Black Country Muse

Subtitle

My Humble Home Town.

 
Blackheath, a little bit of Staffordshire.

 

You can't of course, select the time and place you are born, so wherever it may be, it will forever be your spiritual home. Now I'm aware, that my home town will never be a centre of culture, or for that matter, a world heritage site, but it's still home. Glancing at the map of 1869, a copy of which is in the Photo Gallery, you can see the old town layout, surprisingly, very much as it still is today. ( given a few Islands, road changes and a few one-way streets.) The Township, (that status granted in 1878 ) was clustered around the road junctions, Long Lane, Oldbury Road, Halesowen Street, High Street, and Birmingham Road. This created a small triangle of land, on which stood, a Public House, the old and ancient " Royal Oak."

For those of you who may have heard there was a Pub there, long before the Island came along, this is the one. ( Gallery ) The old faded writing on the wall, which was facing Long Lane, proclaimed that a previous tenant, H.B. Darby, provided Cabs, Cars, Brakes,( horse drawn of course ) and Wedding carriages for hire. The pub was well situated, for the many coaches that plied the Oldbury to Halesowen Turnpike, and also the road from The Quinton, to Rowley Village and Dudley. It was demolished long before I was born, but my father used to tell many stories of some of the characters who frequented the place.Thats not to suggest, either my Father or Grandfather would ever dream of entering such an establishment.

Almost all of the houses, were to be found alongside the main roads, from the bottom of Powke Lane, Waterfall Lane, ( called Heartfail Hill by the locals ) Gorsty Hill and Halesowen Street, The Causeway, Beet Street, Hackett Street, and up Long Lane towards Malt Mill Lane, and the small community of New England. The High Street of course, contained the shops, and the township was blessed with a Railway Station, which it still has. This is more than can be said for other places, who lost a vital transport link, even before Doctor Beeching took up that Axe.The town expanded rapidly during the late 1880s, and was still growing until just before the War started in 1939. The memories I have, are of the period that followed the War, and as I look around today, surprisingly, some things look almost the same. ( well, nearly almost ) Take the Market for instance, the double stall at the front, in my day Fruit and Veg, was run by my Aunt for many years, after my Uncle passed away early in life.

My, but there's an awful lot of water gone under the bridge since that picture was taken, ( Gallery) and, sadly, it's took an awful lot of my School friends with it. I hope someones preserved that Traction Engine, ( Story in the Gallery comments ) and that old steam powered Road Roller the Council used to own. On a lighter note, the Market has had a fews licks of paint since the 1950s, and still looks as I remember it, well it did last week. That subway though has gone, good job I heard a few say, but it was a source of much amusement to a youngster in short trousers. Shout at one end, and you got a wonderful echo come back. In my day. apart from the occasional flood, it was kept spotless. The Toilets were always working and clean, and there were no vandals to worry about, but I never once remember my Mother, or any of the older residents ever using it to cross the road. Perhaps they thought going underground would put them a bit nearer the Devil, or did some of them, have not very fond memories of their use as an Air Raid Shelter during the War. My old junior School, just down the road in Long Lane, has long gone, as has the senior School I attended, further on towards the top of the lane, and the house, where I used to live in New John Street, vanished many years ago. Mind you, it had been constructed in the 1820s, had no hot water or Bathroom, just a Brewhouse with a Copper, and a Tin Bath hanging on the wall. How my mother kept us all clean and healthy I shall never know, but thats what mothers did, and still do

Some of my, and presumably your early memories, will be of being dragged away from whatever you were doing at the time, and taken off to help with the shopping. Saturday was when, it seemed to me, every woman in Blackheath gathered in the Towns focal point, the High Street, to do the weekly shop and stand around " canting, " as my father called it. You could see many a friend, on the other side of the road, doing exactly the same as you, guarding the loaded bags as your parent gossiped away to a procession of other woman. Everyone, it appeared to me, seemed to know everyone else, and you could tell when a "delicate subject " was being discussed, voices were lowered, or they moved a few paces away. The photograph, taken in the 50s, before they pulled down Mr Hobbs shop,( Gallery ) is how I have chosen to remember the High Street, mainly because it contained my favourite shop when I was small, Woolworths. On the left, as you went up, and before the junction with Heath Street, was a Butchers Shop, owned by a relative of my father and with whom the family had been registered during the war. Rationing was still in operation, and I used to stand in queues for hours while mother dashed off to complete purchases elsewhere. Just another use for a spare body on a Saturday.

