I’m not a pheasant plucker…

I received this one from David Evans a month ago, and thought I’d save it for Christmas Day. I’m sure many readers recall rearing their own chickens, or maybe working on the farms locally from time to time. As ever, I thank David for his wonderful memories, and would like to wish both him, and you, the readers and very good day and the compliments of the season.

If anyone fancies going upmarket this year and doing goose, I can think of a few prize specimens. See my 365daysofbiking journal for the story of the goose-muggers at Chasewater.

A bird of a feather

A dear old family friend was Rachael. She worked and lived on a farm not more than a mile away and she knew the ways of farming like the back of her hand. Thanks to her I drove a Ferguson tractor on the farm for my first time. I had a close, rather gaseous encounter with one of the farm’s shire horses. One year I helped the farm hands with the harvest by pitching the wheat sheaves on to the wagon, sometimes at the first go, which brought a hearty cheer from the men, until I got blisters on my hands. I was allowed to help Rachael load the double-barrel shot-gun which she then took out into the fields with her for a while. At some time during the next half-hour we would hear a bang! Ah ! Rabbit pie for dinner that evening, after getting in the wheat for that day, then.

She helped the kids in the street at home to pluck and prepare the chickens or cockerels for Christmas. But first, of course, the chicken had to meet its fate. Rachel performed this task of despatching the fowl with consummate ease and rapidity. Plucking a chicken was not a task we children relished either, but it was kind of her to show us all, so that we would ‘know in the future’. So we grimaced and put our minds and our clumsy young hands to the task.

Then, of course, we had to turn the poor, defunct creature ‘inside out’ as Bill called it. This was impossible until other ‘surgical procedures’ had been carried out, said one of the lads. We assigned this pleasure to “Winkle”, an inoffensive lad in the gang who had two large sticky-out front teeth. Well, who else?

Christmas preparations were well in hand. The onions had been pickled for some time and the sweet smell of Malt Vinegar and onions lingered on most of the children’s clothes, even on those who had had nothing to do with that task -but any mention of this would incur a swift “smack in the gizzerd” from the boy , or girl, in question.

Then, of course, there was the Day the Pig Got Done. This gruesome but necessary spectacle is best not described here of course. Most homes kept a few pigs in their pig stye. ‘One for the ministry, one for the home’ was the motto. We all had to help our parents, of course, but only after we had been “initiated” into this world of reality by plucking and drawing the chickens for Christmas.

Today’s sanitised food and meat production has brought many changes .

David Evans, November 2011

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14 Responses to I’m not a pheasant plucker…

  1. David Oakley says:

    Hi David,
    Another interesting stroll down memory lane and another nudge to the memory cells of older readers, such as myself. I don’t think it was possible to buy a plucked and dressed chicken in those days, was it? Mom always performed these tasks in our house at Christmas, which, if I rightly remember, was the only time we tasted chicken. The actual birds were a little more elderly compared to nowadays and often a little tougher. Still, the enjoyment of the meal was undimmed. Some lucky diner got the wishbone, but I could never understand the competition for the “parson’s nose”!!
    Regarding pigs, Many older houses had a robust, brick built pig sty behind the house which were well utilised, particularly after the outbreak of the war.
    I remember two men at least, in the village who undertook pig-killing, Jack Hancox from Brownhills Road and Tom Cooper from Beechtree Road. There was no electric stunning of the animal in those days and the squeals of the doomed animal could be heard streets away.
    Your mention of working on a farm reminded me that there were four farms within less than half a mile of the Vigo Corner, wonder how many there are now? There was Poppleton’s on Sunnyside, Wilkins in Walsall Wood Road, Craddocks in Castle Road and Fewtrells at the farther end of Salters Road.
    Co-incidentally, I also knew a local “Rachael” who worked on a farm, but the farm was Foden’s on Chester Road, quite a distance from the Vigo area
    I am grateful for the encouragement of Bob and yourself to make these occasional contributions, but I really enjoy reading the blog, which in seconds, transforms an 80 year old man in Scarborough into a young lad of the Walsall Wood of the ‘ 30’s and ’40’s. Looking forward to more of the same in 2012.
    So, Happy New Year !!

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi David

    twas the same Rachael, bless her. Gainsborough Hill Farm, the place.. Do you remember her Army Captain brother George? He told me many fascinating tales about Rajasthan, which I was fortunate to visit a few years.
    There are lots more articles in the pipeline, which I hope you and many others will enjoy as they appear in Bob’s “superblog” in due course. Happy new year, David.

