Today, after a week of chaos and bad health, I have finally picked up the reigns of the blog again to catch up. Now nearing full speed again, I’m actually rested and recovering, so welcome back folks – let’s try and keep ourselves distracted in the curious, strange times we find ourselves within.
It’s my solemn duty first of all to share the very sad news that Paul Anslow, long time contributor to the Brownhills Blog, passed away suddenly in January. Paul was of course, brother of John and over the years the brothers Anslow have shone a beautifully crafted light upon some of the wonderful, little-known corners of Walsall Wood history – from sneaking into garden parties to cocksure monstinks; from dignity in poverty to odd interconnected stories, the Anslow boys have been behind some of my very favourite things to share here.
I would like to extend my condolences and deepest sympathy, and of course that of all of the readership, to John and all of Paul’s family and friends. I wish I’d met him. He always sounded like a fantastic bloke. Reading John’s email below, he sounded a real character, too.
Thank you John and belatedly to Paul too for all you’ve contributed. Paul will be very much missed here but he leaves behind him such a fine foundation for any scholar of local history. Something to be forever proud of. I will ensure it’s kept online for as long as I have breath.
John Anslow wrote:
Sadly, I have to tell you that my brother, Paul, died suddenly in mid-January. It was completely unexpected.
We used to speak on the telephone every evening and often discussed local history, particularly the Walsall Wood characters and stories he had heard about from our parents and grandparents. He was a mine of information about the late Victorian and Edwardian eras and had an enormous collection of CDs featuring the great singers of those periods such as Luisa Tetrazinni, John McCormack and, of course, Enrico Caruso.
We had recently been talking about submitting a short piece to you concerning a page of four photographs dating from around 1880. Paul was convinced that the fellow in the top right was Thomas Reakes, vicar of Walsall Wood during the late Victorian years. We were going to ask if you or your readers could confirm this, and maybe even offer suggestions as to the identity of the remaining three.
Your request for submissions to your blog last week spurred me into writing something, which I attach as a pdf together with a scan of the page in question.
To close, I must tell you something that might amuse you. At Paul’s funeral, his daughter, who is completely bilingual in Welsh and English, gave a brief address to the congregation in which she recited the first line of a poem she had written in Welsh and which had won first prize at a local eisteddfod when she was in primary school. The subject for the competition was ‘My Dad’.
The one person in the congregation who spoke Welsh smiled on hearing the verse; Helen translated for the rest of us:
‘My Dad swears
And listens to Caruso’
That was Paul.
Keep up the good work with the Brownhills Bob Blog, William. It’s sorely needed during these difficult times.
John also wrote:
I’d like to tell you more about the photograph album that belonged to my great- grandmother, Hannah Eliza Jackson (née Street), who lived at the thatched cottage on Streets Corner until her death in 1935.
Judging by the clothes and hairstyles, the photographs cover the period from about 1880 to 1910 but, sadly, I cannot identify many of the people portrayed. You and your readers might, nonetheless, be interested in this record of Walsall Wood fashion, and may even suggest a possible name or two.
The album includes photographs of some of Hannah’s immediate family, but also of local worthies such as Mr Bradbury, the colliery manager, whose portrait (with bicycle) prompted a discussion on your blog in May 2014.
The page I’ve attached comprises four cartes de visite. It includes one at the top right that my late brother, Paul, was certain was Thomas Reakes (1831-1903), vicar of Walsall Wood. He is recorded on the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses listed respectively as “Vicar of the Parish (Walsall Wood)”, “Clerk in Holy Orders” and “Clergy from Ch of England”. He also appears on the 1871 census as a schoolmaster in Tor Moham, Devon.
There was a tale in my family that the vicar’s wife, Elizabeth, undertook the role of census enumerator in Walsall Wood and, being a trusting and unworldly soul, she was was often given false information, particularly about the names and ages of children. Having never found any serious inconsistencies in my own family’s census records, however, I have to wonder whether this story gained something in the telling over the years.
The identities of the other three sitters are unknown to me. The fellow at the bottom left has an air of prosperity about him, with his dog, his gun and his broad-brimmed, low-crowned hat. That lady is presumably his wife, but who is the fellow with a passing resemblance to Lord Palmerston? [I’m a bit startled there by the resemblance to Sir Gerald of Reece, of this parish, to be honest – Bob]
Hannah came from a respectable, working-class family (her father was a bricklayer) and she married a coal miner. Her sons all went down the pit and her daughters into domestic service, so Paul and I often wondered about the people in the early photographs. Might they have been employers rather than family? Then again, as anyone with photographs of their working-class ancestors will confirm, our forebears often dressed well and showed a dignity and style that would shame many of their modern descendants.
I shall be pleased to read comments from you and your readers and will submit a few more scans from the album if you think they would be of interest.
As ever, John Anslow
Thanks to John for a wonderful photo puzzle – and more of this kind of thing is always welcome. Thank you so much. I am with you in your loss.
Can you help identify any of these dignified folk? Please comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.