Women were hooked on cleaning - there was plenty of it.
I was born and spent the first six years of my life in the streets of West Allotment. This was a mining community about 10 miles east of Newcastle. It consisted of rows upon rows of small terraced houses with one or two shops, including a fish and chip shop, tacked on to the ends of a street.
The houses had been built (I had heard) at a cost of £50 each. This doesn’t sound a lot but must have amounted to a tidy sum considering the number built. They were built by the mine owners to house their workers. Not all the houses were occupied by miners. If you have seen the opening credits of Coronation Street you will get some idea of how they looked. In fact, many are still providing homes today.
The ground floor of our house consisted of one living room into which the front door opened directly and a small area at the back with a stone floor and a walk-in pantry which we called the ‘back end’. From the front door, steep stairs rose to two bedrooms. This was the accommodation in which quite large families were brought up. There was often a bed made up under the stairs.
A brick wall about six feet high surrounded the yard. The tin bath usually hung on this wall and in the corner was the wash-house with a galvanized tub with poss-stick for washing clothes, a bench for scrubbing and a set-pot built into the wall. This was for boiling the clothes. It had an open fire underneath and we would carry a shovelful of burning coals from the fire to get it going. Across the yard was the lavvie which was a flush one. Mam remembered when they weren’t, but that’s another story. Next to the toilet was the coal house. Coal was loaded from the back lane into a small door on the outside of the coal house. I have shovelled a load of coal myself when I was younger.
The house had a huge black range which had an oven at one side. Our oven had a round, drop-down door. Just above the fireplace was a mantelpiece with a chenille cover hanging down in front. We often had our elevenses sitting at the fire. I was taught very young to be polite, and one day said to my Mam, ‘Thank you for a nice Barlova, and please may I leave the oven door?’
At the back of the fire was a stone ledge. Coal was loaded onto this and pulled forward with a coal rake. Mam did all her baking in the coal oven. My Mam was very fond of herring and would buy them by the dishful to bake. One day she missed me. When she found me, I was sitting on the pantry floor, the dish of herring between my legs, and I was squeezing them one by one. This made them jump. There were herring all over the place.
Once a week the fire was allowed to go out and the whole range was cleaned with black lead. Women were hooked on cleaning. There was plenty of it. Front steps were a pride and joy, cleaned with a yellow ochre brick.
The houses were lit by gas. I remember well the gas mantles which came in little cardboard boxes. I also remember the wireless with the accumulator which we took to be refilled with acid. Ours was the only house in the surrounding district with a telephone. People used to leave messages for relatives with us. We also took the messages for the local doctor who called each day to collect them.
As we were on the corner of the road, we displayed the poster for the local cinema. Our reward for this service was a free cinema pass for two people once a week. Mam was always too busy to go, so I went every week with Grandma. The programme changed three times a week, so we had plenty of choice. Seats were priced at 6d, 9d, 1 shilling and 1/6d. I have always been a great film fan and remember well all the old black and white films that we saw together.