access to now it’s really great. One of the first books I read was “Wuthering Heights” and John sent away for an abridged version of “A Christmas Carol”. We all read it over and over again and I read it to my own children when they were little.
The buzzers at Consett Iron Company – the works dominated and regulated out days. It announced all the shift changes – six o’clock in the morning – two o’clock, on through the day until ten o’clock at night. We knew when the shifts were changing – the roads were full of workers coming and going. We seemed to manage without checking the clocks, buzzers kept us informed of the passing hours; and at New Year the passing of the old year and the proclaiming of the new. If was always “that’s the buzzer and we knew we had to hurry along.
The evening and night skies were regularly lit by the tipping of the red hot slag from ladles over the slag heaps. The noise of the works went on all day and all night – somehow it was reassuring knowing that everything was going on as usual. During the war the buzzers was silenced. Various coloured lights at the works indicated an imminent air raid. The wailing sirens would sound and then the level note of the “all clear”. When the works finally closed about ten years ago, I used to find myself listening for the familiar noises and found the silence very strange.
At the blast furnaces the men had to work the “long task” every three weeks in order to change the hours of their shift. This meant that the men starting at six o’clock in the morning stayed at their job until ten o’clock at night. On these Sundays the families brought up to the blast furnaces the men’s dinners and a can of tea. These were carried in tin cans fitted with a lid and carrying handle – the dinner pans we called them. The dinner was put into a bowl and then fastened into the pan. The men then put them onto the top of the ovens which were in their little ‘bait’ cabins at the works. All the young children used to go with their father’s dinner, and then they would be rewarded with an empty lemonade or beer bottle which could be exchanged for a penny at the little shop above the Rose & Crown.
We walked up the “Mill Road” through all the works, passed the huge “big offices” where all the clerical staff worked and onto the blast furnaces themselves – some to go up the huge iron steps to the top and other onto the bottom. My father and most of his friends worked at number eight furnace. I must have been too young to go up to the top at that time – but I vividly remember many years later bringing my brother Michael’s tea and bait up when he worked on the engines on the tipping ladles, on the bottom, and going past the huge furnaces and seeing them roaring up from the bottom. I remember on one occasion being casually taken over a very precarious looking wall and looking down at the molten metal running on the other side. It’s hard to imagine now that children and young people were allowed onto the furnaces. My father must have finished the works before this time. I think he had a bad hip. He was unemployed after this time for many years.
It was usual for several members of each family to be at the works. John was on the plate-laying gang during the war; and the boys, if they were lucky, were given apprenticeships at all the various trades. Michael worked on the slag engines until the war started.
The graphite from the works used to shine like silver on the pavements. Then for many years before the works finally closed the whole town was covered with red dust from the furnaces. It got into everything and everywhere. Great clouds of it floated over us. I remember laughing at a lady with white hair which had attained a very definite shade of red. Every effort was made by the company to cure it but to no avail. It was finally eliminated by the closure of the company- it seems to have been the only solution to that problem. The town was left devastated by the closure of the ‘works’.
Now visiting Consett, all is as it was before the works were ever started, everything demolished.
THE SCHOOL TRIP
Just as Christmas was the highlight of winter, the school trip to Whitley Bay was the long dreamed of and long awaited event of the summers. Once Easter was over it was our ‘chief topic’ of conversation. I used to have my cotton dress ready and waiting for weeks beforehand. The big red buses assembled in and filled the whole of the Quarry and started off in convoy around and up Durham Road. In the earliest years we were given bags of buns and then later on we got a shilling each from the parish priest. Riches untold to spend! It was like going to another planet! The smell of the sea and the beautiful beach; we rarely seemed to get a poor day with the weather.
Our parents were laden down with enough food for the family for the day, and our shillings were spent on the ice cream a treat and the most important buying of candy rock, lettered right through with “Whitley Bay”. We always kept a little bit of money for the last treat of the day – the “Spanish City”, with its roundabouts and coconut shies. Here were little tin bazookas shaped like submarines, which we bought and “played” on the bus going home. The tune was blown down the tube and the sound was magnificent. They were great for leading the singing and everybody joined in. The Quarry certainly was always full of “Blackhillers” waiting to welcome all the buses back.
We had great fun at Easter rolling our dyed “paste egg” down grassy hills – especially the Blue Heaps at the top of Blackfyne.
