‘Looking back we had more pleasures than the young have today. Now I know you won’t believe that, but our pleasures were not expensive and that is the great difference. But our year was divided up so that there was always something to look forward to and what is more, parents and whole families took part’. (Adeline Hodges, I Remember)
For this first blog post on ‘Habits, Culture & Belief’ I’m going to be mainly focusing on the traditional and cultural events that Adeline writes about in her memoir. I could not ignore while reading just how much detail she goes into about this topic and it would be a shame not to share her family’s and community’s traditions with a wider audience. The memoir gives a great insight into the traditions of a small mining town in North East England from the early to mid-1900’s. Recreational activities and pastimes, such as football and games, are also mentioned in the memoir and I will be discussing them in my second post on the theme of ‘Habits, Culture & Belief’.
Adeline writes about ceremonies such as funerals, weddings, and christenings and how they revolved around the whole community. We see this here as she writes (on funerals), ‘Now there was an occasion, alas not an uncommon one. Everybody in the Cottages would rally around the bereaved and on the day of the internment the body was brought from the house into the street and set upon chairs. The population would gather around and sing hymns’. This may sound a little unconventional from a modern reader’s perspective but the notion of singing hymns around the deceased and a sort of ‘parade’ style funeral is not altogether different from a modern day church funeral where a community would come together and grieve. Adeline goes on to tell the reader about christenings which ‘were big events, almost as big as the weddings. Even the fathers would not miss or the uncles’. From this passage we can gather that some traditional ceremonies may have been gendered events, with only the women and children in attendance if the fathers or uncles were at work. It also portrays the importance of religion to this working-class community as when a child is being christened and welcomed into the church the men feel obliged to attend. She writes here about weddings, ‘Weddings were a big occasion too. It wasn’t common for the bride to be in white. Any gay colour would do. Everyone wore buttonholes and most people walked to the church, but the bridal party went in a cab drawn by two horses gaily decorated with ribbons. All the children of the Cottages would gather’. Adeline emphasises the community spirit of this event through the phrases ‘everyone’ and ‘all the children’, this passage also shows the excitement of a wedding in the town and how everyone would celebrate together.
In her memoir Adeline highlights that, ‘our year was divided up so that there was always something to look forward to’. She goes on to list the festivities and events that happen throughout the year and keep her community busy in their leisure time. Firstly, she writes, ‘Christmas was a long period of anticipation for the children and hard work for the parents. All the houses were cleaned and new mats made in readiness’. This idea of preparing for the festive season by cleaning and making new mats for their homes indicates the significance of Christmas as a valued tradition, much like it is in modern times when people decorate their homes and ‘anticipation’ runs high. The theme of community is maintained in her memoir here as she continues to write, ‘That was how we spent winter nights, going from one neighbour to another to help with the mats’. Adeline also reflects on how, ‘celebrating the New Year was a grand occasion. Parties would last a whole week’. She discusses at length the food and drink that was prepared for days and weeks in advance by her mother and other women in the community for the festive season of Christmas and New Year. Due to Adeline’s mother’s careful planning and clever money saving her family were able to spend this traditional period in comfort and enjoy themselves.
Like Christmas and New Year, the religious festival of Easter is also mentioned in her memoir as she writes in detail about Good Friday & Easter Monday. Adeline talks of how there was a ‘big parade of all the Sunday Schools, excepting Catholics, scholars and adults marched along the main streets singing lively hymns. Nobody would miss this’. This, like her writing on christenings, shows how Adeline perceives that religion was highly valued in her childhood community of Dawdon and Seaham. Religious traditions are depicted as important in the memoir, but I believe they are perhaps overshadowed by Adeline’s deep descriptions of the community events that took place in her local area. For example she writes about ‘the big flower show held in Seaham Hall grounds’ with much nostalgic excitement, ‘big marquees were erected in the grounds. There were all kinds of side shows, and refreshment tents. That was the day of the year, for people came from all the surrounding collieries and there was great fun’. Like this flower show, she also focuses on events such as, ‘Gunpowder Plot’ (Fireworks night), the ‘Durham Miner’s Gala’, and how ‘Murphy’s Amusements’ used to visit her town every few years. All of these community events are written about in the same excited tone and wonderfully descriptive language that Adeline’s memoir is filled with, as she recalls the ‘time of great jollity’ that was had by all.
411 HODGES, Adeline, ‘I Remember’, MS, pp.250 (c.42000 words). Brunel University Library
http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/content/articles/2008/04/07/wansbeck_matters_feature.shtml (article linked to ‘making new mats’ for the home at Christmas, discovered these mats would have been called ‘proggy mats’ thanks to a researcher on Twitter)