Housey Housey was another name for bingo or lotto. The name comes from the cry of House from a player who has just marked the last number on her/his card, thus getting a winning 'full house'.
In Ashington, as the story mentions, the first large-scale commercial games of bingo started in the Trade Union Hall, then in the 1920s art-deco-style Arcade building of the Co-operative Society (which also held popular dances).
Here is the Ashington Co-op as it looks today, closed and waiting for a buyer:
Later, in the 1960s, one of the original five cinemas in Ashington, the Pavilion (locally known as 'the Piv') closed down and became a bingo hall. Here is the Pavilion as it looks today, still operating as a bingo hall:
From the Ashington & District Advertiser Friday 20 December 1957
(Reproduced by permission)
IT’S JUST A KID’S GAME BUT IT’S FUN
For the men it’s great news. A way has been found of keeping women quiet and at the same time happy. This 20th Century miracle has been achieved by housey-housey, the latest craze in Ashington and other pit villages.
To see large crowds of women happily silent you have to visit a large scale housey get-together like the one that does business once a week at the Arcade, the largest public concert hall in the town.
There each Wednesday night from 7.30 to 10, if you are a member, you can join about 400 other people – mostly women – who concentrate passionately on a simple kid’s game, once the pastime of bored and browned-off soldiers and sailors.
Here, because there is money in it for a lucky few, your can see 400 people reverently bent over their numbered cards and covering figures with tokens as the numbers are drawn at random from a bag and shouted by callers at the silent fascinated players.
Fifteen numbers must you cover on your card to win a prize of £2 or £3, and the quiet breathless tension mounts as the cancelled out numbers begin to pile up.
Suddenly someone somewhere in the packed hall exultantly cries “full house”. Most probably it is a woman, for the women far outnumber the men at these astonishing affairs.
The tension snaps. Tight shut lips open, still tongues begin to wag. The beehive comes to life, buzzing noisily. The surging tide of talk is a mixture of congratulation, relief, envy and large dollops of disappointment. Everybody tells her neighbour how near she was to hitting the jackpot…if only…if only…
Briskly the completed card is publicly and loudly checked, then the caller sings out “house correct”, and they need no appeals or exhortations to shut up. They are eager to get on with the next round. No preacher in Ashington ever received such absorbed attention for prayer or sermon as do these businesslike dialect speaking callers as they declaim numbers, and still more numbers, nothing but numbers. Like a blanket silence falls again on the great gathering. To miss a number would be disastrous.
Some drag deeply at cigarettes as they crouch over their cards, some suck sweets while others abstractedly munch potato crisps all handily available at a snack bar counter.
And housey housey is not without its fashions. There are intriguing preferences in counters which the players use in covering up the numbers.
Some use neat, plastic ones, others utilise tiddley-winks, some cover-up with shirt buttons, and at least one favours white back studs, which, being fitted with a tiny knob, are easily picked and put down like tiny ivory chessmen.
One woman player candidly admits that she genuinely enjoys Housey-Housey every night in the week. All insist they are having fun, and certainly between sessions the animated, friendly groups round the tables appear gay and free of troubles.
It is, of course, the money they’re after, and from my own experience of having a go with one half-a-crown card, it can be darned exciting waiting for only two numbers to come out of the bag for a completed card and a “snowball” or cumulative prize of £10.
On the other hand a good time is being had by all. No effort is needed, and we are all Geordie’s bairns together.
Thought for Others
In the background is the intention to use profits for the purchase of a large television set for the local hospital so that a handful of winners, the large army of losers, and the hard working organisers of this kid’s game with grown-up money prizes may feel that what they are doing with their nights and spare cash is not entirely a wasteful, self-interested enterprise.