I thought I’d continue today with another article in the series I started last week, chronicling the memories of Walsall Wood lady Audrey Proffitt, carefully and faithfully transcribed by reader and Walsall Wood correspondent David Evans. The pieces form a magical sequence of vignettes illuminating life in the working class mining community that was Walsall Wood in the 1930s and 40s.
I’d like to thank Audrey and her niece, Sheila for their openness and hard work, and of course, as ever, David Evans, without whom this blog would be a far more tedious place.
Audrey and Sheila also helped create the fine article on the Walsall Wood Cossacks, the equine daredevils of the village which forms an interesting companion to this series.
I’t my privilege and honour to be able to share this material with readers. Today, Audrey remembers her neighbours and other characters of Streets Corner, the place she grew up.
People and Neighbours I knew
Mom was lovely, always making us laugh. She would tell us stories and jokes and was always making things for us to play with. I remember my black doll called Mopsie. Mom had made it out of some old black stockings. She had stuffed it with some old socks and bits of cloth and then embroidered a lovely face on it. I loved that doll to bits. I remember seeing a little rubber doll in the shop window opposite our house and mom asked ‘ Would you like it?’ and I said ‘Yes’ so she told me if I saved my halfpennies and pennies and took them to Mrs. Jackson in that shop she would put it on the club card and when I had got enough money she would let me have the doll. So I did that, can’t remember how much of how long it took me to save for it, but when Mrs. Jackson gave me a great big smile and told me one more penny I remember she was putting Santa Claus in the shop window and when I did finally take my doll home mom said, ‘We will put it on the sideboard with a mince pie and a glass of wine so Santa Claus can see what you have bought’…and I was excited. But crafty on my mother’s part when I think about it
We were happy, well fed and clothed quite well, saying Dad was a miner, which didn’t pay a big wage. But all miners had allowance coal. This was delivered once a month by horse and cart and tipped on the pavement outside your house and you got buckets and wheelbarrows to get the coal into the coal house. We all helped each other get the coal in and sometimes if you had run short of coal you would borrow a bucket of coal off a neighbour or they off you, but it was always the first thing to return it when your allowance coal arrived. People were so honest and helpful. When one of our neighbours got the key to a new council house everyone was so excited. This was in the summer of 1931 I think. She moved to a new council house in Oak Road, about five minutes walkaway, and everyone helped to move the furniture and possessions. There were no removals vans then. Mr.Clayton, the neighbour, let me help by asking me to carry the line prop. I felt very important but I was only four years old. The Claytons were the first I can remember to move in to a modern house. I must have been about 8 years old when we moved out. In the meantime we stayed where we were and still enjoyed life.
Dad had an allotment behind the off-licence and he would go and pick the peas and beans and other vegetables and put them into the old zinc bath and send us three children off to sell them along the Lichfield Road up Shire Oak Hill. People brought their zinc buckets and bought two handfuls of beans and peas, three or four carrots, parsnips and a few potatoes. No one was greedy or took more than they needed. Everyone was honest. My brother Dickie had an old pickle jar to put the money in and dad would give us a penny or halfpenny each according to what we had sold. We would cross the road to the little shop that stood on the corner with Holly Lane and in Mrs. Lakin’s shop we would spend our reward.
Another one of our jobs was to pick the caterpillars off the cabbages. If we filled the jar we would get another halfpenny. I don’t remember us getting it, though. It takes a lot of caterpillars to fill a jam jar.
Dad used to have a lot of big red poppies in the front garden and one day all the children from around were knocking our door and asking if they could have a poppy, please. Dad let them all have one and then after school the teacher, who lived in our street, came to look at the garden and see if Dad had any poppies left. He told dad the children had been told to take a flower to school to draw and everyone in the class had brought a poppy. He had guessed where the flowers had come from.
We three children had some laughs. We would watch one of our neighbours across the way go to the Off Licence with his bottle for his ale and then later we would see the candles being lit in his bedroom. He would kneel down by his bed and say his prayers, then get into bed and we would see him tipping his bottle back and he would blow his candles out.