Sunday, December 16, 2018

Jan 18 Brummagem front cover      Issue Number 202 January 2018

Carl Writes

On Friday 29 May 1964 Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, arrived in Birmingham to open the new £8 million multi-level complex of the Bull Ring Centre. He was accompanied by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Alderman Frank Price, and Sir Herbert Manzoni, the City Engineer and Surveyor. This ambitious project epitomised Birmingham’s thirst to become the most modern of modern cities and Manzoni was the man who had made it happen.
 Appointed City Engineer and Surveyor in 1935, his objective was to transform Birmingham. He oversaw the wholesale clearance of areas like Duddeston and Ladywood, with their back-to-back houses cheek by jowl with factories, and redeveloped them with clear zones for work, living, leisure and transport.
 But this was only one part of his vision of radical change. He would also gird the city centre with an Inner ring Road around which traffic would flow freely. This freeway would proclaim Birmingham’s determination to slough off its nineteenth-century heritage and become like an American city.
 So too would  the Bull Ring Shopping Centre of 1,000,000 square feet, of which 350,000 square feet was retail trading space. Hailed as the ‘world’s most advanced shopping centre’, it incorporated a new market hall and in its air-conditioned comfort shoppers could choose “between the relative merits of the department store, the supermarket, the traditional market stall and any one of its 140 individual shops”.
 The focal point was the 1,280 square feet Centre Court, which boasted two escalators and a specially-designed ceiling. The intent was to create all “the interest and gaiety of a French boulevard” through the serving of light refreshments under bright sunshades and alongside sparkling fountains, blossoming trees and shining marble walls. Towering above the shopping centre and the nearby dual carriageway of the Smallbrook Queensway was the 25 storey and 265 foot Rotunda.
 The old Bull Ring of memory was swept away by a deluge of modernism, but for many of us the new Bull Ring Centre soon became a tired building. Then 2000, it was cleared and yet another new Bull Ring emerged.
 Des Kelly has vivid memories of all three Bull Rings he has lived through and he shares them with us this month. As ever there is much more from the story of a Ladywood family to recollections of Birmingham schooldays and from an evocative portrayal of the last days of steam to the Speedway Training School at Perry Barr in the winter of 1946.
Have a bostin read and a Happy New Year


February 2018 Brummagem front cover

Issue Number 203 February 2018
Carl Writes

When I was an undergraduate at The University of Birmingham, I recall one lecturer pushing forward the belief that working-class women were downtrodden and brow beaten by their men. I remember thinking, ‘They’re not in my family.’
 As the first member of my family to be lucky enough to have a higher education, I lacked the confidence to disagree with my tutor and to tell him that I knew many working-class women who were at least the equals of their men and who could fight physically.
 Indeed the first fight I had seen was when I was ten. My Nan had taken me and my brother down the Villa. An away had fan pinched Our Kid’s scarf and Our Nan, just four foot eleven tall, turned round and laid the chap out with one punch.
 A tough woman whose one forefinger had been torn off by a machine at work, Our Nan was the daughter, mother and grandmother of strong, working-class women. In part, my first book, ‘They Worked All Their Lives. Women of the Urban poor in England 1880-1939’, was a retort to those who still believe that working-class women are weak and dominated by their men and to those historians who wrote that women did not go out to work until the First World War.
 Often strong physically, working-class women worked from when they were toddlers until they died. They worked inside and outside the house, cooking, washing, cleaning and planning how to get by; they worked at cleaning the clothes and houses of a middle class arrogant and condescending in their attitudes towards working-class women; they worked in factories, shops, mills and workshops; they worked in their neighbourhoods in providing vital services for their neighbours; and they worked for their country, although their country neglected them.
 Working-class women worked all their lives for their families and neighbours. They deserve our respect and admiration. One such woman is Violet Margery Brown and we bring you her story this month but we also highlight the remarkable story of a woman from a well-off middle-class family – Olga Kevelos. We also highlight the hardships of many Brummies in the so-called Swinging Sixties and recall the Lost Pubs of Ladywood.
Have a bostin read.
Tara a bit

