Last week Jill Guest, from Cradley Then and Now, entrusted us with the job of telling the story of her dad growing up in the small village of Hayseech, that sits at the foot of Haden Hill and next to the River Stour.
Her dad, George Wilfred Corbett, recorded his memories at a time when the Black Country was in the flux of considerable change, both socially and economically, and thanks to George’s dexterity and willingness to look back on his life we can enjoy the pictures he painted in words and imagine what it was like to live there back in the 1920s.
In last week’s article we touched on George’s school activities. He went to Macefields School in Old Hill, and George’s time there was pretty good.
“I must have enjoyed it, for I became head boy and was captain of the football team. I was also the school representative in the district team. We had swimming lessons at Haden Hill Park; the pool was open air and the water very cold. It was Getting in the swim of growing up in the village of Hayseech the coldest pool I ever went in. I had previously learnt to swim, after a fashion, in Hayseech brook, having fallen in so many times I had to swim to get out.
But our favourite place to swim was Somers’ baths at Halesowen, luxurious compared with Haden Hill. It wasn’t built as a swimming baths, in fact it was a cooling system for the large forge in the works.
It had a shallow pool about three feet deep under a large wooden cooling tower, and the water came down the tower into the shallow pool, then flowed into a much larger pool which was about 13 feet deep.
There was a springboard for diving and a raft built of barrels which was great fun to play on. One day four or five of us overturned the raft and in the process my younger brother Eric ended trapped underneath and two of us had to dive in to help him out.
He wasn’t best pleased with the headache he ended up with, but the fun was so great he soon forgot the incident.
The main attraction at this pool was the warm water, hence it was luxurious compared with Hayden Hill swimming baths.
Another important aspect was it only cost a penny to go in. In those days both males and females wore one-piece swimming costumes. My first swimsuit was an old one off my older sister Eva, but that didn’t worry me at all. Back then it was the standard thing to wear hand-me-downs, except of course for our Sunday best. This outfit was bought once a year to be worn for the first time at the Sunday School Anniversary.
We always changed behind some wooden screens and the girls had wooden huts, but they had to pay an extra penny.
We left our clothes on benches wrapped in our towels, and it was a bit of bad luck if it rained because our clothes got wet.
Sometimes you would come back from your swim to find your towel wet; someone else had had the cheek to use it! During our summer holidays we didn’t always have a penny for the entrance charge, so we used to go up the incline to the Golden Orchard pit, across a field and under a barbed wire fence, which was the only fence around the changing area.
Sunday School was a twice a Sunday ritual, and on Monday nights during the winter we had scripture lessons from Mr Wesley Thompson in preparation for scripture exams.
The exams were held at Graingers Lane Chapel in Cradley Heath, and we looked forward to this night because afterwards Mr Thompson and Mr Ben Price, our Sunday School teacher, treated us to fish and chips. One year, I think it was 1928, we came top and won the shield which went on display in the chapel for a whole year, the first time it had been won by Hayseech.
I look back now and realise what a lot of time Ben Price must have spent with his class.
On Tuesday nights in winter we had a P.T. class for boys aged between about 11 and 13, then in the summer he used to take us out every second Saturday.These were terrific trips . We’d carry a big kettle to boil the water for tea and collect sticks to make the fire.
There was always a handy and unpolluted brook to supply the water, every one took their own sandwiches and of course a tea cup, and Ben Price brought a cake along for us all.
The places we mostly visited were Kinver, Shut Mill, Frankley viaduct, Clent, the Lickey Hills and Sutton Park. We’d walk to most destinations but got the bus to Kinver.
One Saturday we were treated to a trip to Malvern and a special ride in a model T Ford, one of the first lorries we’d seen. We sat on forms in the back under a tarpaulin cover, a great adventure.
If we travelled long distances we went by train, but to local beauty spots we used a horse and brake. The number of horses used, either two or four, would depend on the size of the brake, and if there were any steep hills we all got out and walked. I remember Ben Price taking us to Regent’s Park Zoo in London. This was amazing because none of us had been to the capital or even a zoo.
We caught the train from Old Hill Station, and I think the fare was 5 shillings, and we were so excited I don’t think we sat down all the way there and all the way back. It was a corridor train, which again was a new experience.
Needless to say we were very tired when we got back, but we still had to walk home to Hayseech from the station in Old Hill.