A place to dance, play and talk

Brownhills, it’s sometimes hard to believe, has a great history of clubs, societies and recreation, particularly in the early part of the last century. We’ve looked here before at sports days, musical clubs and festivals, amateur dramatics and other pastimes. Many of these couldn’t have occurred without the great facility that is Brownhills Memorial Hall.

Opened in 1926, it’s remarkable how much the Memorial looks like the local council housing of the period – look at the homes in nearby Vernon Road or Great Charles Street, or on the Hussey Estate. The style is remarkably similar. There’s a reason for that.

Top local history wonk the Young David Evans has been into the archives at Lichfield and researched the genesis of the Memorial Hall, and has written a wonderful article about how it came to be. It’s a fantastic piece, and I really enjoyed compiling it.

A couple of things are worth noting here. At this time, the Hussey estate didn’t exist, and there was, apparently, a football ground round about where the Police Station is today, or behind there. The team that played there gave their name to Albion Road when the estate was built.

Secondly, the Tennis Club. This was before Holland Park, as far as I’m aware. Where did they play?

In regards to football, reader and local author Clive Roberts is interested in the footballing history of Brownhills. We’ve talked about Walsall Wood FC much here (with far more to come), but what of Brownhills teams, like Brownhills Albion? I’m aware of pub teams like the one pictured behind the Warreners, and of course, of the great Dorsett history, but what of the town team(s)? Any help appreciated.

Thanks to David for this. Any comments, corrections or contributions? Comment here or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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I think it’s a handsome building, really. Image supplied by David Evans.

David wrote:

Brownhills War Memorial Scheme was commenced at a meeting held in The Public Room, Brownhills on January 24th 1919. During that year a further ten meetings of the Executive and General Committees were held. The following year a total of six meetings were held.

In February, 1923 an application for a grant toward the costs of the scheme includes a full description of what the scheme entailed:

‘Erection of an Institute to serve as a Concert Hall, Dancing Room, Gymnasium, Lecture Room, Recreation Room, Library, Reading Room, Billiard Room and Baths, also a room set apart for the young women of the District’

The application was made of the Cannock Chase and Pelsall Coal Fields Miners’ Welfare Fund. The cost of the scheme was stated at £8000 with £2000  having been raised.

This site, ‘between the Central Schools and Woodbine Terrace, Chester Road, including the ground on which the temporary Institute is built’ had been chosen, but the land had yet to be purchased.

The application was declined.

In September the committee visited Pelsall Institute and agreed to modify their scheme to one similar to Pelsall’s, and, ‘hopefully at a maximum target cost of £2500’. A decision was made in October to proceed to buy the land detailed in the application and to prepare scale plans from the sketch that had been presented at that meeting.

In March 1924 further ‘reconstructed’ plans were considered and an architect was engaged to submit detailed plans to reflect the modifications decided upon. The plans, and the estimated building costs of £3600 were accepted. The land had yet to be purchased. A public meeting was planned to show these plans ‘ with a view to creating a revived interest in the matter’.

In the summer of that year the architect of the Housing Scheme for Brownhills Urban District Council was approached to prepare amended plans ‘to be superior and more economical’. This amended scheme was costed at £3000.

About change again.

A different site was agreed and land in Lichfield Road was chosen. The new site measured 9559 square yards and cost 10d per square yard.

Another amendment to the plans was made later that year, and another public meeting was held to show these plans and to appeal for funds from the public. A letter was sent to Colonel Harrison [yes, that one] and other colliery owners asking them to ‘receive a deputation to discuss the scheme to obtain their sympathy and generous support’. Colonel Harrison agreed to receive a deputation. Another public meeting followed to outline progress made to date, to show the latest plans, and to discuss ways of raising funds.

Grove Colliery Company, Walsall Wood Colliery Company, Conduit Colliery Company, Cannock Chase Colliery Company agreed to fund a combined total of £750, conditional on a public contribution of £500.

Another approach was made for a grant from the Miners’ Welfare Fund. This was declined.

In December 1924 Mr Oakley, a builder from Stonnall, was chosen – the building would cost £2758 and 12 shillings.  At the same meeting it was agreed that Mr Statham would ‘form the Cricket Club.’

In early 1925  the plans were submitted to the Brownhills Urban Council for their consideration, a site meeting was held to discuss the siting of the building, more appeals were made to the public for funds, the turf from the new site was used to prepare the new cricket pitch ‘on their sports ground’.

Bob’s note: we’re not sure where the cricket pitch was at this juncture. Any help appreciated. Has it always been where it is now – at the op of Holland Park? Or was there another location?

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Just how many of us have ever noticed the foundation stone, or further, stopped to read it? Me, neither. Image kindly supplied by David Evans.

