One thing curating the Brownhills Blog has done for me is to render me in a permanent magpie state, always looking for lost ephemera, stories, media or other material relating to our town. Often annoying to those who know me, I can’t pass a junk shop without diving in; jumble sales, vintage fairs and the like pull me in for hours on end.
The instinct is good, and often productive. Sometimes you find a small thing, of little consequence but social interest – other times you find something remarkable. Last week, I did just that.
While pottering around the Black Country on errands, I swung into a bookshop for a quick root – and turned up an 80 page gem: Brownhills Past and Present.
Published in 1985, it’s a spiral bound book, photocopied and produced in low volumes, printed on thick paper and bound in blue card. They typography is neat and very much of it’s period, printed on a decent dot matrix printer, with a selection of photos and hand-drawn maps and sketches. It’s attractive, well laid out and very thoroughly researched.
Brownhills: Past and Present was the product of a school project by five pupils – Mark Staples, Kelth Jackaman, Alison Preece, Elizabeth Pike and Kate Wilkinson – and is very professional indeed.
It would be interesting to see if any of the writers are still around, and I’d be delighted to hear from them.
In his forward, Chris Hunt, the then head of Brownhills School, has this to say:
If a succesoful school is one which is at the heart of its local community then ‘Brownhills Past and Present’ marks an important move in the right direction by Brownhills School. Produced entirely on their own initiative by five members of the Fourth and Fifth Year the booklet fills an obvious gap and w~ill, I believe, be welcomed by local people and visitors alike.
The project grew out of the wish of Mark, Keith, Alison, Elizabeth and Kate to take something which would give an impression of their home town with them on a recent exchange visit to France – thus was born draft one of this guide. From these it has grown into the pre.sent publication with the help of many friends from the local community and the goodwill and support of school office and reprographics staff. The Governors and I are proud to be associated with what we believe to be a fine example of both commitment to their community and high standards of research and workmanship on the part of the students involved.
Whilst also raising funds for local charities and the school ‘Brownhills Past and Present’ will, I believe, give great pleasure to many Brownhills people. I commend it to you.
That’s a very fine sentiment from Mr. Hunt. Shame his later successors don’t see things the same way.
In deference to the young David Evans who’s recently scanned the whole catalog of the Brownhills Gazette, I scanned Brownhills: Past and Present cover to cover (the only missing pages are blank) – and you can download a copy in PDF form here.
The style is wonderful, and like Frostie’s great lost fanzines, this is a product of a society just about to change. Although a computer seems to have been used in the production, there was no internet. The legwork had to be done manually, as did the graphics. This must have taken a huge effort.
From this book, we know the exact date of Hillards opening in Brownhills, and the take on William Roberts differs a bit from the coverage in the Gazette featured yesterday (more on that over the weekend). There is intriguing writing on the Grove disaster, the Pig Farm at Swingbridge Farm and a wonderfully unselfconscious description of the play park at Clayhanger.
An small snippet about Brownhills nomenclature and etymology is intriguing, and the featuring of a familiar poem by the great Reg ‘Aer Reg’ Fullelove which we found last year shows that the malaise over the state of High Street isn’t quite as recent as we seem to imagine.
I’m going to let readers digest this, and please, please do comment. Also, if you remember this book, are one of the authors or contributed to it in some way, I implore you to get in touch. It’s a stunning, very professional thing and it stands well against other local publications featured here. In many respects it’s better that one or two professional ones…
Comment here, or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.