It's all changed since the picture of the High Street was taken in the 1950s, ( see Home Town Changes in the Gallery ) and you can see, in the middle distance, on the left, a group of woman doing exactly what I witnessed many times, having a good gossip. Thats a Standard Vanguard coming up the High Street, all the dashboard dials were oblong, There was another Butchers Shop below where they are standing, at which I got an evening, ( after School ) evening and Saturday job, in 1955. It paid the princely sum of 7s 6d, and included me, on the shop bike, delivering orders, as well as scrubbing the chopping block and fetching and carrying. That old bike was the very devil to ride, not only was it heavy, the brakes were almost non existant, and the saddle was falling apart. The longest delivery was to a house in Quinton, and although the effort to get there was great, it was full speed ahead on the way back down Long Lane. ( Dodgy brakes forgotten ) I earned enough to save the deposit for a new Bike, and Dad took me to see his friend, Mr Bryant, who had a shop in the High Street. I took charge of a brand new Raleigh Touring Bike, 5 speeds, drop handlebars, and bright red. That Bike and I were inseparable for the next 6 years, as I joined my friends in exploring the entire region, on long rides, no matter what the weather threw at us.Thats Bramwell Bryant, outside his old shop in Oldbury Road. Being a lot lighter than the old shop bike, I managed to get in more deliveries, but the miserable shop manager, despite a promise, never paid me any extra, so I started to do deliveries for other shops. This continued, until one day I made a staggering discovery, Girls.This revelation came about while doing a meat delivery in Quinton, and as I walked around the back of this large house, I bumped, and I do mean bumped, into a vision from heaven wearing a Bikini.My face went redder than the Beef joint I was carrying, and I left so quickley, I almost forgot to collect the money on the bill.

Now if you think I am going to name names at this point, forget it, I was, strange as it may seem, bought up to have actual proper manners. Back to the early days of school, and we had a nice lady Teacher called Mrs Round. She must have been a frustated drama student, for she had this rather strange thing for period re-inactments and very old fashioned Dancing. ( always with the same record, played on an old windup gramaphone ) I think the school only had two records, the other one being a well worn copy of the national anthym. Our class spent many hours parading up and down, which I suppose was good practice for what followed, Maypole dancing. I can honestly say, young as we were, that most of the lads in my class were very embarressed by this. Dressed in wrap around short white sheets, prancing about like demented fairies, it put me off dancing for life. Mrs Rounds greatest triumph, at least while I was there, was her interpretation of the English Civil War. Armed with a set of instructions for the parents, each small and eager little soul soon learned what part they would play in this epic saga. I ended up as a Roundhead. (well at the time I certainly had the haircut for it ) I should explain, that the school at the time, was overun with a plague of Nits, and it was common practice, with the boys at least, to have a very short haircut, and I mean short haircut. The Girls had to suffer endless treatments of the rather smelly stuff they used then, if you could get it, the local chemists having been cleared out of stock in just 24 hours. Back to that Civil War though, and my father carved a super sword for me, from a piece of heavy wood. Against the flimsy hats worn by the Cavaliers, it was a formidable weapon. It was also at this point, that I encountered a class divide. The Cavaliers all came from the more affluent parts of Blackheath,( yes, there were a few with a few bob to spare ) the riff-raff from the backyards taking the part of the Roundheads. We had a small rehearsal in the playground, where more than a few feathers were ruffled and there were so many " wounded" Cavaliers, that she wrote the battle scene out of her epic story. It was after all a proper Church School. I have some memories of Christmas at the school, making endless yards of paper chains from coloured paper strips, the backs of which had to be licked to make the glue stick. It tasted far worse than licking envelopes, and after a while, wet sponges replaced aching tongues. I believed at the time, that at least one of the Teachers was a sadist. Then there was the making of Calenders, a piece of stiff cardboard, a bit of wallpaper, and that white glue with the funny smell. We also made loads of Lanterns, a skill I can assure you, I still have today. Finally, with multi-coloured crepe paper strips, twisted into long strands, the whole lot went up around the rooms. I always wondered why we did this, for that same week, we broke up, and all that work went unappreciated, (except for the school mice) over the Holiday. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed my early school days, and I was genuinely sad to leave. If I had known what was coming, I would have been even more reluctant to go.