March 2018 Brummagem front cover

Issue Number 204 March 2018

Carl Writes

Edith Annie Goodwin was a remarkable Brummie. Growing up in the twilight years of Queen Victoria’s reign, she became a woman in the Edwardian era and married young, in 1905. Her early life was spent in and around Garrison Lane and she describes those years vividly, candidly and in a down-to-earth yet compelling manner.
 Edith’s life was hard. Her mother died when she was fourteen and thereafter she faced trials and tribulations aplenty. She struggled through homelessness, battled unwanted advances from men, fought poverty and had to face the loss of oved ones.  
 Yet her words are never sentimental or self-justifying and nor does she seek excuses. Edith was an old-fashioned Brummie, one who made her bed and lay on it and as she emphasises, ‘I always held my own and would not be put upon and always seemed to do things I was told not to do.’
 Her ‘Birmingham Life in Her Own Words’ is brought to us thanks to the efforts of her grandson, Carl Inwood and just as Edith’s life was remarkable so too is her life story. Indeed it is the only one that I have come across by a working-class Birmingham woman born in the late nineteenth century.
 Kathleen Dayus’s acclaimed and insightful account of growing poor in Edwardian Birmingham was published a decade after Edith died. ‘Her People’ inspired me and others to write about the lives of our people, yet Edith can now be acknowledged as another rare pioneer of in the writing of working-class life stories by women.
 Edith’s married life was also hard yet the last twelve years of her life were the happiest she had. In 1970 she wrote ‘I am one of the happiest women. My children see I want for nothing though I can’t get about much with arthritis. I prayed to live to see them all; now pray I shall not be too much trouble before my last.’ She had one regret, though: ‘Oh how many times I wished my mother could have been spared a few more years.
 Edith Annie Goodwin died on the 8th February 1971 at Walsgrave Hospital, Coventry after a long and eventful life, much loved by her children and grandchildren. Her legacy lives on through her descendants and through the power of her words.
 As ever there is much more to stir memories in this month’s Brummagem.
Tara a bit

April 18 Brummagem magazine cover

Issue Number 205 April 2018

Carl Writes:

The Swinging 60s seemed to have it all: pop music, pop art, pop culture and pop fashion. They were new, refreshing, invigorating, and challenging. The whole decade confidently shouted out of the hope of a modern, bright and colourful way of life that would be more equal, more open, more youthful, and more exciting.
 By contrast the 1970s are portrayed too often as dull and dreary and are seen as the time when the dreams of the 60s were dashed. Those of us who were too young to join in the exuberant youth culture that sprang up after the Beatles and ‘She Loves You’ have always appeared to be in the shade of the ‘first teenagers’. 
 But perhaps we see things differently. Perhaps the 70s suffer because so many of the 60s generation went into the media and naturally highlighted their own era and pushed ours into the shadows. Perhaps it’s time for the 70s generation to come out from the gloom and into the light.
 Like most people, I suppose, I look back to my teenage years with happiness because that was when I did so many firsts. I first started going down the Villa on my own with my mates from when I was about thirteen in 1970. The next year, I went to my first disco at the Top Rank to their Tuesday night event which I think was for under 18s. It was there that I fell in love with Tamla and Reggae music.
 I later also went to the Locarno on a Sunday night  and occasionally to Rebecca’s but the Top Rank remained my favourite place to go for a night out, graduating as I did from Tuesday nights to Saturday nights by the time I was sixteen in late 1973. You were supposed to be over 21 to get in and you always queued with trepidation in case you stopped as being too young.
 And the first pint of mild I had was when I was about sixteen when Our Uncle George got me and Our Kid into Kingstanding Ex-Servicemen’s Club. Why mild? Because that’s what our Georgie drank as did all the older men in Our Mom’s family.
 These memories of my youth have been roused by Paul Duffield’s article on his teenage years in the decade – although the music and fashion he followed were very different to mine as you will find out!
 As ever there’s more to stir your own recollections – from cinemas days in the 1950s to wonderful photos of the members of the Hazelwell Methodist Church Youth Club.
Have a bostin read.
Tara a bit
May-2018 Brummagem Magazine cover.jpg

