Another great piece arrives from top reader and contributor David Evans. Grab a cuppa and tune in… thanks, as ever, to David for his efforts. Without further ado…
The end of the second world war brought the time of retirement for one of the Coppy Pit’s long-serving miners. Ike, as he was known, had been born in Hedgeford, as he always called it, where he, like his brothers, had started his working life down the pit there as soon as was old enough. He was one of a large number of children in that family. His mother died when he was a young child, and his father then moved to the Wood to find regular work. He needed every penny to help support his family. The Coppy Pit was offering good wages and the opportunity to settle and make a new start was taken. The family settled in to their new home in Walsall Wood and lived near to the Coppy Pit.
Ike married his sweetheart, a young girl from Newcastle under Lyme who was working ‘in service’ in Leciestershire, in the Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Church where they had met. They set up home in the village and lived the rest of their lives in the same simple cottage not far from the Coal Mine.
The hardships of the first world war years, the long hours working 1600 feet below in the twisted, bending coal seams, where he hewed coal day after day, the Strikes of the twenties and the shock and dread that each miner and his family felt, then the economic depression of the thirties, all were felt by him. He had been seriously injured at least twice in the pit. He had returned to work again after his physical scars had healed, despite the permanence of some of his injuries. He was known never to complain, or moan, or cuss.
Ike’s eldest son had been called up to fight in the Second World War. He had to leave his grocers’ business in Caldmore Green and become a ‘Desert Rat’, leaving his wife and daughter in Walsall Wood, and he went off to fight in the deserts of North Africa, and throughout the landings and campaign in Italy.
Peace in 1945 brought Ike the safe return of his son, and his own welcome, hard-earned retirement and rest from the coalface. It gave him a time to tend his garden and to see the sunshine and seasons as he had never been able to before. His landlord had put a small window in the side wall of Ike’s cottage and now sunlight shone into his back kitchen, and he could gaze out to see the sunset and the stark, bare pit mound.
Sometimes, on Mondays he enjoyed taking me, his wayward grandson, with him on the Harpers bus to Lichfield. It would give somebody some respite. I was honoured to oblige! A bus-ride on the single-decker, boneshaker of a bus. A handful of bus tickets to hold, each one snapped by the conductor from the spring clipboard, “dinged” in the ticket punch, and handed to be held very tight. The balletic pas de deux was then performed by this ungainly conductor, his six-penny round spectacles every inch the model on which Benny Hill based his comic character. The orthopedic wooden slat benches that were the bus seats, the long leather thong that rang the bell. The rough roads through Stonnall, then in and out of Shenstone, along the twisting narrow lanes to Lichfield. An altogether unforgettable experience which made an invisible yet indelible impression on every passenger.
Mondays and Lichfield offered the delight of a gentle stroll from the bus station and on past the railway station with its hissing, steaming locomotives and clanking carriages, on up Green Hill to the weekly Smithfield livestock market, and its big beasts, its farmers in crooked hats, tweed jackets with patched elbows, worn waistcoats with gold chains and pocket watches, corduroy trousers, leather riding boots or hobnail boots. There was the noisy, rapid chatter and strange language from the man up in the middle of the arena, of rapid spectacle of beasts being brought in to the arena, quickly, not a minute to lose, and then taken out just as quickly.
Just by the alleyway down to the Smithfield market was a little shop. The shop is now a private house, but its still there even though the Smithfield cattle market has been demolished and replaced by a huge Tescos superstore. Not much cnage; same haste, same noise, same strange language, different smell. This little shop sold two things of great importance to a young toddler; sucky fish. Big ones which cost a penny, and smaller ones which cost a ha’penny. I was promised a big sucky fish after the market, if I had been good. I always got a ha’penny fish. Good was animpossibility for me, then. I did get to carry the new churchwarden clay pipe , that Granddad Ike often bought in that shop though. It was my sole responsibility to ensure that this instrument, this treasure, this most valuable object arrived back in the cottage in Walsall Wood in safety and in one piece .
I was often allowed to brush Granddad Ike’s hair. For me this was a token of trust and, seemingly, an indication of a fairly thick skull on his part. Brushing someone’s hair without “pailing” them or scraping each thinning strand from a person’s scalp was a rapidly- acquired skill for any toddler who wished to see his next birthday. A small measure of trembling persistence, and lashings of Brilliantine made the job slightly easier. Brilliantine must have been both a gents’ hairdressing and local anaesthetic. The oval hairbrushes, and the shaving cup, new-fangled safety razor and beaver shaving brush had their own specific place in the wall cupboard by the back-leaded range.
The little shop in Lichfield closed down many years ago. The Harper’s single decker stagecoach cum cattle truck is no more. The Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Church building was demolished over twenty years ago. Ike lived long enough to witness the Coppy Pit being closed down in 1964, though. He died a few months later.
Now his cottage has new owners who have had the subsistence rods removed, had new windows and a new front door installed, and it looks as though the nearby cottages that have stood empty for years are about to be “done up” . The nearby colliery field which housed the brick “charge” building for the colliery many years ago, has been transformed into well-used soccer pitches some years ago and now regularly echo to the shrills blasts of the referee’s whistle, and the semi-audible comments from wrongly-adjudged players. The old primary school near to Streets Corner has had a new roof, is well-painted, and has got the facilities of the Oak Park leisure centre, and a FastFood Drive-through close by. The present-day Methodist Church uses the former Sunday School building, which has been modernised and renovated.
Modern buses storm past along the main roads in this part of Walsall Wood, and all sorts and types of vehicles unimaginable to the generations of miners at the Coppy in its heyday seem to confirm that the modern Walsall Wood has evolved, and that the pace and way of life for the present generation of local people is very different, too.
David Evans December 2011