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I would love to hear your own memories/stories or see your photos of days gone by. Please send your stories/photos by email and I will add them to this page. Please scroll down to see the following:

1) My Memories

2) Happy Shopping

3) The Five to Four Bus Stop

4) Bonfire Night - The Fun of It

5) Postcard Memories. A selection of correspondence from Black Country

    postcards

6) Letter from a Great Aunt travelling on the S S Esperance Bay bound for

    Australia in 1928

7) A wonderful article re the raising of pigs in Wednesfield in the late 1940's/  

    early 1950's      

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                                            My Memories

I was born and still live in the Black Country. I lived in Cradley Heath until I was seven  and have fond memories of those good old days. The pace of life was so much slower then and everybody had time for each other. We'd often bump into Aunty Evelyn and Aunty Jennie when we went shopping or popped across the street to my nan and grandad's house. They weren't real aunties but they were two lovely people and would always push a shilling into our hands and tell us to buy some sweets. 


I loved the trips down the High Street because each shop had its own character. The fresh fruit at Brookes Bros, the distinct 'sweet shop' smell at Biggs and the hustle and bustle of the market. Jones' shoe shop smelt of leather and Evans the Chemist of perfumes which were far too expensive to buy. Times were hard, so even as a child, I was aware that mom had to be watchful of what she spent. Saturday evenings were special because dad would pop to the off license in Lawrence Lane and bring back smokey bacon crisps, a small block of Galaxy and a bottle of Tizer. In those days it was a treat to have just one or two squares of chocolate but we don't appreciate these things any more. 


I loved our old house. It seemed large and rambling and although I was recently invited in by the lovely family who now live there, I wanted to retain those old images of my past and not shadow them with something different. The hallway was long and the staircase seemed never ending. I remember the small landing as the stairs turned and the wooden bannister and railings at the top.

One of my Nans occasionally stayed with us - I remember her bedroom because it had what seemed like a gigantic marble washstand peering from behind the door that I was never allowed to enter. I also remember sitting on the small landing, watching as she walked down the hall when she had to leave. I was always really sad, not knowing when she would return. She was gentle and kind but sadly, I don't have very many memories.

There was a front room in which there was very little furniture and a back room with two Queen Anne armchairs, a dining table, sideboard and piano. There wasn't a door to the kitchen, only a curtain, and I often used the opportunity to run between the rooms. Mom lost count of the times I ran headlong into the sideboard!  I regularly had an 'egg' on my forehead onto which mom put vinegar and brown paper. There was a cellar which had steep steps and it terrified me when I looked down into the deep abyss. It was dark and damp and you could see people walking past the grating which was like a window onto the pavement. Mom used to make her own lemonade in huge terracotta vats in the cellar - we would often hear the finished bottles explode when the yeast continued to ferment. We had an outside toilet in the backyard as we didn't have a bathroom - each week, mom and dad got the old tin bath out and we, as children, would bathe in front of the open fire. I don't know how mom and dad managed - mom does not like to talk about those days which saddens me because without our ancestors and our past, we would not be the people we are today.

I loved my school too - it was over the road so there was never an excuse to be late! Mom used to come to the gate at break times and pass sweets through the railings. I can't remember wearing school uniform but had a satchel in which mom put an apple and a KitKat every day. We sat at wooden desks with inkwells and lids that opened.  I would often sit and daydream as I looked out of the long, narrow windows at my home across the road. In the winter, stalagtites hung from the windows like the jagged teeth of dinosaurs and snow collected on the window ledges like a huge cloud of cotton wool. Christmas was special because Santa would pay a visit to our school. I was a little confused though when I peeped at him through some big glass windows and saw him 'putting on his beard!' Christmas with my parents and brother was magical. I cannot remember a Christmas without snow, unlike today, when it always seems so gloomy. Mom would make paper chains with us which we would hang across the room. We would attempt to blow up balloons and the tree was dressed with the same ornaments each year. All the fairy lights in the world don't make Christmas as special as it was back then.   

