Taking the pic: Robert Olley and friends at the re-opening of the Westoe Netty at Beamish in 2008.
Saturday’s blog reported an emergency meeting of the Guisborough Town committee at which I was co-opted in absentia, and with special responsibility for cleaning the netties.
Since Guisborough is south of the Tees, and thus beyond the linguistic pale, they hadn’t actually used the word “netty”. Truth to tell, club chairman Don Cowan had to google it – you know, the internetty.
“Dry toilet, North-East England, origin uncertain,” it said, though Don also discovered that Netties is a Mexican restaurant chain.
“If they ever think of opening one down the Bigg Market, I trust that the marketing people will do their homework before confirming the name,” he adds.
To some disappointment, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “netty” simply as an obsolete word meaning “made from net.” The lady of this establishment wonders, somewhat fancifully, if it’s a corruption of “necessary house”, the term used by Samuel Pepys for such privy places.
The late Scott Dobson wrote a book called The Geordie Netty – 32 pages, five bob, now £41 new on Amazon – though my copy appears to have walked.
In Larn Yersel’ Geordie, however, Dobson employs the phrase “Weor’s the netty?” and translates it as “Can you direct me to the men’s room?”
The North-East’s best known netty, however, may be that painted in 1972 by Robert Olley, one of the region’s great school of pitman painters.
The Westoe Netty was near Harton Colliery in South Shields. When it ceased operations in 1996 – the netty, not the pit – it was preserved brick by brick in a Hebburn shipyard until Beamish Museum could be persuaded to spend a penny or two on its reconstruction.
It reopened in 2008, the scene pretty much re-enacted right down to the kid peeing on the old feller’s boot.
The netty was meant simply to be an exhibit, not a convenient stopping off point. Sadly, ir proved a victim of its own success. so many people using it for the purpose for which it was no longer intended that two years later it was closed again.
The plan was to relocate it with proper plumbing. Last we heard, however, visitors to that part of the museum still had to tie a knot in it.