Get some Iron, man – the 2021 Ironman triathlon hits Chasewater and South Staffordshire this Sunday

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Care for a dip? No, me neither…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that this Sunday (July 18th 2021), the sixth Staffordshire Ironman 70.3 Triathlon will be staged, with a 1.2 mile early morning swim in Chasewater being amongst the highlights.

Since the event consists of running and cycling races too, there will be a series of road closures in Staffordshire throughout the day (details on the ebsite here).

Flyer from the event organisers. Click for a larger version.

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire have produced road closure maps with information for local residents to be aware of the safety closures which take place on the Sunday morning of the race. This should allow residents to plan their travel and minimise any impact from the event on their own plans. This may involve using alternative routes over the event weekend or adjusting journey times slightly.

Access for Emergency Services will be maintained at all times

Maps displaying all the road closures can be found on the event website here.

Please plan any travel in advance and be prepared to use alternative routes to minimise disruption to your journey.

Flyer from the event organisers. Click for a larger version.

2021 ROAD ACCESS INFORMATION

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire takes place on full and partially closed roads for the safety of both athletes and road users. The below information outlines the road closures and alternative routes available across the courses for the event day. This information allows residents to plan their travel ahead of time and minimise any impact the road closures may have on their own plans, which may involve using alternative routes or adjusting journey times to avoid delays.

There will be unrestricted access for emergency services at all times!

If you have any access questions please contact staffordshire70.3@ironmanroadaccess.com or call 03330 116600.

There’s been lots of publicity for the event, and I’m interested in reader contributions on the day – photos, reviews etc.

A quick note to those same faces who every Ironman mail me, message me and otherwise complain about the early morning disturbance in the locality: Sorry, but I can’t fix it, can’t help and I fully support the event. The inconvenience is one day a year, relatively minor and over in a few hours.

Why not go watch it, or take the opportunity to get up early and go somewhere else?

Any complaints should be directed to the organisers here, I can’t and won’t do anything.

Best of luck to any readers competing!

Swimming in Chasewater at dawn? Rather you than me, pal. Image from Ironman UK.

Posted in Brownhills stuff, Cannock Chase, Chasewater, cycling, Environment, Events, Express & Star, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, Just plain daft, Local Blogs, Local media, News, Panoramio photo discussions, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Social Media, Spotted whilst browsing the web, Walsall community | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering the grand opening of a local icon in 1967

Today, I have a great bit of local ecclesiastical history to share with readers who will, I’m sure, be interested in the Opening and Dedication Service Programme to Silver Street Methodist Church, Brownhills, which opened at 3pm on Saturday, April 22nd 1967.

Silver Street Church’s opening day congregation. Image by Fred Booth, kindly supplied by Peter Booth.

At the foot of the post I include the set of photos below taken by Fred Booth, kindly donated to the blog in 2019 by Peter Booth, of the construction and opening of the Silver Street Church, for which this was the programme; I think if you look in one or two of the images you might see copies of it.

Guy is a great entertainer and remarkable talent. A top Brownhills lad!

This remarkable document which contains a wealth of local history information was kindly supplied to the blog by local man Guy Rowland.

Guy is a very gifted pianist and performer who’s probably best known as the Brownhills lad playing the part of the policeman at Blists Hill Museum in Ironbridge, Telford, and a talented and witty gentleman he is too!

Guy is well known to many in Brownhills.

You can peruse the program in full below – click any image to open the page full size. You can download it as a full PDF to load in your browser or ebook reader by clicking here.

Brownhills Silver Street Methodist Church was built in 1967 to replace the and combine Mount Zion and the Wesleyan in Brownhills High Street which were lost to redevelopment and it has to be said, old age; latterly, the remarkable building whose design hasn’t dated at all has accepted congregations from other churches and chapels in Brownhills like Park View, Brownhills West and Coppice Side.

The Silver Street Church is still very busy and has an active congregation and you can find out more about it at their website here and Facebook page here.

As ever, if any members of the Church would care to drop me an email I’m happy to advertise your community events. Just drop me a line.

If you have any memories of the new Silver Street Church – or indeed, the ones it superseded – please do comment or drop me an email. BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

My thanks to Guy Rowland, the young David Evans and the Booth Family for sharing and adding to the local history we share here for all to enjoy. You are most wonderful people.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Blind date

Here’s an article to ponder I really intended to post up yesterday, but problems of a technical nature prevented me, which was a shame as it’s a real belter.

The young David Evans has been given a three page, hand typed timeline of Brownhills, by a person who didn’t create the document and is unsure of the origin of it. Some of the assertions within are causing somewhat raised eyebrows, so we thought we’d post it and see what readers thought.

We asked if they were sure about the Highwayman: He said he was adamant.

I’m not going to comment on it directly yet, but I very much invite you readers to get stuck in – comment here on this post, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tap my shoulder on social media.

My thanks, as ever, to the young David Evans and to the donor of this work.

Walsall Wood Station was on the Midland Line – hand for a train up until it’s closure to passengers in 1930, but often handy for boats and waterfowl too. Image from ‘Disused Stations’

David wrote:

Hello Bob

I was recently given a copy of this document and find it of interest. There are no sources attributed in the work so I wonder if readers might be able to confirm or correct the information given in the timeline which ends in 1974…

Gerald Reece’s book, ‘Brownhills. A walk into history‘ was published later, in 1996 and it is worth noting the observation that he includes in his first chapter;-

‘Some interesting work has been done into the history of Brownhills, but sadly most of it has not gone to press. On the other hand a lot of guesswork has been printed. The lack of written history is a boon to the serious researcher. Instead of having to read through a bibliography as most history writers do, one has instead to analyse original documents and records.’ (Page 5).

In more recent times – the years of your wonderful blog – we have seen excellent discussion and correction of local history lore.

with kind regards
David Evans

Scan kindly supplied by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

Scan kindly supplied by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

Scan kindly supplied by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

Posted in Environment | 3 Comments

On the Spot

Here’s a quick simple question for debate amongst the readership: Of late, the Young David Evans has given another talk to the children of Holy Trinity School in Clayhanger, about their local history.

In the course of this talk, David was asked a very interesting question by an enterprising and thoughtful young fellow, which is obvious, but I’d never considered before.

Where does the name The Spot come from?

Clayhanger Common – The Spot – as signs now proclaim it – is a beautifully landscaped open space now, but it was not always so. Image kindly shared by Steve Martin.

Most locals will know that The Spot is the name previously applied to that which these days is known as Clayhanger Common, stretching from Catshill Junction, to Clayhanger Bridge, back to the village itself, and over the course of the brook towards the Pier Street pedestrian Bridge.

Clayhanger tip was pretty grim. It was capped in the 80s with colliery spoil and landscaped into the common we know today. It was a huge operation that took over 6 years to complete. Image from ‘Memories of Brownhills Part’ by Clarice Mayo and Geof Harrington.

 

Up until the Late 1970s, most of it was a festering rubbish tip that was a blight on the area, but before that, an area of sunken farmland, rendered useless by flooding and mining subsidence. Attempts were made to relieve the flooding with a pumping station, which was built in a tiny hamlet at the end of Spot Lane, a track that went from Bridge Street, across the fields.

The Spot pumping station: Note the caption. From the mapping, it was about central to today’s Clayhanger Common. Image from ‘Memories of Brownhills Part’ by Clarice Mayo and Geof Harrington.

Several people (and the respected historians in the caption above) have told me that the name The Spot only properly applies to the pumping station and the buildings around it. It can be seen on the 1938 map below:

Clayhanger Common on 1938 1:2,500 mapping from the National Library of Scotland Archive. The pumping station and ‘Spot’ are circled. Spot Lane is highlighted orange. Click for a larger version.

But the modern signs, applying the name to the whole heathland, say ‘Clayhanger Common The Spot’. I am unaware of the term Clayhanger Common being used before the tip was reclaimed.

So where did the name The Spot come from, and how do you, or your elders, apply it?

It’s such a simple question that I can’t believe we haven’t asked it before. But it seems we have not.

If you have a view, please share it – either comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or hit me up on social media. I’d be fascinated to hear what you have to say on the matter.

Thanks to David and the young historian for posing such a great question!

 

Posted in Environment | 5 Comments

Happenstance: Two tales of Brownhills Canal Heroism

In one of those somewhat odd bouts of synchronicity that often befalls this blog, this week I have stories of two canal heroes that cropped up within days of each other yet are complete unconnected, except by location.

A number of folk drew this story to my attention on the ever-excellent Lichfield Live: Auctioneers Richard Winterton are selling this Tuesday (15th June 2021) a Humane Society award certificate presented to Pier Inn Publican John Lamb, who risked his life on canal ice in January 1891 saving the lives of two children who had gone out onto the ice, and it had given way underneath them.

The Pier Inn stood at the bottom of Pier Street, adjacent to the Pier Street Bridge, which exists in a modern form today. The pub was also known as the Fortune of War and was lost in the 1960s.

Image from Richard Winterton Auctioneers website: Click for a larger version.

Lichfield Live posted:

Certificate honouring pub landlord who saved lives of brothers in 1891 to be sold at auction in Lichfield

A testimonial to a heroic landlord who saved two brothers from the freezing waters of a canal features in an upcoming Lichfield auction.

The vellum certificate was awarded by the Royal Humane Society on 18th February 1891 to Brownhills publican John Lamb.

A month before he had braved the frozen Birmingham Canal to rescue local boys Cecil and Francis Price.

The Ogley Hay youngsters had ventured out onto the ice but it cracked open, leaving them at the mercy of freezing water eight feet deep.

Mr Lamb, publican of the adjacent Pier Hotel, ran to help and, although the surface also gave way under him, saved the boys from drowning.

His gallantry was recognised by the Royal Humane Society, whose patron was Queen Victoria.

The testimonial features in Richard Winterton Auctioneers’ upcoming sale on 15th June.

‘It may have happened 130 years ago but the story of John Lamb and his rescue of the Price brothers still strikes a chord and such an incident would surely hit the headlines today.

‘Plunging through the ice on a frozen canal must have been a nightmarish experience and one which they almost certainly would not have survived had it not been for Mr Lamb.

‘We don’t expect the certificate to necessarily sell for a huge amount of money, it’s simply a wonderful example of the wealth of local history which can turn up at auction.’

In his mid-30s at the time of the rescue, records show that John Lamb was still the landlord of the Pier Hotel in 1914.

Now long since demolished, the inn stood on the corner of Pier Street next to the Birmingham Canal and was originally called the Fortunes of War.

The full catalogue of items going under the hammer, including collectable military medals and a wooden propellor for a Tiger Moth or Chipmunk aeroplane, is available to view online.

Scanned from the book ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geof Harrington.

Coincidentally to this, old pal of the blog Ian Bourne sent me this tale of similar canal heroics from 23 years later, where local man Arthur Fletcher jumped into the canal at Catshill Junction and saved the life of an 11 year old girl Lily May Harris; who had fallen in on Shrove Tuesday, 1914.

What was even more remarkable is that John was unable to swim.

This is a terrific story, and it’s good to see Arthur was recognised for his heroism. Thanks to Ian for passing it on.2

9 May 1914

CANAL HEROISM

A canal boatman – Arthur Fletcher of Wood House canal stop, Pelsall – is now the proud possessor of a Royal Humane certificate for gallantly saving life. A man of some 23 years and medium height, he modestly told an Observer representative on Monday evening how he rescued an eleven year old girl who had fallen into the canal near the junction bridge at Catshill, between Walsall Wood and Brownhills. ‘Me and my mate’, he said, ‘were working a boat on the canal at Brownhills on Pancake Day, and when I was leading the horse along the towing-path I noticed some little girls playing about by the junction bridge. I had gone with the horse about 150 yards further on when I heard the children screaming, and looking back saw a little girl bobbing up and down in the water. Then I ran to the bridge, jumped into the water, and managed to catch hold of the girl’s wrist and get her to the side. She seemed to be unconscious, but after I had worked her arms, she came round and was carried home’.

Catshill Junction hasn’t changed much,

Although Mr Fletcher was, to use his own words, ‘born and bred round the canal’ and has been working the barges ever since he left school (with the exception of three months spent in the Navy), he confessed that he could not swim. ‘Mind you’, he added, ‘I think I can do a dog paddle, but not properly swim’. The canal at the junction bridge he said was about 19 feet wide, and ‘where I jumped in I afterwards tested the depth with the tiller, and found it was about six foot’. Asked if he had any difficulty in rescuing the girl, Fletcher said she did not struggle, and added, ‘When I got into the water, I managed to grasp with one hand an iron casting in the brickwork of the bridge hole, and with the other hand I caught the girl’s wrist. If I hadn’t held on to that casting, I might never have got out myself, but I was able to pull the girl to the side and shouldered her up on to the towing-path’.

Fletcher comes from a family for many years engaged in canal work. Born at Clayhanger, his father was a steerer, while his brothers also earn their living working the barges. Before marrying and going to Pelsall, Fletcher lived with his parents at Daw End Lane, Rushall. He also told our representative that on separate occasions some years ago, two of his brothers fell into deep water of the canal, but he managed to pull them out with the aid of a boat hook without getting into the water himself.

The Royal Humane Certificate was publicly presented to Mr Fletcher at the Walsall Wood Institute on Monday evening by the Rev W W Boulton, vicar of Walsall Wood. Mr T Grindley (a member of the Brownhills Urban District Council), who has taken a great interest in securing for Fletcher the certificate, detailed the circumstances of the rescue, and explained that Fletcher ran a distance of 150 yards, and without divesting himself of any clothing, plunged straight into the water. The rescued girl, he said, is Lily May Harris (11), who lives with her parents at Lindon Road, Walsall Wood. When Fletcher brought her to the bank, he resorted to artificial respiration methods, and was assisted by a man named Isaac Heath.

‘When the facts of the rescue came to my knowledge’, added Mr Grindley, ‘I thought it my duty to do something in the matter. I explained the circumstances to the Vicar, who very kindly got into communication with the Society in London, and this certificate is the result’. (Applause). The Rev W W Boulton said Mr Fletcher had shown himself to be a truly brave man, and in that framed certificate he possessed something to be proud of for the rest of his life – a certificate which should encourage him if danger arose in the future. There were two kinds of bravery – physical and moral. They often found instances of physical bravery, but what about the moral – the daring to do right against all comers whatever the consequences might be. A soldier could be a bold brave fellow, knowing no fear when he faced the cannon’s mouth, yet morally he might shrink back in a cowardly way and be tempted to do the wrong thing simply because someone laughed at the right. Physical bravery was a very grand and noble thing, but they must never forget that moral bravery was something better still. After all it was no joke to get into one of our innocent looking canals. Mr Fletcher had actually risked his life in rescuing the girl, and they all admired him for his brave act. He did not say it boastfully, but he thought no person had greater admiration for true bravery than the average Englishman – (hear, hear) – and they desired to express appreciation of their friend’s pluck.

The vicar of Walsall Wood also took the opportunity to congratulate Mr Grindley on his election as a member of the Brownhills Council, adding that ‘perhaps in a short while we shall hear that Brownhills and Walsall Wood are to be provided with a good bath, where young fellows can learn to swim without getting into the muddy water of the canal’. The rev gentleman mentioned that in his younger days he greatly enjoyed swimming, and expressed the opinion that it would be well if all had some knowledge of the methods of artificial respiration. The framed certificate was then handed to Mr Fletcher amid applause, the recipient remarking, ‘I don’t think I should be doing my duty if I sat down without thanking Mr Grindley and the Rev Mr Boulton for their efforts on my behalf, and also thank the friends for coming here’, Mr Fletcher’s mother and wife were both present, and the former lady also expressed thanks. The Vicar remarked that they owed a debt of gratitude to Mr Grindley, adding, ‘He has carried out the real work, and I have simply had to write a few letters’. Mr Grindley returned thanks, and proposed a vote of thanks to the Vicar and Mr S Cotton, who occupied the chair. Inspector Needham (of Rushall), seconding, said Mr Fletcher was a credit to Rushall and the district, and they all felt proud of him because of his noble act. In addition to Inspector Needham, several other police officers were present, including Police-sergeant Lewis and Police-constables Barrett and Moore.

Posted in Environment | 1 Comment

A hundred years apart: One year on…

Old friend of the blog Ian Broad has been in touch again to reprise his hugely popular series of historical then and now photos that he started creating in 2020 as part of his lockdown exercise bike rides.

