Mabel Brown (née Smith)
West and East Sleekburn
Published in "A Creeful of Coals" in November 2007,
ever a great Northumbrian,
these words were written two years before she died in 2000.
HOME THOUGHTS at random
about my Colliery Village
At the 'top' Methodist chapel (Wesleyan) in West Sleekburn we had a large and thriving Sunday School. I was one of the teachers and remember Jack and Sydney Howie as keen members along with the Hindmarsh boys whose uncle, Henry Heatley, was an outstanding member of the Chapel. Mr Heatley was also a teacher in the Sunday School and sang tenor in the choir along with Jack Johnson and George Gleghorn, who was on the baritone side. Robin Ferguson was the organist, who needed the assistance of one of the boys to pump air into the organ.
Many of the families from West Sleekburn will remember Sunday School anniversaries that were held on Whit Sunday, when in the morning the teachers and children went around the streets singing the loved Hymns of friends and neighbours. We had a little portable organ which Willie Woods kept accompaniment. At the afternoon and evening services in the Chapel, the Sunday School would sing special songs and recite poems. Of course the occasion was enhanced by the girls wearing new dresses and patent leather shoes. The boys well scrubbed.
The local branch of the Bedlington Co-operative Society was beside the Chapel and almost everyone shopped there, not only for the dividend that was paid to members but, in the days of limited transport, it was a most handy shopping place. It had grocery and drapery departments and overhead it had a large hall which was a convenient venue for dances and also for our school productions as the old school did not have a hall.
Every summer we had a Sunday School trip which chose over the years a number of various places to visit, the buses picking up the children at the Chapel. At Eastertide the children were given hard-boiled coloured eggs and often a large Jaffa orange by their neighbours and friends.
We had carol singing at Christmas, which was regularly held until the 1950s. My poor husband, after a day's work and a journey from Edinburgh by train and bus to East Sleekburn, would have something to eat and was then 'commanded' by my father, Pearson Smith, to get ready to join the carol singing party, which toured West Sleekburn starting at about 9 pm and finishing at about 3 am at East Sleekburn for tea and mince pies. Eddie Holden, Jim Sealey, Margaret Tait and George Gleghorn were amongst the regular carollers. My husband remembers as they went from house to house the response to the invitation "What carol to you want?" was most likely to be "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night" which had to include the very tuneful chorus of 'The Bells!' These were happy days!
My thoughts go back to walking on the Longriggs with my grandfather, Jim Smith, and he could always be persuaded to make my brother and myself a whistle, which he carved out of a branch. His warning still rings clear : on Easter Sunday you must always wear something new or else the craws will'cackie' on you. . . happy days indeed!