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.
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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.