Image generously supplied by Ian Broad.

Ian sent me these images last week and as usual, I won’t say where they are – it’s so much more fun if folk can identify the locations! They are very much up to the remarkably high standard he set previously and I welcome them here: It’s a lovely project and I adore the work and thought that clearly goes into each image.

You can see the full list of ‘Hundred Years Apart’ posts by clicking here. By heck, there’s some gems there: Worth exploring if you have time.

Image generously supplied by Ian Broad.

Ian has previously supplied lots of material for the blog. including an eternally popular 1982 Shire Oak School leaver group photo outside the Royal Oak pub in Shire Oak and lots about the history of Ian’s family shop Tom’s Cabin, a fixture of Brownhills for many years throughout the 1980s.

Jill Manchester also did the now-and-then thing with great success a few years ago in Walsall Wood.

Image generously supplied by Ian Broad.

Thanks to Ian for another great post and very thought provoking set of images, and if you have any views on this wonderful work, please do comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

In the Buffs

The man pictured looks like a fine gentleman. Any idea who it may be? A fantastic artefact from Bruce Littley.

An interesting enquiry here from old friend of the blog Bruce Littley who’s got an interesting, possibly local artefact from the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, of Buffs for short.

The Buffs (who are still a fine and popular organisation) are a friendship and charitable organisation, often considered to be the working class Freemasons. Although not as populous as they once were, they shared a benevolent, positive community passion with organisations like Rotoract and the Round Round Table.

Bruce has a badge, pictured above, from what he thinks may be a local Lodge, and wonders if any readers can shed light upon it?

Hi Bob,

This may be an unusual one, but I am optimistic.

I have in my collection, a badge, which I believe would have been worn on part of the regalia of a member of an RAOB (Buffaloes, Buffs) Lodge.

It has in its centre a photographic image of a man. The Lodge is the “George Roberts Lodge No. 2196” I have tried to get information from the RAOB HQ at Harrogate, but received no reply.

I have asccertained that the Lodge met at the Station Hotel, from at least 1931, and changed to the Hussey Arms Hotel in 1981, meeting on Tuesdays.

I do not know if it is still extant. I have not been able to find other information, and then thought could he have been one of your ancestors?

Ever hopeful.
Regards,
Bruce

Bruce feels the George Roberts in question may be a relative of William Roberts, Brownhills Victorian brewer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and mischief-maker, and thinks there may be a likeness in the photos, which maybe coincides with the Buffs locally meeting at the Station Hotel as he notes.

William Roberts. A remarkable man.

William was a member of the Buffaloes, as his obituary linked above noted.

However, I was not aware of any relatives of William surviving him.

So what can readers add? If you have a view, please share it: Either comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or hit me up on social media.

Thanks to Bruce for sharing a lovely thing, and for creating a great Bank Holiday Weekend talking point!

Posted in Environment | 1 Comment

Music without peer…

What seems like an age ago, but in fact was only in 2019, I featured an article here about the Brownhills Co-Operative Society Orchestra. It was a surprisingly popular post for what I, at the time, foolishly considered a slightly obscure subject: But it drew much comment and you can read it and the original article by clicking here. I’ve featured the original article at the foot of this post for content, too.

I was contacted a couple of weeks ago by reader David Book who had a photograph of the Peerless Dance Band, a notable local musical ensemble who I’ve heard referenced a good few times, but have very scant information on.

David said:

Hi,

Thank you for this photograph and for the interesting information from Derek.

I can confirm that the man in the centre at the back (glasses, tie and holding a violin) is Samuel Holford (my grandfather). I understand that he lived on Great Charles Street and later in Shire Oak.

He had a greengrocers shop before the war.

Samuel Holford, centre holding violin and the Peerless Dance Band – date unknown. An absolutely gorgeous image kindly supplied by David Book. Those expressions – Samuel and the the chap on banjo particularly – but the suits, the stance. Everything is timeless.

I’m not sure of the date or the identity of the musicians, but I have a photograph of him playing in the “Peerless Dance Band” (I’ll email the photo to Bob, in case it’s of interest)

Best Regards
David Book

Now firstly my huge thanks to David for a remarkable image, and such a beautiful copy of it too: But not just that, this potentially opens up a new avenue – who were the rest of The Peerless Dance Band? Where did they play? What dates were they around? What can people recall and contribute?

This is just such a lovely image, I’m fascinated by it: The expressions, the posture, the charm of it. It’s thoroughly gorgeous.

You know what I’m going to ask: Please do contribute anything at all – either about the musician Samuel Holford, the dance band he was in or indeed, the Co-Operative orchestra. Comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or have a word on social media.

Samuel is the man also hiding the violin in the image below, heading up my original post.

Orignal article:

A lovely image from something I didn’t know existed at all – Brownhills Coperative Orchestra in, I think, the 1950s. Image very kindly supplied by John Bakewell, who is the dashing young lad back right holding the double bass.

Something very interesting popped up in the week that I think will engage the older readers particularly, and is a lovely one for the pre-Christmas period: A photo of the Brownhills Co-Operative Society Orchestra.

I had no idea it existed at all. I of course knew about the Brownhills Co-Operative Choral Society operating from the same place – which won many awards and was famous for decades; David Evans has written extensively about that fine history here many times over the years.

Yet I don’t recall any mention of an orchestra at all. John Bakewell wrote:

I used to play double bass with the Co-op orchestra that rehearsed each week in a room above the shop. Has anyone got any memories of this orchestra?

John added:

I’m second from the right at the back with the head of a double bass next to me. The society had their own instrument which meant that I could go straight to rehearsal on the bus from Cannock after finishing work in the council offices.

David Evans also observed:

Possibly a young Ray Cooper, back row second from right… Viola player.  Isabel Cooper, his wife, front row, by the clarinet player…

So can we help John identify more of the people in the image, or share recollections of this clearly very fine group of musicians?

The musical history of Brownhills is illustrious – truly – and also remarkably diverse, so it surprises me I’ve not noticed this orchestra before.

Can you help please? If you can, comment here on the blog, find me on social media or shoot me an email to BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks, and particularly to John for shining a light on another bit of our otherwise forgotten cultural heritage.

92402502

The Co-op Hall, the upper floor used for a number of purposes, including the Labour Exchange. It stood where Farm Foods is today. A cracking 1980s image by Brownhills George, and posted on Panoramio.

Posted in Brownhills stuff, Churches, Interesting photos, Local History, Local media, Local music, News, Panoramio photo discussions, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media, Spotted whilst browsing the web, Walsall community, Walsall Wood stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Shire Oak to way out West: Can you help with this family history?

Hednesford Road Brownhills West – nowadays, the building on the right is the Thai Lanna restaurant, but back then was The Wilkin Inn, affectionately known as The Monkey. This is a scene Charles and Catherine would recognise. Image from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ By Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

It’s about time we got back to some local history here, so here’s a nice one for the family historians and archive diggers for a wet spring weekend. So sorry for the lack of posts lately: I am very busy with work and not possessed of the energy I was ten years ago, sadly

Reader Pat Ward has been in touch, looking for some help untangling her family tree, which has Brownhills West and Shire Oak connections.

I’ll let Pat explain:

Dear Bob,

I wonder if any of your readers could help me please.

My cousin Max is researching the family tree, but he has not been able to find anything out about the brothers and sisters of our Grandfather Charles Aldridge who was born 5th March 1882 at Norton Canes.

His father was Robert Aldridge Born 1851 at Penkridge.

My grandfather was married to Catherine Caulton who came from Shire Oaks, Brownhills.

When they married they moved in with Catherine’s mother in Hednesford Road, Brownhills where they had four children and then moved to Coventry with three of their children and leaving behind with her grandmother my mother Evelyn and after moving to Coventry had eleven more children.

Pat Ward

Nw, perhaps the old hands can help a bit here as the name Charles Aldridge sounds very familiar, and I can’t put my finger on why: So I’m wondering if any of the blog elders here can enlighten me.

It would be most excellent if we could help Pat and Max find out more about their family and I’m sure readers will do their best to rise to the challenge.

Thanks to Pat for an interesting enquiry.

If you can help, please do: Either comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or whisper in my ear on social media. Thanks to everyone for their patience in the face of my apparent lethargy!

Hednesford Road looking into the camera from the photo at the top of the article: It was, back then, a street of dense housing and a tightly. knit community of it’s own, quite distinct from the rest of Brownhills. From ‘Memories of BrownhillsPast’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Posted in Environment | 19 Comments

Walking group sets off again in Brownhills this Wednesday afternoon!

Altogether now, ‘I love to go a-wandering…’ – image from Walsall Healthy Spaces Team.

I’m glad to see that some important social activities are resuming in light of their cancellation for lockdown – and the resumption of the Wednesday afternoon walking group in Brownhills is great news.

The Walsall Healthy Spaces Team volunteer led walk will be approximately 45-60 minutes every Wednesday afternoon, including today Wednesday 28th April 2021, starting from Brownhills Community Centre car park (the old Amex or Central Boys School, just off the miner island in the heart of Brownhills) at 1:15pm for a 1:30pm departure.

Full social distancing and covid safety procedures will be observed in line with current rules.

These great social walks will be exploring our beautiful commons and local open spaces.

This will be a great way to get some exercise and meet folk in a safe, socially distanced event that’s fun and great for a bit of much needed company in these tough times.

For more information on other volunteer led walking groups click here.

You can visit Walsall Healthy Spaces Team on Facebook here. If you attend, why not get in touch and let me know how you get on?

Posted in News | Leave a comment

How Brownhills marked the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh

It’s always good to hear from old friend of the blog and respected elder of Brownhills, John Bird a man I’ve always respected, not just for his activities with and in support of the local Royal British Legion and Remembrance, but for his concise, sharp commentary on local matters.

St James’ Church, Brownhills: Image from my 365days journal.

This week John wrote to me touchingly of the observance of the passing of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, and how local folk from The Legion and other organisations marked the funeral of this much respected figure.

John wrote:

Remembering Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

A number of ex-service members of the Brownhills branch of the Royal British Legion expressed a desire to attend the Cenotaph at St. James’ church in Brownhills to declare their sincere sympathy for the demise of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on the day of his funeral.

After seeking advice from the Police Authorities they attended the Cenotaph just before 3:00 pm. on the Saturday. It was a pleasant surprise when the vicar came over and asked if she may say a few words together with a prayer.

Image from BBC Online.

One minute’s silence was observed together with the lowering of the Legion’s Standard. It was at this point two uniformed members of T.S. Vigo arrived and paid their respects with one minute’s silence.

All of this was a spontaneous response by everyone present and did not exceed the limit of six people as required and not forgetting social distancing thus complying with pandemic guidelines.

This was a simple gesture that felt somewhat comforting.

John Bird
Brownhills.

That’s a wonderfully touching thing: Thank you John for sharing this with Brownhills. I trust we find you in good health at this difficult time?

John Bird has periodically written clear, eloquent and concise letters to the local press – the ones that have always stuck in mind have been the ones relating to the development and plans for Brownhills High Street, and he’s written some brilliant stuff over the years including one recently that provoked much debate on the subject of Remembrance parade funding.

John was also in touch some time ago to tell us that the Legion are there for the community and ex-service folk and that the local branch is always looking for new members.

Again, thanks to John for sharing an excellent, touching report.

Posted in Brownhills stuff, Churches, Clayhanger stuff, Environment, Events, Interesting photos, Local Blogs, Local History, Local media, News, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media, Walsall community, Walsall Council, Walsall Wood stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Walking group sets off again in Brownhills this afternoon!

Altogether now, ‘I love to go a-wandering…’ – image from Walsall Healthy Spaces Team.

I’m glad to see that some important social activities are resuming in light of their cancellation for lockdown – and the resumption of the Wednesday afternoon walking group in Brownhills is great news.

The Walsall Healthy Spaces Team volunteer led walk will be approximately 45-60 minutes every Wednesday afternoon, including today Wednesday 21st April 2021, starting from Brownhills Community Centre car park (the old Amex or Central Boys School, just off the miner island in the heart of Brownhills) at 1:15pm for a 1:30pm departure.

Full social distancing and covid safety procedures will be observed in line with current rules.

These great social walks will be exploring our beautiful commons and local open spaces.

This will be a great way to get some exercise and meet folk in a safe, socially distanced event that’s fun and great for a bit of much needed company in these tough times.

For more information on other volunteer led walking groups click here.

You can visit Walsall Healthy Spaces Team on Facebook here. If you attend, why not get in touch and let me know how you get on?

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Sandfields reopens for volunteers today!

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Sandfields Pumping Station – a great historic building with immense history and social significance – not just to Lichfield, but to the Black Country. Lichfield Discovered and local historian Dave Moore have saved this valuable asset for the community.

Sandfields Pumping Station champion and public historian extraordinaire Dave Moore has been in touch to share the latest news for local history enthusiasts and members of the Lichfield Waterworks Trust charity, formerly the Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station group – Sandfields is reopening at last!

During the pandemic, the trust has had to suspend meetings and activities like any other such organisation, but with the tentative resumption of normality, the trust have taken the decision to open the station back up and recommence their restoration activities – from this Today, Tuesday 20th April 2021.

Dave said:

Sandfields Pumping Station – Re-opening to Volunteers

Following recent government advice issued through the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and taking into account the falling levels of new cases of Corona virus, the trustees have decided to re-open Sandfields to volunteers only from Tuesday 20th April. We shall open on a Tuesday and Friday morning from 1000 hours until 1230 hours until further notice.

The pumping station is allowed to open under Covid secure precautions and these are covered by the procedure below. This is similar to the procedure used when we opened up after the last lockdown but now includes advice on travelling and testing. For this reason I would ask all volunteers to read the procedure and determine whether they are confident to return.

We have a great deal of work to do both inside and outside the building, so if you are more comfortable working outside then this can be accommodated. It is because of the amount of work that requires progressing, that we have decided to open two mornings a week. Feel free to choose whichever is more suitable or come on both days, we shall be pleased to see you.

We all hope that we will be able to continue opening up indefinitely but we will monitor the situation constantly and implement any changes that are required.
 

Procedure for opening the waterworks during Covid 19 Restrictions
 
  1. A trustee in attendance will be nominated to check that this procedure is followed. Where difficulties arise the Health and safety officer should be informed so that this procedure can be modified if required.
  2. Open up the main access door and the sliding doors in the 60’s building to ensure maximum air circulation.
  3. Position the following signs. “Entry only” at the main entrance. “Exit only” at the sliding doors.
  4. Position tables at entrance and exit, wipe with anti bacterial cleaner and place signing in and signing out sheets on the appropriate tables. Place masks, hand sanitiser and gloves on the signing in table. It is important that everyone wears a mask when inside the building. The trustee in charge will sign people both in and out.
  5. People should be allocated jobs on the basis of one job per person unless the nature of the job allows volunteers to socially distance.
  6. Toilets should be used on a basis of one out one in. After use the toilet seat, rim and washbasin should be wiped down with the cleaner provided.
  7. No preparation or consumption of food or drink is allowed within the building. Volunteers should bring their own refreshments and store them outside. Do not take food or drink into the building. Volunteers are encouraged to take chairs outside and socially distance whilst eating or drinking. All rubbish is to be taken home by volunteers and disposed of at home.
  8. Work will be allowed in the cataract chamber and below subject to a maximum and minimum of two people working provided the small door under the main access door is open to provide a throughput of air.
  9. At the end of the session all volunteers must wipe down their work area and take all rubbish and PPE home to dispose of in a safe manner.
  10. The trustee in charge will store the signing in/out forms and wipe the tables down. They will also check the levels of cleaner/sanitiser/cloths is sufficient for the following week.
  11. Any rubbish/debris/waste not taken home by volunteers should be placed in a heavy duty plastic sack and disposed of accordingly.
  12. Each volunteer should consider their method of transport to and from the pumping station. Car sharing should not be used at the present time.
  13. Volunteers are encouraged to use the free Lateral Flow tests being provided by the government on a weekly basis.
The Trustees would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support during these difficult times.
 
If you do have any questions, concerns, thoughts, or comments, please do get in touch. Your opinions matter us.
Find Out More

Do pop over to Dave Moore’s blog and check out the history of Sandfields Pumping Station, an almost forgotten gem – the group also has a Facebook page.

