Childhood Sounds About The House

To hear some 2 dozen trained people singing in a room of 12 feet square was totally unforgettable!

Sounds remembered from 1920’s Shiremoor. They can be categorised into three sections:

1. In the House

2. In the Street

3. Distant Sounds

1. Perhaps the earliest sound I remember and the one which was there continually was the legato ticking of the long wall clock which hung in the kitchen (living room). The pendulum seemed to take an age of swing from side to side and as a bairn I used to wonder why the little chiming alarm clock which ticked twice as quickly didn’t go round twice as fast.

Wash days brought the wonderful rhythm of the poss stick and, when a neighbour came to help as they usually shared this chore, the sound of double possing was superb. The hissing of the scrubbing brush was another day sound.

In the 1920’s a surprising number of children learned to play a musical instrument of some sort. Mine were the American organ and the trombone but if one walked along a colliery street it would be unusual after tea time not to hear the strains of piano, fiddle or brass instruments being practised.

It was always possible in a colliery row to tell when the neighbours were about to go to bed. The fireplaces were built back to back and since coals were abundant, they were put on the fire by the bucketful. When the nocturnal bucket was hurled on to the back of the chimney it made the most wonderful CRUMP!!!

Our front door was 10 yards from the local Salvation Army Hall where my Father was Young People’s Songster Leader. Often, after rehearsal, the whole company would adjourn to our house for an ad-lib sing song. To hear some two dozen trained people singing in a room of 12 feet square was totally unforgettable.

2. Allied to the Songsters was the Army band which before service would conduct an open air duty round the village. They always, on their return, played the last hymn outside our door before marching into the hall.

The colliery coal depot was some 40 yards from our house and workmen’s coals were delivered in the old solid tiered steam wagon which used to chug past our front door. Subsequent to this was the raucous scraping of iron shovels on concrete as the workmen hoyed the coal into their coal houses.

Vendors sounds were in all villages – “rags t’ sell”, the fish man’s “all alive” or the fruiterers “ripe bananas, cheap potatoes, good sound onions”. They had though, one call in common. On wash days the housewives stretched their washing to dry on ropes, stretched to the opposite side of the street. When the horses and carts came to such a stretch they would bellow the one word “Claes”. The women would dash out and adjust the props and remove what washing was in the way to give the horse and cart clear passage.

3. Living adjacent to both the local colliery sidings and the old “Blyth and Tyne” railway there was always plenty of railway sounds. As a train was being delivered into a siding there was a rapidly increasing clang of buffers until the wagons were all at rest. When the train was being withdrawn the sound in the opposite direction was a staccato “clack, clack, clack” as each coupling chain tightened and jerked each wagon into a moving train. These movements were, of course, accompanied by the relevant whistle signals from the engine.

From Seghill to Prospect Hill the Blyth and Tyne ran for 2 miles up a constant gradient. The engines used to haul coal trains were the old NER J-26 type 0-6-0 introduced in 1900. As they neared the top of the gradient these 84 ton monsters pulling perhaps 400 tons of coal were almost at the limit of their power and were slowed down to walking speed to less. At this time they were at their most terrifying – there was about a second between each “puff” and each puff sounded like a bomb blast, shaking the ground for 30 yards around. Parallel to the Blyth and Tyne was the Cramlington Collieries line, on which my Uncle Mat Scott drove engine No 3. On the homeward down-gradient journey he used to give us the “cock-a doodle-do” just to keep in touch.

Before electrification, colliery signals between the underground onsetter and the banksman and winderman on the surface were mechanical. A steel rail wagon buffer was seated in a rubber collar and struck by a hammer weighing up to 20lbs. Since this was used for every cage movement, night and day, and since it could be heard half a mile away, people just had to become immune to it!

The other principal colliery sound was intentional – the buzzer. This was a steam whistle which indicated workmen’s starting time, break time and finishing time: 7.30 am 11.42 am-12.30 pm and 4.30 pm. In the days before radio time checks the buzzer was invaluable to the locals where time pieces were not in the best condition. The buzzer also warned, the evening before, which pits were to be laid idle the following day.

Finally, in those days EVERYBODY relied on the buzzer to bring in the New Year!

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