November 16, 2008

Bellingham's Noble Street Kids: Weshin Day & the claes lines

Northumberland Farming History - a village childhood remembered.

By Clive Dalton

When I see my grandkids, constantly within sight of a carer, playing in protected areas approved by Health & Safety authorities, I often wonder how we Noble Street (Snoggy Gate) kids ever survived.

The “fell” (field/moorland) was our playground – and it provided a world ranging from childish fantasy and grownup reality. All you needed for action was the words – “hey, get the footbasll oot,” or “Aam ganin te the Blue Heaps – are ye cumin”?

The fell behind the 10 houses in the street was part of Breckons’s Foundry Farm and had endless possibilities for us kids. Its different types of herbage had a big influence on what we could do and where - and what we could find.

There was the green area next to the houses which was like a lawn, kept short by the grazing sheep. As a result we had to accept the “sheep dottles” as a normal part of this. Further out the herbage changed to bent grass with its “bull snoots” among which you could find the nests of skylarks and curlews. Then there was the heather at the back of the fell next to the Woodburn Road where you may find a red grouse.

If we fancied a bit of “moor burning” (without Breckons’s permission) this is where we would try to “git the fire ganin”, and then panic to try to put it oot! You could guarantee a good gollarin when we got heme that night as we stunk of smoke.

The slightly scary frog ponds were at the back of the fell as nobody dare plumb their depth and we were always scared we fell in to a bottomless pit which devoured all the “product” dumped from the street’s five ash pits and netties two or three times a year.

The grassy area next to the houses was used primarily as the drying green for the houses on weshin day, again with two houses sharing the one wire washing line and claethes prop. On Mondays you never failed to hear the possin (pounding) of the claes in the wooden tubs (barrels) that every house all had for the job. Where the barrels came from I never knew. The wooden poss sticks were turned on a lathe, probably from ash or sycamore that could take constant wetting and drying. The business end was cut into four sections to aid pounding the wet clothes, and the top end was nicely rounded with a stick handle inserted right though to give a good grip.

After possin the clothes were put through a large wooden roller mangle, with great big cogs protected by a cover from small fingers. It was a two person job where the feeder of the claes could easily get their fingers squeezed by an over zealous mangle handle turner.

Later on, progress was a galvanised tub, and a posser made of a copper with holes in it like a colander which let water in and out when you possed. Then, when you really got rich, you went fully mechanical with a Ewebank washer where you turned a handle to agitate the clothes in a square tub or tank. This had a small mangle with rubber rollers fitted to it which sat on the top. The handle folded in when not in use. What luxury it was just turning the handle in half circles with no thumping of the posser in the tub.

The clothes line was a permanent stranded wire stretched from a netty (through the ventilation hole) to a long post at the other end which always worked loose in the ground as Breckons’s horse (Tom) loved to scratch his hint end on it. Stapling bits of barbed wire around the post didn’t seem to stop him – in fact he seemed to enjoy the experience even more! In wet weather, water got doon the hole and eventually it would faaall ower or cum oot.

You prayed for a good drying day on the Monday or else you had to face a steamy Monday night as the clothes hung up in the house on the line infront of the fire. And you could guarantee that “fettles” would not be good either!

The Noble Street kids - Weltons, Cowans, Smiths, and Masons sitting on the fell having probably their first photo taken on Clive's Box Brownie given to him by neighbour Margie Davidson. The exposed films had to be taken to George Cordiner the village pharmacist and you got them back in a few days after they'd been to Hexham for processing.

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