Some things I remember, some I have researched and the remainder I link together creatively. You will not find my family in the history books, they have never been wealthy or important, those words so often go together. We are only referred to as part of a much bigger group; the working class, the workers or the ordinary mass of humanity. We didn’t invent anything or discover some amazing truth, so perhaps the best word is ordinary.

    I have been in interested in history for as long as I can remember, the wonder that things were not always as they are today. Of course in my seven decades I have seen many things change; television did not exist in my childhood, the roads were mostly empty of cars, transport was by tram car for trips into town or bus if the journey was longer than five miles. Many other aspects of daily life have improved immeasurably; most homes are warm even in the coldest winter, clean hot and cold water are readily available and almost every home has a private bathroom and toilet. When I was a young child there was no bathroom in the house, the toilet was at the bottom of the yard, my parents had three young children in five years and we all lived in two rooms. Tragically today we are returning to a position where many families do not have a decent home to live in.

    In my search for my ancestors I’ve been able to discover my great, great grandparents Thomas was born on the 4th May 1824 in Whitby and Mary was born in 1823 in Sunderland. Thomas began his working life when still a boy and it is unlikely that he ever went to school. He probably worked with his father on one of the sailing ships  that sailed out of Whitby  harbour, probably  fishing but a lucrative trade was developing in coal. Many ships sailed up the north-east coast to the mouth of the River Wear to pick up a shipment of coal to sell to the industries and homes in the south-east. Coal was mined along the banks of the Wear and loaded onto flat bottomed keels and brought down to the port where it was transferred to larger sea-going vessels. Trade was increasing every year.

    Sunderland had many pits along the river bank, many where the coal was near the surface, but in the nineteeth  century the deepest coal mine in England was developed,  coal was mined in County Durham for eight hundred years.   News spread quickly to rural areas and to Ireland, people keen to work in the new industry, left rural poverty  and flocked to the town. Wearmouth pit opened in 1835 and was soon employing hundreds of men and boys.

    Thomas did not come to work underground, he was a sailor working on the colliers. He made the town his base in the early 1840s, in 1845 he married his sweetheart Mary Thornton, he was twenty-one and Mary was twenty. They had eleven children and raised nine of them. One of his sons called William was born in 1852, he was my great-grandfather. William worked in the busy shipyards and brought up a large family, his youngest child was my grandfather George. George did go to school, in the 1890s school was compulsory and free. As soon as he left school he looked for work, most of his elder brothers worked in the ship-yards so George began there. By the early twentieth century most ship-yards had slack periods from time to time so George was not able to sign on for an apprenticeship.

George and his sweetheart Catherine married on the First February 1913 in the Register Office, they were both twenty years old. Life for a shipyard worker could be and frequently was dangerous.  Most working people married as soon as the man had a regular income. They moved into a couple rooms often in the same street as their parents and brothers and sisters. George volunteered for the First World War  in 1914, he was in service for a few weeks. His records make no statement beyond the fact that within a few weeks he was sent home. I would guess that height and fitness were not acceptable for a front line soldier. My family are round about the five foot mark, including me, unlike George I never volunteered for the army.


    My grandparents were born in the last decade of the nineteenth century, that is in the days of the powerful British Empire. The power and wealth of the Empire had little impact on their lives, there was no trickle down effect. They were able to drink tea with two spoonfuls of sugar in it and they were able to put food on the table. The ships that were built carried British goods to all corners of the world and brought back raw materials to be manufactured in Britain.

But the conditions of their daily lives are really beyond our imagining. A teenage son of thirteen shared his bed with several brothers, he had no personal items; iPhone, computer , books. the only things that belonged to him were his clothes, and they had probably belonged to an older relative before they were handed down to him. He got up early and went out to the local shops to find out if there was any fetching and carrying, or helping with deliveries he could do. My maternal grandfather Joseph learned how to look after the delivery horses, how to feed them and clean out the stables. In time he got to be in charge of the horse and cart, the most important thing was he was earning money all of which he handed over to his mother. Joseph was proud that he was doing a man’s work and gratefully accepted the pocket money he was given, just like his Dad did.

   Joseph had been to school as schooling was now free, he could read and write, add up and subtract.  When he reached the age of twelve Joseph decided that it was time to go to work. His parents were proud of him, it was time to start work there were younger sisters to look after. His father’s wage wasn’t enough to take care of the whole family.


4 thoughts on “FAMILY LIFE.

  1. I love to think that you have brought this wonderful past to reality. Times were so strict and harsh back then but nobody really grumbled for they knew no other way. They were proud to take money home for the family after a hard week’s work. How I hope this Family Life can be passed on to those who still remember when our elders used to tell us so much about the past. There really are such things. Thank you dear friend, for this brings back those times when I would listen at the feet of the elders myself, long ago…

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