Issue Number 206 May 2018

Carl Writes

Christmas was both the last and the first of the great annual celebrations which broke up each year into distinct parts and which allowed you to look ahead with some hope and eagerness - no matter if you were poor.
 Swiftly it was followed by New Year’s Eve, when each and every working-class neighbourhood in the land was rent by a cacophony of noise at midnight - factory bulls blaring, miskin lids banging, whistles shrilling, church bells pealing and men and women running down the ‘orse road crying out ‘New ‘ear in! New ‘ear in! Old year out New Year in! New ‘ear in!
 Then the customary calendar continued with Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, when even the poorest mother would strive to make a pancake for her children. And if you were really religious and High Church of England or Catholic on the next day, Ash Wednesday, the priest would make the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes.
 That was about it until Easter, although many folk joined with the Irish in celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17. Although first and foremost a religious festival when the death and rise of Our Lord was mourned and celebrated, Easter was paradoxically a joyous time for many youngsters as it meant hot cross buns on Good Friday and new clothes if you were lucky.
 Your mom would get her money out of a didlum club or cop hold of her £1 Provident Cheque, for which she paid a shilling a week for 21 weeks, and she would buy you a new outfit. For most children these would be the only new clothes they would have all year, destined as they were to wear the cast offs of the rich.
 Easter was soon followed by the great celebration of May Day when maypoles would be put up and dressed and when young girls would compete for the honour of becoming a school’s May Queen. Beautifully dressed in white frocks lovingly made by moms and with their heads garlanded prettily with flowers, the young girls would bring joy and gaiety to a drab environment.
 The year clocked on quickly now to the Whitsuntide walk, when the banner for the local church, whether it be Church of England or Catholic, was paraded around the bounds of the parish. It was accompanied by Sunday School children, the Mothers Union and other groups which belonged to that particular religious institution.
  Finally as autumn took hold, minds shifted to organising your mates into an effective gang to go out plundering for firewood for the great bonfire you would light on Guy Fawkes Night.
 In this month’s Brummagem, Margaret Newbold brings alive the customary calendar with her memories of her childhood in Sparkbrook, whilst there is plenty more to stir memories of Birmingham in the past.

Have a bostin read.

