The Otterson Families of Northeast England and related lines                                  To share information or comment on this site, contact the webmaster: Michael Otterson

Robert Dix
Married to Nora Egan, and Harriett “Dot” Buckley
Sunderland, and various parts of County Durham and Yorkshire, England

Above: Robert Dix as boy scout, with mother and younger brother, probably John, about 1913.

I never had a great deal of time for sport. I fancied myself boxing for a while till I got a broken nose and Dad says, “That’s enough. You’ve learned to defend yourself. Try something else.” I did, later when I got older and started to take a glass of bitter* and took up darts.

[I was] 14 on the Sunday and started down the pit* at Wearmouth Colliery on the Monday, 8 Oct 1917. [I] left the pit in 1918. In fact, I was having my dinner one day and my Dad says to me, “What’s the matter with you? You don’t look very happy.” And then he says, “You don’t like your job do you?” “No,” I says, and then he says, “Mother, get a pen and ink. Write him his notice,” and, “Take that to the pit. You’re finished.”

I was lucky enough to get a good job as a junior clerk, number-taking on the Railway N.E.R.* – 1918. While working among the wagons I spotted these young firemen on the footplate and knew that was for me. And, after applying for a transfer, I was transferred to Sunderland So. Docks Loco Shed – 1920. Then in 1921 I was sent to Tyne Docks Loco Shed, and then in the latter part of 1921 I was finished work and on the dole.*

So we had to find something. So my pal and I decided to join the Navy, so went to the recruiting office and went in as soon as we entered. Ted, my pal, duffed it* and so did I. We were only out of work a short while and was sent to West Hartlepool and old Hartlepool.

I also remember a very big pit strike and I was on the dole. Me and two pit men borrowed a barrow and went to Usworth Pit Heap to scratch for coal (six miles I believe). Perhaps more seven. We filled six bags and took two bags to the nearest house and got a basin of soup and as much bread as I wanted. And went to the next one and gave two bags and had the same at his house - a basin of soup and plenty of bread. And then I went home, and what do you think I got? Some more soup for my pluck.

Granddad died before I was born. They used to live at Roker in Brandling Street. Yes I remember my Grandma.* She was a very old lady. She lived at Roker, Brandling Street. I used to go see her, but very [few] of the family went to see her because she was an old battle axe, so they would say. Anyway she was alright with me. She told me she couldn’t manage on her “large income” - ten shillings – so I went to the council* and kicked up some dust and got her 2/6*. Not much but it meant a lot to her and she was grateful, battle axe or no.

I’d better get on and tell of my travels. I think I got as far as West Hartlepool. Well, I didn’t stay very long at West Hartlepool Shed, and also old Hartlepool. That was a place, if you like. When we worked on the fish dock the shunters used to throw great big cod on the plate and and say, “Share them out,” and the firemen would go along to the smoke house and get a paper full of broken kippers.* Anyway I got stood off again. I got the old push bike out. That bike cost 18 shillings. My Dad said he would buy me a bike. Of course, I thought I was getting a new one but no such luck.

So out comes my old bike. It’s done some good service, this. I’d heard that ICI* at Stockton had a big engine shed of some 20 engines, so off I went and had a good talk to the boss, and I think he was a bit impressed to think that I’d gone there from BR,* for these engines were very tiny. But didn’t matter, it was a job. Anyway, I was out of luck. He said to be in contact, took my address and wished me luck, and that was that. Now where do I look? Well, a cousin of mine G. Glen (he’s in Canada if he’s still alive*), said they were building some homes at Burnopfield, and while we were talking he said he’d just bought a motor bike, did I want to see it? And I took a bit of interest on purpose, and then I conned him by saying give me a ride on [it]. “I’ll tell you what, take me to this Burnopfield.” He says, “Yes but I can’t stay to see if you get back. I’ve got to see to my shop (butcher’s).” Fine, OK. So he [gave me a] lift and I went to the building site and saw the foreman and asked him about a job. And he said, “No, sorry.” So there I was, no job and no push bike. So I walked around the estate and went and asked the foreman again and he said, “No.” So I went over and sat in Hedges Bottom, ate some sandwiches I had in my pocket, and went back again and asked him again. And he almost shouted my head off. And when I was walking away, he shouted: “Hey, come back. You’ve asked me a dozen times today. You must be hard up for a job?” “Yes,” says I, pulling three shillings from my pocket. “This is all I’ve got in this world.” He says, “When do you wish to start?” I said, “I’ll start now.” He says, “Oh, no, a few particulars first, and then lodgings for you.” And one of the men on the site took me in and what a good lodge it was, . Real solid, good food. It was plenty [of] meat and Yorkshire pudding, and you can believe I needed it.

