Back over Christmas (which seems like an age away now), I featured a fair few articles on the subject of Clayhanger, all initiated by Chris Pattison’s finding of the 1952 article detailing flooding and other environmental problems in the area. From this, articles branched out, not least the wonderful contributions from Marion Jones, who supplied the fascinating history of the pumping station, and photos of the landscaped gardens of the Big House in the 1920s.

Clayhanger backgarden Tennis court Ernest Jones

Anyone for tennis? Clayhanger’s ‘Big House’ tennis court in the 20s. Image kindly supplied by Marion Jones.

This led me to ask about the local Round Table, who used to hold charity summer barbecues at the house in summer when I was a kid. The Round Tablers were so prominent for years, yet we have little record of them, their events or fundraisers.

Seeing my appeal, Walsall Wood FC correspondent and match reporter Bill Shaw wrote the following fascinating piece. It’s wonderfully evocative of the period, and I thank him profusely.

I never know quite what’s going to turn up next. This week, I think I might have pulled off something really, really great, which links in to this piece. Stay tuned, folks.

Bill wrote:

Hi Bob,

Reading through some of the material supplied by Marion Jones and your subsequent question about the Round Table brought back some memories of the 60’s.

In 1959 as a raw 15 year old I started work at Perfichrome on Lichfield Road in Brownhills, as a cost clerk. At the time the area around this particular factory (now the Gatehouse Estate) was pervaded by a sickly sweet smell, this came from the plating process (the factory supplied chrome plated steel bumper bars to the motor industry at the time). The sweet smell was from pure sacharin that was used as a bonding agent to adhere the chrome plate to the nickel plate that was underneath. The process was patented by an American company Harshaw Chemicals (no relation unfortunately), but that patent ran out in 1965.

6720_0003 (2) copy

Superalloys top right (note the chimney), Co-op Corner out of shot bottom left. A young crabtree, Midland Auto Electrics just being built, centre bottom. I think Perfichrome is in there somewhere. Image supplied by Fred Butler, and dated 1954.

Managing Director  George Harris, a vey astute businessman had been aware that this was coming and had employed a chemist by the name of Ivor Langford from Great Barr whose brief was to work out a formula for the plating process. Through trial and error, over a period of some months, this he accomplished. As I said the main ingredient was pure sacharin, that was used as a sweetener for your cup of tea in little tablet form. This raw material was not sweet, but was extremely bitter, if you so much as put the tiniest amount in your mouth.

I worked there for almost 11 years & Ann Keats (nee Richards) during that time would just sniff whenever I saw her & say ‘You’re still at Perfichrome then’, the smell was distinctive to some people obviously. I worked for 4 companies without ever moving from that factory, firstly Pyrene, a fire extinguisher company that took it over, they in turn were swallowed up by Chubb who had no use for an electro plating company, so they sold the plant to Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds (latterly GKN).

One morning in the mid 60s George Harris came into our office & said to me & Malcolm Hunt (Son of Charles Hunt the borough surveyor), ‘Jim!’ (For the first 10 years at Perfichrome everyone was Jim because George had such a bad memory for names) ‘this afternoon you are coming with me to Chasewater for the Round Table garden party.’ We met him at reception at 2 o’clock & we alighted into his Bentley (registration VUK 800) & we were driven to Chasewater.


I do hope this is the same car – image from the The magic of Google. Click to visit the site.

Our job was to fill balloons with helium, fit them with an adressed tag & release them into the glorious afternoon sunshine.We later found out that the winner was a balloon that had been returned from the Normandy coast. On the journey to Chasewater I always remember Malcolm pulling down the centre arm rest in the back seat & balancing an old 12 sided threepenny bit on it & it just sat there on end, as solid as a rock. I know that my mom & dad (Jack & Lottie Shaw) once went to one of the garden party evenings at Jones’s as we called it, but other than that I know nothing of what went on there.

As so often happened at those times we didn’t talk all that often, most of my time was taken up with my youth work at Wednesbury youth centre, nights I wasn’t there I was playing table tennis for Cambridge table tennis club at a variety of venues around the borough. I regret now, not talking more ,to my parents about their earlier life, I do know that at one stage when they first married they lived with my mom’s family at Caddick House, the original ‘Big House’ that was reached by a drive opposite Ernie Howdles farm (Father of Clayhanger butcher Edmund), regrettably I never found out the circumstances behind their occupancy and after my parents divorced in the 30s & then remarried, I can only remember 90 Bridge Street, Clayhanger where I lived from 1944 to 1975.

