SCHOOLDAYS - William (Bing) Davie
I was born in Summerlee Street in 1920 and so far I've managed
to struggle through three crippling miners' strikes and a world
war. Summerlee in the early days seemed to be a community of its
own. The scheme comprised of five blocks of houses with 32 in
each row. There were no toilets. baths or even running water in
these houses except for the one block we called Bath Street. The
rest of them had an outside well between two stairs and also a
wash house and midden with dry toilets. The houses contained a
single room and kitchen with two built-in beds in the living room.
There was a big fireplace with its black surround which was regularly
polished with Zebo black lead and one could nearly see your face
in it. It also had an oven at the side but as there were no baths
at the pits the grate and oven were normally used for drying the
moleskin trousers and wet pit clothes. Lighting in the kitchen
comprised of a single gas light in the centre of the big mantelpiece.
Schooldays for the First part from five to nine years old was
spent at the Cuthill School which had four classes taught by Misses
Smith. Menzies. Donaldson and SandiIands. then you advanced to
the Public School. These days were remembered as amongst the best.
We would burn' home from school and rush out to play football.
After tea you would be back out playing kick-the-can. levo or
hunch-cuddy-hunch at the lamppost.
School holidays were great, no such things as Butlin's. Benidorm
or such places. We used to be down the shore and in the water
bathing either at the "Dookin' Hole", the Craig or at
the harbour. especially when the foreign boats came in for coal.
bricks and pipes.
Most weeks during the holidays there was always something special
on such as the Lads' meeting trip when we went to Longniddry on
Mathieson's lorries. If you missed them you had to run down the
coast road and would be there when they arrived after their circular
tour via Tranent and Macmerry. Instead of the Civic Week we had
the Miners' Gala day. It was always great, everyone dressed with
their new gym shoes and your tinny was strapped over your shoulder.
You would gather at the school under the charge of your own teacher
and march to the park accompanied by the colliery brass band and
St Joseph's Pipe Band. Once there you got a store pie and bag
of buns and had an afternoon of sports. Another pleasant day was
the Regatta. Mr Belfield who owned the pottery was the Commodore
and his big yacht was berthed just off shore at the Black Bull
and a large programme of aquatic sports and yacht racing was held.
Jean Whitelaw provided this chart
of the route taken by the yachts, along with a copy of a Regatta
programme shown on the following page
Then there was the Infirmary Pageant with its many floats
and fancy dressed people. One in particular I always remember
was a man who had had a serious operation, but came every year
dressed as a little boy and pulled his wee boat bought from Woolworths
along the gutter and always seemed to have his money can well
filled. About the week before the school broke up for the holidays
we would get a sheet of twelve vouchers for Fun City at Portobello.
donated by Mr Codona who ran the "Scratcher Picture House"
and this allowed you a free ride on each of the attractions such
as the dodgems, chairopIanes or helter-skelter. So we would make
a day of it with our ride in the tramcar. a cheese sandwich or
"jeelie" piece and bottle of sugarellie water, but these
were usually devoured before we got off the trams!
Life went on in its own community role and there was always some
of the older women you could call on in the time of an emergency
even if it was a birth, death or a bairn with the measles or any
fevers and their doors were always open for you.
We had our mission Hall which was used at times for the Sisterhood.
Home League. Boys Brigade or rehearsal for the Christmas Kinderspiel
and in 1925 the Miners' Institute was opened. After being the
main part of the soup kitchen during the strike it was the regular
place for functions such as dances, weddings and became known
as Hell's Kitchen but had one of the best dance floors in the
Most shopping was done by the women in the wee store or from Hay's
grocery, when you received black and white stamps which were exchanged
for goods by completing one or two books. The store, however,
gave you a dividend twice a year depending on your purchases throughout
the year and "Dividay" was a real red letter day. Women
would be queuing up early before the office opened and you were
always sure mother would come home with something nice for you
Other messages were usually bought from one of the many different
vans which came through the row each week such as Andrew Burns,
the store baker, Aggie Bagnal and old Joe with their fruit van.
the fish man with his usual shout "Kippers - penny a pair"
and then at the weekends the butcher used to come selling his
tanner fries. Other means of purchasing goods was normally from
the "ticky man" or most women subscribed to a "menage"
either from Parkers in Edinburgh or the Beehive stores. Then there
was the bottom end of the scale, old Biddy the pack wife would
come on a Saturday morning by tram from town to sell her second-hand
clothes to the many women queuing for her.
The men of the place after work in the pits used to be seen up
the green playing rummy or brag or at the corners of the top block
of houses studying the noon Record or picking out Scotia's three,
to beat the four bookies who stood there lifting the lines, with
each man using his own nom-dc-plume with his bet. On a Saturday
night it was along to the Goth or Black Bull for their usual beer.
No clubs or Sunday opening in these days unless they became bona-fide
travellers and went three miles. In fact. the pubs closed on Saturday
after 9pm and it was then that the sing-songs were held at the
lampposts with the old men giving their odd coppers to the kids.
For the football supporters we had our own Bing Boys and also
the Rovers, Thorntree United or the Wemyss to cheer on each week.
Women, as usual, had the hard end of the stick, looking after
the bairns, taking their turn in the wash house, maybe after having
been down the beach for shingle for the fire. Quite a lot of them
used to work in the fields at the berries or tatties, where they
would make sure they brought enough home. often to see the household
through the winter.
Other memories of my own which I recall were when my finger was
nearly cut off by the swing gate at the house where we used to
take the hard bread for the hens. I had my head split and four
stitches put in after falling down the outside stair. I then had
a rusty wire up through the sole of my shoe and, at the same time,
I burnt my other foot with boiling water when washing my feet
in the basin Another time I was nearly drowned. I had been up
at the harbour with a piece for my father who was helping to load
one of the ships in for coal. I think it was called the "Wave
Queen" from Aberdeen and I was pushed over into the harbour
from the top of the piles. My foot stuck in the mud and it took
someone to climb down and save me. Despite these accidents and
some hard times. I was otherwise lucky. I never had any childhood
illnesses and finished up with ten years perfect attendance at
So time rolled on and later our houses had baths and sinks added
and we were moved to the middle block while they were altered.
My family moved to the top of the Pans and that started another
new and different part of my life.