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Dicky the cobbler and Old Moll Dyke

By gavin jones  |  Posted: July 29, 2010

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PLEASE welcome to the stage the final four players in our Galaxy of Old Wednesbury Characters. Taken from the 1905 Wednesbury Red Book, this quartet were the last to receive a mention in the historian F.W. Hackwood’s round-up of Wednesbury folk of bygone days.

The first is a fellow whose family were of some standing, but who found himself, for reasons not known or made clear by Hackwood, in a humble, honest trade ...

“ ... the well-known cobbler, DICKY ___, whose eccentricities were of the mildest type. his full name had better be suppressed as he has but recently passed away. Although undoubtedly a character, he was really well connected, his grandmother having been sister to Colonel Dyott, of Lichfield, head of one of the oldest of our county families, as any history of Lichfield will plainly disclose, to say nothing of the family being mentioned by Shakespeare in the person of ‘little John Doit, of Staffordshire’ in Henry IV, Act 3.” Dicky the Cobbler wasn’t the only hardworking Wednesbury citizen to have come from a genteel background: “Of similarly respectable extraction were two women traders of the town whose names were once familiar as household words in the mouths of all Wednesbury people.

ESTHER BAILEY and MARY KEAY lived before the days of ‘restaurants’, so they kept ‘cook shops’ and excellently well they did it; the one having an establishment about the middle of Union Street, and the other keeping shop in that old lowroofed house next to Messrs Miles Bros, Lower High Street.

Roast Pig “Everything they sold was of the finest quality, and was prepared with the scrupulous cleanliness for which all good Wednesbury housewives of the old school are still famous. Mary Keay was very dexterous in the carving of roast sucking pig with a pair of shears; she was the finest brewer of ‘pop’ — exactly the same beverage which is now sold at all the fashionable hotels as ‘stone beer’ — who ever attempted to assuage a midsummer thirst. Esther Bailey made the most succulent of sausages (every bit of the meat laboriously chopped by hand) which the most fastidiously inclined German gourmet could imagine; and it is a tribute to her business capacity to record that she was always ready to supply within one hour of receiving the order, and despatch to any house in Wednesbury, steaming hot for the table, and made toothsomely appetising by the perfection of her cooking, any poultry that was in season. No bon vivant of olden Wednesbury will ever forget the names of Esther Bailey and Mary Keay.

The final Wednesbury character was without doubt the most hard-nosed of the business people brought together here: “Last on our list of familiar Wednesbury names is that of OLD MOLL DYKE. This worthy lived in Church Street, and though remarkable for her girth once managed to fall down her own draw well. In appearance she was a fat red-faced woman; in those thriftless times she flourished and was popular among her poorer neighbours as a money lender. Her usual rate of doing business was to loan a shilling for one week at twopence ‘intrust’; interest, however, was always deducted first, the borrower receiving tenpence and becoming indebted for a shilling.”

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