Dave is, of course, one of the leading lights of Lichfield Discovered, along with Kate ‘Cardigan’ Gomez from Lichfield Lore.

It’s great to see people like Dave encourage a better attitude to our historic buildings -please do attend if you’re able, it’s sure to be enlightening and educational.

 

Posted in Environment, Events, Followups, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, Just plain daft, Local Blogs, Local History, Local media, News, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media, Spotted whilst browsing the web | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How you can support Baby Ciaran’s family, plus details of local church support

Sorry folks very, very late with this but following the awful tragedy at the weekend in which baby Ciaran Leigh Morris lost his life following a traffic collision in Brownhills High Street, many people are asking where they can get blue bows to help the family.

Tributes are spreading along the streets of Brownhills. Image from PA Media, via the BBC.

The town is quickly turning blue as a show of support for Ciaran’s family, which really shows the strength of feeling following this awful tragedy.

Bows are available from Caroline Watkinson, see this Facebook post here and also from Dem Darby here.

Car stickers are available from Rebecca Jayne, see this Facebook post here.

All proceeds for the above to the fund.

You can donate to the JustGiving fund that’s open here – that’s safe and easy to do.

Also, Revd Gayle Greenway from St James Church has posted that they have an open door this evening (Wednesday 7th April 2021) for those seeking prayer and support in this difficult time:

A Message for Brownhills’ Community following Easter Sunday’s Tragedy: –

On behalf of everyone at St James’, the Parish Church of Brownhills with Ogley Hay, I want to say that we are overcome with immense sadness to have heard the news about baby Ciaran, whose life was tragically lost on Easter Sunday.

As an expression of how we would like to stand in solidarity with Ciaran’s family in their grief, St James’ church building will be open tomorrow, Wednesday 7th April at the following time: –

• 7.30 – 9.00 pm.

We will have members of the church available to offer support to those of the local community who would like to use the church to say a quiet prayer, light a candle, reflect, or to receive any prayer support.

There will also be a team of Stewards to ensure that each of the open church sessions remain Covid 19 secure.

With many thoughts and prayers for Ciaran’s whole family and for all of Brownhills’ at this extremely sad time,

Reverend Gayle Greenway.

Brownhills Methodist Church in Silver Street also have an open door on Sunday as follows:

Our Church will be open for Private Prayer on Sunday Afternoon from 4pm – 5pm

Posted in Environment | Leave a comment

Ravens Court to be demolished in ambitious redevelopment plan

Readers who have been here for a while will know that one of the recurrent and most intractable stories on the blog over the 12 years of it’s existence has been the exasperating and somewhat depressing story of Ravens Court, the derelict and decaying 1960s shopping precinct at the heart of town, owned by a London-based property developer who was left with it following Tesco cancelling plans to rebuild its Brownhills store.

Why does it always rain on us? Ravens Court on a summer afternoon.

Just lately you’ll also have noticed a lot of political rhetoric and posturing from political quarters, in videos and posts on social media by our MP, Wendy Morton, and the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street.

In impassioned communiques, the two have spoken of their desire to see the situation resolved, and of the immense pressure from residents of the town, who would welcome an end to the blight on Brownhills that is Ravens Court.

It seems the end is in sight to our misery: In a press release received yesterday from the Mayor’s office, it can be revealed that Ravens Court will soon be demolished and replaced with a museum and leisure facility celebrating the history of our town.

I’m sure like me, you will welcome an end to this sorry saga. The press release said:

‘The state of Ravenscourt and the subsequent impact on my and Wendy’s popularity has gnawed away at me over recent years and I’ve been lobbying to get something done.

Wendy Morton MP and I want to see the precinct torn down and redeveloped to breathe life back into the area and I promised we’re getting closer to making it happen.

Today I can reveal that we’re going to ensure Ravens Court is bought for the public good, and transformed into a cultural asset the whole area can be proud of.

Our plan is simple: We’re going to get Walsall Council to transfer a large sum of money to the wealthy landlord who owns Ravens Court before the election, in return for which the Council will hopefully pay for the demolition and fund the construction of a new interactive learning centre dedicated to Brownhills and Walsall Wood culture, history and art.

The Street-Morton Centre will be a buzzing hive for the community, and feature the latest technology to attract tourists curious about the town’s history of mining sculpture, street food, brutalist architecture, industrial odours and agricultural football.

There will be an 80 seat restaurant with views over the canal serving the best culinary experiences the town has to offer with a choice of goose with orange or normal chips, with or without gravy, and a theme bar celebrating the history of Poxon’s Butchers, sponsored by the Black Pudding Council of Great Britain.

For the kids there will be activities where youngsters can experience life as it was in Brownhills a century ago, working underground at age 14, living without sanitation, avoiding the rent man and entering the lottery to have a real industrial accident.

We anticipate funding will be provided by Historic England, The National Lottery Community Fund and the Pork Scratching Marketing Board.

We intend to clarify all these details further when I’m elected again.’

I’m amazed at this, I must say. I had warned readers to expect some scheme or other with Ravens Court from the diminutive Mayor and his chaperone, Mrs. Morton, but nothing on this scale.

Artist’s impression of how our cultural mining exhibit could look.

I scouted quickly yesterday for opinion on the matter, and spoke to local community activist and Clayhanger Kid author, Brian Stringer. Brian was not surprised, but sceptical of the promised new dawn, ‘We had that Andy Street down in the cutting just before the last lockdown, and he was offering us a new project to work on. He said that he’d noted how much rubbish and hardcore we’d shifted on the track, and he thought we’d be best placed to knock down Ravens Court. Said he’d slip us a tenner for out trouble.

‘Bob and Mick were all for it, as they thought we could use some of the rubble to raise the track level near the bund where it always floods.  But I said we should hold out for at least £25. What with Tim’s litter picking schedule and my hassles with the wildlife down in the cutting of late it would take us at least three days to raze the site. They reckon they’d manage it in two. They’re mad.’

I also spoke to others who were not so happy with the project, either. Several wanted some form of museum for the Staffordshire Hoard, or the much loved and long closed market. Others wanted a wider spread of historical exhibits, detailing things we once had here, like shops, banks and police patrols.

I caught Wendy Morton in an unexpected moment (I’d taken my camera out to clean the lens whilst stood outside Costa and she just appeared out of nowhere) and asked her about the Staffordshire Hoard angle.

‘We approached Stoke and Lichfield about that, and they were perfectly happy to let us have the hoard, but we’d need to put down something of equal value as surity. They laughed and put the phone down when I suggested they could have Aldridge. So obviously that was impossible.

Andy and Wendy are upstaged by a confused OAP at a recent press event.

‘Anyway I think a historical centre here is crucial. With all the visiting politicians coming here from faraway places like me, the Mayor and that bloke we’ve put up for PCC, how better can they learn to integrate with the local community? When I first came here I had no idea that mooning was an ancient local greeting.’

I, of course, welcome the end to the Ravens Court saga, and look forward to experiencing interactive displays about quaint local customs such as fencing the video, getting two tenner bags of a Friday and learning about the town’s immense history of local eccentrics. But I really can’t see were the money’s coming from.

Andy and Wendy dismember an A-Z whilst trying to find The Avenues.

Time will tell.

A section 80 has been applied for, and demolition is scheduled to commence on the 31st April 2021, just before polling day.

The owners of Ravens Court have been contacted for comment on the matter, but when I called, couldn’t stop laughing long enough to say anything.

 

Posted in Environment | 17 Comments

Ravens Court – A message from Councillor Steve Wade

Trebles all round in the Mayoral office…

A couple of weeks ago I told you to keep watching the Ravens Court situation, as it looks like something is going on. Local MP and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street have been having a big social media push on the subject of late, which is remarkable as they couldn’t distance themselves from it fast enough previously.

Since then there’s been a risible video filmed in a misty, Mad-Max alike Ravens Court, mostly to local derision, in which MP Morton and Mayor Street waffle a lot, use a lot of words but don’t ever manage to get them to form anything resembling a promise, statement of fact or commitment.

You can witness this Oscar-worthy epic here (Facebook, sorry).

For those unaware of the why’s and wherefores of the rotting shopping precinct at the heart of Brownhills, please read this previous article on the matter here.

Wendy Morton has traditionally been very supportive of local Tory councillors who seem oddly absent in this current publicity binge.

One thing that has occurred to me about this flannel is the complete absence of the local sitting Tory Councillors – Ken Ferguson or Steve Craddock, or indeed their invisible candidate for this May’s elections in any of the promotion. Looks like Wendy’s gone off you, lads. Shame.

Anyway, I have a message here posted this morning by Brownhills Labour Councillor Steve Wade, who has worked tirelessly on Ravens Court, to the degree of frequently litter picking it on his own.

Steve wrote:

RAVEN’S COURT: It may have taken forever, but a victory for campaign persistence?

Well the rumour mill down the council is in overdrive regarding some good news on Raven’s Court over the coming weeks, just before an election amazingly enough. If it is the case, then I, like everyone else, will be absolutely delighted that this eyesore right on our High Street may be finally getting regenerated.

Of course, there will be those over the coming months who, if there is good news, will be taking all the credit and telling us how wonderful they are. However, if there is something to be celebrated over the next few weeks then it will be a victory for all those who have campaigned relentlessly over the last 10/15 odd years to keep this issue at the top of the council’s regeneration agenda and to keep the pressure on the council and owners to come forward with solutions.

I really want to see this shithole got forever. But questions need to be asked.

It will be a victory for all those who have continually raised it on social media and on their blogs about the state of the buildings and the need for regeneration. It will be a victory for all those who have reported it to the council when there have been breaches and danger to the public. It will be a victory for all those who have litter picked and have tried to tidy the area up on the now probably hundreds of occasions when it would have been easier to just leave it.

So yes, the council may have finally listened, regeneration may be on its way, and the local politicians will no doubt be telling us it is THEY who may have done the great deed for our people and community. But rarely, if at all, have we ever seen any of them in the last decade set foot in Raven’s Court except when an election is on the horizon and leaflets have to be filled and distributed.

So if there is good news on Raven’s Court over the coming weeks, then I salute all those who have campaigned, litter picked, reported, and used social media over the last decade to keep Raven’s Court regeneration on the agenda. After all these years, finally, all the hard work may have just paid off.

Thanks to Steve for that, which I echo 100%.

I also have some pertinent questions readers might like to consider:

  • If this is going ahead, that will presumably involve a change of ownership of Ravens Court. How much will this cost?
  • If Ravens Court is gifted, how much will it cost to raze the site?
  • If Walsall Council is left holding the baby, how much will Council Tax payers be stumping up to absolve a wealthy property owner of their responsibilities to a community they’ve taken for idiots for a decade?
  • If we are paying, on what cost-benefit basis has this been decided?
  • Why now and not eight years ago?
  • Why does this look like a cynical bid to win re-election for Andy Street locally?

It’s worth pointing out that the owner of Ravens Court is the company Lightquote Limited. You can see a list of their directors here.

This article at Opendemocray is well worth a read.

Remember, whatever happens here, you and me don’t matter a jot. It’s all about the big money.

 

Posted in Environment | 1 Comment

it’s going ahead – A5 Live is on for 2021!

Long term readers will remember the annual music and fun festival that’s taken place on the smallholding just off the A5 at Newtown, Brownhills every summer – except last year, when it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Obviously none of us can predict the future, but things are looking good for summer right now and I think we all need a good time this tp look forward to.

For 2021 the music, entertainment and fun returns, and takes place from Friday 6th to Sunday 8th August 2021, and tickets are now on sale. It promises to be the summer event we all need.

Tickets range in price from £2.50 for a kid’s Sunday only ticket  to just £25 for the whole weekend which is smashing value I think you’ll agree – click here to browse options and purchase yours.

There are a fantastic range of bands including Fleetwood Mad, The Endings, Maxwell Avenue, Tinalien, Martian Social Club, Caroline Bella, NOT QUITE DEAD YET, One Eyed Dog Band, Those Fine Strangers, Magnalium, The Arosa, Robbie Joyce, The Fazys, Big Indie Rocks, BlackSheep and loads more.

There will be all the usual festival fun like sideshows, great food, bar and a great crowd.

Martin, the organiser, posted the following on the festival Facebook Page.

I wish everyone the best for this and it’s always good to see local music events.

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The early days of powerboats at Chasewater – a massive gallery

I am honoured today to be able to share with readers an archive gallery of images that are of Chasewater and the Speedboat Club in the earliest years, when the lake was still surrounded by the remnants of mining history and the BRD Company of Aldridge were using the reservoir to test the outboard boat engines they were developing.

Image courtesy of David Hughes.

The full story is in my original post from some some years ago, where David Hughes explains that his father, Reg, was engaged in the development of the motor:

In the late 1950s the BRD Company in Aldridge started to develop an outboard motor for powerboats.

The engine was called the Bermuda. I was told at the time that the name was chosen because it was ‘exotic’ and contained the letters BRD in order.

After the Staffordshire Hydroplane Boating Club gave their permission, most of the engine testing was carried out at Chasewater.  The Bermuda project team spent many days testing the prototype engines and entered them in many powerboat races held at Chasewater. In 1961 they were 1st and 2nd fastest in the ‘D’ class times in the boat builder trials at Chasewater.

Recently, David has found an archive of photos taken of the testing, trials and competitions of the time online, and has obtained them for me to share here. The images are naturally taken, of variable quality but it has to be said they are fascinating and a real document of the times, company and project.

David wrote:

Bob

Recently whist looking on Flickr I came across over 100 old (B&W) photographs of Chasewater. Much to my surprise I found out that they were taken by my father!

You may remember a few years ago I sent you an article about BRD in Aldridge building outboard motors and testing them at Chasewater. The photographs are of that period and mainly taken from the speedboat clubhouse area.

Many are poor quality and just show a lot of water! However there are some quite good ones.

All the photos are from the early 1960’s and relate directly to the previous information which I sent about BRD Bermuda outboard motors. Bermuda appears frequently.

There are many similar shots, but I think overall they provide an interesting view of Chasewater.

Many thanks
David Hughes

As is often the case, study the background, too – it’s interesting. This is a document of Chasewater when it was still effectively a polluted industrial wasteland, before the leisure era fully kicked in. It’s fascinating.

The gallery is massive, and to see any image in detail, click on it for a larger version.

Thanks to David for sharing it with us – it’s truly stunning and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his generosity and for completing the circle.

If you want to read the ‘Early Days at BRD’ book, you can download a copy from this post here in electronic form – and don;t forget the origins of this story below the gallery!

Image courtesy of David Hughes. Click any image for a larger version.

Original post:

chasewater-2-1

The endurance boat as it finished the 7day trial. Image very kindly supplied by David Hughes – please click for a larger version.

There are two subjects I really wish I could feature more of here on the Brownhills Blog – recent, postwar history and images of Chasewater, and more on local industry, like the BRD – well, today I get to feature both are reader David Hughes recently sent me the following article out of the blue, and it tells of a bit of local history I didn’t know: the BRD in Aldridge experimented with boat motors.

Thanks to David for a wonderfully informative article, and for highlighting the innovative nature of local industry. I nearby appeal for scans of the BRD book if anyone can manage it as I think it would be a lovely addition to the works here on the blog, and I know many readers are interested in the history of the company.

David Hughes wrote:

Chasewater and  the BRD

In the late 1950s the BRD Company in Aldridge started to develop an outboard motor for powerboats.

chasewater-1-1

Early (cold) days in the building of the powerboat club. Image very kindly supplied by David Hughes – please click for a larger version.

The engine was called the Bermuda. I was told at the time that the name was chosen because it was ‘exotic’ and contained the letters BRD in order.

After the Staffordshire Hydroplane Boating Club gave their permission, most of the engine testing was carried out at Chasewater.  The Bermuda project team spent many days testing the prototype engines and entered them in many powerboat races held at Chasewater. In 1961 they were 1st and 2nd fastest in the ‘D’ class times in the boat builder trials at Chasewater.

bermuda-2-8

Boats preparing for one of the races at Chasewater. Image very kindly supplied by David Hughes – please click for a larger version.

However, the most exciting test was the one which took place around November 1961 when a team of 20 men took turns to drive a twin Bermuda engine boat round Chasewater for 24 hour a day for 7 days. They covered around 4000 miles. This kind of endurance test had never been done before and gave the company national and international attention.