Winters were hard though for my grandparents who lived in a two up, two down terraced house. I was amazed to find out from the census that in 1881, eleven people were living in the house!  The living room only had space for a large wooden table, a couple of chairs, sideboard, couch and cooker, so back in the 1880's, I have no idea where everyone sat at mealtimes or any other time for that matter. My nan suffered from bronchitis every year - she tried to remain warm by the tiny fireplace but it only seemed to give off heat when grandad put the grate down. It made the fire roar but also burnt the coal quickly. I was broken hearted to see her ill but she was strong and fought off the ravages of her ill health to see another year. Nan's kitchen was an outhouse - a few feet across the yard which had a tiny patch of garden with black soil! I have no idea how she coped in the bitter cold conditions of winters past. There was no hot water or heating and every day, she had to stand in there to wash the crocks.

Each day of the week had a particular task. Mondays were of course wash days. I remember standing with nan as she lifted the clothes from the hot water with a stick  into a tub of clean water, after which they were put through the mangle. Tuesdays were spent cleaning the windows. The dirty water would then be used to wash down the door step and the small walled area around the front window. Wednesday was fish and chip day - nan would stand in the outhouse peeling potatoes ready to fry later that night. (My mom has maintained this tradition ever since she married, but sadly, I have not). Thursdays were spent on housework - nan had one of the old electric cylindrical 'sweepers' - it terrified me, though I don't know why. Fridays were for shopping and before going out, nan would put on her makeup which she kept in a large cupboard that was built into the wall at the side of the fireplace. I would sit transfixed as she carefully applied it to her face. She always dressed smartly and was well respected by the folk of Cradley Heath. When the shopping was done she would treat us to a cake from Firkins - I always had a fresh cream meringue and my brother would have a cream horn.

I loved my nan and grandad to bits. Nan would let me borrow books to read from her enormous glass doored bookcase and she taught me how to knit and crochet. Grandad used to take me into his old chain shop and the smell of soot and coke was obvious despite years of emptiness. The floor was uneven and made of bricks and it was hard to see the rear of the building, such was its enormity to me when I was so young. It always seemed dark and although it frightened me, I knew I was safe with my grandad. He always gave me pennies on my birthday for each of my years and I still have these coins today. 

Despite appearing the picture of innocence, I was, looking back, a little tomboy. Mom used to take us to the park in Lomey Town and one day, whilst playing on the slide, I became impatient with my brother who refused to move from the bottom. I called to him to move but he refused so I let go and you can guess what happened - I slid, at what seemed like an almighty speed, right into him! Mom thought I'd broken his nose and he held on to it as we made the long walk back to our house. Fortunately, he was alright. On another occasion, I became impatient when we were waiting to cross Reddal Hill road. I let go of mom's hand and ran headfirst into the road - thank goodness the roads were a lot quieter then because I lived to see another day - not without being reprimanded by my mom though and ordered not to tell my dad - I never did it again! On another occasion - yes - there were more, I was wearing a beautiful dress my nan had made for me. I'd been playing and decided to venture to the top of my nan and grandad's garden. Being the adventurous soul I was, I tried to climb over the metal railings into the wilderness beyond and unfortunately, my dress did not follow. There was a huge tear and I started to sob because I was so upset at what I'd done. I ran back to the house and my nan took me in her arms and told me not to worry - she would repair it. Nanny was a wonderful seamstress, indeed her grandmother had been a tailoress who had made gentlemen's suits by candlelight!  My nan and grandad were the salt of the earth.

I often wonder what my grandparents would think of society today and the changes that have taken place over the last forty years in particular. The seemingly endless weeks of summer are no more and where once time did not seem to matter, we now struggle to complete everything we need to do. No more cozy chats in the corner shop, just queues in which we feel claustrophobic. What would they make of Cradley Heath and the spaceship that has landed in our town? Yes - Tesco!  I cannot imagine their reaction. I often wish I could go back in time and savour every moment, because forty plus years ago, it seemed life would not change. But as my mom says, time marches on, although for me, at too fast a pace. Oh for the good old days!

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                                        Happy Shopping

                                  (Before the supermarket)


Oh for the days when shopping was not a frantic race round a crowded supermarket!

How lovely it was to be able to pop to the local grocers and receive a courteous greeting from the staff, knowing that the food would be fresh. Those were the days when bacon tasted like bacon and was not vacuum packed. Butter and cheese were cut from a block and wrapped in greaseproof paper. No cling film and chemicals back then!!  

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The following are taken from a booklet produced by pupils of Wood Green High School, Wednesbury, in 1971. The surnames have been removed but the copyright remains with the authors.







