Washington County Durham


Memories of an Usworth Lady

Henrietta Allison



Henrietta Allison
Henrietta (Etty) Allison
née Simpson, married Gawin Allison at Holy Trinity Church, High Usworth, 26th Sept. 1942.

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This autobiographical account of Etty's early life in Usworth appears here by kind permission of her son, Gawin Allison.

Henrietta (Etty) Allison

( 1 of 4 )

1.  I was born on the fourth of March, nineteen twenty-two, at Richardson Terrace, Washington C.D. the third daughter of a family of eleven. Seven sons and four daughters. We moved to Usworth Colliery when I was very young, so my memories are of Usworth.

2.  When I try to reminisce about my life, my first memory is of helping to toast bread on a coal fire. I still have the toasting forks. Growing up in a large family, with brothers older than you, you lived a very sheltered life. They looked out for you all the time.

3.  There were three streets in Usworth Colliery, Penshaw View, Railway Terrace and Old Rows, where we lived in the corner house, with the nearby Usworth pit not many yards away. I remember the lads on the screens and joiner shop men paying us a visit, then leaving with their water bottles filled and pots filled with hot tea, then given whatever baking was done at the time. A very kind woman, my mother. She would say, "If you give with your right hand, you gather harvest with your left hand." It's true! My mother would say she went through some hard times, but still never wanted for what was important!

4.  The three streets enclosed a huge green area where we all played, children and adults, football and cricket. Every Sunday, lads from other places - who would be school friends and work mates - came to play. The bed in our 'Front Room' was always full of overcoats and jackets till the game was over. We enjoyed playing mothers and fathers. Big brothers would join in turning the skippy ropes for us, it was grand when we learned how to double skip. We played shops, pieces of broken china was our money. Empty matchboxes, empty Woodbine packets; anything we could lay our hands on, pick bunches of daisies, clover and dandelions. Big dock leaves became our fish, when we played fish and chip shops.

5.  The Usworth pit pond was where we used to fish for tiddlers with an empty jam jar, string tied to a stick, worm for bait. It was thrilling when you caught one, more so, if it was a shiny one. We used to put them all back. On Guy Fawkes night we had a big bonfire on the green with a huge Guy Fawkes on top. We roasted potatoes, stuck on the end of a stick, in the bonfire, or should I say 'Spuds' or 'Tatties'. They used to taste lovely!

6.  There used to be a shop on the green near Penshaw View that served everything. I remember going there for vinegar. On the way back I remember one of the geese got out of its pen from one of the gardens. He came for me with his neck outstretched, he nipped my leg, so he got the vinegar out of the jug. The neighbours didn't know who was screaming the most, the goose or me! I still bear his mark on my leg.

7.  Most of our community kept either hens, ducks or geese. One family kept pigs. On a feast day when one was killed, mother being a friend of the owner, used to help clean, salt and make the black pudding. The pig's trotters made lovely jellied veal mixed with ham, from the ham shank.

8.  There was a pit heap you could walk over, although it was a climb to get to Quarry Row. I remember going that way to take things to a friend and relative of my mother. She was very old and always wore black clothes and a black bonnet.

This autobiographical account of Etty's early life in Usworth appears here by kind permission of her son, Gawin Allison.

Henrietta (Etty) Allison

( 2 of 4 )

9.  There was a stream that ran past Quarry Row in Usworth called 'The Don', and when you came off the pit heap you had to cross a little bridge, which the lads used to dam to make a swimming pool. When I got to the top of the heap I used to wave and shout to my brother Jim to let him know I was coming past - No swimming trunks - they had to go under the bridge till I got past. Going back I had to go the long way round the 'Depot' (where wagons were filled with coal) past Mrs Ward's post office, past the brickyard, to get home. I got reprimanded after being found out that I was going over the pit heap when the lads were swimming. Different thing when I had to climb the heap, to shout to them to come home for dinner or tea!

10.  Living in a close knit family and a close knit community, you really did live a sheltered life. I would love to see new villages in the New Town have that same feeling. In this day I think they will have to work hard to achieve it.

11.  I started school when I was five, cried all the way there. Miss Wood, the Headmistress, of the Infants, took my hand and walked me round every class room to see if I knew someone. After seeing my beloved brother Jim I settled down a little, but couldn't stop crying. Miss Wood came back and took me into her room, which I remember had a lovely coal fire. I think it was the sight of the fire, not the Mary Ann toffee she gave me, settled me down a little. Play-time she would walk me round the play-yard - another Mary Ann toffee! I've liked Mary Ann toffees ever since.

