Walsall Lives 2013
March 13, 2015 § 1 Comment
In 2013 the final Walsall Lives calendar was produced, as the majority of the content included in the eight editions was my own it was inevitable the day would come when the supply would be exhausted.
It was in July 2012 that another of the towns famous landmarks was hit by the phantom flame flinger of old Walsall town when the premises once occupied by J. R. Boak in Bridgeman Street was destroyed by fire. A picture of their premises occupies the left side of the front cover along with a great view taken in the late 1940s from the Savoy Cinema down Park Street towards The Bridge.
Opening the calendar for 2013 is an aerial view of Walsall town centre taken around the mid-twenties.
The road that dominates the near centre of the picture is, from the top, Bradford Street leading onto The Bridge and then Bridge Street, the arc of the road at the bottom of the picture is the start of Upper Bridge Street. Off to the left just before the turn is Freer Street, almost opposite is Leicester Street. Digbeth is to the left, near the top of the picture and Park Street to the right. At the very top of the picture the right turn into Bradford Place and the bus station can just be seen, to the left of that is the dome of the Victorian arcade and its exit into Lower Hall Lane. In the bottom right, on the corner of Leicester Street, are the old County Court buildings. One character familiar, for all the right reasons, with the interior of that building was PC 55 William Daniel Hale of Chasetown posing proudly around one hundred years ago. The census of 1911 has him residing as a boarder at the Central Police Barracks in High Street.
The Stork Hotel can be seen situated on the turn into Upper Bridge Street, the small picture bottom left shows a close-up of the Walsall Bill Posting site just past the rear entrance to the Stork. Future attractions at both theatres in the town, The Grand and Her Majesty’s, were advertised regularly on this site. Alongside that picture is a membership card for the Mayfair Ballroom Club where many of the town’s residents have spent Saturday nights.
At the top right of the main picture is a postcard showing the view of St. Matthew’s Church from the Mayor’s Parlour in the Town Hall. Below that, a 1950s advertisement for Leonard Neasham the gents outfitters at the bottom of Freer Street.
For those annoying “ladders” in stockings, needle and thread could be bought from Mrs Kate Blanchard of 81 Bridge Street who specialised in sewing machines and accessories.
The main picture on this months page shows the staff of the Milk Department of the Co-op posing with their trusty steeds outside the premises in (Upper) Bridge Street. The dairy was situated at the rear of these premises until a new department was opened in 1937 in Midland Road.
The origins of the Co-operative Society in Walsall began as far back as 1829, but it was not until 1886, after several failed attempts, that the Society finally established itself in the town. The first shop opened in Hatherton Street, after six months it moved to 226 Stafford Street but progress was slow, after five years work the Walsall & District New Co-operative Society only had a membership of one-hundred and fifty. In the early 1890s the Society moved a little further up Stafford Street to number 243. The survival in those early days was down to the perseverance and generosity of the treasurer, George Harrison. At times the Society was heavily in debt to him personally. Around the turn of the century the Society dropped the word ‘new’ from its title and for the first time steady growth occurred. Over the coming years many branches were opened all over the town and its outlying districts. In 1928 the Society’s premises in Upper Bridge Street were improved and extended over a six-year period, the work being completed in 1934. In 1988 the Society vacated the premises in Upper Bridge Street re-locating to the Quasar Centre in Park Street.
The smaller pictures down the left side-show three of the departments in the new building, the Central Drapery, the Bespoke Tailoring and the Kenmare Restaurant.
Top right shows a photograph of the branch managers and officials from the Walsall Co-op on a visit to the C.W.S. factories at Lowestoft, Suffolk on the 16th June 1936. The chappy seated on the far right looks as though he was hoping for a round of golf to be thrown in to complete the perfect day out!
The view of Mellish Road featured in the picture for this month no longer exists due to the demolition in 2011 of the Methodist Church situated at the junction with Lichfield Road.
Mellish Road originated around 1869 and was named after the Mellish family who came to Walsall in the early nineteenth century. They were originally merchants who traded with Portugal becoming very wealthy in the process. In 1811 the Reverend Edward Mellish married Elizabeth Leigh, daughter of the Dean of Hereford and they inherited the Rushall estates. From this union Walsall gained two street names, Mellish and Leigh Roads.
The main picture taken around a century ago and the smaller one bottom left, which looks towards Aldridge, show it to be a high-class residential area where some of the most influential families in the town lived. A far cry from the hovels of Upper and Lower Rushall Streets just a short distance away. The smaller picture of the garden party shows how the other half lived.
In the main picture well dressed families can be seen returning from their stroll around the Arboretum whilst on the opposite side of the road the postman and a chap with two small children can’t resist posing for the photographer.
