My School Days
By GEORGE BROWN
My school boy days were just as ordinary as the rest of the boys at elementary school, from 5 years of age up to 14, leaving on the day you reached 14, learning be more than the three R’s”.
Called to school, by the ringing of the bell 5 minutes to 9 in the morning, if you were in the 12-14 group and you happened to be in the vicinity of the teacher then you were detailed to go and ring the hell, by means of a rope attached to the bell hanging in the belfry some 40 feet above.
This continued for five minutes. I and the scholars assembled in lines according to the various classes one was in. The teacher would look along the line, to inspect if your boots had been cleaned and your hair was brushed and collar cleaned – india rubber collars were worn, they were of a stiff white character, and to keep them clean was by giving them a rub with a wet rag, most boys suite were of a kind of belted jacket style.
However poor you were clothed you had to be clean and tidy.
Discipline was strict, the teachers word was law, and as the headmaster and the majority of the teachers lived in the area, discipline inside the school and after school hours had its effect and influence.
The schoolmaster, the colliery manager and the minister and policeman were the people that the children and adults respected,
It was recognized that every family depended on the pit for their bread and butter -and either of the above could make it difficult for those who were abusive, they could be made to suffer in some form or another.
I remember having a girl in our class of my own age, she was in the same class for a few years, and she got no better treatment than anyone else, she was Mabel Ashcroft and the daughter of the schoolmaster, and when we got into the class that her father taught she got worse treatment than the rest of us- he was most severe on her.
As I said in another page, Pity Me, Old Pit, Low Moor were like different countries, from the moor, even in school days, the moor lads kept themselves apart from the rest.
After school hours and on holiday Old Pit was the meeting place for the former, and the Moor lads found their play areas on the “Ash Heap” and on the “Front Carrs”. There was a field in front of the marshy part of the “Carrs” and permanently kept for grazing and was away from the village, this ve used for our football and cricket games.
In playing the games, as extra ones arrived they would join one side or the other and so we would eventually many times be playing with 15 to 20 on each side. We might change ends two or three times in the course of the game, it did not matter how many goals were scored, as long as we got a game.
The “Folly fields and “wood” were splendid places too. The stream caused by the overflow of water, from the Cator House Pit; where the large pump underground pumped the water which was carried by pipe up the shaft and one remembers Benjamin Browell, as the man who used to go down and attend to the pump.
At the outlet at the pond, the 12″ pipe was visible and you could see this pipe delivering the water at full pipe.
I have not mentioned the lay out of the “Cator House” pit, and termed as the “New Pit”, access to it was a diversion west, along the railway line, which crossed the public footpath from Blackie Boy – Cator House farm on to the Folly fields and coming out at the junction of Potterhouse Lane, half way along the road from Pity Me to Sacriston. About 150 yards along the line was the smaller of the two pits.
Here there were two shafts, one for men and coal drawing, the other one was mostly used for sending timber and materials into the pit.
There were four or five sets of lines to the heap end, which serviced empty trucks to the various directions needed for coals, equipment timber and such like, all these lines converged on to one single track for the small tank engine and formed the small train load to the other extreme end at the “old pit.”
The workshops here were very small indeed, and only consisted of the blacksmith and fitters shops, these were only used to meet emergency needs, other repairs etc, were sent to the “old pit.”
The workshops here were very small indeed, and only consisted of blacksmith and fitters shop’s, these were only used to meet emergency needs, other repairs etc. were sent to the “old pit.”
So in this small area there was only the lamp cabin and boiler house.
At the side of the lamp cabin was an opening only a yard dividing two, two roomed cottages.
Later one of these was taken and the middle wall taken out, to make it into a bait cabin for the men working at the pit head,
My uncle John Golightly lived in this small cottage – not very comfortable for noise, their outlook was the large pit pond some 30 yards in front of the entrance, and their only neighbours were the Pat Leonards and W. Harrisons families who lived some 50 yards away living in a big house along the lane towards Sacriston Durham road 200 yards away.
These two families had a huge garden each, and these often got raided when the crops were ready by the men who were leaving the pit early morning.
Following the closing of the pit, these families had to carry the water they needed from Cator House farm, a quarter of a mile sway. The water supply was by a levered hand pump, in the farm yard.
One of the Harrisons and one of the Golightly’s sons John and William
respectively went to live in the Folly Quest House that I mention in
another page relating to the stage coach.
From this Folly House, standing amid surrounding fields, with the wood which stretched to Pity Me in the distance, there was not a house nearer than the farm almost half a mile away, (they had to carry their water). So each of them had huge rain tubs, needed to collect as much rain water as possible.
