Inspired by Michelle W, the Daily Post (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-eleven/)
The township of Easington Colliery in County Durham was born of the Viking raids in the 8th century and other than that titbit of history, it never featured again until the year I was born in 1951. Not that I’m suggesting for one moment that my birth was noteworthy, but in that year and 8 days after I was born, 83 coal miners died in an horrific explosion. My father could have been one of the fatalities if he hadn’t being visiting my mother in hospital. As an aside, the movie, Billy Elliot was filmed at Easington Colliery.
The town, more of a village really with nearly 5,000 inhabitants, features a pit head with its great wheel dominating the landscape. Surrounding the pit head are hundreds of colliery houses built by the National Coal Board to accommodate its miners. The terraced houses are brick built, two up and two down. We lived in one of these when I was 12 years old and I look back on that time with a mental shudder.
Our house, just like every other house in every other street, had a tiny concrete yard which housed an outside toilet and a coal bunker. Free coal was delivered once a month and it was my job to transfer the coal, which had been deposited in the street, into the bunker via the small hatch. Winters were often severe and the outside toilet held little attraction for me at 2 a.m. in the ice and snow!
Heating for the house was provided by the coal fire in the kitchen/ dining area. All of our meals were cooked in the oven that was attached to the coal fire. It was quite a skill to cook roasts in an oven, which relied on experience to maintain an even temperature inside it. Cleaning of the fireplace and relaying it was also one of my jobs. Before you get carried away with the idea that our kitchen was a normal size with a central bench, storage cupboards and a double sink with drainers, it wasn’t anything like that at all. It was a 1 meter by 1.5 meter space which housed a sink and a couple of shelves on the wall to store utensils. Our food was stored in a free standing cupboard in the dining area.
Besides the kitchen and dining area, we had a “front room” or living room, except ours was never used by us. It had new furniture and the carpet was spotless for any guests that might turn up. I think we only used it for Christmas, funerals and weddings.
The two upstairs bedrooms were unheated and it was a drama to get out of the warm covers when the ice used to form inside the windows in winter. A chamber pot under the bed prevented you from having to go to the outside toilet. Where was the bathroom? Sorry, no bathroom. Baths were taken downstairs in front of the fire. We had a tin bath which normally hung on a metal hook on the wall in the concrete yard next to the outside toilet. When we wanted a bath, we lugged the tin bath indoors and filled it with hot water. Adults went first, one at a time, while the kids were outside playing. The kids, me and my sister, had to use the water that was rapidly cooling from the baths that my parents had. Shudder!
I haven’t missed the colliery house of my youth and today we have separate bathrooms in our house in Brisbane, central heating and inside toilets! Our kitchen is bigger than the whole of the downstairs area in the colliery house.