Our colliery villages, was a series of articles published by the NEWCASTLE WEEKLY CHRONICLE between 5th October 1872 and 25th April 1874. The Dudley article was published on the 19th July 1873.
It is copied here with permission from the NEWCASTLE EVENING CHRONICLE.
OUR COLLIERY VILLAGES.
Meeting one day with a friend of ours who boasts a most extensive knowledge of the coal district of Northumberland, we entered into conversation with him upon the subject of "Our Colliery Villages". In the course of the conversation, he invited us to join him in paying a visit to an old friend of his, who resides in one of the villages not very far from Newcastle. Thinking to pass an agreeable afternoon in this way, and intending also to lay under contribution of our friend's knowledge of Northumbrian pit lore, for furnishing forth of material for this article, we accepted his invitation. The appointed day arrived, but unfortunately brought with it a few smart showers of rain. Nothing daunted, however, we booked ourselves for Seghill, which was the appointed rendezvous. He came, not, however. But the pony cart of our host was in attendance at the station for us, so mounting it contentedly, and knowing we could trust implicitly to the well-known hospitality of the pit district, we were driven off towards Dudley, past the old fads and squares of Seghill looking much as they did when we last saw them six months ago. Indeed, the old thatched house of which we had spoke still stared at us blankly with the big round hole in the thatch, of which the housewife then so loudly complained. Many a colliery village has been, within the last few months, going through the throes and agonies of alteration and improvement, but Seghill continues in its chronic condition of unhealthy dilapidation. So much noticed as we passed, but we have since been informed that improvements are actually contemplated , so there is a faint glimmering of hope for the old place yet. A co-operative store is in course of erection, and it is really quite a treat to see the colour of new bricks in the village.
Fortunately, for the pleasure of the drive from Seghill to Dudley, the last shower had fallen before we had left the shelter of the railway carriage, and all nature seemed fresh and cheerful as the now victorious sun dried up with its rays the rain tears which had fallen upon flower and bush. The scenery of the roads between Seghill and Dudley is not superlatively lovely, yet it has its points of wild moorland beauty, which ever and anon strike the eye of the traveller and fill his mind with a sense of quiet pleasure even after the disappointment of a broken tryst. The picturesque little village of Annitsford, from its appearance at a distance, took our fancy very much, but a closer view of the place later in the afternoon convinced us to the truth conveyed in the copy book head line, "Appearances are deceitful", an showed us that distance is indeed a great enchanter.
Now that summer has come with its leaves and flowers, colliery villages look much more inviting than they did a few months ago, when black and muddy with the rains and showers of winter. Dudley, we suppose, is no exception to the rule, though it does lose somewhat by the sudden transition from green lanes with occasional glimpses of snug farm homesteads, their heavy horses taking their Sunday rest, their ducks dabbling leisurely in their muddy ponds, and old mother goose strutting proudly about with her attendant goslings, unsuspicious of Michaelmas, and knowing nothing of Sage and onions, to the somewhat greyness of a pit village, the majority of whose houses are of stone. As a colliery Dudley has been in existence for some eighteen or twenty years, derived its name from one of the principal owners'. For a considerable part of the time has been noted for the good quality of its coal, and for the unfrequent occurrence of serious accidents in its workings. Geographically it is situated about eight miles to the north of Newcastle, and stands in the centre of a fine open country district, commanding a magnificent view of the greater portion of the great Northumbrian coal-field. Looking to the westward, the eye rests on Seaton Burn, and the model colliery of Dinnington; to the north, the view is stopped by Cramlington, and its grand old country Church; to the eastward is Earsdon Church with its old and well filled graveyard, studded with gravestones, conspicuous, among which, even so far away as Dudley, is the monument erected to the memory of the two hundred and four men and boys who perished in the ever-to- be remembered Hartley calamity. To the southward however the view is more extensive, and the eye may travelled unchecked over a vast expanse of country, until the hills of Durham interpose, Gateshead fell standing boldly out, its pointed Church spire clearly and sharply defined against a background of blue sky beyond. Dudley, as we have said is celebrated for the quality of its coal; indeed, Dudley men insist that the very best steam coal in the trade is hewed there, and the close proximity of the pit to the North Eastern Railway, which passes within a stone throw of the shaft, renders transport easy by rail to any part of the country, though the greater part of the of the coal is whirled. away down the company's own waggon way past Seghill to Howdon Docks, there to be shipped off to any part of the world. Still it must be confessed Dudley is but a small Colliery to be thus distinguished. It tasks the energy of 170 stalwart hewers to produce an average of 450 tons per day, but then hitherto it has only worked at the yard Seams whereas in future it is intended, if indeed operations have not already commenced, to work the thicker seem below, and a drift has been put down from the upper seam for that purpose.
