Here’s a great bit of reminiscence for a chilly Sunday from Martin Hughes, the chap that works so very hard to keep the Brownhills Community Centre in the local eye by publicising it’s events and facilities.
Martin grew up in that industrial area of Bloxwich beyond Elmore Green and around the now removed former level crossing, called Dudley’s Fields. It was an area that had some housing, living cheek by jowl with foundries and other metal-bashing businesses. Nowadays, the foundries have fallen silent but it’s still home to a lot of industry, producing items as diverse as paint and pub snacks. The housing has mostly long gone.
Martin writes warmly of the area that I’ve often passed through but never really thought about much – as I suspect we all have. Thanks to him for lighting up a bit of lost history.
If you have anything to add – please do either comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or flag me down on social media.
Martin Hughes wrote:
A little background to accompany John Baker’s photograph of local heavy industry in its prime.
Amongst the families living in the middle of this row of houses on Fryers Road sited near the junction with Willenhall Lane, Bloxwich, eccentrically numbered from 45 and finishing (if memory serves) at 79. There were no corresponding even numbers on the other side and just one tree that to this day flourishes on a grassy bump next to the former entrance of the Bloxwich Lock and Stamping works – a concrete apron defended by a spiked gate where the night watchman would sometimes impale a block of lard to encourage the murderous guard dog that was rumoured to roam the yard at night. The road continues its long run down a gentle slope crossing the Wyrley Essington Canal before eventually depositing one at the periphery of the Beechdale Estate.
At ground level, Fryers Road was an unexceptional example of the cheek by jowl mix of industry and housing that prevailed up and down the UK at that time. A chroming company turned out widgets on Willenhall Lane, Process Noble straddled the corner and was frequently flanked by high sided lorries parking in muddy ruts along the roadside to drop off oil barrels which would then be recycled by immersion in a hissing mixture of noxious chemicals that would send plumes boiling up through open skylights.
Opposite this was a piece of wasteland, a flat-topped hillock referred to as the Scrapyard, intersected by a rough path that led to a slope perfect for coasting on a cart or sledging on a tea tray or borrowed bath tub. A railway spur ran from the Bloxwich Walsall line along a short cutting, crossing Fryers Road and following a great long curve into the zinc spelters’ yard at the back of the works on Willenhall Lane where lines of trucks would be loaded with zinc ingots that would be shunted off onto the main line then shipped off or left to provide a less than scenic backdrop to the gardens along Fryers Road.
There was an eccentrically operated shop amongst the houses -a sack of spuds and wooden counter kind of place before new hands installed a freezer selling Walls’ ice cream and the shelves became laden with jars of boiled sweets and other goodies. A wraithlike workman would sometimes make the journey across the ash grey wastes of the spelters’ yard and appear at the chicken wire fence to get one of the local kids to fetch a packet of fags.
The derelict land around the cut at the far end of Fryers Road eventually got chunked up, sold off and developed. Fryers Close and Commercial Road sprung up on the sites, early occupiers being Securicor and Mr Kipling whose wagon ran over my mercifully unoccupied tea tray sled as it shot across the road one snowy day in the early 70s as I watched entranced from the bank of snow where we’d parted company.
The level crossing where Station Street, Reeves Street, Willenhall Lane and Croxstalls Road convene has been sealed off for good now – a huge green walkway will take you safely across if you’re on foot and there’s no dodging the signalman for a trudge up the track and a hop over the fence onto the back yard.
There’s a final cruel irony to this tale. My first job at the local authority was in the Rates Office. As such I used to get notice of new developments, building alterations and requests to remove demolished properties from the records or, as the jargon had it, delete hereditaments from the valuation list, an action known as ‘Taking out of rating.’ I’d long since left Fryers Road, but in 1981 I was more than a little upset to find that the Council compulsorily purchased the houses and flattened the area for industrial units. I managed to visit some time later and found a koi carp emporium on the site of my childhood home.
So much for the English Heritage blue plaque.
THIS IS A CORNER OF BLOXWICH THAT MY WIFE REMEMBERS VERY WELL.MY WIFES MAIDEN NAME WAS BOWTELL WHO LIVED THERE FROM 1950, LIVING OPPOSITE BLOXWICH STATION. SHE LIVED NEXT DOOR TO GROVES,S SHOP, AND FOUR DOORS AWAY FROM THE FEATURED STATION HOTEL PUB, WHICH HER GRANDAD KEPT IN THE 1940s. HIS NAME WAS JOSEPH BOWTELL, AND WE HAVE A PHOTO OF HIM AND HER GRAN STANDING ON THE PUB STEPS WITH HIS NAME ABOVE THE DOOR WAY. REGARDING THE PHOTO OF THE TRAIN GOING THROUGH THE CROSSING, THE CAR THAT YOU SEE OUTSIDE THE HOUSES IS HER UNCLE NORMANS BLUE AND CREAM FORD ANGLIA, AND THATS WHERE HE LIVED WITH HER AUNT LIZZIE, WHICH WAS TWO DOORS AWAY FROM HER MATERNAL GRAN AND GRANDADS HOUSE, OPPOSITE THE CROSSING .THEIR NAME WAS REDFERN. SHE ALSO HAD TWO UNCLES WHO WORKED AT THE SPELTER.