With thanks to Amy for providing the booklet.

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                                         Postcard Memories

A selection of correspondence from Black Country postcards.

(I have transcribed the postcards as they were written with only one or two corrections for ease of reading).


"Dear Dith

Weather permitting will go to Kinver Thurs afternoon. If you would like to go on your bike I should not mind going by car myself.

Love from Ethel."

This postcard portrays how Black Country folk were eager to take in the fresh country air - Kinver was one of the most popular places to visit. 


This is one of at least two postcards with an image of the United Counties Bank of Cradley Heath on the front of this particular card. I have transcribed this card because it provides an insight into how folks coped in those winter days of a hundred years ago.

"Sorry to hear that you have not received any money yet but we hope that you will be able to get it in a very short time

warm when we go to bed but before I go I get a hot brick and put in my bed and your Grandfather as to lie in a flannel shirt. I am sending these card as I thought it would be very nice if you had a post card album so that you could put them in I daresay your mother and father will remember these plates. I have got a album so when you send any of your card I shall put them"

Wish I had the other card!


This postcard was sent by someone who was staying in the Wordsley/Stourbridge area.


"Dear Emily

We are having an A.1. time. Sort of place to do you good, six turkeys. 1 pet lamb, two pet pigeons, 1 dog. 2 horses 20 fowl. Big cucumbers, wacking tomatoes. grand huge lawn. big field. a monsterous garden. and a nice little girl.

With love

Renee"

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The following letter was sent by a great aunt who was travelling on the S S Esperance Bay which was bound for Australia in 1928. She was visiting relatives and travelled on her own. The letter provides an insight into what life was like on the ship for what was a very long journey indeed! 

Names have been removed to protect the privacy of living relatives.




(I have transcribed the letter as it was written with only one or two corrections to punctuation and spelling for ease of reading).

My dear ----

 

Although I know you will get all the news

from Harry, I must try and get a line down to post at Port

Said to wish you all a very Happy Xmas. We get heaps of time

here to think of you all & often wonder how ---- is managing

without me. I hope dear little ---- & ---- are well & free from

cold. I can hardly imagine winter now, but we have had some

rough weather since we left. Sunday night and Monday gave us

an experience of what a rough sea is. It tossed us from one side

of our bunks to the other, in some parts of the ship the cabin

trunks moved from the one side of the cabin to the other & the waves

tossed right over the ship like great mountains. No–one could stand

on their feet, I felt awfully giddy but was not sick. One had to

laugh to see the others, oh ----, you cannot imagine life on one

of these large vessels, everything is so spotless & there is everything one

could wish for for comfort & life. ? our cabin steward told me the other

day there were 970 on board including the crew, and they are all of

the upperclass chufly Australians who have been to England on

holiday. I feel quite a country sort, the 3 ladies in my cabin are

very nice. We called at Malta yesterday but we did not go ashore, a

lot of people did but we had a lovely view from the harbour of the town

& one never saw such a site of the great warships there, a fleet

of sea & airplanes came all around the ship as near as they could get

to the Pilot Boat to pilot the Esperance Bay into the Harbour, really

----, the sights of everything we see, it makes me long that all who

have a disease to see the sea ought to be able to do so. We passed along

the african coast all day Sunday and saw algeria lit up at night. I

thought of how close I was to Mr Wigg. We expect to get to Port Said

in about 3 day time. Don’t Ray, Ken & Trevor enjoy the trip, there are a

lot of children on board, they don’t have their meals with the grown-ups.

The dining room is a lovely room & the tables laid lovely, the only

thing I don’t enjoy is the tea, but as always have an afternoon tea up

on deck, Ivy & Tom & the Elways a family that is going out with Tom.

& now dear ---- this scribble in pencil will tire your patience. Ivy

says “Give my love to ----“ & please give ---- & ---- a xx

from Aunty Olive & love & Best of wishes for a Happy

Xmas.

 

Your loving sister

Olive

 

                              P.S. I hope ---- is much

                              better, is he still under

                              Dr Cameron?

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                              Raising Pigs in Wednesfield

27 August 2011

Have just had a look at your call for information, regarding the raising of pigs, in Wednesfield in the late 1940's early 1950's.

