W.C. Conversion at Victoria Road East
Our flat like all the others had an outside “Lavy” or “Netty” as it was sometimes called. It consisted of a wooden bench with a circular hole and was not very nice to use. People used to put their “hot ashes” in from the fire to “Improve” matters. Only people living in the Bede Burn Road area had inside flush toilets. Came the great day when water closets were installed and children coming home from school found the back yards filled with high level W.C. cisterns, W.C. pans and lead piping etc. The back lanes were dug up to provide the new drainage needed and a water supply brought in. The old “Lavy” was dismantled and a concrete floor laid to the old “Lavy” and to be known in future as the W.C. The “Midden doors” in the back wall were removed and the openings bricked up. Some of these can still be seen to day. It was a great day when all was completed and all you had to do when “finished” was pull the chain; and no more “Midnight mechanics” who had the horrid task of cleaning out the old “Middens” via the doors just mentioned. Later when I entered the property world (aged 16) I was informed that the two pence increase on rents was for “W.C.” Conversion. Also much later when I was employed at G.C. Young estate agents, I was shown the “minutes” of a meeting held in Jarrow town hall to discuss the grievances of the “Midnight mechanics” over their pay and conditions of work. All this was in copperplate writing and dated sometime in the 1890’s.
A few and final remarks about Middens. On Guy Fawke’s night older boys used to open the midden doors which were only secured by a small bolt, and throw in bangers, having first ascertained that a victim had gone to the Lavy. This they did by posting lookouts on the yard walls. The soil was collected from midnight until the early hours of the morning, the soil being deposited into a cart drawn by a large horse, and for illumination they had storm lanterns affixed to the cart. Where the soil was dumped god only knows, but I recently heard that it went to landfill sites. Even after conversion the River Don was an open sewer. The days of cleaning up the Tyne and providing new sewage systems was still 70 years away.
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