Alongside the front was this Blackie Boy to Potterhouse Lane Public Foot-path, probably the most used and most fascinating one in the district, a long steep downhill path for 100 yards with the closely planted trees looming on the bankside on the eastern side, and thick bracken and hawthorn hedge on the embankment on the west, in the valley below was the rushing stream that I mentioned earlier, containing the water from the surplus ejected from the pit pond,
A quaint short bridge was erected over the stream, and a footpath on the right side, weaved and winded its way through the wood to Pity Me alongside the stream,
Over the bridge was a large field on either side and a steep upward climb took one sa to the last field before reaching Potterhouse Lane.
The Folley fields and wood were the places for picnics and recreation that could not be excelled. There were blue bells galore. In the fine weather it was really crowded with youngsters, taking a bottle of water and two or three slices of jam and bread, and spending a few hours at a time, of happy enjoyment.
We have spent may evenings there in the wood holding our Christian Endeavour meetings.
I have visualised this area when meditating on my Bible studies, and connected the biblical occasions to suit the various incidents therein.
The rushing stream often dammed back to build up the flow, was a regular practice, so enabling one to enjoy paddling; and catching tiddlers.
Another place we found much pleasure in was visiting the coke ovens and seeing the “Rodnies” these were the few men each night who came to rest in the warm ovens which had been drawn, and in which they could nestle for the night,
They were the ones on the road and could not afford to pay the two pence per night to lodge in the lodging houses in Framwellgate in Durham city area (these were named the Doss Houses).
They came after the coke drawers finished their shift and departed before the drawers arrived next morning.
Some of these were recognised as regulars others are casuals, and it was some of these who would stop some of the young boys going to work and take their baits from them.
Many were known to have their bait snatched by these casuals.
One of the regulars I met was one Bill Dent, he wore a parson’s coat, and it was accepted that he had been a minister and unfrocked and had taken to the roads. He was quite a character.
We played quite a lot of football in the streets, whenever any pigs were killed, someone would be able to produce a pig’s bladder. I wonder how many have seen or played football with a pig’s bladder? I certainly cannot say how long it is since I saw the last one.
This reminds me of the large amount of families who had a large earthenware stew pot, in which were placed pigs feet, sheep trotters, black padding sausage, savoury ducks and the stew pot filled with water and placed in the hot oven for an indefinite period, and left there for the various ones in the family to help themselves at an evening meal, there was nothing nicer.
A few new families came into the village, all had big families and the following come to mind- J, Wade, F. Parkinson, H. Hodgson,
Mr. W. Ashcroft leaves as headmaster and Mr. T.G. Boyd came in his place. Mr. Fred Potts came as a young teacher and for over 35 years continued at the school, he retired and died at the age of 80 having lived in the house on the Durham Moor crossroads, the house I mentioned where Mr. T. Mavin lived.
His four daughters all followed him into the teaching profession. Mr. Potts was a prominent Freemason and keen bowler, as well as an organist
When the school decided to cultivate a school garden he was the *missing word*
Mr. David lamb too had a long record as a teacher before being as Headmaster at Kimblesworth, he still resides in the village. One who now at the age when Durham City had its attraction “The Horse in the Market Place which had stood for 50 years, and had been erected by public subscription to the founder of Seaham Harbour (Lord Londonderry), the steps around which were often used as seats and resting places, also public speakers and religious gatherings were held, the old fashioned ladder fire hydrant on two wheels was chained close to one side.
I remember the head of the rider being taken off and transported to London for repairs in 1951. So the “Hoss” as often pronounced had a headless rider for six weeks the time taken for the operation.
In the Market Place there was a unique water fountain and a stone covered dome and a statue of Neptune on top, it was later dispensed with and erected in Wharton Park (1920). It was a busy time in the market then small stalls of various business people, shopping, people congregating around the “Hoss and Neptune”,
One remembers the “hirings” each six months farmers and farm workers met, and workers were given the opportunity to change their jobs on the farm. You would see groups talking and arranging terms for the next six months.
Usually they were the single men who were not content with, either the lodgings or wages and so this was the place the terms were set out and conditions agreed on. They may be able to get offered a few shillings extra, and may be able to get the chance of living in conditions.
On such occasions the Market Place was crowded, and when Randell Williams show came, youngsters as well as grown ups would stand for hours listening to the great showground organ gaily lit up, playing loudly famous opera and musical comedy music.
Lord John Sangers circus was a regular visitor too which created much interest and pleasure, and the mile and a half walk was never felt after such enjoyment.
The annual Durham regatta always attracted much interest, two half days holiday from school, and crowds of youngsters gladly attended and watched the boat races which much interest. At night on the Wednesday the “Ash” heap was crowded with children and adults to watch the firework display as this was an ideal spot with a grand view.
Peter Dawson Ed. 2021-10-06