The black path is a tarmac path from the end of
The Gassy Gutter or Gore Burn as it appears on maps is a stream from what was the Thornley Colliery settling ponds to a pond close to the greyhound track in Wheatley Hill. The stream is mostly storm water runoff with the addition of run off from what was the pit heaps. Early in the morning depending on temperature a fine mist covers the area. No fish live in the stream and most of the bottom is composed of shale from Thornley colliery. Algae are the old living thing in the stream, probably because of the acidity or alkalinity of the water. The end point of the stream is a pond, which grows and recedes depending on the amount of rainwater. Bulrushes grow at the pond periphery and water hens live in the long grass. I’ve never seen fish in the pond but something must attract the bird. How it obtained its name is a mystery but it certainly fits.
A pond adjacent to the road leading from
A pond was located at the end of the quarry, adjacent to Old Wingate Farm (Tommy Hoppers) at the bottom of Marley Banks path. It drew people to it like a magnet because of the fish and aquatic life. Every year the frogspawn used to float to the top of the pond. Stickleback fish, newts, leeches and frogs would swim in the water. The male sticklebacks had a red underbelly and were called “Doctors”, why I don’t know. Water hens lived in the reeds next to the pond. When the quarries were being mined for the limestone the railway line seems to have stopped at the pond area. Adjacent to the pond are the remains of a building, only the foundations remain now. Dragonflies would also be in abundance.
At first sight you could have sworn that a giant must be buried beneath that mound. From the A181 up the road to the farm past the dumps (covered in now) on the right hand side of the road was a huge mound about 40-50 feet high with sloping sides and it stretched for about 100 yards. It was probably the residue of the limestone mining in the quarries and grass grew over it after some time. Cowslips would grow wild on the west side which was the side facing the quarry. The top of the ‘Grave’ gave a great view and on fine days you could see the sea. In winter it was great to slide down. Adjacent to the ‘Grave’ was a great climbing tree, and everyone at one time was up that tree.
The dump as I knew it was at one time part of a limestone quarry. It was on the left hand side of the road from the A181 going towards Old Wingate Farm (Tommy Hoppers). It was always a place of wonderment for every boy because the rubbish, which was tipped there, always had something of interest. The rubbish came in from the local villages as well as the brewery at Castle Eden. There was a lot to do at the dump, make camps, have fires, and climb the walls of the quarry, catching bees on the wild flowers. There was always something on fire because some of the rubbish included some of the ashes from people’s coal fires and some of them were still hot even when they were being tipped. There were a few caves in the dump area, one stopped after a few feet but another went through to the next quarry to the west. This quarry eventually led to Trimdon pond. The trees and bushes partially covered these caves but everyone knew where they were.
Today it is all filled in, topsoil covers the rubbish and cows graze where once there was a rubbish dump.
The Hospital farm was at one time the
This was an area between Hospital Corner and where the pit was at Thornley. It probably started off as a limestone quarry and the floor of the depression was fairly flat and so grass grew on it and trees grew on the sides. I remember walking along the footpath/cart track to Thornley and stopping to watch the cricket on the floor of the Hilly Owly below. There was a hut for the cricketers and the surrounding quarry walls afforded a grandstand view of what was going on. Through the woods was a path, which was a little tricky to walk as one slip, and you would slide down to the bottom. Today it is all filled in with the shale from Thornley Colliery, trees planted on top and a pond now close to Hospital Corner.
This was a limestone quarry (now filled in with rubbish and covered with soil) with a centre pinnacle on the base of the quarry. I don’t know why it was left in the middle of this great depression but everyone knew the pinnacle quarry. The quarry floor was about 80 to 100 feet below the surrounding area. The quarry access was from two tunnels one at either end. Other tunnels gave access but they were difficult to climb down. I presume the miners digging the limestone, making an access way between the quarries as they dug deeper into the ground, formed them. The main access to the tunnel was from a dirt road, branching off from the main dirt road leading through the 1918 Bridge. The pinnacle quarry was home to lots of crows and jackdaws and we all had fun climbing those sides of the quarry.
I remember the Pinnacle Quarry we used to call the pinnacle the 'Giant's $*!&'. A pair of Kestrel Hawks used to nest just above the tunnel entrance and Bill and I used to watch them for ages. The tunnel led to what we called Crystal Rock Quarry. The crystal was calcite but to us kids it was the nearest thing to a real diamond. The two tunnels you can see in the photo were known, not surprisingly, as the 'Top' and 'Middle' tunnels. The 'Bottom' tunnel was farther along and also led to the Crystal Rock Quarry. I never went through either the 'Top' or 'Middle' tunnels as getting up or down to them was quite dangerous with lots of loose limestone. Do you remember the fantastic echoes you could get in the quarries? On a really still day you could get five echoes from the path just up from the dip in which the pinnacle stood. These echoes made it difficult in finding young Jackdaws that had fallen from their nests. You would hear the call (quite different from an adult bird) run to where the sound came from only to realise it was an echo. (Updated with information from Bob Ord)
The 1918 bridge was a bridge for a train used in the extraction of limestone from the quarries. On the wall of the bridge as you walk through the underpass were the numbers 1918, probably when it was built. A little further on the left on the road south was a pond similar to Trimdon Pond but this pond was longer where Trimdon pond was a little rounder. Both providing great fishing for whatever was in the water. It was a great place to go on the way to The Wingate Arms a pub a mile or so up the road. My parents would have a shandy and I would have lemonade with a packet of crisps.
