Then in 1922 came a tragedy. Sam Brettell, who was working at the holloware firm of Ludlon Bros in Pedmore, fell from a skylight and was killed instantly. I can remember weeping when I heard this sad news.
Living right opposite the entrance gate to the church from the High Street we could see all the events, weddings and funeral processions, special days, and who was going and coming from the church. An endless source of interest to our family as we sat in the window.
Sadly, my younger days were marred by some bigger boys and one especially who bullied me one day and prevented me from attending the church Sunday School. I think I was about ten at the time and my sister Floss had taken me a few times and I used to have a card for which a stamp would be given to stick on each week. I went one Sunday clutching my card when, at the door, this big bully snatched it away and said "You corn't come to this school". All I could do was cry for the rest of the day. My mother said (without looking into the reasons properly) "You go to the Sunday School down Lye (the Congregational) where they have those lantern lectures in the week".
For about three years of my life I was made to attend that school (and church) and I never really liked it, although the Sunday School treats were great occasions where we used to walk in procession to the treat field with cups hung round our necks. The superintendent who used to run the Sunday School was one Mr Harbach, a local employer and brush manufacturer, a strict disciplinarian. I can recall one Sunday afternoon when there was a disturbance in the class where I was being taught. The large Sunday School room was divided up into classes where we all sat on forms around a teacher. There were about eight classes. What the noise was for I have not the slightest idea. All I knew was that Harbach, the head, came up and took me (quite innocent of any offence) by the ears, because I was sitting at the end, and made me stand at the front of the hall, blushing and feeling very shamefaced. I vowed never to attend there any more (how children are affected by a deep sense of injustice) and I never went into that room or church again.
Times at the Parish Church had changed. The vicar, the Rev Conan Davis, went round with a begging bowl collecting for a war memorial for the men who had died in the war and soon had about £800 subscribed by manufacturers and all the chapels and churches in the area. It came as something of a shock to all the nonconformist fraternity when they learned that the memorial was to be three windows in the Lye Parish Church. Later, however, the war memorial in the churchyard - the marble soldier with his bayonet and all the names of the fallen engraved upon the granite base - was erected. Honour was satisfied and everyone was happy, especially the church people who had their three fine memorial windows in the church and all the men of the Parish were inscribed upon panels on each window. As I think on this I recall that Mr Fred Bristow, who was assistant at Stourbridge library to Mr Ridley the librarian, was called up and returned unscathed from service throughout the war, to find his name on the window - "Poor old Fred, numbered among the dead".
About this time I acquired a motor cycle. I had toyed with the idea for quite a time and a fellow at the place where I was working had a small engineering shop beneath the stained glass shop where I worked. He had two machines which he offered me cheap. One was an enormous American machine - an "Indian" - and the other was a French-made F.N.1 (Fabrique Nationale) which was most unusual for the period (early 1920s). Although it was of 1914 make it had a four cylinder engine with three-speed gearbox and no chain, the rear wheel being shaft driven (about thirty years before its time). I gave him £5 for it and rode it back home where I spent quite a time scraping and repainting it.
Nora's step-brother on the "Indian"
Bill listening to his radio in 1923
About this time I got interested in radio, wireless as it was then called, and used to make crystal sets on which the Paris time signals could be heard in pre-broadcasting days. Later I constructed valve sets (1922) and several new friends came into my life through this new interest and we used to sit up all through the night trying to hear signals from America. At the 1923 church fête I set up a wireless set in the vicarage and many people came in to hear this new experience although the speakers of those days were like modified gramophone horns. We had the pleasure of hearing the announcer, Mr Percy Edgar, from 5IT Birmingham say "Hello to all the good people at Lye Parish Church who are listening in today".
My sister Floss had married and she and her husband lived at our home while their house was being built. My other sisters, May and Gertrude, had by that time emigrated to the United States. Sister Floss had a son born at home, such a tiny thing, not much bigger than a hand (a seven month premature who weighed only one and three-quarter pounds at birth). No one expected the child to live but my mother wrapped him up and rubbed olive oil all over him. He lived, put on weight and brought great happiness and love into the home.
|About this time I gradually began to take more interest in the church
and especially the choir. Clarence, Charlie Meredith, Harold Bolter, John
Abel the Verger and myself went carol singing at Christmas to many church
congregation members and collected a small amount from each and a customary
glass of wine. I only took a small amount so never felt the terrible hangover
whoch some of them had afterwards.
Then Clarence put me on the choir as an alto and several choruses from the Messiah were performed in those years from 1923 onwards. Charlie Meredith was a bass with a fine deep voice and the other Charlie (Price) had a lovely and powerful loud alto voice. To hear him sing the solo "He was despised" from the Messiah was a real treat. Harold Bolter was the principal tenor and several names come to mind as I recall the choir of those days. Clarrie Smith, Ted Watkins, Fred Cox, Edwin Knowles, Fred Hatton, John Forrest, Wilf Moore, Jack Jones, Percy Wooldridge, Ernie Chell, Len Bashford, Cyril and others.
Mention must be made of the garden parties which were held on the vicarage lawn in the summer time and the Easter teas and concerts. At the garden fête all the drive to the vicarage would be lit with hundreds of coloured fairy lights: quite a spectacle and also quite a task to light hundreds of candles. There would be dancing on the vicarage lawn. Imagine doing the rounds of "The Vanceres" on the soft spongy turf. On these fête days, which were fund raisers, there would be a sale of work, spinning machines, lucky dips and the like. At the 1921 fête I had a stall with a 3d piece in a bucket of water at a penny a go. You had to try and pick it out; a shocking coil gave quite a sting as you dipped your hand in the water.
