In 1911 and 1912 we went into the country for a week's holiday. Mother, sister Floss my fourth sister, myself, Aunt Lizzie (Keightley), cousin Alice, her daughter and Ted Keightley her brother. We stayed at a cottage on Tenbury Common (Mrs Dillow's). The only things I remember about this holiday are: Mr Dillow played a big brass trumpet, and how pleasant it was to run on to the common in the morning, and picking blackberries. We wrote to Mrs Dillow the following year (1912) and she wrote saying she could not take us but mother and Aunt Lizzie decided to go nevertheless and tell her we had never received her letter. After a lot of argument we were eventually put up by her.

The road across the common led to St Michael's College. We were walking there one morning, all five of us, when we came across several silver and copper coins lying in the grass, and everyone fell on their knees clutching and almost fighting to pick up the most. How they came to be there we did not know but, my goodness, they did come in useful. Flossie bought me a wristwatch from a shop in Tenbury for 6d. It had a cardboard face and an elastic band to strap on one's wrist so it didn't last for long. Tenbury common was quite a long walk from the town and a very tiring journey to walk with a week's luggage. I was tired out but a train journey to Tenbury was very pleasant, especially the journey over the bridge across the River Severn and then through the Wyre Forest to Newnham Bridge and Tenbury.


Bill in 1912

Next door to the house in the High Street was Homes' the chemist and drysalter and his son Harry, about the same age as myself. We were always playing together either in our back garden or his.

In the year of 1913 the family went on holiday to Blackpool. Mom, Aunt Lizzie, Alice, Floss and myself. What a long train journey that was but I was asleep most of the time. We stayed at a boarding house in a street which I cannot remember but I still have a good memory and can recall the name of the boarding house people which was Briggs and Lightfowler. On the first morning we went to see the sea. "Isn't it a big pool?" said my sister Floss, trying to convince me what a big place the sea was. My first memory is of some boys under the pier saying "Spare a copper for the makers of the bridge," the bridge being a couple of planks over a kind of stream about six feet wide. They had probably also made the stream as well.

Mom and Aunt Lizzie were always in the front of the many auctions held in rooms on the sea front. It was OK to put a penny or twopence down at the start and they had mastered the technique. After a while when a crowd had gathered they would give little presents to the people who first put down the small coins. But when the crowd got bigger, and they were starting to talk in pounds, Mm and Aunt Lizzie used to walk out. All these sales were run by shysters and conmen.

I can remember one awful row with Floss and Alice who wanted to go to a dance at the Tower Ballroom. "No," said mother and Aunt Liz, "You will not be allowed to go," in very loud and stern voices. While at Blackpool I saw an aeroplane for the very first time. It was Gustave Hamel the German aviator and on the wings it was quite clear to read "Daily Mail". Then a sleepy train ride all the way back home to 179 High Street.

My father never went on holiday although he did take me out once for two days into the hop picking country. I would be about eleven at the time and we first went on a train to Tenbury and stayed for one (or was it two?) nights at the Temperence Hotel at Tenbury. How we got to Great Witley I do not know but I do remember getting off a train at the Newnham Bridge station. I know we walked for a considerable distance and called at one or two hop fields watching the picking of the hops. I recall my dad going into the Hundred House Hotel while I waited on a seat outside, children not being admitted into Public Houses by law. He went in to see a really large framed picture of the Royal shooting party at Witley Court and spoke afterwards in hushed tones of all those "ladies and gentlemen" with King Edward in the centre. Something in the way he spoke must have impressed my young mind for after that whenever I saw a picture of King Edward my thoughts would return to that time when I sat outside the Hundred House. In later years the picture disappeared, being removed by an outgoing tenant, and this was the subject of a lawsuit concerning it. I never knew that picture until some fifty two years later when I obtained a negative of it.

I made a framed enlargement which I presented to the landlord for him to hang for old times sake in the hotel but that also disappeared with him when he left. There have been many changes of ownership over the years so I could not keep supplying copies of this picture for replacements.

My sister Florence Mabel was for many years a clerk at the offices at the firm of Eveson Brothers, holloware makers of Wollescote, and "walked out" for a long time with one Gilbert Hamblet, marrying him in 1915. He was then called up to fight in the 1914 war. Floss Rose, the youngest of the girls, was going out with a fellow from Halesowen named Bert Foskett who had a large motor cycle combination, and his friend was named Harry Rudge with a garage at Halesowen and a car. He went out with Alice Keightley, my sisters' cousin, and they all used to ride in Harry's car. Both were called up for service in the war. One sad day everyone in the house was in tears as the news came that Bert had been killed in action.

Sister Azubah was courting Harry Cunneen from Wordsley who had only one arm. His left arm had been torn off in an accident at the Dennis glass works of Thomas Webb where he worked as a youth. Their family consisted of four sons, Harry being the eldest. His father, who was a ne'er do well and something of a drunk, outran the family on the death of his wife, leaving Harry to care for his younger brothers Mick, Sidney and Tommy. He was training as an artist and designer and later became a teacher at the Wordsley School of Art together with the brother of the famous Frederick Carder who emigrated to the States where he founded the Steuben Glass Company which produced the world-famous glass.


