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.
Newcastle Brown Ale is a bottled beer introduced by Newcastle Breweries in 1927 and produced in one or other of the city's breweries until 2005 when production transferred to Gateshead, then later to North Yorkshire. It remains a North East iconic product, often called simply 'Broon' by the locals or, occasionally, 'Dog'. Newcastle Amber was a weaker sister product to Brown Ale, and was considered by some to be largely a woman's drink.
In the late 1950s and 1960s locally-born opera singer Owen Brannigan sang on a TV ad for Newcastle Brown Ale to the tune of local ballad Cushy Butterfield:
If you want a drink that's perfection indeed,
I'll give you a guide to fulfilling your need,
At home by your fireside, in club or in bar,
The sign of good taste is the famous Blue Star.
It's a strong beer it's a bottled beer, with the north's biggest sale...
For complete satisfaction, Newcastle Brown Ale!
The original TV ad seems to have been lost, but here is an interesting curiosity. In November 1972 famous Geordie rock band Lindisfarne were recording in New York when there was a technical hitch with one of the instruments. To fill in the time, band member Rod Clements sang the song impromptu - this recording has been preserved. Click on the image below to hear it.
In this story the boys raid the kitchen for money-off vouchers from tins and packets, and dividend cards from Black & Greens tea to exchange half-price to an unscrupulous general dealer - a common practice at the time.
Popeye first appeared on British television in 1958 on ITV, although the little sailor man, created by Elzie Crisler Segar had been around in comic strip form since 1929. The stories often featured the rivalry of Popeye and the villainous Bluto for the affections of the unfeasibly skinny Olive Oyl. When Popeye found himself unequal to a particular task he often reached inside his vest for a tin of spinach that he would crunch open and down in one swallow. The spinach multiplied his strength to superhero proportions. Anecdotal evidence suggested that the popularity of Popeye was responsible for a boost in the consumption of the healthy vegetable by children in the USA.
Some Popeye catchphrases:
"I yam what I am."
"Open sez me."
"Blow me down."
Enjoy the Popeye theme tune on Youtube with some images and clips from the cartoon.
Many northern working class families once relied on their Provident cheques as a handy and easily-obtained form of credit. The 'Provi' agent was a regular caller at many homes, and was often regarded as a family friend. (The author's mother-in-law started as a Provi agent in Ashington and Morpeth in the 1950s and continued in the job for over forty years.) The company still exists and is now called Provident Financial . It dates back to 1880 when an insurance agent in Bradford Joshua Kelley Waddilove witnessed at first hand how some working class families struggled to pay for essential items such as furniture, clothes and shoes. He devised a system to help families provide for themselves through the use of vouchers which could be exchanged in local shops for clothing, food and coal. The families then repaid the vouchers in small weekly instalments. The company marketed itself on affordability, though in reality the interest rates were (and are) very high compared to other forms of credit, and Provident has often attracted criticism for that.
Another downside of the cheque system that prevailed in the old days was that only certain shops accepted Provident cheques. Doggarts, the shop featured in the story, was one of them.
Dan Dare was a British science fiction comic book hero popular in a 1950s comic, The Eagle. He was known as 'the pilot of the future', the future being envisaged as the 1990s. His arch enemy was The Mekon, ruler of the Treens of Northern Venus.
Dan Dare stories were dramatised 7 days a week for a time in the 1950s by Radio Luxembourg.
Here is a tongue-in-cheek 1950s-style trailer for Dan Dare:
There was a surprising number of horses and carts in and around Ashington in the late 1950s. Some were in commercial service (including a butcher called Wheatley who sold meat door to door with a horse and cart that attracted lots of flies in the summer); many were in use by sea-coalers, scavengers for coal washed out to sea and collected on the shores of Newbiggin, Lynemouth and Cresswell.
Seacoaling went on until the demise of the pits at the end of the twentieth century. Here's a short film about seacoaling around the area .
A few of the horses to be seen around town or in the nearby fields, were retired pit ponies, still employed for haulage in North East mines at the time of the story and, in the case of Ellington Colliery, for a good while afterwards. Even as late as 1984, 55 pit ponies were still in use according to the National Coal Board in Britain, and the majority of these were at work in Ellington.
In the short story Steady the boy's sister Rose works at the cake decoration factory, Culpitt of Ashington. This factory provided a steady source of employment, especially for women, in Ashington. An American family company originally established in 1921, Culpitt's Ashington factory was opened in the 1940s, and amazingly is still in operation on the same site today. Over the years they have made many types of cake decoration including metallised plastics, artificial flowers and wafer roses. They are now owned by DecoPac.
Courtesy of the company, here are pictures of some of the workforce from around this time.
Doggarts, the department store in Ashington was based on the town's main street, Station Road. It was a branch of a family store headquartered in Bishop Auckland. Between 1895 and its liquidation in 1981 this local firm opened and closed a total of 17 shops around the North East.
Burberry is a British fashion house. Until 1955 it was an independent company, well-respected for its style. It retains some of that image today, though it has been somewhat tarnished by an association with chav style. The image on the left is typical of the kind of coat Rose buys for Vince in the story.
At the time Rose and Peter go to the Mayfair, the craze is for rock 'n' roll. The following video clip, although it's American, shows the typical dancing style. It features the music of Bill Haley and the Comets, who helped start the rock 'n' roll revolution in Britain when they arrived to tour shortly after the success of the film Blackboard Jungle.
