Remembering a Brownhills life with Aer Reg: Part 3, Memories of wartime… And Christmas

Resting miners at the Rising Sun in a scene no doubt familiar to Reg – note the bottle he mentions in the miner on the right’s pocket.. From the brilliant book ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

There has been a vey warm and thoughtful response to my featuring instalments of Reg ‘Aer Reg’ Fullelove’s life story here on the blog, with Reg’s warm and intimate writing stirring many fond memories of Brownhills.

This week, it’s my pleasure to publish the third instalment of this remarkable story, where Reg notes the changes brought about by the onset of the Second World War and fondly recalls Christmas celebrations of his childhood. There’s also a clue to how Barnetts Lane got it’s name.

If you missed the first instalment, you can read it here, the second instalment can be found here. There will be another episode next week.

Once again, my humblest thanks go out to Reg, for being Aer Reg – whatever form he arrives in today – poet, commentator, historian, wit. You are a remarkable man with great passion and generosity and thank you from all the community for sharing what you know and love.

Please do comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks!

Ever wondered where Smithys Forge got it’s name? Here you go: Again, reg would recognise this scene, from Memories of Old Brownhills by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Reg Fullelove wrote:

Sadly, as the shadows of war time grew, the Memorial Hall’s face was to change. The musical sounds of the Melocord, John Neenan and Fletchers Five Piece Band were to become memories of more happy days. A boiler house was built at the rear and a Wardens post to the left. The maple floor became became nursing units under the guidance of Iris Arnold and George Clews. HRP unit were set up under the leadership of Jack Brew and Mr Udaul.

Local council officers became leaders of volunteers. Later some of these men created the Home Guard, later on named L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteers). The hospital unit, thank God, did not have any major crises, it was mainly hygiene and cleanliness which was stressed. The fear of air raid, people slept with clothing on and created a skin condition, scabies, which sadly, could have been contagious so the smell of carbolic soap filled the old bathroom walls. The billiard room continued to be in use and dad and Bert carried on with their duties of keeping the trustees informed of the state of buildings etc. The tennis courts became unplayable for tennis but became a great place for adventure for us children playing football, Cowboys and Indians and I must confess to climbing the sandbag protection of the Hall and Wardens hut, being chased off by Jack Brew. Oliver Twist had his small farm adjoining the Memorial Hall, Barnett Lane, Limend Lane to the right, led to a small group of houses.

In this Aerofilms 1926 aerial from just before Reg was born, you can see the farmland off the Lichfield Road where he’d have looked for spudjuck’s nests. Imagery from Britain from the Air. Click for a larger version.

The name Barnet was among the families who lived in this little community. Then there was Narrow Lane, no houses just hedge rows among which occasionally you would see a hen from Olivers, sitting in its banks on eggs. This was our wonderful world of freedom. Eye brows may raise at the thought of birds nesting but rarely were the eggs taken. It was a triumph to share with mates “I  know where there is a spudjucks nest” (Sparrow).

Occasionally a big adventure was going down the “Chem”. the “Chem” was the tarworks of Josiah Lane and his brother Reg, It had a mighty high stack which could he seen for miles around. It stood along the ‘cut’ (canal), an area of commerce with its barges from surrounding cities, carrying coal from the Cannock Chase coal fields, also useful to us as our illegal fishing ground, swimming pool, and yes, if you could scrounge it a ride from the bottom lock on a boat. The canal was alive with boats, some horse drawn, some by tugs. There were canal houses andhorse stables at the Lichfield Road Basin. Onthe subject of illegal fishing, we made our rods and tines from willow tree branches, our favourite bait was grubs (worms) for perch and bread for roach. If you were lucky also a net and jam jar tor bannocks and tiddlers (minnow) and off angling you would go hoping Harrythe lock keeper would not catch you. He was the water bailiff, part of his job was to check fishing tickets. On the cry “Harry’s coming” panic would set in, and the end of a days fishing. Home you would run, running as last as you could go.

Christmas times were very special, decorations for children just as they are today, hut the atmosphere was so different to today. It was so much a family way of life.

This First World War era photo – lovingly restored by the wonderful Lisa Ashby – shows a Brownhills that would have been very familiar to Reg. I believe the Roberts Brewery on the right would still be extant when Reg was a boy. Image from an eBay sale and restored by Lisa.

The Christmas dinner was full of calories, the only people that had turkey were the upper class. One feast was the poor old cockerel we had reared in the back garden pen, its origin a gift from the rag and bone man in exchange for clothing. A common sight in the council houses was a cardboard box in the hearth or to quote its common name, the “Ess-hole”. In it. would be the rag and bone mans fattened chicken to grace our Christmas table, later on in the year. A special treat was a large bottle of ruby wine or sherry. The empty bottle was often used afterwards by miners to take water, with his snap, to the pit. Inside some of the miner’s coats was sewn a large pocket for his ‘snapin’ and also to bring home a nublin of fire wood. A ‘nublin’ was the name given to a piece of wood cut off a pit prop. It also had a naughty phrase which I will not repeat. Decorations were mainly hand made, paper chains, the school Christmas calendar often stuck together by flour and water glue, selotape had not yet been invented. If money was available a Christmas tree stood in glorious candle light, no Health and Safety in those days. An alternative was the hoops of the grocers butter barrels for that’s how butter arrived at the shops, and sugar came in sacks known as erdan. If you could beg a sack, with the use of a dolly peg, this could he turned into a hearth rug with old clothing.

