It’s been a while since I featured a David Evans piece here, so I thought I’d feature this one, which seems oddly appropriate for a sunny spring Saturday. As ever, I thank David for his tireless work and contributions, which are always a delight. Now, on with the show…
The final death throes of the Coppy Pit, and the realisation that the way of life which had been associated with the close-knit mining village of Walsall Wood could never return, strangely coincided with the exuberance and the thrust of the 1960s. Indeed, the finality of the silence where there had been coal trains, the stillness of the canal waters where they had been barges, and the quietness of the footpaths that had echoed to the stomping of hobnail boots in former years, sad though it was, belonged to a long-gone age to that of the rapidly changing, brash ,1960s.
Television was now part of every home. Its intrusion and effect was accepted possibly because of the ease and passivity of the instant entertainment and information that was on offer. The choice of programmes was expanding, too. Bernard Miles, Hughie Green and their ilk were pushed to one side. Now there was Wrestling to replace that Saturday afternoon walk to watch the local team play their football match. Television News, beamed direct into the box in the sitting-rooms began to replace the purchase of the daily newspaper at the bus-station in Walsall, or from the local newsagents in the Wood, ‘What’s my Line’ and other panel games replaced family board games. Gradually and imperceptibly the world of personality and commerce was creeping into every home. Documentaries, variety shows, and ultimately the soaps all replaced the social chat in the grocers, the friendly chat at the Post Office, over a pint in the local or whilst waiting your turn in the doctors’ surgery in Beech Tree Road. The base fabric of the community was changing.
New styles and fashions of everything descended on the society. That pair of shoes, that dress, that overcoat, all suddenly needed to be replaced to keep up with the latest fashion. Skirts became shorter and more expensive. Shoes? Winkle pickers or stilettos, please. That full-length raincoat or overcoat? Duffle coat or Parka. No time to waste. Appearance and image were paramount.
The family car went through osmosis from basic vehicle to fashion accessory. Style over function! The Austin (Baggypants) A55 changed into the two tone Austin Pininfarina. That brilliant car designer and engineer, Issigonis showed that four people, folded up a bit, could be transported, sardine-like perhaps, in a vehicle that measured only 10 feet long, and at a cost of one penny per mile in petrol. Instant success! Other manufacturers took note. They had to… Everybody had to have one, and would then ‘personalise’ their car. Local lads put aside their powerful motorbikes and bought Mini cars, or Minivans. Their girlfriends and other passengers could now travel in warmth and out of the weather!. Girls’ bouffant hairstyles and lads’ Elvis flicks kept their look.
Walsall Wood saw new housing estates constructed; pretty little detached units affectionately nicknamed ‘dog kennels’ and ‘rabbit hutches’, and more traditional semi-detached houses, all built on the slopes of Shire Oak Hill. The Wood was moving up in the world in every sense of the word. High density housing units were built by the canal on what had been long Victorian gardens. Big gardens were no longer needed. There were the new supermarkets, at Streets Corner and in Brownhills Shopping Centre, where all was instantly available without the need of gardening and tending the vegetable patch, or rearing the chickens and the pig. No need to queue up in individual shops any more. This was the age of self-service and pre-packaged foods from all over the world appeared on the store’ shelves. ‘The more you spend, the more you save’.
[You’ll never know just how hard I looked for a Victor Value advert to place here. Victor Value were, of course, the first supermarket in Brownhills, other than George Mason, more of a traditional grocers. Victor Value opened at the top of Ravens Court, and were later absorbed by Tesco. – Bob]
There was greater leisure time, and greater affluence. Elmdon airport in Birmingham became the departure point for holidays abroad, to sunny Spain and Majorca, with the thrill to flying in a BEA Viscount aeroplane.
The local playing fields in the village were destined to change into a ‘leisure Centre’ with its own indoor swimming pool. No need for lads to swim in the cut anymore. Static family-sized caravans on new caravan parks in Wales, or by the river Severn, were within easy and affordable reach. Weekends would be spent there.
The community spirit of the former mining village was rapidly fragmenting. There would be few communal events. The new Walsall Wood residents lived in the village, but, to a large extent, worked away. The age of the commuter was emerging from the darkness of the post-war years. Owning a motorcar, which had once been a dream, was now becoming a necessity. The trusty two wheel friend, the working man’s bike, was to transform itself into what would become a multi-gear, all-terrain vehicle, over time.
The interiors of homes had to reflect the fashion of the Age, too. The television set, the stereo-radio set, the upright vacuum cleaner, the fridge, the dramatic wall-paper, the eye-straining colour schemes, the fitted wardrobes, coloured bathroom suites (champagne? chateau plonk, perhaps), the rubber plants up to the ceiling, near the front window, to be visible, of course! No more Grace Field’s biggest whatsit in the world, or Grandma’s ‘Mind your Own Business’, not in the homes of the 1960s.
In Walsall Wood a new secondary school was built to replace the old one near to Streets Corner. This would be built on the top of Shire Oak Hill. The colliery yard was becoming a modern industrial estate and the original settlement of the village had expanded and had changed beyond belief.