Unlike today, we kids had plenty of ideas with what to do with our spare time. There was a paddling pool at Britania Park, and paddle boats on the bigger pool. There were the pools at Haden Hill Park, and the wide open spaces to play football and cricket on. Picnics on sunny days, without I may add parents in tow, for we roamed, quite safely, over large areas. Hurst Hill Park, now there's a name you may not be too familar with, until I use its other name, " The Dumps ". in Hurst Green. All of them had swings, round-abouts, and slides, and the inevitable Park Keeper with his shout of " Oi, keep off the grass ". There were other places we played on as well, like the old war time allotments at the top of Vernon Road, which only led to an Iron foundry, and a wartime factory that manufactured Gas Masks. We used the waste ground to build " dens ", digging into the mounds of soil left over from the construction of Air Raid shelters, which were just behind our old house in New John Street. Most of the allotments had been long abandoned, but those still in use, I am sad to say, were subject to a bit of petty thieving. You can't beat a few fresh carrots and peas when feeling a bit peckish in your den. Lowe and Brookes, where I ended up working at one time, had a tip in our street, and they used to empty all the slag and sand from the foundry on it. We built many little dens on there, the sand being warm, and the slag red hot inside, which made a handy little cooker to boil water and warm your hands over on a cold day. We played football and cricket against the wall of Hipkiss Brothers works, which formed the boundry of the tip, and watched facinated as the presses turned out hundreds of hot, stamped, castings. There was a wartime water storage concrete tank on the site as well, and two local kids, from further up the street, were drowned in it around the 1950s. What we called a " devil digger , (  A steam driven mechanical shovel to be exact ) demolished it shortly afterwards. Saturday of course was football day, and the Rowley Regis firm of T. W. Lench, had their recreation ground in Upper Ashley Street, a dead end, and the other half of the uncompleted Ashley Street, off Long Lane.

 

The reason it was never finished was because the Towns Railway Tunnel ran under both the School, and the recreation ground, being marked with a high embankment and a brickbuilt " pepper box ". This of course was the ventilation shaft, with a wire mesh top, to prevent the locals venting their fury about a late train, and lobbing bricks down it. There was a grocers shop on the corner, who did a roaring trade in " fags and matches ", when Lench's played at home, and even better if they did well in the local Cup competitions. The entrance fee was a shilling for adults, and sixpence for us kids, but we never paid. The high, and blue painted fence, was a bit ramshackle in places, and had barbed wire across the top, but being small and agile, we sneaked in over the top. They had a brick built pavilion as well, complete with a massive tiled bath, heated by a steam boiler. This became our little job on match days, stoking the boiler, and making the tea in a huge stainless steel urn. I watched the legendary Duncan Edwards play on this ground, before he became famous, and needless to say, Lench's lost the cup-tie. In the picture, ( Gallery ) you can see the tunnel embankment in the distance, and the remains of that old fence. The shop has changed from what it was back in the 1950s, and a house, which stood between it and the remaining ones has gone. There were never any on the other side, just a garden wall and an overgrown privet hedge. There was also a cricket pitch on the ground, unusual because it was made of concrete, and the ground here was in little ridges, left over I suppose, from the tunnel building. Adam Jones, the haulier, who had a yard and garage in the other half of Ashley Street, kept pigs and chickens on the embankment, his youngest son and I, were in the same class at the school, and we spent many hours tracking down where the roaming chickens had laid their eggs. The old boar, no not his old man, was a fearsome beast, but he could always tell when a train was going through the tunnel, for he ran away and hid at the far end of the embankment, Mind you, the vibrations, especially from a heavy goods train, produced some odd happening in the school. Flower Vases would move, and occasionly, the old piano would tinkle away all on its own, and some of the girls in the class would shriek a little, when a pencil rolled away up the desk. Oh happy days.