Everyone knows where the rec is, but how many remember it as it was in its heyday when flowers were in full bloom and the bowling greens were as smooth as a billiard table. The rec I knew had flowerbeds always filled with beautiful blooms all year round and someone was always playing on the bowling greens. In my youth the bandstand was still there and from my vague recollections I think I did see the band play there. The reason I remember the bandstand, not because of the band but one Sunday The Glider club were in the field just below the bandstand and one of the gliders came into land and broke apart on the bandstand. The putting green was next to the bandstand but we always used it as a football field playing football before going home. In the playground were swings, slides, the shovel (horizontal bar moved in an arc from side to side), a teapot lid (spun around so we could sit on it) and the spider’s web (spun around from the centre of the web). Another item in the playground was a metal structure shaped like a lampshade, which had a pivot at its centre. The recreation ground belonged to the miners union and they donated money from their pays for the upkeep. Unfortunately since the coalmine closed without revenue the money was not there for the upkeep, which it deserves. Similar things have happened in other coal mining communities but it’s a shame when I look back and see what it used to look like and see it today.
May Day for everyone in the village was a big celebration day. It was a time of sports, bags of sweets and general enjoyment. The miners union gave out bags of sweets to the children who lived in the village as well as children of men who worked at the coalmine. I was a little luckier than some as my father worked at Thornley Colliery and I obtained two bags of sweets. The parade through the village led by the colliery band with the banner had people in fancy dress as well as floats (lorries decorated and with people dressed up for a particular theme). One man in particular comes to mind that dressed up every year as a cannibal. He was from Shotton, had black make-up on, dressed with spear, shield, loincloth, bone through the nose and barefoot. He used to chase the young children and frighten them, all in good fun. The sports that took place were for all the children. They included sack races, three legged race, relay race, egg and spoon races and for the adolescents and youths there was the Four Mile Race. Everyone always had a good time and it took place at The Girls School, as it was called then. Thornley had their Sports Day at the Football field behind what was the Hippodrome and Welfare Hall in Thornley.
My father informs me that the man dressed as a black man during his time was Tommy Topper. One day he was on his way to Shotton for the carnival on a path that took him past Cox Stories Farm heading to Fleming Field. On the way, dressed in all his regalia (shield, spear and covered in black boot polish) he bumped into some young girls who were going to Wheatley Hill. Upon seeing him they were so frightened that they took off back to Shotton as fast as their legs could carry them.
The Four Mile as everyone knew was the distance from Wheatley Hill on the A181 to The Fir Tree Pub and back to Wheatley Hill via the road from/to Shotton.
This was a shop across the road from Rock Farm. It had a corrugated roof and that’s how it received its name. It was a magnet for all the children from the infants and junior schools as it was a sweet shop selling sweets to the children on the way to school or on the way home. My father told me that it was built by George Grieves who was the operator at the Palace (Royalty) Cinema. Next to the tin shop was a wooden shop owned by Mrs. Summers that had an earth floor. Next to that was Mr. Buchanan, the barber and then there was a fish shop behind those shops.
Kenny Ward owned a farm located where the new fire
station is today at
Everyone in the village knows where Vincent’s Corner is. Even now when traveling in a bus, the stop in Wheatley Hill is still called Vincent’s Corner. It is the corner on the northwest end of the front street where the road goes to Thornley. It received its name from the shop on the corner owned by Mr. and Mrs. Vincent. (I’m not sure what they sold but would appreciate any help in adding to this paragraph.)
As for Vincents shop! They sold Wall papers, paint, and a variety of household goods. Always a lucky dip bran tub at festive times. I spent much time in their household in the 20's,'particularly at mealtimes, where meat & potato pie was a specialty. Mr. Vincent was a kind venerable gentleman always dressed in long tailed frock coat with matching waistcoat and dangling watch chains, butterfly stiff collar and appropriate tie. He looked dignified and sported a white goatee beard. Sharing the household was his daughter Mrs. Nicholson, husband and son. The latter traded locally with horse and cart, which was stabled at the rear of the house. In all, they were a lovely family and may Vincent’s Corner always be there in their memory. (From Ken Trotter)
According to my father, his mother, my grandmother and some of the other women in the village used to call Mr. Vincent ‘Vinegar Dust’ because he always had a barrel of vinegar on his cart. He would sell brooms, brushes, cups, pint pots etc. and you could get credit and pay it back at 3d or 6d a week.
This used to be a linen shop next to Ashmore Terrace
The store was always the Sherburn Hill Co-operative
Before Johnson Estates was built it was an open field with a football pitch on it. I’m not sure who played on that pitch but I remember it well as I was hit in the stomach and winded at one game. It made an impact with me to say the least. Another time that I can remember was when the football players were dressed as women with exaggerated make-up etc and they played a team of women who were attired with football strips. It must have been a charity affair as everyone had a good time. Other areas of the field were great places to have a campfire. There were always sticks and pieces of canvas to burn. We would also roast potatoes in the fire and eat them immediately out of the fire.
