I thought I’d continue today with the third article in the series I started a couple of weeks ago, 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.
When I was very young I can remember Uncle Jack holding me in his arms amongst a lot more people. We were on Streets Corner and people were shouting ‘Here it is!’ and uncle jack was telling me to look up in the sky and I saw what I thought was a big balloon. It was shining very bright with the sun on it. It was the airship R101 going by. I have looked up the date when this happened. It was October 1929 as I was three the following January.
I remember one of our neighbours coming to our house to ask Mom if I could go round to their house and play with Betty, her daughter while they listened to the wireless to hear the big ship, the Queen Mary, being launched. Mom said yes and when it time to turn the wireless on Mrs. Lenard picked Betty and myself up, sat us in the middle of the old scrub top table, gave us a paper bag and said,
‘Now you two sit quietly and eat these while we listen to the wireless’.
I shall never forget opening that bag and finding two big cream puff, choux pastry, dripping in chocolate. I had never had a cake like it. We were used to home made treacle tart and such. When people ask what stands out in your mind as regards nice things I always remember that cream puff.
I can also remember standing by the gate waving a little flag. It was the Duke of Kent coming by in a big car and he smiled and waved back.
I can also remember the elephants walking by up to Shire Oak Hill. I believe they used to bring them into Walsall and walk them into Lichfield. Mom told my brother Dickie to hold my sister Cynthia’s hand and they could go as far as Shire Oak Hill then come back if they wanted to follow the elephants. But they must have got carried away with the excitement of seeing these elephants and they followed them all the way to Lichfield, 6 miles away. I believe Mom was searching everywhere for them, when PC ‘Spot’ Warrington, the local Bobby, came to tell her they had received a telephone call to say they were on the steps outside Lichfield Cathedral and that some lady had given them a packet of crisps. He went to Lichfield on his push bike and brought them back, Cynthia on the crossbar and Dickie on the saddle rack. I don’t actually remember the incident but heard the story several times.
We had carnivals and circuses regularly when we were young and we had a picture house opposite the cemetery gates, ‘The Palace’ nicknamed ‘The Blood Tub’. We went regularly on Saturday. Dickie held Cynthia’s hand and sat me on his shoulders, then put a penny down and said ‘one please’, that meant one seat. Mr.Simpson who owned the Palace used to look at us over this glasses and mumble, ‘Oh, go on, then’.
I don’t recall us being bored at all. We always had something to do. The girls would play ball up the walls or skipping. We had mom’s washing line in the days she didn’t need it. The line would stretch all across the road, one girl on each side of the footpath and about six or eight girls would skip in the middle. There were names for different kinds of games. I remember ‘Eevy Weevey’ and ‘Ella Fisher’. The boys would be happy with a football which nine times out of ten would be a pig’s bladder blown up. Dickie always had ours when our pig was slaughtered. Another popular thing for boys was a stick and hoop which was an old bike wheel which they would start rolling and follow it tapping it with a stick to see how long they could keep it rolling.
We could play safely in the road in those days as there was very little traffic. Occasionally we would have to lay the washing line on the road for a car but mostly for Mr. Allen’s horse and cart delivering the allowance coal. We sat hours on the kerb talking and playing marbles.