On the right pictures of St. Michael’s Church in Leigh Road are shown. A quite rare and very early picture at the top shows the church before rebuilding in 1856. The postcard at the bottom shows the rebuilt church around 1930. In between these two pictures is a copy of the parish magazine from 1950.
The wonderful main picture for this month shows the victorious Palfrey Boys School football team. The quality of this photograph is outstanding considering it is well over one hundred years old, a fine testament to the skilled photographers and their equipment from yesteryear.
The picture was taken in May 1904 in the school grounds during the morning break period, hence some of the boys wearing trousers and not shorts. Their achievement was winning the Walsall Elementary Schools Cup and in so doing being undefeated in fifteen matches over a three-year period. The record reads:- played 15; won 10; drew 5 and lost none – 34 goals for and 14 against. They defeated Elmore Green Schools in the final at Bloxwich by two goals to nil, the scorers for Palfrey being Whittaker and Bytheway. As well as winning the Cup each boy was presented with a medal and the entire school were treated to an extended break time. Top left is a picture of another team thought to be Walsall Boys, the initials ESFA (Elementary Schools Football Association) appear on the cap of the boy in the centre of the front row. The bottom right picture shows Walsall Schoolboys Association team in 1913/14 season, this picture includes (second from the right on the back row) Sidney Norman Webster of Borneo Street. At the time the photograph was taken Webster was a pupil at Chuckery Senior School. On 26th September 1927 he achieved fame as Flight-Lieutenant Webster, piloting the winning aircraft in the prestigious Schneider Trophy Air Race in Venice. The Walsall Times, on Saturday 1st October 1927, produced a supplement to honour Webster’s victory and that is shown above the team picture along with a picture of the gallant airman in his RAF uniform.
The John Player & Sons cigarette cards were popular favourites as “currency” for lads years ago, with a good stash of these cards you could be the most popular lad in school!
On Tuesday 1st May 1951 huge crowds greeted the arrival of Princess Margaret outside the station in Park Street at around 2.00pm. After inspecting the Guard of Honour she proceeded on a tour of Job Wheway & Sons factory in Green Lane accompanied by the Mayor, Thomas Mayo.
The principle reason for her visit was to unveil the Memorial Stone in the newly built Memorial Gardens on Church Hill which commemorates the dead from two world wars. The small picture at the bottom of the page in the centre shows Her Royal Highness unveiling the stone, details of which can be seen in the picture far right. Alongside this small picture is the invitation card sent to Mr. W. W. Shuffrey allowing him to attend the proceedings.
She continued her tour by visiting the Arboretum as the main picture shows, here she is being presented to members of St. John Ambulance Brigade with the Guides and Brownies of the town looking on.
Twenty-eight years earlier Princess Margaret’s uncle, then Prince of Wales, also visited the town and the programme covering this event can be seen in the top left.
During the same year the Festival of Britain was launched to boost morale in a country devastated by WW2. The town held its own programme of events, one of these being the Pageant of Walsall, held from the 8th to the 13th October 1951. The cover and title page of the programme for the event can be seen on the left of the page above. Various organisations from Walsall re-enacted events associated with the town’s history throughout the five-day celebrations.
Below the programme is a boxed version of the commemorative Crown piece, struck especially for the occasion.
A picture depicting a very tranquil scene on the very outskirts of the town graces the page for this month. Just one young girl sitting on the fence of the Bell Inn and two ‘osses and carts give any sign of life to this picture.The tram tracks can just be seen in the middle of the road heading towards Birmingham. The Bell was the terminus for the Walsall trams, here passengers would alight and wait for the Brum’ tram to arrive so that they could continue their journey.
The two postcards in the bottom right show Birmingham Road in Walsall. The one inscribed with “Best Wishes” shows the road near to the junction with Six Ways, the other shows the road around what is now the junction with Broadway. This junction is shown top right shortly after the Ring Road, or Broadway as it is now known, had been opened in 1923.
On the left of the main picture, between the nearest telegraph pole and the edge of the picture, the roof of a house is visible. The house was named Glenelg and the home of Sir Edward Thomas Holden who was born in Walsall in 1831. He took over the running of the family business started by his father in 1819, E. T. Holden & Son Limited, curriers, tanners and japanners whose premises were behind the Science and Art Institute in Bradford Place. He was a member of Walsall Borough Council for over sixty years and was Mayor on three occasions, 1870/71; 1871/72 and again in 1904/05. In 1891 he was briefly MP for Walsall but unseated in the general election the following year, he was knighted in 1907 and lived to the ripe old age of ninety-six.