Joe Mullen drove an ambulance to take people to
hospital when needed. It was owned by the miners and funded through the Miners
Hospital Fund. Money was taken from the miners wages to pay for the Fund. He
used to keep the ambulance in a garage, which is now a fish and chip shop at
Peterlee Cottages. Adjacent to the garage on the right as you go to
This was a dance hall where we used to hold our school Christmas Parties. Dances were held regularly but I was too young to attend at that time. It had a great wooden floor and also an upstairs too. That was where Santa Clause gave out the gifts at the Christmas Party. It became a clothes factory at one time. My father told me that it was Allen’s Furniture Store before it became The Embassy.
This was the area now called Lynn Terrace, which was
beyond the beck (Gore Burn). It was a single street of 12 houses originally and
a pub called The Colliery Inn/The Moons Hotel. The street was added to with an
additional 13 houses and the pub has now become a guesthouse – Lynngarth House.
(From Margaret Hedley from the History Club). The Workmens Club at that time
was on the road to Crows House Farm from what was
Jennies (maiden name Graham) or Jennie Carr’s as it was
called (Carr was Jennies mother’s maiden name) was a shop that sold everything.
It was located on
Hannah Robson had a shop on the
This game was similar to hopscotch but using the pavement stones (flag stones) as the numbered squares. We would first find an old shoe polish tin with the lid and fill it with dirt to give it some weight, put the lid back on and then look for something to mark the bays on the pavement. This was usually chalk or whatever was available to scratch numbers on the pavement. We would throw the tin to land on the first bay. If it landed in the bay without touching the side of the bay you would jump the bay with the tin and walk on the bays to the end of the numbers without standing on the edges of the bay. You would then return to the tin and pick it up and then start again for the next number. Then the thrower attempted the next number and the same procedure followed. If it landed on a bay edge then the next player would take his or her turn. The person who went through the numbers first was the winner. There were usually 6, 8, 10 or 12 bays, the more numbers the farther to throw the tin for the larger numbers. Today the pavement stones have been replaced with tarmac so I’m not sure if the children still play Itchy Bays the way we did.
Blonk was a game similar to Hide and Seek, one
person was ‘it’ and everyone hid where they could. Who ever was ‘it’ had to
count to 100 usually, with their eyes closed and then start looking for people.
The base, usually a lamppost was where you started. If the person looking for
you was away from the base you could run and touch the base and shout
This was where two groups of children chased one another. One set was the ‘fox’ and the others were the ‘hounds’. The team that was the ‘foxes’ was given a hundred start and then everyone shouted Tally-Ho and off we went. Once a person was caught they were brought back to the base until everyone was caught. This type of game could go on for a long time and either your mother was calling you to come in for bed or everyone just got fed up a searching and went home.
This game started by choosing someone similar to the method for Blonk. Once someone was chosen, he/she would stand in the middle of the road and the rest of the children would stand in a line about 10-15 yards away. The person who was chosen would turn his/her back on the other children and say something like British B-u-l-l-frog (stretching the word to catch people out), quickly turn around and try to catch people moving toward him/her (to be tagged). If they were caught moving they were out. From what I can remember if you said British Bulldog the children could move and you would be tagged so you had to modify what you said to British Bull – something or other, stretching the words as much as you could and catch people moving.
This game (the version we used) was played by two teams and both stood across the road from one another on the pavement. In the middle of the road between the two teams was an old tin can, stood up which had used matchsticks on it. Each team took turns to throw the ball (tennis) to knock over the can. Whichever team knocked over the can ran away but still stayed close by. The other team had to hit them with the ball while trying to put the can and matchsticks back again in their original place. If you didn’t get hit with the ball you could kick the can away from the other team.
This game was similar to Kicky-the-can but stones where used instead of a tin. Stones were piled up in the middle of the road and one stone was placed on top(the duck stone). Each side had to try and knock the duck stone off with a ball. The rest is similar to the rules for Kicky-the-can.
This game was usually played on a Sunday afternoon. The idea was that someone had a bat and another had the ball. The person with the ball tried to hit the person with the bat. If they hit that person they would drop the bat and pick up the ball to hit the next person who had picked up the bat.
This game was mostly played in the schoolyard during
‘play time’. There were two teams and one was chosen to be up against the wall
and the others were the jumpers. One boy stood against the wall with his back
to the wall. Another boy would bend over and put his head between the other
boy’s legs forming a horse. Additional boys would put their heads between the
first boys legs and forming a chain of horses. The idea of the games was the
boys who were going to jump would take turns to jump on the horses, moving up
as far as they could to the boy against the wall while astride the horse. If a
boy fell off he was out. The jumpers would keep on jumping until all the
jumpers were astride a horse, the idea being to make the horse crumble and
break. If this happened then the game would start all over again. If all the
jumpers managed to jump on the horses the boy up against the wall would shout
This is one game I could never win. The idea of the game was the boys chased the girls and when a boy caught a girl it was kiss, cuddle or torture. Every time I caught a girl the only thing they wanted was torture!! Usually the torture was the dreaded Chinese Torture. This was where you griped someone’s arm just up from the wrist tightly with both hands, close together and then turned in opposite direction. The skin is pulled tightly in opposite direction but was only for a fraction of a second.