 

Now somewhere in the above ramblings, I may have mentioned Religion. For most of us, whether we liked it or not, it played a big part in our up bringing. From my families point of view, the Methodists knew best, but that didn't stop my mother from sending me to the Church of England School, in Long lane. It was a strange place to be living really, Blackheath, and subsequently Staffordshire, were only a few minutes walk away, but while we had a Blackheath postal address, we actually lived in the Borough of Halesowen. The old Parish of Hill, can best be explained, by saying, that everything on the left hand side, from the top of Long Lane, all the way down to the Island in Blackheath, left into Halesowen Street, down Gorsty Hill, left along Dudley Road, and back up Mucklow Hill, comprised the parish. In my day of course, it was combined with Cakemore, which encompassed an area from roughly just beyond the Parish Church, ( Saint Pauls ) at Green Lane, down what used to be Station Road and is now Nimmings Road, down Cakemore Road and past the old BTH works, to where the Motorway now is, roughly following the line of the Birmingham New Road, and the boundry of the Golf Course, until it finally meets the Hagley Road, just above Quinton Village near the new Cemetery. The whole area contained seven Methodist or Baptist Chapels, and a Chapel connected to the Parish Church in Blackheath. The Town contained four more Methodist Chapels, and a Salvation Army Citadel in Park Street. All of them had a Sunday School attached, so no matter which street you lived in, for us kids, there was no escape. We had an interesting lesson at our school on the History of the Parish Church, and of the Rev. F. Keatch, the vicar for no less than 22 years. ( before my time ) Discussions about a parish Church started around the early 1860s it seems, and a set of plans was drawn up. There was, it appears, no shortage of money for the project, and an effort was made to seriously out do the Church on the big hill, Saint Giles. The plan, was for a rather grand church, with a large 100 foot tower, topped off with a spire. also a 100 feet tall. The main problem it seemed was where to build it, and accomodate the grave yard as well. There was a suitable site, on raised ground, at the top of what today is Vicarage Road, but it was in the Borough of Halesowen, and whats more, was the site of several mines shafts and underground workings which had not been recorded. The alternative was the site close to the Railway line, and this produced another problem, the land would not support a large structure due to the danger of slippage. The original plan was reluctantly scrapped, and a new one, drawn up by the Rev. S. Philips was discussed. This plan discarded the spire, kept the Tower, and included a peel of Bells at an additional cost of £900. This was half again the cost of the Church at £1,800, and again, the danger of a collapse, due to the weight, was scrapped, so we finished up with what you see today. It was a good job they hadn't built the original, for in the winter of 1882, a large part of the north wall surrounding the Church, ended up on the Railway Line, seriously weakening that side of the building. This incident gave rise to a myth, that the coffins of the newly interred had also ended up on the line, they didn't, but it cost the G.W.R a great deal of money putting it right. It did do some good though, for there were not very many burials carried out in this area afterwards, some extra land was purchased from Mr. Cardale, and the good folk of Blackheath, ( including a few of my relatives ) could rest in eternal peace, untroubled by an unexpected train spotting trip.There was only one Church, in Blackheath, that actually had a spire, and that was the Methodist Church on the corner of Causeway and Birmingham Road. It's the one pictured on the Home page, built in 1906, and since sadly demolished. The sketchyou can see here, was completed, as an illustration of how it would look, and it certainly turned out to be a handsome building. My elderly grandparents were members of the congregation for a great many years, and enjoyed many of the trips to Blackpool and Western-Super-Mare, as well as many excellent Christmas dinners. An added bonus, especially for grandfather, was that he had to pass The Shoulder of Mutton, The California, The Little Beech, The Britania, and The Beech Tree, on the way home. Well alright, maybe he didn't pass them all.