12.  We would walk to school and walk back. For our dinner every Monday, it would be 'Spotted Dick' or apple pudding. There was always a smell of cooking, as everything was home baked. seeing the bread rising on the fender, beside the fire, stottie cake wrapped in a cloth on the window-sill, to cool. I remember the fresh herring man making his regular round. Done in the oven, they were delicious inside a warm stottie cake.

13.  Everyone helped each other in those days! Coming in from school I would be sent out to Mrs. So and So's to get her washing, because she wasn't well, or in bed having a baby. Food would be provided for men coming home from the pit. It was nearly always broth, or a pudding of some kind. As soon as the buzzer blew, it was time to take the pudding off. I hated washing the pudding cloth, which I had to bring back home.

14.  On rainy days we played in the 'Front Room'. I used to like it to rain so we could play in that room for some reason or other with our homemade cinder toffee, treacle toffee and coconut. Our box-fender was kept for pencils and books if we played schools. We used make-believe medicines and rags for bandages when we played doctors and nurses, and the desk bed used to be lowered for us to play on.

15.  Pastime, for most women, was getting the mat frames out, when the house work was done. I liked stitching the Hessian into the frame with the big bodkin needle, putting the pattern on with plates, saucers, cups. It was a work of art when it was finished. Preparation for the mat - all the clippings had to be cut first, then sorted. Woe betide if you ran short of a colour. Didn't matter where it came from, as long as the colour matched. Wool and chenille were used for bedrooms. After passing my time, cutting rags, I got promoted to learning how to 'prog'. You were given a door mat to do first. When it was finished, you celebrated with homemade ginger beer and roast potatoes. If the oven was full with anything else, surplus ones were put in among the ashes under the fire and they tasted better than the ones out of the oven. Loads of Empire butter from the Co-op finished them off.

This autobiographical account of Etty's early life in Usworth appears here by kind permission of her son, Gawin Allison.

Henrietta (Etty) Allison

( 3 of 4 )

16.  I never went out of the village much, only on shopping trips to New Washington for odds and ends with my mother. We walked over, then got Jackie Hunter's Waterloo Bus back. We went to Miss Bell's on Front Street for clothing, everything was wrapped up in a brown paper parcel, tied with string, the string tied in a bow, all neatly stacked on the shelves. You could hardly wait for her to pull the bow string to see what was inside.

17.  Brough's, Meadow Dairy, Maypole, Co-op Boot Shop, John Butt's, Mr. Noble's for haberdashery, Mr. Jones - he sold clothes and shoes, and our school blazers. The Co-op man came every week for your grocery order. Butcher cart and Greengrocer. Flour was delivered in a big white bag. Sometimes the bag would be left 'Accidentally on purpose!' Mother would make 'drying up cloths' out of them, as she called them.

18.  My spiritual education began at school, then at Primitive Methodist Chapel. The highlight of your younger life was the 'Chapel Trip' to South Shields, it seemed like I was going to the end of the world, we always had a lovely time. School trips used to go to Whitley Bay - 'The White City' as it used to be called. I'd had my hair cut in a semi-shingle to keep me free from 'dickies' (head lice). I hated it! Kept my beret hat well down over my ears, so it couldn't be seen. We had fun on a caterpillar ride; a hood came down over your head to close you in, inside the caterpillar. Yes, you've guessed it! My beret came off. My new hair style was exposed for all to see. Your sandwiches were packed in a shoe box, with a banana and an apple and homemade ginger beer. When we went on a chapel trip you got what was called a 'lucky bag' (sandwiches and cake). All kinds of games were played on the sands.

19.  I enjoyed my childhood. It's a pity you have to grow up. I could have stayed like 'Peter Pan'. St. Michael's church in Usworth started a dance in the 'hut' beside the church. I would be about eleven or twelve. It cost three pence, if my memory serves me right. My grown up brothers, Joe and Bob, taught me how to ballroom dance, but you don't dance too well when you are nervous. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and looked forward to it every week. Jimmy Whitfield, a local musician, provided the music on piano. I'm sure he had a brother who used to come as well. Coming home, which was only ten minutes walk away, we sang our way with the local lads. While we girls went home, they would stay around the corner to have a sly smoke on a Woodbine. As the gardens were nearby, Jim would go and get some Parsley to chew, so you wouldn't smell his breath!