The Boss put me on a cement mixing board by hand. No cement mixers in those days. I used to go half hour early to mix a batch for the brickies* to start straight away. That was a laugh, when the boss said it’ll be the easiest half hour of the day. Twelve hours a day and then at night sneak back to the works and practice hod carrying because that’s what I was supposed to be  - a hod carrier*. And I was running away with the idea that I was. The minute we finished the houses he told me he knew I’d never been on the building in my life when I picked up a spit. He was a fine man. He shook my hand and said he was sorry to lose me, but there was no more work for me. [He] gave me a letter, sealed, and pointed to 4 or 5 miles away and said, “Just give this to the foreman,” which I did, and I started for work for them right away. And when these were done I was out of work again. That was the hardest job I’ve had in my life. It nearly killed me when I first started. The landlady’s father was horse keeper at the colliery, and he gave me some liniment* for my back, and you should have seen my hands. Blisters, cracks and gaps between my fingers filled with cobbler’s wax and heel ball*. That was the time when my sister Flo got married. When I went to the reception I was wearing a pair of wash leather gloves and when Flo spotted the gloves she said, “What on earth are wearing those for.” I never said a word, I showed my hands. She nearly died. We were very close.

I mentioned about the horse keeper. Well, when I went to his house for the liniment I got he shock of my life. I thought we were poor, but my God, I can’t describe it. It had upstairs to it but no staircase, just a big hole. There was some ladders outside. I suppose that’s the way they went to bed. Or did somebody chuck them a rope down? Oh. I didn’t finish when I was telling you I practiced hod carrying. Well, I never mastered it. I could go up alright but could never get off the top of the ladder.

Well I suppose you’ll be wondering how I got home without my sturdy steed (bike). I now had some money. I’d worked hard and was careful so I was fairly well off. But money was getting tighter so my brother Jack (next one to me in age) decided we would set off and look for work, because the Powers That Be decided if the man of the house was working he had to keep us all. But Jack and I wasn’t having it that way. We would do something about it, “just like that.” We’d heard that at Doncaster and Grimthorpe there was work. Well off we sailed passing Wheatsheaf* 4.00 a.m. God knows how many miles we traveled for there wasn’t a lot of sign posts like there is today. We must have [gone] a very long way out of our way and little did I think I’d be coming this way again. We tried everything and everywhere but nothing doing. We set off home and got at a guess half way and it started to snow and we couldn’t go any further. The wheels were snowed up. We were walking by now and we came to a very large house with a very large consertory and a man was inside. I went and asked him if we could leave the bikes and he asked a few particulars. I told him we had been looking for work in Yorkshire and he gave permission to leave the bikes, and that’s all (what no tea?).

Well, how far had we to walk? From here, Stockton, to Sunderland.* We set off and I noticed Jack was limping, sort of, and then he said he was having trouble with his bum. When he dropped his trousers - my God, it was just like a skinned tomato and as red. I bet he was glad to get off that bike. We’d walked two or three miles when up comes a bus. And as soon as we saw it coming I said, “We must stop this, choose where it’s going.” Then we pooled our money and I said, “Give me two tickets for as far as this money will take us towards Sunderland.” Anyway we landed home black bright, and when mother saw us she broke down. We had a terrible job with her. But I told you what kind of people we are earlier in this narrative, so up comes our reinforcements - Aunt Emma No. 6,  Aunt Rachel No. 4, Aunt Maria No. 16, Mother No. 7. So you see we were soon in one piece again. 