This was a great game to play in the winter months when the nights were dark even though it could be played all year round. The idea was simple, knock at someone’s door and run and hide. It was best to hide where you could see whoever came to the door but they couldn’t see you.
Some of the games the girls played were Skips and Two Ballie. Skips was played to the rhyme of ‘Salt, mustard, vinegar pepper’ (and other rhymes as well but I do not remember them). Two Ballie was where the girls bounced two tennis balls off a wall similar to a juggler and again a similar rhyme. I am open for input on this one.
One of the games the girls used to play was where they had an old nylon stocking and put a tennis ball in the foot part. They would tie that end so the ball would not come out and then tie the other end around their ankle. They could then swing the nylon around and jump over it with the other foot.
Someone who lived close to me had a top and whip. We used to start the top by wrapping the string from the whip around the top and making a whipping motion to release the top. The top would then spin and the idea was to keep the top spinning by whipping it when it slowed down. There were different shaped tops but the principle was the same to get it started and keep it going.
Similar to the American baseball but with the usual English flavour. We would sometimes use a cricket bat if one was available or even use a football and kick the ball instead of hitting it with a bat.
Marbles was a big game in the schoolyard as well as outside of school. The games we used to play were for winning more marbles not necessarily just for playing with them by themselves. For instance a hole was made on the ground against a wall or some concrete foundation. If I had one marble I could go to someone else and say “one zee-up” meaning that the other person would hand me another marble so that I had two. I then had to pitch then at the hole from a specific distance and try to get both the marbles in the hole. If I managed to get the two in, I won. Again I could go “two zee-up” now that I had two marbles and pitch the marbles at the hole. If I could get an even number in the hole I won. If it was an odd number I lost.
Another game with a marble was where two or more players played on some ground where holes had been made with the marbles themselves. Standing on the marbles and producing an indentation in the soil made the holes. There were as many holes as you desired, usually three or four. The idea was to take turns and from a starting point flick your marble from one hole to another going into each hole until all holes had been visited. Once you had made it to all holes you won. The other players could, instead of going for a hole knock your marble away with theirs.
This was a game you could play with five stones but you could buy chucks shaped like cubes from some of the shops. You could even play this game alone. It is similar to the American game of Jacks but they use a ball. The game is a progression of what you have to pick up in one hand. The game starts by throwing the stones up in the air and catching them on the back of the hand, throwing them up again and catching them in the palm of the hand, the more you catch on the back of the hand the better. If you don’t catch any stones you pass them on to the next person. The stones that are not caught have to be then picked up. A stone is thrown in the air and while it is in the air one stone can be picked up at a time before catching the stone in the air. All the stones have to be picked up. The next step is the same as the first but this time you have to pick up two stones at a time and this means moving the stones closer to one another while throwing up a stone before the pick up. Then it is three stones together and finally four stones. The last part is done by having the stones in one hand with one of the stones between the first finger and thumb. This stone is thrown into the air and the other stones quickly placed on the ground and the stone in the air caught on the way down. Then the four stones are picked up in the usual manner. Other variations are then played but this is the basic version that I have played many times.
This is a game that we played with our coloured hard-boiled eggs at Easter. The game was played between two people, one holding a hard-boiled egg in their fist with the top of the egg visible between the first finger and thumb. The other player would tap the egg with their egg, the winner being the egg that didn’t break. The eggs were coloured with onionskins boiled with the eggs, tea, or just paint. I remember that my father was a member of The Soldiers and Sailors Club and they had a coloured egg contest every year. One year he used black boot polish and produced a black shiny egg. My friend Greg Wharrier coloured his egg bright yellow one year and painted a Chinaman’s face on it. He came around to my house and we jarped and he beat me every time with the one egg, leaving me with all my eggs broken. I couldn’t believe that he broke all my eggs but little did I know at the time that the egg he used was a porcelain egg. He probably still has that egg, it was a sure winner.
This was a pastime that I look back at and wish that it didn’t happen but it did. The idea was to steal bird’s eggs, puncture the shell at the top and bottom with a pin and blow out the internal yolk. The result was an empty eggshell, which was placed in a shoebox with the other eggs collected, all placed on cotton wool to protect them. We would climb trees, bushes, and quarry walls just to collect the eggs. Some were better at collecting than others. I look back at those times and wonder how many birds were destroyed that way that may have given a song to the world, sad, very sad.
This was a phrase, which appears to have been used by people in the Wheatley Hill area in the early part of the century. It was said to describe any sort of gymnastic move – cartwheel, handstand, headstand etc. The phrase was used quite a lot by my grandparents. (From Margaret Hedley from the History Club) A further description (From Ken Trotter) gives the following: - Croup my Creels is simply a forward roll at ground level and then as confidence grows progressing to ‘railings’, placing the tummy on top, holding fast with the hands then swinging over. Possibly a derivative from a fisherman’s ‘Creel’ and Croup is another word for buttocks.