 

Now some folks may be wondering what the youth of my time got up to, well wonder no more, for it's all pretty mundane stuff. For those who are genuinely from the area, and not just pretending for egotistical purposes, most will remember that when it got dark in Blackheath, all life ceased. The streets became deserted, the traffic was almost non-existant, and the only places with a welcome mat out, were the Pubs. Darts, Domino's, Cards, or Snooker, not much choice really, especially when you realise that all the places were Licenced premises except two. The Snooker Hall over Burtons the Tailors in the Market place, and the Billiard Hall in Malt Mill Lane, on Shell Corner. My friends and I became quite adept at Snooker, and we were fortunate, for my uncle was a member of the Liberal Club, one had a relative who was the steward at the Coronation Club in Park Street, anothers father was a member of the Conservative Club in Long Lane, and yet another's older brother, was a barman in the Working Mens Club in Halesowen Street. All of them had Snooker Tables, as did the Labour Club, and the British Legion, the last was easy to get into, for most of us had an old soldier in the family. My grandfather was a member of the Sons of Rest, in Britania Park, and had, over the years, been a regular member of their award winning Snooker team, so we got in there as well. Provided we kept our alcoholic drinks out of sight, and made way for any members that wanted a game, we were fine, tolerated, and caused no trouble. We did though, on occassions, get a little tipsy, but we soon learned the noble art of Beer drinking. There were several " Cafes " in the town, Townsends and Connies in Oldbury Road, the former, the first to serve that beverage that became known as " frothy coffee ", poured hissing from a shiny machine, into pyrex glass cups. This place also had what I think was the first Juke Box in Blackheath. There was another one in Victoria Road, where the favourite music from their Juke Box were the melodious tones of Buddy Holly. Up on Shell Corner, the parents of one member of our little group, opened another little cafe, Pitkeithly's, on Shell Corner. We used it at times, but it was bit awkward, for you couldn't discuss what you had planned for the weekend, cuss, swear, mention girls, or smoke, without your parents finding out within a few hours. We tended to stick to Townsends and the one in Victoria Road, some things were best not passed on to your parents. Some of us took a few dance lessons at the wooden hut in Beaumont Road, but they concentrated on mainly Ballroom stuff, and we soon got a bit bored, not enough excitement in whirling round in circles. All this activity produced a few skills among the group, Domino players, Darts Teams, one Billiards Champion, two Card Sharps, and the abilty to carry six full pint glasses from the bar, without a tray. Well it may not have got any of us very far in working life, but it was a hell of a lot of fun learning.The other great pastime was cycling. Freed from having to have the price of a bus ticket, a push bike was the passport to adventure. With the addition of a good puncture repair kit, a multi-pupose spanner and tyre levers, there was no limit on how far you could go. Strap on a saddle bag, add a plastic rain cape, and the weather was virtually un-important as well. Food, flasks, bottles of pop, fruit, water and all manner of little items went into the bag, even a spare shirt. The open road called and with so little traffic about, it was a lot safer than today. Most evenings, we explored the surrounding districts, venturing as far as Walsall and Wolverhampton, getting to know the road system and learning many short cuts. The weekends were reserved for the longer distances. Six thirty on a sunny Sunday morning, with the birds still singing, and hardly a car on the road, is when we would set off. The milage we agreed on was small to start with, Stourport and back, but eventually extended to a 150 mile round trip. Not a mean feat at the time, especially as some had promised to sing in the Church Choir at 7.00pm. It wasn't always fine either, I remember struggling up Hagley Hill, in a thunderstorm, with a howling wind coming down the slope, and being battered by horizontal rain. We were, at times, a mixed group, but this shortened the milage as girls were concidered to be a bit less " robust ". Not by us I should add, but their parents, who insisted they couldn't go out before 9.00am, and must be back by 5.00pm. Why on earth they thought nothing could go on during these hours, I never found out, but it was only a short ride to Clent and the "Fern Fields".

