Cinemas (click to enlarge)

Cinema Newbiggin England

George Weallans (1921)

Tales when young

I was born in the village of Ashington at my maternal grandfather’s home. He was a Welsh miner and I think his wife was Cornish, at the beginning of the twentieth century miners went where there was employment. He had also worked in Yorkshire, where my mother was born. My paternal grandfather was Northumbrian and his wife was Scottish. There is no Irish in me as far as I know.

When I was a few days old I had trouble with my “water works”. My mother said that when the doctor treated me, I urinated all over him. This was the last time I showed my true feelings for my ”Betters”.

Ashington had grown rapidly when coal mining expanded in the area at the turn of the century. To meet the need for homes, long streets of featureless houses were built. There was no water, gas, toilets, baths, washbasins or sinks installed. Basically they were brick boxes with two or three bedrooms upstairs and a room downstairs with a coal range.

This had a fire in the centre, an oven on one side and a water tank on the other, that had to be filled manually, to give hot water. Eventually the tank would leak and the only source of hot water would be a kettle permanently stood on top. The range was polished with Black Lead every week. This was a long hard job, the polisher finishing with at least black hands and smudged face. There was plenty of coal so these houses were warm homes.

One Sunday when I was five years old I was going to morning service with my mother when a woman carrying a very young baby gave me a small parcel. It contained a piece of bread, some salt and a silver sixpence. I was amazed but it was a local custom called hanseling. The infant was on her way to be christened and I was the first boy child met outside her home. Even then this practice was dying out.

George Weallans (c1924)My grandmother Duddridge had three surviving sons and my mother when I was growing up. Most Saturday nights she baked sliced potatoes, onions perhaps a little meat and always thick gravy in a big meat tin. Three or more of her children and three or four grand children would eat this meal. Someone would bring a Football Chronicle so that we could get the sports results, of course there was no radio. One of my uncles supported Newcastle football team but another was misguided enough to support Sunderland, this could lead to heated exchanges. Grandmother would not allow playing cards in her home to prevent gambling but she did allow dominoes, which we sometimes played, the adults perhaps secretly for pennies. We talked and argued and fed and it was wonderful.

The miners worked shifts and as few of them had alarm clocks a Knocker Up would awaken his customers for a small fee. He carried a long pole with wooden balls on the end. He used this to rattle the window until there was signs of life, often cursing.

The mines did not work every day during the depression. Each pit would blow its buzzer at a set time to let the workmen know if they were working next day. There were two time systems still known in those days, pit time and train time. The latter was GMT; the other must have lingered on since each area had its own time zone before the days of the railway. Only the pit buzzers used pit time, which was ten minutes ahead of railway time.

John and Florence Weallans - George's parents (1920s)The Northumberland miners held an annual gathering for themselves and their families at Morpeth but one year they decided to come to Newbiggin. The Union Lodge of each mine had a huge banner, say twice the size of a double bed sheet, emblazoned with Socialist heroes and miners mottoes. This was carried on two long poles with four guy ropes to steady it. It was a great honour to be one of the six men who carried the banner on the parade and worth ten bob a head. Perhaps ten pits took part marching down the main street with local brass bands interspersed. They gathered on the moor with their families to be addressed by the local MP and the top Union Officials, who promised them paradise next year. At Morpeth more than one speaker was dumped in the river Wansbeck. We had no such luck the sea did not have them.

Later there was the more important business of eating and getting a little drunk. The local tradesmen over estimated the number of meat pies required so they were very cheap by eight o’clock. The pubs and clubs managed to have enough beer. A travelling fair with roundabouts and stalls arrived two days before and left the day after the picnic. One of the attractions was a riffle range so after the fair moved on I went looking for spent brass cartridge cases. Extra ‘buses and trains were put on, the ice-cream men and some of the shops made a little money and a good time was had by all. The picnic never came to us again.

My Uncle George was a miner who kept a fire continuously burning, at night it was banked up with coal dust and the ashes raked out with due ceremony each morning. He lit the fire once a year when he came back from holiday at one of his Yorkshire relatives. He was very active in politics as an elected member of the Urban District Council, of which he was chairman for two years. Ashington at that time had a population of about twenty five thousand. He should have been a mayor. Later he was a member of the County Council and went to Newcastle to attend meetings. For many years he was an active member of the Miners Union.

Despite its size there were only three public houses in the village. The locals promptly christened the last of these to open, the North Seaton Hotel, the White Elephant. The name stuck and now appears in ‘bus timetables and the nearest telephone box. The miners were not temperance advocates; their drinking needs were taken care of by more than twenty working men’s clubs. Committees of the members ran these so the profits helped to keep down the price of beer. At New Year most clubs would allow their members a number of free pints, I have heard up to twenty mentioned. Eventually all the clubs in the county and in Durham County banded together and bought their own brewery so beer became even cheaper.

George's Aunt Alice Old stone tower with two half life-size statues, Morpeth, Northumberland George Weallans (c1928) John George Weallans (1930s)

Share this article

Related Posts

Cafe Newbiggin England
Cafe Newbiggin England
Activities Newbiggin England
Activities Newbiggin England

Latest Posts
Holiday cottages in Yorkshire Dales National Park
Holiday cottages…
Farm Holidays in the Dales The dales…
Bed and Breakfast Askrigg England
Bed and Breakfast…
Maps Select any of the links below to…
Cottages Newbiggin United Kingdom
Cottages Newbiggin…
A medieval town with a picturesque charm…
York National Park
York National…
Public Notice as of Monday, Jan. 23:…
Bed and Breakfast Newbiggin England
Bed and Breakfast…
Beech House is built in traditional Windermere…
Featured posts
  • Cafe Newbiggin England
  • Activities Newbiggin England
  • Family activities Newbiggin England
  • Bed and Breakfast Newbiggin England
  • Train Newbiggin England
  • What to see Newbiggin England?
  • Best places Newbiggin England
  • Rent car Newbiggin England
  • Cottages Newbiggin England
Copyright © 2024 l All rights reserved.