Tara a bit

Jun 2018 Brummagem magazine cover.jpg

ISSUE NUMBER 207     JUNE 2018

Carl Writes

The story in my family goes that the Chinn Brook that flows between Billesley and Yardley Wood was named after my great, great grandfather, Henry Chinn. This stream rises by Meadow Hill Farm, close to the boundary of Alvechurch, Wythall and Birmingham, and runs through the middle of Druids Heath. Thence it flows beneath the Alcester Road South, behind  Limekiln Lane, through the Happy Valley below Yardley Wood Bus Garage and across the Chinn Brook Recreation Ground. Finally, just past Trittiford Road, the stream joins the River Cole at the Dingles, above Trittiford Pool. 
 So how true is the family story?  In the 1870s, my great, great grandfather worked as a bailiff on the Cartland Estate in Kings Heath and is supposed to have lived by the Chinn Brook. In fact his tied cottage was in Vicarage Road, near to Major Cartland’s house, the Priory, and closer to the River Rea than to the Chinn Brook.
 However Henry’s father, confusingly another Henry, had been the tenant of the 88 acre Church Farm in Kings Heath, which he rented from William Congreve Russell, one of the biggest landowners in the district. Henry the elder’s farm house stood where Sainsbury’s is now on the Alcester Road. Today it is one of the busiest, noisiest and most congested routes into Birmingham but then it must have been much quieter, going as it did through countryside.
 The farm took in all the land behind the house of Henry the elder as far back as about Hazelhurst Road and it stretched from Vicarage Road – then called Bleak Lane - along to Featherstone Road. That is nearer to the valley of the Chinn Brook but really not near enough to warrant its naming after my family. As it is, although the Chinns have lived in and around Kings Heath since the later eighteenth century, the name Chinn Brook predates the presence of my family by hundreds of years.
 A grant of land in about 705 by the ruler of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia to Worcester Cathedral mentions property in Kings Norton, to which Kings Heath belonged, including ‘on ciondan’. Ciondan also occurs in a document from 972 which refers to Yardley, through the easternmost edge of which the Chinn Brook flows. In The Place Names of Worcestershire it is stated that ‘from the bounds from which the first forms come it may be inferred that ciondan is a stream name’ close to Lindsworth Farm.
 Recalled in Lindsworth Road, this was on the high ground between the valleys of the River Rea and the Chinn Brook.  Thus ciondan is likley to have been the Chinn Brook. In the succeeding centuries, the name was given as Chende (1255), Chwyndes (1425) and Chyndehouse (1642).
 The Chinn Brook, then, is one of the oldest place names in Birmingham and although it is not ‘ours’ my family have walked along its banks and through Billesley and Yardley Wood for over 250 years. 
 This family story has been stirred by a pioneering and important publication, ‘Billesley and Surrounds’. Too little has been written about Birmingham’s formerly rural districts that were built upon in the 1920s and 1930s. Hopefully this engrossing work by John Lerwill and Pete Haylor will encourage others to follow in their trail and this month’s includes an article about the book as well as much more to arouse memories of Old Brum.

Have a bostin read.
Tara bit

July 2018 Brummagem cover

ISSUE NUMBER 208     JULY 2018

Carl Writes

When I was a youngster, Friday was probably my favourite day of the week. Obviously like everyone else of school age, it was such a good day because it was the last day of teaching and once we left school the thrills of the weekend lay ahead.

 But Fridays were made even more special for me because that was when Our Aunt Win would come over after finishing work at the Midland Wheel in Avenue Road, Aston. She was a younger sister to Our Nan and like a big sister to our Mom and her weekly visits were looked forward to excitedly.  

 Auntie Win would always turn up with her shopping bag, which we all called her ta-ta bag. Small though it may have been yet was it like an Aladdin’s Cave filled with surprises and happiness. Out of it she would produce a seemingly never-ending supply of lemon bon-bons and kayli as well as comics.

 When we were little she would bring us ‘The Beano’ and ‘The Dandy’ but as we got older Aunt Win would bring us more and more comics – ‘The Hotspur’, ‘The Hornet’, Valiant’, ‘Lion’, ‘Tiger’, ‘The Victor’ and ‘Rover and Wizard’ and more.

 Me and Our Kid, Darryl, were really fortunate to have such an Aunt and we knew that we were. Mind you it wasn’t just us reading all those comics because Our Dad and Uncle Bert, Aunt Win’s husband, were just as avid readers of them as we were. We would sit quietly for ages and ages, the silence only broken by an enquiry as to whether or not we were ready to swap our comic. It probably suited Our Mom and Aunt Win to have it so peaceful so that they could get on and have their chat uninterrupted!

 There were lots of characters that drew me in, including the famed Roy of the Rovers, but the one who grabbed me the most was Alf Tupper, the Tough of the Track. He was the archetypal urban, English working-class hero. A comic-book character first in ‘The Rover’ then in ‘The Victor’, he was a wonderful athlete. With little money and backing, he would always eat a fish supper before his arrival at an evening athletics meeting.

 Invariably he would be late, and he would join the race seconds - or even minutes - after the start. Yet despite his belatedness, a full stomach and his bare feet, always he would defeat the arrogant, public schoolboys who were equipped with the finest running shoes.

These memories of comic days have been stirred by Dr Brian Dakin, better known by his performance name of Billy Spakemon. An inspirational and intuitive story teller and poet of the Black Country working class, in this month’s Brummagem, Brian tells the story of Charlie Grigg – the highly talented cartoonist from Rood End who drew ‘Korky the Cat’ for ‘the beano’ for many years. Charlie’s life emphasises how much working-class talent has been hidden from view and how important it is to highlight it.