My father, Reg Hughes, was a development engineer on the Bermuda project and was one of the drivers. He drove the boat on the night shift and it was an experience he would never forget.

bermuda-2-1

Four of the BRD staff involved in the project including my father on the right and I think that second from the left is the ex-speedway rider Vic Emms. Image very kindly supplied by David Hughes – please click for a larger version.

As a result of his involvement with the project our family often found itself at Chasewater watching the racing and sometimes manning the rescue boats. We also spent many weekends in Aberdovey where the salt water testing took place.

I hope this is of interest
David Hughes

bermuda-2-16

The cover of ‘Early days at BRD’ which is a fascinating book that documents the Bermuda history among many other events at the BRD. Image very kindly supplied by David Hughes – please click for a larger version.

Posted in News | 4 Comments

An interesting aside

Sorry folks a bit busy elsewhere at the moment, but something came to light recently I’d just like to point out to readers.

In the Walsall Council Cabinet Meeting of 10th February 2021, a private session was held. This isn’t in itself unusual, as it’s often done to protect confidentiality of businesses, commercial deals and so forth. This is an extract from the agenda for the meeting and private session.

From the agenda to Walsall Cabinet Meeting 10th February 2021.

Now, I have no idea what this is about, or relates to. I am aware of plans for a new square on wasteland in Brownhills, which this *could* relate to, but I’m under the impression that deal was sorted ages ago, and planning permission for that has been granted.

There are some possibly related facts:

  • This is an election year – both for councillors and the West Midlands Mayor.
  • Sitting Labour Councillor Steve Wade is standing in Brownhills, and has a very good reputation locally. The local Tories see this seat as winnable and need it to cement their majority after years of only just forming a majority at council.
  • Andy Street, the current West Midlands Mayor is being pushed very, very hard by our local MP Wendy ‘Wendoline’ Morton and they seem to be trying to push one particular issue in every ward (eg. the phantom new railway station in Aldridge).
  • Andy and Wendoline have made odd noises about the ‘demolition’ of Ravens Court, the derelict shopping precinct that’s been dogging Brownhills for over a decade. The ‘demolition’ phrase is interesting, as that’s new and coined by them (possible expectation management?)

Now I have no idea what the above agenda is about, but Strategic Aquisitions are normally just that: The procurement of land for future development strategy.

This may be, and probably is, nothing to do with Ravens Court.

Surely after a so many years of broken Tory promises on this, they can’t be planning to pull off a stunt here of some sort? If the council is buying it, or obtaining the site in some way, it’ll be interesting to see costs.

I would, of course welcome the loss of the eyesore. But I’m intrigued here.

Our esteemed local MP.

Keep watching. I’m probably wrong. But I have a feeling.

Whilst we’re on the subject of elections, watch out for local Reform candidates (formerly UKIP/The Brexit Party et al) setting up community groups on various social media platforms which seems to be a thing locally, without pointing out their intentions. I find this curious.

Posted in Environment | 1 Comment

Cottage loafing…

Here’s news of a great new group on Facey for canal enthusiasts – particularly those into canal cottages.

The BCN Canalside Cottages group has been created by BCN Society member and old friend of the blog Brenda Ward to try and track down the surviving houses, and try and find any images or ephemera from those lost.

Cottage 272 near The Long Pound, now Grasmere Gardens. Image kindly supplied by Brenda Ward.

This is of course, a worthy pursuit and one that’s thrown up so fascinating posts so far on the group.

Brenda said:

Hi Bob

I wonder if your readers could help.

I have just started a Facebook group entitled ‘BCN Canalside Cottages’. All welcome to join to contribute & for interest!

There were 273 in total all over the Birmingham Canal Navigations but now there is a mere fraction left. So far I have located 54 in existence but there may be more. I know of the two at the top of Ogley Junction that are owned and rented by Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust (LHCRT) (photos attached) and a bit further afield at Pelsall Junction.

Your readers may know of one or two in the Brownhills area that no longer exist and may even have a photograph from long ago. I believe there was one at Catshill Junction along with a smithy Small map attached). I know this is a big ask but “Brownhills Bob” does come up with some surprises.

Map fragment kindly supplied by Brenda Ward.

Many thanks

Brenda Ward
The BCN Society

Thanks to Brenda for the heads – and I do wonder if houses with canal numbers count? There are still two on Lindon Road in Brownhills and a couple in Hall Lane, Walsall Wood

Please do join the group, or if you’re not into Facebook, feel free to comment here or mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

Cottage 271 near The Long Pound, now Grasmere Gardens. Image kindly supplied by Brenda Ward.

Posted in Environment | 3 Comments

A corner of Bloxwich remembered – heavy industry in it’s prime

Martin’s corner of Bloxwich today – I can’t quite get the same angle as John Baker’s image (below) using Google Maps 3D but not far off.

Here’s a great bit of reminiscence for a chilly Sunday from Martin Hughes, the chap that works so very hard to keep the Brownhills Community Centre in the local eye by publicising it’s events and facilities.

Martin grew up in that industrial area of Bloxwich beyond Elmore Green and around the now removed former level crossing, called Dudley’s Fields. It was an area that had some housing, living cheek by jowl with foundries and other metal-bashing businesses. Nowadays, the foundries have fallen silent but it’s still home to a lot of industry, producing items as diverse as paint and pub snacks. The housing has mostly long gone.

Martin writes warmly of the area that I’ve often passed through but never really thought about much – as I suspect we all have. Thanks to him for lighting up a bit of lost history.

If you have anything to add – please do either comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or flag me down on social media.

Martin Hughes wrote:

An iconic image by John Baker of the Friars road area of Bloxwich – kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

A little background to accompany John Baker’s photograph of local heavy industry in its prime.

Amongst the families living in the middle of this row of houses on Fryers Road sited near the junction with Willenhall Lane, Bloxwich, eccentrically numbered from 45 and finishing (if memory serves) at 79. There were no corresponding even numbers on the other side and just one tree that to this day flourishes on a grassy bump next to the former entrance of the Bloxwich Lock and Stamping works – a concrete apron defended by a spiked gate where the night watchman would sometimes impale a block of lard to encourage the murderous guard dog that was rumoured to roam the yard at night. The road continues its long run down a gentle slope crossing the Wyrley Essington Canal before eventually depositing one at the periphery of the Beechdale Estate.

The original Bloxwich Station – kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

At ground level, Fryers Road was an unexceptional example of the cheek by jowl mix of industry and housing that prevailed up and down the UK at that time. A chroming company turned out widgets on Willenhall Lane, Process Noble straddled the corner and was frequently flanked by high sided lorries parking in muddy ruts along the roadside to drop off oil barrels which would then be recycled by immersion in a hissing mixture of noxious chemicals that would send plumes boiling up through open skylights.

The Station in Bloxwich wasn’t a bad pub, and not lost until about 20 years ago – kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

Opposite this was a piece of wasteland, a flat-topped hillock referred to as the Scrapyard, intersected by a rough path that led to a slope perfect for coasting on a cart or sledging on a tea tray or borrowed bath tub. A railway spur ran from the Bloxwich Walsall line along a short cutting, crossing Fryers Road and following a great long curve into the zinc spelters’ yard at the back of the works on Willenhall Lane where lines of trucks would be loaded with zinc ingots that would be shunted off onto the main line then shipped off or left to provide a less than scenic backdrop to the gardens along Fryers Road.

The author in his prime – kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

There was an eccentrically operated shop amongst the houses -a sack of spuds and wooden counter kind of place before new hands installed a freezer selling Walls’ ice cream and the shelves became laden with jars of boiled sweets and other goodies. A wraithlike workman would sometimes make the journey across the ash grey wastes of the spelters’ yard and appear at the chicken wire fence to get one of the local kids to fetch a packet of fags.

The line through Bloxwich was often used for diversions and had heavy goods traffic, so was a surprisingly good place to train spot – kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

The derelict land around the cut at the far end of Fryers Road eventually got chunked up, sold off and developed. Fryers Close and Commercial Road sprung up on the sites, early occupiers being Securicor and Mr Kipling whose wagon ran over my mercifully unoccupied tea tray sled as it shot across the road one snowy day in the early 70s as I watched entranced from the bank of snow where we’d parted company.

Interesting to see the differences a relatively few years made to the surrounding area in the background – kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

The level crossing where Station Street, Reeves Street, Willenhall Lane and Croxstalls Road convene has been sealed off for good now – a huge green walkway will take you safely across if you’re on foot and there’s no dodging the signalman  for a trudge up the track and a hop over the fence onto the back yard.

I’ve spent a good while waiting at those barriers over the years! – kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

There’s a final cruel irony to this tale.  My first job at the local authority was in the Rates Office.  As such I used to get notice of new developments, building alterations and requests to remove demolished properties from the records or, as the jargon had it, delete hereditaments from the valuation list, an action known as ‘Taking out of rating.’ I’d long since left Fryers Road, but in 1981 I was more than a little upset to find that the Council compulsorily purchased the houses and flattened the area for industrial units.  I managed to visit some time later and found a koi carp emporium on the site of my childhood home.

So much for the English Heritage blue plaque.

Posted in Environment | 8 Comments

The Thompson Family of Chasetown: What do you know?

William Thompson, Overman, the bearded gent in the bowler, and his brother Charles with the folded arms to the right. What a remarkable image.

It’s always nice to know the blog has helped a reader in some small way and today I can share with readers a fine email I’ve had thanking me for scanning and posting the booklet ‘Old Chasetown’ on the blog I back in 2016 for readers to download.

The real thanks are of course due to Stuart, who donated the booklet, and David Evans who scanned it for us!

Alan Thompson found the work, originally published in 1980 as a schools research project marshalled by Staffordshire County Council, invaluable in his pursuit of information about his family history. Alan’s Great Grandfather was Overman at Chasetown Colliery, and the book not only details this, but carries a photo of William and his Brother Charles, which has clearly been quite a find.

Alan wrote:

Hello Bob

I have recently been seeking information on my family history and was told that I should read the remarkable work on Chasetown, ‘Old Chasetown’ published by Staffordshire County Council as a local schools project in 1980 and posted on your blog several years ago for download.

On page 8 there is mention of my Great Grandfather William Thompson and his brother Charles. You can imagine my delight at finding not only this information but also the photograph.

The passing of respected overman William Thompson, as reported in the Lichfield Mercury of Friday 23 November 1923. Image kindly supplied by Alan Thompson.

I have recently found a rather good obituary piece on William would you have any knowledge on where he lived and if the church is still there?

Once the current restrictions are over I would like to visit the area. I have enclosed the obituary piece.

Thank you for posting the pdf file and for any information you can share.

Alan Thompson

Well, St Annes – purportedly the first church in Britain to be lit by electric light – is still there (well, it was last week…) and still an under-appreciated architectural gem: The cemetery is still opposite and will soon be full of gorgeous crocuses as it usually is in Springtime (if not already).

St Annes, Chasetown, is a remarkable piece of ecclesiastical architecture. Image from my 365days journal.

If you can help Alan with any details of his Great Grandfather or the Thompson family in general, please do get in touch: I’m sure many family historians currently confined to barracks will be only too happy to have a scout around the resources on Alan’s behalf.

St. Annes in springtime: Always a delight. From my 365days journal.

You can comment on this post, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tug my shirt on social media.

Thanks to Alan for his kind words and letting us know how useful he’d found the upload on the blog. It really makes doing this worthwhile. Thank you.

Here’s the original post, where you can read about ‘Old Chasetown’, and download your own copy free.

old-chasetown2_000008

‘Old Chasetown’ includes some amazing images like this one, of workers in a local colliery.

Thanks to the immense generosity of reader and old pal of the blog Stuart, and the tireless work of the young David Evans, I can share with you something rather special today: a book on Chasetown history entitle ‘Old Chasetown’2, published in a very limited run – very probably  1980.

The book – very reminiscent of the slightly later Brownhills History one featured here a couple of years ago – was created mainly by school kids from three local schools with adult help. It’s over 100 pages long, with loads of good quality images – many of which I’ve certainly never seen before – and lots of interesting, engaging prose.

The introduction notes the following:

During 1979, three of the local Chasetown schools were involved in a project to “mine” historical records, documents and photographs of the area, which undoubtedly lay under the depths of “overburden” in drawers, trunks or in attics. Children of the St. Joseph’s, Chasetown Primary and Oakdene Schools acted as mining “agents”, and many “seams” of interesting material were discovered, unearthed and finally”mined”. As editors we would like to thank the children, parents and friends concerned for the interest shown. This little pamphlet is an example of child/adult co-operation which is the basis and substance of the educational style of today. The young learn from those experienced in life who have a story to tell. The enthusiasm of the young and the archives of those older have provided us with the material from which this selection has been made.

Reader Stuart found the book in his loft, and kindly shared it with the young David Evans, who has scanned it beautifully. David emailed me the scans, and I’ve combined them into a text-searchable PDF file. You can download your copy at the link below.

Old Chasetown (PDF file, 44.3 megabytes)

You can also peruse the first 20 pages in the gallery at the foot of this post; click any page to see a legible version.

This is now the complete version with the missing pages restored! If you downloaded a copy of the original, please download this one instead.

Like the Brownhills book, this is a remarkable work, completed long before the internet. That said, some of the material is open to debate, and I welcome views on some aspects – so if you see anything that makes you think, please do shout up.

Maybe you remember the book, or were involved in some way. I’d love to hear your story.

You can comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

This is an incredible piece of work, and I salute all involved – it’s great to be able to share it with the community. Thanks to Stuart for his immense generosity and patience, too. A real gentleman.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Walsall Wood Trooper Henry Hall: A message from The Netherlands

A few weeks ago I featured a post here telling the remarkable story of a soldier from Walsall Wood – Trooper Henry Hall – who died in the liberation of Dieteren in The Netherlands from Nazi occupation, and of the remarkable endeavour being undertaken there by historian Henk Penders and his fellow historians who are gradually building up a documented history to honour those lost in the relief of their village.

Much work is still ongoing both here, undertaken by the indefatigable David Evans and of course back in Dieteren, yet I think we are still to find any relatives of Henry. If we could find someone, it would be most wonderful. The search is still ongoing.

In the meantime, Henk sent me this remarkable film, covering the liberation of Susteren and the part in that battle played by Major John Evans, who lost an arm there, not far from Dieteren. It is a stunning and emotive piece of work and beautifully crafted, but also gut-wrenching in it’s realism.

Henk said:

A local made documentary film about the liberation of Susteren and Major John Evans who got injured (lost his arm) during the battle.

After [the] war a school [which later became derelict and was demolished] was named after Major Evans and there is a street named after him.

On the house were he got injured there is a plaquette about it.

The film was made by Cor Voorter and Ton Vranken, two people I know. They live in Susteren and that is their focus.

I have no contribution to the making of it.

I researched the liberation of Dieteren, this was the first objective of operation Blackcock, this was for long unknown to the local people as only the liberation of Susteren was known.

Henk Penders

It’s worth noting that the name of the offensive – Operation Blackcock – was nothing to do with Henry Hall or Walsall Wood, although there is a notable pub in Walsall Wood called The Black Cock. How much of a coincidence is that?

My thanks to Henk for pointing out this film – it’s great to see the people of The Netherlands honouring those who fell so beautifully and with such attention to detail. May we never forget. Thanks are also due to David Evans, whose energy in this enquiry is wonderful and ceaseless.

I include the original post below, and would ask readers to note that the request for relatives of Henry Hall is still live and ongoing.

If you can help, please comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tug my sleeve on social media.

Original post:

Hello folks – I have a very important request here from blog contributor, friend and historian David Evans who is helping a team from the Netherlands uncover the history of the forces that liberated their village of Dieteren in 1945. One of the lads to be lost was from Walsall Wood, Trooper Henry Hall.

‘Dieteren, Occupied by the Germans May 10, 1940 Liberated by the English January 16, 1945’ – Image from Henk Penders and the Liberation of Dieteren website to which he contributes.

My thanks and best wishes to all involved in this, it’s a stunning example of collaborative history and international cooperation, which is hugely prescient in light of the times.

I’ll let David explain:

Very recently a request was posted in the comments on Brownhills Bob’s blog for information about a Walsall Wood soldier who had been killed in action in the Netherlands during the Second World War.

Thanks to the wonders of technology – the blog primarily, the internet , the super help given by fellow reader and contributor Andy Dennis, it has been possible to complete most of the request.