  3. David Evans says:

    HI David
    please can you help..I have been told that there was “The Fold” , a very old collection of homes and workshops, in Friezland Lane a very long time ago..I would be delighted if you or any other reader can give informaiton about this bit of local history..like Pepper Alley,by the Black Cock Bridge years ago, it risks falling into oblivion.
    I remember very well Mr Foden’s farmyard geese, bless ’em!

  4. David Oakley says:

    Hi David,
    Nice to know that you remember Foden’s farm. They recruited a lot of ‘tater pickers from Vigo area, collected at 7.45am each morning in a lorry with high slatted sides, usually used for a load of cabbage or cauliflower. The driver was “Tink” who I think was a Foden son. Different farmer’s had differering views about “taking the product home ” surreptitiously. Mountford’s in Birch Lane (later, Stonnall Road) would “sack” you if you were found in possesion of even one potato. Smiths by the Stonnall duckpond took names and addresses of all regular pickers and delivered a one cwt bag of potatoes to each one shortly after the harvest, but quite naturally, didn’t allow daily pilfering. Foden’s allowed pickers to take home a “couple of roasters ” each night if they so wished.
    If I rightly remember, Rachael’s family name was James and they lived in Aldridge Road. I have vague memories of her brother, but they were both older than I was so there was no real contact, as such.
    Regarding “The Fold” in Friezland Lane, this really had the old memory cells working overtime, but the best that I can come up with is this:-

    Friezland Lane being on the periphery of Walsall Wood meant that Vigo kids would only visit anywhere if there were trees to climb or other dangerous or mischievouis exploits to get involved with. Friezland Lane offered nothing of this nature but consisted at the time of enclosed fields and little huddles of old houses. Quite a dull place, really. However, when I was about twelve and in the Senior School In Brownhills Road in 1943, I had a friend from Friezland Lane named Ray Snape. He took me to his house one day after school. We went up Friezland lane, past its junction with the Cape and St. Paul’s Coppice and perhaps a hundred yards or so further on. On the right hand side he suddenly turned into a gap between the houses which after about 50 yards develoiped into a kind of courtyard in which were perhaps about eight small cottages and outbuildings. Most of the cottages were faced or rendered with a limestone medium. All appeared to be inhabited and were by no means derelict. These cottages were well behind the Friezland Lane houses. Could this have been “The Fold” ? and could this have been one of the early Walsall Wood locations of the nailmakers or the chainmakers, before the influx of miners and brickmakers? I have named my friend in the hope that it may spark a memory in any relative of Ray’s who may recollect this rather unusual location in Friezland Lane. Best of luck with your enquiries, David. Regards.

  5. David Evans says:

    HI David
    Bless you! A very good start..I hope to add two other local sources soon..I think the Fold was a nailmakers place..blacksmiths forge..products taken away etc butyour contribution is excellent. certainly tellies with what I have gathered so far. I hope other readers wil be able to help build up a picture of this part of pre-coal mine Walsall Wood. Perhaps there are some who are able to give information on other nailmakers’ in the Wood.
    Rachel had two brothers, Tom and Capt George. The roasters were good!
    best wishes and thanks again. David

  6. David Evans says:

    Hi David….the Fold
    One of the local residents there has drawn a plan. Super. I hope that this can be put on the blog at some time. David…picking your brains again..I can remember two “Cots”, one near Streets Corner, and the lovely couple who lived there. I would welcome anything you can give about this… (Winston, Delbridge,Holland etc ) and if you can add others. There is only one still standing..not far from the Fold..Again, as these disappear and new houses appear, their history is at risk of being lost.
    kind regards, David

  7. David Oakley says:

    Hi David,
    Very pleased to hear that you have received further information about “The Fold”.in Friezland Lane. Must admit that my own curiosity has been awakened by your enquiry, so let’s hope there is more info to come.
    Regarding the “cot” near Street’s corner. This adjoined my great-aunts house, being the first house on the right in Brownhills Road, The large corner site held no building then. The house and cot were quite old with beamed downstairs ceilings and I think my great-uncle Walter Oakley lived there in 1901 when his name was included in the “commercial” resident ” section as “insurance agent”. on the Ordnance Survey map of that year. He died in 1930, but Aunt May lived there the rest of her life with her four sons, one of whom was Winston and daughter, Muriel. I think Winston was the last to leave the family home, marrying comparatively late.
    The cot was a small single-storey dwelling-place, occupied in the ’30’s by
    an elderly Mr Holland. I think Mr and Mrs Delbridge lived there after the demise of Mr. Holland. All three families were very close, bound together by a strong Primitive Methodist connection and indeed, Winston Oakley was later to marry Mary Holland, the grand-daughter of his original neighbour.
    Although piped water had been laid on to the properties, there was still a well in the garden which although boarded over still retained its superstructure and could, I think, could have been recalled to service in an emergency.
    The garden was quite large and I have a photo of my mother with Winston’s beloved dog, Rex, taken there in 1944.
    Winston’s daughter visited the blog some time ago in response to an old “Prims” photo. I know that Winston had a box “Brownie ” camera. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if photos are in existence of her father’s boyhood home and of the cosy little “cot” where her great- grandfather spent the last, happy years of his long life.?
    Regards, David.
    P.S. The name of the house has just popped into my head – “Lyndhurst”.