I remember the 1921 occasion which was opened by Mrs Sidney Law, one of the local gentry, and the presentation of a bouquet of flowers to her by a thirteen year old girl whose name was Nora Pearson. Little did I know at that time that she was to be my life partner for nearly sixty years. The new vicar, C.M.S.King, allowed the young people to use his lawn for games and croquet matches and it was there I must have first met her.
C.M.Stuart King as vicar was a remarkable man. He had an elementary smattering of science, which he used to good effect in his sermons, and was also a bit of a spell-binder. He could always fill the church although many of his ideas were repetitive. During the years of unemployment he allowed the Young Men's Bible Class to use the Parish Rooms and cut the lawns, clean his car, etc. He was also often to be seen in the neighbouring Conservative Club and was partial to a nip of whisky. There was also a curate attached to the church, one William Herald; his actress wife was well liked for her work with some of the church girls, training them to give some excellent concerts with singing and dancing in local halls, the first of which was in the Temperence Hall in 1924. Some of the ballet scenes and dances were part of a scheme to be used later in a super performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1925.
In the winter of 1923 I went carol singing with Clarence and the lads (six of us) round many of the church families with the usual small port consumed but I dropped out of the visit to the Pearson family (scared to death). One or two of the lads, especially Johnny Abel the verger, fell asleep in the afternoon from alcohol exhaustion.
The 1924 church outing was to Church Stretton where we had a set tea and several parties climbed the hills in the Carding Mill Valley. It was a place which was visited later many times in my motor-cycling and car-driving years. It was during the early summer of 1924 that I began to notice Nora. She always sat in the front pew with her father and mother and, on occasions, her cousin Kathleen Baker would also be there. Her mom and dad were members of the church council and he was one of the churchwardens. Before I became a member of the choir I used to attend the Sunday evening service in the transept and would often be looking towards that front pew where, as Clarence in the role of matchmaker told me, Nora sat. Then one evening, with some of the tennis party on the vicar's lawn, sitting in the summer arbour she put her hand on my shoulder and asked me what work I did. That light touch was magic for me and all next day at work I could not get it out of my mind.
About this same time Clarence had a crush on Kathleen and he told me that Nora had been asking. One Sunday evening we met the two of them after church in that part of the Lye Park which was known as the "Long Fields". We stayed talking to them and then their parents could be seen some distance away walking up the path. Clarence and I immediately jumped over a high hedge to get out of sight, why I never knew, we were in such a fright.
We had arranged to meet one evening in the week and this was at a spot known locally as "The Scotsman's Style", so called because a murder was supposed to have been committed there many years ago. I cannot remember whether I was kissed or whether I did the kissing but I do know that it was the first time in my life that anything like that had happened to me and I was nineteen years old and she was fifteen, and I could not think of anything else for days after that.
In the same year the Sunday School outing went by train to Bewdley. I had been doing some rowing practice on a lake at Smethwick Park during my lunch hour at work, ready for the event. I took Harold Bolter on a small boat but the Severn is different to a park pond and I scared the life out of Harold and myself, for every time the oar was dipped into the water the current spun the boat around. I was glad to get off it safe and sound, trembling and breathless. I did not see much of Nora because she was with her parents most of the time but I did meet Shan and Walker, two of my wireless friends, at the station and they begged me to stay with them where they were camping. I was very tempted but boarded the train for home rather than upsetting the family.
My mother once told me a very sad story of many years ago when a party from the Love Lane Methodist church and schools went on a trip to Stourport and two young men were drowned in the Severn. A terrible gloom spread through the party. They could not eat a prepared meal and left early for home, weeping for the tragic happenings at what should have been a happy outing. Although I have done some swimming in the Severn, there are many danger spots.
There used to be an annual church parade in June by the Friendly Societies who marched through the streets all decked out with their banners and regalia, and on these occasions special music was put on by Clarence, usually solos etc. On one occasion I can remember Charlie Meredith and George Stevens singing the duet from the Crucifixion by John Stainer - "So thou liftest" - and the church was packed as usual on that hot Sunday afternoon. Sometimes on special times Clarence would augment the choir with some of the girls from the church to help with the singing of the Anthem. For a year or two this was John Goss's "The Wilderness" which was sung with great gusto. Also, on Remembrance Sunday every year, a special evening service would take place and a bugler would sound the Last Post. It was quite eerie to hear the drums echoing around the silent congregation.
If the weather was fine after church on Sunday morning a small band of about six of us would always go for a walk before going home for dinner. It was always the same journey- down Lye, up the Pedmore Road, the Grange, up Wollescote Road, up Perrins Lane, down Belmont Road to be home about 1.30 pm. Talking, discussing, arguing and sometimes singing during the walk. This was done for many years.
In the autumn of 1924, after the successful show put on by Mrs Herald, she started rehearsing the girls for the performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Usually, after choir practice, a few of us lads used to gather outside one of the Infant School classrooms to hear what was going on and of course to take home some of the girls afterwards. I always used to hang about our front gate one evening each week when a dance was held in the old Parish Room by Ernest Chell and Doris Roberts. It was a very small affair with only about twenty there but I must have waited about for many long hours to see Nora come out. I was never interested in dancing (probably too scared of putting out the wrong foot or something) and it was years after that before I felt able to step out a little. On the Christmas of that year I first went to the Pearsons' home with the carol singing party and had the feeling I was being looked over by Nora's parents. I had secretly bought her a Christmas present (perfume I think).
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Copyright © A.H.Pardoe and W.D.Pardoe 1991