 

Now, from reading my e-mail box, it's clear that a great many folk still don't actually know where the Town ends, and Halesowen begins. Here's a bit of history for you. The Parish of Hill has always included what I have already discribed, plus the whole of Coombeswood, Halesowen Golf course, and Mucklow Hill. Walter Somers Forge, and The Search Light works, at the bottom of the hill, Parkes Tube fitting, and the old Lion Brickwork half way up, Bellevue House and the grounds, ( MEB ) and the land on which stood the Stag and Three Horse Shoes, were all in the old Parish. The Parish came into being properly in 1866, ( for it never had a Parish Church ) some 12 years before Blackheath gained Township status. The same date for a Parish, was the start for Cakemore as well, both of which continued to be independent until 1919, when the two were amalgamated into Hill & Cakemore. What a shame, that nowadays, local history is rarely touched on in our Schools, for the two old parishes go back a very long way in time. Both parishes have a long association with Quinton as well, for most of my family, up until the 1930s, attended the old National School in Quinton, and are buried in the Parish Church there. Cakemore, also shares a border with Langley and Warley, which is reflected in the National Census records, should you be thinking of doing a bit of family research. If we take into account Oldbury then, the whole lot, right up to modern boundry changes, was part of the County of Worcestershire, adminstered from the Town of Halesowen. It's a sad fact of life, when it came to finding some land in 1915, on which to build a couple of Government Munitions Factories, Halesowen chose to stick both in the rural area of Cakemore called Hurst Green. They had plenty of space in Hasbury, but apperently, didn't want to spoil the view of the Clent Hills for the more well off inhabitants. Mind you, they may well have still been smarting, from the insult they received in 1909, when Quinton, given the choice, opted to become part of Birmingham.  They didn't trust Halesowen to keep a promise, not to bring any smokey industry up the hill, and they were right, for Halesowen always shipped it elswhere, Hill, and then Cakemore, being examples. The inhabitants also displayed their own choice when it came to shopping, for in the main, Blackheath was the place they went, or down the hill to Cradley Heath, or up the hill to Dudley. For those special occasions, most jumped on a Midland Red 140, and went into Birmingham, a place a great many worked in anyway. In fact. if  Halesowen didn't have Birmingham as a near neighbour, Halesowen folk would have been skint most of the time, for even today, hundreds leave the town each morning, to go to work in the big bad City of Birmingham. Now I learnt all this at School, and through reading, mostly Books from the Library in Long Lane, which I am pleased to say, is still operating as normal. I do find though, when gripped with a bout of nostalgia, that it's hard to seperate Hill & Cakemore from Blackheath, and I'm sure, others in my position have the same problem. I have said it before on the website though, it's the people that define the area in which you live, not the mere presence on a map of a few lines, but it does help to know, even if only to work out where your ancesters lived, when compiling that family tree.

 

