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.
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
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.
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.