But it wasn’t over as far as Jack and I were concerned. At the Dole Office we had to face a committee, and the chairman accused us of going on a holiday. Of course, I got my back up because I was sick to death of this dole business. He kept belittling me by calling me, “Boy” till I couldn’t contain myself any longer. So I said, “Not so much of the bloody ‘boy.’ I’m a better man than you are. I could do your job sitting on my hands.” And he said he would send for a policeman, and I said, “You’d better make it a bobby because you couldn’t put me out.” I said, “If it wasn’t for the likes of me you wouldn’t be sitting where you are now,” and I added a bit more. “What sort of work did you do before you got that?” He nearly busted and sent for a bobby. You can imagine the place was in an uproar. I could almost see ↑↑↑ on my clothes, but no, the bobby was on my side and he took me to the door, whispering all sorts of names behind their backs.

I think this would be 1922. Jack and I had made a pact that we would get ourselves organised and he would make for London and I would make over to East Coast which was always my cup of tea. I never liked the west side. So that’s what it was, this time on my own. The class of farmers seem to have been poorer and more likeable when I stopped for a cup of tea and a sandwich. They seemed more sociable and helpful when they knew where I was going and what for. They put me on a settle near the back door. I just went along at a steady pace and landed into Normanton and spotted two shafts. So I went to the pit and asked to see the boss and this chap said he would see me. So I props my bike against the door and the manager, Mr Cox, asked what I wanted. And I said [what] I wanted. “What sort of job?” “Any job.” and then he says, “Where have you come from.” I told him, “Sunderland.” “How have you got here?” “Push bike,” I say, and Mr Cox said something to this chap, and he went out, just had a look and came back and nodded his head. And then a lot of questions and I had a job traming (pony driving).

Same old thing day in day out. When I received a telegram from Flo at Sunderland to say the Railway had sent for me, so I went straight to the pit and asked Mr Cox for my release and he agreed with me. Said he would send what money which was due to me to Sunderland, which he did. Sso I went to Head Office and signed on for LNER. What do you think they sent me to? - Hull Dairycoates Loco Shed, in 1923 Manager Mr Hutchinson. During that time the Railway groups were altered and I was sent north again to Heaton (beside Whitley Bay) Newcastle. Lousy shed, less said easiest mended. On the dole again so it was on my bike again and also back to Hull.

Well we’re back in Hull again. I think there must be something of special interest at Hull. Of course! I met Nora there, and the captain’s daughter Edie. I was introduced to [Nora] in my lodge in Maud Parade in Gypsyville, Hull. Nora had three brothers and one sister. Nora’s brother was a driver. The other was a fireman on the LMS and the other, Harold, is buried on the Isle of Skye. He was a sailor in the navy...

One day I went to see the captain about a job aboard his ship and succeeded, and on my way back to the lodge I thought I’d call at Dairycoates Shed and see if there was anything doing. I told him I had worked there before and he said the only thing he had was loading coal into wagons off a coal stack on piece work. I thanked him (Mr Hutchinson) and said it was just up my street. The harder I worked the more money I got. I used to go on a Sunday morning before dinner so I now had two jobs. So I went straight away to see Captain Fearnley and told him what I’d chosen to take and he said I’d done the right thing. I thanked him very much for his consideration and left. Of course, I was to see him and his family because his daughter was Nora’s pal. Anyway I just about worked that job out (met some more men of course) when the Railways sent for me and sent me up to Waskerley and Weather Hill*. I used to work in the engine house at the quarry after walking five miles up the hill, do a full day’s work and walk five miles back on pay all the time till I got back to the loco shed. Waskerley, in the part where I worked, had two boilers on cement stands and when the engineman was ready to draw a couple of wagons from the bottom he would blow his whistle and I would get him full steam. Waskerley, what a place. It must have been put there just for the quarry. Eleven houses on one side of the street and eleven houses at the other and every man had two jobs. No shops, only a wooden cabin they sold cigs and sweets.