After the war Harry joined the firm of SS Glass where he eventually became a director and chief designer until his death in 1963. Sister Zu quarrelled with him over his job as the firm wished to send him travelling round the country. She said she would never marry a traveller so he left somewhat broken-hearted. Mother soon showed her temper with Zu and sent her off post-haste after him. The quarrel was resolved in some way for they married in 1914.

Marriage of Zu & Harry Cunneen, August 1914
Bill centre front

After living at 179 for four years my father bought a house, shop and a large brick building which had been built for a printer and never used, as the man (one Eli Moore) had been made a bankrupt and the property was in the hands of the bank. It was something of a gamble for dad who had always been chary of borrowing money but this seems to have been a do-or-die venture. The cost of the property was £600, quite a large sum in 1914, but a mortgage was arranged for him and we moved early in 1914.

I helped dad carry in his things from 179 to 175, only four doors away. He had the building altered and a large skylight erected to give a North light and a new arc-light system fitted so that photographs could be taken at night. It was a very happy time in my young life for the back of the premises led into Church Road, a cul-de-sac with seven houses and children of my own age living in them, and we were able to play together. The road was blocked off at the top with a wall and a ten foot drop over the other side, which was no obstacle to lads who used it as a shortcut into what is now Morvale Street. The house at the top was occupied by the Prices, a very large family of eight boys and one girl. Bill, Victor, Bert, Harold, Arthur, Charlie, Jack and Lil who I think was the eldest. Arthur and Charlie were near my age and I knew them better than the others. Further down the road were the Brettells - Sam and Anne - and further down still lived Clarence and Maggie. Clarence became my lifelong friend. There was a large field running down half the road where the tailor, Lavender, used to keep his horse (Dolly) and nearly every day he would ride out travelling for orders in his gig. We were never allowed to play in this field but would always climb over the fence and be in the field, disappearing like lightning when the shout of "Lavender, Lavender" heralded his coming up Church Road.

Bill with his sisters in 1914

Memoried of those happy days are many. Marbles, cricket, concerts, always with six singers, when all of the Price brothers would join in. Cricket in the road - once Bill Price let go of the bat and it went straight through a window of one of the houses and all ten of us had to pay for it to be replaced.

Every holiday time we would make a tent at the top of the road, usually out of odd bits of sacking and carpet. It used to be great fun. One night Sam sneaked the family gramophone into the tent and put on a record, but not for long as his mother was soon after him making him take it back. Then there were the bonfire nights. We used to go out with a dobbin collecting bats from a slag heap at the pits belonging to the brickworks which were in Cemetery Road. Clarence was a dab hand at picking what he called the "coaly bats" which he said burned better. The fire was made at the top of the road and we all used to sit round it toasting "taters" and chestnuts and letting off fireworks which we had saved up for the great night.

Then there would be the nights of the Lye Wake when the dreamy sounds of the steam organ would drift up and attract us to the fairground which was always held in a field at the side of the Railway Inn. Sam Brettell and myself would always have halfpenny rides, pretending to be racing each other on the motor roundabout. Then we used to steal a few apples from the trees in Perks's garden, usually in the dark with someone posted to keep watch if anyone came up the road. Sam Brettell, Charlie Price and Clarence were all on the church choir as boys but I never made an effort to join as, at that time, I used to go to the Congregational Chapel where my mother made me go.

Part of the Wake was also set up on ground in front of the Cross Inn, usually coconut shies but the nuts seemed to be so firmly seated that they were hardly ever knocked over.

Every Saturday night the Salvation Army band would play and sing hymns on this land and sometimes a row would brew up by disgruntled folk who would shout out insults, sometimes no doubt to stir up trouble, or sometimes in fun. Whenever an important member of the Salvation Army died the band would parade up the main street in Lye playing Handel's march from the oratorio SAUL and people wouild stand in the streets till the cortege passed, deeply moved by the solemnity of the Dead March. Earlier days of the Salvation Army headquarters in Church Street Lye which has now been wiped out by redevelopment have been related to me by my dad. He said that after the "Barracks" had been opened, General Booth himself visited Lye on a preaching mission, and it took two men to carry the large box of money which had been collected on the occasion.

Then in 1914 a theatre was commenced in the High Street on the site of a brickyard and some pits. It was quite elaborate and was finished just before the commencement of the war and was called the Victoria Hall. I was taken to the opening by my sisters. It was quite an affair with a scarlet coated orchestra and the biggest fiddle I had ever seen (a double bass). It started with stage plays - some quite good - but these soon folded up and variety and, later, cinematographic shows were put on. In the centre of one of the cellars was a motor-converter to provide a D.C. supply for the cinema projector and the stage arc light. A grille in the cellar wall enabled one to see this machine at work and it used to fascinate me and I would stop to peep through the grille to watch it working.