Mrs. Harrison, wife of Colonel Harrison, was asked to lay the foundation stone at a formal ceremony and she readily agreed to do this. Ideas for fundraising included a rugby match to take place on Good Friday, a Draw for a holiday by the sea, a Jumble Sale, a football match against Aston Villa, a Mile of Pennies (1000 tickets for this scheme were printed). The district was divided in to 15 fund-raising collection routes. Some of the features listed no longer exist:

‘The cottages by High Bridge, St. James Place, the Chemical Works, Ten Row, Ogley Square, Wilkin Lane’

And interestingly, this route in particular:

‘Sandhills and Lichfield Road to Old Shire Oak Tree, both sides of the road’

The commemorative stone was discussed and the inscriptions, ‘To the memory of our local heroes who fell in the Great War’ and ‘They being dead yet speaketh’ were agreed. The date of the ceremony was set for 2nd April 1925, performed by Mrs Harrison of Wychnor Park, Alrewas.

Invitations to attend the ceremony were sent out to local councillors, owners of local collieries, ex servicemen, and heads of churches and other local organisations.

Funding the scheme still remained an unresolved problem and throughout these years various ladies worked tirelessly, raising funds in differing amounts, which were presented to committee meetings.

The stone-laying ceremony took place on the allotted date, the official party first meeting in the temporary institute, by Woodbine Terrace.

In the summer months a Schools Boys Football match was held and one of the  committee’s  good ladies ‘kicked off’ and presented the winners’ medals!

A school sports day was held in September on the Hussey Field, and the scouts loaned tents for this occasion. A greasy pole was one of the sports events, and swing boats were provided. In the autumn months of 1925, the opening day and events for it were discussed. A representative from the Ex-servicemen asked, and it was agreed, to install a tablet in the new Memorial Hall ‘In memory of fallen comrades’. Colonel Harrison was asked to perform the official opening of the Memorial Hall.

The good ladies continued to raise amazing amounts of money. The Ladies Committee presented a cheque for £100 1s 11d at one stage and the target of £500 was very nearly raised. A formal meeting agreed Colonel Harrison to perform the Opening. The same meeting agreed to advertise for a caretaker.

The local collieries had agreed to offer a £750 donation. The amounts were: Conduit Colliery Co, £325 0s 0d;  Chasetown Colliery Co, £100; Messrs Wm Harrison Ltd, £269 5s 9d; Walsall Wood Colliery Co, £55 14s 3d.

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This is an interesting shot. Were you one of these fifties Memorial Hall youth club kids? Some great suits & dresses, combined with some classic period hairstyles. That guy in the foreground with the glasses has on wicked beard. Note also the bottle being held aloft at the back of the group (naughty!) and I must say, that’s a charming young lady in the floral print dress on the right. From ‘Around Pelsall & Brownhills’ by David F. Vodden.

In that November, the land for the New Institute, in Lichfield Road, had been paid for and the caretaker was appointed. By the end of the year new committees for billiards, library, and entertainment were formed, and the Temporary Institute was closed on December 24th and its effects were transferred to the new Institute.

The New Institute was officially opened on 1st January 1926.

In early 1926 new comprehensive standing orders were agreed and a more formalised pattern of meetings became the norm, a management committee was created, a finance committee, rules for debate and  notices for motion were all  introduced. The Trust status remained.

The hall was used for meetings of the Brownhills Tennis Club, the local branch of the British Legion, and two Sunday services were held by Mr Ira Craddock in January 1926. The choral society met every week as did the Country Dancing group. In February a ‘Wireless Concert Ball’ took place in the hall. The good ladies raised another £130. Problems with the dance floor became apparent by February 1926 and were to occupy time, effort and fund-raising to resolve the problem. The tobacco account showed a good profit, a Carnival Dance was to be held on May 1st. The hall was closed in April and discussions were held with the architect.

On May 6th 1926 it was reported that the building had been paid for.

Dances were held to be held every week during the General Strike ‘for Brownhills Distress Fund’. Admission to these dances was 2/6d. The Co-op Guild and Labour Party held a dance for the Distress Fund in May.

Hall bookings show that a Flower Show was held in July 1926, as was a Choral Concert. In September the Brownhills Branch of the Royal Ancient Order of the Buffalos held a dance ‘to assist for the distress of the miners’.  The 30th September Ball enjoyed the sounds of Mr Thacker’s Orchestra. The Tennis Club held a dance in November, a Carnival Ball took place on November 11th, the first of many whist drives for the Orthopaedic Society was held in October.

Other bookings for the hall included Girl Guides, Salvation Army, National Union of Railwaymen who held a whist drive and dance for the Orphan Fund. The hall was hired by the Nursing Association. The issue of the problematic floor remained until a contract to effect repairs was signed in May 1927. The hall re-opened in July of that year, and a ball was held, the music being provided by the ‘Peerless Band’. The repaired floor had  had support walls installed under the floor, a greater void created underneath, and numerous wall airbricks cut in to the outside wall. This provision did not form part of the original specifications).