His brother, James Alexander Holden also achieved great personal success on the other side of the world being the founder of a company that eventually became Holden Cars in Australia. Although the Holden name as a business died in Walsall in 1967, the name continues in Australia as Holden Cars and is now part of General Motors.
The one and only car in this 1923 picture of West Bromwich Road is the focus of everyone’s attention, including the cyclist who is in danger of crashing into the photographer. Compare the scene to the one above taken in 2012. Although little has changed architecturally it is now dominated by motor vehicles of all types….and satellite dishes….not forgetting the odd wheelie bin or several!
The bell towers of Whitehall School are now hidden behind eighty-nine years of tree growth and the block of flats in Little London built-in the mid 60s spoils the skyline.
West Bromwich Road, prior to its development in the late 19th century, was little more than a country lane with several farms in the vicinity, difficult to visualise this day and age.
Whitehall Junior and Infants Schools were built-in 1899, in 1903 the infants moved to a separate building on the same site but accessed from Weston Street.
The picture in the bottom left shows Mr. Jowitt’s mixed class from 1930/31…..all forty-five of them! The picture on the far right shows an all girls class of earlier vintage, taken around one hundred years ago. The picture in the middle was taken in 1958 and shows the cast in costume for the school production of the play, “The Roast Pig”. The teacher in charge of knocking this group of budding thespians into shape was Mr. Peake.
Just in case the cyclist did crash into the photographer it was only a short trip to either of the two branches of Shelley’s Chemist shown in the advertisement, in Caldmore or Palfrey. Here one could pick up a tin of Homocea Ointment to take the sting out of those little grazes!
The postcard displayed above Shelley’s advertisement shows another, unknown, school play production from around the late forties or early fifties.
The main picture for this month, taken around 1910, is one of the great pictures of old Walsall with the elegant architecture of the County Court buildings completing the scene. Studying the picture one can almost hear the chatter of the people, the rattle of the tram and the sound of the ‘osses ‘ooves as it too lumbers over the tramlines and cobblestones. Two ladies sharing a parasol…..parasols in Walsall….never, but this picture proves otherwise.
The smaller picture in the bottom left corner shows the view down Leicester Street along with an advertisement for George Davis whose shop was on the opposite corner to the courts.
The court buildings were opened in 1831 at a cost of £1,600 in £10 shares for a public library. The venture proved to be a complete failure and the building became unoccupied for many years. In 1847 C. F. Darwall bought the premises through public auction for £620, it was a further six years before the sale was completed due to various legal complications. Eventually, under Darwall’s supervison, the building was renovated and the lower floor housed the County Court offices for many years, the spacious upper story was used principally as a Freemason’s Hall, occasionally being used as a venue for music concerts. In July 2011 the building, after extensive renovation yet again, opened as St. Matthew’s Hall under the J. D. Wetherspoon banner.
The postcard, dated around 1915, in the bottom right corner shows a solitary tram travelling up Lichfield Street with the inevitable young onlookers atttracted to photographers like magnets.
At the top of the page is a snapshot of an unknown pipe band dressed in full highland regalia leading a parade in the early 1960s. With any ceremony of that nature in those days there was always a mounted policeman to keep control, a site rarely seen today.
The main picture for this month shows Bradford Street in all its glory around one-hundred years ago. Although the buildings on the right remain those on the left side of the road were demolished to make way for redevelopments in the 70s and 80s. On the left of the picture, where the man is standing by ‘th‘oss truf’, C. H. Price & Sons store can be seen, they were upholsterers and furniture dealers. Next door but one to them was the music warehouse of Scotcher & Sons. On the opposite side of the road the entrance to the Victorian Arcade can be seen just behind the handcart, where the lady in black is standing.
In the top left is an advertisement from 1919 for Mrs Lamb & Son, stockists of fancy goods, artist’s materials and picture framers. These premises continued in the same business for many years when the shop became Gadsbys. Stroll a few steps further up Bradford Street and one would come across Arthur Jennings ‘suck shop’, or to put it more politely, The Old Fruit, Sweet and Chocolate Warehouse…… as I said…..a ‘suck shop’! In those days the two silver threepenny bits would probably buy half the shop and you would still have change!
The postcard in the bottom left, from around 1915, shows the view up Bradford Street towards the Pleck. The tall building, virtually in the middle of the card, is the home of Fentons furnishing store, an advertisement for the store from 1951 is shown in the opposite corner. The street at this time is still dominated by horse-drawn vehicles with just the one motorcar visible a few doors up from Fentons. In the distance, on the top of the hill the silhouette of the old General Hospital can be seen.
