I am constantly drawn to Nature. I have decided that I could never live in a city. I need to be able to see the trees and the fields, to lie in the grass and see the blue sky above me, to hear the birdsong and the rustle of the leaves as the wind blows through the branches of the trees. In Nature I feel safe, rested, calm….. I feel at peace. I feel I belong.
Every week we went on picnics in the summertime. Kids around would come and say, “Are you going to the picnic?” “Yes.” And you either got a bottle of lemonade or water, whatever, and took that with you. And sandwiches, you know, and things like that. And go off through the, what we used to call the meadows, they call them fields now, and go to different places. Neddy’s well, there was a place called Neddy’s well. At Neddy’s well there was a natural spring. And the natural spring, my dad used to go there and you could get watercress. And then he used to go across the bridge and down into the field, across from our house, and pick mushrooms. But now from what I can gather its all built up with houses. Well along that what they called the cinder path that’s the way I used to go to school. Over the bridge, down the cinder path and up to the railway station. Over the railway bridge and the school was there on the right hand side. It was what was called a Church of England endowed school. That meant that the church paid for the school where the church never paid for the Catholic school, the Catholic people had to look after their own. And they used to go round their parishioners tocollect money off them to look after their church, the Catholics did. I mean we used to collect money but we didn’t collect it like they did, you know go around the houses. I used to deliver the church magazine at one time. In one of the magazines, but I don’t think I have one, its got my name in. It says about people who delivered the magazines and its got my name in.
“I’d run up the street when the mill was about to close and stand outside waiting for my mother. And people coming out and saying, “Hello there, your mam won’t be long”. And then maybe one would come out another different night and, “oh, your mam’s going to be a long time cause she’s had a smash.”
“And what you call a smash was the shuttle had come out of the reeds and broken all the cotton. And they used to have to bring all them through the reeds again and tie them. And if it was too bad a smash they would change it and start again, if it was too bad. But if it wasn’t too bad they’d mend it and then comb it. But that part when the cloth was taken off the loom itself it was cut out. ”
I work shifts, 12 hour shifts. That’s three days a week. Which means I have spare time during the week to do stuff I enjoy. On most of my days off I go to visit my mam. She lives with three dogs. In a house we moved into in 1970, when I was 6. She’ll never leave it, except when the inevitable happens. She’s 88 so that time is creeping closer. It scares me because then I will be parentless. What will I do? I’m not sure I will cope very well. I dread it. I can’t even bear to think about it. What will I do with her house? I grew up in it. It holds so many memories. My dog, Rebel, which I got when I was 13 (alot happens when you’re 13 I’ve decided) is buried there. As are 3 other dogs, all of which I knew. There’s also a piglet, Betsy, buried in the garden (that’s another story) and a hamster and I think some gold fish. How do you let go of that?
My mam is from a certain generation. She likes to speak her mind. She’s also very loud (probably because she’s as deaf as a post) It can be embarrassing, especially when out. She’ll talk about people who are no more then a foot away, not polite comments either, and you just want a hole to swallow you up. It used to annoy me but now, even though I cringe inside, I just let her get on with it. Last time I spoke to her about it she stopped speaking to me for the rest of the day. She’s from that generation, isn’t she, not afraid to speak their mind. She’s stubborn too. Even though I’m quite happy to help around the house so often refuses to let me do anything for her. I get away with the gardening mind. That she struggles with. Its the getting up and down you see, not good for old bones. Sometimes I tell her I’m off to the toilet and then I sneak off to do the washing up, or the hoovering, or dusting. I get caught out of course because she wonders why I’m taking so long and she comes to find me. Can never get away with anything me.
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.
Trying to write a narrative to accompany this project is, for me, so difficult.
The Road to Blackhall
For many years Blackhall was no more than a village to pass through, very rarely stopping, only maybe to visit the Co-op for bread, or milk, things you run out of or have forgotten to buy at the large supermarket in the neighbouring town. I never noticed the inhabitants, never wondered who they were or what their lives were like in this ex-pit village. But I have a history that connects me to this place. It is filled with memories of my dad, Albert Anson. He lived here, he worked here, he is buried here.
I wanted to reconnect with him, with my history. I wanted to rediscover lost memories, create new ones. I have a large collection of black and white photos, some taken when we were kids, happily laughing as we played on the beach, in the garden, or sat on the back doorstep. Amongst them are photos of relatives and people I do not know, all long gone. But in these photos I find a connection with my dad. I find a connection with my past.
And now I can add to that collection of photographs. These photos that I have taken are the now of Blackhall, the people and their lives. They help me to rediscover my dad and his past, and they reconnect me to him in such a way that I could never imagine happening.
Blackhall is a survivor. Once it had a pit but now it is long gone. Once the people had employment on their doorsteps but now that is gone too. My dad was born in a neighbouring village. His dad was from Sunderland. I know little about my grandfather (he was knocked down and killed in Blackhall long before I was born) In them days men, and their families, moved around from pit to pit, going where the work was.
Thank you so much to Carol who runs Blackhall Library for allowing me to show some of the photographs that I have taken in Blackhall. It was such an honour and a pleasure. And the best bit about it was having some of the people that I’d taken photographs of come along. It was so nice to see them and that made my day. It was a bit of a whirlwind getting them ready for exhibition as I only had two weeks but I got there in the end. And even thought it was for just one night I am hoping to have them on display again soon so that more people can see them. It was a very proud moment and I hope that if my Dad was looking down he’d feel proud of me.