DARLASTON has existed since the days of the Anglo Saxons, but truly came into its own, like so many other Black Country village communities, during the industrial age, and in the 19th century quickly grew into a sizeable town with most of its manufacture concentrated on the production of nuts and bolts, gun locks, and the extraction of vast quantities of coal from the surrounding South Staffordshire Coalfield.
When Christine Mann from Walsall brought in several photos relating to her family history, Blockall in Darlaston was the main focus of her attention, a part of the town now perhaps more familiar as a modern residential street following redevelopment over recent years, that is situated to the north of the town. In contacting the Bugle, Christine's main intention was to try and reach out to other members of her extended family in the hope that someone would recognise a name or face from the pictures she has supplied.
Before embarking on Christine's personal quest, we decided to dip into Darlaston past and cut a swathe through the history of Blockall. In 1841 the Pigot & Co. Directory for Staffordshire stated there were makers of boots and shoes, bridle bits, buckles, bullet moulds, files, gun locks, ordinary locks, patten rings, screws, as well as a butcher and a cooper in the neighbourhood, very much representing a growing community with small cottage industries as its backbone.
By 1901 however the streetscape had changed quite dramatically and ordinary shopkeepers had replaced many of the traditional cottage industries along the length of Blockall. There was John Parker who operated a hairdressers and news agency at No. 1, and a few doors down the road at No. 6 lived Joseph Phillips the gas fitter. Francis Denning the baker lived and worked at No. 14, right next door to the Dog & Pheasant public house; William Fox the butcher and bacon curer resided at No. 20; No. 22 was the address of Thomas Matthews the grocer; the clog and boot maker John Robinson had his business at No. 28; George Amos ran his greengrocery at No. 30; James Price the draper was at No. 46; John Green and William Steenson operated a brewery and beer retail outlet at No. 47 & 48; and to complete almost a full house of retail outlets required to run a household without the residents of Blockall having to venture too far away from where they lived, Mrs Harriet Plowman was the proprietor of a fishmongers at No. 51.
Many of the major manufacturing companies in Darlaston were founded in the 1870s and 1880s, and some of them became the largest employers in the area, which inevitably led to the demise of the smaller workshops. Those along Blockall who had successfully kept family businesses running over several generations were forced to close down and seek employment at companies such as Charles Richards & Sons Ltd, makers of carriage nuts and bolts for railways and horsedrawn vehicles; David Etchells & Sons Ltd., manufacturers of engineer's bright shaped nuts, black nuts and bright washers, etc.; Rubery Owen, manufacturers of light metalwork, fences, gates, and hurdles; and at the beginning of the 20th century Wilkins & Mitchell Ltd., which became one of Darlaston's leading engineering companies, at one stage employing over a thousand people.
Christine's links with Blockall begin with her great grandparents, Charles Vernon, a Darlaston man from King Edward Street in the town who was employed at the Patent Shaft as a ship's riveter and bridge builder, and Mary (nee Coleman) who originally hailed from Castle Cary in Somerset. They were married in October 1905 and with help from her new Black Country family Mary ran a general store in Blockall.
The Vernons later moved to another shop at No. 131 Lowe Avenue, Rough Hay, Darlaston, and in the meantime had a daughter and a son, Mary and Leonard. During the war Leonard served in the army and the postcard picture of him in uniform together with several colleagues has the stamp of German POW camp Stalag VIII B on the reverse.
Back in civy street Len went on to marry Ria, a girl from Czechoslovakia, and they moved to Oxford where he was employed in the car industry.
If the names or the faces in the photographs ring any bells or you think you are related to Christine Mann, she can be contacted on 0121 530 3640.