The Netherton I Remember
(It's the little things)

Tom Mondon
(From The Blackcountryman volume 2, issue 1)

At the cottage where I was born my parents kept pigs; for domestic use and not for sale. In those days, restrictions were limited. Pig-rearing was common among people living away from the town. Even in built up areas many did the same, providing the pig-sty was not too close to the house! In fact, pigs, fowl and gardens were often the means whereby families kept above the subsistence level. I cannot remember any time of the years when sides (flitchins) of bacon and large hams were not hanging in the pantry.

I can well remember the 'ritual' when a pig was to be killed. First it was arranged for a butcher to come over to the house on a given day. Shortly before he arrived, boilers were filled with water, which was brought to boiling point. Then a large round tub about 18 inches to 2 feet deep was got ready, and the pig laid on a bench for killing.

For me, pig killing was always a gruesome business. The poor beast was approached by the butcher with a long, sharp knife, and his throat was cut. Ugh!! The piercing squeals as the blood drained away were unnerving. When dead, the carcase was placed in the tub of boiling water and scraped to remove the bristles. I am not happy telling this, but simply do so in order to illustrate the way things were done when I was a boy. I will admit, however, that I was happy to see the ham and bacon being cooked in front of the fire.

Fire-places then were of the black, grate type - a 4- or 5-barred well for the fire with a space for the ashes underneath. At either side of the fire was an oven - sometimes large - the top of which was called a hob. Saucepans and kettles were brought to the boil on the hobs. Two ways of cooking I well remember ..... one by a 'dutch oven' or 'toaster' and the other by 'meat jack' or 'spit'. The 'toaster' was concave in shape, with several hooks on which bacon or slices of meat were hung, and the base was a kind of pan into which the dripping fat fell as the bacon was cooking. It rested on 'strides' close up to the fire-place bars. The 'strides' were loops of metal about 18 inches long, with a hook at each end of the loop, which enabled it to be hooked to the fire-bars.

The 'meat-jack' was used to hang a joint of meat in front of the fire-bars, with a pan placed underneath - resting on strides - to catch the dripping fat as the joint was cooking. The 'jack' consisted of a length of metal bracketed to the mantle-piece above the fire-grate, having a hook on which the 'spit' hung. At the end of the spit was a further hook to hold the meat. During the cooking process the spit made a half-way rotating movement; more often by the hand of one of the family, but sometimes, if it was of better quality, by a winding, clockwork mechanism. Fire-place and grate were recessed into the chimney breast. Almost every day the grate was 'black-leaded' i.e. grate polish applied and vigorously brushed until a nice bright shine appeared .... rather hard work! I know, because I have done it for my mother.

My parents, as did most, baked bread, brewed beer and made wine. Many times did I help with the baking; kneaded the dough, greased the bread tins, and helped prepare the baking-oven. The oven, usually in an out-house, was heated by burning wood and coal. When it was thought the oven was sufficiently heated, the embers were withdrawn and the tins of dough put in to bake. When making wine we used balm for fermentation and many times I fetched three penny-worth of balm from a local brewery. Speaking of the brewery reminds me that wagon-loads of brewery sugar (lumps as big as a boy's hand) were often seen in the brewery yard .... well, will you condemn us if we went furtively along the wagons to see if we could find a bag of sugar with a hole in it? In view of the fact that I was made to go to Sunday School twice a day, and to church also, perhaps it was naughty of me.

The highlight of my Sunday School days was the annual treat. This was held on the local cricket-field, weather permitting. There we played games, took part in sporting competitions, and scrambled for sweets thrown by the teachers. One game amuses me when I think about it: it was called 'kissing ring'. We would form a ring, with one standing in the middle. As the game began, the 'ring' would walk singing around the one in the centre. At a given signal, movement and singing would stop, and the one in the middle chose one from the ring and kissed him or her, as the case may be. I remember being disappointed if I wasn't chosen. Later on, taking stock of myself, I ceased to wonder why!

The Sunday School anniversary was not a happy day. Our parents dressed us in the best they could find, and we walked in procession around the streets. Usually I was uncomfortable and embarrassed, conscious that the clothes my parents could afford did not permit me to keep up with the Jones's.

About once a week, a horse and cart would tour the streets laden with lump salt, and sometimes with white sand. It was brought by Gornal people who were continually shouting 'Want any salt or lily-white sond today?' At times we would be sent to get a piece of salt from the cart. The cost I forget now, but it would probably be a penny or twopence. The carter would saw a piece off the large block. We never had any other kind of salt in our house. I think sifted salt was then unknown. 'Lly-white sond' I never did fetch from the cart. In fact, I do not know what it was used for, but an older brother told me it was used to sprinkle on the quarry floors of a back living room. Presumably it was then lightly swept over, thus leaving a slight shiny gloss on the quarries.

Another article used for cleaning was the 'bath brick'. This was more or less the shape and size of a 9-inch ordinary brick. It was a whitish-grey colour and was used to clean knives. This was done by wetting the brick and then placing the knife flat on the brick and rubbing it along sharply until the blade was clean and polished. Many times it has been my job to get together all the knives in the home and put some 'elbow-grease' into the effort. If the knives did not shine, woe betide me. I do not know what the brick was made of. I once asked a geology tutor about the matter, but he had never seen one.


Note: I am not sure what period of the 20th century the author is describing. The article was written in or around 1969, and the author appears to be in his 60s. No mention is made of the Great War, but I imagine it is either just before, or just after this period.

(Do you have any reminiscences you would like to share? If so, no matter how long or short, send an email to the web editor and they will be included.)