A daughter of The Wood

This is a gorgeous thing, lovingly curated and transcribed by the Young David Evans. The first in a series of articles created by David from the memoirs of Walsall Wood lady Audrey Proffitt, which form a sequence of vignettes illuminating life in a working class mining community in the 1930s and 40s.

I’d like to thank Audrey and her niece, Sheila for what will be a remarkable series of articles, which I know will delight, inform and entertain readers interested in the history of Walsall Wood.

Both ladies also helped create the fine article on the Walsall Wood Cossacks, the equine daredevils of the village.

Being able to post such fine material is a privilege and an honour.

David wrote:


Walsall Wood in 1926, from Aerofilms. Streets Corner is four-fifths up the picture, and central. It wouldn’t have been greatly different in Audrey’s day. Image kindly supplied by David Evans.

Childhood Memories of Mrs Audrey Proffitt, née Southall, a Walsall Wood girl

Some 31 years ago Mrs Audrey Proffitt, who was born in 1927, wrote an interesting article about her childhood home near Streets Corner, Walsall Wood. This was subsequently published and appeared in Margaret Brice’s ‘Short History of Walsall Wood’ local history book.

Then, in 2008 Audrey sat down again, took a pen, and wrote a much longer article, 26 sides of neat handwritten notes, all without correction or spelling errors, detailing some of her experiences and memories. Quite recently I have been delighted to meet her, talk with her, and hear about Walsall Wood and some of the times at home and at school, and other events from her childhood at Streets Corner then later in Coronation Road. She left school in 1941 at the age of 14, and worked in the Crabtree factory in Walsall where she made switchgear for Lancaster bombers.

Her niece Sheila has kindly sent me a typed-up copy of these memories, which run to two chapters, and from this wonderfully rich and captivating material I have taken some extracts which may interest readers.

I would like to thank Audrey, her family and especially Sheila for all their generosity and help and I am delighted to offer this tantalising glimpse of life in Walsall Wood in the late 1920s and 1930s ,as seen through the eyes of a young local girl.

David Evans, September 2013


From Streets Corners looking towards Walsall Wood Colliery and on to Brownhills. I believe the last terrace gable is probably the one still standing today. This is the neighbourhood Audrey grow up in. A great image, from ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

The home

I remember the old cottages very well, three in a row but the end one which we lived in was bigger than the other two. We had two bedrooms, the others had one. We had a black lead grate, as they were called, with a big oven in the one side. The other two had inglenook fires which had a brick seat on either and you walked under the mantelpiece to sit by the fire. We had very big pieces of coal called rakers on the fire and it was covered over with slack which was all the coal dust and chippings. My Mom always threw water over the slack heap, as it was called, to make it last longer. Any waste water from peeling the vegetables to emptying the old zinc bath was taken to the coal shed and poured over the slack. There was always a very large cast iron kettle on the hob. This was our hot water for having a wash or bath or washing the crocks etc. It was continuously being topped up with a jug of water as it would be much too heavy to keep carrying it to the one and only tap we had which was in a lean-to building at the back of the house and known as the brewhouse.

There was a gas-lamp in the living room which was lit by a spill. Now making spills was a job for us children. You cut a newspaper up into strips and rolled it up tight to look like a drinking straw. These were kept on the hearth, standing in an old stone pickle jar and they were used for lighting the lamp and men used them to light cigarettes or pipes. Just pop it in the fire to light it, use it for whatever, then blow it out like a match.

They used to make real telegraph poles in theses days: real rats-nests. But what lay beneath? From 'Memories of Old Walsall Wood' by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

This is the Walsall Wood Audrey Proffitt would recognise. From ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

The toilet was a small brick hut at the bottom of the garden with something like a small dustbin under a wooden bench with a hole in the middle. There were no toilet rolls in those days and one of our jobs as children was to cut up old newspaper into 6” x 6” squares, poke a meat skewer through one corner, tie some string to it and hang them on a nail in the lavatory. The men who worked for the council used to come round to empty the toilet, but this was done in the middle of the night. We would hear the noise of the cart and horse and see the glow of the flares which the men carried, and some flares were attached to the cart like massive big candles. These men were known as ‘night soilers’, but then modern water toilets came in and oh boy! did we think this was exciting. The toilets were built close to the house; no more walking up the garden in the cold. I remember the neighbours lifting the lid off the drain and watching how it worked. They would flush a piece of paper down and then run to watch it pass along the drain into the sewer. It was something wonderful to us.

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16 Responses to A daughter of The Wood

  1. Clive says:

    Lovely, brings back memorys, putting slack and peeling on the fire so it would last through the night. Big thanks to all involved.

    • Japan ingram says:

      What a lovely read it’s taken me back We used to live next to the school in Brownhills rd in one of a block of houses 5children mom &dad in a 2 bed &1 downstairs room We were poor but happy . My grandparents lived at streets corner (opposite )the hairdressers .