Once the summer was over I used to like to see the gas lamps being lit one by one by our local lamplighter; and I liked the gas lights being lit in school. I was very pleased to read recently that there were still over a thousand gas lamps in and around London. I thought they had all gone. The lampposts around the streets were always the focus of great activity, sometimes we fastened a rope onto the arms of the lamppost and swung around it; the pleasure ride was tempered a bit by bruised shins and knees if we didn’t keep ourselves clear of the post. The dark nights brought Halloween – “dooky apple night”- when we enjoyed our apples being put into big bowls of water or hang onto strings to see if we could bite them. Our mothers always made a big apple and potato pudding with a few small silver three penny pieces in it. There was usually quite a few of us at the table waiting for our share.
Most of all I loved to watch the snowflakes twirling silently down from the darkness – float and drift into the golden circumference of light around the lamp and fall again onto the foot path. Maybe these memories are like that – floating gently down out of the past – being illuminated for a little while and then fading away again.
My mother was very gentle: She would never allow any of us to make fun of anyone. We all seemed to have time to talk and listen to my father and mother telling us their memories of their childhood in Ireland, and they both took great interest in all our school happenings, especially our songs and any new play we were practising. My mother played the melodeon. Both my parents had beautiful singing voices and from our earliest years we all knew their old songs. My father and mother often sang songs together and my mother was always singing going about the house. We just took it for granted to sing for any of the friends who visited us. It was a great day when John took delivery of a Gramophone and records. We had evenings listening to the music, mostly Irish ballads and dance music. Sometimes my father’s friends would spend the evening with us to enjoy the records. My mother once got some records from the church jumble sale – one was of ballet music and Mary and I had great times dancing around the kitchen. We didn’t get a radio until I was about sixteen and then it was a ‘relay’ which was a radio rented out from a company for about two shillings or so a week. This was collected at the door and we were relayed two radio stations. We got all the news and the main events through these two channels.
My father, as did all the men, cobbled all the shoes for the family. He used to buy pieces of leather from a shoe shop and soak it until it was pliable enough to work with. The mat in the kitchen was lifted and the shoes and boots laid out to be repaired. All the nails were kept in various little tins, there was an iron last and various hammers and tools. My father always made sure our footwear was sound. I remember when I was about eleven being given a pair of new boots (boys) from some organisation at school and my father promptly filling the soles around with hob nails. I thought they were great, just the thing for sliding on the pavements.
Another ritual was the hairdressing session, when our hair was cut with scissors and hand worked clippers. The hair was always cut short – the girls as well as the boys. Which I didn’t mind. The last time Mary submitted for her hair cut my father cut is so short that she went upstairs and stayed there all day in a very rare fit of crying and sobbing every time she looked at herself in the mirror. Frank was working as an errand boy in Metcalfe’s store when my father attempted a quick “back and sides” during a dinner time break. Frank had beautiful wavy thick black hair. He had been using “Brylcreem” on it and the clippers couldn’t grip the hair to cut it properly. It was a disaster. He had to go to the nearest barbers for the job to be finished. That seemed to be the end of the home barber for us. No doubt with deep thankfulness all round.
We had plenty of time to talk and listen. My mother told us all about her girlhood in Ireland and about the travellers who used to call at her home. There was an old man called the “Button Man”. His jacket was sewn all over with any button he could beg or find. He would stay the night beside the fire and then after a pot of tea and a bite to eat would wander off again to return at about the same time the following year. There was a woman called the “Lady”. She was very tall and well spoken, and loved to collect the new nettles which she would ask my grannie to make into soup for her. There were many others who arrived at different times and all were made welcome. My mother lived by the side of Lough Neigh and she often talked about the fishing that was going on then. She played the melodeon at the ceilidhs. She was a great reader.
My father told us about his childhood and about being hired out at a very early age to work for the summer season in another neighbouring district. He went to school in the winter only. He read slowly and with great care. His handwriting was excellent and he was very meticulous at writing and working out his arithmetic.
