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.
Hi Everyone, Thanks to you for the great story David, Mr Allen who had the white horse was my Uncle,
What a job for the Miners to come home after a shift, then to have to get the coal in, tuff men in them days, are you all watching the cricket fellows ,Sorry to my dear friends,
Trev in Aus
Well back when Audrey was nearly 3 years old in 1929…
Writing in the 1930 Wisden, SJ Southerton wrote…
England were stronger in batting, more reliable and consistent in bowling and very definitely superior in fielding.
The series was defined by the prodigious run scoring of Walter Hammond, playing his maiden Ashes series, who with a run of scores of 251 at Sydney, 200 and 32 at Melbourne, and 119 not out and 177 at Adelaide, scored a then-record series aggregate of 905 runs at an average of 113.12; the record has only been surpassed once, by Donald Bradman in the 1930 Ashes.
Please don’t keep going on Hovis!!!!!
My grateful thanks to Audrey, Sheila and David for further memories of the 1930’s. I get keen enjoyment when entering once more into the atmosphere of those far-off days, and every memory rings a bell in my own little store, and I find myself nodding my head in agreement.
The side- streets were our playground in those days, with very few motor vehicles passing, football and skipping were two main activities, the gutters forming the touchlines, and only very rarely was the game temporarily halted to allow the passage of a motor vehicle. Pigs bladders made a good football, when you could get them, but they had to be blown up by mouth, a distasteful job, made even more unpleasant when you took a breath and the unwholesome whiff of the air inside the bladder, entered your own nostrils.
Skipping was accomplished, as Audrey states, by means of a large rope which would stretch across the street and which, by its size would accommodate several little girls to skip at the same time. The biggest problem was in choosing ‘turners’, the two unlucky girls who had to turn the rope while the others skipped. This was often decided by the lottery of, “Up the pole, down the pole, monkey chews tobacco”…..and the unlucky losers were promised a turn of skipping a little later. ‘Eevy Weevy’ was a game where the rope was gently swung, backwards and forwards, about a foot from the ground, with the participants jumping to avoid its backwards and forwards movement. This needed precise timing. If you failed to clear the rope, you were ‘out’. ‘Ella Fisher’ was a game in which the rope was turned so fast, after a few of its normal revolutions that it passed under the feet, twice while one skip was made. A few of those, successfully made, would leave you breathless and triumphant, later boasting that you had done ‘ten ella’s without being ‘out’!
Nearly every boy after about the age of about eight, possessed himself of a ‘bowl’ pronounced ‘ ‘bowell’ in Walsall Wood terminology. This consisted of a pedal cycle wheel, bereft of hub, spokes, and other useless impedia and preferably quite rusty, this, together with a stick about six inches long, a piece of firewood was admirable for this purpose, made up your transport. You could go miles, trundling the ‘bowell’ along beside you, with an occasional touch of the stick to help it along. Errands meant nothing when you had your ‘bowell’ with you, no matter the distance. Arriving at your destination you would park your ‘bowell’ neatly against a wall with the stick lodged on the top, ready for your later departure.
Mr Allen’s horse and cart I remember quite well. The cart was a two-wheel, high-sided vehicle, suitable for the distribution of loose coal. It was kept adjacent to Mr. Allen’s home, and when at rest could clearly be seen with its shafts pointing skywards. As well as ‘getting your own coal in’ there was assistance, when required in the shape of Arthur Neville a village character who specialised in that activity. Probably rated as ‘unemployable’ in the modern age, Arthur with his wheelbarrow and shovel would tour the village looking for loads of coal that needed, ‘getting in’. As a mining village there would be very few streets without a mound of ‘allowance coal’ protruding over the roadway and pavement, or other coal purchased by non-mining families, all grist to Arthur’s particular mill. Arthur’s black ‘coaly cap was a landmark in the village and in my vision, down the years, I never imagine him dressed otherwise.
One penny admission at the ‘Blood Tub’. This would take you down to the side door to the wooden benches, labelled ‘pig benches’ where the youngsters, including myself, often sat. The discomfort of the hard bench would be forgotten, while watching Ken Maynard, Tom Mix and Tom Tyler perform, before the advent of the ‘singing cowboys’, Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers. How to spot the villains ? Why, they wear the black hats, of course !
Thanks again, Audrey.
I enjoyed the walk down memory lane with Audrey Sheila and Dave. Thank you.
Maybe you saw the R101 around 11.00am on the 18th October 1929?
On the 14th it was reported that the R101 had a week of waiting for fair weather…it was estimated that a million visitors had visited Cardington during the weekend to see R101 hovering at her mooring mast…
18th of October 1929 the Gloucester Citizen reports that test flight of the R101 took place from Cardington at 8.15am and lasted 6 hours, and was over the
Midlands for some time. The airship was flying very low and slowly
Derby at 11.40
from conversations with Audrey, the R101 was flying in the direction of Lichfield…… Interestingly she had no real idea of what the airship was until I showed her some photos of the interior of the craft.
many thanks Pedro
oh yes..the Blood Tub cinema..so called because it occupied the site of a former abattoir, or so I have been told…seems to have been quite a few local slaughterhouses in Walsall Wood…..more to come on that..
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In The 1950’s “The Palace Cinema had a brand new frontage and the right side auditorium wooden wall was replaced with Brick. Is there any pictures of this. Also in the High Street The New Regent Cinema that never got finished and was used by Thomas Blakemore for his lorries and storage.