[Edited 16/11/11 – The image originally used to illustrate this piece has been removed at the request of the owner, who presumably didn’t like the positive nature of the article or free advertising – Bob]
This week I’ve had a great contribution via Facebook from regular reader Richard. He was spurred into action by a post I wrote a couple of months ago about milk in bags and home deliveries, which has proved to be a surprisingly popular post. Richard recalls the Grimsby Fish man, who used to trade variously from Short Street, between Lloyds Chemist and Archers, and from the market, always from the back of his van. This chap – like many mobile fishmongers – was a local institution. I can certainly picture him as late as the mid-nineties, and can remember my mother buying trout, haddock and other piscean delights from the icy confines of his blue van. I’m sure he covered other towns, too; I think I remember him at Aldridge and maybe Lichfield as well. I used to buy frozen crab sticks from him and walk round the market on a Saturday. 3 for 5p I think. I used to think they were really exotic…
If anyone knows what became of our heroic fish flinger – or has anything to add to the story at all (I’d love a picture of this lost Brownhillian treasure) – please do comment. I’m also loving the reader contributions lately – Andy Dennis did us proud, David Evans is still supplying grade A history scans (more of those tomorrow) and so is Caz. Richard’s piece here is excellent, evocative and I’d love to see more of it.
Come on guys, don’t be shy…
I have a hazy memory that a while back you asked blog readers for any info on local ‘mobile’ traders who sold their wares around the town? Apologies if I have got the wrong end of a different stick but I was chatting to my grandfather-in-law today and he told me a fascinating story.
My Granddad in law who wishes to remain anonymous (I’ll refer to him as GIL) is now in his mid 80’s and has lived in Brownhills his whole life.. Between the late 40’s and 1980’s GIL ran a large, local, family owned grocery supply business.
Apparently, on Short St, where the car park behind Mario’s fish bar now lies, there used to trade a fishmonger, known locally as the ‘Grimsby Fish-Man.’ Way back on Christmas eve in 1964 GIL was at his cash and carry warehouse and had thousands of pounds of Christmas week takings, that needed banking. This sum is probably worth between 60-80k in today’s money, an enormous amount.
In the mid 1960’s GIL didn’t practice contemporary security measures, and always banked takings at the same time and in the same branch each week. This particular Xmas eve, GIL had tucked the takings up his jumper and parked up on Short St, a quick walk from the bank. He alighted his vehicle and began to casually stroll to the bank, but alas, there was an armed gang, surely tipped off waiting for him.
My GIL is a big man, well over 6ft tall and no stranger to looking after himself, (I shudder to think of him enraged and in his prime!) however, the robbers were well primed and had accounted for this. As my GIL strolled towards the bank he was quickly set-upon by two “hooded goons” (nothing changes!) grabbing him from behind, whilst a third accomplice stepped in front of him, spraying GIL in the face with a ‘toxic substance’ causing a burning and temporary loss of eyesight, luckily only in one eye. GIL states the substance smelled and smarted like ammonia.
Now GIL, as already mentioned is hardly slight of build nor of weak temperament, with his one good eye he tried his best to fight his assailants off. However, even now in his mid-80’s he is unashamed to say that he shouted at the top of his voice for help, realising the ultimate futility of his plight, in those few seconds.
By the good fortune of that day, the Grimsby Fish Man was trading, less than thirty yards from the sight of the robbery. My GIL had been smashed to the ground and was holding his jumper tight to protect his takings. He was being kicked and assailed from all sides when suddenly he heard an almighty roar, “GET AWAY FROM HIM!” The cry of an irate fishmonger rang out. It may in retrospect, seem insignificant, however, a stout man armed with a significant fishmongers ‘filleting knife’ soon persuaded the robbers to reconsider their course of action. Rather than take the chance of securing their booty, they quickly stood up to face their new and unexpected attacker.
Several quick slashes of the fish-filliter and the hooded hoodlums resolve had diminished. They ran for the get-away car, empty handed and dived inside. The car sped off, regrettably without anyone recalling a number-plate or description. Whilst the occupants were never knowingly seen again, the Grimsby Fish Man had made sure that their ‘Great Robbery’ of Brownhills never took place.
Apparently, the Grimsby Fish man kept selling fish well in to the 80’s on Short St. What became of him is unknown to me, but his heroic actions that day in 1964 certainly saved my GIL from a nasty fate. The best part of this story, from my 21st century view point, is that the Grimsby Fish Man refused to take any reward, any credit or any public thanks for his actions. My GIL is still to this day indebted to this fine fellow and when later asked about his actions, all the Grimsby Fish Man would say was, “It’s what anyone else would have done under the circumstances.”
A true gent, and a man whose actions that Christmas eve may well have had consequences far beyond those that he could have imagined. An unspoken Brownhills hero, and one I am so thankful for, nearly fifty years later, none more so than when I sit and enjoy the company of my GIL..
Thank you ‘Grimsby Fish Man’ wherever you or your family may be these days.