Shane is a 1953 Western based on the novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer. Alan Ladd stars as a stranger who wanders into town and becomes reluctantly involved in a conflict between the simple homesteaders and the powerful cattle baron who is trying to force them off their land. Joey is the young son of the household where Shane stays to work. The boy hero-worships the gunslinger Shane and contrasts him with his father Joe Starrett, whom he wrongly believes to be a coward. The plot is complicated by Shane's attraction to Starrett's wife, which is reciprocated but never consummated - eventually the stranger (who has been wounded, perhaps fatally, by a gunshot) rides off into the sunset after eliciting a promise from Joey that he will look after the family.
Enjoy the trailer to this great Fifties classic.
This part of the story Steady is based on a real life event. Reproduced below is a report of an inquest into the deaths that occurred as a result of the accident referred to in the story, a van falling into the River Wansbeck. Some of the people involved in this unfortunate accident were friends of the author's older sisters but the story he weaved around it is fictional. For narrative purposes the location has been moved to another bridge across the river, and the day the crash happened has been changed from a Friday to a Saturday, but otherwise the account Rose gives of the accident coincides with the facts. The newspaper article is fascinating not least for the unsensational coverage of the bravery displayed by the constables who came to the rescue and for the casual attitude shown at the time not only by the young men at centre of the incident but by the authorities to the issue of drinking and driving.
From the Ashington & District Advertiser Friday 20 September 1957
(reproduced by permission)
Young driver tells about death plunge
It was revealed at Monday’s inquest on two young men who lost their lives when a motor van crashed through a fence and plunged into the River Wansbeck that one of them – James Edward Douglas (23), of Bywell Road, Ashington – died of heart failure when trapped in the submerged vehicle.
The other victim – Harry Jolley (23), of Tenth Row, Ashington – was drowned, and his body found under a shelf of rock in the river the following day.
William Rickard of Newbiggin Road, driver of the van, and George Lawrence Coutts, of Simonside Terrace, Newbiggin escaped by climbing on to the vehicle as it lay in the river. They were rescued by Constables Joseph Kelly and John Leslie, who were commended by Coroner Hugh Percy for a “brave effort under such difficult conditions.”
Coutts, in evidence, said the party of four arrived in Morpeth at about 8.15 on the Friday night of August 23, and visited three public houses. At the first each had two glasses of cider and two bottles of stout, at the second two half pints of beer, at the third a half pint of beer, a glass of cider, and a bottle of stout.
Dr. J.B. Davison said that both bodies had traces of alcohol in them when a post mortem examination was carried out. Concerning Douglas, the doctor said:
“He had a diseased heart and any shock or severe physical exertion could have killed him at any time.”
“He probably had the disease for some time previously and was unaware of it.”
Coroner Percy said in his summing up: “There is no suggestion that the driver was under the influence of drink in the sense that he was drunk.”
“At the same time it seems to me rather sad to think that youths of this age should, in one and a half hours or thereabouts, have consumed this quantity of drink in three public houses.”
“Of course the laws of this country – although I think personally, unhappily – do not prescribe that cars must not be driven after the consumption of alcohol. How far that exact co-ordination between mind, hand and foot, which is so essential for safe driving, may be impaired by alcohol we do not know,” said the Coroner.
“We must not assume because an accident has occurred that it was due to alcohol,” he added.
A statement made by Rickard on August 24 was read by Sgt. J. Byers. In this he said that he left home about 7.25 p.m. on August 23 to meet Coutts at a Laburnum Terrace, Ashington, cycle shop. “Then” he continued: “Harry Jolly and Jimmy Douglas came along.”
They went to Morpeth, drank in three public houses and then had a supper of chips, peas and egg, at about 10 p.m.
He was driving back to Ashington, with the roads wet, and had just arrived at the series of bends near East Mill when he felt a sensation of skidding. He put on the foot brake but they went through the fence into the Wansbeck.
He got out on to the side of the van.
“I have never had such an amount of drink before when I have driven a van but I was certainly not drunk,” he had said.
Mr. Hedley Proctor, of Hawthorne Cottage, Morpeth, said that he was driving towards Morpeth from Ashington when he saw pieces of wood in the roadway. He stopped to clear them away, and then noticed the van in the river.
It was a very black and showery night: the sort of night when he did not like driving, he said.
To the Rescue
P.C. Kelly found a number of cars parked near the scene of the accident, one of them shining its lights upon the van, which was on its side, 15 feet from the bank. He immediately stripped, and with a rope swam out to it. The river was not in spate but there was heavy rain.
After taking the survivors off the submerged van P.C. Kelly tried to get the body of Douglas out. P.C. Leslie went to his aid. They took the ignition key from the dashboard and opened the rear door to recover the body.
There were 35 feet of railings broken down where the van entered the river, said P.C. Leslie. On the other side of the fence was eight feet of bank and an eight feet drop to the river. The van was five or six yards out into the river.
Mr. Percy said there was very little evidence to go on to satisfy the jury as to the cause of the accident. The driver said he felt a skid and there was a possibility that the van had skidded.
The jury returned the following verdict:
That the deaths occurred in accordance with medical evidence by reason of the car leaving the road, the reason for which is not clear in the evidence.
They added a rider stressing the urgency for this part of the road to be made safer.