A Pesspool Childhood
1939 -44 Lucy Chaffer, daughter of Stan and Susie Chaffer was born in December 1939 at Pesspool Hall Farm, Haswell, home of her maternal grandparents, Jack and Sanna Clark. Her paternal grandparents, George and Jenny Chaffer farmed at nearby Fleming Field Farm, Shotton. Lucy recalls her memories of those early years.
Every summer we would go by car onto the moors near Burnhopefield to pick bilberries (blaeberries as Granddad called them. I sat down in the middle of a patch of bilberries on one occasion and my knickers never came clean in the wash ever again! Grandma used to dye the prettiest hard boiled eggs at Easter using ferns, primroses and fabric that was not dye-fast as well as Dolly Blue, beetroot and onion skins. My last conversation with her before she died was her telling me how to dye eggs. Oxbridge Farm
Frances Annie remembers an old gypsy caravan in the orchard and used as a play house by Susie, Jennie and herself. When the twins were small Grandma had a ‘live-in’ girl to help her. She was called Dolly Glew. She married one of the farm hands and they emigrated to Canada. She and Grandma corresponded for a while and she sent a recipe for Canadian Lemon Meringue Pie which Grandma apparently made in a deep dish on special occasions (a rare delicacy remembered by Frances Annie) for several years – long before it became the now popular dish (without the prefix ‘Canadian’). Pesspool Hal l Granddad and Grandma Clark moved to Pesspool Hall Farm, Haswell as tenant farmers in 1929 when Stockton Corporation bought the land at Oxbridge for house building. I was born at Pesspool Hall – my father worked for Granddad after falling out with his own father who had a farm only a few miles away. Granddad Chaffer paid him 2/6 a week for working at Fleming Field Farm and this was reluctantly raised to 10/- after I was born. Granddad Clark paid better wages and we got a roof over our heads and our keep too. Mam worked on the farm and was actually driving the tractor till only a few hours before I was born – she said that was why she had such bad varicose veins. I had a cot made from a Gold Flake carton. I have only vague memories of Pesspool – a large billiard table which had a cover so it became a dining table, deep cupboards where I hid to practise whistling like the ‘farm lads’ much to Grandma’s disgust. She’d quoate the old adage ‘A whistling woman and a crowing hen are loved by neither God nor men’ whenever she heard me whistling, a cellar where we sat during air raids (Grandma apparently clutching a biscuit tin containing all the important family documents), a large dog kennel in the corner of the yard where Lassie, the collie lived – she was I believe killed on the railway line – and where I once hid to escape a ‘telling off’. Frances Annie can remember college professors coming to Pesspool wanting to unblock a brick wall inside a cupboard. They believed this was the entrance to a secret passage to Durham Cathedral used by priests during Henry VIII’s religious prosecution. Granddad Clark sent them away because he did not want a lot of ‘mess’ in the house. There was also a dovecote which became a listed building and which was restored in the 1990’s. Frances Annie and her friends had a raft on the duck pond and, when the raft sank (as it often did) they’d emerge covered in leeches which had to be picked off by hand. There was also a miniature golf course laid out beyond the duck pond for them to play on (Mary Jane, betty and Mary Nick played there too.) and a rope swing in the tree over the pond. Frances Annie like to climb into the
tree and could read in peace there. I can remember the only time my father ever smacked me – I had been told to stop playing and go in to go to bed. I said ‘No!’ and ran away down the road towards the Hind’s house. Dad chased me, caught me and belted me with his leather belt. There was the duck pond, the stack yard (I apparently once sat on the rungs of the ladder there and thought it was the toilet) and an attic where I was playing while Mam and Frances Annie gossiped. They were talking about uncle B.O.B. and thought I couldn’t spell – I let the cat out of the bag by asking them why they were saying things about uncle Bob. Apparently I’d insist that I was big enough to take Granddad, Mam and Dad their ‘bait’ at lunchtime when they were working in fields fairly near the farm. I was so small that the can of tea would bump on the ground as I walked and there was very little tea left when I got there. I remember Mrs Wasson coming to collect National Savings (she had a son, Norman, who wanted to be a farmer despite his father’s ( a local maths teacher) opposition. His father allowed him to work on the farm briefly until he joined the RAF. Jack Herring and his son Johnny, Philip and Maude Featonby – whose Alsatian dog was donated to the Army when Philip was ‘called up’. There were also Louie and Jack Reay who were my godparents. Louie was a cockney and, so I have been told, once asked for ‘best bawn battons’ (best bone buttons) and no one knew what she wanted. I remember going to Haswell Station to meet Grandma and Granddad returning from their one and only holiday in Carlisle (or possibly Berwick-upon-Tweed). Frances Annie remembers the huge cast iron kitchen range with its side oven and boiler. Above this was two wooden clothes drying rails lowered by pulleys. When it was poultry packing time the dead birds were hung from these. Frances Annie’s task at this time was to use a metal plate of burning methylated spirits to singe of the stubs of feathers that remained after the plucking. I can remember herbs hanging up there to dry for winter use and hams hanging up to be cured in the smoke as well as hanging my Christmas stocking up there. World War II
Both Granddad and my father were in the Home Guard and dad also worked in the evening at the nearby Tuthill Quarry driving lorry loads of explosives. The Quarry was owned by Northern Sabulyte (later ICI) and dealt in gunpowder. I vaguely recall going into the cellar during air raids and Grandma clutching a biscuit tin to her chest. I always thought it contained biscuits although it was never opened – later I was told it held all the important documents. A German air raid on 11th August 1941(?) lead to German planes offloading unused bombs as they flew over Haswell. Granddad lost several cows through shrapnel and the horse had its coat singed off, leaving it looking very strange. Saddest of all was the loss of the foal who had its hooves blown off. It managed to stagger to its mother’s side before it died. Frances Annie and her school friend Jean Howie watched the raid from the top of a haystack.