Mr Philips of Pelsall was contracted to tune the piano.

A cheque was received from Staffs County Council for the provision of furniture for the special courts to be held in the Memorial Hall. There were numerous court sessions held in the Hall. Other interesting bookings included the Fur and Feather Society, Dramatic Entertainments (which raised funds for theInstitute), the Labour Party, Brownhills West Choral Society. Mr Jarvis, owner of the Regent Cinema, donated the proceeds of the opening night of his cinema, on October 10th, 1927, shared between the Institute and Nursing Association. The Spiritualists hired the hall, and Brownhills Urban District Council hired it on November 21 1927 for part of the Jubilee Celebrations. A Carnival Dance took place on December 15th.

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The Memo sits on a large patch of land, sharing the site with the old scout hut. Image from Bing! maps.

A notice of motion was put forward:

‘owing to the number of special courts being held a new agreement to include extra fees for special courts.’

Bob’s note: Many probably wouldn’t realise, but the ‘special courts’  were minor magistrate’s hearings for low-level crimes. I believe these went on until certainly the post Second World War period. Walsall Observer achieves in particular note several convictions here for crimes like Drunk and Disorderly, Affray, etc.

In December 1927 all debts had been paid, except for the overdraught at the bank (£279 18s 3d ). Fees were to be reduced ‘owing to the depressed trade’.

And the roll of honour? The unveiling took place on an unrecorded date, between March 26 and April 13th, 1928. Colonel Harrison officiated, the local vicar, Rev. Wibby, and the Bishop of Lichfield were among the invited guests.

David Evans, May 2013

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19 Responses to A place to dance, play and talk

  1. Clive says:

    Nice one Dave, enjoyed reading the History of the Memo.

  2. Pedro says:

    The Lichfield Mercury, in reporting the stone laying ceremony of April of 1925, says that the Memorial Scheme was started to commemorate the 69 men of Brownhills who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War.

    Mrs Harrison performed the stone laying and made a short dignified speech relative to the occasion.

    However the Chairman, Mr George Cooper, in his address uses the occasion to add…

    “It was suggested that they should see the local colliery owners to ascertain if they could assist them. Colonel Harrison came to the point at once, and said he always had a warm spot in his heart for the people of Brownhills…That, they would agree was a magnificent response to their request. He wanted to say that every miner’s agent and delegate would agree that if the same spirit that was present amongst the miners and masters in the Brownhills and Pelsall districts existed in other parts, the mining industry would not be in such a pitiful condition as it was today. (Hear, Hear)

    The Institute was opened officially on the 1st January 1926.

    Not long after the Miners were on strike for seven months. Colonel Harrison was in London as a member of the Committee of the Mining Association of Great Britain, representing the owners.

    • Pedro says:

      “if the same spirit that was present amongst the miners and masters in the Brownhills and Pelsall districts existed in other parts, the mining industry would not be in such a pitiful condition as it was today.”

      Around the same Lord Derby would say that there seemed to be two classes of mines. Those such as the Cannock Chase coalfield which could pay and show a profit and those that could not.

      The coalfields that depended on exports were in a pitiful condition. In May the Cannock Chase owners would offer a return to work at same rates for a return to the 8 hour day.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    the Mile of Pennies=10,000 tickets and RAOB = Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes.
    my mistakes!
    regards,
    David

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  6. M.WHITBROOK says:

    i recognise some of the people of this era WHAT GREAT DAYS THEY WERE!!!!!!!,including my sister wendy whitbrook,on the left of the guy holding the guitar,,and on the r/side of the guitarist was angela owen who unfortunately died from legionaires disease,when she worked at a factory down coppice side,,3rd row up 4th from the left is mervyn jones who lived in bradford road,.4th from the r/h side mervyn daniels and 5th is roger marklew same row.M.WHITBROOK, VICARAGE CLOSE BROWNHILLS,i think iris foster and joan wright are in photo as well some where

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  12. Sophie Day says:

    Lovely to read, thank you. My mom (Julia Willett) and sister (Laura Hucker) are on the Memo committee, and I run the website. My Grandad Frank Poxon, and Nan Iris Poxon used to be heavily involved. Could I please have permission to include and link to this blog on the Memo website?

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  16. Tracey Parker says:

    I remember going to the memo on a Friday night for the under 18’s discoes …I also remember it was still the magistrates court in the early 70’s…

  17. As a child I have spent many a Saturday afternoon watching Brown hills cricket club their ground was at the bottom of Barnett’s lane, where the cemetery is now, and it reached the railway.

    • Hi Geoff,

      did you ever hear of that area being called ‘Daisy’s Field”?

      My generation called it that and I never found out who Daisy might have been.

      Any ideas?

      Cheers
      Bob

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