There was a pub, one barrel of beer and 12 bottles of Vaux’s brown ale and it was about six miles away. Anyway it didn’t matter because we didn’t have any money. It was called Moor Cock. The landlord of the pub was a wagon tapper, one was a driver and a farmer, another a driver had a son, a driver, and also a son, a fireman. A driver had a son, a signalman. Some of these old ladies were well off. They had investments in pits and shops at Consett. Old Polly’s mother owned a picture hall. Her sister used to work down South Medomsley Pit. Old Polly and her Mam, 96. I used to lodge with them. They came and stayed with us, Nora and I, when we lived a[t] Fulwell. They only (old Nellie and old Polly) came for a day or two but stayed a fortnight and Nora didn’t charge them anything. But when we came back after taking them to the station we found a roll of notes on the sideboard. In the meantime Nora had come to Sunderland and got a job in service and during our courtship we had put the banns in twice and cancelled them because of unemployment. My Dad said dole or no, I should get married if I were you, but I said, no, things were too bad. I did two sessions at Scarborough and some time at Consett and Gateshead. Then comes the 1926 coal strike, then back on the footplate at Durham City. Then Rothbury* and Kirkley Stephen and then Shildon. I’d better tell you about Rothbury first or I’ll get mixed up and get off the road like I have been doing now and again. Rothbury - a lovely little village in Northumberland. Two hotels, “the County” and “the Station” on the North British Railway.

I wasn’t at Rothbury very long, which was a good job because for a start there was me and my mate G. Taylor looking for lodgings and they had a son in his twenties. Earlier I should say she said she wasn’t ready for lodgers, would we mind sleeping three in a bed while she got rigged up?????? And anyway “it came to pass” G. Taylor at the back, me at the front and Jack in the middle. Candles by night. Comes around 2.30 a.m. Scramble. “Where’s the bloody matches?” George shouts. “What for?” I shout, “What for? I’m being bloody eaten.” Down goes the clothes. Fleas there was, millions. Anyway we got another bed, just me and George. Jack slept in the old bed. He was [a] barber with shop attached to the house and Jack was a very keen fisherman and was always off fishing. Comes one Friday night and lots of girls came for a hair doing and no Jack. Landlady says, “Bob can cut hair. He used to cut hair for the girls a[t] Atkins tin works when we were at Hull.” Anyway I was pushed into it, so I brushed my hair, put Jack’s white coat on and with scissors and comb in my pocket [went] in and cut their hairs and got tips as well. They must have been holiday visitors. When I went into the house and put the money on the table, landlady says, “What you doing? Put that money in your pocket and another time if he’s out go in the shop and keep the money. If he can’t look after his business that’s his look out.”

Talking or should I say speaking of bombs the Germans dropped a bomb on our picture hall. It was only ½ penny and you got a pair of comic cuts and a stick of mint rock. There was only forms* to sit on and while you were watching the picture something would hit you back of the neck carrot tops, turnip skins, wet paper, anything, and when you looked down there used to be a stream running between our legs...

[I remember] earlier in First World War in Stewart Hospital, opposite Mowbray Park, taking wounded soldiers out in the push chairs (basket type).

I was 13 when I had my first job [at the] Newcastle Tea Company,* 1915-1916. 

Roker and Villiers Theatre 1916-1917...I was a film lad. These two picture halls showed the same program. I was at one and my pal, Johnny Arkle,* was at the other. Then as soon as Part One was shown one of us would set off with Part One in a proper haversack, dash through the town to the Villiers Pictures, and so on. The program that was shown was Pathe Gazette – main film, 2 turns.

Introductory note:

British statesman Cecil Rhodes is famously quoted as saying that to be born English was to win first prize in the lottery of life. He spoke close to the turn of the 19th century, and at the start of the 1900s it was easy to believe. The British Empire stood at its height, the Royal Navy would have no serious challenger for another ten years, and the pound sterling was the standard against which the world’s currencies were measured.

But behind the pomp, pageantry and propaganda were deep divisions. Although the standard of living was markedly better for millions of people than it had been 50 years earlier, one tenth of the population still owned nine tenths of Britain’s wealth in 1900. About one third of people in the big cities lived in poverty - with income less than £1 per week. Amid the drudgery of factory work or among the mines, shipyards and docks, and even on the farms, casual labour was common. For the working man or woman - a third of workers in 1900 were women - the uncertainty of how long a job would last was an ever-present and dreadful reality.

