Out on patrol

Here’s an interesting piece from the Young David Evans about the common that used to exist on Holly Bank, in Walsall Wood. Holly Bank is the land from what is now the Castlefort Estate to the Lichfield Road. Until around 6 decades ago, this was open scrub. Then came the post-war building boom; where once were newt-ponds, roads like Wolverson, Poxon, Sally Ward Drive and others sprang up. Of course, the lorries and builders that worked here were concreting over local kid’s memories.

Thanks to David for a wonderfully evocative piece. I’m sure Walsall Wood folk like David Oakley will have more to add. Please do comment.

David wrote:

The Demise of the  last Common in Walsall Wood, 1950s.


Holly Bank is a name that’s sadly dying, like Woodcote or Castle Gate. I’m not sure of the exact date of this map in the photo, probably 1884, but I adore the fact that David has unrolled a paper map, spread it out and taken a picture. There’s not enough paper map handling going on these days… Image supplied by David Evans. Click for a larger version.

This map, which dates back to the 1880s or so, shows one of the two commons in Walsall Wood. There had always been two of them, one on the land which lay between Chester Road, Lichfield Road and Catshill, and the other, shown above, was called Holly Bank and was common land which lay between Castle Road, Salters Road (Salters Lane on the map) and Holly Lane.

For children this open common land was a paradise, a Treasure Island, a Land Safe from Parents’ Watchful Eyes, an Adventure Land and held limitless possibilities for all the local wartime and post-war infants to explore and investigate during school holidays, at weekends, or in the balmy summer evenings before curfew bas bellowed.

Here, would-be aeronautically-minded grown-ups flew the kites that they had spent hours making, the real Heath Robinson inventions, made out of brown paper, string, lashings of cane and glue, long tails of twine and twists of old newspapers. Meanwhile, busy tribes of junior Indian braves, or Special Forces in old ARP helmets, RAF berets, and even a real, treasured and highly valued German helmets, armed with wooden weapons, Agincourt special bows and rubber-tipped arrows which flew, well, in any direction once launched, these brave-hearts of the Wood waged war, went on patrol,  and reported back to HQ. The HQ in question always the lad who was the proud possessor of a bullet  ‘found’ in  the Covey, or a bent medal borrowed from Granddad’s sideboard drawer… and endless hours of raucous  battle, or  quiet watch, or ‘grub time’ were spent.

castlefort road 1952

Out on patrol on the building site – the younger Young David Evans. What a cracking pic. Kindly supplied by the author.

The gorse bushes and  stinging nettles, the cuckoo-spit that clung to wellington boots and socks, the bulrushes and thistles, the mud, the tracks and twisting paths,  the reeds you could blow to whistle, the skylarks singing high, high overhead, invisible in the clear blue skies, precocious in their irresistible running on land, always taking you away from the ground nests you could never find, the lizards, gloriously slippy newts and frogs in the  boggy marshes and shallow pools,  the lumpy, wrinkled lazy toads, the squadrons of distant pigeons  circling and soaring high over the houses, this was the Land of Adventure and Imagination. This was the common.

Then the land was cleared. Roads were laid, and for a while a new temporary battlefield, this time urban warfare, was available. But only for a while. The Land of Adventure,  with its sights, sounds and smells, our very own common, was gone Forever.

A farewell to Walsall Wood’s last common. 1952 or 1953.

David Evans, May 2013

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9 Responses to Out on patrol

  1. Clive says:

    Nice one David. I can remember them building the Bunglows in the late 60s. I must admit the building site was our playground for a while.

  2. Dave (Eddy) Edwards says:

    We moved back to Walsall Wood from Norton Canes in 1954, I was 9 years old. We moved to a new council house in Fort Crescent. I can still remember all the sites and sounds David recalls in this great piece, I remember there being plenty of common and areas of great exploration left for quite a few years after that, however long it took to build the estate after that. Also it was lots of fun exploring the new builds as they went up, no such thing as Health & Safety then..I haven,t been able to find any photos to date..
    Good one David
    Dave (Eddy) Edwards

