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Great Grandpa often retrieved his Sunday Best from pawnshop on Saturday and took it back on Monday

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 12, 2014

By Gail Middleton

  • Typical brewus - not just for the weekly wash - but for brewing beer and other drinks

  • 1885 painting by Wain showing foundry men at work in sweltering conditions. Note one of the bosses in his top hat!

  • Everyone wore hats in those days - Black Country working chaps favoured billycocks or flat caps

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LAST week we looked at what women and children wore during the early 1900s. Back then, most folk had a set of everyday work clothes – with an outfit for "Sunday Best".

Come rain or shine, you wore whatever you had, which was generally dark and heavy. No joke in a heatwave like the one we've had this summer!

This week it's the chaps' turn. Here's what Marjorie Cashmore has to say on the subject in her classic book, A Feast of Memories – Black Country Food and Life at the Turn of the Century (Westwood Press, 1986): "A long-sleeved woollen vest, better known as a "ganzie" was worn by most Black Country working-class men, along with a pair of long-legged underpants.

"Over these was worn a flannelette shirt, a moleskin waistcoat and corduroy or moleskin trousers, tied at the knee with string or narrow straps with buckles, and held up by a broad leather belt with a large buckle fastener. Heavy, hob-nailed boots or clogs, a muffler scarf, and a peaked cloth cap completed the outfit."

Very often times were tough, so outfits kept for "Sunday Best" were something of an investment, as Marjorie explains: "Despite the obvious poverty, most people kept a "Sunday Best" outfit, often retrieved from the pawnshop on Saturday evening and popped back in on Monday morning. For men it was a rather tight-fitting, sombre coloured, three-piece suit, a shirt with heavily starched "fly-away" collar, highly polished boots and a "billy-cock" bowler hat or cloth cap.

"Those men fortunate enough to sport a fob watch kept it in their waistcoat pocket with the attached chain secured to a buttonhole, and a flower in their coat buttonhole was a common sight on Sundays."

The rest of the week, it was a case of rolling up their sleeves, donning heavy leather work aprons or overalls for hard, manual labour. Many men also worked in sweltering conditions in forges and furnaces. Slaking their thirst, especially in hot summer weather, was essential.

Marjorie says: "To replace the liquid lost through the sweat of arduous toil, often in the vicinity of raging furnaces, manual workers would stop for a break or a "tune" several times during the day, a bottle of cold tea being the next most popular beverage to beer.

"Workmen and women took a supply of tea, sugar and condensed milk (Jolly Boy was a popular brand). Tea and sugar were sprinkled on a piece of newspaper and a tablespoon of condensed milk was dropped into the centre of this with more tea and sugar to coat it. A cup of hot, fresh tea was soon made by dropping a ball of this mixture into an enamel mug of boiling water."

In those days, as men were considered the main breadwinners whatever their circumstances, it went without saying they were entitled to keep some hard won cash for beer and tobacco. Even so, many men could not afford a pint after a hard day's work. And, when they had the cash, many filled themselves up with water before going to the pub, so they bought only the one pint.

Marjorie says: "Pubs were dotted everywhere and remained open from six in the morning until late at night. Constant battles waged between chapels and pubs for the salvation of souls. But men on their way to work were often tempted to have a quick drink then stayed all day, which resulted in severe hardship for their families."

But bostin' beer has always been part and parcel of Black Country life, as this old rhyme quoted in Marjorie's book attests:

Thuz many a gud raizon fer drinkin'

An' one uz just entered me yed,

If yo cor 'ave a drink when yo'm livin'

'Ow the 'ell con yo drink when yo'm jed!"

Craw-Stalled? Not if yo've got a brewus!

With this in mind, many families saved money by brewing their own beer, as well as making home-made wines, pop and cordials. In the Black Country the wash house was commonly called the "brewus" or brewhouse. Alongside laundry paraphernalia like mangles and dolly tubs was brewing equipment, bowls, buckets and bottles, used to produce thirst-quenching drinks.

Marjorie says: "Methods of brewing varied from family to family but the end product was usually very potent and when anyone said they were "craw-stalled" it meant they were extremely thirsty."

As well as beer, there were non-alcoholic drinks for those hot summer days when you were "craw-stalled".

Women made nettle beer and nettle pop in late spring when young nettles were at their best. The nettle beer was mildly alcoholic, like ginger beer, and very refreshing. It would also keep well for several weeks, but as Marjorie says, "rarely lasted that long" and fresh supplies were made throughout the summer.

Other popular summer drinks were elderflower champagne and cordial, lemon squash and lemon syrup, raspberry cordial and drinks made from mixed summer fruits. It was simple, quick and cheap to make your own cooling concoctions.

Here are some of Marjorie's old time drinks recipes if you'd like to try them.

Nettle Pop

A generous handful of nettle tops – (hands of course protected with gloves)

1 lemon

2 or 3 sticks of rhubarb

A small piece of root ginger

1 oz yeast

12 oz sugar

"In a large saucepan boil the nettles, rhubarb, ginger and lemon in about one gallon of water and leave to simmer gently for about one hour.

Strain the liquid into a bucket or large basin, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave the liquid to cool and when lukewarm sprinkle the yeast on top and cover with a lid when fermentation will take place.

"After about two days siphon the liquid into screw-top bottles and leave for a further five to six days when it will then be ready for drinking. Care is needed when opening these bottles as it can sometimes be very fizzy "

Marjorie adds another word of warning: "The longer these effervescent drinks are kept, the fizzier they become and if kept too long can cause bottles to explode, so small quantities, used within a few weeks is by far the best method..."

Lemon Syrup

3 large lemons

1oz citric acid

2lbs sugar

3 pints of water

"Peel the lemons thinly and boil the peel in the water for an hour. Add the juice and boil for a further quarter of an hour. Strain through muslin, return to the pan, add citric acid and sugar and boil until the sugar has dissolved (about five minutes). When cool, bottle for use. Dilute to drink."

Raspberry Cordial

12 breakfast cups of cold water

Half an ounce of tartaric acid

3lbs raspberries (or mixed summer fruits/berries of your choice)

Sugar

"Dissolve the tartaric acid in the water and pour it over the fruit. Let it stand for 24 hours, then strain through a jelly bag. Measure the juice and to each breakfast cupful add half a pound of sugar. Mix well, bottle. Dilute to drink." Enjoy!

Have you any family memories of life from Great Grandpa's day? Write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, or email editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or log on to www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk

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