Kill or cure?

In the spring or early summer, many residents would whitewash their yards and outside toilets. Lime purchased from J S Fishers of Merchants Quay would be used. However from the ground to a foot or so up, tar would be painted. The dual object was to disguise spattered dirt with the black colour and to deter insects and tiny creatures from crawling up the walls. 

Our old gasworks again came into its own. There coal tar could be purchased for this job. Indeed for just 3d you were given enough of it to last a lifetime! 


There was another unusual function too for the Gasworks. It held the cure for the whooping cough!


At the first signs of anyone coughing and choking, he/she was hawked round to the gas yard. When a batch of coke was withdrawn from the retorts, the heat was extracted by throwing a bucketful of water over it. An enormous cloud of rancid-smelling steam would billow immediately to the high heavens. 


The unfortunate victim, whether he/she liked it or not, was held by the neck over that steam and ordered to ‘breathe in three times’. This treatment was repeated on one day out of three consecutive weeks. By then the coughing would have stopped.


Then it would be hailed as a great curative, a triumph. That whooping cough had a normal period of about three weeks in patients anyway was not learned by such parents until much later. 


(P.S.  Does anyone remember picking tar off the roads on a hot summer’s day, rolling it in a ball and chewing it, on the understanding that it would clean your teeth?)

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