He told us about the first time he had ever smoked a pipe. Every week it was his job to go into Pomeroy which was a very long walk to collect the pension for two old sisters. Out of it he always had to bring them an ounce of tobacco. The pension would be only a few shillings. They both smoked clay pipes and they allowed my father on his return with the baccy to have a smoke. After a few pulls of the pipe he said the whole of the green hillside started to revolve around him. It didn’t put him off, and he smoked a pipe all of his life. During one of his times at school he went into the classroom early and seeing the schoolmaster’s pipe alight on the desk had a quick pull of it. Just before he could manage to replace it, the teacher came in so my father dropped it into his own pocket. Shortly afterwards he was called out to point something out on the blackboard and inevitably the pipe fell out of his pocket at the feet of the teacher. I don’t know what was said at the time – but always after that the schoolmaster allowed him a pull of the pipe before he went home.
My father gave over the whole of his big front garden to flowers. It was beautiful and a riot of colour. He won a prize one year of several rose bushes for his display. School friends and neighbours were always welcome to a bunch of flowers and he always sent up flowers for the church altar. My friends were always welcome to come and get a bunch of lovely flowers from our garden. My father pitted his potatoes, turnips and beetroot for the winter and we had all the other vegetables – leeks, cabbage, celery, beans, peas, garlic, onions and all the herbs. He gave vegetables away to the neighbours and friends. My mother’s favourite was “Night-
Scented Stock” which flourished just under the first window and the perfume filled the whole of the garden in the summer evenings.
I got into trouble once when it was discovered that my friends and I deliberately knocked our ball into the strawberry patch in our next door neighbours garden to pick a berry when we retrieved it. That idea was speedily ended. Looking back at our own diet of that time, it is exactly what is being urged on all sides now. We had a small amount of meat with all the fresh vegetables we could use. We had home-made bread, scones and nourishing broths and stews, porridge and bread pudding and rice puddings. Half an apple, orange or banana was usual at teatime – cocoa and bread and jam at supper. Sometimes we could get a packet of chips at the fish shop but that was a treat. Herrings and kippers were plentiful and cheap. We loved champ and ‘boilies which was white bread and hot milk mashed together.
There were few sweets. I remember the only tinned food we ever had was condensed milk, a tin of pineapple chunks and a tin of evaporated milk for our Sunday treat, and a tin of John Wests red salmon – a one pound tin – which cost half a crown (121/2p) quite a lot of money then, and which was always purchased at the store once a week. I remember seeing baked beans for the first time when I was about eleven when my sister Sarah bought them when she was up from London for a week. We were all healthy and fit – except for the cold coughs and colds. The only illness we had was when Frank and Rose took scarlet fever and had to go to an isolation hospital at Villa Real, Consett. I can’t remember the doctor being called in to any of us. My mother doctored our colds with hot lemon drinks and rubbed our chests with Vick rub. Our invaluable remedy of snowfire tablets was used continually for chapped and sore slips and the agonizing chilblains of winter. I bought a tablet of snowfire last year and paid £1.15p – my mother used to pay twopence. It is still as great as ever. Sore knees were ‘treated’ with hot bread poultices and hot lint. There was usually somebody in the class with a bandage on the knee. All the years I was at school I only missed one day which I deliberately took off. I received a framed certificate from Durham County. I didn’t like the picture much and don’t remember what happened to it.
My father and some of his friends used to get their suits tailored by Mr McGretton (or McGratton) who travelled from Jarrow to our homes. He was a lovely man, he had beautiful white hair and moustache and always had a great welcome from us. I saw him about three times the last time just before the war. My father ordered a tweed suit with two pairs of trousers, which stood him in good stead because the clothing coupons came out during the war. The men always kept one navy blue serge suit for wear on Sundays and funerals and weddings and it was carefully brushed and folded away again after use. They usually wore a bowler hat. In later years he and my brothers got their suits from the store tailor.
These words opened up for us our freedom into the miles of glorious countryside with the river running right through the valley as far as we could walk either side of the Shotley Bridge. We ran down Cutters Hall from BlackhilI or down Stony Bank from Bridgehill. At the bottom of either bank we crossed the iron bridge or the wooden bridge and then had the whole of the river for our playground. The boys had their favourite swimming spots known by their own names The Hole or Sandies and spent the time swimming and diving. Every school holiday and long summer evenings were spent down by the river. If we intended spending the day there we brought a bottle of water and a few jam sandwiches and were set for the day. We walked the miles around in every direction – from the iron bridge we went up to the Letch Wood. We called it the Bluebell Wood. In the spring the wood was full of blue bells and primroses. We always arrived home laden with blue bells. The autumn brought blackberries and wood nuts eaten there and then without being allowed to turn into real hazel nuts. The boys all knew where to find the best chestnut trees for their supply of conkers. Just past the iron bridge the path led us around to the right for about two miles through fields and woods to Allansford where the road led us back again to Blackhill. There was a swimming pool just beside the style to the right of the iron bridge but I can’t remember it ever being used although there was shallow water in it then.
