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Memories from Ruth Scott nee Ritchey
Collected & Edited by Paul Lanagan, 2008
Memories relate to 1940s

Ruth Scott passed away on October 29th 2009, and Paul Lanagan wishes to acknowledge Ruth’s generosity and enthusiasm for sharing her memories of Houghton-le-Spring when it was not always easy for her to do so.

It is 30 years since I left Houghton but I still feel the same tingle when I see Penshaw Monument from the A19 - home! I remember the familiar landmarks including the lay-by on the A1, where I threw my purse into the rubbish bin with the fish and chip wrappers (luckily I found it, but I have never been allowed to forget it).

A couple of weeks ago I became great-grandmother for the first time. His name is Jack and I hope he will have a good life. How things have changed.

I was born in Mautland Street in 1937, and as a child happily wandered around Robinson Street, George Street, Sunderland Street, Bowlby Street, Newbottle Street, and the Pottery Yard.
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Newbottle Street in 1949

Being part of a mining village, it was normal to know all the neighbours, good and bad, mostly good. Our next-door neighbours used to borrow our Mitzi, the cat, when she had mice. Monday was washing day, even if it poured, out came the best line. It was stretched back and to across the green out the back. It was a long, hard day. No automatic washers then, only the women.

We didn’t have a washing machine until about 1952, the year before Hilary and Tenzing climbed Everest and Elizabeth became queen. Was it good? Well, it was sure to give you the whitest rags around, though it was a vicious piece of work.

The hoover sweeper was a great little tool, which saved my grandma from her backache and housemaid’s knees. My latest gadgets are a bread maker, a coffee maker, a food processor, a fat free grilling machine, electric clocks, and my best buy - a Dell PC and printer!

In most homes chores were done the same day every week:

Monday – washing
Tuesday – ironing
Wednesday – bedroom
Thursday – baking
Friday - downstairs and outside
Saturday - pit clothes day

Bath night was whenever the water was hot and the kitchen was empty and you had someone to help fill the tin bath.
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

The Hawdonside Works sweet factory on Sunderland Street in the 1950s

We had half a dozen chippies. Mrs Turton’s corner shop in Sunderland Street, and three ice cream shops. Dimi’s was full of ‘Grammar School kids’, Jaconelli and Riani’s for the more lowly. I think Cristo Crisps were made at Hawdonside Works up the top of Sunderland Street, where Wheatley’s had a sweet factory and a pickle factory.

During the war when sweets were on ration we used to get our coupons once a month but they didn’t last long, so we had apples when we could. I was 9 the first time I saw a banana. One day our neighbour knocked on to tell my Gran that Mr Wheatley (the veggie man) had cherries. Grasping my pennies tightly I joined the queue, which went on and on and on. After what seemed like a whole day, I could stand on my tiptoes and just see the basket, and all the deep red cherries smiling at me.

Hurry up, hurry up!

“Yes, miss?” the big man said.

“Some cherries, please,” I whispered.

“Oh dear,” said the big man, “we have none left.”

I slowly trudged back up Mautland Street, tears on my cheeks and hot sweaty pennies in my hand.
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Newbottle Street in the 1940s

My favourite view has always been from the top of the Cut; on a clear day you can see Durham Cathedral. Does anyone remember Bluebell Wood (referred to as The Clouds on OS maps)? It was right at the top of the Cut, on the right-hand side, and if you followed it to the end you were in the Market Place near Caldicott's Farm. I once got chased by a cow up there; I didn’t think they could run so fast! I never cared much for farms and animals and I think it had something to do with the smell.

When the weather was fine we used to sit on the fences along Bluebell and collect bus numbers in little notebooks, but thinking back, we never got into mischief. My cousin Bob and I have just met again after fifty years and we have had some laughs. He was the original mould of Dennis the Menace. We used to spend most of the summer holidays together when he stayed with our auntie in Sunderland Street, in the house next to the Hetton Store.
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Sunderland Street looking towards Houghton Cut

I can still recall most of the houses between the White Lion pub and the top of the Cut. I still think of the Cut as it used to be, with houses both sides and Hillside Cemetery right at the very top. Goodness, it was steep, as I made that journey in the bus from Arthur Lane’s corner shop [63 Sunderland St] to the crest of the bank, heart in my mouth as the driver changed down the gearbox, sure this time it would fail, but it always got there.
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

We can’t do this thinking of the past without mentioning the new road system. It seems it was the biggest folly ever made, as far as we were concerned.

For some strange reason my grandparents sent me to ‘the little school’ in the Market Place, at the bottom of Seaham Road. It only had three classes and I can only remember one teacher, a Miss Robson. I used to go out of the yard with the boys at dinnertime, along the pastie burns, which was a little stream that ran around the school and disappeared underground. I usually got wet because the lads threw me in the burn because I played duffers (who dares). I wonder if they still remember?

Many times we ploughed our way to school, with snow over our welly tops. No day off school then. We loved it!
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Houghton-le-Spring Market Place before the redevelopments

The aged miners houses was opposite the school and I would sometimes go there to listen to the tales of the pitmen, of how they went down the pit when they were only small. Are the houses still there? I learned to play chucks near them with Margaret Wheeler, who lived in Ryhope Street.

When I was little I thought all daddies were black with red eyes then they got white when they got to be grandads! My Grandad first went down the pit in 1892 when he was seven years old. He was the canary boy. Every time the shift changed so did the birds and it was his job to carry them in the cages, up and down the shaft.

I had my jobs to do as well. They were polishing grandad’s pit helmet, which he wore back to front, and shaking the coal dust out of the men’s’ socks and cloths ready for the next shift. Grandad’s boots were his pride and joy, spotless and a shine on them that was priceless. My Granma used to say, “Anybody would think he owned the ------- pit!” He was a foreoverman and always worked night shift. I knew it was bedtime when I heard the tap, tap of his stick as he set of to work.
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

Houghton Pit in around 1900

The Cottage Homes. Nothing to smile about here, or at Heath House, both on William Street, along with the old Police station. Just the thought of it makes me quiver. All my young life I was told: “if you don’t behave you’ll end up the cottage homes.”

I don’t know any facts and figures about the way the homeless and destitute were provided for or treated, except that up to 1950 or there about, families did not live together as a family - each unit was a dormitory fashion life. I knew two children who came up from London with their mum; dad was lost in the War and their home had been destroyed in an air raid. Their name was Quinn. These people had nothing, just what they stood up in. The children were usually dressed in grey with their hair up and over (today my son pays £50 for the same look). The children were objects, as opposed to people, and it shames me to think I was as bad as the rest.

My first real memories of Houghton go back to the early 1940s when I was singing and dancing in the high jinx, an amateur concert party. It was started by Myra Moody as a one-off, but as a charity we raised a lot of money for the Red Cross. We put on a panto every winter and a variety each summer. We handmade all our costumes and scenery, and Myra wrote all the scripts. We had a good friend in Ralph Rogerson, a reporter for the Durham Chronicle newspaper, and he always followed our shows and got our photos done; we even had some taken in the Rectory Garden before it was opened as a public park. These shows were enjoyed by the residents of the cottage homes and Heath House.
Copyright © Books of the North 2009.

We had three cinemas in Houghton, eleven churches, and thirty-four pubs (pubs won three to one). We must have had the most religious drunks in the county of Durham!

Ruth Scott nee Ritchey, December 2008


Collected & Edited by
Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

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