20.  In the dark nights, when all the washings were on the line, on the green, 'The Long Forms' would be put outside the back gate. We children would keep watch, as people from down the road, would come and try and steal; I won't say from 'where'. Very often they were caught, they would leave a trail of pegs, as they ran off through the fields. I also remember keeping watch for any intruders, feeling important, being given a special task, those lovely moonlight nights. My mother would come out with pint pots of hot cocoa, and brown bread or stottie. I loved to dip my brown bread in the hot cocoa. Mr. Winfield, another musician, would sometimes come and play his concertina. He later played at my wedding with his daughter Dorreta, who played the piano.

This autobiographical account of Etty's early life in Usworth appears here by kind permission of her son, Gawin Allison.


Henrietta (Etty) Allison

( 4 of 4 )

21.  We only had one family who used to like to 'blow hot wind' as my father used to say. They were a nuisance, but still didn't spoil the feeling of people around. I only wish the villages in this 'New Town' of ours, could achieve the same close feeling.

22.  After my first emotional entry into school life, I got to love going to school. You made friends with lots of new girls. We girls were in different play-yards to the boys. I loved sport, netball was my game. I couldn't high jump very well; 'Too short in the legs' as Mr. Wilson would say. Our nickname for him was 'Tagger'! Why? I never got to know! We had Usworth play park to play in, swings, slides etc. Football pitch, bowling green, putting green, sadly the play park is no longer there. I can remember Usworth Colliery Band Stand which used to be in the park, and my brother Billy playing in the band.

23.  Looking back, I can't remember how old I was, I had been sent to Mrs. Ward's post office, that was at the end of Coxon's Row. A high wind came from somewhere and I had just crossed the road, when I felt myself being lifted up. I landed on the grass area, by luck, Joe, Ryhope and Silksworth's butcher, was passing in his butcher cart. He picked me up and took me home, he said he thought he was seeing things when he saw me floating through the air. I had black eyes, grazed knees and elbows, cut my mouth, I can still feel the ridge in my mouth. I think that's why I don't like flying in aeroplanes!

24.  Another memory, when the farmer had finished his harvest of potatoes, he would allow the people to go into the field and help clean the land, as he called it. You went with spades - anything! I used to take a coal rake. It was fun when you came across a big one, you gave a big yell. Potatoes straight out of the ground, and roasted; lovely! They tasted different somehow from the ones out of the garden.

25.  I left school when I was fourteen and stayed at home for a while to help my mother. I then started work at Pelaw clothing factory and went through training to be a tailoress. I loved it. Only two girls worked in the cutting room with six elderly men who looked after us both like fathers. In 1942 we were allowed home early, the snow was falling so thick it was bending the electric wires. We had to walk home, it didn't seem like a route march, as we girls enjoyed the fun of it. The next morning we walked to work behind the snow plough, luckily it didn't last as long as 1947!

26.  Unfortunately for me my Mother took ill with a nasty stroke, so I had to give up work to look after her. With Dr. Kidd's good doctoring we had her back on her legs again in no time. Her speech took a little longer, but she fully recovered. Going down 'Memory Lane' you only have to think of the good things that happen to you in life, remembering other things don't give piece of mind.

27.  When the work of the day was finished, mother would get changed into a clean frock, but always put a clean cross-over pinny on. She possessed two hats, a black one, and a deep purple one. To make them look new, they were put over a large basin and steamed. Then she would put a new band around and a bunch of small artificial cherries on. The purple one she only put a pleated band around, with a big hat-pin in it. I still have the hat-pin. The hat pins were about five inches long with a pearl on the end, I carried one in my pocket for protection coming home from work in the 'Blackout', I never got to use it. When the purple hat was past its best, and given up on steaming, mother made it into a skull cap for my father for work. Coming in from work, taking off his cap, his grey hair was purple! What a laugh we had! Only one thing for it. Out came the shears!

I'll stop there. I would go on forever.
Good memories are like leaves of gold,
That never tarnish or grow old.

Henrietta Allison, 2004.

This autobiographical account of Etty's early life in Usworth appears here by kind permission of her son, Gawin Allison.

Raise Your Glass To Washington, Tyne & Wear

Washington Book
by Terence McGee & Marion Crowell

Henrietta Allison's Down Memory Lane was first published in Terence McGee & Marion Crowell's excellent book.
It contains many more personal remembrances and a whole host of other Washington stuff.
If it's still available, it's well worth buying!

Henrietta's wonderful memories are posted on this website by kind permission of her son, Gawin Allison.