      • David Evans says:

        the row was originally called Ingles Row..1881 census shows a very large Ingle family there.in what was called Birmingham Road..this became known as Ingles road briefly, before then being called Brownhills Road. addis spice to research!
        Do tou re,e,ber the per familes there, at all?
        kind regards

  2. Mick P says:

    Magnificent stuff and beautifully remembered and described. The fact that the kettle would be too heavy to continually lift to the tap; the description of the spills and, something that really caught my attention, the slack. Years ago, in the early Nineties, we lived in a cottage with only open fires for heating and although I knew that using slack could keep the fire in overnight (and we used it as such) I’ve only now learned that keeping it wet would make it last longer. Valuable memories and so important to preserve. Well done everyone.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    many thanks for putting this article on the blog..and for the high standard of presentation.
    kind regards

  4. Caz says:

    Thank you David Audrey and Bob,this was lovely. it was like reading my Dad’s life story again and i’m wondering if Audrey would have known or remembers him. His name was Arthur William George Edwards and he was born in 1926.His parents were William George and Emily Maude and his sister was Maudie. They lived in the row of cottages next to Walsall Wood School in Brownhills Road. Across the road lived a large family at Lindons Farm and they had a big orchard. He mentions friends Billy Lindon,Gordon Fletcher and Sammy Kingston. He talks about one of his earliest memories, sitting on the path outside the cottage and waiting for his Dad to come home from the Coppy Pit down the road.He describes the cottages and life back then much the same as Audrey does. He said the only form of entertainment was a wind up gramaphone and he loved to listen to the song ‘When it’s Springtime in the Rockies’ Does Audrey remember the shire horse and cart that brought the milk, Dad writes about taking the jug to have it filled and also the box on wheels his Dad made so he could follow the shire horse around to scoop up ‘their business’ for the compost heap.He fetched bread from the bakery in the High street… which he said was still visible [in 1996] if you looked down the entry opposite the Red Lion Pub, but now it’s a scrap merchants ? In 1934 they moved around the corner to another cottage next to Ebenezers Chapel in Lichfield Road. Audrey might remember his Dad was a caretaker at the chapel and his Mom cleaned there. Keep up the good work. best wishes Caz

    • Dave (Eddy) Edwards says:

      Hi Caz, Dave Edwards here
      Im trying to establish if there is alink between our two families.
      My dad was William (Bill) Edwards and his dad was Jesse Edwards b1898 to George Edwards and Amelia Jane.
      Who was your mom and where were your grandparents on the 1911 census.
      Hope you can help.
      Dave (Eddy) Edwards

      • Caz says:

        Hi Dave, i’m afraid i don’t have a lot of information about my Dad’s side of the family as my granddad died before i was born and my Gran when i was very young.{there is a photo of my Gran Edwards somewhere here on the blog… a daytrip from the church]I know they are both buried in Brookland road cemetary,in Walsall Wood,[my mom thought it was close to the fence by the allotments, but i haven’t been able to find it ] i think my grandad William George Edwards was born round about 1890 and he married Maud Emily Smith on 7th April 1917. Her fathers name [i think] was Frank Smith. i believe my great grandad was also William Edwards. i vaguely remember my Mom saying that Dad had a cousin David [but she thought he had died, so obviously not you lol] i have a wonderful photo of a ‘Granny Upton’ who i think is my Grandads Mom? and this is her second married name ? My Dad also had a cousin William [Bill] Stubbs. Sorry i can’t help with the census details as with the names Smith and Edwards i haven’t had much luck when searching the free entries. The earliest address i have for them is the cottage in a row in Brownhills Road next to Walsall wood School, and then Lichfield Road, near Streets Corner and later about 1950 on Lindon Road near where the wacky warehouse is now? Sorry i cant be of more help, Caz

        • Dave (Eddy) Edwards says:

          Thanks Caz, that’s something to go on. I will let you know if I find anything.
          Dave (Eddy) Edwards

    • Jayne Obradovic says:

      Hello! My dad is Gordon Fletcher. Although he is no longer with us, Mum ( 89 years old) remembers your dad and recalled their friendship. Mum still lives in brownhills but she is currently staying with me in Cardiff.

    • Jayne Obradovic says:

      Hello. My dad is Gordon fletcher. Sadly dad is no longer with us, however Mum is staying with me at the moment and remembers your dad well. She has many stories! Jayne

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  9. Maria Smith says:

    I to am an Edwards! My great great grandfather,William Cooke kept the middle oak pub in Brownhills either before or after the Proffits.His daughter Sara Ann,known as Annie married a mr.William Edwards I believe who was either from Walsall wood or Brownhills.Who then had a number of children,John,Ada and George,George being my father. Born 90 years ago on the 6th of February.I too know almost know nothing about the Edwards side of my family as my father(George) disappeared when I was 9. If either of you Dave Edwards or Caz have anymore info that maybe connected to these Edwards’s it would be very interesting to know.I know mrs.Proffit and her son too!! Wonderful people!! Great page Bob.You used to communicate with my now dear departed brother Michael Edwards in Canada.And via your pge I’ve also found a member of my family on the Cooke side!! Great!!

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