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My Childhood Memories of Bilston.
by Lawrence Price

Me and my family

I am not sure how I should go about this. I do not want to bore you with a lot of personal stuff. How-ever the only memories I have, are personal, so I must draw on those experience's to tell you what I remember about Bilston.
 
My name is Lawrence Price. I was born on June 26th. 1932, in a nursing home at No.1 Bath Rd. Wolverhampton.  I emigrated to Vancouver. B.C. Canada on May 11th. 1950. One step ahead of the draft board.  There were four of us children, Ronald, the eldest, Lawrence, (me), Sylvia and Graham.
 
Dad was one of four children, Arthur, my dad. Jesse, Louise and Gladys. Non of my fathers siblings had children.  His mothers maiden name was Skinner.
 
Dad's family lived at 69 Dudley Street. There is a house in the Black Country museum that is a dead ringer for that house. I remember it as a dark dreary place. the main floor had three rooms. The front room where no-one ever seemed to go. I only remember going in there once. The curtains were closed and it smelt musty and dusty.
Coal gas was used for lighting. Their wireless was powered by a glass battery that had to be recharged at a store a little way up Dudley St.

The main living area was a living room and a large kitchen. The kitchen had a fireplace, which was used for some cooking. The grate was in the middle and there were ovens on each side. There was also a clockwork spit, which could be wound up and a roast or fowl hung on it to be cooked over the open fire. I never saw it used. There was also a huge cast-iron gas stove. Dishes, pots and pans hands and faces were all washed in a big soap stone sink. There was a disused hand pump, that earlier was used to pump water from a well under the kitchen floor. The ceiling was hung with Christmas puddings and smoked meat. Granny always made her Christmas puddings one year ahead, they were well preserved with brandy.

Outside was a narrow yard with a coal shed and a toilet. In winter a paraffin lamp was lit to keep the toilet from freezing. There was also a cellar under the house that was for coal storage but was not used. Across a yard, outside the back gate were several building that used to be used to manufacture hand made nails and chains. They were used by my grandmother and her neighbours as wash houses. Where they did there laundry. I remember there was still a forge in one.
Mothers family came from in Ladymoor. Her maiden name was Southan. She had seven siblings. Edward, Clara,(she died young) Daisy, Lilly, Ginny, Edie, Tom and Elsie my mother. There was also Winnie, who was raised as a sister but was really a niece to the others. It's a long story I will not go into. Daisy and Lilly moved to the London area when they married. Uncle Ted lived down Ladymoor. Aunt Edie lived on the Wellington Rd almost opposite Villiers Ave. Uncle Tom stayed in the family cottage. They were all raised in a very small cottage that stood in the shadow of the steel works. I don't remember much about it, mother always said that it was built by her mother and dad. There was a large garden and they kept a variety of live stock, fowl, ducks and an occasional pig.

The Wellington Road.
My mother began in service, as a maid, with the Rose family at 26 Wellington Rd. At that time, I guess, around the late 1920's. That part of the Wellington Rd. was occupied by business men, lawyers and doctors. Our family doctor was Dr. Lambar, he had his surgery some where there. I understand that section has deteriorated a lot of late.
Mr Rose was connected to a Builders Yard that was on the corner of Prouds Lane and Wellington Rd. Where the Bilston Community Centre now stands. I do not know if he was the owner or just an employee. I remember it as a vacant lot, until the Health Clinic was built during the war. The architect that worked on the design of that building, boarded with us while the construction was going on. His name was Jim Sinate.

Later The Roses' moved to 274 Wellington Rd. The houses there were very much upscale. Mother went with them and became their house-keeper. After my father and mother married, dad moved in and became their handy-man come gardener. He also had a day job as a crane-driver at John Thomsons, in Ettingshall. This is the house my family were living in when I was born. That house is no longer there.  It had four rooms on the main floor. A front room, dining room, where (Aunt) Alice Rose lived, and a large kitchen and scullery, where we lived.

Up-stairs, there were two bed rooms. One for mother and dad and one for "aunt" Alice. A bathroom; and a box room where my brother Ron. and I slept.
The house was lit by electricity, unusual in those days. There was also hot water on tap, also rare then. The water was heated by one of the fireplaces. I think it must have been the kitchen fireplace, that heated the tap water, as that was lit most of the time for cooking. The hot water was stored in a large copper tank above a linen cupboard in the bathroom. A lot of the cooking was done on a large cast-iron gas-stove. Laundry was done in a coal fired boiler, and rung out by a hand cranked, wooden rollered mangle. Then hung outside on a clothes line, held up by a wooden prop. In winter, on wet days it was hung on a ceiling rack, in the scullery.

