Every Christmas morning the Salvation Army band used to come into our garden and play or sing a couple of carols just under my bedroom window. A very pleasant sound to be woken up by. Another clear memory was the silence of Sunday mornings when most work was halted and distant church bells could be heard ringing. Just about midnight on New Year's morning the raucous voices would reach me in bed from the men as they left the Bell pub up the road. Every year they would sing, "How beautiful upon the mountains," after turning-out time.

After Parliamentary elections if the railway engine whistles were blowing one would know that it was a Labour victory but the sound of Eveson's bull blowing would always herald a Conservative win.

Then there were the awful bangs on that evening in 1917 when the German Zeppelins were dropping bombs on Tipton. I can remember that evening because I stood with mother and dad at the front gate in the High Street. We were expecting my sister Gertie to come home on holiday from the Chelmsford Hospital where she was a nurse and were worried because the trains had been held up due to the bombing. Dad was on friendly terms with Police Sergeant Brown who must have spent half an hour chatting with us. Terrible times they were for us boys - we could not have our usual bonfire as it all had to be put out before dusk and no fireworks were allowed at night. It was terrible to hear of husbands and sons killed in the war when nearly every family in the district suffered tragic loss of the breadwinner. One can feel for the resentment felt by families to those who had escaped Army service due to being on important work and, no doubt, to some fiddling as well.

Back to schooldays - say 1915 - before the full effect of the war was taking place. Teachers in the school had been called to war service and women teachers often replaced them. I recall Valley Road school where we used to sing a morning hymn and the headmaster would read a passage from the bible. He was a rather puritanical old fellow, and a non-conformist and strict disciplinarian, who was made Mayor in 1915. I myself never felt his wrath. I was entered with others to sit for a scholarship examination for the Stourbridge Grammar School but was hopeless. Old Boyt, the head, was a mathematician and must have set the papers for they were all maths which brings back what I wrote earlier that the only way was to be good at maths or have a wealthy father, and I had neither.

Bill at Austins sitting in a SE5

After my thirteenth birthday I left school to work with my father but it did not work out and a man we knew, George Morgan, took me on his motor bike to the Austin works to get a job there. They had a personnel or labour department and I was asked if I would like to work in an office which I did not want. They said it would be a job where I would have to take messages around the factory from the office of Sir Herbert Austin and gave me a chance to look about and see what other work was done in the factory. I said "No" so I was sent to the foreman in what was called the hardening shop. He took one look at me and said he wanted a big strong lad who could stand the smell of the oil.

I was then sent to work in a store where engine parts were kept, taking them on a trolley to various parts of the machine shop. I also had to be a tea boy morning and afternoon, carrying a number of tea cans on a stick to the hot water boiler, a job which I hated, as in addition to making a dozen or so cans of tea, I had to buy slices of cake at the canteen. Cut cake they called it and it was quite a complication remembering who had ordered what and collecting the money for the same. I stuck this for about three months and then found a job in the Aero department to which, after a lot of trouble, I obtained a transfer. Here I was happy. No tea boy, as the men used to brew their own water with a small immersion heater which they had made themselves. It had to be done on the sly for if caught it meant instant dismissal. On occasions the word would get about that Sir Herbert was about and everyone would be seen working very diligently. If he caught anyone chewing a biscuit he would tell them to go to the office and get their pay and cards.

The war over, the plane orders were soon all completed. A considerable displacement of men in the Aero workshop were re-deployed in different parts of the factory but many of them returned to former businesses where they worked before the war. I was kept on doing odd jobs, some for car parts and some for a new plane which Sir Herbert was toying with. It had an all-metal tubular frame and wings on a hinge principle which enabled them to be folded back to the body so that the plane could be kept in a garage. It was named the Austin Whippet. About six of these planes were completed and tested on the flying grounds and they seemed to perform very well but they never sold and finally were phased out.

After the Great War depression hit the country and caused considerable unemployment. I left Austin's and found a job at a Cradley Heath engineering works trying out my hand at several jobs, planing machines, slotters etc but that did not last for long. I eventually was found a job by Arthur Sidaway at a glass works which used to make stained glass windows in the great church building period of Queen Victoria's days. There were many orders for war memorial windows. A lot of new public houses were built in the 1920s when the breweries used to vie with each other in the style and design of their houses. Very much ornate leaded glass work was used in the decoration of these places and the firm was inundated with orders.

I travelled daily by train to West Smethwick and for many months had to do overtime until 8 pm which I disliked so, in 1925, I finished and commenced a business of my own in half of Dad's studio. During the time of leaving school and working I lost the friendship of my old Church Road pals who by then had moved to other houses. Sam and Annie went to Chapel Street and Clarence and Maggie went to the end of the Cross Walks Road where their mother set up in business at a grocery shop. The Prices still lived at the top of Church Road and I still used to see Arthur and Charlie, whose treble days being finished, now retained a place on the church choir as an alto. Clarence competed for the job of organist, replacing Mr Taylor who had held the job for many years.

Bills Workshop


Memories of 1921 include Zu and Harry lost on the train; my first driving licence and driving with Joe Foxall to Birmingham with a load of firegrate backs; Corbett Hospital fêtes; a walk along the canal to Bells Mill and a picnic tea (May, Gilbert, Floss, Arthur, Harry, Zu and self).

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