Tippy Cat is a 6” 2 x 2 bit of wood, sharpened at each end. Roman numerals were burned on each side. The purpose was to hit it with a stick on the end and as it ascended to give it a hard whack for distance or just tip and record the numeral showing. (From Ken Trotter)
This was simply three shallow holes dug in the ground at an agreed distance. The marble was held in the 1st & 2nd flange of the forefinger with the thumb behind to give impetus to the marble. A Penker was made of white pot, about 4 times larger than a marble. Used mainly enroute to school often in the gutter, one scored on hitting opponents ‘penker’ the sound ‘penked’. (By Ken Trotter)
As described, played with a very hard Tennis sized ball. It was exceptionally hard. I can feel it yet. One needed a hand like a shovel and just as large. Played on a large sized wall with a demarcation line about 4 feet off the ground. I watched many a game, usually on Saturdays. Long Johns being the de rigeur of the day. Bobby Winter I think was the pub landlord. That particular part of the ground behind the pub was a miniature Olympic Games area. All for money of course, the sprinters preparing for the Powerhall games, handy ball, football, Pigeon racing and whippet dog racing. I won half a crown in the same area as a 6 year old. More fiddling went on there than that!! though not for my 2/6. (From Ken Trotter)
According to my father the ball was a rubber ball with a hole in it. Inside the hollow ball was a stotter or nipple(probably made during the construction of the ball) which had a small hole to the outside. The ball could be squeezed and warmed to make it bounce better. It didn’t have much bounce and was more like a squash ball. Once anyone reached 31 against their opponent they won.
A game played by the little girls ‘Playing Shop’. (From Ken Trotter)
A game, usually with two boys when one of them has a penknife. From what I can remember is that the boys face each other and open their legs about the same distance as their shoulders. Each takes a turn to throw the knife and stick it in the ground at the outside of his opponent’s foot. Where the knife sticks into the ground the other boy has to place his foot there. This goes on until one or the other cannot reach the place where the knife has stuck in the ground. (From The History Club)
A sort of chase game where the one who is ‘on’ tries to hit someone else with either a ball or a piece of sticky grass (sticky jack). (From The History Club)
This is skipping with two ropes. (From The History Club)
The school parties that come to mind were the ones
we had at the
School days also brought Jumble sales where you could sell anything that you didn’t want. No car boot sales in those days. Looking back at those days the Jumble sales were a little tame compared with the car boot/flea markets which we hear about today.
As I have mentioned I grew up in the 50’s at the
beginning of the television age in
This game was based on the nursery rhyme ‘
Before any game could be played(at school) you had to find out who wanted to play. The usual method was to march around side by side with your arms around the shoulders of a friend and shout ‘All in for (the name of the game)’ and then they would join the line with arms around one another. Once there were enough to play then it was time to decide which side you were on. One method was the potato method. Remember one potato, two potato three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, oh ……..
I had an e-mail from Bob Ord who used to live at 22 Liddell Terrace when I lived at 18 Liddell. These are a couple of stories from Bob:-
‘My brother Bill was in Clive Gregory's class at school and we were both great friends of the Gregory family. We used to do the milk round with Clive, do you remember Molly the black horse that used to pull the milk cart? She knew the round so well that while we delivered the milk to the houses she would carry on walking to the next stop. She even knew that on Fridays we collected the milk money and she would only walk on one house at a time. She also knew at which houses she got treats and wouldn't move on until she got her treat’.
‘Do you remember the Jackdaws that we kept as pets and the fox cub? We called the fox cub Rock; we found him abandoned in Trimdon Pond Quarry and when Jim Scott saw him he shouted, 'It's a mountain lion'. He grew into a fine specimen but unfortunately he loved to hide under things in the shed and wash-house. One day he was hiding under mum's old fashioned washing machine and when she moved it over the sink to use the mangle she ran over Rock. He wasn't badly hurt but he was in terrible shock and died within half an hour. We buried him, with full fox honours, in the allotment where dad kept his hens’.
Progers, Snaggers and Local Wit and Wisdom
We all know that we are allowed to fool anyone on the 1st of April (April Fool’s Day) but it only applied until on that day. After that you couldn’t fool anyone or you would have one of the following rhymes quoted to you.
‘April fool has passed and gone you’re the fool and I am none.’
‘Four farthings make a penny you’re the biggest fool of any’
We all know about the Easter bonnets but we were told that if we didn’t have any new clothes for Easter, no matter how small, that the birds would deposit something on us. Where that came from I don’t know.
We used to go Carol Singing at peoples houses at Christmastime and after we sang a few Carols we would finish with the following rhyme and then knock on the door.
‘Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in the old mans hat,
If you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God Bless You’.
I cannot say I had Christmas pudding where silver thre’penny pieces were baked into the pudding but some people had this surprising dish.
This is, or was, a tradition migrating from
‘Here’s wishing everyone the very best of health, happiness and prosperity for the New
Lang may your loom reek and may a mouse never come away from your pantry with a tear
in his eye’.