I have had a long hard think, and this is as I remember it, things were a lot different then, rationing was on for just about everything, food was short, clothes were patched, socks darned, string and brown paper saved, old woollen jumpers unwound and made in to gloves, socks and balaclavas.

Deals were done between neighbours, clothing coupons swapped for food coupons, a rumour passed over the back fence that the local butcher had rabbits (not rationed) would see a line of Moms with prams and kids appear as if by magic.

Mom and Dad were raised in the 1930 depression, Dad In a large family in Green Lane Walsall, Mom in Erdington.

In around 1948 (a guess on my part) the Government of the day were looking to increase food production, so someone in the Ministry of food came up with the idea of raising pigs in an urban environment. This appealed to Dad as we already had chickens and a steady supply of eggs; the eggs were preserved in buckets of icing glass.

One of my jobs on a Saturday morning was to take surplus eggs round to the neighbours and exchange them for coupons, butter, and margarine, anything Mom had negotiated during the week.

Back to the pigs!

As I recall the only qualification was that the sty had to be 25yds from any dwelling, and none of the neighbours objecting.

The pen well made to certain measurements, with a concrete floor and a raised wooden platform for the pigs to sleep on, and plenty of straw for them to sleep on.                                                                                                                 

The timber was sourced from an army surplus yard at Essington.                                                                   

Ex WW11 ammunition boxes, tied to ower BSA tandem, and pushed up the Cannock Road, it took four trips as I remember.

Sand gravel and cement was delivered by a Wednesfield Council truck, the concrete mixed by hand, slab poured, and the pen built.

A cesspit dug and brick lined.

The first pigs came from the Black and White farm, in a wooden box tied on the back of the trusty BSA tandem.

Cheap pig meal, and not for human consumption potatoes, were supplied from Wednesfield Council.

The feeding of the pigs was supplemented by selected neighbours keeping left over potato peelings, and dry bread, saved in separate buckets and collected by me and my hand cart, every Saturday morning.

One thing I found out pigs like a coal to eat not a lot, just a few lumps.

Cleaning the pen was my job twice a week, waste being bucketed from the pen and tipped down the kitchen drain.

A trench was dug in the garden and the solid waste was put in, and then back filled by digging another trench.

This was left for six months and the other side of the garden used.

Vegetables were planted, and the chickens let out three times a week to clear up any pests.

Dwarf beans planted one year forgot about being Dwarf beans, and grew to be six feet high with beans as long as your arm, I spent a lot of time taking beans to the neighbours as the crop was so big. Mom preserved bottles of them (those 7lb square sweet bottles) and we were eating beans two years later.

The old Anderson shelter was dug up and erected close to the house, marble tops from the old wash stands, set into a concrete floor, front of the shelter bricked up and a door from a demolition site on the Cannock road, fixed in place.

This was to serve as a straw and feed shed, and when the Kill took place, cleaned out and used to salt and cure the sides of bacon and legs of ham.

A butcher from Brierley Hill came to do the kill, his name was Quinton.

Mom would take off up the street to a neighbour’s place until the pig was shot, and the work sorted out.

Needless to say the next few days, the pantry was full of great eating, chicklin pie, brawn, and liver and onion dinners, roast stuffed heart, faggot and peas.

Things that most people would turn their nose up at today, but not then.

When the bacon and hams were cured they were wrapped in muslin and hung in the alcove of my bed room.

The pigs going to the ministry were collected in a truck sent by Wolverhampton’s abattoir; payment was made on kill weight. 

Sunday Mornings Dad would be first out of bed and unusual for a Man at this time he would cook breakfast. Two rounds of ham and six eggs in a very large cast iron pan, the smell of Sunday breakfast drifting up the stairs, is one of my fondest memories of my childhood.

Some of the stories about raising of pigs in Wednesfield have just come to mind.

There is a story of a local butcher in Wednesfield who kept some folks bacon and hams in his cool room, who in the times of shortage sold some of the stored product.

Not the best way to win friends.

Stories of pigs getting out of the pens and roaming the neighbourhood causing mayhem until captured.

Growing up in Wednesfield, kind of set me up for a life time of travel and adventure, as a merchant seaman, truck driver, security guard.

I lived in New Zealand, and emigrated to Australia in 1970.

Bob Petty

Please send an email to mail@blackcountrygenealogyandfamilyhistory.co.uk if you would like to get in touch.

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