When Socialist wasn’t a dirty word

Back in January of this year, the young David Evans started talking to the Proffitt family about Councillor William Henry Proffitt, who was a highly respected member of Brownhills Urban District Council for many years. William was part of the Hyla John Holland era of the authority, believing in good social housing, health, sanitation, slum clearance and open spaces for all.

The Proffitt family have offered some stunning material, like the 1956 news clipping below which dealt with Councillor Proffitt being elected as chairman of Brownhills Urban District Council. 1956 was a time of great change for councils across Britain, who were poor in the austere, postwar years, but faced huge challenges on housing quality and provision amongst the other issues of building the social state.

I didn’t know much about Councillor Proffitt, and the article  is an interesting insight into the man as a councillor and socialist. There are some other interesting questions raised, too. Who were the Civil Defence Committee, and what did they do? I never realised Councillors Bradbury and Deakin were female. Were there many female politicians in Brownhills history? Can’t recall the mention of many, if I’m honest.

There are certainly a few politicians mentioned here who gave their names to roads locally.

I’d like to thank David and the Proffitt family for their generosity and hard work that has enabled some remarkable history to be uncovered. Please stay tuned for more.


From the Walsall Express & Star of Thursday, 24th May 1956. Click for a larger version. Clipping held by the Proffitt family.

-At Brownhills

THE election of Labour Councillor W. H. Proffitt as chair¬man of Brownhills Urban District Council last night received almost 100 per cent support from Independent members on the ground that ward rotation of the chairmanship should be maintained.

Councillor Proffitt, who received 11 votes to one for Councillor F. S. Harrison, an Independent member for Shelfield and High Heath, has had 34 years active associa¬tion with the Socialist move¬ment. A Nor¬ton Canes rep-resentative on the council since 1946, he has also, since 1949, been a Staffordshire county councillor for Brownhills division. He has also been a member of Cannock Chase divisional education executive and a manager of six schools in the executive’s area. He has been a county magistrate since June, 1952.

Formerly employed in Walsall and District Co-operative Society’s Cannock bakery department, he is now a salesman in the service of another prominent ‘Chase’ public man and fellow county magistrate. Councillor Albert Bailey, of Hednesford.


proffittdoc1 2

Councillor W. H. Proffitt, from the newspaper article.

After Councillor Proffitt had been nominated by Councillor C. Wat¬son, and Councillor Harrison by Councillor Miss M. A. Durkin, Councillor S. T. Breeze, Labour, pointed out that on the basis of ward rotation it would be Shelfield’s turn for the chairmanship next year. It would be better if the chairmanship could be settled by ‘an understanding.’

Miss Deakin replied that Norton Canes, Central ward and Walsall Wood had successively held the chairmanship in the past three years. It would be ‘more in keep¬ing’ for Shelfield and High Heath to have it for the ensuing year.

Two other Independents, Councillors G. A. Jones and J. Deakin thought that Shelfield and High Heath ward, created only a year ago, should wait because of its junior status.


Councillor Proffitt, acknowledg¬ing his election, claimed that in the past ten years, Brownhills had made remarkable progress in housing, in¬dustrial development and the pro¬vision of public amenities.

He appealed to electors and local organisations to take more interest in civic affairs.

Thanked for his past year’s chairmanship. Councillor H. V. Fereday referred to the ‘smashing’ attendance records for the past year.

Nine of the 14 councillors made 100 per cent attendances at council meetings and two – Councillors Fereday and Breeze – made 100 per cent attendances at committee meetings as well. Committee attendances of seven other members exceeded 90 per cent.

Councillor Fereday had an unopposed election as vice-chairman.


Declining nomination for re-election as chairman of the local civil defence committee, Councillor Mrs. N. Bradbury said women were doing most of civil defence work in in Brownhills.

‘If a man becomes chairman we might get men doing some of the work,’ she said.

Councillor Joseph Atkinson was I appointed chairman.

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8 Responses to When Socialist wasn’t a dirty word

  1. morturn says:

    Great article, I don’t know much about the civil defence committee, or the civil defence, other than it was a uniformed operation. I remember the arm and navy surplus stores selling off the great coats in the late 60’s. Quite fashionable for the Lead zeppelin, jimmy Hendrix followers.