In the out buildings, at the back, were a toilet, a coal-shed and a small tool shed. The garden was mostly lawn with flower borders, next to the house was a small patio with a rose trellis. The back yard was enclosed by a brick wall about, this is a guess, eight feet high. When we got older Ron. and I would climb onto the compost box at the bottom of the garden to watch the players in the tennis club, that was behind the back wall.. They also played croquet.
Across an open piece of land was the railway, the GWR if my memory is right. On the way home from school we would often tarry there to watch the trains, and got bawled out for being late home.

In front of the house there was a very small area with a privet hedge and a brick wall topped with iron railings. On the road there was an island, that divided the traffic. On the island were high gas lights. There is a photo, on page 78, in a book of old photos of Bilston by Elizabeth Reed. This was taken from in front of our house. The house was a short distance from where Wellington Rd. becomes Wolverhampton Rd. and Hall Park St.  My first school was Ettingshall Primary on Hall Park St. near Ward St. Known as "The Tin School", because it was clad in corrugated iron sheeting. To paraphrase the radio comedian, Bernard Miles, " When it rayned it day arf rakle." Yo remember 'im do' ya. "Over The Gate".
On the triangle corner of Wolverhampton St. and Wellington Rd. there was a service station where Don Everall kept his charabancs.

A short walk along Wolverhampton St. was Hickman Park. At that time there was a army tank set up as a memorial to the 1914/18 war. The things that stand out in my memory are the bandstand, where concerts were held, almost every Sunday, in the summer time. On August Bank Holidays there was the "Bilston Floral Fete". With Pat Collins Fair. Which had Round-a-bouts, Dodge-em cars a Mechanical Pipe Organ. Coconut shies, bust'in balloons with darts and various other stalls that sold candy floss, baked potatoes, chestnuts and other things, all designed to separate you from your money. There was a steam tractor, with a huge fly wheel, from which ran a belt to a generator that supplied the power for all of the fair.

Greenlanes Estate.
Alice Rose worked for Mander Brothers in Wolverhampton. I do not remember what she did there but I got the impression that it was a pretty important position. Some time in early 1937 she was transferred to a branch in London, and decided to sell her house. Which meant the Price family had to move.
I remember well, mother went to apply for renting a council house, only to be told that there were none available. Mother, ever resourceful, paid a visit to a council member that she knew. We got a house, at No.9 Hughes Place. It was a bit of a come down, after living in such a posh house before. The house had three rooms on the main floor. A large living room, a scullery and a room with a bath-tub and a coal fired boiler for laundry. Just inside the back door was a coal place and a pantry. The toilet was off the front hall. Lighting was by coal gas. Cooking was done on a gas stove or in the oven of the Triplex fire place. The doors were simple plank doors with simple latches to close them. The only heat in the house was by a Triplex fire place in the living room and fire places in two of the three upstairs bedrooms. Hot water came from a kettle. On bath night water was heated in the laundry boiler and dumped into the bath with a bucket.

When we moved in the house was in terrible condition. The previous tenants had not had much heat in there. The wood floors on the main floor were rotten and damp and the walls were badly marked and dirty. The floors were replaced with red tiles. One evening, while we were sitting at the table having a meal, there was a very loud bang. After looking around for some time someone noticed that one of the two beams, that ran across the ceiling, had split the full length. On inspection it was declared safe.
The back yard was big, but it too had been neglected. The soil was mostly clay and had not been turned over for many years, if ever. In front was a grass area, it could not be called a lawn. In the centre of the square was a garden that had a collection of evergreen bushes and trees, surrounded by an iron railing. In the area in front of this we played, Tin-can alerky, Puss in the corner, Tip Cat, and all of the other games that were popular at that time.

The whole neighbourhood was our playground. From the bottom of Marchant Rd. across to the Willenhall, Wolverhampton Rd. was open ground. This area, later, became Stowlawn estate. On this land was a small stone cottage left over from coal mining days. It was still occupied. There were two pools, the Pink-Pool and the Cracker, where we fished for Sticklebacks and tadpoles. The Pink Pool was on the right near the end of Marchant Road, I have since learned that this was an old flooded mine shaft. There was also a stream, the river Tame, that we called the Rusty Brook. It was an open sewer that ran with industrial waste. Near by was a golf coarse that had a pool. This pool was stocked by a fishing club, which I joined for ('arf a crown) 2/6p a year. The club also had a pool down The Lunt.

