What I really enjoy about doing this blog is those times when we get a historical snippet, then explore it through various avenues, take it and run with it. Often, this not only reveals the story to be different to that originally stated, but also a fascinating journey through what would otherwise be lost local history.
So it has been with the news clipping I featured here last Saturday, just before the historic Walsall Wood versus Guernsey match. The post I created revolved around a 1936 Lichfield Mercury report on the Supper and Presentation night of Walsall Wood F.C., in which the provision of a ‘New Stand’ was discussed. At the time, I was charmed by the story, but considered it of minor consequence. How wrong I was.
In my usual hamfisted, bull-at-a-gate way, I assumed the ‘New stand’ proposed to mean the classic, old stand that is still in service today; a period piece and well loved local landmark. Reader David Oakley, a man exiled up north but retaining a remarkable and authoritative recollection of The Wood of his youth, has put me to rights.
David has contributed hugely to our collective group knowledge of Walsall Wood history over the last couple of years, and I welcome his input here – it really is wonderful. I’m sure all readers will join with me in thanking him most profusely.
David’s contribution does raise questions, however; just who did fund Walsall Wood F.C. in those days, and who built the ground? Why was the new stand apparently never built? I seem to remember a fire at the club – maybe in the late 80s -that destroyed a lot of the built fabric. It didn’t perchance raze a ‘new’, later stand?
Then there is Mr. Peake. Sometime mine engineer, big noise at Walsall Wood Colliery, who gave his name to a local road. What do we know about him? I get the feeling there’s an interesting history there – maybe not as notable as McClean or the like, but he crops up with such regularity I’m thinking he must be very significant.
Please, if you have anything to add, do comment on this post, or mail me BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.
As ever, huge thanks to David, and all contributors who labour so hard on stuff for the blog. You are all wonderful.
Following the Wood’s gallant defeat in Guernsey, I spent two days in bed with my face turned to the wall, refusing food and drink. I have now sufficiently recovered to be back on light duties. Perhaps the saying ‘hope springs eternal…’ and my own earnest conviction of ‘…there’s always next year’ had something to do with it, but anyway…
I am blessed with a good memory for my age, and can just remember the Silver Jubilee of 1936, the Abdication and the Coronation of George VI in 1937. What I definitely cannot remember is sitting in a newish built stand at Oak Park in the late 1930s.
For this reason I think that the excellent historians we have on the blog should take another look at the date of 1936 for the building of this beloved old stand and trace its origin a little closer to its Centenary year.
The ground itself is a bit of a puzzle. Walsall Wood Prims and other local teams constituted the founding of Walsall Wood F.C. A small local team, possibly strapped for cash, yet playing on one of the best grounds in the West Midlands. From my earliest memory, the ground has always been fully fenced off, with excellent quality close-boarding, seven or eight feet high, with a single tubular steel barrier separating the playing area from spectators – and a grandstand. How could any little local team afford such a grand beginning ?
My own belief is that the ground was built and furnished not by the club itself, but by a friendly agency such as the local mining interests who have traditionally shown a sympathetic and financial interest in the teams affairs, hence Mr, Peake’s promise to build a ‘new stand’ in 1936, not a ‘stand’, mark you, but a ‘new stand’ which seems to indicate new for old, or an additional stand for the ground.
For years afterwards, the promise of a ‘new stand’ persisted among the regular attenders, until it became folklore, that never materialised. I was going to suggest that Brownhills Urban District Council probably had a hand in the financing, but then remembered Ogley Hay’s pitch by the Warreners Arms, so rough and undeveloped and remembering that ‘Charity begins at home’ I could not believe that the Council would help Walsall Wood and ignore the needs of Ogley Hay.
No, my own conviction is that the ground was purpose-built, grandstand included, both for football and for other social and recreational needs of the village.
I remember jazz band contests in the 30’s and 40’s, numerous fetes and carnivals, with popular attractions such as climbing the greasy pole, catching a greased piglet, together with school sports days. Walsall Wood Senior School held its annual sport day there for a number of years. The fact that the ground before development actually adjoined Colliery property is possibly a further indication.
No ‘Harrison’s pit’ here in the Wood, I’m happy to say.
That the ground was not solely the property of the football team can be indicated be its varied use. No groundsman worth his salt would allow such liberties on his precious turf, and believe me, the village put this facility to good use.
The lack of the promised ‘new stand ‘ can be put down to reasons of which we know not, such as the death of Mr. Peake or changes in policy.
I may be wrong about the origin of the old stand, but I firmly believe that the ground and the stand go together with the consequence that perhaps fifteen years or so can be added to the history of both. Finally, if the stand is the one promised by Mr. Peake, can it really hold 400 seated spectators, as promised in the plan.?