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Working at Sankey's Manor Works and Hurst Hill Pigeon Racing

My Grandad's oldest brother Frank Mills, christened Samuel Francis Victor but known to everyone as Frank, spent almost all of his working life at Sankey's Manor Works. Frank was born in Hurst Hill in 1910 and was the oldest of seven children, my Grandad Bert Mills was the youngest, being nineteen years Frank's junior.

After working briefly as a clerk, Frank started at Sankey's Manor Works as a furnaceman before moving onto the rolling mills, Rolling iron into sheets was a very hard job and all of the rollers had to wear protective clogs, which are well-remembered by those who had relatives working at Sankey's or other rolling mills. The Sankey's rolling mill men also wore moleskin trousers for protection. Sedgley historian Trevor Genge remembered that many workers came out of the Manor Works still wearing their clogs, and that the noise of the clogs was very noticeable, Trevor recording his memories of the Manor Works in his book"Lanesfield as it was".

Like many workers at the Manor Works, Frank walked to work from Hurst Hill and later Woodcross, where he moved with his wife Mary and their family in 1951, and walked all the way back as well. Frank's daughter remembers her dad coming back from work with sweat pouring down his face – a reminder of the hard work of so many Blackcountrymen employed at rolling mills and in other heavy metal industries.

In the last few years of Frank's employment at Sankey's Manor Works, the rolling mills had closed and the works were completely changed as Sankey's now began a very different type of manufacturing. No longer working at all with metal, the Manor Works began to produce injection mouldings for plastic television casings and this could be seen as typical of the changes affecting the Black Country's industries from the late 1960s onwards. Some of the rolling mill workers, including Frank, were kept on as labourers at the very changed Manor Works. In 1978, three years after Frank's retirement, Sankey's Manor Works were no more, closing a year before the sad end of Bilston Steelworks.

Frank, my Grandad and their brother Arthur, were very keen pigeon racers and they raced for years. The pigeon pen was originally in the back yard of my great-grandparents' house in Caddick Street, The Coppice, but it was moved to Woodcross when Frank and his wife Mary were given a new house in Waddell Close. The pigeon pen was a classic black and white style and it was very similar to the pigeon pen at the Black Country Museum. Often, the three brothers would argue with each other if the pigeons didn't come back on time!

Arthur Mills, known as Arch, used to regularly visit The Druid's Head in Caddick Street and he regularly saw Black Country poet and entertainer Harry Harrison in the pub, which was famous for its home-brewed beer. Arch worked for the Water Board for many years and he was known around Hurst Hill and Woodcross as “the water mon”. My Grandad and his brothers belonged to a number of pigeon clubs and they won many awards in the 1960s and 1970s. The Druid's Head used to host pigeon suppers and in later years these events were held at the Blind Institute in Sedgley.

After Frank and Arch died in the 1980s, my Grandad continued racing pigeons until his death in 2003. Sadly, pigeon racing, once one of the most popular hobbies in the Black Country, is dying out, together with the industries that made the area famous. The Sankey name still remains with Sankey Laminations in the Deepfields area of Coseley, although the remaining factory is Sankey's only in name as it is owned by a German company. Sankey Laminations is all that is left of name that was once dominated Black Country industry.

Many thanks to longstanding BOL member Matt Mills for this article

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