Squatters rights?

Linley Caverns entrance looking somewhat foreboding in a 1957 press photo. Image from the Walsall Observer archive.

Sometimes I get emails or contacts out of the blue with subjects that just knock me flat – and overnight I received a lovely, kind email from Malcolm Clarke, an ex-local now residing in New Zealand – Malcolm has an interesting bit of history I had no idea had occurred locally.

I’ll let Malcolm explain:

Dear Bob

What a wonderful variety of subjects you collect and comment on in your website. I only discovered it about a year ago and I find it fascinating.

I was born in Nottingham in 1940 but we moved to Granmas in Barns Lane rushall when I was 3 years old, their name was Birch and was quite a large family.

My mother moved us on to the army camp at Linley Wood as they opened it up for squatters to live there in the huts, I was 5yrs old then.

I have been trying for a long time to contact other squatters or their decendents without much success and I was thinking that you might be able to help. The 20 odd families that lived there came from Rushall, Aldridge, Brownhills, Pelsall and Sheffield. Some names I remember are Lavender, Parkes, Mason, Kirby, Weals, Graham, Johnson and Mathews.

I delivered milk for Woolners dairy in all of these areas for many years as a supervisor but I only ever met one person that I remembered, Daisy Kirby. I’ve lived in Walsall in Shelfield and Aldridge, worked at the Aldridge brick and tile company also Joberns brickyard.

I remember a lot of the history of all the area from Rushall to the Chase. I have only just realized that some comments I’ve replied to are a little bit outdated dating back to 20 13 and20 14 so I am not expecting any reply.

Just while I’ve got you has anyone ever mentioned the old horse pulled bus behind Ralph Ferrie’s farm,it was a double decker with a circular staicase at the back?

Also does anyone remember the famous high wire act that performed on Holland Park. All the very best Bob from New New Zealand.

My wife and I hope to visit next year.

Best wishes
Malcolm Clarke

Malcolm – thanks for your very kind words, which are much appreciated. Rest assured that comments on old articles do get noticed, and many enquiries lay unanswered for years before someone finds them searching for the same thing and solves the problem. That’s the power of the internet and is most satisfying.

The squatting thing was a whole movement, beautifully documented in this paper here, and critics of the housing boom of the fifties and sixties really don’t get the pressure councils were acting under – as this history shows. Imagine large sections of modern Britain being reduced to tacitly approved squatting…

I was aware squatting had occurred up in Cannock or on the Chase, but had heard of none hereabouts. Can someone help with the finer details? We have, of course, covered Linley Woods as a former ammunition dump. How close were the two sites?

The bus, I have no idea. Might it be one of the old LNWR busses that were operating for a very limited period out of a shed behind the Station Hotel around 1910?

I have a feeling the high wire act was the Traber-Renz Troupe and I’ve covered it here before, in this post ‘Bird on a Wire’.

Thanks for a great enquiry Malcolm – and readers, you know what to do. Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.


‘Woolner Bros, Wales and Edwards this was taken in the early 1980s in the Dairy in upper forster St , this paticular Float delivered milk around the chuckery area in Walsall’ – a great image posted on Flikr by Mark Brookes.

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19 Responses to Squatters rights?

  1. I’ve left you a full comment on Fb about this. yes there was a squatters camp at Linley Woods whilst the waited for the new houses to go up on Redhouse Lane and Westbrook Avenue. There’s lot of people in Aldridge who know far more about it then me and did actually live there

  2. Chris White says:

    Several of those who lived there have posted a discussion and pictures on Aldridge Not w and Then Facebook Group.

  3. Nick graham says:

    Yes my fathers family had to live there due to the housing shortage during the war, the (camp) was near the road next to the bridge, the floors of the huts were still visible when we were kids I don’t know if they have been removed since,

    • malcolm clarke says:

      Hi nick I remember your family very well ,Ithink your grandads name wasTom.I think Pat was the eldest thenJohn and Roger and then a younger boy whose name I cant remember.John and Roger were great mates of mine we had a close friendship for the 7 years that we lived there and for a long time after.The family lived in the first hut after the guard house.I put a drawing of a plan of the camp as I remembered it on facebook but I dont know how to put it on bobs page,my family lived in the very last hut.Really nice of you to respond,I have been trying for a time long time to get some response because I think it is an important bit of local history.

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    help..would,love to learn about Linley Woods army camp but not sure how to work facebook etc..
    Has the camp been mentioned on the blog..perhaps Ive missed somethig here
    cheers and kind regards to Malcolm

    • malcolm clarke says:

      Hi David thank you for your kind regards,I will try and get some help to put my map on Bobs page and I will be more able to describe the details of the camp more easily and pinpoint where everyone lived and describe the conditions.And a big thankyou to Bob for such a prompt response in getting the ball rolling.

  5. Mick Bullock says:

    The bus would have been,as you say Bob,one of LNWR buses as that was their depot.

