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100 years in the life of Bilston woman

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 30, 2014

  • Wedding day for Kathleen and Ivor

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MY Mother, Kathleen Fryer, was born Kathleen Horton in King Street, Willenhall, on March 29, 1914, the only child of Bert and Edith Horton.

Bert's grandparents, James and Fanny Horton, owned Horton's foundry in Dimminsdale, Willenhall. Bert was called up on the outbreak of World War One and served as a Lance Corporal in the 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment. He was killed in action at the Battle of Delville Wood on July 20, 1916.

After Bert's death they moved to Wolverhampton Street in Bilston and Kathleen attended St. Leonard's School in Arthur Street. Her Mother, Edith, married Jack Wright, who worked for the council as a flag man walking in front of the steam rollers. They had two daughters, Joan and Marjorie, who are now 94 and 89 respectively. She often talked about the girls climbing over the wall of their garden into Hickman Park to play.

When she left school, her aunt got her a job at Arthur Shaw's in Gypsy Lane, Willenhall, where they made companion sets. One day when she was at home because they had no work, her neighbour said she could get her work at Edge's shoe factory in Bilston.

She started work on the factory floor, but was soon asked if she would like to work in the office where she was told she would have to wear dark clothes and no nail varnish. She became the telephonist and receptionist at Edge's and for a time was 'going out' with Mr Edge's chauffeur.

They used to take Mr and Mrs Howard Edge on trips to the seaside, having the day free until they had to bring Mr and Mrs Edge back to Bilston. She has fond memories of working at Edge's and her days out by the sea.

On losing her second husband, Edith married for the third time to Walter Bate, who worked at E.N. Wright's in Bilston. At this point the three daughters moved to Willenhall to live in Dimminsdale with their maternal grandmother.

During the war, Mom worked as a volunteer on Report and Control at Willenhall Town Hall, reporting on any air raids and bombs dropped in the Willenhall area.

Kathleen and Joan used to go to the weekly dances at the Civic Hall and the Palais de Danse in Temple Street, often walking home carrying their shoes because their feet were sore from dancing. Joan met her husband Sid there, who hailed from Doncaster and was stationed at RAF Cosford. Joan married Sid and moved to Doncaster and still lives there now. Kathleen had many boyfriends but no one special until one day in 1943 she was invited for tea at a relative's house on the Manor in Willenhall. There she met my father Ivor Elihu Fryer (who was her second cousin) for the first time.

He was home on leave from the army, serving with the Worcestershire Regiment in France and Germany as a driver, taking supplies and ammunition from the base to the front line. It was love at first sight and they were married six months later on January 1, 1944, at St Stephen's Church, Wolverhampton Street, Willenhall.

After they married, Mom moved into Ivor's family home at No.3 Harper Street on the Manor and lived there for most of their married life with Ivor's parents, Percy and Elizabeth Fryer. The garden was adjacent to W.H. Marren's scrap yard, and during the war Dad used to exchange his petrol coupons for a bag of coke for our Rayburn cooker, so that we could keep warm and they could keep their lorries running. They used to drop the bag of coke over the wall. Ironically, Marren's have now bought 3 Harper Street and use it for offices.

At the end of the war Ivor left the army and went into the building trade as a plasterer. Work was in very short supply and when I was three, in 1949, money was tight and Kathleen took a job making tea at the old Harris & Sheldon factory in Charles Holland Street, Willenhall. She soon moved on to the switchboard and then on to progress chasing, which was quite a male dominated role in those days, chasing orders through the different factory departments until it was complete and 'ready for dispatch'. The factory moved into a new purpose-built building on Longacres Industrial Estate in the 1960s. Kathleen continued progress chasing until the job became too stressful and she transferred into the costing department, where she stayed for a number of years.

In 1975 trade union activity brought major changes at Harris & Sheldon and apart from redundancies, all people over retirement age were forced to leave. Kathleen was now 61 and was far from ready to retire, so she set about looking for another job and, having never typed before, learned to touch type at home to increase her chances. She was offered a temporary job at H.G. Smith's in St. Annes Road, Willenhall, (they made trailer wheels, now demolished) covering a six-month maternity leave. She took the job and stayed for the next nine years, eventually retiring aged 70.

Not content to sit back idly doing nothing, Kathleen and Ivor shopped for elderly friends, neighbours and relatives and regularly went out socialising. After Ivor's death in 1995, and by now living in Moseley Road, Bilston, with my husband and myself, she got involved with our local Congregational church and ran the Ladies Guild organising speakers for the weekly meetings and taking the ladies on meals out and day trips to places like Stratford and Broadway.

She still enjoys good health and goes on holiday with my husband and myself, plus going to church every Sunday and to all their social events.

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