The Derwent was the recreation centre for the whole town and everywhere round about. It was always full of children and families enjoying their day out. We were very lucky to have had this beautiful place as our back garden. We had no need of the seaside which was something extra special, but visited only once a year on our school trip. At the opposite end of the Iron Bridge a footpath ran along the river into the “dam”. This was where the hay-wagons used to cross from one side of the river to the other. I can’t ever remember this happening but I think the “dam” was used for the wagons carrying lead from the lead mines up at Killhope. I’m not sure about this – maybe I’m wrong. Anyway the bottom was smooth and flat and it made a great place for swimming for the children. I often went with Frank and watched him swimming when I was young. The footpath led in the opposite directions towards Shotley past some little cottages and a half demolished big building which had a clock tower and a clock in it. I visited the river a few years ago with Jimmie and David and Clare my grandchildren and tried to tell them about the clock house which had been demolished. The cottages had been extended and the grounds had become a lovely garden. It had been the offices for the Shotley Bridge flour mill in former years. There were still traces of the mill along the side of the river. All the history of the mills and the paper mills has been recorded and is available at the library.
Further along the road we used to slide and skate in the winter on a little pond attached to a small cottage. I am not sure whether the pond is still there or not. Last year when Sheenagh and the children were here on a visit from Australia the walk was as beautiful as ever but we met only one mother and baby and two people walking their dogs. That is understandable now in 1993, but never in all our childhood years was any child deliberately hurt in any way. Our casualties were mostly caused by falling into the water when we were jumping around the rocks – cut knees and occasionally a fall out of a tree when we were being adventuresome.
On the farther side of Shotley Bridge just past the bridge itself we had another great place. The river path took us along until it branched up to the left which took us around “Millers Farm”. Here we collected frog spawn from the pond in glass jars. The jars had string tied around the top and were used for catching “tiddlers” from the river. We were allowed by the farmer into the byres to watch the cows being milked. Each cow had its name on a slate above its stand and we knew the names of each one – Betty, Nancy, Peggy. The farm workers were always kind and never seemed to mind us being in the byres. Here the road ran around the top of the farm houses to meet the main road again just above the bridge.
Coming out again at the King’s Head the road straight ahead brought us to the spa grounds. These were various events held here throughout the year especially at bank holidays and sports and races, cricket and horse trials. The water in the spa well tasted horrible. I don’t know if it affected any cures of ailments but it was a famous place and was visited by people from outlying distances years before. I remember the sports and bonfires to commemorate King George V’s jubilee were held there. I had already won a ‘diamond’ (Woolworth’s 6d) brooch in our school races and I lost it around the bonfire. My teacher gave me another to replace it later on. The spa grounds are still used for various events.
The pupils who lived in Shotley arrived for school at nine o’clock – and went back to their homes for their dinners. They then walked back up again to school for half past one and home again down the bank. No-one thought anything about the walk to and from Shotley. Everybody walked most of the time although there were buses on the main routes. The fare from Blackhill to Consett was only a penny.
There were no facilities at our school for the pupils. Later on the head mistress Sister Albertine arranged for Horlicks to be made and brought around the classrooms; we paid a halfpenny for a beaker full. After this we could get a half-pint of milk for a penny.
Our Christmas party was paid for over several weeks – one penny per week – sixpence in all. Our desks were placed two by two and covered with sheets of white paper. We had sandwiches and small decorated buns and cups of tea.
There were three rows of company houses running straight up from the Quarry. Everybody who worked at the C I C. was entitled to a house owned by the company and kept that house all his working life and when he finished at the works.
Our row had a fairly large garden to each house across the road. The men grew all their own vegetables and must have kept poultry as I remember seeing geese and hens wandering around the streets in my early years. When I wasn’t at home I would be found up with my friends. Everyone knew each other and all the families and we just dropped into any house at will as the doors were always open and children were welcome. We were usually given a piece of bread and jam before going out again. We used to play cards around the kitchen table when the long evenings drew in and the gas was lit. We used to get a sweet if we won our game – mostly “Buster”, “Knock Out Whist” or “Snap”.