    • Lynne Walton says:

      How lovely , I have just read this whilst browsing information about old Walsall Wood . I am Muriel Oakleys daughter , I have wonderful memories of visiting May my grandmother & uncle Winston . Their garden was beautiful , & I would pop round to see old Mr Holland who would let me ‘listen to the sea ‘ in a giant shell .

      • david oakley says:

        Well, well, young Lynne, what a lovely surprise. Your parents were lovely people. We were quite close, many years ago and I visited your Aldridge home on several occasions, Your father, Jim, had a mobile grocery store at the time. your Mom, Muriel, was an ardent Wolves supporter and its a wonder you wasn’t born on the terraces, she was so reluctant to withdraw her support throughout the pregnancy. My friend on the blog, David Evans, was a teacher at your school, prior to his retirement and I asked him if he remembered a Lynne Harrison, but no luck. I am 85 now and moved to Scarborough after my retirement, after having many happy holidays here. You were a quiet well-mannered little girl, as I remember. If there are any spaces in your family knowledge I can help with, let me know, As well as this blog, I am available on e-mail and Facebook, so do let me know. Lovely to meet you in this way, Lynne. Kind Regards, David.

        • Lynne Walton says:

          Thanks for your reply it’s very exciting to find someone who knows about all those lovely people in our family . It was funny you mentioned about my Mom & her passion for the Wolves which I think she got from her father ,she often went with uncle Ivor . I would love to know more & how we are related. My mom also loved Scarborough is there a link ? Very best wishes Lynne

          • davidoakley says:

            Hi Lynne, We are second cousins. Our grandfathers, Walter and Sam, were brothers. Your Mom, Muriel was the daughter of Walter and my father, William was the son of Sam. making the relationship, first cousins. We are the second generation, hence, second cousins. There were other brothers and a sister in that original family :- Arthur, David, William and Emma. So much to tell. I know a little about each branch, so you are very welcome to whatever I can tell you. Modest claims to fame – Will became a builder, moved to Stonnall, and built the Memorial Hall at Brownhills, a lovely old building, still going strong. David became a respected Methodist minister on the Birmingham Circuit, whose Daughter Kathleen became a Probation Officer at Walsall, and Emma married Jim Edwards, snr. and gave birth to Jim Edwards, jun, who served most of his life as a C of E. missionary, before spending his remaining days as Canon Jim Edwards, an ecclesiastic at Walsall Wood Parish Church. A much loved cleric. And that’s just for starters !!

            • Lynne Walton says:

              Hi David thanks for all this information , I knew very little really , family history is something I’ve intended to look at but never got round to ! must do better ! It seems we had a few clergy in the family ! I knew Kathleen as she & Mary Ellen Oakley were in touch with my Mom & Dad . Uncle Cyril’s wife Peggy is still alive aged 98. I will be following this blog with great interest , regardsLynne

              • david oakley says:

                Hi Lynne, Great news that you intend to follow ‘Brownhills Bob’s’ blog. So much local history is quite often unearthed. Get in touch with David Evans, a live wire and local historian for the blog, he is a retired teacher from Tynings Lane School and a dear friend. I have told him that you and I have made contact. David and his parents, now deceased, were Primitive Methodists at Walsall Wood at the time of our own family and were part of the same social group. David has published many old photos and other items on the blog, many of which would be of interest to you, one is of your Great- aunt Kate, (my grandmother), attending the first wedding at the chapel. He will tell you where to find them on the blog, Your uncle Winston was very active in the life of the chapel.
                Good hunting, Lynne, and welcome aboard. Sincere best wishes, David.

  8. David Evans says:

    HI David
    many thanks, indeed. Arthur and May Delbridge lived in the second house along..were good friends. Their father is on one of the Ebenezer photos, the choir I think. I remember Jim Lees, parents living in the cot . for a while after Mr Holland ( big white moustached chap) had died. I do hope there are photos forthcoming. Winston was a gent! Yes, big gardens, both houses. Mr and Mrs Delbridge had a beautiful old pub windowpane in their parlour..might be a William Roberts original..super acid etchings..Many thanks for your contributions..I think there may be an article on the Fold , as and when Bob gets over his illness. best wishes, David

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