Historians tend to speak and write of such times in big numbers and whole populations, because that’s how trends are measured. But the real history is found in the individual lives of the men who were constantly looking for ways to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads, and the women who constantly and ingeniously made food stretch and pennies last.

Bob Dix, born in 1903 as the first son to a working class family in Sunderland, County Durham, is typical of the time. Late in life he was persuaded to write down some of his experiences, and he did so in 24 handwritten pages covering his teens to just after World War II. In one way his writing reflects his lack of education - scant attention to punctuation, capitalization, spelling and grammar. But it is also a priceless snapshot of the times. He writes as he speaks, and one can almost hear the mixture of the Geordie accent from his Sunderland roots and the dialect of Yorkshire which became his adopted home. He is writing to his daughter-in-law, Thora, over a period of weeks, and he digresses occasionally as she prompts him with questions and he attempts to answer.

This is real history, raw and unvarnished. We discover in his writings that almost all of it focuses on his work - an endless sequence of jobs from errand boy to coal mine to building sites to railways, punctuated by periods of unemployment. We know from his descendants that he was a good and loving husband and father, but he speaks little of family in this narrative. The death of his first wife at a relatively young age occupies just a couple of sentences, and he makes only one mention of the loss of their first son at the age of one, although it is a tender reference. Why not more? Perhaps those memories were too personal or painful. All working-class families at the time endured such things, and it wouldn’t have been culturally acceptable to be overly self-indulgent. But it’s also possible that as he surveyed the whole expanse of his life, it was the constant battle for work between the two world wars that loomed largest. A man’s economic survival and that of his family depended on reliable work, certainly. But so did his sense of self-respect, and his social standing.

Bob Dix’s own story

Above: Bob Dix as train driver, about 1950

In one story, Bob Dix tells of a practical joke played on him. For a couple of days a glimpse was opened to him of earning more money than he had dreamed of, and a whole new future seemed possible. That vision was cruelly snatched away from him in the course of a weekend. Yet it’s surprising that his conclusion was not to be angry toward those who had teased him, but to feel “disgusted” with himself. One senses that, like so many of his contemporaries, he always looked and hoped for something better, and would work his hardest to get there if only he had the opportunity. Such was the lot of the working class man in industrial Britain in the first half of the 1900s.

The post-war economic boom lifted his circumstances, just as a rising tide lifts all boats. But his working class origins were always an integral part of his thinking. It is only in the last couple of pages, when he has finished his essential chronological narrative, that his profound resentment of the “ruling class” represented by the Conservative Party and big business spills over into a passionate and bitter tirade. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, scourge of so many British working class people; Dr. Richard Beeching, whose name was synonymous with the closure of many of Britain’s railways; and even Winston Churchill, revered in wartime but whose conservative politics made many working people wary - all are held accountable. “We’ll have no say in anything,” he concludes. That final phrase is revealing. Above all, men who struggled all their lives, who just wanted to work and provide for their families without the uncertainties of what might lie ahead, felt a profound sense of disenfranchisement. Whatever else they did, big and permanent changes always seemed beyond their reach.

                                                                                                                                                                                                     - Michael Otterson, nephew, December 2010

Above: Villiers Theatre in Villiers Street, Hendon, Sunderland, where Bob Dix worked as a boy. It was the first purpose-built cinema in Sunderland, opened on 2 January 1912 at a cost of £4,000 and held 1,000 patrons. The first film shown in 1912 was "The Great Mine Disaster."  The last film shown was on 16 March 1958, which was the Disney film "Rob Roy." 