  3. David Oakley says:

    Thanks David, You’ve recaptured the common, just as it was, and have ticked every box in my memory cells.. We were lucky, in Salters Road, having a ‘field’ and a common, two different areas at the time, the field was situated where Castlefort Road now is , and was square and flat, ideal for football and cricket. The common began lower down, beyond the Brickmakers Arns, and was made of much sterner stuff, as amply described by David Evans, and so it became his ‘Land of Adventure and Imagination.
    In its gentler mood, on the higher ground, there were are large areas of fine, long grasses, known to us ‘silverspoons’. To lie on a bed of these grasses, looking upward, while shielding one’s eyes from the blazing sun, in total silence. broken only by the song of the skylark as it mounted higher and higher, is a memory that will always be with me. No, we never did find a nest, David.
    The silverspoon grasses, after they had died away, left a highly burnable substance call
    ‘feg’, and the common fell victim to fire on at least two occasions a year, always started by kids. The recognised practise was to take off your coat, and with one smart slap of your coat into the flames, you could extinguish a small portion of flame and move quickly on. we were always successful, and felt like heroes at the end. I could never understand my mother, when I walked in, smoke-begrimed, ‘stinking of fire ‘ as she prosaically put it, with a smelly, battered coat over my shoulder, which had done so much service in the cause, being so angry. with me.
    Another memory was the ‘earthworks ‘ or ‘camps’ that we used to build, if anyone could purloin a spade from anywhere. these camps would be a snug little windbreak, and if we could get materials for a fire – so much the better. Potatoes would be put into the fire, and would emerge as black charcoal on the outside and raw on the inside, otherwise, perfectly cooked. We would sit there, in snug comfort, as dusk fell or until mothers start to call, each with their own distinctive style. We would linger there , until irate masculine voices began to be heard among the higher pitched female calls. By then, we knew that the day was over, the fire would be extinguished in the normal, traditional way, and we would wend our way, silently home.

    The rec

  4. Peter says:

    Hi Gents. Fascinated by the photograph, where do you think the houses are in the background?

    Thanks David….. Peter

  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Peter
    you have the corner of Castlefort Road and Fort Crescent.under construction.and in the distance is Salters Road and the old rows of cottages which were demolished to give Lawnswood Drive

    • Peter says:

      Hi David, I am really interested in this particular area of the Wood. Do you have any other images of this area? I would love to see more or find out more from someone such as yourself who knew where I live now from times gone by. Might it be possible to arrange to meet? I can leave details with Bob for exchanging?
      I’d love to find out more

    • David Oakley says:

      The young David Evans is standing on what was known as ‘the field’ which adjoined the common, behind the Brickmakers Arms. If history could speak, what a glorious babble of sound could be heard, emerging from this particular spot. Things happened here. We had a large annual fair during the war years, run by a Mr. Francis who generously donated every Wednesday night takings to the local Comforts Fund for the armed forces. Then the local Women’s Institute and WVS would abandon the jam-making and the hearty choruses of ‘Jerusalem’ to man the various stalls on the fairground, gleefully raking in the pennies on the ‘Roll a penny’, when the coin touched a line, and facing the continual mechanised roar which enamated from the ‘Over the sticks’ when perched up in the paybox. The fair was very large and very well attended. High wartime wages with little else to spend it on, hence the idea of ‘Postwar Credits, later. Added to the fact of Double Summer Time Regulations, which meant that it was light until midnight in midsummer.
      The ‘field would also move from the secular to the sacred in the same summer, by means of the tent Missions which were normally a bi-annual event. A large tent was erected by a Mr John James, from the Elim Hall in Tipton, a branch of the Christian Brethren which belonged to the same denomination as the Hoiuse of Prayer in Coppice Road, although each Assembly was autonomous. the tent was very large and the fervour of worship, very great, giving credence to the old saying “God and the doctor, all men adore, in time of trouble – but not before ! , with “Blessed assurance ” and other well known hymns ringing out through the canvas entrance Grass, canvas, people. The memory of that distinctive smell will always be with me, together with the humming throb of the portable engines, supplying the power to the fairground as Vera Lynn sang
      ‘There’ll be bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover’, drifting in through our open bedroom
      windows, as we settled down to sleep.
      Incidentally, David, four of the old cottages you mention, number 154 to 160, Salters Road, still had access for the ‘nightsoil men’ behind the ‘privvies’, before the sewer was laid. The rest were built at a later date.

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