In the Netherlands  there is an ongoing local history project to honour those who gave their lives to liberate the village of Dieteren, whereby local resident Mr Henk Penders and others have been compiling a book.

Following a Messenger call with Henk he sent me these links to the site detailing the history – they are in Dutch but if you open in Chrome they translate beautifully to English – they detail a remarkable military liberation operation in which Trooper Hall from Walsall Wood gave his all:

Main site – click here.

The last crossing The Story of Trooper Johnston and the Canadian Kangaroos – part 1

The last crossing The Story of Trooper Johnston and the Canadian Kangaroos – part 2

The remarkable level of detail in what is a fascinating story, both of the events and subsequent historical detective work, is a credit to Henk and those involved. It’s a touching and wonderful thing.

So here’s where help is needed from the community: What of  Trooper Hall?

A sobering document, generously shared by Henk Penders via David Evans. Click for a larger version.

Trooper Henry Hall served in the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. The 1939 census confirms the military record, and that he lived in Walsall Road, Walsall Wood before enlisting.

image from the Mayo collection,. from ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

David and Henk are trying to locate surviving members of the Hall family, that Henry may be honoured for his sacrifice. It’s possible that Ivy Hall may still be living locally (that would be possibly Ivy’s maiden name).

If you can help, please contact Bob by commenting here, or emailing him on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com, or pull him aside and have a word on social media, please.

I would like to express my personal thanks to Mr Andy Dennis for his help and to Brownhills Bob for his expertise and assistance, and to Mr Henk Penders in the Netherlands for his amazing work to honour our fallen.

David

Posted in News | Leave a comment

A lucky escape at Sandhills – what do you know?

A quick one for now while I sort out another post, but this remarkable image came to light a couple of weeks ago, posted on Facebook by Gill Brown. It shows Gill’s grandfather, Henry Penton standing in the crater caused by a wartime bomb dropping near his house during the war.

Henry lived at Spinney Cottage, near Home Farm (Lanes, or Brawn’s Farm, Sandhills).

We’ve been aware that a bomb fell on the farmland here for a while, but scant and conflicting detail existed. It’s believed a horse was killed by the explosion, the unfortunate creature belonging to Mr. Pelari, one of Brownhills’ two ice cream men. The horse pulled Mr Pelari’s ice cream cart.

Whilst there were raids when incendiary devices fell oil the town, actual bombs were few and far between in Brownhills, so this must have been quite a spectacle, and it’s by pure chance that nobody was hurt. There was, apparently, significant damage to nearby houses.

The bomb that caused this crater will not have been a huge one in the scale of these things: Farm soil like this is loose, and will have piled around the void. But it’s a huge crater and must have taken a lot of work to fill. Odd there seems no sign of it today. Image kindly supplied by Gill Brown.

Gill said of the image:

My great grandfather Henry Penton born in 1877. 1940’s in bomb crater, adjacent to Spinney cottage. Sandhills. Brownhills. This is where Henry Penton Lived.

I’d like to thank Gill for this remarkable image, and ask readers what the know about this incident? One of the oddest things about this is there seems to be no trace of the crater in the current landscape, and we’re wondering if anyone knows the approximate spot where the bomb fell.

Both myself and David Evans have scoured maps and aerial imagery and we can’t really find any trace: So we’d love to hear what readers recall – not just of this incident but of any others locally.

Home Farm, Sandhills in current Google Earth aerial imagery. Where did this bomb-blast happen? There really is no discernible trace in the current landscape we can see. Click for a larger version.

This really is another incidence that local history continually throws up new material and I’m really pleased and amazed to see this picture. It just goes to show the danger that the country faced in wartime.

If you have anything to say, please do contribute: You can email me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com,, comment on this post or pull me to one side on social media.

 

Posted in News | 5 Comments

A magnificent man in his flying machine – what do you know?

Here’s a great one from reader Peter Gibbs who’s making a rather wonderful enquiry relating to an incident in Chasetown/Burntwood in 1917 which seems to have been the talk of the area!

I’ll let Peter explain. This is, genuinely wonderful and I’ve not seen anything like this before. Peter raises some great questions aside from the final showstopper, so any help at all would be welcome.

A SPAD S.XIII – probably the type of biplane Frederick Gibbs piloted, if not certainly a close relative of it. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Peter wrote:

Hello Brownhills Bob

Chris Graddon suggested you might be able to help.

I have recently become a member of the Burntwood Family History Group (BFHG) in order to trace the history of my father’s family who came from a line of Walsall and Chasetown miners. After his father, Albert John (Jack) Gibbs 1865-1940, had three sons and two daughters however, all three boys became headmasters. I have been interested to learn how, at a time when boys of twelve went routinely into the mines, my grandparents were willing and able to support the boys through their education.

The first of Jack’s sons, my Uncle Fred (b.1894), became a WW1 ‘flying ace’ and was awarded the Military Cross as noted in a Wikipedia page for FJ Gibbs. A story handed down in the family told of the time Fred landed his plane in a field, possibly the ‘Rec’, in Burntwood. A crowd quickly gathered to see the new flying contraption at close quarters. The story has it that Fred picked up my Grandmother and took her for a ‘spin’ over Chasetown.

Lichfield Mercury. Friday 14th September 1917. Remarkable stuff!

Chris found a short report in the Lichfield Mercury of Friday 14th September 1917 describing a plane landing in Burntwood but no name, no picture. He wondered if you might have any ideas? If so I’d be grateful for any help – or for any other scraps of info on the Gibbs family.

Best wishes
Peter Gibbs

Thanks to Peter for a fascinating enquiry: If you have anything to add, please do – either comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tug my coat on social media.

How fantastic is this?

Posted in News | 3 Comments

Distraction burglars and bogus callers operating locally: Be on your guard!

There have been several incidents locally in the last week where elderly people have had money stolen by bogus callers pretending to be from the Water Board.

This warning from West Midlands Police is important – please care it with anyone you know who’s vulnerable: The elderly, frail or less able. 

Let’s look out for our neighbours.  West Midlands Police wrote:

Distraction burglary warning after pensioners targeted in water board scam

We’re reminding people to be vigilant and look out for elderly family members and neighbours following a series of distraction burglaries in Walsall and Birmingham. Two fraudsters pretending to be from the water board attending a fault have stolen cash from the homes of five elderly people between 9 January and 20 January.

Detectives are investigating and believe the incidents are linked.

The offenders used similar distraction techniques in each of the burglaries; posing as staff from the water board, they told their victims there was an issue with the water and to go and turn their taps on. Once distracted the crooks have gone in and taken cash, jewellery and other expensive items.

As we do all we can to find the people responsible we ask you to look out for elderly relatives, friends and neighbours and remind them of the dangers of bogus callers.

We’ve got tips and advice on distraction burglaries here.

It’s worth remembering that the water board does not exist anymore. If anyone receives a knock on the door from people claiming to be from the police, council, a utility company or any other organisation always ask to see identification.

If anyone sees anything suspicious or have been visited by doorstep callers who they do not believe to be genuine, they should contact us as they may have important information. In an emergency please dial 999.

Distraction burglary is a terrible crime. We understand the trauma it causes. It’s an invasion of your privacy in the place you should feel safest. We’ll investigate any lines of enquiry, including CCTV, forensics and information from witnesses.

For more information on how to keep your home secure or for support an advice if you or some you know has been affected this terrible crime search burglary on our website: www.west-midlands.police.uk

Walsall Partnerships TeamEmail tracking gif

Please tell your relatives and neighbours about these scammers, and impress upon them how important it is not to be menaced or intimidated into allowing people into their homes, however credible they may seem. Likewise, warn them about never giving money for services at the door, no matter how plausible the people demanding cash are. \

Genuine companies and public bodies will always contact you by other means.

Scumbags preying on the elderly and vulnerable are lower than a snake’s knees.

Please,  if you have any further information relating to any such incident, or if you’ve witnessed something suspicious, please contact West Midlands Police by dialling 101 (999 in an emergency, obviously) or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Posted in Brownhills stuff, Clayhanger stuff, Environment, Events, Local media, News, Shared media, Social Media, Walsall community | Leave a comment

Honouring the local Fallen, an ongoing duty – help needed please

Hello folks – I have a very important request here from blog contributor, friend and historian David Evans who is helping a team from the Netherlands uncover the history of the forces that liberated their village of Dieteren in 1945. One of the lads to be lost was from Walsall Wood, Trooper Henry Hall.

‘Dieteren, Occupied by the Germans May 10, 1940 Liberated by the English January 16, 1945’ – Image from Henk Penders and the Liberation of Dieteren website to which he contributes.

My thanks and best wishes to all involved in this, it’s a stunning example of collaborative history and international cooperation, which is hugely prescient in light of the times.

I’ll let David explain:

Very recently a request was posted in the comments on Brownhills Bob’s blog for information about a Walsall Wood soldier who had been killed in action in the Netherlands during the Second World War.

Thanks to the wonders of technology – the blog primarily, the internet , the super help given by fellow reader and contributor Andy Dennis, it has been possible to complete most of the request.

In the Netherlands  there is an ongoing local history project to honour those who gave their lives to liberate the village of Dieteren, whereby local resident Mr Henk Penders and others have been compiling a book.

Following a Messenger call with Henk he sent me these links to the site detailing the history – they are in Dutch but if you open in Chrome they translate beautifully to English – they detail a remarkable military liberation operation in which Trooper Hall from Walsall Wood gave his all:

Main site – click here.

The last crossing The Story of Trooper Johnston and the Canadian Kangaroos – part 1

The last crossing The Story of Trooper Johnston and the Canadian Kangaroos – part 2

The remarkable level of detail in what is a fascinating story, both of the events and subsequent historical detective work, is a credit to Henk and those involved. It’s a touching and wonderful thing.

So here’s where help is needed from the community: What of  Trooper Hall?

A sobering document, generously shared by Henk Penders via David Evans. Click for a larger version.

Trooper Henry Hall served in the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. The 1939 census confirms the military record, and that he lived in Walsall Road, Walsall Wood before enlisting.

image from the Mayo collection,. from ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

David and Henk are trying to locate surviving members of the Hall family, that Henry may be honoured for his sacrifice. It’s possible that Ivy Hall may still be living locally (that would be possibly Ivy’s maiden name).

If you can help, please contact Bob by commenting here, or emailing him on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com, or pull him aside and have a word on social media, please.

I would like to express my personal thanks to Mr Andy Dennis for his help and to Brownhills Bob for his expertise and assistance, and to Mr Henk Penders in the Netherlands for his amazing work to honour our fallen.

David

Posted in News | 4 Comments

Fair and Square

Rushall square as Dave Dunkley remembers it from his childhood. Image kindly shared by Dave.

I featured a few weeks ago a painting by local artist Dave Dunkley of Rushall Station and level crossing that was very well received and generated a lost of positive debate about the station’s history.

Well, spurred on by this, Dave has sent me a couple of his paintings of the Rushall Square area as he remembers it from his childhood. Rushall Square today is the area around the old library, shops and Macdonalds restaurant; the Macdonalds is the former site of the George and Dragon pub in the pictures. The photographic studio there today used to be the local newsagent.

Dave said:

Hi Bob

I have attached two paintings I have done of Rushall 1950’s showing what I remember of the old police station.

Davis’s paper shop is now, or was when I lived at Rushall, Eileen Mason’s. It shows the George and Dragon, Whitehouses shop and the Congressional church in Station road.

The church in 1958 is where I attended my first year of Shelfield secondary modern. Upstairs Mrs Wilkes who taught the ”A” stream, me, downstairs in the ”B” stream taught by the dreaded Mrs Jarvis. Think every one in her class suffered a few strokes of the cane from her. Did us no harm.

The other painting is a bit of a joke illustration from another angle. I jokingly put on Lowry type people just for fun. The lad looking in the window at Davis’s could have been me looking at all the Dinky cars for sale.

Best wishes
Dave

A different angle on the same memory, complete with figures – see text.. Image kindly shared by Dave Dunkley.

Dave, once again you are most welcome, I really love your paintings. I’d be only too happy to share your work in future, as I am honoured once more to do so today.

My thanks to Dave, then, and come on readers – what do you remember of Rushall Square?

Please do let Dave and the readership know what you remember – comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at googlemmil dot com or whisper in my ear on social media.

Posted in News | 4 Comments

The crossing

Back in the end of November (what seems like an age away now) Dave Dunkley, a talented local artist and Rushall lad sent me a picture he’d painted from memory of the Rushall Station he remembered from his youth.

Rushall station closed to passengers in 1909, but the buildings remained up until  the middle of the last century, at least.

The painting generated lots of warm memories and debate – and what I hoped might happen, has – top local rail historian Ian Pell has sent me a fascinating, illustrated response.

Local historian and author Clive Roberts emailed me this lovely scan of a photo he acquired from the moving sale for Walsall Local History Centre. We think it might be by Jack Haddock, and shows Rushall Station House roof, the house itself obscured by a bus waiting at the crossing. Image courtesy Clive Roberts.

It turned out that many remembered the level crossing with fondness – it was of course on the South Staffordshire Line that used to bisect Brownhills, mostly closed in 1984 – and a few remembered the old station itself.

Local historian Clive Roberts found the above photo in his collection he bought from the Local History Centre when it closed to move. It shows a steam loco passing the station with a Walsall Corporation bus sadly obscuring the building. We suspect this is a Jack Haddock picture.

Rushall Station in the 1950s, painted from memory by Dave Dunkley. Click for a full size version.

It turns out there don’t seem to be any good pictures of the station that have come to light yet, but Ian Pell assembled the evidence in his usual precise and fascinating manner. Once again I’d like to thank Ian for a lovely contribution and apologies for losing his original email otherwise this article would have been up sooner!

It’s a joy to feature work of this quality here, as it is to feature Dave’s painting, too – I love communal, collaborative local history like this.

So, what can you add? Comment here is welcome, you can mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or pull me to one side on social media.

Ian Pell wrote:

Hi Bob,

Thoughts regarding Rushall station and crossing.

I love these drawings from people’s memories, a gentleman, Mr. Frank Allen, did several sketches and drawings of a similar nature for the Cannock line. The station building as is indicated in the 1958 photo certainly stayed the course of time, even if not used by the railway.  The platforms didn’t fair so well.  Readers may recall it was a steep drop from the back of the box to the adjacent field where cows often roamed.

There are a couple of technical notes to add – for the rivet counters – one is that the wicket gates were on the box side of the road and the other is that the window pattern on the front of the box was 2-3-2. But ,what a great effort from memory.  I only wish mine was as good.  I’m always confusing the down line with the up line!

Extract from 1912 LNW 2-chain map of the South Staffs line. Image courtesy Ian Pell.

This plan is taken from the 1912 LNW 2-chain map of the South Staffs line.  It shows the station after closure (1-3-1909) and gives an indication of a typical South Staffs station and station master’s house.  This is further borne out by the 1958’s photo below which was taken from one of those new fangled diesel multiple units.

1958 from a DMU heading north. Platelayers hut to the left, box with station building behind. Image courtesy Ian Pell.

Well Tim Spiers, it’s the best stab I have at a photo of the station house.  It was still being called this in 1958.

The station opened on 24-3-1856 along with another at Ryder’s Hays.  It closed as a direct result of tram competition and was the first station in the West Midlands to close in the 20th century.

The crossing signal cabin replaced a previous one, located slightly further to the south of  Harden Road,  in October 1899, consisting of 10 levers and a crossing wheel.  The crossing and wicket gates were replace on 9th December 1979 by lifting barriers.

Tinsley (Sheffield) to Eastleigh bound evening freight , 6 June 1975 – station site to the right. Image originally by John Whitehouse kindly supplied by Ian Pell.

In the 1960s an extensive transport depot was built to the north of the station site and at some time the station house was demolished, leaving a wedge of land which the engineer’s used.  The signal on the up line was eventually replaced with the colour light signal shown below.

Since then the transport depot by the crossing has been replaced by housing. The building had something to do with exports and imports from Ireland with some sort of bonded warehouse facility.

Kind regards
Ian

Former station site looking north, taken in the last week of the line being open for traffic, March 1984. Image courtesy Ian Pell.

 

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Remembering a Brownhills D-Day hero

Another great piece of research comes in from reader and local military historian Isaac Marklew-Brown, whose article on his relative Thomas Marklew, a victorian ere soldier was so well received here a few months ago.

