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.
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.
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.
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.
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.