Looking at the main picture for this month it is difficult to visualise the scene today. The building is Blue Coat School which used to stand just off The Bridge, directly opposite St. Paul’s Church, now known as The Crossing. There has been a Blue Coat School in Walsall since 1799, the original building stood on The Bridge until 1859 until the School shown in the main picture was opened. This building remained in use until 1933 when the school moved to the new premises in Springhill Road the same year, this building is shown in the bottom left of the page. The old building was demolished in 1934 to make way for the bus station.
In the top left are pages from the final edition of The Blue Bottle magazine produced in the summer of 1933. Pupils wrote, illustrated and printed the magazine on the school premises. Reading the text on the editorial page one gets the feeling there was an element of sadness at leaving the old building.
Pictured top right are three pictures relating to the Blanchard family, a name associated with the school for many years. Frederick Blanchard was the last headmaster at the old school and it was under his headship the new school opened. He retired in the mid-fifties. The first smaller picture shows Frederick with his mother Kate and sister Elsie May c.1910. The next picture shows him with his wife Alice and his daughter Freda who was born in 1918. She is shown in the portrait in her early twenties around the time she qualified as a teacher. She began her teaching career at a school in Blakenall but moved to Blue Coat Infants and Junior in the 1940s.
Kate Blanchard, along with her daughter Elsie, ran a business at 81 (Upper) Bridge Street as suppliers of perambulators, sewing machines and sewing accessories.
At the bottom right are two tickets and a membership card for the Old Boys and Girls Association….and your ‘one and a tanner’ (7.5p) entrance fee for the Tea Dance!
In last years calendar a picture of a tram was featured in Wednesbury Road, Pleck and a close-up of the right hand side of this picture can be seen in the bottom left of the main picture. As one can see, the photographer was facing the other way, looking towards Darlaston. The tram rumbles on its way back to Walsall apparently passenger less and the novelty of trams has passed, looking at the three kids on the corner of Prince Street who seem oblivious to the fact. On the wall in the street is a poster titled “diarrhoea”, hopefully it’s giving instructions on how to relieve it and not how to get it……mind you, always handy for a few days off school!
On the left of the tram the bell tower of Hillary Street Schools, which opened in 1893, can be seen and a postcard of the building appears in the top left. Alongside that is a postcard of Pleck Wesleyan Methodist Church that stood on the corner of Wednesbury Road and Bescot Road.
The horse and cart just up from the Singer Sewing Machine shop is that of H. French, a fruiterer of 51 Caldmore Road. Interestingly, at 240 Wednesbury Road, Pleck there was another fruiterers by the name of J. S. French listed in the 1916 Walsall Red Book.
In the bottom right of the main picture are two small snapshots of a long gone Pleck. The first shows ‘osses n’ carts queuing for coke from the old gasworks at the top of Prince Street in the late 20s. Looks as though one of the ‘osses has left something behind……and it’s not what ‘osses usually leave behind!
Yes, there were farms in the Pleck, unbelivably as it may seem today. In fact, several farms were situated in the area, the one on the small picture shows the threshing machine in action at Park Farm. This farm stood approximately at the junction of Jerome Road and Reservoir Street.
A picture of the frozen lake at the Arboretum in the bleak winter of 1962/63 greets us for the final month of the year. In January 1963 skating was allowed on the lake, the first time since 1941 (see January page in the Walsall Lives calendar for 2011). The photograph was taken by the now retired headmaster of Blue Coat School, Frederick Blanchard. Both he and his daughter Freda were keen members of Walsall Photographic Society.
Around October time grannies and aunts around the town would get their patterns out to knit ‘a little something for Johnny for Christmas’. It was a hard life in those days, trying to impress the girls dressed in wellingtons, a navy blue gaberdine mac’ and a balaclava a size too big knitted by gran’ or auntie Hilda!
Eagerly awaited on Christmas morning was the opening of the presents and boys and girls always got an annual of some description……Christmas just wasn’t the same without one. A favourite gift for boys in the 50s and 60s was an Airfix model or several, but some lads were really lucky, they got a beautiful scale model of a Massey Ferguson tractor made in the early 1950s by the Chad Valley Company of Birmingham. Sensible lads kept the box the model came in. The tractor pictured was valued at £250 several years ago, with the original box that price could easily have been doubled or trebled, depending on condition!
The nativity play shown bottom right shows the pupils at Harden Infants School in their annual production in 1956. How times change! The little girl on the extreme left was told by the teacher to stand away from the others as “angels don’t have dark hair”. She had the last laugh however, her grandfather (pictured above this column) was the Santa Claus at the Co-op…….who wants to be an angel when your granddad is Santa!
The little girl looking very pleased to be meeting Santa personally in 1955 was the late Hilary Middleton (née Thompson, 1947-2012).
© John Griffiths 2015