This time Isaac again writes beautifully and in great detail  about a relative lost in the wake of the D Day invasion of Northern France, Lawrence Marklew, one of the many local lads to pay the highest price in that most decisive battle in an atrociously bloody conflict.

A memorial to the Normandy Landings is currently being built near the then ‘Gold Beach’, near the town of Ver-sur-Mer. Image from the Normandy Memorial Trust.

I’m always more than happy to feature reader articles here and I’m very keen to cover the stories of local service – wherever it was. We have featured many such stories here over the years from Cecil Arthur Burton MM to the fascinating story of an Anzac from Norton Canes, to the more personal recollections of the toll of war. If you would like to add to the body of such work here pleaser do get in touch.

My huge thanks to Isaac for yet another outstanding piece of local history – and it’s worth noting that his fund-raising skydive for charity is still open for donations – click here. A truly brave thing to do!

Anything to add? Please feel free: Comment here, mail me BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tap my shoulder on social media.

Isaac wrote:

Lawrence Marklew by Isaac Marklew-Brown 

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Due to the great success of the last post on a Marklew soldier from Brownhills I thought I would do another one but this time one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in one of the greatest battles the world has ever seen known as D-Day. 

I try to cover every Marklew who has ever fought in military action as I’m motivated by the quote “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” From Brownhills I am aware of three Brave Individuals who gave their all and sadly passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty. These are William Marklew who died in the First World War and Lawrence Marklew as well as Thomas H Marklew who died in the Second World War. These names can be seen on the Memorial in Brownhills. As an aspiring Army Officer I see it as essential to remember those who came before me and fought for our freedom.

Lawrence Marklew as pictured below which was found in the Newspaper archives was part of the 2nd battalion King’s Shropshire light infantry. 

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

The 2nd Battalion began the war in Jamaica, with a company detached to the Bermuda Garrison. The battalion would eventually join the 185th Infantry Brigade, which included the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment. The brigade was originally assigned to the 79th Armoured Division, but was then transferred to the 3rd British Infantry Division in April 1943, when the division was preparing to invade Sicily, until it was replaced by the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. The battalion took part in the D-Day landings of Operation Overlord, where they failed to capture the D-Day objective of Caen due to the presence of the 21st Panzer Division. The 2nd Battalion fought in the Normandy CampaignOperation Market Garden and the rest of the North West Europe Campaign with the British Second Army

2nd Battalion landed on Sword Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944), before fighting its way through France, Holland and Germany until May 1945. Lawrence Marklew was part of the soldiers who stormed the Beaches that day.

The following extract was written by a soldier present at the day of invasion known as Bob Littlar, he best can describe the actions in that period that both him and Lawrence were part of. This is Bob Littlar’s account of his D-Day experiences as a corporal in the 2nd Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry:

To the Continent

“At about 9pm that night the four LCAs carrying our battalion quietly slipped out of the harbour and into the English Channel. We spent the entire Monday at sea, and we could see ships from horizon to horizon, all along the Channel. We’d all been issued with French francs, and to pass the time at sea the lads were playing cards and gambling with the foreign currency.

We’d also been issued with a terrible kind of soap, it was just about impossible to wash with the stuff. At 4am on 6 June, I was trying to shave using this stuff, and it was just impossible, so I decided I would just have to invade France wearing a moustache!

It was barely light at that time of the morning, but we could see that we were among war ships of all sorts. As we got closer to the coast of Normandy we could see smoke on the shoreline, from the long range battleship assault. We were all looking at this incredible sight when we were ordered to go below decks.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

By now it was about 9am and the first brigade was already ashore and fighting. I went onto the deck to have a look at what was going on, and we were about 400 metres off shore. We could hear the sandbanks on the bottom of the boat, and we were very nervous about mines.

About 100 metres off shore we were ordered back on deck. On the front of the LCA there was a gangplank on each side of the bow, up on deck. When you get inshore they shoot these forward on pulleys, and you walk down. As the gangplanks went forward the chaps were nearly on them – it was no good hanging around because there was already shellfire coming at us. The boat on our right took a direct hit, making us very anxious.

The right hand ramp turned over with a whole lot of chaps on it, so everyone had to go down the left ramp. I think I was in the fifth section to go down. One of the naval chaps had tied a rope to the end of the gang plank, and had run onto the beach with it, so that we could all hold onto the rope to guide us onto the beach. Chaps were disappearing under the waves, you could just see their hands holding on to the rope. It was very comforting to finally get onto the sand, much better than being at sea.

We had been issued with waterproof waders that can keep you dry up to the chest, a bit like the ones fishermen wear. In theory this was great, but in practice it only worked if the water came up to your waist. Chaps were going under water and trying to wade out with these waterproofs absolutely filled to bursting.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

I got out a knife and started slicing the waterproofs of the chaps that were struggling to walk on shore wearing these things. I did this for about seven or eight blokes, the men in my group. Then I looked around and saw a sea wall, about two or three foot high, and I sheltered behind it on my own. My sergeant came up to me and said, ‘You’re not going to win this war on your own, get your men.’

I could see smoke, and smouldering tanks that had been blown up earlier. The seafront area had already been taken, but there was still some resistance and we were still being fired on.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Trying to meet objectives

We were supposed to assemble in an orchard, and I was concentrating on that. Eventually we moved off inland, on the road to Caen. We walked past what must have been lovely seafront houses in peaceful days. We were moving south towards our assembly area, and suddenly I could see a German plane coming from my left. He was dropping what I could only describe as oil bombs. I could see them bursting, and the flames going up and spreading.

We were carrying Bangalore torpedoes, and I turned to the lads and said, ‘Dump those in the ditch, quickly, and lie on the road – it’s our only hope if they explode.’ Fortunately the bomber missed the road. We decided to leave the Bangalore torpedoes behind.

We eventually got to the orchard where our battalion was gathering, and were organised into company groups. We were getting shelled, I have no idea where from. A piece of shrapnel hit my lance corporal, it cut his boot open and you could see flesh and blood sticking out through the hole. ‘That’s it,’ he said to me. ‘Cheerio, I’m off with the stretcher-bearers.’ That left me without a lance corporal.

We were meant to ride forward onto Periers Ridge with some tanks, but the tanks never showed up so the decision was taken that the battalion would move forward without the support of the tanks.

My company was to be the first one going up the left hand side of the road, and W company was to go up the right hand side. The concentration of fire on this ridge was incredible, and to this day I have no idea whether it was our boys or the enemy firing. Whoever it was, it wasn’t nice.

We left a space of at least five yards between each man as we moved up the hill, as we had been trained to do. This is to avoid a cluster of men being hit at once. The first bit was all right, but then we got closer and closer to this massive concentration of fire. I was so scared I got down on my hands and knees, and then onto my stomach. It was a baptism of fire, I had never seen anything like it. I think some of the fire was German, but some of it was our ships firing onto the ridge.

We eventually made it over the ridge and onto the southern slope, where the fire eased off a bit.

What I didn’t know at this time was that there was a German battery of six guns on the right-hand side of the road at Periers-sur-le-Dan. The brigadier had ordered our colonel to send a company to deal with that, and that reduced us to just three companies.

Heading for Beuville

We carried on towards Beuville, and in the distance I could see what I would call a wadi, with a small stream running through it. It was now coming up to midday and we had been going since 4am. I was feeling tired and decided that I would cross the stream at a bridge.

We could see the village on the other side of the river, but as we rounded a corner near the bridge, BAM! A chap from W company was hit by an incendiary, and killed instantly as the bandoliers of ammunition around his waist exploded.

I thought the fire had come from a farm on my left so I turned around and started shooting at the farmhouse. Took all the windows out. But of course, they fire from ground level. I wasn’t to know that – these things you learn on the job. I saw another company commander taking a hit in his shoulder, then tossing a grenade over a wall because he thought the fire had come from there, but in truth none of us had any idea where it had come from.

By this time three tanks had caught up with us, and one of the captains was leaning out, telling our lieutenant that he’d seen about 40 Germans going to a farm some 3,500 metres away.

My platoon commander ordered me to go across the road and around the right-hand flank of the village, to the meadows at the back of the buildings. We scrambled up the banks, heading for the back of the village. All the while we were being fired on by snipers.”

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Unfortunately after successfully getting in land and taking part in the early stage battles of the invasion of Normandy Lawrence Marklew would lose his life. On the 14th of June 1944 at a mere 21 years old Lawrence was dead. This would have been a big shock in Brownhills back home and a great loss to the area. Many other heroes from Brownhills would lose their lives as well throughout the ghastly and brutal war and may they all rest in peace. Their duty is done.

Thank you for reading this. If you want any research done then please let me know I’m always more than happy to help. 

Isaac Marklew-Brown 

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Sweet reason and the sourness of hypocrisy

An interesting contribution today from veteran blog writer and local industrial historian Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, who has once again been delving via the newspaper archives into the grizzly reality of life as a miner, rather than indulging the more airbrushed versions of the industry common on many local history fora and sites.

The General Strike of 1926 bit deeply in the local coalfields, and the ultimately unsuccessful fight against reducing wages and increasing working time was bitter and protracted – but did gain widespread local support.

The Westley Church was just over the bridge where the car workshop is today on the corner of Hall Lane and Lichfield Road in Walsall Wood. From ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo a& John Sale.

Miners children were fed by charity, soup kitchens and ‘fighting funds’ operated by churches and newspapers. They literally stopped children from starving.

Meanwhile, the mine owners – choosing to exert the squeeze downwards rather than bear the load themselves – continued their showy largesse, social climbing and glad-handing.

I thank Peter from a fascinating eating article that really reaches into the reality of life at the time, and it’s great to see his return after somewhat of a break. Great to see you, old chap: Welcome back.

I’m sure this article will generate comment: Please feel free to throw in your shilling. Comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or pull me to one side on social media.

Peter wrote:

Birmingham Gazette 11 June 1926. Click for a larger version.

Hi Bob,

I came across this picture from the Birmingham Gazette of June 1926. It shows miners children in Hednesford on their way to the food depot during the General strike of 1926. It mentions the Birmingham Evening Despatch ‘Shilling Fund’ which set up in June 1926.

‘The Fund has a splendid send-off but deeper inquires showed more urgent was the need. The situation in Hednesford and district is that over 10,000 children are in need of food. Last week 5408 children were provided with from two to four meals during the week. The cost 6d per child for the week. In Pelsall District [It covered a bigger area than Pelsall – Bob] it is stated that nearly 20,000 children are going hungry. Poverty came up on miners of the Chase during the first week of the look-out. The situation today is very serious, and unless help is speedily forthcoming, it is certain that the dispute will not only involve children’s health, but may involve children’s lives.’

July 1926 it is reported, ‘Children are starving in the Cannock Chase coalfield, and a wife and child only receive 3s 6d a week, for the Lichfield Guardians have cut down relief by half.’ The Despatch asks for contributions of a shilling or a fraction of a shilling… P Goulding, Central Distress Committee of Brownhills, expressed thanks to the Despatch… Over 40,000 shillings have been donated. 

In August the Despatch says the dispute has entered the eighteenth week, and there is a greater need than ever. 66,000 has been collected.

In September nearly 70,000 shillings has been contributed. ‘The need for feeding the hungry miners children is greater than ever, and also an urgent demand for clothing. Nurse Phillips, 14 Bungalow, Green Heath, Hednesford appeals for serviceable boots, clothing, blankets, sheets etc.’

In December a small balance was used for the Christmas of the miners children, there is a picture but of poor quality in the Birmingham Gazette… ‘350 Christmas puddings sent to Hednesford, from the £3,925 13s 3d raised by the fund for the miners’ kiddies during the most disastrous stoppage in the history of British industry.

The Fund had been closed in early December and, ‘The distribution by John Baker of the Miner’s Association and by the Central Relief Committee under Rev F Cobb of St. Saviour… The men have been back at work for nearly a month but in the Hednesford area several of the larger pits are on short time and the miners are finding it difficult to make ends meet, with the barest necessities. This is typical of the rest of the Cannock Chase coalfield where it is said many can never hope to get out of debt which had to be incurred. 

It was in the January of 1926 that  WE Harrison opened the B’hills War Memorial Institute. G Cooper was Chair of War Memorial Committee and spoke of generous assistance of the Colliery Companies who had subscribed £750… ‘If the same spirit of sweet reasonableness in other coalfields, as did in Cannock Chase and Pelsall, the clouds that were hovering over the month of May would be quickly dispersed.’ He paid tribute to the character and worth of WE Harrison… ‘who never refused assistance to any good cause in B’hills, he was alpha and omega of all charitable work in the village.’

WE Harrison at this time was in possession of the Wychnor Estate, Alrewas. He would spend quite some time during 1926 at his London residence as he was a member of the Coal Commission. He seemed willing to speak freely in the public arena, but I couldn’t find many contributions within the Commission meetings.

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Merry Christmas in this most peculiar of years…

Hi all

I’d just like to take five minutes to wish you a happy Christmas and let us all hope for a better 2021, and hopefully a return to some kind of normal when we can enjoy cafes, a pint in a sunny beer garden and the company of friends and family once more.

Lichfield, Saturday last. I still find those nutcracker things a bit creepy.

I know it’s very hard for many of us at the moment and that Christmas is not a happy time for lots of people this year. The blog remains here for all its readers and the community around it, and whilst I’ve been broadcasting on reduced power this year mainly due to work obligations, but also due to illness, I’m not in any way giving up and I have lots of great articles to come over the Christmas period for you.

Best wishes to you all, and a special thanks to the contributors to the blog who have needed the patience of a saint with me this year and my tardiness to answer email and get articles up in public.

So sorry, I will try and get more on top of it this coming year, I promise.

I will also be taking advantage of my first proper holiday in many years to catch up on 365days of biking too – so stay tuned.

There may even be the return of the New Year photo competition with a special lockdown them this year providing all goes to plan.

A big thank you again this year to Susan Forster and all involved in the Brownhills Christmas Tree Fund that worked so very hard to get us a tree at Morris’s feet for the second consecutive year.

So please, take care, have as best a time as you can in the circumstances and in this most peculiar of years, and remember, from here the nights get lighter…

Thank you for the community spirit, insights into history and fascinating contributions – and here’s to the new year and another twelve months of the Brownhills Blog.

All the best
Bob

Posted in News | 8 Comments

Let’s have a butchers!

It’s been a while since I featured a local history article by the young David Evans who’s still beavering away diligently in the background, and today we return to his home ground of Walsall Wood, where the good gentleman has been working on the history of one of the legends of the village: Batkins, latterly the home of Roadrunner.

Roadrunner, a name associated with Walsall Wood and car spares for as long as I can remember finally shut it’s doors in 2020, and the former shop is now being transformed. David has been investigating it’s older history, as a butchers.

I thank David for yet another lovely article to add to the expanding cannon of local history here on the blog.

The former Roadrunner store in Walsall Wood closed this year – a real legend has gone. Imagery from Google Streetview.

It’s nice to get time to do history again, and I also have great history articles coming real soon from Isaac Marklew Brown, and later today if possible, railway historian Ian Pell – so stay tuned!

With the ongoing lockdown and stay at home Christmas upcoming, hopefully I can provide some light distraction here on the blog for you all.

Best wishes folks – and stay safe!

David wrote:

I was intrigued to see that one of Walsall Wood’s former butchers shops is having some building work done to it.

This building, in its latter years, will be known to many as Roadrunner, a motor spares shop of repute, that stands in Lichfield Road Walsall Wood. But to local people of some advancing years it is known affectionately as Batkins the butchers.

There were several butchers shops in the Wood. Near to the canal in the High Street were two butchers, Cherry’s and Felton’s, with an abbatoir in the yard.

At Streets Corner, now a busy road junction, was Bates’ butcher’s shop. Along Salters Road was Jones’ butchers shop, a wooden hut building.

But, perhaps the oldest and possibly the longest serving of the butchers’ was Batkins

Image from Godfrey Hucker’s ‘Oak Park Runner’ blog; Original I believe from the book ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale. Image kindly shared by David Evans.

Jan Farrow’s fine local history book, Brownhills and Walsall Wood, published in 1992 shows this image with Batkin’s and the Reliant three wheel delivery van outside the shop

Image from “Around Brownhills and Walsall Wood in Old Picture Postcards’ by Jan Farrow. Image kindly shared by David Evans.

