My dad was born in the next village up from Blackhall. His dad was from Sunderland. I know little about my grandfather (he was knocked down and killed in Blackhall long before I was born) but in them days, men, and their families, moved around from pit to pit, going where the work was. And there was plenty work to be had in Blackhall. So when my dad was a young boy they loaded all their meagre possessions onto a cart and headed off down the road to Blackhall.
My grandfather worked in the pit whilst my dad, and his siblings, went off to the ‘school with the tin roof’. Like many people back then they were very poor. My grandfather was a Quaker and I remember my Auntie Margaret telling me that one Christmas when they had nothing a hamper was delivered to them courtesy of the Quaker Society. When I didn’t get what I expected for Christmas I was often regaled with tales of how I should be grateful, that back in the day kids only got an orange or a few nuts or, if they were really lucky, a comic in their stocking.
In the summer they were give a butty with either jam on, although many a time they could only afford to put a bit of butter on it. And then they were gone, off out to play, never seen for the rest of the day, finding simple fun in building dens or climbing
trees, or as my Auntie Margaret told me once, putting a pin on the railway tracks to see what would happen when the train ran over it.
My dad was quiet and studious and he was offered a place at grammar school but, like many boys of that age, he chose to leave and go work at the pit. For young boys, and girls, fetching money home was more important than education. And with the exception of a stint in the army at the tail end of the second world war he remained working at the pit until an accident put paid to his working life . It was a Sunday and he shouldn’t really have been working. He’d swapped a shift to help out a mate. One of the wagons had cut loose. He managed to jump out of the way but his foot got caught and the wheel sliced through it. What was left of his boot was the only thing holding his foot together and if it wasn’t for the insistence of the pit doctor to keep it on he would have lost his foot altogether. He was kept in hospital for a while. He got gangrene and had to have numerous skin grafts but, eventually, he was discharged home, complete with a limp and a walking stick. But that didn’t stop him wanting to return to work. He felt he was quite capable of working on the surface if only they’d let him but he was refused, pensioned off, and that was the end of his working career at the age of 57.