Not All Play
As children, life was not all play. Clothes were washed by hand, the boiler had to be hand filled from the tap on the kitchen sink, it used a coal fire which had to be lit and taken care of. It seemed that all sheets and shirts were white and had to be boiled, after boiling they were carried dripping over the floor to the kitchen sink where they were passed through a mangle (wringer) to squeeze out the soapy water and rinsed in the sink using cold water from the taps, then wrung out again. Summer or winter the clothes were hung outside to dry, when it was particularly cold, frozen washing was taken inside (usually stiff with ice and put on a clothes horse in front of the living room fire to dry off. These were very labour intensive tasks and almost always done on Mondays. Detergents and soap powders did not exist and we had to shave soap flakes from a bar of green soap about the size of a house brick using a coarse grater to put into the boiler. Grimy collars and cuffs were scrubbed clean on a bare wooden table with coarse scrubbing brush and the green soap until clean. Handling the clothes at boiling water temperature need a pair of wooden tongs. We were needed to turn the handle on the wringer and do a lot of the scrubbing and other jobs on washing days.
Ironing was always done on the next day. All shirts, collars etc. were starched and ironed. The irons were cast iron and had to be heated in the hot oven in the living room. There was a continuous procession between the two rooms switching the hot and cold irons, hand towels were used to insulate the hands from the hot metal. What was good about washing day was that we always had cold meat left over from Sunday with pickles and chips (French Fries) with mushy peas and homemade bread with butter.
The chores we used to hate were washing up and coal delivery. The dishes were not too bad but the pans were coated with tar compounds from the open fire, they were large and heavy, made out of cast iron. The dishwater formed an oily scum and it seemed to take ages to get them cleaned on the insides. Father got a coal allowance from the pit and every two to three weeks it was dumped on the road outside the garden fence. It was our job to move this pile into the coalhouse one bucket at a time up the long steps and along the path, it took a couple of hours to move this pile.
There was another task that we had to be aware of, most of the farmers were still using horse and carts, similarly the local businesses did the same. Mother was a keen gardener and got us to watch for horse droppings. We had to grab a shovel and scoop them up from the road before the neighbours got them.
Mother’s hands never seemed to stop. When she was relaxing she was always sewing or knitting. Clothes were always passed down in the family, the war time slogan “make do and mend”, certainly applied to our family. We probably did get some new clothes at some time but seemed mainly to exist on those which were passed on to us from relatives. She was a good seamstress and would rip the article apart and remake it in a size to fit us. Suit material was turned inside out so that the worn and shiny areas were not visible. Knitted woollen items were unwound, re- balled and used to knit new socks and pullovers. We all had hand knitted socks and pullovers, she also knitted bathing suits. The only new items we got were shoes (or boots), which were always good quality.
Whenever a new mat was required, we all had to take our turn shredding old woollen clothing (usually worn out suits) into one inch wide strips. Hessian (burlap) was stretched over a wooden frame , rolled at one end, and a progger was used to hook the strips through the weave to form a loop. Row after row of these loops were done until the whole of the fabric was covered. Patterns were made by using different coloured materials. It took months to make these mats and it was hard on the hands because of the roughness of the hessian. It would not be unusual for us to spend an hour or so mat making. We were all taught to knit and sew at an early age. I recall it was one of my jobs to darn socks, it had to be done correctly and I quite enjoyed doing this. We also sewed on our own buttons and did minor repairs to our clothing.
Mother had left the munitions factory in Aycliffe in 1939 when she found out she was pregnant with Paul. After he was born she worked for a while for a local farmer who lived about a mile away. It was a mixed farm and mother had worked on a similar farm before she was married.
We often walked up to the farm and explored the buildings. Part of their operation was egg production. I was once sent home to bring up Paul’s pram which was filled with eggs to take home. To make them last, mother preserved most of the eggs by soaking them in an isinglass solution. I do not know how much she was paid at the farm but it was probably a lot less than the £3 per week from the munitions factory. I remember that Hannah looked after us while mother was working, she had left her job in Hartlepool to look after the family when mother went to the munitions factory. Mother used some of the money she earned to buy a second hand piano, which I believe cost her £20.
As the year progressed, Harry matriculated from Wellfield at the age of 15, a year early. He got a job as an apprentice with Richardson Westgarth in Hartlepool. Since there were no early morning buses to the town, he lodged with Grandma Kell in Hartlepool. Jim was still at Wellfield School but was not doing well, he had lost a year with Rheumatic Fever and had never caught up with the rest of the class. He got himself a job at Fishburn pit and quit school.
Mother was not very happy with Jim’s decision, however he prevailed and she accepted it. This move was expensive. The rule was that if you left the Secondary School before the age of 16 you were fined £5, this was more than one week’s wage for a male worker. Ironically the same rule applied to Harry who was fifteen when he matriculated, even though he had finished the course, he also had to pay the fine.
Hannah met George Bull a soldier stationed at Sedgefield in 1940. They got married on Christmas Day 1940. George’s family came from London for the wedding and they were billeted among the neighbours. There was at that time a mass evacuation of children from London into the countryside to avoid the bombing. Mother agreed that Joyce, George’s youngest sister, could come and live with us until London was considered safe again. We were regarded as family and it was a better arrangement than going to stay with complete strangers.
Joyce was a year older than me and initially was very homesick. Trimdon was a completely different environment than London. She was not given any special treatment and was accepted as part of the family. Like the rest of us she had to help in the house and did not like it when she was scolded for not doing what she was supposed to do. However as time went on we became good friends and played well together, enjoyed reading and listening to the children’s programs on the BBC. Altogether she was with us for three years before returning home. Periodically her mother and sisters would visit, they were pleased to get away from the bombing in London to the quiet of Trimdon. Even though we had a full house, they stayed with us and slept on the living room floor, under the table. The Bull family were out going and could be quite boisterous. One of them could really play the piano and every evening we had a sing-song.
George had to live in the camp at Sedgefield but they found a one room flat in Trimdon House, an isolated large house across the fields from Trimdon which had been cheaply converted and mostly used by the service wives. This large house had no electricity, a communal cold water tap and netties (out houses). There were footpaths to Trimdon and Fishburn. Their son George was born there in 1941. Shopping had to be hand carried and it was a hike of over one mile with a small child. We were always welcome whenever we visited, my recollection is that it was an extremely noisy place.