  2. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob,
    Councillor Nancy Bradbury made an appearance on the blog in ‘Outdoor cooking with Mrs. Parsley on November 14th, last. You will see that there are a Deacon and a Durkin on the Council at the same time, Miss M.A. Durkin being the female member, with Jonah Deacon being the male councillor, if my memory is correct. These were good times for Labour supporters, with Councillors with differing shades of political opinion going ‘underground’ as Independents. Conservatives had little chance of election. More than one was heard to moan, “stick a hat on a bloody lamp post – called it Labour- and they’ll vote for it ! Doctor F. R. Roberts, a much loved physician, lost his seat at Walsall Wood to the Labour candidate. A few days later, the following rhyme appeared below the dispensary door:-
    God and the Doctor, all men adore,
    In time of trouble – but not before,
    When health returns, and wrongs are righted,
    God is forgotten, the Doctor – slighted.
    I read this many times, whilst waiting for medicine for a sick, bedridden neighbour. Elections were lively times in Walsall Wood in those days !

  3. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    I think Councillor Vic Fereday is pictured with the “air rfilers” at Salters Road WMC, Walsall Wood, in one of the blog articles a while ago.

  4. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob,
    Councillor Vic Fereday, the retiring Chairman, who was elected Vice Chairman to Councillor Proffitt, was a ‘Walsall Wood mon’, and no mistake. A miners agent for a good few years, before the formation of the N.U.M. Vic worked hard to get the best deal possible for his miners. He also had the foresight to see the tremendous potential of Norton Pool, and his own year as Chairman saw the name of this rather bleak stretch of water, changed to Chasewater and the early development of this resource began to see the light of day.
    Vic was in distinguished company as a miner’s agent, as Nye Bevan, the founder of the N.H.S. once occupied a similar position in Wales, before turning to full-time politics. No surprise then that Jennie Lee, Nye Bevan’s wife, and M.P. for Cannock in whose constituency lay Walsall Wood, would sometimes break her journey at the Labour Club in Salters Road, when visiting constituents.
    Regarding female politicians in the neighbourhood, I can’t think of many, but most of their work was behind the scenes. It is worthy of note, however, that in that masculine-dominated political world of the time, two lady members represented the Cannock constituency, Sarah (Sally) Ward, Conservative M.P. in the mid-thirties, and Jennie Lee, Labour M.P. in the post-war Labour administration.

  5. Pedro says:


    Control Maintained by Labour.

    Labour maintained their control in the Brownhills Urban District Council elections, which took place on Monday, the results being as follows:—

    Norton Ward (2 seats)

    Samuel Thomas Breeze, colliery checkweighman, The Hollies, 155, Watling St., Brownhills (Lab.) ………… 471

    Maria Jackson, factory worker, 18, Norton East Road, Norton Canes (Lab.) 412

    Alfred Bradley, colliery checkweighman, 12, Vernon Avenue, Brownhills (Ind.) 273

    Howard Cox, storekeeper, 167, Watling Street, Brownhills (Ind.) 264

    Central Ward (1 seat)

    Daniel Marklew, school teacher, 67, Great Charles St., Brownhills (Ind.) …… 900

    Harry Victor Fereday, club collector, Castle Road, Walsall Wood (Lab.) …………. 630

    Walsall Wood Ward (1 seat)

    James Lawley, clothier and outfitter, 144, Lichfield Rd., Shelfleld (Lab.) ……………. 925

    Mary Ann Durkin, draper, 65. New St., Shelfleld (Ind.) 567

    In the Central Ward the pole was one of 34 per cent, in the remaining wards one of 27 per cent

  6. Pedro says:

    Who were the Civil Defence Committee, and what did they do?….Mrs. N. Bradbury said women were doing most of civil defence work in in Brownhills. ‘If a man becomes chairman we might get men doing some of the work,’ she said.

    The Civil Defence Corps seems to have been established in 1949 and stood down in 1968.

    Can’t see anything specific to Brownhills, but Chasetown, Staffordshire and Lichfield are mentioned.

    There must be quite a few stories relating to the subject out there?

    In April 1950 at the Lichfield RDC meeting the apathy of the general public, regarding the recruiting for the CD, was mentioned. Following letters from the Staffs CC…it was proposed that an approach should be made to the Parish Councils for assistance.

    In the same year the Lichfield Mercury advertised that Men and Women were urgently needed for the Civil defence Corps.

    In Aug 1952 they carried a story…Women outnumber Men…Civil Defence Recruiting…Women are more interested in joining…120 out of 150 in the first five months of the year…2002 had voluteered since start, 1083 women and 939 men.

    In 1954 the apathy in Lichfield led to canvassing being abandoned for the time being.

  7. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro
    I think the Brownhills Civil Defence building was situated down the track behind the Station Hotel, High Street, Brownhills.

  8. Pingback: In the net – 1920s style | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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