GEOFF GREGG in Tursdale has been turning out his cupboards and discovered a couple of little treasures.

The first is doll fashioned out of a wooden clothes peg for his grandmother, Grace Mary Rispin, who was a child in Ferryhill in the 1870s.

The Northern Echo: Geoff Gregg's grandmother's peg doll

The six-inch peg is wearing many layers of clothing, including a tartan skirt, all topped off by a knitted green shawl with a red band running through it. The rounded top of the peg peeps out above the shawl like a little head.

“Someone must have embellished the peg for my grandmother with all sorts of materials, and it looks quite the piece, actually,” says Geoff. “It is marvellous that is has survived for getting on for 150 years.”

In the coalfield, where money was always tight, children had to make do with whatever toys they could lay their hands on.

The Northern Echo: The Whole Dam Family pipe

Geoff’s next treasure is a novelty clay pipe (above) which has four characters on it plus a dog and the legend: “The Whole Dam Family”.

In 1905, a five-minute silent film called The Whole Dam Family And the Dam Dog made by American movie pioneer Edwin S Porter captured the British imagination. It began by asking the question: “Do you know this family?” and introduced the characters: Mr IB Dam, who constantly sneezed and snurdled over everyone; his wife, Herself, who talked continually about herself; Miss UB Dam, their teenage daughter, who tried to look alluring for the camera but only looked ridiculous; Jimmy Dam, their son, who constantly blew cigarette smoke out of every orifice; Lizzie Dam, their young daughter, who pulled chewing gum out of her mouth, and Baby Dam, who was forever bawling and howling.

The Northern Echo: Mr IB Dam, head of the Dam family, sneezing wetly all over the place in the 1905 hit short film, The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog

Mr IB Dam, head of the Dam family, sneezing wetly all over the place in the 1905 hit short film, The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog

After their introductions, the Dam family sit down for a chaotic meal – sneezing, talking, smoking, chewing, bawling over the top of each. Then the Dam dog turns up, yapping and whining and wanting some food.

The Northern Echo: dam

They refuse to give it any so the Dam dog pulls the white tablecloth from the table depositing all the food onto the floor and throwing the whole Dam family into a state of confusion before “the end” comes up.

The Dams were the nightmare neighbours next door, and trinkets and postcards of them were produced as novelty souvenirs – the pipes are surprisingly common, so they must have been produced in big numbers.

Grace was married to Ferryhill engine driver Charles Clear and had just had her ninth child, Geoff’s mother, when The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog came out.

Where they saw the film is unclear, because Ferryhill’s first cinema, the Gaiety, didn’t open until 1912 – there was also the Pavilion, which opened in 1927, and the Majestic, which was in the Dean Bank and Ferryhill Village Literary and Social Institute in the 1930s. Perhaps they ventured into the bright lights of Bishop Auckland or even Darlington where they were so taken by the clever comedy that they bought a pipe as a souvenir.