All About Tea Cans and Spotted Bait Hankies

The shipyard men had their own distinctive tea cans and red and white spotted bait hankies.

The first shop my parents took over had something of a culture all its own. It was situated in Burdon Main Road, very close to the Smith’s Dock Main Gate. In the pre-war days, employment was tenuous to say the least. However, my mother decided to expand the business by offering the shipyard workers a tea and sandwich service at lunch time. The shipyard men had their enamelled tea cans on which they painted their names. Some of them added their individual instructions such as, ‘plenty milk – no sugar.’ Then they had their own distinctive red and white spotted ‘bait hankies’ and the shop staff got to know the individual workers by the various designs of the white spots.

The bottom line of all this was that 200 men called into the shop three times every day! At the early morning visit they chose their lunchtime food and paid for it and left their spotted hankies. At precisely 12 noon, there was a mad rush for their Stotty Sandwiches wrapped in the hankies and the tea can of piping hot tea, made to their orders. It was essential that the whole thing lasted only a few minutes.

When war came it took on the appearance of frantic chaos. The greatest pressure became the supply of cigarettes, especially Wills’ Wild Woodbines, the most popular cigarette of the war years. Thirty-five years after the wartime trials and tribulations, one of the shipyard workers took me aside in North Shields Football Club. He reflected on the war years and the post-war years and about my mother, of whom he said: “I’ve known your mother for 45 years, and I know she made herself a lot of money, but I want to tell you, she’s the same canny lass she’s always been. She’s never changed a ha’p’orth.”

He was so right.

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