A flock of sparrows

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Street racers: Town Sparrows in Oldbury and Blackheath speed down postwar streets.

This is a remarkable piece of video that local historian and Sandfields Pumping Station champion Dave Moore alerted me to on the BFI archive earlier today – I’ve had to do some faffing about, because the BFI doesn’t embed, but you’ll find it below.

Dave Moore explains:


I thought you might like this film (embedded below).

This has to be the most priceless classic film I have seen for some time now. Filmed in and around Oldbury and Blackheath by a filmmaker called Frank Wakeman, capturing the daily activities of everyday people in a post war era.

The film is silent, but it speaks volumes…

I would love to learn more about the people, the places and their lives.

Regards David Moore

Here’s the film. There is no audio, but these kids are remarkable. The faces – no real difference to kids today. The grimness of the environment is in stark contrast to much of the dewy-eyed mawk we hear so much, but these kids are bright, vital, and show that children don’t chance much.

The BFI, who published the film, first made in 1949, have this to say about it:

Frank Wakeman captures some wonderful images of fading Victorian streets unchanged since the industrial revolution. His camera follows children recording an Oldbury in decline. See the girls on their way home from school who pick flowers along the canal towpath. Modern parents may wince at the sight of a boy climbing over a dangerous looking spiked fence but it was a way of life when your environment was also your playground.

In detaching the film, I have no intention of denying ownership, either by the BFI or The Wakeman Estate, more to offer easier access. I wish some of these archives would do the sensible thing and use an embeddable system.

Please, if you can add anything to this film – locations, names, whatever – please do comment or mail me. BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

Thanks to Dave for sharing a beautiful, illuminating thing – very much appreciated.

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17 Responses to A flock of sparrows

  1. Ian Neil says:

    A lovely piece of nostalgia – today’s health and safety brigade will be having palpitations

  2. Pedro says:

    Angels with dirty faces.

    Many thanks to David and Bob for bringing this remarkable film to our notice.

    I am sure that a lot can learned from the film!

  3. Pedro says:

    If you pause at 02:57 of the film it shows the front of Rounds Green School in Blades Road, Oldbury.

    The very same view can be seen from Google earth street view. Amazingly it seems that it could be the same contraption is used for the telephone drop wire!

  4. Edwina says:

    Fabulous, brings back my childhood and the bombed building we used to play on as kids. Kids today don’t know the thrill of “discovery” of bits of metal worthless really, but priceless artefacts to us kids. The innocence then … which today’s kids are robbed of as they can’t go too far from your side. What price progress eh? Children of my age mid to late sixties had the best of times our country had to offer, we may not have had much, but actually we had it all.

    • After you with the pink spectacles 😀

      ‘Some see what they want to see, and disregard the rest’ – Paul Simon


      • Pedro says:

        I think the trouble started in the 60s when them prophets started putting their graffiti on the subway walls.

    • Hi David

      I think it would show kids doing what they’ve done since the beginning of time, in generally better conditions. Of course, the modern version would have a soundtrack, consisting of two competing groups of adults: one group lamenting the kids can’t play like they used to, and another group yelling for the police because there are ‘yobs in the street’, curiously, often the same people.

      If the kids are united…


  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    I wonder what such a film as this would show if made today!
    Many thanks and kind regards

  6. jennifer says:

    Fabulous,I loved it, although I a was a child of the 50’s it’s not so dissimilar. Our park had all the same equipment which was great fun but all removed due to ‘elf and safety, my favourite was the “big swing”. Thank you so much for bringing this film to light.

  7. Pedro says:

    Oldbury 1972…


  8. Clive says:

    Great find Dave. made me smile all the way threw the film. It suprised me the play ground with the swings and witches hat etc was like a mirror image of Oak Park Walsall Wood play area before it was replaced with the swimming baths. must be a standered design from the 50s and 60s.

  9. Pedro says:

    The 1947 OS map can be seen here, zoom in….


  10. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    the technical quality of the scenes in this film is intriguing.What is known about Frank Wakeman, I wonder?

  11. Pedro says:

    The website of the Langley Local History Society also reproduces the video along with a 6 minute colour film of the Queen’s visit in 1957.

    “This film was made by Frank Wakeman in the 1940s, and follows one day in the life of a group of Oldbury children, their journey to and from school, time at school, playing after school in Birchley Park and in the canal. It includes scenes of the old canal (now filled in), houses in the Albert Street area, the market and general shots of Oldbury town.”


  12. peter says:

    Fantastic film and story….. thanks Bob for taking the time and effort to get it into a presentable condition for us all to enjoy. One thing that got me curious was when viewing the old film of Brownhills there was a discussion surrounding why a lot of the peoples heads were missing on the film, the explanation given was that the viewer and the film capturing devices didn’t line up or something, yet on this film it is completely different, why is that? Better camera, better cameraman? Different era? Just curious thats all.

  13. David Evans says:

    Hi Peter
    interesting observation. The Oldbury film shows a story line comprising posed and possibly well-rehearsed scenes. I think the camera will be a three lens, tripod-mounted post war Bell and Howell. There is no zoom, pan or tilt in these scenes, again suggesting that some rehearsal was done. The Brownhills Carnival fllm is a newsreel , though probably using a tripod mounted camera but probably single-lens and hand-cranked, could not be achieved though several “takes” or rehearsal.
    I think we may learn more of the pre-war technical prowess of Edgar Pritchard, the Brownhills Carnival flimmaker, at some stage.
    thanks for your observations, Peter
    kind regards

  14. John Barnes says:

    I love this ‘to a Flock of Sparrows.’ Now eighty I remember the canal towpaths so well – always life along there – girls picking wild flowers, boys fighting, the barges, swimming in the cut and of course our home made carts or bikes ‘tazzing’ round the streets or down Walsall`s Bridgeman Street hill straight into a flooded subway! Great Pictures!

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