There was often a pungent smell from a factory the rendered down animal bones and horse's hooves, to make fertilizer and glue.  We called it the "Potted meat factory". I got maggots from there for fishing bait.  Groceries, milk and bread were delivered by horse and cart. Midland Dairy used an electric van. The horse new the route and where the milk was to be delivered. The delivery man took the bottles from the cart and the horse would move on to the next house without any prompting. Coal was delivered in sacks by lorry. If no one was home it was dumped on the street in front of the gate, and I and my brother would wheel it in to the coal shed in a barra.  Beer was delivered to the Villiers Arms on a cart pulled by two huge Clydesdales.

Stowlawn Estate.
Preparation for the estate began after the war. Probably 1946. The pools were filled in, ground levelled and the river Tame was channelled underground through pipes in some places. German prisoners were employed for some of the prep. work. One year two prisoners came to our house for Christmas dinner, I think 1947. I don't remember when the building began.  We moved into one of the first houses that were completed. 35 Oaklands Green. What luxury. A complete bathroom inside the house upstairs, hot water on tap, three bed rooms, three rooms on the main floor and a second toilet just outside the back door.

Villiers Avenue.
There is a square about half way down Villiers Ave. On one side, the Villiers Arms, on the other stores. When I lived there, there was Taylors sweet shop and post office, run by two sisters. There was also a Home and Colonial store and a ladies dress shop. May be there were others but that is all I remember. Behind the Pub was an old house where my two cousins, Margery and Dolly Skinner, lived.

Prouds Lane.
I went to Villiers secondary school. The headmaster was Mr Lenton, (not sure of that spelling). My teacher was Miss Wright. the best teacher I ever had. Behind the row of houses across from the school was a piece of land where cows often grazed. Mountford Lane was next to the school play ground. On top of a steep hill there was an isolation hospital. Next to the school, on Prouds Lane, was a playing field At the top of that was "The cubs 'ut". Headquarters of the First Bilston Scout Troop. Next to that was a large mansion on a large estate. Where garden parties were held, open to the public. The last time I saw it, the house was derelict. Almost at the top was Farmer and Chapmans. They made enamel ware, stoves and such. I have heard stories that they had some connection with Bilston Enamels. I have no confirmation of that. Where Prouds Land meets Wellington Rd. There was a sweet shop. If my memory serves me right, Anker's was the name. Across the street was the Health Clinic. Now the community centre. Built some time about 1941.

Mount Pleasant.
Going east from Lichfield St., on the left was Hartills, they sold bicycles. "Wor there a chippy theer some weer"? Further along was the Technical school, it was also an art school. We went there for art classes from Bilston Central and I took lessons at night. Mr Cartwright was our teacher. The next place I remember was The Theatre Royal, on the corner of Mountford Lane. The Christmas pantomines are the things that stand out for me. Some where near there was the bus depot.  Across the street was the Library, Art Gallery and Museum. all in one building. Then the police station on the corner of Bow St..

Opposite Mount Pleasant was Walsall St, on one corner was St. Leonards Manse. On the other was a grave yard, no longer there. Going further along Walsall St. St. Leonards Church on the left, and the graveyard on the right. Over the GWR bridge at the end were stores. One I remember was a Newsagent. My brother Graham delivered papers for them. He tells me the owners name was Horace. If my memory serves me well there was also cobbler.
 
Lichfield Street.
Walking south, towards town. On the corner of Mount Pleasant was Craddick's a sweet shop. If I remember right, the door to the shop was below the street level. We had to go down steps to enter the store. A little further along was the Odeon Cinema, formerly Woods Palace, later a bingo hall. Next to that was a bank, Lloyds, if my memory is as good as I think it is. A bit further were public toilets. It cost a penny in those days. On the corner of Bow street there was a pub, The Swan Bank Tavern, and on the other side on the corner was the Wesleyan Chapel. There was a hall at the back of the chapel, the home of the 6th. Bilston Scout troop. Which I belonged to for about five years. Across the street was, and I hope still is, the War Memorial.