In my young days I spent many happy hours in the old Temperance Hall which was lost in the Church Street redevelopment. Concerts and variety shows were held until the advent of the moving picture. How avidly I used to wait for the next episode of "The Exploits of Elaine" or other serials which gripped my imagination: "The Trey of Hearts", "The Fanatic", and many others. Entrance was fairly cheap and many of the traders would be given passes if they exhibited a bill of the next week's programmes and the popular charge for admission was a "penny and a pass". An extra price had to be paid for seats in the gallery where superior folk used to sit so that they could look down on the common lot below. Charlie Chaplin pictures were very popular during the wartime years and after, and of course piano music was played during most of the time of the old silent movies. A children's matinee was held on Saturday afternoons. The hall would be filled with hundreds of impatient kids waiting for the pictures to start and a great shout would go up when a slide came up on the screen which said "Welcome" - a signal that the pictures were about to start.

The projection machine would often break down and while waiting for a restart the people would shout out a popular cry, "Ali, Ali have him out Ali" - a reference to the operator a Mr Eli Homer, a milkman who had shown the pictures for many years. In the days of silent pictures there would always be some person who would get emotionally worked up and shout out, like the two women who, when the heroine was being attacked by the villain creeping up behind her, shouted in a loud voice "Run, yer saft cat, run!".

There were one or two strange characters about in those days. I can almost see their features today after nearly seventy years passage of time. One was Saft Albert, a poor mental case, and another was known as Saft 'Arry who some rascals, for fun, used to get drunk and teach to shout out obscenities in the streets. Then there was a fellow who young boys were told to run from if he spoke to them. He was named "Joey the Cowboy" and pretended to be attached to the police force. He obviously met his Waterloo on one occasion, for he was seen walking in the street with two awful black eyes and a face black with bruises, a far better deterrent than locking him up.

In 1914 mother took me to the Corbett Hospital fêtes which greatly excited me. I would stay for ages watching the balloon being inflated ready for the ascent and then there was the man on the high wire, gymnastics on the open stage, trick cyclists and all kinds of amusements. As we walked around mother was met by a relative with a look of dismay on her face saying "Haven't you heard the news that war has broken out?". "No," said mother. Her relative's postman husband, a reservist from the Boer War, was called up within a few days and killed in action within a few weeks.

Over the other side of our garden wall was a large bakehouse where loaves were baked and cakes and confectionery made by the family of Foxall. The boss, Mr Harold Foxall, had bought a Model T van and I used to help in delivering the bread just for a motor ride in the van. I would often go round and inside the bakehouse to watch the fancy cakes being baked and the icecream being frozen. They alwo kept a shop in High Street, Stourbridge, which meant daily journeys to supply it. Mr Foxall gave me four wheels of the old carriage, scrapped when they had the car. From these I made myself a little buggy which I could steer with ropes and I was always riding it up and down the Church Road which had a gentle slope. Many times I remember doing this.

About this time I finished at the Orchard Lane school, moving to the new Valley Road school where they taught woodwork and metalwork in workshops on two or three days a week. I chose woodwork for my dad thought it would teach me to make picture frames - useful to his business.

With the advancement of war, dad's business increased and many photographs of new babies and other family pictures were taken to send to the men at the front. Now growing older, I was increasingly called on to help with the washing and fixing of dozens of postcards and the like. On Sunday afternoons in the winter I would operate the large arc light when the daylight faded. It was very hard on me when I could hear them playing in Church Road and I would be there for hours turning over and fixing postcard prints in a large dish.

Also, about this period of time, I used to attend the Stourbridge School of Art, the head of which was a Mr Cromack, for three nights a week from 7.30 to 9.00 pm. First work was designing circles with repeating borders which later we had to colour with a kind of tempera paint made with coloured powder, water and glue. Later on I learnt shading of models (of vines, plaques etc) with a black powder (charcoal). It was horribly boring stuff which I never liked doing.

In the summer I walked there down Pedmore Road and turned off by the old Noah's Ark along the road to the Burnt House; past the marl hole, unused by then and half full of water; past the brickworks and then down old Junction Road to the library buildings. In the winter I used to ride back on the 9 pm tram which started from Foster Street. That marl hole resulted in the death of several people before it was filled up in later years. The walk across that path, although scarred by industry and with several pits and pit shafts covered over, was very pleasant and a short cut into Stourbridge. I remember, with others, throwing half bricks through a small hole in a covered-over shaft and counting the seconds while listening to it bumping on the sides before splashing into water at the bottom. It seemed a long time, about eight seconds, so it was very deep. To see the area now levelled and covered with houses makes one wonder if people living in them ever give thought to what went on in the deep labyrinths underground where men once toiled to gather clay and coal.

Talking about the trams gives one a thought about my very first journey with my mother and father when very young. As we got off at Foster Street someone in front was smoking a cigar - for years after, whenever I had a whiff of cigar smoke, it always reminded me of Stourbridge or the trams. Another memory about that time was of a sign which used to hang over the pavement about half was down the High Street. It showed a locomotive engine and it had a caption which said "Express your wishes, we desire to fulfil them". It was probably some advertising sign for the County Express but it was always associated in my young mind with Stourbridge.

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Copyright © A.H.Pardoe and W.D.Pardoe 1991