With the toast was concluded it was time to move on. After the New Year is rung in you could walk the streets and if there was a light on in any house you could knock on the door and they would invite you in for a drink, give a toast and move on to the next house. That could go on unto the wee hours of the morning and either you became too intoxicated and went home or you ran out of houses with their lights on. If the people in the house had a good year they would always say it was because of the First Foot. On the other hand if they had a bad year the First Foot would be blamed and not invited back again.
On the first of the year my father would tell us to go to the top of the street and we would see a man with as many noses as days of the year. We, being naive, thought he meant 365 so off we went looking for someone with 365 noses.
I always remember when the bride, just married would return to her home from the wedding reception probably at the Welfare Hall or Church Hall, someone would come out from the house and throw coins for the children. Everyone used to scatter to pick up as many as your could get. Where this tradition came from I don’t know but it was a show of wealth and the coins were usually halfpennie’s and I’m not sure if it is carried on today. My father informs me that on occasion the brides father if he wasn’t an nice man would heat the coins on a shovel over the fire before throwing the coins for the children so they had a tough time picking them up.
When a person died they were usually ‘layed out’ (pennies were placed on the eyes to keep them closed and the jaw was tied up to keep it in place). Local women performed this procedure and then the undertaker placed the individual in their coffin. The deceased family member was located in their home, usually in the front room. The curtains throughout the house were drawn and all the mirrors were covered in the house. When the funeral procession went through the village, as they passed people, the men would remove their hats as a token of respect.
I can remember in our front room the frame with a clippy mat attached to it, and my mother, proger in hand diligently working away. The frame was rectangular in shape, with the hessian base for the clippy mat stitched onto it. Once my mother was working on one of her mats it took up most of the space in the front room. The frame was tensioned with pegs so that it was easy to push the proger through the hessian to pull the loops of cloth through the hole made by the proger. The proger was the one piece tool with a hook on it so that it could be forced through the hessian, looped around a strip of cloth and pulled through the hessian to form a loop about ½” long. My mother had bags of cloth that she cut or we cut into strips about ¼” to ½” wide for the mat. The hessian was either bought with a pattern on it or she asked me to draw some circles and lines for a pattern. I had to use dinner plates, saucers or cups to draw the circles and I had to use an indelible pencil to make the lines. I had to keep dipping that pencil in spit (saliva) to draw a line and by the time I was finished my tongue was blue from the pencil. The mats she made wore very well and there was always plenty of scrap clothing to use on a mat. This came from us or the rest of the family, nothing was wasted.
Some of the farms in the area would grow turnips and by the late summer could be seen in the fields in full bloom. They were always inviting to steal and eat while out in the woods. I can remember eating many a snagger fresh out of the field. The stolen fruit, they say always tastes sweeter!!!! My grandmother was working in the fields picking and cutting turnips while she was pregnant with my father. In the autumn we used to scoop out the inside of turnips and carve faces on them and then put candles in them so the light would shine through the face. I think it was an old custom to ward of evil spirits at that time of year (All Hallows Eve) but I always thought it was for November 5th (Bonfire Night) because it was so close to that celebration. The Americans have something similar at Halloween but they use pumpkins.
The farms in the area would grow potatoes and in the autumn the school children had two weeks holiday. We always called that time ‘tattie (potato) picking’ as it was a time when we could make some money potato picking for the farmers. The rows were marked out into lengths and you were assigned an area to pick the potatoes. The tractor would go by and with the rotating device (scratter) dig and throw the potatoes out to be picked up. We used pails to pick up the potatoes and then put them into sacks. It was back breaking work. When the tractor would go by the farmer would shout ‘Eyes down arses up pick the tatties not the muck’. I can remember going to Running Waters Farm for tattie picking because they were paying more than the local farmers close to the village.
When there was snow on the ground we were always out sledging. The sledges were constructed from runners that were obtained usually from one of the colliery blacksmiths. The runners were rods (approx ½” round) bent up at both end. The ends were flattened and a hole made in each end. This was where the bolds fixed through for the wooden frame. My father attached the runners to some flat pieces of wood, attached some cross pieces and away we went. One of the best hills for sledging was Cain Terrace as it was probably the steeped hill in the village.
May was the name given to the hawthorn trees flowers. It filled the whole of the tree with white blooms and was a beautiful sight to see. One problem with may flowers was that you were not allowed to take the flowers into the house as it was considered bad luck.
Whenever we went to the beach my father would tell us to pick up seaweed. He told us that it could predict the weather. What you have to do is hang it outside so you could see it through the window and if the seaweed is wet, it is raining and if it is dry it is fine weather.
Every couple of weeks a man used to come around the streets shouting “Scissor-Grind”. He had a one wheels contraption that he pushed in front of him. When he stopped to sharpen scissors, knives etc. he would flip the device over and start to pedal with one foot, which would in turn the grinding wheel. The sparks would fly as he sharpened scissors and knives. When finished he would flip the contraption over and be on his way.
Every couple of weeks a man would come around the streets shouting “Rags-a-Woolen”, with a horse and cart collecting rags of any description. I remember rushing into the house to ask my mother to see if we had any rags. I think he gave out money for the clothes but I wasn’t interested in the money he also gave out goldfish. The goldfish was a real treat but it never seemed to last very long and then it took that long ride to the sea via the toilet.