Turning from the industrial to the social life of the village, we find a population of a little over one thousand men, women, and children, who live in houses which, a few years ago, would have been considered a very fair specimens of colliery cottages, but have now been distanced by the improved dwellings of many modern pit villages. The houses are principally bilt of stone, and so many of the "raws" belong to the colliery owners, many are the property of private individuals who have leased them to the owners. These houses of mostly too small for the requirements of the men who have large are even moderate families, for the day has now gone by when two small rooms - kitchen and an attic -can be considered sufficient to enable the heads of mixed families to bring up their sons and daughters as they would wish them to do. In the course of our rambles among the colliery villages, we have often been struck with the fact that there is inevitably one row of cottages much larger and more commodious than any of the others, and it is always named the Sinkers' Row, but why Colliery owners should think it necessary to put up the sinkers' row, in so much better a fashion than the other rows we are at a loss to imagine. This remark is not intended to convey the idea that the sinkers' houses are too large, but rather that the other houses are too small, and that it would be much better if every row in the village were passing a sinkers' row, so that miner's who are not sinkers, but can equally appreciate good quarters might live in three or four- room houses, instead of being "cribbed, cabined, and confined" in much smaller domiciles. The worst feature of the social life of Dudley is the entire absence of those outdoor concert geniuses which salmon reformers else or among others will necessities of modern life. - ticks also unknown, and, as a consequence, we have the disagreeable, dusty ash heap piled up with a few yards of the houses; the in dry, windy weather scattering their clouds of Turkey dust in orders erections into the open doors of houses, spoiling the polish of the good waves mahogany drawers, a watering the glass of her magnificent speed take Clark, into the eyes and mouse of the children who play about the village, or coming like gigantic pinches of conscience north up the nostrils of the unwary stranger.
The Household wants of Dudley provided for by a branch of the omnipresent, Cramlington Co-operative Society, and by the lesser establishments have to private tradesman, who despite the presence of the formidable co-operative rival managed to do a fair stroke of business. One of these tradesman, we may mention Casson, as a man of no among the miners, having been a miner himself for a great number of years. He was employed in Britain when a disastrous explosion took place there by which so many lives were lost, and the shock of the explosion shook the show contains the conviction that the life of the main was so dangerous for a man who wished to to bring up his family and stand a decent chance of dying in his bed. On the first opportunity, therefore, he left the pits, and by dint of hard struggling has made himself the business in Dudley, where he may be found dealing in all sorts of wares: intelligent, honest, brimful of humour and quotation, an honour to the class from which she sprung, and in those the Haughey still sometimes takes up his pen when calumny or misrepresentation - have done them wrong. Such is Thomas Gascoigne the shopkeeper of Dudley, and hundreds of old pitmen will rejoice to hear that he is alive and doing well.
The Primitives have a chapel in Dudley, and so have the Wesleyan, and it is greatly to the credit of both denominations that they are both very active in the case. They do much good, and their Sunday schools are well attended. Dudley boasts of an excellent Colliery school, under the equally excellent management of Mr George Duncan, who not only "teaches the young idea how to shoot" but also discharges the duties of village postmaster, issuing post office orders, selling stamps, and receiving deposits for the savings bank. Poor defence years. The order Paul Rees short every year, which is gradually increasing imports and the spirit of emulation the thereby engendered is raised up quite a high standard of excellence and poultry seen and about as badly. The auction genus are to be seen among the rows, holding themselves a laugh from the meaner fouls; price a Bantam has strout proudly about conscious of greatness; Dorkins of distinguished merit are abroad in the village; and is a danger to the weak legs have been knocked down and cruely trodden underfoot by gigantic Brahma Pootras, who belied the greatness of their intentions by the size of the eggs they lay. This is an excellent hobby, and the miners of Dudley seen to be taken to ride it with all their might just, in fact, as a Northumbrian Pitman does sport does ride a hobby, driving furiously until the overtakes the object of his pursuit of falls off on the way.