Every household had its own set of wooden mat-making frames. The canvas was sewn with string onto the two long frames then rolled up on one of them and pulled tight with two smaller pieces of frame which were pierced with holes so that they could be adjusted by wooden pegs slotted through them to whatever tightness any part of the canvas needed. Old clothing which was beyond repair or reclamation of any sort was cut into long strips and then cut again until they were about three inches in length and piled up to be worked into the canvas. Some clippings were brightly dyed with a twopenny dye to work the designs through the mat. Clothes pegs with one leg removed were sharpened to be used as “proggies” and with use the wood became smooth and shiny and were used expertly to ‘prog’ down into the canvas one end of the clipping and then the other. There were some steel proggies too and these were shiny and smooth and easy to use. Later on the clipping mat gave way to the “hooky” which was easier and quicker to work once you had got the rhythm of it. The children or neighbours could sit up at the frame and work their own little patch. We loved going into our friends home to “help” with the mat. It was usually just before Christmas that the mats were made and in the darker evenings. I made my last mat when I lived in Roger St.
Each day brought its own particular duties. Monday was washing day with wooden tubs and poss-sticks. In the company rows the clothes lines were strung out across the streets from one house to the house opposite. The ironing was done with irons heated on the coal fire. Later on when I saw an electric iron being used for the first time. I couldn’t believe it. The iron was attached by cord and plugged into the electric light socket. It was the same reaction when I saw an electric automatic washer in a wash house which belonged to Mrs Thompson of the bakery. The women could book up for a washing session and paid a little for the time they took over their wash. Watching the powered driven mangle I promised myself that one day I would get one and an electric washer was one of my first purchases after I was married. Everyone at that time had a huge iron mangle with wooden rollers until the little rubber mangles came along which could be clamped onto a “dolly-tub” – the latest help in washing. This was a zinc tub and a light fine “posser” which was shaped to have a suction action on the clothes. These are now ‘antiques’. I saw one in a shop priced at £12. We would pay ten shillings.
Baking day saw the stones (14 Ibs) of flour and the fresh yeast being made up into the numerous loaves and huge flat yeasty stotties cakes for the week. Running home from school through the rows we would see the “yeasties” outside on the window sills cooling off for the tea time. There was nothing nicer than hot yeasty and butter.
Friday was the day when the whole of the house was cleaned and scrubbed from top to bottom. The big black fireplaces were rubbed with black lead and then polished to a high sheen. The bars of the coal fire were black leaded and the space below the fire where the spent ashes were collected was white washed. The steel fenders, and tidy, and fire irons were polished until every mark vanished and the brasses, mostly candlesticks were rubbed and polished and returned to the mantelpiece in all their shining glory. The windows were cleaned and all the front and back steps were scrubbed and sand stoned to make them snowy white and to finish up with a semi circle of pavement in front of the step was scrubbed. The window sills were scrubbed and adorned with an edging of sand stone which resulted in both steps and window sill rubbed smooth through the years. The housework was always the duty of the mothers and daughters of the family.
Saturday was shopping day, with the children running around doing their “messages”, mostly in the morning because Saturday afternoon was our own matinée time at the “pictures”. We had no need to travel to Consett for anything. Now, Derwent Street is almost deserted, especially at the weekends, and most people go straight to Consett to the big supermarkets.
Sunday was special if the weather was at all suitable. We went to nine-thirty Mass and immediately after our breakfast, if it was fine at all, we ran down Stony Bank or Cutlers Hall road to our beloved Derwent. We arrived back home for our dinner, then after Sunday School back down again until the evening. They were really happy days for us.
Since I wrote this the junior school in Durham Road has been demolished and the site is up for sale. Murray Hospital (latterly a Cheshire Home) has been levelled and the beautiful site is now full of modern private houses. Sheenagh, Francis and Michael (my family) were born in the Murray Hospital.
The public house – the old inn – The Highgate has been pulled down. Sheenagh had her wedding reception there. The Shotley Bridge Hospital is being closed except for minor medication – everything else has to go to Dryburn in Durham. The ground has been designated for houses. The big C of E parish church is up for sale and our infant school has been given a preservation order.
Bridget Rafferty 1922 -2005