  6. david oakley says:

    I remember the horse-drawn bus quite well, being brought back into commission in the early 1940’s, by Mr. Ferrie, Ralph’s father, who farmed Grange Farm, just off the Walsall Wood road. Sunday evening trips were carried out from the Brickmaker’s Arms, Salters Road, at a cost of two shillings, every Sunday, in the summer. Lighting was no problem, then, as Double Summer Time came into operation, and clocks were put forward two hours instead of one, giving full daylight till nearly midnight.
    The reference to Woolners dairy interested me, as for a short while I worked on milk collection for the firm, clocking on at five o’clock in the morning, taking my lorry to all the client farms in Stonnall, Shenstone and surrounding areas. Every farm had a small staging at its entrance about three feet high, on which full churns of milk were placed for my collection. Full churns weighed about a hundred-weight, so it was no light task. No churns on the staging meant that the farmer was late with his milking, which meant me entering the farm and waiting until the milking was completed. This resultant but occasional delay was unpopular with the processing team at the dairy, and I was greeted with slow handclaps and catcalls. My last call was at the small farm next to the Horse and Jockey at Walsall Wood. I think they had only one milking cow, so the churn contained only a small quantity of milk. How different to the modern-day approach with its technological aids and tanker collection. I am told there is even an electronic hand that slaps the cows rump to send it on its way after milking !

  7. To add to the bus story, I think a lot of enterprising would be hauliers started off in the area by offering horse drawn bus/cart/etc services. I know that Haywards (Portland St Walsall, now) started by offering a horse driven service to the miners who lived around Coalpool, Harden, Leamore to Hamstead Colliery. Old Mr (Jack) Hayward who lived in Leamore all his life (now deceased) was great friends with Mr Ferrie.

  8. malcolm clarke says:

    Hello linda I could not find the comments you made on f b about the squatters camp but im afraid im not very good on the computer.But another interesting fact you and bob might not know is in 1945-46 there where squatters in the Manor house. Two of the names ware the Hanford family and the Nicholls family.I know this because I married Gill Nicholls 53 years ago.Now we squat together in new zealand.

    • No I didn’t know about the squatters at The Manor House Malcolm, although it doesn’t surprise me! How on earth did they get away with it?
      I’m happy that you and Gill squat together now 🙂
      My comments on Fb were just confirming the existence of the squatters camp at Linley Woods and that the subject had been discussed in some detail on one of the Aldridge groups, including photographs of some of the people who had lived there. My Dad remembers the camp and certainly knew some of the people there but doesn’t add much more than that because he tends to think that nobody is interested in what he remembers about Aldridge. I try to persuade him otherwise but unless he’s in a good mood I’ve no chance of extracting information! When I was young all information would be imparted when we were out in his car with ‘so and so used to live there and they owned this that and the other’. There is so much he knows but alas he doesn’t drive any longer having lost his sight and so I don’t have an easy way of getting him to talk about Aldridge as it was. I should have paid more attention when I was a child!

      • malcolm clarke says:

        Hello again LInda there was a family of Masons living in the only house on the army camp, were they any relation.It would be very interesting to sit and talk with your dad.

        • No Malcolm, no relation at all. Apart from my Dad and his sister all the other Mason’s were either dead or if female, married and away. Talking with my Dad is an interesting experience; he’s very deaf but will not wear his hearing aids so you have to shout clearly!

  9. Louise says:

    Hi Malcom and Bob

    My mom’s family lived here my mom was born there. My Nan and Grandad were Kirbys. Daisy Kirby, Pauline kirby, Pat kirby, Wendy kirby Marjorie kirby and Jackie Kirby were all of their children I think the youngest two children you wouldn’t know because they were born after they left the camp. They lived in Radley Road where rosedene dog kennels stands today there used to be some terraced type houses there I think, then they moved across the road to the street backing onto the park (sorry i forget what its called) and then later on they moved onto winterley lane rushall where my aunt still lives today. I would love to hear more about the place and what it was like to live there and if you have any stories about my Aunty Daisy I would really appreciate you sharing them with us we have passed the link to this around our family and they would love to know more as we only know bits as my mom was so young when they left and only knows what she was told look forward to hearing from you
    Kind regards

    • malcolm clarke says:

      Hello Louise your family lived next door to us at No 11 we lived in No 12.I remember daisy very well as well as her father, your granddad, I also remember 2 younger girls who would be your aunties as well.Bill Kirby your granddad and his brother Fred used to paint cars in a barn at Burtons farm which was situated by the church on the way to walsall,the farm actually backed on to the park lime pits.He was the only man I ever saw that could pin stripe a car by hand using a brush. your father, mine and the other men used to go down to the canal and throw cigarettes to the bargees so that they would throw coal onto the bank ,of course some of it went into the water which was recovered later with a rakeing devise.I am sure daisy will remember as I think all of the kids on the camp helped.Ask Daisy if she remembers my cousins that lived down the camp as well ,my aunty lorna John,Carl and June Weals. I know she will remember how hard it was at first the water was not laid on no power no cooking gear,the water was fetched from a tap in the field by the abolution block and the rotten farmer Sid Dolman used to tie his bull close by.When they restored the water to the abolution block the women of the camp could do their washing in the copper tubs there and when the water cooled we went in and had a bath [blue bags as well, Daisy will know what I mean].If you would like to know more I am willing to write all that I can remember. but I dont want impose on bobs generosity to much so send me your email and I will send you mine.My wife and I are visiting England for three months next May so I will try very hard to visit daisy if that is OK all the best Malcolm. Thank you very much Bob this would not have happened without your help

  10. malcolm clarke says:

    Hi Louise I am having a senior moment you cant contact me without my email address so here it is malcolm-clarke@xtra.co.nz all in lower case

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