Have a bostin read.
Tara bit

August 2018 Brummagem magazine cover


Carl Writes

On 4 November 4 1765 Dr John Ash, after whom Ashted Row is named, put an advertisement in Aris's Birmingham Gazette. It announced a meeting to discuss “A GENERAL HOSPITAL, for the Relief of the Sick and Lame, situated near the Town of Birmingham”.

 In his important work on Old and New Birmingham, Robert K. Dent pointed out that “the rapid increase of the population of Birmingham, and the danger attached to many of the occupations which they followed, rendered it necessary that some provision should be made to supply, in case of sickness and bodily injuries, competent medical assistance, which the majority were too poor to provide for themselves”.

 Unfortunately this worthy aim was objected to by those who “like their prototype, Ebenezer Scrooge, reminded the philanthropic doctor that an infirmary was attached to the workhouse and ‘what more could the sick poor need?’”

 Undaunted, Ash persisted in his task and gained the support of leading people. With a committee formed and money beginning to come in, Ash fastened upon a spot in the Summer Lane neighbourhood.

 The Committee paid £120 per acre for about eight acres of meadow and pasture by the Salutation, at the upper end adjoining Summer Lane and at the lower end near to Walmore Lane, now called Lancaster Street.

 William Hutton, Birmingham’s first historian, was unimpressed with the location, declaring it to be very unsuitable and “in a narrow dirty lane, with an aspect directing up the hill, which should ever be avoided”.

 Unhappily the project moved slowly and work was stopped through lack of funds in 1766. Matters improved two years later when a Music Festival was held to raise funds. Still, the necessary amount to finish the building and equip it were not forthcoming, whilst money had poured in to pay for a new theatre after the old one had burned down.

 In 1774 this ‘disgraceful contrast’ aroused the ire of a young clerk in a mercantile house who was also a member of the Baptist Church in Cannon Street. He was Mark Wilks, afterwards a famous minister of Lady Huntingdon's Chapel at Norwich. As Dent stated, he was determined to arrest the attention of the public by writing a biting poem.

 Even this failed to improve matters immediately. Still by 1777, fundraising had improved and the next year another Music Festival was put on. This proved so successful that it became a triennial event and the need for a proper concert hall led to the building of the Town Hall in the 1830s.

 At last the Hospital was opened on 20 September 1779. Because of the financial problems only 40 beds were provided for patients, less than half planned for. In the ensuing years, though, the hospital grew. A burns ward was built in just three weeks after several factory disasters and eventually 235 beds were provided.

 However, by the later nineteenth century the Hospital was regarded as ‘a dear, dirty, dismal pile’ and it was moved to Steelhouse Lane in 1897 to new premises that were then the most modern in Europe. That building is now the home of the Children’s Hospital but the old hospital gave its name to Hospital Street, which became a quintessential working-class street. In this month’s Brummagem Iris Fieldhouse evokes her childhood there in the 1940s and as ever there is more to stir your memories.

