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Beating the path of history down Willenhall streets of yesteryear

By john workman  |  Posted: August 05, 2010

Early morning on a wet day at Willenhall Market

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STAN Warner's magnificent portfolio of pictures that he recently brought to our attention, render a nostalgic yearning to wander back down the highways and byways of the Black Country of yesteryear, albeit using the medium of monochrome photographs. And although the collection reveals a definite bias towards streets in Willenhall, the images nonetheless reflect the way the rest of our region's towns looked in the days of yore.

Let's be honest, a wander down the side walks of any high street these days is fraught with danger and takes a lot of concentration and skill, with bollards, and posts, signs, bus stops, etc., to negotiate safely. The modern road surfaces are marked with different coloured lines at different angles, and have bumps and lumps and chicanes strategically positioned to test the most patient of drivers, not to mention a pot hole or two, traffic lights every few hundred yards and gantries, sign posts, litter bins, and lamp posts obscuring the view that you need, just at that moment.

At this juncture we really need a good old fashioned triangular stop sign to bring the car to a halt, and operating the hand brake we can appreciate the sort of a clutter our highways and byways are now in by looking at these pictures of old Willenhall, which were taken at the beginning and during the middle years of the 20th century.

The first, at the top of the page, shows Walsall Street in Willenhall, some time during 1939. It was probably taken before the outbreak of war as there are no signs of black out provision or bomb damage tape on the windows.

The only visible signage is restricted to the walls and billboards, one in particular a striking advertising panel promoting "Marsh's Sausages, the World's Best".

The trolley-bus cables stand out against the sky and the poles which support the cables appear to be the only obstacles on a fairly clutter free pavement.

The road is clean and free of all those painted lines, and the two women in the foreground have no fear of walking in the road down the road, as there is not a single vehicle in sight.

Below, this picture is a charming observation of New Road, taken twelve years before the outbreak of the First World War. The children, both boys and girls, are out in force to add character to the cameraman's chosen vista, and the trees are in leaf suggesting the summer months were in full flow.The poles on the pavement are this time supporting the cables for the trams, and the only other obstacles for pedestrians are some young trees that have been planted right on top of the kerb, and once again not a single vehicle, horse-drawn or otherwise, is in sight.

Willenhall Market Place has always been a favourite subject for photographers, and the cameraman on this occasion chose a quiet day with the look of dampness on the pavement, suggesting it was also a wet day. There are a few lads posing for the shot, the one in the apron has probably come out of the adjacent shop to get in on the act, and a small barrow in the gutter looks as though it may have belonged to a window cleaner as it has a pail hanging at the back and a ladder outstretched at the front.

The view of Walsall Street was taken in 1925 with the photographer selecting in his shot as a single decker tram approached. There is also a man on a bicycle keeping close to the kerb, and a dray horse being led in the opposite direction. Again the street is almost totally devoid of obstructions, with a solitary lamp hanging from a building on the right and Beating the path of history down Willenhall streets of yesteryear poles supporting the tram cables on the left. The premises of E. F. Ash, Pawnbroker, is advertised on the wall of the building in the middle ground, and a whole gamut of advertisements have been pasted to boards far left.

One in particular which the cameraman is telling Willenhall folk that the best way to travel is by London, Midland and Scottish Railway (L. M.S.). Just to the left of this advert and above one for Nestle's Milk, is a small picture of a lad sat at a piano promoting Warner's Pianos (no relation to Stan Warner).

Finally on this trip around the almost deserted and uncluttered Willenhall streets of yore, we have arrived in Upper Lichfield Street, back in 1939. There is a building in the middle ground which is derelict, presumably as a result of decay and not bomb damage, and at least one street lamp stands proud at the corner of the pavement. A typical 30's style saloon car is just moving off picture, and one of the posters on the right-hand side is advertising the famous HP Sauce.

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  September 03 2012, 5:57AM

    What a delightful article with an interesting photo. I am reading this from Australia. As a locksmith I visited Willenhall and Wolverhampton in 1986. I have many fond memories of the great people from the area. I was astonished to hear the news about the restructuring of the local lockmaking industry with Chubb, Yale and Josiah Parkes downsizing and amalgamating. As well as being a locksmith, I have a keen interest in old locks. To this end I am always keen to hear new information particularly on firms like Carpenter and Tildesley, which existed in Willenhall fro 1795 to the 1930's. If any one has information on Carpenter and Tildesley from New Road or GR Smithson from Cannock Road, please feel free to comment. Any help would be appreciated, particularly from the 1919-1950 era.