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Memories of Bilston

Bilston – places we played, things we did…….
by Geoff Roberts

As a child in Bilston we had a treasure trove of places to play. There were no TVs or computers in those days and so the great outdoors always beckoned when the weather was fit. Even when it rained, there were places to go to where we could play and shelter.

Down from our house in Villiers' Avenue was a small area of woodland adjacent to a piece of wasteland. The woodland was known as ‘the Shrub’, short for shrubbery we supposed. There were an assortment of trees in the shrub, even some cherry trees which flowered and fruited every year but before ripening were decimated by starlings and sparrows. We rarely got to eat any ripe cherries and spent some of our time trying to ‘knock off the birds’ with our catapults. We played an assortment of games in the shrub, mostly centered around wars, guns, slaughter and general mayhem against enemies of various nationalities. The amount of actual physical damage was slight apart from the occasional accidental injury marked by cuts, bruises and some tears generally forgotten as the pain receded and the threat of another ‘enemy’ reared its head.

The crowning glory of the shrub, was the ‘tunnel’ we constructed in the waste ground adjacent to the tree area. The tunnel took time…indeed we had to secrete tools from our individual homes on pain of punishment in order to keep the construction project going. The tunnel took the form of a series of trenches about three feet deep covered by sheets of corrugated iron found abandoned in the general area and when covered, camouflaged by soil and general debris. The result was a masterpiece that we used as a bunker with a secret entrance and a system of ‘tunnels’ and exit holes. It was the best thing we ever constructed and lasted for all of a month until some older boys, no doubt jealous of our advanced construction techniques, wrecked the whole system beyond repair. The last laugh was on them though since one of them broke his leg whilst involved in the demolition... I can’t say that we were particularly sympathetic though!

At the back of the primary school I attended, Villiers' County Primary was the ‘Foz’ an altogether bigger area than the shrub and set on a small hill. Backing up to the Foz were several factories including the Beldray factory which made household articles including bright, shiny dustbins! We used to peek into the large double doors at the rear of the factory warehouse for a peek, generally to be chased off by irate storemen! The Foz was a haven for us since it was home to many species of birds all of which made nests from which we collected eggs. Yet even in those days we were careful never to rob nests or take any more than one egg but our egg collections were our pride and joy and I guess in modern times would be valuable.

The foz was a jungle and we had a ball and one thing was sure…it was far enough away from home for us to be sure that no-one would come looking. There was a downside to that, and when we arrived home late, dishevelled and always dirty, the consequences were predictable. But there was always tomorrow and at that age, memories were thankfully short!

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