A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but actually Nettie is also a girl's name. Our netties later became known as bogs, closets, W.C:s (not William the Conquerors) toilets and loos as their architecture progressed.

At one time there were no netties for the poor old Foundry houses. When my grandmother first came to Trimdon Colliery as a bride, she was appalled to find that buckets were used and their contents deposited in the piles of ashes in the back streets. When she said she was returning to her home in Birkenhead, my grandfather built her a contraption at the end of the street in Railway Row.

Some streets later had brick erections built in the back street or at the bottom of the garden. The now extinct village of Hartbushes (South Wingate) had their netties across the other side of the main road to Hartlepool. Good job that transport was by horse power and not petrol driven.

Usually two brick structures were built facing outwards with a yard or two distance between them closed in by a short brick wall. This enclosure was for rubbish. One theory was that they were called netties, because wire netting was put round these enclosures to keep dogs and cats out but no-one I knew ever remembers the netting.

The real toilet place was of brick about a yard wide and about eight feet high. Two or three steps usually led to the wooden door fastened by a sneck latch. Inside there was a short wooden partition reaching from side to side with a lid on the top. In the centre of this lid there was a round hole about twelve inches in diameter and sometimes there was also a smaller hole nearby for children. Outside there was a removable iron plate so that the midden man could gain access with his long handled shovel to clean out the contents : disinfectant powder was then sprinkled all about.

Disasters happened when someone had to rush to the toilet in the dark and did not realise someone had left the lid up, the consequences of which can be left to your imagination. Housewives regularly scrubbed the wooden seat and scoured the floor. Some even whitewashed the inside walls.


The outside steps were convenient for children as they provided handy seats for them to sit on playing with their dollies or make believe shops using boodies and stones for goods and pebbles for money.

Another game for older, resourceful girls was for one of them to get under the lid, after the clearance of course, and put her head through the hole whilst her friend would charge a pin for anyone wishing to come and see a living head without a body.

The so called naughty boys, after clear out day, watched for anyone entering the nettie then they would quietly raise the metal lid at the rear and shove in a bunch of gorse, or nettles. Needless to say, the culprits were nowhere to be seen when the victim got outside.

Old and bedraggled, face wrinkled and worn
An old fashioned lady in clothes ragged and torn
She sits knitting her hands gnarled and disjointed with pain
Her gentle voice singing a sweet lullaby
Grandchildren come to see her
"My sweet darlings" she whispers low
"You play nicely and don't make much noise,
I am tired and weary and my bones need a rest".
Old Molly takes forty winks and dreams of when
She was a young girl, carrying heavy bags of washing to make a living
Her family is poor and she is one of thirteen
No electric washers in her day
She stands at the poss tub saying " I am sick of bloody shirts and dirty Knickers!"
"My hands are sore and red. I wish Mrs. McGinty didn't have such large Bloomers, and starching those collars are really hell".
"Soap suds and ironing is all there is to my life?"
"Fiddle the lot of it, I'm sick and tired, Why should I be a skivvy For somebody else".

Extract from Jean Lister.