MY GREAT UNCLE TOMMY NOBBS OPERATED THE SIGNAL BOX ON THE CROSSING IN STATION STREET DURING THE LATE 1950s /EARLY 60s .
Well written piece by martin Hughes. “A wraithlike workman”….love it!
Remember this area well especially the chalk pits just off the railway spur where we used to play and skinny dip in the late 50’s used to knock about with a lad must have lived by you think his name was Ken Dawson.
Interested in your comment about the chalk pits Brian. As a kid I was terrified of them particularly the one nearer Fryers Lane with its steep sides. Did you have any idea how deep it may have been? E.g. could you touch the bottom with your feet, or was “unfathomable?”
THANKYOU MARTIN FOR BRINGING BACK SUCH HAPPY MEMORIES. MY WIFES MATERNAL GRAN AND GRANDAD THE REDFERNS ALONG WITH THEIR SEVEN CHILDREN LIVED IN THE LAST HOUSE OF THE TERRACE,IN FRYERS ROAD, FROM THE EARLY 1900s BEFORE MOVING TO THE LARGER DOUBLE FRONTED RENTED HOUSE OPPOSITE THE STATION GATES. IN THE FIRST HOUSE OF THE TERRACE LIVED MR MRS DENNIS MILLINGTON WHO HER DAD AND UNCLES USED TO GO WITH TO WATCH ASTON VILLA IN THE 1950s. FURTHER ALONG FROM THE TERRACE ON THE SAME SIDE NEAR TO THE CANAL BRIDGE IN 1969 I WAS AN APPRENTICE CARPENTER I WORKED ON THE BUILDING OF THE NEW WAREHOUSE/ FACTORY WHICH I BELIEVE BECAME A SERVIS WASHING MACHINE UNIT. I USED TO CALL IN THE SHOP YOU MENTIONED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TERRACE AT LUNCH TIME, FOR A CRUSTY CHEESE AND ONION COB. LIVING IN WALSALLWOOD IT WAS THE FIRST TIME I HAD BEEN TO BLOXWICH. LITTLE DID I KNOW THAT TWO YEARS LATER I WOULD MEET AND MARRY THE LOVELY GIRL WHO HAS BEEN MY WIFE FOR 48 YEARS, WHO AT THAT TIME WAS LIVING IN STATION STREET. THANKYOU MARTIN FOR A WONDERFUL WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE.
Hi Martin. Tony Cooley here. Remember me? Never knew you lived in those old, spooky houses in Fryers Lane. Used to freak me out walking past them at night. Particularly the one near the tree! My Dad used to drive for Noble’s. Those refurbished drums were destined for the Esso Depot on Salford docks. He would take me with him and smuggle me in. Haven’t got any photos of the yard have you? As kids from Beechdale we played in “The Rockies”, the old limestone workings adjacent to the furnaces at the bottom of Fryers. Great fun but incrediby dangerous as well with tons of dumped razor-sharp slag . Mr Barlow, I believe I knew your wife at RC Thomas School. Ask her if she recalls “Cool” a pal of Dave Hanson, John Clarke and Steve Woolley. We appeared in a school production called A Handul of Stones at the Library Theatre around 1965.
DIANE SAYS HI COOL, SHE REMEMBERS YOU FROM R C THOMAS. SHE HAS A GROUP PHOTO TAKEN ON HER LAST DAY IN JULY 1966, AND YOU ARE ON IT ALONG WITH THE LADS YOU HAVE MENTIONED AND MANY OTHERS. SHE REMEMBERS THE PLAY VERY WELL. FROM MEMORY IT INCLUDED YOURSELF, DIANE, ANNICE HENSTOCK,PAT HUDSON, AND ROB HALFORD, VERY HAPPY DAYS.
Hello John. You shouldn’t have mentioned the photo. Any chance of a scan or snap to my e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ?
Does Diane recall us idiots regularly serenading her with a line from The Batchelors’ “Diane” as we passed her house on the way home from the school youth club? Uncouth yobs!