So, let’s take a look back and see what the local newspapers tell us about the shop and the people there.

From the Walsall Advertiser 24 October 1896 we see that Mr Batkin bought a shop and residence. We can see in the first image that the building was a shop and a residence:

Image from the National Newspaper Archive kindly shared by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

This is taken from the Walsall Observer, 6 May, 1916, page 1 and gives some revealing details. The business was established in 1855… Making the building perhaps one of the earliest along this part of Lichfield Road. Also there is reference to closing the grocery department. Consequence of War? Perhaps the two assistants being called up?

Image from the National Newspaper Archive kindly shared by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

What do we learn of the owner, Mr Alfred Batkin?

Image from the National Newspaper Archive kindly shared by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

From the Walsall Observer,2 April 1910, page 11. Mr Batkin was an active member of St. John’s Church. Where were the three Mission Churches? Walsall Wood, perhaps Clayhanger, but where was the third one?

Image from the National Newspaper Archive kindly shared by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

Walsall Observer 25 February 1933 gives some interesting details of his association with the District Nursing Association. In later years we know that Dr Roberts, our local GP, was active in setting up a Nursing Home during the war years.

We have seen, in Brownhills Bob’s wonderful blog, Audrey Proiffitt’s childhood memories and one adventure which involved Batkins butchers, and the field behind the shop was a training ground for Cossack Riders.

What became of the shop and especially the residence? This from the Walsall Observer 27th January 1940.

Image from the National Newspaper Archive kindly shared by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

And,to end with, a ‘brush with officialdom’ made the local press, from Walsall Observer of 2nd April 1910, page 11

Image from the National Newspaper Archive kindly shared by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

 

Posted in News | 5 Comments

Check out the true spirit of Christmas – on Clayhanger Common

Hi folks – here’s a heads up to something lovely that’s very local and a credit to the creator, lovely local lady Kathryn ‘Chalk Fairy’ Grace – The Clayhanger Common Nativity Trail.

Kathryn works tirelessly for the good of the community – be it litter picking, organising lockdown-safe, socially distanced VE Day street celebrations or all manner of great community stuff.

It was with huge sadness I saw Kathryn’s post on Facebook on Friday 18th December when she lamented that vandals had attacked the nativity trail and torn it down.

After a period of justifiable anger, she regrouped, declared she would not be beaten and has restored it to it’s full glory, for which I admire the lady hugely.

So here’s a thing. If you have wee ones, and now the rain has at last stopped, why not pop over the Green bridge on Silver Street and go check out the Nativity Trail for yourself?

And please, if you have any idea who the scum are who trashed it, you can drop me an email in total confidence on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

Brownhills is full of people doing fantastic stuff for the community to enjoy – and sadly, we have a few idiots, too, Please don’t let them get you down and to Kathryn and all involved in keeping us smiling, don’t be disheartened and please keep up the good work.

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Rolling coal

Just a quick heads up as the great Canal Hunter Andy Tidy has posted some new episodes of a great canal history series on YouTube that I have plugged before about lost local canals – this time covering coal transport from Cannock to various locations near here, via Chasewater, Aldridge and Pelsall.

Andy Tidy is of course the proprietor of the wonderful Jam Butty, a boat selling preserves that will be recognised by anyone attending a local canal event.

The new episodes are a great study of how our still extant canals acted as trunk routes moving coal and freight to the industries that consumed them, and how they linked the lost canals that Andy has told us about in the past.

Andy has created a wonderful series that I adore, and You can subscribe here – there are already a lot of great episodes, including one on the lost Slough Arm in Brownhills and all about the Black Cock Bridge which I featured previously here. He’s also covered the Ogley Locks in a fascinating series of videos you can begin to explore here and it continues here.

My congratulations to Andy for a lovely, beautifully produced and informative series of films. I commend you to subscribe.

Posted in News | 2 Comments

West Midlands Police Statement: Illegal ‘lock in’ broken up at football club in Walsall

As a long time supporter of Walsall Wood Football Club as a historic, community institution, I’m angry and saddened to see West Midlands Police post the following statement yesterday.

I will not carry any further material from the club until this matter has been addressed fully.

People within the local community have been lost during this pandemic; it’s also deeply disrespectful to local businesses who are suffering financial hardship from the lockdown yet obeying the rules – many of whom have supported WWFC over the years – to see this.

Image of the raid posted on Facebook by West Midlands Police.

West Midlands Police wrote:

Our officers broke up an illegal ‘lock in’ at a football club in Walsall at the weekend.

We’ve received several reports since April, that Walsall Wood football club on Lichfield Road, Walsall Wood, has been secretly opening and not complying with Covid-19 restrictions.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to get into the club, and efforts made to speak to the key holders and committee members over the past few months. It’s thought that the people inside have watched us arrive on their CCTV and then quickly closed the shutters and turned off the lights and music before we can get in.

Further enquires were carried out regarding the club’s CCTV, which we discovered had been deleted.

Local officers thought the club was open at the weekend, so they surrounded the premises just before 7pm on Saturday evening (5 December). They saw the rear shutter coming down and the lights inside being switched off.

We visited the home of the chairman in an attempt to get access into the club. He was unable to provide addresses of key holders and denied having keys which would allow us entry into the club. So we were left with no alternative than to force entry.

While attempting to cut through various padlocks the people inside starting chanting, they switched the lights and music back on and continued to defiantly party. 

Officers from our operational support unit were called to assist, they had to cut the shutter doors open with an angle grinder and then force the door open.

We issued 17 £200 fixed penalty notices to the people inside and a £1000 fine to the organiser.

A review of their licence is now underway.

Chief Inspector Rod Rose, from Walsall police said “This was a blatant breach of the current tier 3 restrictions in place in Walsall.

“We believe the club have been flouting the rules throughout the pandemic and have attempted to outsmart us when we’ve previously attended.

“While they may think it’s harmless fun, their actions were reckless and are endangering lives. 

“We understand the frustrations of people who are wanting to socialise – especially in the run up to Christmas – but the government restrictions are in place to reduce the spread of the virus and keep people safe.

“We’re committed to doing that in Walsall and I’d urge anyone with any similar concerns to contact us via Live Chat on our website or by call us on 101.”

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When the sound of bikes echoed across the town

A quick one for Saturday while I’m busy – a few weeks ago reader and Facebook group member Jim Wall posted some lovely period pictures of busy days at Wharf Lane Motocross Track that existed in a quarry that’s now under Junction T6 of the M6 Toll at Chasetown, adjacent to Chasewater.

This track was nationally famous in its heyday of the 70s and 80s and the sound of bike engines being thrashed was a familiar sound in Brownhills of a weekend for many years.

Any mention of Wharf Lane Motocross always brings in warm recollections from the biking community and I recall relatives travelling a long way to see races there and enjoy the atmosphere.

The track, like the Chasewater Go-Kart track was lost with the M6 Toll construction that severed Wharf Lane permanently, and changed the topography of that area forever. We’ve covered that several times on the blog before – for galleries see the huge set by Wendy Jones here and this one by Rob Sault here.

I thank Jim Wall for allowing me to share this wonderful set and invite readers to comment – please do. What do you remember of this lost, well loved attraction? What is the actual history of it, how did it come to be there? I’d love to know. The recent piece on bike racing at Lazy Hill provoked a lot of comment, and I’m hoping this will too.

Please comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com – or tug my sleeve on social media.

As a memory jogger, I include an old post featuring video of racing at Wharf Lane too.

Old post follows:

I found the above video on YouTube few weeks ago, and it’s made me think of the Motocross events that used to take place in the old quarry off Wharf Lane in Brownhills. The sound of the bikes used to colour many a Brownhillian weekend, but all was ended by the construction of the M6 Toll, which destroyed the course.

It occurs to me that people travelled from miles away to come to these races, and it was a very popular activity. Does anyone out there have memories of this, or can shed more light on the above video?

It was posted by user Tog20 in 2008, and is entitled ‘Anthony Barrett and the Late RAY TONKS at Brownhills’, The caption says:

This was a practice day at Brownhills, I’m riding the 1998 CR250 and Ray is riding the YZ 125. RIP Ray, you’re sorely missed mate. Great days practice.

Another commentor, Gav1976 says:

Wharf lane was an awesome track.Shame the AMCA arent buying more land 2 build parmanent tracks rather than just taking our money & leaving the hard work to the clubs

So, can anyone shed any light upon this, or the track and events in particular? I don’t even know who ran them. Any contributions gratefully accepted.

BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com, or comment here. Cheers.

Posted in Brownhills stuff, Chasewater, Environment, Events, Fun stuff to see and do, Local History, Local media, News, planning, Shared media, Shared memories, Spotted whilst browsing the web | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Supporting our veterans: A military historian is to skydive for charity!

A few weeks ago, I featured here a very popular article about a local late-Victorian era soldier from Brownhills from an engaging, enthusiastic and interesting man: Isaac Marklew Brown. His fascinating research and supporting material on the history of soldier Thomas Marklew who was from Brownhills was a wonderful article and has been one of the most read articles on the blog in 2020.

With that in mind I implore readers to consider giving to Isaac’s appeal – this is no idle bit of can rattling: He’s actually doing a tandem skydive, which has to be worth a donation, and the best bit is it’s for a variety of veteran’s charities who’ve been really suffering during this year’s pandemic unpleasantness.

The jump is self-funded too, so all donations got to the charities!

I’ll let Isaac explain – you can find out more by visiting the donation page here, which has the full details and a great explanation of the charities he’s splitting the money between.

The total currently stands at £195.50, and I hope we can increase that significantly amongst the blog readership. Donation through Virgin Money giving is safe and easy.

Isaac wrote:

What a brave endeavour for a fine cause! Click on image to visit the fundraising page.

Hi Bob

Although I’m not from Brownhills, my family were.

Do you think it would be possible to raise awareness and support for a two charities I am trying to help on your platform? I think the cause of PTSD and supporting limbless veterans is essential and shouldn’t just apply to my area.

You are the only person I know that has such a large audience available to you. This is totally up to you.

I’ve got 44 days left of funding time until my event. I think it’s worth sharing to as many people as I could. We all have a duty to help in these hard times.Thank you!

You can donate safely  and find out more on the event charity giving page by clicking here.

Kind Regards,
Isaac

Isaac posted on the donation page:

Our veterans are the pride of the Nation. Through your kindness today we can make a change to our heroes’ lives.

Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic our veterans are struggling. This has affected many charities and has had a huge impact on veterans nationwide.

Both Blesma (The limbless veterans charity) and Combat Stress (For veterans’ mental health) are essential services to veterans helping them with their rehabilitation and a better future.

In January 2021 I will be taking part in a Tandem skydive from a height of 13,000 ft. This is a great way to raise funds for our heroes who are both physically and mentally affected by their injuries. By supporting me you can play a part in helping those who were prepared to give their lives to serve in our armed forces.

Together lets help these heroes.

I promise you that 100% of your donation will go towards helping those wounded in conflict to have a better future . These are vital services that lack sufficient funding.

Please will you assist me?

This event is self funded.

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The sands of time – another link to Old Brownhills is sadly lost

I was contacted earlier this month by old friend of the blog and frequent contributor Sheila Norris, with some rather sad news – her father, Leonard Jones sadly passed away last April. Len was the last of the Jones brothers who operated the Gentleshaw Sand company who had several quarries in the area including Clayhanger, and built the factory that became RKG pressings (itself now Bridgeside Close) as a plant workshop.

Gentleshaw Sand operated from sites both sides of Clayhanger Bridge, both by where Bridgeside Close is now, and on the village side. There was a brickworks where the new pool is now, just the other side of the road behind the big house. Taken from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo & Geoff Harrington.

My sincere condolences and sympathies to Sheila. It has been a horrid year and I’m so sad to hear of your loss, as all of the readership will be.

I have covered The Gentleshaw Sand Company here on the blog several times, and also about the ‘Big House’ at Clayhanger where they lived for many years, thanks to the work of both Sheila and Brownhills historian Robert Webster.

With Len’s passing, another part of old Clayhanger as the original village and of wider Brownhills is lost and also, another link with past industry of the area. I thank Sheila for taking time out to help preserve the memory and the stories for future generations to learn about. It really is invaluable, particularly to the newer residents of the area, who may not realise the former industrial pst of their adopted home.

The site of this photo is now Bridgeside Close, but a large workshop/factory stood there for the best part of the 20th century – I always remember it as RKG Pressings. Image from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geof Harrington.

Shelia wrote:

Hi Bob,

In the past you have occasionally given Gentleshaw Sand Ltd. a mention on the Blog.

This is to let you know, somewhat belatedly, that Leonard Jones, last of the three Jones brothers who ran the business, sadly died of Corona Virus on 30th April this year, aged 96. He had outlived most of his employees but I understand that there are one or two left who might remember him.

More than 20 years ago he recorded his ‘memoirs’ and transcripts were made of these.

One of his greatest pleasures in recent years was to have these read back to him, and ‘The Story of Gentleshaw Sand’ was undoubtedly his favourite.

His working philosophy was never to ask anyone to do a job that he wasn’t prepared to do himself and this often meant that he was indistinguishable from the rest of the workforce.

I am attaching a couple of amusing anecdotes which illustrate this. They are written on the Company notepaper but if you highlight and right click the text alone you should be able to copy them into Word.

The attached photo is a favourite of mine as they all look such a happy bunch and it is how I remember my father from when I was a small child – I must be one of very few people to love the smell of diesel because of its happy associations! His brother Eddie is also in the picture. Perhaps relatives of these people may enjoy seeing this old photo from the 1950s.

Best wishes,
Sheila Norris

PS The photo shows a very young Roy Howes. Brian Stringer was able to put me in touch with him some years ago and we had some interesting telephone conversations about his time with Gentleshaw. He later wrote out his own memories of working for the company which Dad very much enjoyed hearing. Sadly, Roy died a few years ago now.

What a lovely image – and what fantastic plant! Image kindly shared by Sheila Norris.

THE BOSS WORE OVERALLS STORIES

I was digging a ditch at Hopwas because it had been raining heavily and lots of water was running down the lane and into the weighbridge. A Rep. drew up in his car and shouted

‘Oi mate!’

So I went over and he said

‘What’s the name of the bloke that runs this place?’

‘Jones ‘, I replied.

‘Yes, I know his name’s Jones but what’s his first name? If I can call him by his first name I’m in and can sell him something’

‘His name’s Len ‘ I said.

‘Right, where can I find this Len?’ said the Rep.

‘You’re talking to him’, I replied.

The Rep. just said ‘ Ah!’

I was working in the Ready-Mix plant because one of the men hadn’t turned up. We had a big order on at the time, so it was essential for the plant to be running. I was there by myself when a stranger came up to me and asked if he could buy a bag of Ready-Mix. I explained that he was supposed to buy it from local hardware shops but he said he lived very local and could I oblige him. So I agreed and said ‘Yes all right, it’s 5 shillings a bag.’

He pointed out a bag nearby that had burst and was waiting to be re-bagged and asked if he could have that one for half-price. I said ‘Yes, all right’ but then he said it would spill everywhere getting it home on his bike, so could he have a new bag to put it in! I said ‘Yes all right!’ and he gave me half a crown saying ‘Now you put that half crown in your own pocket – those Jones Brothers have got plenty!’ So I said, ‘Yes, all right then, thank you very much!’

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Picture this: A lost local station

I was contacted in the week by local artist and reader Dave Dunkley who’s sent me a remarkable and lovely painting of something I was only peripherally aware existed: Rushall Station. And what’s most interesting is that Dave had painted it entirely from memory.

Rushall Station in the 1950s, painted from memory by Dave Dunkley. Click for a full size version.

Dave said:

Bob,

Nice of you to reply. Firstly I don’t belong to any social media sites but regularly view yours and Hednesford in old photos facebook. Both excellent sites compared with the rest.

I have replied to your site with Brownhills cricket club who I played for in the seventies, I also found a lot of interest in an article about the Walsall to Lichfield old railway line.

I was born at Rushall at the end of the war and have fond memories of the area. With lockdown I decided to paint some scenes from Rushall from memory in watercolours.

The one attached is Rushall Station from memory in the fifties.

I spent hours on those gates trainspotting, unfortunately the station got demolished and there are no photos on the net. It’s just as I can remember it.

It will be interesting if anyone can remember the station as I have painted it. Before and with lockdown I have painted scenes from Rushall, Walsall, local canal scenes. If it gets much interest I could add these later.