Not only is Dudley famous for its coal, its poultry and its kitchen gardens, but it also claims to be great in the world of sport, sending out noted pedestrians to do battle for the honour of the village at Fenham Park, or Gateshead Bourough Gardens, and defying all competitors to a match at across the male at Newcastle, or new begin with a heavy weight bowls. For Gledson, the champion bowler, resides at Dudley, and on the day of my visit he was to be seen moving about the village towering head and shoulders above the small knot of admirers, who followed him about, revolving around him like lesser stars round the planet. Next to get sent in bowling circles is Arthur Temple, also a Dudley man, so that Dudley is really the champion polling village of the North. The first for Dudley is quenched by a very good water supply, and those who require something stronger are provided for by the claim on, or the Dudley Hotel, where good liquor is retained to all who need it and are in position to pay for it. Before leaving to, we must not forget to mention Jimmy Pringle, the character of the village, without hope no account of Dudley would be complete. For Jimmy is the village barber, has but one leg, is full of quips and oddities, is fond of his beer, and having no shop of his own, circulates round the village with lather box and razors shaving his customers in such a chalk this fashion that his work is much complicated by the irrepressible after of his victims.
From Dudley to an export through the field is agreeable pleasant walk, and is a path much affected by the lovers of both places, who can saunter along, under trees and hedgerows, uttering their passionate pledges of never ceasing devotion to the rippling accompaniment of old Seaton Burn, who was at this part of his course rattle's merrily amide small coals and pebbles on his way to the sea. When I say that Annitsford cannot be entered from the south without crossing the burn, the etomology of the place is quite evident, though I was unable to learn anything about the man who gave his name to the Ford. Anit has gone, a substantial stone bridge now spans the stream, and the ford has gone, but the brook still murmurs to refrain -"Men may come and men may go, but I flow on for ever".
The greater part of Annitsford is owned by a person, he too, from the condition of most of the houses, seems more solicitous about the receipt of his rent and the comfort and convenience of his tenants, who are housed in miserable little cribs, with well-worn brick floors, pigeon cotes of attics, and little peep-hole windows. A few of the houses of somewhat better class of than these diminutive cottages, and after the Catholic chapel and schools (which are elegantly and substantially built) Clarke Villa is the most conspicuous building in the place. Very a Irish in appearance is Annitsford. A few gaunt porkers and discontented-looking Cocks and hens roam at large near the place, so that really it is not difficult by a stretch of the imagination to idealised a place in Goldsmith's -
"sweet smiling village, the loveliest of the lawn.
Thy sport's are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn,
One only master grasps the whole domain.
And half a village stints they smiling plain".
As a general rule, the coal -owners are the owners of the cottages in which their workmen dwell, and, as a matter of course, they are blamed for the bad conditions of many of the villages in the district; but our experience tends to show that where property of this sort is owned by landlords who have built for speculation as at Annitsford, Choppington and elsewhere -it is allowed to deteriorate and sink into a far worse condition than any belonging rejoining collieries.
In conclusion, and we have a few words to say about the prevailing vice of Dudley- pitch and toss. The vice is not peculiar the Dudley, but it seems were very firm hold in the village, and all attempts to dislodge it seem in vain. Now, most men have some respect for Sunday as a day of rest; but here, at Dudley -and again, Dudley is not singular- Sunday is not that all held sacred by the pitchers and tossers, who on that day, hold high carnival, and coins may be seen spinning aloft among the hedge rows to the accompaniment off "heads a croon", or "Tails a shilling". Gambling in itself is bad, and the gambling of the pitmen is no worse than the gambling of others who indulge in its excitement; but to bet on the spinning of two pennies seems so ridiculously absurd that, making all due were allowances for the passion of Englishman to back their opinion, we cannot help wondering at the folly of men who are content to form an opinion and hazard money on the whirl of a coin. It is a game at which the man with the least brains has the best chance to win, where no skill or muscular exertion is and quite required, and when no faculty or passion is called into action save the craving, sordid desire to possess the money of another. If the Northumberland pitmen who gambles in this fashion has money to spare and superfluous energy to work off, let him, in God's name, throw away this senseless amusement, and turn his energy into other channels. Let him play at ball, and a quoits, or cricket; let him row, or dance, or swim, or even back his opinion in these matters in his hours of leisure; but, as a first step to nobler sports and pastimes, let him abjure the stupid game of pitch and toss. What is wanted to check the vice is the formation and expression of a sound public opinion among the miners' against this folly, which is only patronised by a small majority. Let the majority, who detested it, set their faces hard against both the game and its players, and they will do more to abolish it entirely than the whole statute books of repressive legislation.
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