My grandmother had a rectangular galvanised water tank where she used to catch the rain water. It was used for washing clothes or used for washing your hair. I can remember going along to my grandparent’s home for a bucket of water so that my mother could wash her hair. The rain water was much softer than the tap water and gentler to your hair. In earlier days the rain water was caught in the poss tub, the poss tub being used for washing both yourself and the clothes. Even in winter when the ice was on the top of the water you had to have a wash out of the poss tub. It was wooden like a barrel with metal bands and a man would come around fixing poss tubs if they were broken. My father told me that his grandfather had a poss tub that was originally a whisky barrel.
The miners have always tried to grow as many vegetables as possible to support their families and leeks seem to have played a large part in that. Leek clubs have been around for a while and even today competition is fierce. Today the prizes consist of money but in earlier times the prizes were furniture, a table here a set of chairs there. My wife’s uncle from Thornley always fed his leeks a special ingredient he called “Formula 99”. All it consisted of was urine but his leeks used to thrive on the special ingredient.
When I was in
Mr. Harris the
Headmaster used to take some of the students to
My wife Margaret was eating prunes one day and placed the seeds on the side of her plate. When she was finished she counted the seeds using the following rhyme: - ‘Lady, Baby, Gypsy, Queen, Elephant, Monkey, Tangerine’. She used to stay this every time they had Prunes and Custard in the Juniors. Where the rhyme came from is anyone’s guess. When I stayed for school dinners, also in the Juniors I used to like something called Chocolate Crunch. It was made with coconut and probably cocoa powder and was served with jelly. Sometimes we had semolina and a dollop of raspberry or strawberry jam in the middle. It was always a treat to make the red of the raspberry or strawberry into a swirl in the white of the semolina. When we had baked apple and custard I always had a problem with the area around the apple seeds as they used to get stuck in my throat and make me feel a little sick.
Words from the local Dialect
Whenever my mother would say that we were eating too many sweets which she considered rubbish she would always say the we were eating too much Ket. I have since found out that the word Ket is from the Scandinavian language for ‘rubbish’. Another spin off from our Scandinavian influence. Another word that I have used is the word Femmer which again comes from the Scandinavian for ‘delicate’. Cree is a word that we used to describe the garden shed which is a Dutch word for shed. We didn’t know that coming from Wheatley Hill that we were multi-lingual!!!
Alternative Medical Remedies
My fathers cure for the common cold and flu is called the Bowler Hat Method. It is quite simple really. When you have a cold or flu, take a bowler hat when you go to bed and place it at the bottom of the bed. No you drink alcoholic beverages until the one bowler had becomes two bowler hats end then you are cured. If anyone has any more medical remedies let me know I’m sure everyone would love to hear what to do for those common ailments.
It was the custom that unless a baby was baptised it was not supposed to be taken into anyone’s home. It was bad luck. Also, but usually for immediate families a baby was given three things at three different houses. This usually consisted of tea, sugar and salt, the cheapest commodities that people could afford.
The first time you saw a new born baby it was the custom to give it silver as a token of good luck.
A woman was not supposed to go into a public house alone only with a male escort. Even now at the Catholic Club in Thornley women are not allowed in the bar.
A silver coin or other silver item was always placed in a coat or purse when the purse/coat was given as a gift. It was to signify that the purse/coat would always have money in it.
The following was said to women who were caught whistling: - ‘Whistling women and crowing hen drove the devil from his den’
If you gave someone a gift, which was sharp like a knife, the person receiving the gift would give a coin in return, as if the object was purchased. This was because giving sharp objects cut friendships.
When someone had shoes that squeaked when they walked we always would say that they weren’t paid for, where that came from I don’t know.
received this article about the clothes line here in the
this article from Alistair Mills in
Sailor Jack – His name was John Brown and he lived in Liddell Terrace. He kept two monkeys and always carried at least one when he was out of the house. Benny Aitken suggests he was in the Navy during the War. He was a bit of an eccentric. (From The History Club). My father told me that he worked at the pit. One of the monkeys that he had was a rather large one and he called it Jessie. He took it for a walk to the farm (don’t know which farm) and when the geese saw the monkey they charged at it. The monkey ended up on the roof of the farm after killing all the geese. At one time the used to take the smaller one on the buses but he was told not to bring it on board as it went to the toilet on the bus.
Ralphy Topper - One or two well known characters of the village at that time were Ralphy Topper, one unforgettable memory was seeing him sitting on the doorstep in Grainger St, dressed only in 'Hoggers' still adorned with pit muck and holding in his mits an outsized 'Stotty Cake' filled with bacon and egg with the egg yolk dripping down his chops!! He always made an appearance at the annual V'Carnival, my last vision of him was his appearance dressed in Hoggers, Vest and boots again coal dust ridden and an attached placard declaring 'ON THE MINI'. He looked so forlorn. (From Ken Trotter)
I remember my father telling me that Ralphy was a great handball player but he had a crippled hand because of an accident at the pit. To play handball you have to hit the ball with the palm of your hand. Unfortunately Ralphy couldn’t do that because of the injury. As a result he had to obtain special dispensation from the Handball organization to play.