Editor’s note:
Punctuation has been added, and spelling has been corrected, but the narrative below is faithful to the original handwritten pages with no significant omissions. Where a word has had to be inserted for clarity, it appears in square brackets [...]. In a few instances an event has been reordered, or events have been grouped together, to reflect the historical time line. An asterisk indicates an occasional editorial comment on the left side of the page to explain unfamiliar terms or provide more context.
  1. *No. 7 Rothsay Street is the house where Bob says he was born, but it was not the house where the family lived in 1911. The 1911 census shows their residence as three rooms at 12 Rothsay Street. It was very common for families to move from house to house in the same street as circumstances changed.

  2. *“Consertory” - conservatory. Clearly he is conscious of his spelling here, but he spells as he speaks.

  3. *“Rebel in the camp” - Bob never returns to this point, so we are left only with speculation as to which of the brothers he meant.

  4. *The 1911 miners’ strike: The Great Unrest is the term used to describe the years between 1908 and 1914 when Britain experienced numerous industrial conflicts. The mining industry was one of the most troubled.

  5. *The coronation of King George V was on 22 June 1911. Children all over Britain were given commemorative mugs (pictured).

  6. *German zeppelins did drop bombs on Sunderland. For instance, the LZ 41 raided Sunderland on 1 April 1916 and killed 22 people. The raid he describes was not the first, however. The first raid on England was 19 Jan 1915, the LZ 24, over the Norfolk cost. There were many zeppelin raids on England during World War 1.

  7. *“Forms” - wooden benches.

  8. *This was probably the London and Newcastle Tea Company, with offices in London, Newcastle and North Shields as early as 1879. Later, L&N, as it was known, opened stores all over the British Isles.

[I was] born 1903. Where was I born you ask? In bed with my mother, where else? There was nowhere else. The where else for the likes of us - you got a bit of help from the handy woman in the street, and God help you.

I’m sorry, I should have said at 7 Rothsay Street* Sunderland. My Dad was a pick and shovel miner. I was the oldest of the boys. Bess and Flo and then me, Robert, the first boy. Father and mother? Salt of the earth, strict but fair. There were eight of us and we all did our bit. We had to. A look was enough.  

You ask what my mother did as regards to work. Mother, father, three girls and five boys. Does that do for an answer? But it doesn’t, because some time during the two years before the first World War my father gave up drinking to save up enough to buy a business - a shop at the end of the street. Mam and Dad really set about making it pay and built [it] up by hard work. Dad made his own ice cream, toffies and lucky bags for kids. He made special toffies and called it “Dix stickjaw.” I could write all night about my wonderful Dad - a very strict man, but a fair one. I loved him very much. As for my Mam, she was more than wonderful. She used to send us to the Warwick Street chapel twice every Sunday. She was a very good-living person and she used to practice what she preached. None finer than she. Yes, we all went to chapel, except Dad.

No. 7 was a three-roomed house with a consertory* built by my Dad. I smile when I write “consertory.” Anyway, it was a good one because he wasn’t a joiner, and poor wood to build it. Now comes the tricky part. In that three-roomed house was Father, Mother, daughters Bess, Flo, Doris, me Bob, John, Arthur, Stan, George. It was a struggle to get in, never mind be comfortable. We had a desk bed that used to fold up and all the boys slept together head to tail. No, we didn’t have any money. At least, we only managed to scrape through. But there’s one thing: we were happy and loved each other. We only had one rebel in the camp,* I’ll tell you later on about him and me.

I can remember the miners’ strike in 1911.* My Dad swept our coal house of coal dust. He mixed the dust with soda and us kids used the [empty] coal house for our camp. I can even remember the kind of paper hats and swords. In fact, I could even make some as I’m writing this.

Looking back, I can see myself standing in line with hundreds of kids holding our mugs at the coronation* in 1911 -12 in Thomas Street School yard, which was blown to bits some time later by the first bomb dropped on Britain (?). It was a zeppelin* which came over late one night and a tramcar was stood ready to go into the tram sheds, and they made a direct hit which only left four wheels standing. “Huh,” you’ll say. But it was real in those days when they dropped bombs - hundreds, only small admitted. Anyway, they didn’t get away with it. That zeppelin got a direct hit too. It burst into flames, broke into two. You could see the men dropping down. There’s a thing. I wonder if parachutes were invented then. I doubt it, because if they had we would have been able to see them because it was daylight when it burst into flames and crashed at West Hartlepool.