Around the corner on Fraser street was the Bilston Boys Central School. More about this later.
Across the street was the White Rose. Where Aunt Lou was a barmaid for a short while. Some where near there was the Midland Red bus stop, where we caught the bus to Sedgley. The fare thre'pence. (3d). Around the corner, on Bath St. I think, was the fire station, the main post office and a veterinary clinic. There was also a Barclays Bank there, some where. Further was Railway Street and of coarse the GWR station. Back towards the Town Hall, Swan Bank. There are photos of a coal mine in the middle of the street at Swan Bank, circa 1906. I was always confused as to where the division was between Lichfield St., High St., Swan Bank, and Oxford St.

Church St. and High St.
In no particular order here are some of the stores that I remember.  Udalls, butchers. Shelley's "Ye Olde Pharmacy" chemist, Boots, chemist, Woolworths. Marks and Spencers. A grocery store I do remember well was John Tart and Son. My mother dealt with this store for many years. Two things that I remember most, one was the smell of the open barrels and boxes of spices and dried fruits. The other was the huge rounds of cheese that were cut up with a wire attached to a wooden board. The person cutting the cheese would often give us a small piece.

The old market hall was a prominent building. This was were my mother bought vegetables and fruit every Saturday, from a vender that had a stall just inside the last side door from Market St. Inside the front door was a magazine stall were mother bought us the Dandy and the Beano. She also brought home boiled sweets from a stall that made their sweets in Bilston. Out side the front of the market sat a man with drawings, begging for hand outs. He appeared to have no legs. To everyone's surprise one day, he appeared as the doorman at the Allambra. Other places I remember, Heaths, green grocers. There were two of them, at one time if my memory is right.  Marshes, butcher. Taylors sweet shop. The Alhambra Cinema, Pitts, butcher. Where my mother dealt for many years.

Just off High Street on Stonefield Road was Comas Coach Works. There was a blacksmiths shop as part of Comas where horses were shoed. That was where I got my first job. There were two sons. Raymond, who was my age and went to Villiers when I did and Arnold who was older. The Coma family lived at the top of Prouds Lane just past Regent Street. Across Stonefield Rd. in front of Comas was Tranters sash and door factory. Down the street was Stonefield School. Across High St. was the Greyhound and Punchbowl. There was a story that went around that the highwayman, Dick Turpin, spent time in there. I remember when there was some digging done there and it was discovered that High St. had been built on a Roman Rd. Further down toward Church St. was the Savoy Cinema.

Another firm I worked for was Holden's Plumbing and Painting. They were on Hartshorn Street. I was a painter, it was where I worked when I left for Canada.
Somewhere near the intersection of High St., Millfields Rd., Coseley Rd. and Wolverhampton St. there was a blast furnace, that melted down scrap iron, into pig iron. In the same area was Hickman Tyre Hardware.

Going down Coseley Road. There was the LMS railway station. It was high above the road. We took the train from there to Dudley to go to the zoo. The cost was one and thre'pence 1s/3d. Right next to it was a large slag heap. We called it Coseley mountain. I once climbed to the top of it and was surprised to find a small pool that had small water insects swimming in it.
 
Bilston Boys Central School
Which I attended from the age of eleven till fourteen, when illness ended my schooling. We were called "Central Sissies" by other boys. It was not the best time in my life. Most of the teachers should have been retired but because all of the younger ones had gone to war they were brought back to teach. The headmaster was Mr (Billy) Peach. He was a real tyrant.

We had to wear uniforms. Green blazer, short grey trousers, until we were twelve then we were allowed to wear long ones. Red and green tie and a green cap. If we met a female teacher on the street we had to lift the cap, a male teacher got a salute. Billy Peach wore a mackintosh that had seen better days and was tied at the waist with a belt with no buckle. One of his pet peeves was gum chewing, which he blamed the American service men for. Another teacher I remember was Mr Roderick. He taught music and math. For some reason he took to picking on me. He often called me stupid. At one time he slammed a desk lid on my head because I did not take out a book fast enough. At that time he called me "grandpa". That name followed me for the rest of my school days. He also would punch in the chest, anyone that offended him, knocking them off their feet.

Miss Jones taught French. Another teacher, whose name I don't remember taught chemistry. She caused an explosion in the lab and was lucky enough to get away with minor burns. The man who taught woodwork had the habit of throwing anything that he had in his hand, to catch the attention of any boy not listening. Mr Knight taught science, he was a very mild mannered teacher. There was a Mr (Hank) Jones. The only things I remember about him are, he lived on Hughes Road near the top of Hughes place. One time he ran for the labour party, but was not elected.