Have a bostin read.
Tara bit

September 2018 Brummagem magazine cover

ISSUE NUMBER 210   September 2018

Carl Writes

I never knew Our Granddad Perry to walk. Multiple sclerosis had taken a hold of him when he was in his forties and quickly changed his life for the worse. One of the last times Granddad was able to walk without help was when he escorted Our Mom down the aisle for her wedding in 1954. After that he was able to stand but soon lost his mobility.
 Within a few years he was only able to move around in a wheelchair, but though he may not have been able to get about he was one of the most important people in my life. His fortitude and his humour in the face of adversity, his compelling words and sayings, his vivid recollections of the great players of Blues and the Villa – all imprinted themselves upon my mind. So too did his upset at his stay in Summerfield Hospital.
 I was only five or six years old and we had gone to see Our Granddad in convalescence. He had been operated on in the adjacent Dudley Road Hospital because the MS had forced his legs to cross over so that they could not be uncrossed. That made things really difficult when Our Nan and Mom and Dad were lifting Granddad in and out of his wheelchair. So the doctors took the guides out his legs, which allowed them to be moved more easily.
 We went to see Granddad regularly and I still recall the one visit most vividly. It was a Sunday. Over dinner time we had listened to ‘Two Way Family Favourites’ on the Light Programme, as we always did, with its fascinating and exotic BFPO locations. Then in the afternoon we headed off to the hospital.
 It was a sunny day. ‘Beyond Our Ken’, with Kenneth Horne and Kenneth Williams, was on the wireless in Dad’s car as we went across Victoria Square, past Chamberlain’s Fountain into Congreve Street, and from there down to the Sandpits, Summer Hill and the Dudley Road to Western Road.
 Dad parked the car and we went in to Summerfield. When we got to Granddad’s ward he was distressed and I remember him saying to Our Mom, ‘You’ve got to get me out of here Our Sylvie, they’ve put me in the workhouse’. As a child I was unable to grasp the significance of why Our Granddad was so disturbed, all I knew was that he was really upset. Years later I came to understand. Summerfield Hospital had been the Birmingham Workhouse – and as such it had been a hated and feared institution.
 There was little provision for disabled people like Our Granddad in the 1950s and my memories have been stirred by David Barnsley’s important, moving and powerful account of life as a child with a disability in that decade.  As ever there is much more to read, including a fascinating account of African American female soldiers in Birmingham and the tale of a group of lads who met up through football in the early 1970s and who have remained pals ever since.

Have a bostin read.
Tara bit

October 2018 Brummagem Magazine cover

ISSUE NUMBER 211   October 2018

Carl Writes

In the 1930s there were over 40,000 back-to-backs in Birmingham. Built in terraces, they literally shared their back wall with another house behind that was part of yet another terrace. With no back door and no back windows, these small houses were dark and cramped – having as they did but one room downstairs plus a tiny scullery above the cellar head.
 Depending upon whether the back-to-back was of the two-storey type or attic high (three storeys), there would either be two small bedrooms on the one level upstairs or a bedroom above which was an attic.
 All the facilities that we take for granted today as essential for our privacy were lacking. Most back-to-backs either ran up a yard and if not and they fronted on to the street, then they would share the yard at the rear. In this yard would be communal lavatories, miskins for rubbish, a brewus for washing and – until the 1930s – shared water taps.
 During the inter-way years 200,000 Brummies lived in back-to-backs, equivalent to a city the size of Bolton, and as late as the 1960s, tens of thousands of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Jewish and Black Brummies made the best of things with homes that were outdated, decaying and inadequate.
 Like hundreds of thousands of Brummies before them, they endured hard lives, collaring for little reward and having to contend with high death rates, industrial diseases and pollution from the factories all around. Living in cramped conditions in small, badly-built houses, they had carried on as best they could with little privacy, having to share communal brew’uses, miskins, lavatories, suffs, and cold water taps in the yard.
 Despite this, the Brummies whose address was back of were a proud people. The vast majority of mothers strove daily to keep their families clean and respectable, and throughout back street Brummagem the ties of kinship and neighbourliness were vital features.
These bonds allowed poorer people to fight back against their common enemy, poverty, and to create thriving neighbourhoods in which old ladies could pop out for a stick of ale in the dark nights with no worry of muggings, in which young women could walk the street safely and in which a youngsters who was clammed would be given a piece.
 These poorer working-class Brummies played a vital role in making Birmingham one of the greatest manufacturing cities in the world and they should not be forgotten. That is why compelling accounts like that of Grace Caroline Holte are so important. This month’s Brummagem features some of her memories of growing up back-to-back in Guildford Street between 1957 and 1968. We also include memories from an earlier decade, the late Ron Evans of Tipton. As ever there is much more to stir memories of a shared past, including wonderful photos of the Chip Shop Queen of Birmingham.

Have a bostin read.
Tara a bit

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