Above left: George V in coronation robes. Such opulence must have been striking to the working class, but the monarchy remained popular with most British people.

[Photo now in the public domain].

Above: Commemorative mugs were given to children all over Britain for the royal coronation in 1912.

Left: The Zeppelin crash Bob Dix witnessed may have looked very much like this crash of German Navy zeppelin L2 on October 17, 1913.

[Print & Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress. Copyright expired - in public domain].

  1. *The 1911 census shows that Johnny Arkle was a year younger than Bob, and lived in Warwick Street where the chapel was located. Hs father was a deputy overman at the coal mine.

  2. *The “pit” is a general term used by mining families to refer to a coal mine, below ground. “Colliery” is the more formal term.

  3. *“Glass of bitter” - a type of beer, probably the most common among working men at the time.

  4. *N.E.R - North Eastern Railway. At that time in Britain, rail companies were privately owned.

  5. *“On the dole” - usual British term for being unemployed.

  6. *“Duffed it” - Yorkshire slang for thoroughly messing something up.

  7. *The grandmother referred to here is Mary Jane Smiles Dix, who married Lewis Dix. Lewis had collapsed in the street and died when 40 years old, in 1893, so Mary had been a widow for ten years when Bob Dix was born.

  8. *“The council” refers to the local government council. In this case it would probably have been the Sunderland City Council.

  9. *“2/6” or “two and six” means two shillings and six pence,  otherwise known as “half a crown.” This represented a 25% increase on her ten shillings income. At that time it would have bought several loaves of bread and some vegetables. The pounds, shillings and pence system was abandoned in 1971 in favour of decimalization.

  10. *“Kippers” - smoked herring.

  11. *ICI - Imperial Chemical Industries, one of the biggest companies in Britain in the 20th century.

  12. *BR probably refers here to British Rail, although that term did not come about until the 1960s. At the time Bob Dix is writing, several large railway companies dominated their own geographical area. After the Railways Act of 1921, the four largest were the Great Western Railway (GWR), the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the Southern Railway (SR) .

  13. *G. Glen refers to John George Glen, a year older than Bob Dix. He died in Toronto, Canada, in 1987, age 84.

  14. *Brickies - bricklayers.

  15. *Hod carrying is an unskilled labouring occupation in the building industry. Typically the hod carrier is employed by a bricklaying team in a supporting role to the skilled bricklayers. The hod carrier’s duties might include wetting the mortar boards on the scaffolding prior to fetching bricks from the delivery pallet using his hod - a three sided box - and bringing them to stacks upon the scaffold that may then be easily laid by the bricklayers. The hod carrier times deliveries of bricks with deliveries of mortar - also carried in the hod - to ensure the bricklayers maintain a constant work rate. It is hard physical labour, the number of bricks  depending on what the carrier can bear.

  16. *Liniment - a topical medical preparation for the skin, used to relieve stiffness or soreness.

  17. *Heel ball - a kind of stiff wax, originally used by cobblers to colour the heels of new shoes.

  1. *Waskerley is a village in County Durham a few miles southwest of Consett, and Weather Hill is in the same vicinity (see map).

  1. *Wheatsheaf - a well known pub and landmark in Sunderland that still stands today.

  2. *Stockton to Sunderland is 26 miles.

Nora Egan Dix, Bob Dix’s wife until her early death in 1949.

Bob Dix in younger days.


















Bishop Auckland


Barnard Castle

Kirkby Stephen





  1. *Rothbury is 30 miles north of Newcastle, in Northumberland County. It is not shown on the map below.

MAP: Bob Dix’s travels in search of work took him and his family over much of Durham, part of Northumberland and finally to Yorkshire over the course of his working life. The cities, towns and villages mentioned in the narrative are shown in red. Other large cities are shown in blue as reference points. The place names are superimposed on a satellite photograph of Northern England on a clear day, with just a little cloud off the northeast coast.

Y   O   R   K   S   H  I   R   E

D   U   R   H   A   M

L  A  N  C  A  S  H  I  R  E