Maurice Legg

Chapter 3 …Growing up in Consett


On reflection my life up to the age of 5 was unexceptional and can be abbreviated. It left me with no hang-ups other than an aversion to washing – something like Queen Victoria who took a bath once a year even though she didn’t need one. Of course we didn’t have a bathroom, only a tin bath, so a bath wasn’t a pleasant experience, especially if it was your turn to be last and the water was cold and dirty. Not for nothing is the North known as the land of the great unwashed.


When I was 5 year old my father decided that he had to get a better job. Today one expects to change jobs and better oneself but that was not always so. The contrary was more generally the case. Men (few women worked) stumbled into a job of some sort postman, milkman, farmhand. tradesman of some sort or pitman when they left school at 14 and stayed in that job for the rest of their lives. If you were lucky enough to have a job, you hung on to it like grim death. My father applied and was given a job at Consett, in a larger signal cabin and at the higher wage of 2.10s. 6d per week. It is true that was worth more than it is today but don’t get carried away since it was almost poverty. We could however afford shoes so it wasn’t real poverty!


On a Saturday in June 1931, my father brought all of us to see Consett for the first time and a pretty desperate sight it was. In a sense I knew of Consett since its signature, a large black and red mushroom cloud, was visible 20 miles away and I knew that it was under there somewhere. It was a large steel working town and the first impression was that it was a stinking place out of hell with a permanent cloud of smoke hanging over it and an overwhelming, ever present, sulphurous smell. The day when we went was somewhat breezy mitigating the smoke and the stink but the wind blew the dust all over and into our eyes. It was so unpleasant that even today I can clearly and vividly visualise my first impression of the scene.


But the town and the environment weren’t the end of it. We then went to see the house which the railway company would rent to us for 50d per week. It was one of a block of 6 called “Railway Cottages”  The railway name was appropriate since a major railway line ran along the back garden (if we’d had a garden that is) Cottages was a euphemism for a block of 6 houses in a row. Whoever named this slum “Railway Cottages” had a sense of humour! Our house had two rooms downstairs and two upstairs and had an outside loo and an outside cold water tap. In one of the downstairs rooms there was a fireplace for cooking and an open boiler to heat the water for the weekly wash. A tin bath completed the toilet provisions. Figure  is the view from the back door (the only door)


My mother was visibly shaken and argued for staying where we were but ultimately she accepted it. The house in which we were then living in had few facilities and was much the same size but at least the air was fresh. In the end we moved house and then lived in “Railway Cottages” for several years and in Consett for many more- in fact my parents lived in Consett for the rest of their lives albeit in better housing. People ask me how long I lived in the North of England and I answer that I “escaped” when I was 18. They think I’m being funny but you and I now know differently!

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