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Memories of Bilston

Youthful times in Bilston – Part One
by Geoff Roberts

Things change of course, and Bilston has changed considerably since the last time I visited, and even more so since I lived there as a boy growing up in the 50’s.

For a start, every summer had endless sunny days, school holidays seemed to last forever, we were never bored! Such can probably be said of any youngster growing up today too of course but I can claim to never had addictions to TVs or computers as a kid…they didn’t exist in our house and when we finally got a TV for the Queen’s Coronation, it was a mighty wooden cabinet (a work of art in itself) with a very small black and white screen which flickered and rolled a lot and was prone to overheating and blowing its’ valves with a loud ‘pop’. Great for us, but expensive for my Father!

We had favourite places in the town of Bilston where we used to go or be taken as kids. One of my favourite recollections was being taken by my Mum (or if we were unlucky, my Nan too!) to Bilston Market. The markets I think opened once during the week but whatever, the great day was Saturday when the open market at the rear of the market building proper was thrown open to all and sundry. Now you may ask yourself why a kid of eight or so would be interested in an open market. It wasn’t that I was destined to be a great observer of people, a historian or budding market trader. It was imply that the ‘sweety man’ was there!

This guy never missed a week and probably made a fortune for himself…he also made a lot of kids very happy too! I can recall his smooth red cherubic face and the spit that used to fly from his lips when he got excited…which was every time he got close to the crescendo finish of his latest sales pitch! Believe me he had a lots of those, something for everyone of course! He was always dressed in layers of clothes topped by a short, blue overall with a money belt strapped securely around it. He had one or two girl helpers who would hand out the ‘goodies’ and take the cash…and of course as today, it was always cash.

He would always start the trade with one or two boxes of chocs, offer them at a price that was of course hardly attractive and then look pained when no offers were made. With a thoughtful look and the oft-used phrase “I can see that you’re all here to give me a hard time today and life’s tough enough without that….”, he’d progress to more and more boxes and bags balanced on his arms, occasionally handing out the odd goodie (we were always strategically placed at the front of the crowd!), the volume would rise and so would the level of saliva leaking from his mouth (being in the front did have it’s drawbacks!) until with the phrase “I won’t ask yer fur ten bob, even five bob would be robbin’ yer, ‘ere, who’ll give me half a dollar to get shut of all this because once it’s gone there ain’t no more!”

Of course, depending on various factors like the weather, the size and perceived value of the bundle and the state of play with the housekeeping money, the purchasers would hand over the cash confident that they’d ruined the guy and got a great deal in the process! Alas, that was never the case and the one and only time my Nan ever bought from him (and she was notoriously tight with her cash!), she thought she’d bought Cadbury’s at a bargain price. It turned out to be something that looked like Cadbury’s….but that was where the similarity ended! As you could imagine, she was furious at being duped, but then I can’t remember the sweety man ever saying that it was genuine Cadbury’s. He was a true psychologist….he understood that people like my Nan are greedy and always wanted something for nothing. Of course as we all find out by experience….life just ain’t like that! Serve her right I thought in my youthful mind, since my Mum had bought me a quarter of boiled sweets that definitely weren’t Cadbury’s..but then I didn’t care much. Life wasn’t about expensive chocolate, life was about fun, play, sweets and having a good time.

In the next ‘growing up….’, I’ll tell you about the ‘fozzer’, where we used to play, the ‘shed’ at the top of the garden and the day my Nan blew the kitchen up. She was no cook, and this was a great example!

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