Dave

Dave, can I just say this is most welcome, I absolutely love it and the idea of painting it from memory. I’d be only too happy to share your work in future, as I am honoured to do so today.

My tanks to Dave, then, and come on readers – what do you remember of Rushall Station? Can we locate an actual image perhaps?

Please do let Dave and the readership know what you remember – comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at googlemmil dot com or whisper in my ear on social media.

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A very rare species: Bike racing at Lazy Hill in the 1960s

Sorry, been a bit busy this week but hopefully can get some interesting stuff up in the next few days or so,. including some gems from the Young David Evans. In the meantime, a bit of motorbike racing ephemera that points up something I knew nothing about, and would appreciate some help with: Grass Track racing at Lazy Hill, between Stonnall and Aldridge in 1964.

A modern grass track racing bike, from Wikimedia Commons. I’m intrigued by how slim the wheels are.

I found the scanned programme for an event just described as at ‘Lazy Hill, Stonnall, nr Brownhills’ on Sunday, 7th June 1964 in a junk shop a fair way from here a few weeks ago and paid very little money for it. It appears to have been run by the Midland Grasstrack Association, but several clubs and societies are mentioned including Kinver Auto Club.

When I bought the slim programme, it was sealed; but inside I found an A5 size pamphlet made from a professionally printed cover sheet and gestetnered interior pages with an amusing description of the day’s events, the club running it, and who was officiating.

I love this passage:

The grass track boys, of course, arc a very rare species. In no other sport, can spectators actually witness the phenomena of sone £275 plus of machine thrashed to destruction in a vain effort (usually) to win a trophy which could probably be purchased in almost any large jewellers for about 1/3d.

There are details of the races and notes about them scribbled by the buyer of the program – including the wonderful note ‘GOOD RACE’. There’s also a safety warning that probably wouldn’t pass risk assessment these days…

So, I’m interested in this event. I knew nothing of it: Was it a one off, or a regular event? Motorbike racing was a notable sport locally with scrambling at Wharf Lane being a nationwide attraction for years, and also a long tack event at Chasewater Stadium we’ve covered here before. But nothing about events at Lazy Hill. Can imagine it having been a bit noisy for the locals!

I scanned the program for your study: You can peruse it by clicking on the individual page thumbnails below, or download the whole thing as a text searchable PDF by clicking here. Sorry, some of the the pages are wonky or cropped, that’s how it was printed!

What do you know, or remember of this or related events, or the racing scene of the day? Please do get in touch: It’s something I know nothing about but I know we have many bike racing enthusiasts and historians of amongst the readership.You can comment on this post, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or find me on social media.

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Bogus callers preying on the elderly are about again: Be on your guard!

There have been several incidents locally in the last couple of weekss where elderly people have had money stolen by bogus callers, or have been conned out of cash by people posing as workers.

In one case reported this week, an elderly resident who clearly had her wits about her turned away a caller claiming to be there to inspect her new boiler. Since she had had no work done, this was clearly a ruse to enter her home. Thankfully, she shut the door on him.

Local police have been notified of the incident.

I feel then that this warning from West Midlands Police is timely – please care it with anyone you know who’s vulnerable: The elderly, frail or less able. 

Let’s look out for our neighbours.  West Midlands Police wrote:

Not all burglars break in. Some will talk their way in.

Commonly known as bogus callers or distraction burglars, these crooks will pose as someone they’re not; perhaps a police officer, council or ‘water board’ worker, or perhaps they’ll pose as a builder or gardener. Whatever their story, they have only one aim: to get into your home so that they or an accomplice can steal money or belongings. Their targets are usually the elderly or the most vulnerable who are more likely to believe their story and let them in. These doorstep criminals are cunning, creative, and often very convincing.

So what can you do?

Firstly, stop!
Be on your guard if someone turns up unexpectedly. Genuine callers will make appointments first.

Then, chain!
If you have a door chain, put it on before opening the door, and keep it on while talking to the caller. If you don’t have a door chain, look at getting one fitted.

Next, check!
Ask for ID from anyone who comes to your door, whether you expect them or not. Genuine callers will carry company photo ID and show it when you ask. If the caller is unexpected, ring their office to confirm their identity. Don’t use the number on their ID card, look it up in the telephone directory or a recent bill. Genuine callers won’t mind waiting. Don’t assume someone is genuine just because they are wearing a uniform or high-vis jacket.

If you have any doubts, tell the caller to come back when someone else is home. Genuine callers won’t mind rearranging. You can tell callers to contact you by letter to arrange a more convenient time. Only let callers in if they have an appointment, and you are absolutely sure they are genuine.

If you are suspicious of a caller, or feel threatened, call the police immediately on 999.

Watch out for suspicious characters in your street, especially if you have elderly or vulnerable neighbours. Try to take a note of vehicle details and registration numbers, and descriptions of anyone involved. Contact us with your information via Live Chat at west-midlands.police.uk between 8am to midnight, call 101 anytime or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Please tell your relatives and neighbours about these scammers, and impress upon them how important it is not to be menaced into giving money for services  at the door, no matter how plausible the people demanding cash are.. Genuine companies will always contact you by other means.

Scumbags preying on the elderly and vulnerable are lower than a snake’s knees.

Please,  if you have any further information relating to any such incident, or if you’ve witnessed something suspicious, please contact West Midlands Police by dialling 101 (999 in an emergency, obviously) or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Posted in Brownhills stuff, Clayhanger stuff, Environment, Events, Local media, News, Shared media, Social Media, Walsall community | Leave a comment

Virtual Remembrance around the area

This lovely tribute video was made by old friend of the blog Matin Littler and sent to me earlier in the year. A lovely thing. Thank you Martin!

As explained in my previous post, since life under Coronavirus restrictions has led to community Acts of Remembrance being curtailed this year, so many parishes, Royal British Legion branches and other organisations have made virtual Remembrance films for those who could not attend.

Without any favour, I’ll post them here as I find/know about them. My thanks to all involved in these, as I know just how much preparation and work they take.

If you know f or find any others, please do comment on this post or mail me details: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. I’ll add them as appropriate – it’s not bias, these are the ones I could find. Any assistance welcome!

May respect and thanks to you all: In these strange and uncertain times, it’s good that we still can remember, reflect and pay our respect to those who gave their all in the service of their country.

Thank you.

Brownhills:

Brownhills and Willenhall Methodist Circuit courtesy Chris:

Walsall Wood:

Aldridge:

Pelsall:

Walsall:

Chasetown:

Cannock Chase Methodist Circuit:

Lichfield Cathedral:

St. Micheal Lichfield:

Norton, courtesy Cllr John Preece:

Green Lane Baptist Church, Walsall courtesy Sarah Bingham:

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A Remembrance Sunday unlike any other

In the remarkable and worrying times in which we now live, there are few constants remaining. One of those that has sustained, but in a very different – and somehow more starkly appropriate form – is the annual act of community Remembrance across not just our local area, but our country as a whole.

With the restrictions on social gatherings and social distance, traditional parades, wreath-laying and even poppy sales have been cancelled, scaled down or changed format totally.

The determination of our communities to honour those that served, properly and appropriately was fired, and most churches and relevant organisations have posted wreath-laying and Remembrance services online, and they’ve all been excellent.

To kick off, here’s Brownhills recorded Act of Remembrance, featuring our new Vicar, the Reverend Gayle Greenway who I’d like to welcome to the Parish. We’ve been far too long without an incumbent. Welcome to Brownhills, Reverend.

My thanks and respect to all who took part and worked hard to make this film and ceremony possible. I know readers will appreciate it. You can catch up with events at St. James and Holy Trinity Clayhanger on their website here, or on Facebook here.

There’s also an evening Reflection and Prayer Service being broadcast on Facebook by St. James this evening at 6:30pm. You can catch it if you’re quick by clicking here.

Whilst there was no public official Sunday service, at memorials across the area, people did turn out to remember and lay wreaths in respectful and careful social distance. One such spontaneous event occurred this morning at Brownhills and I was contacted by old friend John Bird of Brownhills Royal British Legion who had this to say:

Remembrance Sunday 8th. Nov. 2020.

Image kindly shared by Sara Coulson-Stobie

As we are all aware, with current restrictions due to the Pandemic, there was no Official Remembrance Sunday Parade or Service at local Venues.

However, I felt a personal need to visit St. James’ church to spend a few moments at the Cenotaph to show my respects. At almost 11-00am it was clear that quite a number of people had had the same idea, as approxiamately 200 to250 were now in attendance on the site around the Cenotaph.

Image generously shared by Richard Hinton.

I was so impressed how disciplined everyone appeared to behave, ensuring Social Distancing and respect for the occasion.

Suddenly, the whole gathering, voluntarily, fell still and silent at 11:00am without any prompting.

How moving those few moments became. This was followed by the laying of wreaths by various representatives of different organisations all of which was completely unrehearsed and spontaneous.

Image generously shared by Richard Hinton.

May I take this moment to say a big thank you to all who attended for the discipline and respect shown. One had to be present to appreciate just how moving this spontaneous event was.

John Bird,
Brownhills.

Thank you John: As thoughtful and eloquent as ever. My thanks to you for such a lovely, proud and heartfelt message. My respect to all at the Legion.

Thank you to everyone involved in Remembrance this year – it has been like no other and yet our communities have done those that gave their all proud. We will remember them, whatever restrictions we find ourselves under, because we know theirs were so much, much greater.

As I locate other community remembrance videos, I’ll post them up.

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A brief apology to readers

Hello everyone – I’d just like to issue an apology for missing the traditional Remembrance post this year – last night I have something unexpected to deal with and events overtook me. There is some coverage coming up in the next hour or so – please accept my apologies for this failure and bear with me while I get into gear.

Poppies at Lower Stonnall from my 365daysofbiking blog

 

Remembrance is critically important to me, as it is to the whole community and I would not be in this position had I any choice in the matter.

For my general view on this most important of national commemorations, please see my post from last year which can be read by clicking here.

We will remember them.

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A record for Brownhills!

A treat today for the choral music fans – the wonderful transcription of a long-lost Brownhills vinyl LP record to MP3 that’s a real part of Brownhills cultural history.

‘Choral Favourites’ by Brownhills Co-Operative Choral Society is the second album of music released by the award wing singers from Brownhills who I’ve covered a great deal on the blog. It has 15 tracks and was released in 1977.

There’s (at the time of posting) a rare chance to buy the first 1971 album on the tat bazaar here.

CA classic postcard of Brownhills was chosen for the cover of the album. Image kindly supplied by Martin Hughes.

The transcription is wonderful quality and has been shared with the blog by Brownhills Community Association’s Martin Hughes, a top man and tireless grafter for the community.

It’s difficult to overstate the local importance and musical pedigree of the Co-Operative Choral Society: They won awards up against the UK’s greatest choirs, and featured the noted local choristers George Fullelove and Deryk Langford – the latter still making wonderful music at well over 90 years of age.

You can find out more about the Choral Society in these stories here and here, and how George is commemorated, sadly unknown by many here.

This isn’t the first time we’ve celebrated the musical history of Brownhills, which is surprisingly diverse – from Jazz at the Crown in the 1970s, to postwar music festivals and lost venues for nascent monsters of rock.

My thanks to those involved in bringing this music back to a wide audience and to Martin and all at the Community Association who enabled it. I am honoured and proud to host this wonderful thing here.

If you have any comments, please don’t hesitate to comment here, email me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or buttonhole me on social media.

You can play each track individually from the embedded player, download it from the link above each player or download the whole set from Dropbox by clicking here.

There’s also a full continuous playlist at the bottom of the post.

1 Sing a Song of Sixpence

2 Come Sleep

3 Midsummer Song

4 Lovely Rose

5 Watching the Wheat

6 With a Voice of Singing

7 Eriskay Love Lilt

8 The Way You Look Tonight

9 O Hush Thee My Babie

10 The Dance

11 The Lullaby

12 Let Us Break Bread Together

13 Golden Slumbers

14 Balm in Gilead

15 The Lord’s Prayer

Posted in News | 5 Comments

Fancy finding out more about local wildlife? You can, one last chance this afternoon!

If you, the kids or grandkids are at a loose end today, since it’s the last chance before the next lockdown, it would be an excellent chance to grab the young ones and nip up to Stubbers Green where you can chat to, and learn all about local wildlife with the Swan Patrol.

The Patrol are back there this afternoon – and most Sundays from 1-3pm and have bird books, binoculars and a wealth of knowledge to share – so why not join them? There’s so much more local wildlife than people think!

Ann Lawrence said:

Swan Patrol every Sunday 1-3pm

Please bring wild bird seed, sweet corn, porridge oats, lettuce, peas, chopped up vegetables, rice etc to feed the birds.

We have binoculars and bird books available to use. Stickers for the children

The reserve is by the pools on Stubbers Green Road, between Aldridge and Shelfield.

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A forgotten hero: From the mines of Brownhills to the deserts of Egypt

As I’m getting g back on the blog bike (metaphorically and in reality) I’m picking up speed and getting down to more regular articles here which I think readers will appreciate.

Today I have an absolute gem from reader Isaac Marklew-Brown who’s researched and beautifully documented the story of a local soldier and hero of the late Victorian/pre Great War era that I had absolutely no clue about.

The Chester Road, Brownhills – where Thomas more than likely grew up to go on to great things. Imagery from Apple Maps.

This lovingly written, beautifully illustrated work lights up the life of a clearly brave and dedicated soldier in a time we don’t really think about – the many campaigns of the Victorian era are now fading into history, but in the service of The Empire many servicemen went to fight like Thomas Marklew, many giving their all.

I’m always more than happy to feature reader articles here and I’m very keen to cover the stories of local service – wherever it was. We have featured many such stories here over the years from Cecil Arthur Burton MM to the fascinating story of an Anzac from Norton Canes, to the more personal recollections of the toll of war. If you would like to add to the body of such work here pleaser do get in touch.

My huge thanks to Isaac who’s been very patient in waiting for me to get my backside into gear and post this up, and for shining a diligent torch into a corner of local history I doubt many folk knew about.

Anything to add? Please feel free: Comment here, mail me BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tap my shoulder on social media.

Isaac wrote:


Thomas Marklew – By Isaac Marklew-Brown

Thomas Marklew was born in Brownhills on the 23rd March 1878 to Joseph and Mary Marklew. For a coal miner living on Chester road his life was about to get significantly more interesting and by the time of his death we would have travelled thousands of Miles with the British Army in their Imperial conquests and fought in many hard battles. 

He would go from seeing Staffordshire to the rich deserts of Egypt and the vast Mountains of South Africa. 

At the age of 18 years and 2 months he decided that the Mines of Brownhills and surrounding areas were not the best place to earn a living. He decided to Join the Grenadier Guards on the 23rd of May 1896 in London. 

After Thomas had trained he was sent to Gibraltar before embarkation to Egypt. He was part of the 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards who took part in General Sir Horatio Herbert Kitchener’s campaign for the re-conquest of the Sudan. After landing from river steamers at Khartoum they fought at Omdurman on 2 September 1898. At Omdurman Kitchener defeated the army of Abdullah al-Taashi, the successor to the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad. Kitchener was seeking revenge for the 1885 death of General Gordon. Marklew was among the Grenadier guards who annihilated the Dervish forces. 

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Here are the Records which show Thomas Marklew’s Participation in the Sudan. 

The following photos are from Egypt and the Sudan and are of Marklew’s unit the 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards. 

Images generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

It would be only one year later in 1899 that Thomas Marklew would yet again be in heavy fighting. Thomas was now In the 3rd Battalion which sailed from Gibraltar in the Ghoorkha on 25th October 1899, and arrived at the Cape about 15th November. Along with the 1st and 2nd Coldstreams and the 1st Scots Guards they composed the 1st or Guards Brigade, under Major General Sir H E Colvile. From the Newspaper archives it has given a useful insight into this Brownhills man’s time in the Boer war and the reception he received after. In the letter we see how he says no man has ever received such heavy fire, how different that would be for the majority of young men in 1914-1918. 

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

These are Marklew’s records or participation in the boer war. His brother Joseph Marklew fought with him through the Campaign.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

The Following pictures are of the 3rd Battalion the Grenadier Guards where Thomas saw a great amount of action. The soldier in the picture is not him although identical clothing.