This entry was posted in Brownhills stuff, Chasewater, Clayhanger stuff, Environment, Followups, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, Local History, Local media, News, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Bittersweet

  1. roger says:

    Sent from Samsung Mobile

  2. Dave (Eddy) Edwards says:

    Great work Bill, I well remember our card games at Bridge St in the 60s.
    Good memories

  3. peter says:

    Great photo, I think this has been published on the blog previously but very relevant, maybe by co-incidence, that bottom left shows the Middleton House Institute and Club as discussed very recently…….. We’ve probably looked at this photo a hundred times and thought nothing of the house bottom left and then all of a sudden someone says something and away we go……..

    Keep up the good work……

  4. matt says:

    hi.does anybody have the historu of teachers/staff from st johns original school walsall trying to tfind someone called mrs hooper.not sure of dates.any help most welcome.ta

  5. mickysix says:

    HI Peter,
    I never like to correct people as at my age they have better memories than i. However i will put this to you, if i may. The house which you state is probably Middleton house, could if fact be the home of the Illiffe’s. (Not sure of the spelling, but know that their descendants still live in Brownhills), Some of us may remember Billy illiffe from Central Boys. There were a few of them, they eventually were rehoused in the Avenues. Just a thought Mike

    • peter says:

      Mike, How you doing? Hey no problems, grateful for the correction if I’m wrong, maybe I got a bit excited by the recent post and got 5 when adding 2 + 2 together! Here’s a thought for you Mike, could it be the same building but different owners? There’s a suggestion that the building itself was demolished some time after 1963 / 4 but before 1971. The recent post was attempting, amongst things, to determine when it was demolished. What sort of era are you thinking the Illiffe’s were living there? Could it be a coincidence? The photograph shown above doesn’t quite stretch to the junction of Chase Road but almost, so you’re right there is still possibility of doubt! What do other people think?
      Mike, it’s been a pleasure communicating with you, all the best


      • brian ashford says:

        i lived in the house number 143 lichfield road until 1955 from 1939 it was in its own grounds i still have the original terms of tenancy the illiffes moved their when my family where told it was to be demolished on the 1881 cencus it was a farm shop during the war families from the avenues came into our cellar because you could escape into the garden if the house was bombed i.e. the williams and other families the owner was jim yates brownhills council bought it in 1953-54 i did not see this until recently it belonged to the saunders family in the 1880s

    • Hi

      I think Peter is right, that’s the Middleton Club. It’s alignment and the building behind matches the map here:

      Note that there does appear to be a darker house next door, almost indiscernible. I’d also add that the terraces opposite are also a good fit for the map (and they still exist!).

      The picture was donated by Fred Butler and can be seen here:


  6. rob says:

    were the iliffes the family that lived in the house that would be up to 65/67 at least but I remember the house standing in its own ground not on the footpath like the club picture shows

  7. Ann Cross says:

    A very interesting piece from Bill, and strangely I met Ivor Langford in about 1970 at the Parson and Clerk in Streetly in the company of a friend of mine in the Metal Finishing business. During his time at Perfichrome Ivor was also working on a new technology, plating plastic, which of course doesn’t rust! When he left GKN he set up his own business Plated Plastic Developments in Shady Lane Great Barr and did very well. I hope he is now retired and still enjoying life!
    Now for the technical bit…. apparently there was another special additive in the Harshaw nickel bath called Coumarin which promoted levelling which resulted in a smoother surface. While Saccharin smells very sweet, Coumarin smells strongly of vanilla!

  8. Carol Smith says:

    When I was young we lived at 57 Bridge Street not far from Jack & Lottie Shaw
    In fact William Howdle the father of my mom, Edna Smith(nee Howdle), and Lottie’s mother Mary Wood (nee Howdle) were brother and sister.
    My mom used to write to Bill’s brother Ken in Australia.
    Sadly they are both gone now

    • Brian Ansell says:

      Hi Carol. I was born at 4 Church Street. My parents were George and Alice Edwards, Alice being an Ansell who resided in the house. A year after my birth all brothers and sister moved to Shelfield but we frequented Clayhanger most weekends as our relatives still lived there. One family that also moved to Shelfield were Ken and Nancy Shaws family who then emigrated later to Australia. I have been trying to find where they lived so as to make contact with either of their children, Anne, John or Sandra as we all went to school together and were more like brothers and sisters. I have a most wonderful photograph of Sandra in a school play that I am sure she would love to have. I hope that we can correspond on this. You may contact me at I live in Vancouver Canada.

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  10. Stan Wright says:

    Is that the Billy Shaw I knew as a young teenager used to know the Brooks brothers who worked at Poxens Butchers and Wendy Salt

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