Memoirs of Annie – a working class girl
I thought I’d share the memoirs of Annie with you.
Annie was my Gran and I loved her dearly. I knew her for 36 years , she had a great influence on my life. Her roots are in a mining town in the north of England called St Helens. I loved to visit her in St Helens, where part of my family are still to this day.
The Early Years of Annie Nicholson – In her own words
Annie wrote this in her eightieth year. She died in 2006 at 89.
” My name was Annie Holden -Joseph and Maria Holden- my parents. The family consisted of 10 children : John, Henry, Annie,Joseph, Jessie, Mildred,Marian and Agnes.
We were born in and brought up in a two bed roomed house- Juddfield Street, Haydock.
In those days there was no hot water, no bathroom, just a big tin bath.No automatic washer,no electricity- just gas. I remember we had a fitment with gas coming through with what we called a gas mantle.That was our lighting during the winter plus wax candles and a paraffin lamp.
Heating came from coal. A coal fire in the one room downstairs. The heat from the coal fires brought in black cockroaches, house bugs and rats as sanitation was ever so poor.
In our house and almost each and everyone’s else’s we had a small brick building at the bottom of our yard. This consisted of one part called the mid din where all the refuse was thrown, the other part was the ‘petty’ ‘lavatory’ or toilet as it is known today. It was, as I term it, a big broad piece of timber slotted on each side of the wall with two round holes in it, one for the children and one for the adults. I always remember banging the door before going in as rats were always knowing around the middin. There was never any toilet paper, just old newspaper. The council came once a week to remove all waste. They would throw some kind of lime down the toilets to keep the stench down.
If you had a big family, as we did, my mother would keep chickens and hens in our back year, the eggs were a great help and so was a roasted chicken.
Tuberculosis was very common, no cure for the poor. Lots of children got scarlet fever and diphtheria. Vaccination was available- the doctor would call when the baby was 4 weeks old- but you had to pay and some poor families just couldn’t afford it. I have four marks on my arm now from when I was vaccinated as a baby.
However that is how most working class people lived in the 1920′s.
My Mother fed us all to the best of her ability.
Our street was let by gas lamps which didn’t give great illumination and we spent most of our evenings inside entertaining ourselves by telling stories, reading comics, telling jokes and listening to an old radio which worked from an acid battery.
In our home all of your wages were turned over to Mother, she then handed you back some spending for yourself. From his spending money my eldest brother John saved enough money to buy himself a gramophone , it had a wind up handle with a connection to a turntable and a great horn, which we called a trumpet, where the sound came from.
My Mother’s Parents :
My grandparents were Lucy and Jack Travis, they lived in Juddfield St, Haydock. Lucy lived till 86. I remember my Uncles and Aunts, we had plenty of cousins , families in those days lived quite close to each other.
Life in the Mines :
They all worked down the coal mines and their sons with them. The father was taken on at the “pit” pr colliery – they went underground and he would take his sons with him as they became old enough as my father did.
At fourteen years of age you helped at the bottom of the shaft,as you got older then you could earn more money. You could only get a job if you were in a tied house- but you had no chance if you were small or skinny.
The person responsible was the collier. One son- the drawer the next- haulage. The colliers had a pick and shovel and dug the coal from the allocated coal seam. The sons helped with the coal boxes- the more coal they could get the more boxes they could fill to obtain a living wage. Unfortunately it was;t just coal they found but stone and they didn’t get paid for that-only coal.
My father , brothers, uncles and cousins as well as most of the other people around that worked down the mines left home around 5a.m as they had to walk to the collieries. After walking to the pit they would get a lamp that they hung onto a leather strap that kept up their pants. They had to return the lamp to the lamp shop at the end of their shift – if the lamp was not returned they would know the person was missing.
Each colliery had a mine shaft and a cage that took the miners down below, this would be about 6a.m. When they got to the bottom of the shaft they still had to walk to the coal seams and sometimes had to crawl as the tunnels were so low. In addition they had to carry their lamp, tallies, picks and spades plus rations ‘snap’ for the day. I can still remember my father’s ‘Tommy Tin’ with pieces of bread and jam. They all liked jam because when it came to their 20 minute break- jam was not too dry for their mouths. They also carried water in a tin flask. This was all they had from 5a.m until 2.30pm. The pits never closed with men working morning,afternoon and night shifts.
Also at the top of the pit brow was a cabin called the ‘tally cabin’. Each collier had a tally, a metal disc, which represented each tub of coal they filled.
Every pit man wore a cloth cap,clogs; calico pants made of linen like material and were called ‘pit drawers’.They wore these to go to work in as there was no such thing as a changing room or baths.These were only to come after the 1926 strike.
The pits were called ‘Southport pit’ , ‘Wood pit’ , ‘Old Boston pit’ ,’ Lyme Pits’ – the owner of these pits was a man called Richard Evans. He also owned the biggest majority of the dwellings the miners lived in. These were “Tied Dwellings’, you were given work and a house but you were tied to go down pit to provide a house for your family.
It was slave labour but we knew no different.
I know all this as I myself started on ‘Pit Brow’ at the age of fourteen.
1926 General Strike :
I was 8 years of age and will never forget the 1926 General Strike.
Every miner in Great Britain was out on strike for better wages and conditions.
No one had money for food or clothing. We were dependent on the ” Relief Fund’ for the very poor.
At that time we went to school in the morning and the nuns would give us a piece of bread and a cup of cocoa. At lunch time we went into another church room for potatoes, vegetables and corned beef. Only the children who were in their bare feet got these free dinners paid for from a fund called ‘The Clog and Stocking Fund’.
I remember clearly the rioting by miners.
Then there were the ‘blacklegs’.
There was one man in our street who was a blackleg- the police had to take him to work and bring him back. I saw angry miners shouting, then in would come the mounted police their horses rearing into the crowds – very frightening for children.
Young men would go out to the fields during the night to steal potatoes and other vegetables. To keep warm they had to go and ‘pick coal’ from the heaps of pit waste near collieries. All of course illegal. But their families were starving and they were prepared to take the risk.
My father has to start work down the mine at 13. He worked down the mines his whole life, for very little wages until 1934 when he started getting serious headaches and he did suffer.
In those days you had to pay for a doctor, so when you were poor you were reluctant to visit or bring out a doctor. Unfortunately he had a brain tumour and he died in Warrington Hospital which was termed a ‘Workhouse’. ”
These are some of the memoirs of my Gran. As you may have noticed life wasn’t easy. She was an amazing, strong woman and I am proud of her.