Now not far from where we lived, was a piece of ground, at the back of the old S & L Tubes works. Above is a picture of the lower works in the 1930s. It had once been home to at least four Farms, and stretched from Gorsty Hill to Mucklow Hill. They couldn't have been very large, these Farms, thirty or forty acres at the most, and not renowned in any history books I have read, for the quality of the crops. The area was mostly scrubland, well suited for grazing cattle though, which you can determine via the number of Farmers who sold Milk. Greatly reduced by housing in my day, what was left covered some 15 acres, more than enough for young lads to romp around in. It had the attraction of being bound by the Canal, sadly which, at this time, terminated at the collapsed Lapel Tunnel. My grandfather used to regale us,with tales of the legendary men, who toiled and sweated, " legging " the boats through the mile and a quarter narrow passageway, for 6p a boat. Rather them than me I thought. The Canal towpath was on the other side, starting at S & L, and finishing in a basin, just in front of the Tunnel and Cottages. We always walked on the side without, occassionaly encountering a old dun cow or two, drinking from the Canal, which being very silted up, was quite shallow in places. Coombes Wood Colliery, which was still working when I was a lad, was on the other side, as was the old Lion Brickworks, near to Mucklow Hill. The yards Marlhole however was on " our side " and was a tranquil spot, full of wildlife, but some very deep, cold, and dangerous water. We searched for Frogs, Newts, and numerous little fish around it's edges, being careful not to fall in, as the sides were very steep. My mother would have died of shock, or flayed us alive if she had known where we played. Recently, I have heard some of the meadows we played in, described as " valuable Farming land ", in an effort to save what remains from the encroachment of housing at the Mucklow Hill end. Not what I would have described it as, not even then, but what did I know when I was10 years old. There were two ways back home from here, the first, if you were still clean and not covered in mud and grass, was via my Grandmothers, opposite the main entrance to S & L. She would of course have applied plenty of " spit and polish ", a thing to be avoided. The second way was via a series of little gully's, the first one being at the side of the last house on Mucklow Hill, just below the MEB Offices. This led onto Greenhill Road, at the end of which was another gully, and this ran alongside Olive Hill Schools, into Springfield Road. A short walk brings you into Olive Lane, and the home of Evergreen Coaches, run by Stan Field, a truely great local character. And then, there was yet another gully, this one angled off towards the junction of Maltmill Lane and Chapel Street, behind the houses, and the rear of Mr Rose's Fish and Chip shop. Along this gully, you could feed the Chickens, Chastise the Goats, and marvel at the ornamental Carp, in a back garden pool near the Chip shop.It was quite surprising what could be seen looking over a garden wall, even some things, that at such a young age, one shouldn't really know about.

 

There's no way I can describe any incidents in my younger days, without including some reference to a spot well known to all those who have even a fleeting memory of the area: Shell Corner. It was the place from which all journeys began and ended, courtesy of the Midland Red. The 140, Birmingham to Dudley service, ran through it, so did the 123, which went via Langley, and on into Oldbury. My father used the latter bus, every, day, on his journey to work and back. A workmans return was 4 pence I believe, well it was in the mid 1950s. The area, when I was at school, contained shops that sold almost everything that a family needed, and included a Chemists, (Rileys), a Dentists, and a Doctors surgery. Although not many I knew had access to a Motor vehicle, there were two Garages, ( Everton's and Tite's ) and the premises of Tom Harris, (Motor and Cycle dealer) which later became a dress shop, run by Mrs Harris. Her daughter, Maureen, was in the same class as me at the junior school in Long Lane. One of my early memories was paying the rent of our house in New John Street. This involved me, several shillings clutched in my hand, and a buff cardboard rent book, going into Bates the Solictors, and handing it all to a man, who magically appeared at a wooden hatch when you entered the little passage. (there was a bell connection underneath the mat ) There were also two Barbers situated on Shell Corner. Alfred Britt, whose customers were of the more mature kind, had a slight claim to some fame. In his window was a large electric Clock, and it wasn't unsual, to see anyone who passed, on the way to or from the bus stops,to pause and set their watches. I have even seen bus drivers do the same thing, and we used it as a timing device, at the beginning and end of some competative cycle rides. The other hairdresser I remember, is the one near Jacks Bazaar, ( the venture of one Jack Pritchard ) for this is where I got rid of my side parting, and came out with a very fashionable Crew Cut. ( D.A. included ) The one type of haircut, your parents couldn't send you back to get changed. The Post Office was another shop on the " errand round ", usually for the weekly Postal Order my father required for his flutter on the " Pools ", and the stamps, obtained from the little machine set into the wall. They also ran a Christmas Club, and were the only shop on the corner, where your parents could order the Christmas Annuals from, ( Mine was the Eagle ) the Newsagents, for some reason, didn't bother. The other shop I frequented, was Mr Whites the Grocers. This entailed me, after father got back from work on a Friday, being given a long list, some money, and sent off to get a weeks shopping in. Mr White would take the list, and deposit the items on it, into a large cardboard box, ticking off and pricing each, as he went around the small shop. She would often buy Bacon from Mr White, as he sold it a bit cheaper than the Butchers in Blackheath, he having some dealings with the slaughter house around the corner, in Malt Mill Lane. Quite a few in our street, also purchased cakes and bread from Honeysetts, usually late on a saturday afternoon, when he cleared out the days stock, ready for the next batch on monday. One of my fathers relatives, ran a Grocers shop in Long Lane, just below the island, but mother always said they were too expensive, and refused to shop there. Apart from a Public House, Shell Corner was a virtually self -contained little shopping area, two Butchers, Thomas Westwoods fish and chip shop, a Shoe repairer, a Decorators shop, two Fancy goods shops, ( one run by Billy Price, a relative of my mother ) and two Telephone boxes, situated in Maple Road, near to the Public Toilets and Bus Stops. All very civilised and orderly in my day. Mind you, just down Nimmings Road was the Police Station, and it housed some very tall and stoutly built Officers, non of whom I can attest to, seemed to have a sense of humour.