Ralphy had a bet with a man called John O’Hare who lived in a caravan near the dog track. John had a dog that he raced called Caravan Lad. Anyway the bet was that either Raphy or John could eat a packet of dry crackers without asking for water while the other one ate a pound of black pudding without asking for water. My father said that it took place in Baldaseras and the contest ended in a draw as they both had to ask for water before the allotted time.
A man called Charley Foster was bragging one day to Ralphy about his abilities as a runner. Of cause Ralphy said that he could beat him. The conversation became heated and Charley said that he could beat him even while carrying a man on his back. Ralphy took the bet on the condition that he named the man and the location of the bet. Charley took the bet and Ralphy told him that he had to carry Billy Ward (one of the biggest men in the village at the time) and the race was to be up Wordworth Avenue. Of cause the race didn’t take place as Charley backed down.
Pedlar Palmer - Who always ran in the annual 4-mile race, undernourished and dressed in long johns. Poor man, no money, no work. He and his family deserved better. (From Ken Trotter)
Quick Sid – All I remember about Sid was that his name came from his ability of being able to ‘put the coals in’ very quickly into the coalhouse with a shovel especially in the Dardanelles where the coals were dumped outside the coalhouse door.
Bob (?) Dugdale – His wife made him kippers for his dinner all week when he came from the pit. He was so fed up with the kippers by the end of the week that he took them off his plate and nailed them to the front door with 6” nails.
Was the doorman at the Constitutional Club at one time and came into the club one night with a suit, tie, white shirt, his boots polished, dressed to kill. Unfortunately he was wearing his pit helmet.
? Walker – My grandfather knew a man called Walker who was always without money but always managed to get some for a few pints. He didn’t have any money one day and he went to the undertaker in Wingate (none in the village at that time). He was full of woe and sadness and told him that his wife had died and he was short of money to do some errands etc. He talked the undertaker into advancing him some money to do the errands and the undertaker would be over to see his wife later that day. Of course he took the money and went to the club across the beck and had a good drink. Later that day the undertaker arrived and found Mrs. Walker hanging out the washing in the back garden.
Another incident was where he had some of his friends over and made them some tea. They didn’t know at the time but he had made the tea with 2 ounces of plug tobacco. What a surprise that must have been.
The Crake Man – This was the man employed by the miners union to go around the village and make announcements, meetings etc similar to the village crier. He carried a crake (rattle) to catch everyone’s attention and then give out with the news. My father said that his name was ‘Little’ Jackie Bradshaw in his day but other men could have had that position at an earlier time. (From Ken Trotter)
The Knocker-up Man – He was the man who used to go around the village to knock the men up for their shift in the wee hours of the morning.
The following is a story from Ken Trotter originally from his brother Ron many years ago about a similar situation when the comradeship between Pit maraas surpassed that of most men.
This particular member of the community most conscious of his reluctance to rise out of bed when on ‘first shift’ arranged for his mate who also was on the same shift, to knock him up at the right time. No mean feat indeed.
So, having performed his first task successfully, he entered the house and was bade to take a seat behind the braddish ( Brattice ) until his mate got ready and had a bite to eat. After which, bog eyed and not fully compus mentus departed to the pit.
After his shift he returned home and to his dismay found the door locked. Then after much hammering, the upstairs window opened, and his wife shouted, “He’s just gone!” “Gone be buggered” he retorted, “I’ve done me bloody shift –let me in”. No sooner said than done, his wife performed the necessary and to their surprise found his ‘knocker up’ still behind the Braddish – fast asleep.
Beat that! To be taken with a pinch of salt, of course – but possibly quite a bit of truth in it.
(From Ken Trotter)
I remembered my mother always saying you’ll ‘sleep-the-caller’ meaning that we would be late for either school or some other event. It used to roll off her tongue and we all knew what it meant. It wasn’t until later years that the true meaning came out. From sleeping in after The Caller had been by to knock you up for your shift at the pit. My mother used to used that phrase long after there were no callers in the village even up until just before she passed away a couple of years ago.
Tabs and Tab Packets
I lived in a household where both my parents smoked. It was the thing to do in those days and nobody knew what problems it was causing to peoples health. Today we are well versed in what smoking can cause and it has dropped in its stature in our society. It's still there but not to the extent it was while I was growing up.
were part of our culture, they were everywhere and were even given to the armed
forces as part of their rations during both the world wars. To encourage people
to smoke they added cigarette cards to the packet so that people would start
collecting them and of cause increase the sales of the cigarettes. I was one of
those people collecting cigarette cards but I also collected the cigarette
packets too. I was too young to smoke then but still able to collect and I
collected lots of things. I was a bit of a hoarder and collected stamps,
cigarette packets, cigarette cards, matchboxes, bubble gum cards and my mother
would have a fit every time she saw what I was bringing into the house. When we
I have scanned the cigarette packets so that I could share them with everyone to see if they bring back some memories. Cigarettes1, Cigarettes2, Cigarettes3, Cigarettes4, Cigarettes5, Cigarettes6, Cigarettes7.