But back to Christmas, Father Christmas came just for children, just one present depending on finance, if it was good a doll or pram, a game, Ludo, Tiddlywinks, Snakes and Ladders, a Caseball (football) or maybe if you werelucky and dad was in good employment, a three-wheeled bike. But if money was tight a home made aeroplane or a hand knit pullover or cardigan. One thing we all had in common was to hang up the stocking, the contents on Christmas morning were nearly always, orange, apple, sweets and yes, a shiny new penny. In my case mine used to have a few dead coal ashes, To this day I still wonder why.

What I believe to be a choir excursion as featured in Reg’s original work. Image from the Fullelove collection.

The evening meat was the banquet, jelly, trifle, tinned fruit, the leftover meat from dinner, cucumber and onions in vinegar, and for mom, dad, grandma and granddad only, a drop of whiskey in a cup of tea. My run up to Christmas, at times, were lonely. My Mom and Dad were members of the choir and each year a box would arrive from an orphanage. In it would be collecting tins and carol sheets. These would be used by the choir to travel around the local dignitary’s homes and local venues while singing and collecting funds for the orphans. Christmas cards were not used on the scale of today, just for the direct family, except if you had money. Dad would receive each year a large catalogue. In it were copies of private cards you could order, I think it was called the VALENTINE card book, and dad, being secretary to various public groups, would take orders for individual posh folks. You knew Christmas was over when the holly, tree and trimmings were stuffed up the chimney and set on fire. Another festive season was over and the chimney was swept for the New Year. Yes, those were my childhood days. God bless.

Reg Fullelove gives great talks, too, like this one in 2001.

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5 Responses to Remembering a Brownhills life with Aer Reg: Part 3, Memories of wartime… And Christmas

  1. Christine Holbrook says:

    To this day, my hubby who was granny reared, has onion and cucumber in vinegar every Sunday teatime.

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    these memories make wonderfully pleasant reading. Mention of the Melocord group caught my eye.
    The group reformed after the war and played at the Memo for several years. Piano, piano accordians and drums, and for two occasions, a young violinist were some members, in the early 1950s . Thanks to a phonecall with Reg the names Agnes Charles and a Mr Broadway were some of the other members. I remember the green wooden music stands with M painted on the front. I wonder if readers have photos of this group and the other groups. Thanks, Reg for offering your memories, to also Bob, for your excellent presentation. Much appreciated.
    kind regards

  3. davidoakley says:

    Hi Bob.
    Thanks, Aer Reg, for the latest offering, Spot on, as usual to my own memories. But yours are far more detailed than I could ever remember. Yet you hit so many memory bells in my own early experience, being of a similar age, that the pleasure is jointly shared between awakened memory, and nostalgia for things and times long past.
    Your remarks on butter casks and sugar bags, sparked off memories of how many commodities came in similar bulk to the grocer. Sugar was taken from the sack and weighed out in pounds or half-pounds, and placed in blue bags. Butter was taken from the cask, placed on the shop counter and patted into place by means of putter pats, two small wooden paddles which would shape the butter and help to transfer it to a sheet of greaseproof paper for immediate sale. Cheese was delivered as a whole, round cheese, complete with rind, and cut off by cheese wire, according to the requirements of the buyer. Vinegar was delivered by cask to the grocer, and sold loose, pint or half-pint. Lentils and other pulses were also weighed and sold according to requirement. Most grocers sold ‘lampile’ or paraffin, as lamps were still used for lighting in some areas.
    The use of the butter cask hoops, as described by Reg, as a substitute Christmas Tree, really hit home. Nothing else was used in my childhood. Christmas trees were scarce ‘up th’vigo’, and the transverse butter hoops were wrapped in crepe and tinsel. Christmas tree motifs were added, sugar pigs, small chocolate novelties, etc., and pretty glass baubles added to the festive scene. When finished it was suspended from the ceiling. Reg’s use of the ragman’s cockerel, raised a wry smile. Some ragmen would buy day-old cockerels from the big Northern hatcheries at 10/- shillings a hundred, and trade them for rags, mostly woollens in the street. Most lived only a few days. Reg and his neighbours must have exercised a tremendous amount of TLC to have them ready for the table for Christmas dinner. Curiously enough, even today, if the wife crosses the room carrying laundry, I still comment, “yo wo gerra chicken for that”.
    The war years were difficult years, but many of us were too young to appreciate the gravity of the situation. We did the best we could, collecting paper and salvage. Reg’s mention of Iris Arnold reminds me of a Mr Arnold a St John’s Ambulance official who ran our first-aid classes. He taught me how to tell a greenstick fracture from a compound, scowled at my granny knots, “Left OVER right” when attempting a reef knot, and Sylvester’s method of artificial respiration, plus the wonders and uses of a large triangular bandage. So much more to tell, of course, but thank you again, Reg, for opening up this series of memories and helping me to recall bits long forgotten but now classed as fully restored memory into this aged head of mine.

  4. aerreg says:

    hhi mr oakley thanks for your comments do you remeber during the war we collected books for the

    soldiers as you collected you were given a badge started as a privet to the rank of field marshell dependin on how many books you pestered off the family another achievment was spitfire weeks as i recall we got a spitfire badge for your eff0rts god bless you and thanks for your fellowship

    • davidoakley says:

      Hi Reg,
      Yes, I remember the incentive to collect more books, but I regret to say that I remained ‘in the ranks’ so far as that type of promotion was concerned. My interest, as I made my way towards teenage shifted a little towards ‘The Wizard, the Hotspur and the Rover’. The ‘Dandy’ and the ‘Beano’ were for ‘babbies’. In the less prosperous areas the aforementioned trio were preserved and re-read, many, many times. Many teenagers kept a cache of these titles for exchange, and would visit each other for that purpose, flipping through these offerings, murmuring ‘reddit, reddit’, until suited, then his friend would do the same with his little stock. Happy days. eh, Reg ? and sincere best wishes.

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