The back of the school was next to Etheridge Girls School. When changing classes the girls crossed our play ground.
We were forbidden to talk to the girls under penalty of a canning. One boy broke the rule by talking to his sister. The only thing that saved him was the fact that it was his sister.

The War Years.
September 3rd. 1939.I was seven but I remember it well. My dad was drying dishes with one ear cocked toward the wireless in the corner of the living room. Winston Churchill was giving his famous "We shall never surrender" speech.

Dads comment was "Bloody" 'ell, weem in fo'rit now" All of the neighbours came out into the street and all kinds of speculations were made as to what would happen. One neighbour Mrs Guy made the prediction "Thaym ull never mek it to eer" What a false prediction that was.

Dad joined the AFS. Air raid warden groups were formed for the neighbourhood. Private and public buildings formed there own groups to watch for fires during a raid. Armed guards appeared outside of factories and anti aircraft guns were set up around towns. Penn Common had several there. The Home Guard was formed and could be seen training. One day coming home from school, there was a machinegun nest set up at the corner of Hughes Rd. and Villiers Ave. But all of the guns were wooden.

Life around Bilston changed. No more the "Old Lamp Lighter" going around and lighting the street lights at night. Windows were covered with light proof curtains and blinds. Schools were closed until air raid shelters could be built. Anderson shelters sprouted in back yards. Gas masks became part of the dress code. Private cars were put in storage. Ration cards were in every housewife's shopping bag. Any thing that was made of metal and did not have a real useful purpose was collected. Iron railings and gates, the ww1 tank in Hickman park, all taken for the war. We raised fowl, ducks and geese for their eggs and meat. We had to use our egg ration coupons to by food for them.

Bilston and the surrounding area did not go unscathed. A land mine fell on the open ground near the Wolverhampton, Willenhall road. It dug a huge crater and took the fronts of several nearby house. The houses looked like a child's doll houses with the fronts open. Very little had been disturbed inside. There were even dishes on tables, and ornaments on shelves. Next to the huge crater that the bomb made, and on top of the earth that came out of it. Was a petrol tanker, that had been taking petrol to the fire fighters for their pumps. The driver just made it to a shelter before the bomb exploded.

After every air raid we would go and look at the damage. How we got the information as to where the bombs fell I don't remember. A house on Hallpark St. was hit by fire bombs and completely destroyed. It was in the middle of a row but none of the other house received much damage. A small explosive bomb landed near the GWR track near Wolverhampton St. No damage was done. Down Ladymoor a house was hit and a least one boy was killed there may have been more.

A land mine also fell in Ladymoor but failed to explode. It was only a few hundred yards from the back of my Uncle Teds house. He refused to evacuate while the bomb disposal men worked at destroying it. "That bloody 'itler aint goner push me out a my 'ouse" The bomb turned out to be a dud, sabotaged by some slave worker, probably.
The Goodyear works in Wolverhampton was burned down. Dad came home the next morning covered in black sticky soot.

That same night the hospital got hit by incendiaries. No major damage. One morning when Dad got to work he could not work as the power to his crane had been cut off by a crate of fire bombs that had torn out the cables, but failed to ignite. When dismantled they were filled with black sand, another sabotage. On one occasion I saw a small boy banging an incendiary bomb on a lamp post. It too must have been a dud. Granny Price and Aunt Lou were evacuated for what turned out to be an unexploded ack ack shell.

Other Things I remember.
I know there are lots more that I should remember. Here are a few that are in no particular category.

The "Rag and Bone Man" that collected old clothes, scrap metal and yes, bones. The Gypsies that sold clothes pegs and bundles of kindling door to door. They often set up their camps on the open land near the Willenhall and Wolverhampton Rd. The man that sold spices and herbs door to door. The man that sold fruit and vegetables from a cart. The street sweepers. Post was delivered twice a day, except when Christmas day fell on a week day when it was delivered only once.
Of coarse the lamp lighter that lit the street gas lights until the war.

Sievens, barber shop on Dudley St. where I got my hair cut. One memory is when a large mirror fell off the wall onto my brother Ron and my self. I still have the scar on my finger from the large piece of glass that was sticking out of it when the dust cleared. Ron got a small scratch on his knee.
 
The above is reproduced with the Authors permission from http://loldoe.blogspot.com/

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