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Burradon Memories Part 2: Hardship

Now in those good old days, if you didn't work you didn't eat!

Photograph of Honor Weightman

Honor Weightman

Editor’s Note:
Some of Mrs. Honor Weightman’s memories of a life in Burradon written down and kindly contributed by her daughter Lindsey. These memories have been split into seven separate parts because they have so much rich material in them. If you’d like to read the whole story you’ll need to read Burradon Memories Parts 1 to 7. They cover many aspects of life in Burradon and offer a fascinating insight into village life.

Part 2 Hardship

My next memory is of the pit ambulance stopping outside our front gate. Mam, with Tommy in her arms, and me rushing to see what was wrong. Dad had been crushed by a runaway tub and was en route to the infirmary.

Dad had served four years in the trenches during the First World War. He had many wounds which had been neglected and had actually come home a very sick man even though he’d been given a “Fit” discharge. No pension for him! He was a joiner but unable to find work in that trade. He did manage to get a job as a Rollywayman at the Weetslade colliery. It must have been torture for him; he was 6 ft tall and had never been down a mine before. Instead of six shifts a week he worked seven and still didn’t earn a living wage (at that time 30 shillings (£1.50p) was considered a living wage). The most he earned was 28 shillings (£1.40p). However, my Mam was a wonderful manager and we always had a garden full of fresh veg and fruit. If you could grow it, we had it.

The doctor, Dr Roberts, said it would take weeks before my Dad would be fit for work. All I remember was he had five broken ribs and was all strapped up. Now in those good old days, if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. My Mam’s supply of milk dried up and there was no milk for the baby. He cried and cried he was hungry! Alf was sent to see Mr Tyson who managed the Grey Horse and was the Guardians’ representative for the village. He told him there wasn’t milk for the baby and his Dad wasn’t able to go to work. He was given a voucher for five shillings (25p) to be spent in the Co-op. Alf remembers to this day, how ashamed he was to ask for charity.

My Dad began coughing and spitting blood and it was discovered he had T.B. He was sent to Woolley Sanatorium for treatment. Alf and I were allowed to visit on one occasion. I remember it well! Mam soldiered on and we just prayed Dad would come home soon. When he eventually came home (there was no cure) he told my Mam he had six months to live and “Big Ears” overheard him. What a burden for a child to carry.

The next memory made me old before my time. There was a seat across the road from our house where men would meet to talk. I was hiding under the seat when the doctor, Dr Barton, stopped and began talking to the three men on the seat, Mr Burke, Mr Nicholson and my Dad. In the course of the conversation my Dad said “Doctor have you known any one in my condition recover?” The reply;”Hartley” (no Christian names for workmen in those days) “it’s only your bloody stubborn will that keeps you going”. He lived seven years.

Grandad Hartley retired and had to vacate the colliery house immediately. He was offered a one-bedroom cottage in Dudley so the two uncles had to come and live with us, Uncle Tom and Uncle Bob. I can still see them coming in carrying all their worldly possessions in brown carrier bags. Neither of them were working. They received dole money which hardly kept body and soul together and this was just another headache for my Mam. As usual she managed with never a word of complaint.

Uncle Bob got six hens and was allowed to keep them on a small plot of land at the end of the street. Gradually he built up a regular supply of eggs for the family. Uncle Tom (some time in the Thirties) got a job in Weetslade Colliery and was able to pay board – another great help! Dad used to gather mushrooms, blackberries and wild raspberries and we lived very well.

Then in March 1935 Dad worsened and was confined to bed. The doctor came and decided my Mam couldn’t look after him, even though she insisted she could. She wasn’t seven-stone weight and my Dad was a big man and unable to do anything for himself. An ambulance came and took him to Preston Hospital to a part known as the “workhouse”. It was a cold, miserable place where people just faded away. It was my Mam’s nightmare for the rest of her life! Two months before she died she turned to me and said “Poor Jack. He starved to death”. For myself, I didn’t get over my Dad’s death until my Mam died 38 years later.

This all sounds so miserable, but it wasn’t really. My childhood seemed to be full of kindness. I could take a slice of bread along to Mrs McCardle and she would thicken it with blackcurrant jam. I shopped for six of the neighbours and always got a slice of jam and bread. Yes! You’ve guessed, jam and bread was my favourite food. Mrs Guthrie used to take us to see a pantomime every Christmas. We used to sit in the “gods” in the Palace Theatre (Percy Street, Newcastle) and it was great. There was the free trip every race Wednesday (the men who worked contributed to this); it always seemed to go to South Shields and it always seemed to rain but what a wondrous day it was. After a sleepless night, too excited to sleep, we’d all walk down to Killingworth station, those who couldn’t go waving us off. We’d wait and wait on the platform for the train to arrive. I can still hear one of the men in charge yelling “Don’t go near the edge or you’ll get draan in”. It never happened, so I never quite understood what he meant. Once on board we each got a bag of cakes and we’d sing all the way.

One year (can’t imagine how it happened) I had a silver sixpence in a matchbox and kept opening it to show people. How important I felt. When, horror of horrors, it fell out and rolled on to the line just as the train arrived, my world was at an end and the tears flowed like water. Mr Gallon came to give us our goodies and said, “What’s the matter hinny”. Someone told him, “She’s lost her sixpence”. He put his hand into his waistcoat pocket and gave me sixpence. That man was my hero!

All grown up and many years later I told Jenny (his daughter) about the day her Dad had saved my reason. She replied, “It was you! He got the telling-off of his life from my Mam. That was our spending money for the day.” Can you imagine such a gesture from a rough Pitman, with a large family of his own? I’m sure people were born kind in those days. In fact, I say we had a village full of saints and angels.

I’ll try to put into words exactly what I believe and hope it will be to someone’s benefit. Everyone should leave at least one thought behind. I believe and advise; “Always look for the best possible interpretation of people’s behaviour. Usually, the faults we see in others are our own faults”.  The people I admire most are seldom great in worldly goods, but are certainly great in heart.

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