 

It's been over three years since I started this page, the idea being mainly to lay down a few memories my children could refer back to. There seems to have developed, some interest in the subject, for which of course I am grateful,but at the same time a little puzzled. Before I started,stories about the Town were few and far between, now there appears to be a facebook page, run I believe, by someone who has never lived in the place. And, I have just been told, ' The Black Country Bugle ' is appealing for pictures and stories for a series of articles on the past history of the Town. Maybe I should offer my humble services. Back though, to some of my childhood days. We didn't have much money to spend after the War, so if you wanted to go somewhere, you walked. I remember my grandfather, usually when he had a few at Christmas and other family get togethers, reciting places they avoided when he was a young man. One of them was Terrace Street, which ran from Waterfall Lane, just above where he lived when he first got married, to Powke Lane.

 

 

I later learned that the houses had been built somewhere between 1830, and 1840, and were over a hundred years old in the 1950s. Most lacked any modern convieniences, have been erected for the varied workers who dug for Coal, made Nails, or worked in the Iron Trade. They were, it has been said, as rough as the badly built houses, and certainly on a par with the more well known Lion Road, a bit further down the Hill, and on the other side of the Canal. There were two nearby Pubs, The Old Bush Revived, and the Three Furnaces, which were packed every weekend, resulting in plenty of work for the local Law Officers. Every Constable in the Local force at the Holly Road Police Station, was over 6 feet tall, and built it was said, like the proverbial brick outhouse. Even so, non of them patrolled this area alone, there were always two ot them. I believe the picture dates from the late 1950s, a time when plans were already afoot to pull it all down. Just like where I lived, there is a distinct lack of motor cars, and the road is in a poor state of repair. It looks to have been taken from the Waterfall Hill end. I know the road was bad, for I have cycled many times down it, as I also have down Waterfall Lane. This brings me to another little snippet of someones memory, for at the top of Waterfall Lane is Beeches Road. It wasn't always called this, for it's original name was Tump Road, and it finished at the weighbridge of Blackheath Colliery. This next picture features a rather strangely shaped building that stood at the start of Tump Road, directly opposite the Beech Tree Public House. Although it's clearly occupied by a family, I can't believe it was ever designed as a family home. It looks more like an old Ranch house from the wild west with its long front covered porch. There was certainly nothing else like it in the area, and I roamed all over the district on foot and on my bike. Even my grandfather was at a loss to suggest why anyone would build something like that. Perhaps it was erected by the Mine owners, as a sort of Office, and later on, when the mine closed, some enterprising local converted it. Judging by the clothes, the picture was taken around 1900, and if anyone has a solid clue about it's origins, or when it was pulled down, do let me know. There is just a final piece, and a final picture, this time an internal shot of the Kings Theatre, In Long Lane. Owned by Thomas Cooper, a man who loved the Town, and showed his generosity in many ways. The Blackheath Operatic Society, used the place for a great many productions, for despite the name we used for it, " The Flea Pit ", it was actually fully equipped for such productions. The others were simply for showing films, and had to be set up for shows like this. Now who was it said the population of Blackheath had no sense of culture.